HC Deb 29 October 1980 vol 991 cc484-7
34. Mr. Spearing

asked the Lord Privy Seal if he will make a statement concerning meetings of the Council of the European Economic Community held since the end of July.

35. Mr. Straw

asked the Lord Privy Seal if he will make a statement concerning meetings of the Council of the European Economic Community held since the end of July.

Sir Ian Gilmour

I refer the hon. Member to the replies I gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Lincoln (Mr. Carlisle) on 27 October.

Mr. Spearing

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for that reply. Can he confirm that on 7 October the Council of Ministers agreed the pattern of supplementary measures that would be part of the British repayments? Will he also confirm that they will last for only three years, that only 70 per cent. of the expenditure will fall on the EEC, with 30 per cent. falling on Her Majesty's Government, and that these payments are primarily controlled by the Council of the EEC? When shall we have a list of the regional measures that the Government propose? How much additional United Kingdom expenditure will that involve?

Sir I. Gilmour

I think that the hon. Gentleman will receive a list fairly soon after the measures have been submitted to the Commission. The hon. Gentleman was misleading when he talked about "only 70 per cent." Each project will be financed to the tune of only 70 per cent. by the Community, but the figures that I gave the House after the 30 May settlement still apply. There has been no question of reducing our budget refund by 30 per cent.

Mr. Straw

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that while the British Government have let the British textile industry bleed almost to death the Dutch Government in August and the French Government yesterday announced substantial packages of aid to their textile industries? Was any objection to these schemes taken in the Council of Ministers? If not, do the British Government intend to ensure that they secure similar schemes of assistance?

Sir I. Gilmour

The hon. Gentleman will appreciate that this matter did not come up in the Council of Ministers, and that detailed questions on the textile industry should go to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade.

Mr. Teddy Taylor

As our net contribution to the EEC so far this financial year has been about £3 million a day, can my right hon. Friend explain a little more why he and his colleagues agreed to our receiving only 80 per cent. of what we were promised a short time ago?

Sir I. Gilmour

I have already tried to explain, I thought clearly, in a written answer to my hon. Friend. The point is that we agreed that not less than 80 per cent. should be paid by the end of the financial year. The rest will be paid after that. There is no question of our agreeing to 80 per cent; it is simply that not less than 80 per cent. will be paid by the end of the financial year.

Mr. Hardy

Would the right hon. Gentleman care to tell the House a little more about the initiatives that the Government pursued at the meetings in regard to looking after the interests of the British steel industry, both the public and private sector? How would the right hon. Gentleman describe the response to those initiatives?

Sir I. Gilmour

There has been general unity of view between the British Government, the steel Commission and the steel unions. We have agreed that action under article 58 is desirable. The Germans have found this difficult, and there is to be another meeting of the Council tomorrow.

Mr. Bill Walker

Will my right hon. Friend acknowledge that a number of us on the Conservative Benches were opposed to entering the European Community, and that therefore it is right that today we should draw attention to such matters as the French cheating over the milk co-responsibility levy?

Sir I. Gilmour

I do not know whether that is right. My hon. Friend is at liberty to ask what questions he likes, but, without further elaboration, which I do not wish to press my hon. Friend to give, I am not certain what he is asking about.

Mr. Shore

The Lord Privy Seal does not seem to have taken account of the point that is being made, that both the timing of the repayments and the amount of the budget refunds are of great importance. Presumably, on the timing, if we do not receive substantial repayments in this financial year that will make the cuts all the more severe than those so far announced.

How can the right hon. Gentleman give such a categorical commitment about the 80 per cent. repayment before the end of the financial year, when each project must be approved by the Commission and be subject to the possibility of challenge on the need, against a weighted majority vote in the Council of Ministers?

Sir I. Gilmour

It is because that is an agreement that was reached by the Council—a unanimous agreement—and I have no reason to believe that it will be broken. There is plenty of time for ample projects to be agreed and the moneys paid over before the end of the financial year. The right hon. Gentleman, with his experience of how the Community works, will know that a negative qualified majority is not very difficult to achieve.