HC Deb 03 February 1982 vol 17 cc302-4
44. Mr. Hal Miller

asked the Lord Privy Seal what progress has been made towards agreement on the European Economic Community budget.

Mr. Humphrey Atkins

There were further discussions on Community budget reform at the informal meeting of Foreign Ministers in Brussels on 25 January. Unfortunately, it did not prove possible to reach agreement, but it was agreed that the Presidents of the Council and of the Commission should sound out member States with a view to finding a solution. I shall be making a statement on the separate issue of the 1982 Community budget after questions.

Mr. Miller

In the light of some of the questions from "little Englanders," does my right hon. Friend accept that there is a need constantly to put before the House and the public the advantages to be derived by Britain from remaining within the Community and continuing to contribute towards its strength, but that public acceptability of the case will depend largely on the settlement reached in relation to our financial contribution? Does he agree that until that is settled it would be premature to proceed with the 1982 budget?

Mr. Atkins

I agree with my hon. Friend that the settlement of the future of the Community budget and our problem are matters that deeply concern everybody in this country. That is why we are spending considerable time and effort i a seeking to persuade our European partners that a just and reasonable settlement should be reached. We have not yet reached agreement, but we are able to discuss the issues with our European partners without falling out or having the disagreements and rows that Labour Members constantly believe that we have—presumably because whenever they disagree with one another they have rows.

Mr. McNamara

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that on the question of the budget, as on other matters, we accept that the Government's priorities are as set out by the right hon. Gentleman in his initial reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Hardy), when he said that the first priority was the Community's interest and that, only second, came the British national interest? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that Hull, which once had more than 100 trawlers, now has fewer than 10, and also has more than 1,000 fishermen unemployed, empty fish houses and people out of work in the fishing and processing industries? All that has been caused by the failure of the Community either to achieve a proper common fisheries policy or to find ways of assisting regions that have been adversely affected by the policies of the Community. The first priority of any Community budget—

Mr. Speaker

Order. I hope to call other hon. Members before the end of Question Time.

Mr. Atkins

The advantages to this country of belonging to the Community are considerable, as I and other Ministers have repeatedly said, and we intend to go on saying it. We must seek to make the Community work better, because that will increase the advantages to us and other members. Therefore, that is what we are seeking to do the entire time. In relation to the points made by the hon. Gentleman about the budget and other matters, our objective is to make the Community work better.

Mr. Michael Shaw

Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is necessary in the negotiations not just to seek a reduction in the agricultural fund, but to seek a wider basis for the regional and social funds?

Mr. Atkins

We have consistently put forward that point of view and there is a wide measure of agreement among Community members that the regional and social funds should be developed. We have been seeking agreement that the amount spent on the CAP, as a percentage of the total Community budget, should be gradually reduced.

Mr. Speaker

Mr. Eric Heffer.

Mr. Skinner

Here comes the statesman.

Mr. Heffer

Will the Government on this occasion be genuinely serious about the future budget negotiations? We have had continual negotiations in the past, but no permanent settlement has been reached. It is estimated that the contribution will be about £1,400 million. May we know now—I press the right hon. Gentleman as I pressed him the other day—whether the Government are genuinely serious this time and will make a stand on behalf of the British people?

Mr. Atkins

The figure that the hon. Gentleman used is the unadjusted contribution. He knows that that will be adjusted because of the stand that the Government took in 1980. The arrangements made in 1980 apply to 1981 and 1982. Therefore, in practice, that will not be our contribution. Our determination to solve the problem is as great as it was in 1980, and is a good deal stronger than anything that the hon. Gentleman's Government put up.

Mr. Whitney

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the last question by the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer), and many other questions this afternoon, shows the illogicality of those who are persistently hostile to British membership of the Community, in that when there is agreement in the Community the Government are attacked for not maintaining British interests, but when the British Government maintain British interests Government critics exalt in what they allege to be disagreement and disarray among our Community partners?

Mr. Atkins

Yes. I have never detected much logic in the Opposition's position.

Mr. Speaker

Order. Before we go on to the statement I wish to apologise sincerely to the hon. Member for Newham, North-East (Mr. Leighton). I should not have passed a comment that was open to misinterpretation. That is the price of trying to be too clever in a hurry.