HC Deb 12 March 1980 vol 980 cc1327-30
30. Mr. Deakins

asked the Lord Privy Seal if he will make a statement about progress with other EEC countries in the matter of reducing the United Kingdom budget contribution.

32. Mr. William Hamilton

asked the Lord Privy Seal what further progress has been made in reducing the United Kingdom's contribution to the EEC budget.

Sir Ian Gilmour

Some progress has been made, and we look to an agreed solution at the next European Council in Brussels on 31 March.

Mr. Deakins

When talking of a solution to the problem do the Government mean one that will take account of the vastly increased costs of the common agricultural policy, and hence of our budget contribution, when the three new members, Greece, Spain and Portugal, are admitted?

Sir I. Gilmour

We aim to achieve a solution that will last as long as the problem. That indicates a certain dynamism.

Mr. Hamilton

Does the Lord Privy Seal agree that the Prime Minister in particular has blown hot and cold for months on end with singularly little positive result? Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that, in the circumstances, we should take a more robust and aggressive attitude, particularly towards the French Government, who do not understand anything else? To what progress was the right hon. Gentleman referring when he answered the original question?

Mr. James Lamond

And that is from a supporter of the EEC.

Sir I. Gilmour

I was talking particularly about the Commission paper of which the hon. Gentleman will be aware. I do not agree that the Prime Minister has blown hot and cold. She has been singularly strong and consistent on this issue. The hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton) asks for a robust and aggressive attitude. He seems to believe that the quarrel should be conducted as if it were between members of the Labour Party. We do not believe that that is the right way to behave towards our partners. We have taken a strong position. If the hon. Gentleman had read the transcript of the Prime Minister's broadcast on French television the night before last, he would have noticed that she took an effective and robust attitude. We are convinced that our case is right. We are asking for an equitable solution and that is what we intend to achieve.

Mr. Sproat

In view of the demands from France and Germany recently for Britain to do a deal on her fish contribution to the EEC, will my right hon. Friend make it clear that the Prime Minister's assurance stands—that we shall not do a trade-off in fish, particularly since it is now worth about £700 million a year, year on year?

Sir I. Gilmour

I am not at all sure that there has been that demand from Germany, although I agree that President Giscard asked for the matters to be linked. I think that my hon. Friend knows our position. We have made clear to our partners that we are anxious to make progress on all Community problems, but that they should be dealt with on their own merit.

Some of our partners would like to see a number of problems brought together in a single package for decision by the European Council. We note their views, but we believe that it would be in the interest of the Community as a whole to make progress on all these issues and to solve each as soon as possible.

I entirely agree with what my hon. Friend says about the great importance of fish to this country.

Mr. Buchan

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that a very robust and aggressive solution to the policy was given in the resolution passed by the Labour Party in Scotland at the weekend, when it called on us to leave the Common Market? Would not that receive the overwhelming support of the British people now?

Sir I. Gilmour

It is possible to exaggerate the importance of recommendations by the Scottish conference of the Labour Party. It is plain that the Labour Party did nothing whatever to solve the problem when it was in power. The financial mechanism that it produced in 1975 turned out to be virtually useless, and Labour got nowhere in dealing with our problems with the Community. We are negotiating in our own way, firmly and sensibly, and we do not believe that the uttering of impotent threats is the right way to proceed in negotiations.

Sir Anthony Meyer

In view of the impact of the French television interview of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, in which she combined firmness, patience and courtesy with a clear expression of Britain's intention to remain part of the European Community, and as that has been my right hon. Friend's attitude all along, will he persevere with it?

Sir I. Gilmour

I am most grateful to my hon. Friend for what he said. He described entirely accurately the television broadcast of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. We shall proceed with the attitude that we have been pursuing.

Mr. Shore

I am sure that neither side of the House would wish the Government to be uttering impotent threats about the budget contribution and the general objective of broad balance. But what about uttering a few potent threats instead? A remedy lies in our own hands. As the Prime Minister said, it is our own money that we are dealing with. Why do we not make it absolutely plain that if we do not get satisfaction we shall jolly well see to it that we achieve a broad balance by our own acts?

Sir I. Gilmour

That is the sort of attitude that the right hon. Gentleman always takes to the European Community when he is in opposition, but it is not quite the same when he is in government. We must take a responsible attitude. The uttering of potent or impotent threats—more likely impotent—is not the right way to get our way in this matter. We are pursuing our negotiations firmly and robustly, and we have made a certain amount of progress. Much more remains to be done, but the history of diplomatic negotiations throughout the ages proves that the uttering of threats is not the best way to proceed.