HC Deb 09 March 1983 vol 38 cc835-7
67. Mr. Myles

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what progress has been made in reaching an agreement on the British contribution to the European Community budget.

Mr. Pym

The Commission has put forward its ideas for dealing with the budget problem in the context of a reform of the Community's financial system. Discussions are continuing in the Foreign Affairs Council, and the subject will be raised at the European Council on 21 and 22 March.

Mr. Myles

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that there is widespread understanding of the British contribution problem by our European partners—in fact, far more than by many hon. Members? Does he agree that the efforts by himself and our hon. Friends in trying to get a sensible solution by reasoned negotiations is the best way forward?

Mr. Pym

There is an understanding of the British position. I am glad to say that the Foreign Affairs Council has come to the positive conclusion comparatively recently that a fundamental change is needed in the financial system. The Commission has put forward a Green Paper with various suggestions in it. We shall address ourselves to that at the Council meeting next week and at subsequent meetings.

Dr. Owen

Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that a permanent solution to the British budgetary contribution problem, which is very necessary, would be easier to achieve if, at the European Council meeting, or before, the British Government showed a readiness, particularly in view of the dramatic fall in the value of the pound sterling, to enter the exchange rate mechanism of the EMS?

Mr. Pym

That is an entirely different question. To be frank, I do not think that such a move, were it to be made, would have any bearing on the discusssions that we shall have. Perhaps it should, but in my view it would not.

Mr. Heifer

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that he would get full support from hon. Members on the Labour Benches for not entering the EMS? Does he realise that we would consider entry to be a great mistake by the Government? As the Prime Minister has made all sorts of private statements, which seem to have leaked into the press, to the effect that sooner or later the Government would be prepared not to pay contributions unless a settlement is reached, and since everyone seems to be sympathetic to us, what are we going to do about it? They are not doing anything about it. What do we intend to do about it?

Mr. Pym

What has happened so far is that over three years we have had a repayment of over £2,000 million, which is not a bad start. We must negotiate a new agreement now. I do not disguise from the House the fact that it will be difficult. We have shown already that we are prepared to take action. We shall do so. It is also fair to say that in a world recession it is more difficult for countries to make such adjustments than when there is growth in the world economy. At any rate, we shall pursue negotiations on the budget and a permanent change in the financial system with all the vigour at our command.

Mr. Bowen Wells

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that, in pursuit of a solution to the budget problem, there is a proposal to increase the European development fund? If so, what effect would that have on the Overseas Development Administration budget?

Mr. Pym

That proposal is not germane to the basic consideration of a change to the financial system.

Mr. Carter-Jones

Could we now clear up once and for all who in the EC is responsible for funding schemes for aiding the disabled and the frail elderly? Can that be spelt out loud and clear?

Mr. Pym

I should like notice of that question, so that I can give the hon. Gentleman an accurate reply. I shall write to him.