HC Deb 21 March 1984 vol 56 cc1045-6
54. Mr. Blair

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what changes there have been in the Government's position on the proposal to increase the European Economic Community's own resources following the recent visits of European Government leaders to London.

Sir Geoffrey Howe

None, Sir. There can be no increase in own resources without unanimous agreement between the member states, nor without the endorsement of Parliament. The two conditions laid down by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister at Stuttgart last year have clearly not yet been fulfilled.

Mr. Blair

If that is the position, and if the Government are to be taken seriously when they say that they may withhold Britain's budget contributions, how does the Foreign Secretary expect the public to understand the proposal to introduce next week a Bill that would grant an extra £100 million to the Commission?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

That is a matter to which the Government will be giving further consideration.

Mr. Durant

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that it hardly behoves the Opposition to criticise Conservative MEPs and Members of Parliament for speaking with a united voice, when one can hardly describe the Labour Party as having a united voice on Europe?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I agree, as always, with my hon. Friend's judgment on the Labour party.

Mr. Nellist

Does the Foreign Secretary remember that, over the past 10 years, the net cost to Britain of our membership of the Common Market has been £1.5 million a day? Does he further recall that during the yes vote campaign in the referendum nine years ago there was a slogan entitled "Jobs for the boys"? With the possible exception of the right hon. Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Jenkins), who is never here for these debates anyway, will the right hon. and learned Gentleman say what boys have got jobs as a result of those 10 years of payments to the Common Market?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I recall that the Labour party attempted to complete negotiations for securing a reduction in the cost of the Community to this country and that it got an agreement that produced not a penny piece, whereas this Government undertook similar negotiations that secured a refund for Britain of £2,500 million.

Mr. Moate

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that although some of the agriculture proposals are welcome as a step in the right direction, they in no way reach his pre-condition of fundamental reform? Will he clarify his earlier answers by saying that the agriculture proposals themselves would not have justified an increase in own resources?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

Before considering any increase in own resources, the whole range of decisions and their implications affecting a period of years ahead would have had to be considered and, indeed, it would have been necessary to secure agreement on the other two conditions about which I have already reminded the House.

Mr. Robin Cook

May I press the Foreign Secretary further on the question raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair)? Does he not recognise that it would be an offence to the House, after the stalemate this week, to invite it next week to consider a Bill to grant another £100 million to the EC to stave off bankruptcy? If £100 million is not an increase in own resources, what does constitute such an increase? Why does he not drop that Bill from next week's business and in its place introduce a Bill to deduct from our 1984 payments the rebate for 1983, which his failure at negotiations has now lost us?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I do not accept that last comment in any sense. Both those questions are receiving urgent consideration by the Government, and the Government will advise the House about them in due course.