HC Deb 11 July 1979 vol 970 cc456-60
35. Mr. Meacher

asked the Lord Privy Seal when he expects next to meet his EEC counterparts.

36. Mr. Straw

asked the Lord Privy Seal when he expects next to attend a meeting of EEC Foreign Ministers.

37. Mr. Skinner

asked the Lord Privy Seal when he expects to meet the other EEC Foreign Affairs Ministers.

38. Mr. John Evans

asked the Lord Privy Seal when he next expects to meet his European Economic Community colleagues.

Sir Ian Gilmour

At the next Foreign Affairs Council in Brussels on 24 July.

Mr. Meacher

Will the right hon. Gentleman indicate what proposals the Government are bringing forward to reduce our share of the EEC budget? Will he acknowledge that price freezes would still leave an open-ended commitment to pay for excess production? The only way to stop a further disastrous escalation of the budget is to limit financial support to production quotas, which are then steadily reduced.

Sir I. Gilmour

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that at the European Council last month the Commission was invited to submit to the Council a description of the financial consequences of applying the budget system on the situation in each member State, especially in 1979 and 1980. The Commission will subsequently put forward proposals for a solution. That is an important step in the right direction. I believe that there is a strong case for saying that member States with a below average gross domestic product per head should be net beneficiaries, but I do not wish to go into that in detail at present.

Several Hon. Members rose

Mr. Speaker

Order. I propose to call first those hon. Members whose questions are being answered.

Mr. Straw

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that, following the Strasbourg Council of Ministers, and in stark contrast to the British Government's euphoria about the outcome of that meeting, President Giscard d'Estaing said that all that has been agreed is to see whether the budget anomalies are inequitable or excessive? Does that not represent a failure of British diplomacy to convince the French even that our present budget contributions are excessive? In the light of that, what serious chance is there of securing French agreement to a reduction of the British contribution?

Sir I. Gilmour

I do not believe that that is right, but in so far as it is the hon. Gentleman is condemning the efforts of the previous Government to bring home that problem to our partners. We found that there was not a proper realisation of the inequities and difficulties. We are now fully confident that those inequities have been brought home. The results of the Strasbourg Council were satisfactory.

Mr. Skinner

Will the right hon. Gentleman tell those other people across there that on 7 June the British people, and the working class in particular, rejected the Common Market by their massive vote of no confidence in the election? Will he tell his colleagues in the Conservative Party as well as those over there that there will be no moves towards parity of those Westminster MPs elected on the miserly one-third vote of the British people on that date? If he does that, he will be acting in the interests of the British people and of most hon. Members.

Sir I. Gilmour

The second part of the hon. Gentleman's question did not make sense. I do not know what he means by " parity ". On the first part of his question, he seems to be incredibly ignorant of the laws of mathematics. At that election the Conservative Party, which favours the European Parliament and membership of the European Community, won three-quarters of the seats. The hon. Gentleman seems to be under the misapprehension that his party won the election. It did not.

Mr. Evans

If the Commission brings forward proposals to reduce Britain's contribution to the EEC budget, will any of the other member Governments have power to veto them? More importantly, does the right hon. Gentleman think that they will exercise the veto?

Sir I. Gilmour

The agreement to alter our budgetary contribution will have to be reached by the European Council and will entail general agreement. The facts will first be put forward by the European Commission. These will be commented on by the European Finance Ministers and the matter will be discussed and, we hope, decided at the Dublin summit at the end of the year.

Mr. Amery

My right hon. Friend told us yesterday that he would be consulting our European partners as well as America and Africa about Zimbabwe-Rhodesia. Will he tell his European colleagues that in the opinion of Lord Home, who devised the six principles, these have been fully met by the Muzorewa Government? Will he also tell them that in the opinion of Lord Boyd, with his vast experience of Africa and his recent experience of the election, it would be dangerous to tamper with the existing constitution?

Sir I. Gilmour

I hope that our partners study the proceedings of both Houses of this Parliament with the care and attention that they deserve and that I shall not have to draw those important points to their attention. As my right hon. Friend knows, we are in constant consultation with our partners on that important subject.

Mr. Winnick

Are the right hon. Gentleman's colleagues in other EEC countries aware that our membership of the Common Market remains equally unpopular here? Most people believe—and with a great deal of justification—that Britain is getting a raw deal from our membership. Can there be any doubt of what the result of a further referendum on membership would be?

Sir I. Gilmour

The hon. Gentleman was not here in the last Parliament when his Government allegedly renegotiated the terms and presided over a referendum that showed the British people two to one in favour of our membership continuing. I do not believe that the British people would wish to go back on that decision.

Mr. Dykes

Has the Lord Privy Seal noticed the interesting fact that in the general election the acknowledged pro-European party, namely, the Conservative Party, had a sweeping victory, having presented positive European themes in that election campaign?

Sir I. Gilmour

My hon. Friend is perfectly right. We won that election decisively, and we won the European elections even more decisively. The evidence indicates the exact opposite of what the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) said.

Mr. Shore

The right hon. Gentleman must be aware that in order to get any changes in the system of financial contributions that are so disproportionately heavy on this country there must be agreement with all the other countries of the EEC. Will he at least assure us that in seeking to register—and more than register—the serious complaint that we have about these arrangements he does not try to win some minor modification in our budget contribution by making concessions on such matters as steel, food prices and agriculture? We have already seen far too much of that.

Sir I. Gilmour

I do not accept the right hon. Gentleman's premise. Now that he has studied it, he knows full well that the agricultural settlement last month was much the best that has been achieved since we entered the Community. It was far better than anything the Labour Government ever achieved. I agree that the budget problem is serious, but we have already made considerable progress. Our positive approach to the Community has already produced far greater results than the rather questionable hostility of the Labour Government over several years.