HC Deb 13 July 1971 vol 821 cc208-12
Q2. Mr. Skinner

asked the Prime Minister whether, following the Luxembourg Agreement, he will seek a further meeting with President Pompidou.

The Prime Minister

I have at present no plans for a further meeting with President Pompidou.

Mr. Skinner

Is the Prime Minister aware that if he does go to see his French master again he could take advantage of a tutorial? He could also take his latest essay, Cmnd. 4715. I am sure that President Pompidou would give it top marks for its abstract generalisations. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will first tell the British people why regional policy is dismissed in six sentences in the White Paper, and, more important still, what will be the real cost to the balance of payments.

The Prime Minister

Regional policy does not exist in a Community form in the Community. Therefore, individual countries follow their own regional policy. The Commission is only at the earliest stages of formulating a regional policy. If any progress is made before the end of the negotiations, we can discuss it in the negotiations, and after that it can be discussed under the general arrangements for consultation during the interim period before the transitional period begins. As I have already told the House, we do not discriminate against other countries in the implementation of our own arrangements for regional policy. Any firm from another country which wants to come to a special development area or a development area receives exactly the same treatment and inducements as a British firm. Therefore, the policy is not against the principles of the Community.

Mr. Gardner

Could my right hon. Friend, from all his experience of past meetings with representatives of the Common Market countries, tell this House—because it would be of great assistance, no doubt, for the forthcoming debate—whether he has met anyone from any one of the Six countries who has expressed regret that his country joined the Common Market, or anyone who has expressed a wish that his country should apply to leave it?

The Prime Minister

I would obviously begin by making the stipulation that the number of people that any one person, Minister or otherwise, can meet is limited. But my experience, and that of many other right hon. and hon. Gentlemen, is that I have not met any organised body or member of a political party opposed to his own country's membership of the E.E.C. Indeed, one of the notable things is that even the Communist parties in Europe have been notably reluctant to criticise their countries' membership of the E.E.C.

Mr. Heffer

May I come back to the question of regional policy? Is the Prime Minister aware that a proposal is being made by the Commission suggesting that in a broad central belt investment schemes should be abolished and replaced by investment grants but with a ceiling of 20 per cent? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that for areas like Merseyside and the North-East coast, which could well be included in that broad belt, such a system would be disastrous from the point of view of development?

The Prime Minister

I have already told the House that the Commission is in the early stages of formulating a policy It has not yet come to the Council of Ministers. I have explained the arrangements under which we would be able to influence that policy if Parliament agreed that we should join the E.E.C. The objective of the E.E.C. in this matter seems reasonable, because it is the same objective as we have through our export credits guarantee scheme. It is to stop individual countries trying to outbid each other for investment. That would be to our advantage in the same way as the general arrangement for export credits, since we have created greater attractions for firms to invest in this country, and I do not see why we should have our arrangements outbid by other members of the Community.

Mr. Roy Jenkins

While I accept that the policy is at the very early stage of formulation, may I ask whether it would not be unacceptable to many people if it were to prevent the North-East coast and Merseyside being assisted in a way that is desirable? Will the right hon. Gentleman assure us that if at the end of the day it appears that the investment policy of the Labour Government towards the development areas is more acceptable in Brussels than that of the Conservative Government, he will not be inhibited by any party dogma from producing the most effective policy from the point of view of the development areas?

The Prime Minister

The right hon. Gentleman has, naturally, got more speedily to the point than his hon. Friend. I could not understand why the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) was complaining about the E.E.C. proposing a system of cash grants for investment. If we felt that it was in the interests of the Community, that it was an acceptable arrangement, no doubt we would express our agreement. It is obviously far too early to discuss individual areas with the Community, for the simple reason that the Commission and the Council of Ministers have not yet reached a policy. So far as we are concerned, obviously the areas mentioned by the right hon. Gentleman and also Scotland and Wales are of vital importance to us.

Q4. Mr. Leadbitter

asked the Prime Minister if the statement made by the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food on the television programme, Farming Outlook, on 27th June, 1971, referring to price increases in steps to meet European Economic Community levels, represents the policy of Her Majesty's Government.

The Prime Minister

Yes, Sir.

Mr. Leadbitter

Does the Prime Minister know that the answer to Question No. 34, put to the Secretary of State for Social Services earlier today by my hon. Friend the Member for Don-caster (Mr. Harold Walker), indicated that the rise in pensions to be introduced on 20th September is now eroded and that, at the present level of price increases, it will be eroded further? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that further price increases in order to reach Common Market levels will introduce excessive hardship in this country, particularly for those with average incomes and below and those on social security allowances and retirement pensions?

The Prime Minister

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will listen to the answer to a Question and not merely to the Question itself. If he does in this case, he will see that the situation was explained by my right hon. Friend. There is an undertaking in the White Paper—and a similar undertaking was given by my predecessor when the point was raised with the last Government—that the two-yearly review of all social service benefits, to which we are pledged, will take note of any changes as a result of entry into the E.E.C. As the first increase in food prices is expected to take place between April and June, 1973, and we are also pledged to a review in 1973, that review can take note of those increases.

Mr. John Wells

Is my right hon. Friend aware that both he and my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food have from time to time implied, perhaps unwittingly, that the price of fruit and vegetables will fall to the housewife if we go into the E.E.C. whereas this, in truth, is perhaps not so? The cash received by the growers will be less but the price actually paid by the housewife will probably be about the same. Could he look at those statements again very closely before they are reiterated?

The Prime Minister

I am prepared to examine any statements, but they are not made unwittingly. The fact is that this country has a better distribution system than most of the existing members of the Community. That is why the statement appears in the White Paper—on the best advice that we have been able to get.

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