HC Deb 24 October 1984 vol 65 cc691-703 3.30 pm
The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Sir Geoffrey Howe)

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a statement about the Foreign Affairs Council which I attended in Luxembourg on 22–23 October, and on the main developments in the Community during the recess.

I am arranging for a note on the other issues discussed at this, and other, Councils during the recess to be published in the Official Report.

Considerable progress was made in the negotiations on the accession of Spain and Portugal. Community positions were agreed and communicated to the Spanish and Portuguese Foreign Ministers on a number of matters including olive oil, where a position designed to prevent the development of a surplus was adopted; and to the Spanish Foreign Minister on industrial tariffs, where the Community's position provides for the more rapid reduction of high Spanish tariffs and an extended reduced duty quota for cars. The Council adopted a declaration noting that agreement had been reached on most of the main issues in the negotiations with Portugal and looking forward to the accession of both countries to the Community on 1 January 1986.

In addition to the ministerial meetings held with Spain and Portugal, there was a meeting of the European Community-Jordan co-operation council. In the Council, I made clear our concern at the Commission's latest scheme for sales of intervention butter and in particular whether this was compatible with the Community's obligations under the GATT.

More generally, considerable progress has been made in the Council towards implementing the Fontainebleau agreement and resolving the outstanding budget issues. The Foreign Affairs Council on 2–3 October adopted the 1985 provisional draft budget within the 1 per cent. VAT ceiling and sent it forward to the European Parliament. Agreement was also reached to provide 1,000 million ecu of supplementary finance through an intergovernmental agreement to cover the Community's inescapable financial obligations for 1984. The Council noted that our willingness to participate in that agreement would depend on the release by the European Parliament of the United Kingdom's refunds for 1983 and agreement on the measures necessary to guarantee the effective implementation of the principles of budget discipline agreed with the European Council. The Council has reaffirmed the commitment of the European Council that the 1,000 million ecu abatement of our contribution in respect of 1984 will be made on the revenue side of the budget in 1985.

Substantial agreement on a satisfactory text about budget discipline was reached at the ECOFIN Council on 1 October. The Irish presidency is now conducting further consultations with a view to reaching final agreement at an early meeting of the Council.

On 10 October the European Parliament voted to release the United Kingdom's refunds, amounting to about £440 million net. Ninety per cent. of the gross refund, that is, £528 million, is due to be paid to the United Kingdom during the next few days.

Following is the report on other issues: There were three meetings of the Foreign Affairs Council during the summer recess. That on 2–3 September, at which my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Pentlands (Mr. Rifkind), the Minister of State, represented the United Kingdom, dealt exclusively with the negotiations for Portuguese and Spanish accession which I covered in my statement to the House earlier today. At the other two Councils, on 17–18 September and 2–3 October, I represented the United Kingdom accompanied by my right hon. Friend the Minister for Overseas Development. My right hon. Friend the Minister for Trade was present at the 17–18 September meeting. My right hon. Friend the Minister for Overseas Development attended the 2–3 October meeting. At both Councils, Ministers discussed the negotiations en a successor to the second Lomé convention, in preparation for the EC-ACP ministerial negotiating conference which was subsequently held in Brussels from 9–12 October. Negotiations between the Community and the ACP countries are continuing. The 17–18 September Council adopted the regulation on the strengthening of the common commercial policy. This improves the Community's ability to respond to illicit trading practices by third countries, in a manner consistent with the Community's existing international obligations. The Council also adopted the long-delayed package of 15 directives laying down common standards for a range of industrial products. Her Majesty's Government welcome this useful step in opening up the internal market. At the September meeting, we drew attention to the need for a further supplement to the 1984 duty-free newsprint quota sufficient to meet the requirements of Community users to the end of the year. This has now been agreed. There was also discussion of Portuguese demands for greater access this year for her textile exports. The Commission stressed the urgency of a new agreement with Portugal. The Council considered the problem of the famine in sub-Saharan Africa, especially Ethiopia. The Commission reported on what the Community has already done to help and undertook to assess what further action was required. As my hon. Friend the Minister for Overseas Development told the House on 22 October, the Community subsequently agreed to ship a further 35,000 tonnes of wheat to Ethiopia. The 2–3 October Foreign Affairs Council agreed a strongly worded declaration, emphasising the Community's concern at the protectionist provisions in the Omnibus Trade Bill before the United States Congress and the potentially serious consequences were they to be adopted. Many of the more objectionable provisions were eliminated or modified in the final version of the Bill. On 22–23 October, the Council approved the transfer of £37.8 million from the general budget of the Communities to the European Coal and Steel Community in order to finance social measures to accompany restructuring of the steel industry. This follows previous allocations for this purpose in 1981–83 amounting to £127 million. The United Kingdom is a net beneficiary from the programme of social measures in the steel industry. The Council confirmed the Commission's negotiating mandate for the 1985 voluntary restraint arrangements with major third country suppliers under the external steel regime. Ministers also agreed that accelerated Tokyo round tariff cuts should be implemented on 1 January 1985 for a number of products of interest to developing countries.

Mr. Robin Cook (Livingston)

The Foreign Secretary concluded by referring to the payment at long last of the 1983 refund. Will he confirm that the reason why the rebate has been paid is that the Government have surrendered to the condition imposed by the European Parliament when it blocked the rebate in July, in that they have submitted to a whip-round of further additional expenditure in the 1984 budget? Does he agree that that is in flat contradiction of every reassurance we heard from Ministers before the recess that the 1984 budget could be balanced by effective control of expenditure? Is it not true that we have obtained our rebate by agreeing to hand back a large chunk of it in order to pay for the rebate that we are receiving?

Will the Foreign Secretary confirm, as the House was in recess when that loan was agreed to, that it requires the specific approval of Parliament? Will he note that some of us, when we are invited to give that approval, may take the view that it is an odd way of enforcing discipline in the Common Market to offer Brussels even more money to spend?

The Foreign Secretary also referred to the progress on budget discipline. Is he aware that the text that is under discussion falls well short of the demands made by the British Government and has been characterised by his German opposite number as a package of indiscipline? Will he confirm that the text will not be legally binding, will operate on the basis of majority voting and will be suspended in any year in which there are "abnormal circumstances"—which covers just about every year in the history of the CAP?

Why, in those circumstances, has the Foreign Secretary reportedly agreed that the increase in own resources should be brought even further forward, to October 1985? Does he not realise that his enthusiasm for an early increase in payment to Brussels is not shared on both sides of the House, which will certainly wish an early opportunity to express its view on the negotiations that have been conducted in its name for so many months?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

On the first question raised by the hon. Gentleman, we made it clear throughout that we were prepared to consider financing the inescapable obligations of the Community once all possible savings had been found and provided that the other issues were resolved. The House will recall that the threatened budget overrun for 1984 was 2.3 billion ecu; that has been reduced as a result of the negotiations during the summer to less than half that figure—to 1 billion ecu—and we agreed to contribute our share of the financing of that residual sum provided that the 1983 refund was released, as it has been, by the European Parliament and provided that agreement is reached on budget discipline in the text implementing the European Council's resolutions.

Of course, we made it clear in the negotiations that Parliament must approve the supplementary finance to which I referred under the intergovernmental agreement.

Mr. Robin Cook


Sir Geoffrey Howe

At the appropriate time.

It is plain from what I have already told the House that the achievement of a satisfactory text on budget discipline was a condition still attached to our willingness to consider an intergovernmental agreement. We have made it clear throughout—the matter is still under discussion—that the text must implement the Fontainebleau conclusions, which stipulate that the council must adopt measures to guarantee the effective application of budget discipline. That is the objective which we set ourselves.

Parliament will have an opportunity to debate the date of implementation of or own resources. That will not arise until the conclusion of the enlargement negotiations; it may then be appropriate for the commencement of implementation to come into the latter part of next year.

Mr. Terence Higgins (Worthing)

The Foreign Secretary referred to an intergovernmental agreement covering the Community's inescapable financial obligations for 1984. What are those inescapable obligations, and would they be inescapable if no finance were forthcoming to cover them? Will my right hon. and learned Friend make it clear whether the supplementary finance is an increase in the overall resources of the Community that it would otherwise not have had, or whether it is a loan?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

On the first point, the commitments to which I referred, which represent about 1,000 million ecu, include a variety of components that are truly inescapable as a result of the commitments already entered into by the Community. The achievement has been to secure a substantial reduction from 2.3 billion to about 1 billion. We must face the fact that the Community, with all its member states participating in it, has been running and financing an agricultural policy that has threatened to take those figures much higher. The whole process of coping with that, checking that growth and getting it under the discipline that we want is bound to take some time. The 1985 draft provisional budget, as I said, has been adopted within the framework of the 1 per cent. VAT ceiling. We believe that it is important to stay within that framework, and for that purpose to consider advancing the implementation date into 1985.

Mr. Russell Johnston (Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber)

Has there been discussion in Council on the argument about whether aircraft to be supplied to the Caribbean should be British or Franco-Italian? As the right hon. and learned Gentleman knows, rightly or wrongly the French Commissioner has come under criticism on that matter. That underlines the importance of the independence of the Commission. Given that, and the recent appointment of Commissioners, it would be of value for the House to know what criteria Her Majesty's Government used in appointing our new Commissioners.

Sir Geoffrey Howe

On the first point, there has been discussion in the Community about the supply of aircraft to the Caribbean, which is of interest, rightly, to the hon. Gentleman. It has been canvassed recently by my right hon. Friend the Minister for Overseas Development who has just returned from the Caribbean. No conclusion has yet been reached although plainly we should prefer British aircraft. Our criteria for the appointment of Commissioners have been to appoint people with wide European ministerial experience with high reputations, who are wholly suited for the appointments that have been made.

Mr. Eric Forth (Mid-Worcestershire)

Although my right hon. and learned Friend has confirmed that the proposed budget for 1985 will be within the 1 per cent. ceiling, which I am sure we all welcome, can he give the House an assurance that Her Majesty's Government will stoutly resist any attempts to go above that ceiling, and will he further resist any attempts to introduce supplementary budgets during 1985 to breach that ceiling, because otherwise it would be meaningless?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I understand my hon. Friend's anxiety, but I return to the point that we are engaged in stopping a programme that has been rolling forward at considerable speed. It is for that reason that we have had to struggle so hard to reduce the overrun in 1984. The same principle has been adopted for 1985. I should not, however, wish to suggest that it will be possible to finance all the 1985 expenditure within the provisional draft budget so far adopted. It is important for us to maintain the strongest possible hold on that in all the European institutions which is one reason why we attach importance to the achievement of budget discipline.

Mr. Eric Deakins (Walthamstow)

What is the latest form of words relating the "budget discipline"? If the Foreign Secretary is unable or unwilling to give the House that important information can he tell us what is the British Government's desired text or form of words to cover that important point?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

The question cannot be answered with the brevity that is appropriate for an answer on the Floor of the House. The budget discipline text has been under discussion first by the Finance Council and, subsequently, by the Foreign Affairs Council. It contains a number of paragraphs, and several of those paragraphs are still under negotiation to ensure that it effectively guarantees the principles of budget discipline agreed by the European Council. I cannot attempt to encapsulate the current argument in any one phrase or text.

Mr. Teddy Taylor (Southend, East)

Although we shall no doubt discuss the budget on many occasions, in view of the Secretary of State's known profound anxiety about the plight of the starving people in Ethiopia, can he say whether he was successful yesterday in persuading his colleagues to take further emergency measures to deal with that grave crisis?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I have not secured—indeed, yesterday there was no particular discussion of this matter—any position in the Community on this. I appreciate fully the extent to which on Monday the House expressed its feelings on the subject and the anxiety with which it is regarded throughout the country. The Ethiopian problem is only one aspect, although it is a tragic—

Mr. George Foulkes (Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley)

And urgent.

Sir Geoffrey Howe

—and urgent one, of the general problem of drought and famine in Africa and elsewhere. One hardly meets anyone from that continent without having the problem drawn to one's attention. We propose, therefore, to make a further major contribution. I have directed that the balance of our national food aid allocated for this year — that is, over 6,000 tonnes — is made available for Ethiopia. I am grateful to my right hon. Friend the Minister for Overseas Development for the speed with which he has addressed himself to this matter on his return. In addition, we shall provide a further £5 million in drought-related assistance to Ethiopia and other African countries. We shall also be urging upon our colleagues in Europe the need for further substantial contributions from the emergency provisons of the European Development Fund and this year's Community food aid programme.

I must warn the House of one matter that was pointed out on Monday. It concerns the very real difficulties in getting help to those who really need it. We shall have to apply ourselves to that as well.

Mr. Roy Jenkins (Glasgow, Hillhead)

Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman recognise fully the great importance of ensuring that there is no further slippage beyond 1 January 1986 on the date for the admission of Spain and Portugal? We are already four years behind the date that was being discussed. Were there to be a further slippage it would be extremely damaging — [HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] It would be damaging for relations with Spain and Portugal, which have been kept waiting too long. They are new democracies, and it is very important to bring them into the Community. Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman use his best endeavours to ensure that there is no repetition of what happened at the Council at the end of September, when the Spaniards were treated in a dilatory and discourteous manner?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

The right hon. Gentleman is right to draw attention to this. We were very conscious of the point when we met the Spanish Foreign Minister in Luxembourg on Monday. It was one reason why we were so anxious to achieve the progress that we made.

The House should bear in mind that it is important that we conclude these negotiations. First, it is a matter of concern to the United Kingdom that the stability of democratic systems of government in the Iberian peninsula is helped and not diminished. It is also important to the British people that access to the highly protected industrial markets of Spain should become available to our industrial manufacturers.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield)

You must be joking.

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I am perfectly prepared to answer a proper question from my hon. Friend in due course.

Mr. Winterton

You will get one.

Sir Geoffrey Howe

Even that would not surprise me.

Therefore, I take account of the importance of the date of 1 January 1986. Clearly it is important not to treat that as though it were the Greek kalends.

Mr. Jim Spicer (Dorset, West)

I am sure that the House will agree with my right hon. and learned Friend that the famine relief measures that have to be taken by the Community are urgent and desperately required not only in Ethiopia but throughout Africa. However, the main problem is not the supply. The simplistic view is that supplies can just go forward, and that is the end of the matter, because they will arrive at their destination. However, it is a logistical problem. Is there no way in which the European Community can set up a standing logistical force, along the lines of NATO's disaster force, which could swing into action in emergencies? Would not it be right for the United Kingdom Government to put forward plans for such a force to be established?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for coming back to that. I drew attention to it in my original answer, and my hon. Friend was right to underline it. We have to be concerned not just about the gross volume of aid but about whether it is reaching the intended recipients. The Community has an emergency provision for its own development fund, but that does not ensure delivery. I do not think that I can say more to comfort my hon. Friend beyond stressing that this is a matter to which we shall direct the Community's attention as closely and as energetically as possible. My impression of the scene on the ground is that it is extremely difficult for even the best intentioned people to be sure of putting together what is necessary. But I shall take careful account of my hon. Friend's comments.

Mr. Bryan Gould (Dagenham)

When and how shall we know, and according to what criteria shall we be able to judge, whether the condition on budgetary discipline has been met?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

The criteria necessary will be for the hon. Gentleman, along with others, to consider the text that we finally commend to the House alongside the objectives stated in the Fontainebleau conclusions to see whether they are effective to guarantee the delivery of what is intended. That will arise when the wider issue comes before the House.

Mr. David Harris (St. Ives)

Were fisheries featured in the talks, bearing in mind the huge size of the Spanish deep water fleet and the impact that it is likely to have on Britain's fisheries? Will my right hon. and learned Friend make available to his colleagues in the Council of Foreign Ministers the horrific films that are now being shown on BBC television about the state of famine in Ethiopia?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I agree with my hon. Friend that the films serve to bring home dramatically the dreadful conditions in Ethiopia about which we are concerned. It is my impression that the same sort of presentation is being made in other countries. My hon. Friend need not fear that we shall fail to underline the importance of the matter.

We spent a substantial time yesterday discussing a possible fisheries mandate for the enlargement negotiations. We have not come close to a conclusion. It is an extremely important matter for the British fishing industry and for at least four other member states which have substantial fishing fleets. The size of the Spanish fishing fleet is a matter of real concern.

The problem of establishing a sensible policy for the conservation of fish while allowing the fishing industry to continue to operate in those conditions is one that has not been created by the Community. The problem has been created by the conditions and the danger of over-fishing is one with which Europe would have to cope, Community or not. This is a difficult matter but we are determined that we shall achieve a proper decision for the negotiations to go ahead.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

If the Foreign Secretary, perhaps understandably, has not been briefed on the Caribbean aircraft order, perhaps he will make arrangements for the Minister for Overseas Development, who clearly knows about it, to make a statement. The House is concerned. It seems that my old friend and colleague in the European Parliament, Mr. Pisani, has manipulated the order for the benefit of France and to the disadvantage of Britain. If that is an unfair assessment, we should be told. I think that we should be told today by some parliamentary method.

Sir Geoffrey Howe

The hon. Gentleman is rightly renowned for his tenacity and he is entitled to return to this issue with me. I cannot give the House the detail on this, but it is a matter—

Mr. Foulkes

I wrote to the Secretary of State last week about it.

Sir Geoffrey Howe

The matter has been advancing and my right hon. Friend the Minister for Overseas Development has been considering it also. As the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) knows, recommendations were made for the French aircraft by, I think, a German consultant. A strong view has been expressed in the opposite sense by many of the Caribbean countries and that is something that we are not overlooking. I cannot announce a conclusion on this matter now. I fully understand the desperate anxiety of Labour Members and my right hon. and hon. Friends and my right hon. Friend the Minister for Overseas Development will ensure that the hon. Gentleman—[HON. MEMBERS: "The House."]— has the up-to-date information that is available.

Mr. Albert McQuarrie (Banff and Buchan)


Mr. Dalyell

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is there no parliamentary mechanism by which a Minister, who obviously knows about details, can answer a quesion in the place of one who, understandably perhaps, does not?

Mr. Speaker

That is not a matter for me.

Mr. McQuarrie

When my right hon. and learned Friend was with the Spanish Foreign Minister, did he discuss with him whether the Lisbon agreement, which was signed on 10 April 1980, would be implemented? Did he say to the Spanish Foreign Minister that there is no question of Spain being allowed to enter the EC so long as the restrictions on the border between Gibraltar and Spain continue, against Gibraltarians and British citizens?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

My hon. Friend is, rightly, continuously astute on this issue. I have discussed the matter on a number of occasions with the Spanish Foreign Minister. The importance of the Lisbon declaration is clearly understood, as is the constitutional position of the people of Gibraltar as set out in the Gibraltar constitution. It has been made clear, and is clearly understood, that there can be no question of accession taking place alongside the continuation of the border restrictions to which my hon. Friend has referred.

Mr. Allan Roberts (Bootle)

Does the Secretary of State understand that there can be no confidence in the arrangements that he says have been agreed to prevent the creation of an olive oil lake when Spain joins the Common Market while a wine lake exists and the Common Market continues to store and then destroy the obscene butter and beef mountains? Why is olive oil different from wine? If the right hon. and learned Gentleman can make those arrangements for olive oil, why can he not make them for wine and the other goods?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

The answer is simple—it has taken a substantial amount of time to secure sufficiently wide insight, not just throughout the Community but in our country, about the importance of curbing the size of food surpluses, whether of cereals, butter, milk or wine. The wine surplus already exists, and we must address ourselves to that matter. That is one of the issues still outstanding in the negotiations for the Spanish and Portuguese accession. There is not yet an olive oil surplus problem in the existing Community. It is perceived that there will be such a problem on enlargement of the Community. We are taking measures that will prevent the problem developing. I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman is dismayed at that. Surely, that is a substantial achievement. The hon. Gentleman should not allow the best to be the enemy of the good.

Mr. Roberts

I do not believe it.

Mr. Nigel Forman (Carshalton and Wallington)

Does the prospect of the enlargement of the Community to include Spain and Portugal herald a greater European interest in the problems of central America? Have the Government been turning their attention to supporting and broadening the efforts of the Americans in that area?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I think that Community and European countries already have a substantial interest in the problems of central America. For that reason, during the recess I went with Community Foreign Ministers to the conference in Costa Rica of central American countries. The fact that we were accompanied to that conference by the Spanish and Portuguese Foreign Ministers shows that the enlarged Community is likely to take an even closer interest in that region.

Mr. Andrew Faulds (Warley, East)

In view of the terms of the right hon. and learned Gentleman's statement, is it not time that the Council and the Governments concerned abandoned their preoccupation with these pettifogging domestic economic matters and started to assert a more overtly political view of Europe's interests, to offset American and Soviet pressure and power?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I am delighted to set out the wider horizons that commend themselves to the hon. Gentleman. As we have made clear on many occasions, it is important for the Community to develop an increasingly effective voice on foreign policy questions that affect member states generally. That was one of the reasons why it was so important to make headway on those substantial, longstanding questions that were the subject of the Fontainebleau conclusion. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his support of the idea of increasing the effect of political co-operation.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton

Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that his statement will not be universally welcomed by Conservative Members, bearing in mind that the British farmer has been used as a sacrificial lamb on the altar of the European budget and that British Aerospace has been unjustly deprived of an order from the Leeward Islands for three 748s because of the intrigues of the French Commissioner? Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that the accession of Spain and Portugal could lead to a grotesque increase in unemployment in Britain? Is that in the best interests of this country? I think not.

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I have no doubt that if the world appeared as simple and as gloomy to all of us as it appears to my hon. Friend we should take a different view.

Mr. Winterton

But that is the reality; I wish you would come down to it.

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I gave my hon. Friend an opportunity to come in, and he has made his point with his customary lucidity. The changes that are taking place in the common agricultural policy were intended to occur and are occurring throughout the Community. Of course the changes involve hardship, change and sacrifice for farmers of different kinds, but they are inevitable. It is not accurate to conclude that the enlargement of the Community with the accession of Spain offers the prospect of nothing but mass unemployment. Accession offers the prospect of large and increasingly free access to the Spanish market which, so far, has been entirely protected. That is good, not bad, for employment in this country.

Mr. Winterton

What about the 748s and the Leeward Islands?

Mrs. Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley)

Despite all the Government's talk during the past year, the reality is that the 1985 draft budget allocates 71 per cent. of its spending to farming, only 5 per cent. to social policies and only 6 per cent. to regional policies. How do the Government intend to reallocate that spending in the Community budget? Over the last five years in the European Parliament there has been enough talk about, and enough crocodile tears have been spilt, over the problems of unemployment, but there has been no reallocation of that sector of the budget to help alleviate the problem.

Sir Geoffrey Howe

The hon. Lady is right to draw attention to this point. For precisely that reason we are seeking to secure strict and effective budget disciplines, including a component which ensures that agricultural expenditure grows less rapidly than the growth of own resources. It is important to achieve that. I also ask the hon. Lady to support the view that we can achieve the headway that we desire not only by the reallocation of a necessarily constrained public expenditure but by working for increasing liberalisation of the entire Community market. That is another feature to which we attach the greatest importance.

Mr. Tony Baldry (Banbury)

Everyone will welcome the prompt way in which the Government have responded to the famine in Ethiopia by allocating further funds and food, but the dimensions of this disaster are such that it requires a co-ordinated international response. Will my right hon. and learned Friend therefore please ensure that this item not only stays high on the agenda of the Council of Ministers but that it is made clear that Europe, having done its part, looks to the rest of the international community — in particular the Soviet bloc and the middle east—to play its part in alleviating this crisis?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

My hon. Friend is quite right. This is not just a question of the production of money; it is also a question organisation. The Community has, and must keep, the organisational point well in its sights, and so must the World Food Programme. My hon. Friend was also entirely right on this as on many other occasions to draw attention to the total failure of any significant contribution to problems of this king by the Soviet Union. It is important for that point to be underlined.

Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North)

Could my right hon. and learned Friend help people like myself who very much wish to help him? How can we convince our constituents that we should take more taxes from them so that Parliament can then surrender its control over that money to an institution which is currently spending £100 million a week on the destruction and dumping of food?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

There are two aspects to that question. First, not just in the Community but in virtually every developed country with a substantial problem of agricultural overproduction, one will find examples of money being misdirected to the disposal of surpluses, to the exclusion of land from farming. This problem besets all societies such as our own, which must try to secure a proper balance between agricultural living standards and those of the industrial community. It is important for us to put in place, as we are now doing, precisely those measures which will achieve that.

As to the change in resources, we must also recognise that one of the substantial achievements of Fontainebleau was a substantial reduction in the net burden that will fall on the people of this country. There will be a substantial reduction in the share which hereafter we shall pay towards the cost of any Community programmes.

Mr. David Young (Bolton, South-East)

Are not the Government illogical and insincere in supporting the accession of Spain while that country supports border restrictions with Gibraltar and consistently makes claims on the people and land area of that territory? Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman recognise that land cannot be equated with people's futures? Before that accession takes place, will he make it absolutely clear that this matter must be resolved and that we cannot support another EEC Member which at the outset is demanding that people who have the right of British citizenship should join Spain.

Sir Geoffrey Howe

The hon. Gentleman is right to draw attention to the importance that we attach to this subject. As I have already said, accession of another member state alongside the continuance of frontier controls of the kind which presently exist would be quite inconsistent and unacceptable. The preamble to the Gibraltar constitution makes it plain that no change in its status can take place without proper attention being paid to the wishes of the people. It is interesting and important to notice that the Spanish Foreign Minister has on more than one occasion emphasised his understanding of the importance of the wishes of the people and his recognition of the fact that no change can take place against their will.

Mr. Frank Cook (Stockton, North)

On more than one occasion today the right hon. and learned Gentleman has referred to principle and justification. Will he square with the House his apparent willingness to engage in cap-passing exercises to make up for the overspend on budgets and the cynical insistence of his colleagues to limit expenditure for his own countrymen?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

The nature of that question is either so broad-ranging or so arcane that I find it difficult to understand. We have achieved a substantial advance in the implementation of tight budget discipline, a very substantial reduction in the budgetary prospects for the current year and a provisional budget for next year within the 1 per cent. ceiling. If the hon. Gentleman has any further suggestions to make, I am always prepared to listen to them.

Mr. Cook


Mr. Robert Jackson (Wantage)

Further to the question of the hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Mrs. Clwyd) about the balance between agriculture and non-agriculture in the European budget, is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that if the formula for budgetary discipline provides that agricultural expenditure shall grow no faster than the increase in own resources, and that non-obligatory expenditure shall stay strictly within the maximum rate, that will be a cast-iron formula for guaranteeing that there will be no changes in the balance of the budget between agriculture and other types of expenditure?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

It depends, does it not, on how far within the fixed percentage it stays? I fully appreciate my hon. Friend's point that that in itself will not be enough, but in recent times the problem has been to prevent agricultural expenditure consuming a growing part of total resources. It is important to put in place the two components of overall budget discipline and an obligation to secure a lower than natural own resources growth of the rest.

Mr. Robin Cook

Will the Foreign Secretary accept that the answer to the question from my namesake is that it is indeed perverse for this Government to be cutting all forms of domestic expenditure while at the same time proposing an increase in European expenditure on the CAP? That happens to be the one area where there is a consensus that there should be a cut rather than an increase in expenditure.

The whole House will accept the right hon. and learned Gentleman's sincerity and concern about Ethiopia and will echo his words. However, I am sure he will accept that many people find it offensive—I do not think that that is too strong a word—that at a time when Europe is sitting on a massive grain harvest the institutions of Europe should have been so slow in agreeing to release intervention stocks for that urgent famine.

As to the Caribbean aircraft, I press the Foreign Secretary to show some real concern over the issue at stake. Is he not aware that what is required is not more or up-to-date information but an accurate expression of concern by the Government through whatever channel is available to them?

I wish to express alarm over one of the responses which the right hon. and learned Gentleman made to my initial questions. He stated that the vote in this House on own resources would be taken after negotiations on enlargement were concluded. Will he confirm that there is no end in sight to those negotiations? Does he not accept that it would be grossly unfair to the House if he were to continue to enter into further agreements on the presumption that at some future stage the House will agree to the increase in own resources? Would it not be wise to put this matter before the House before he commits Britain even further in negotiation?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

On that last point, it has been plain throughout, and is plain from the text of the Fontainebleau conclusions, that any increase in own resources would have to be embodied in an own resources decision, and that that own resources decision is subject to ratification by the parliamentary procedures of each of the 10 member states. When the Commission makes its proposal in an appropriate text, it will be subject to parliamentary scrutiny in each country in the usual way. It is plain from the text that only unanimous concurrence among Parliaments can lead to that conclusion.

On the hon. Gentleman's other point, we cannot simply dismiss Community expenditure on agriculture policy as though it had nothing whatever to do with us. If we were not part of a common agriculture policy, we would be part — as we have been — of an entirely different national agriculture policy, contending with competing protected agriculture regimes outside. It is idle to pretend that that would lead to a more comfortable conclusion. In the context of that framework it is necessary to work together to secure the necessary reduction.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned Ethiopia, which I hope is a matter of less contention between us. I fully share his concern as, indeed, does the whole House. The response that I announced today is substantial. The Community has already been making very substantial sums of food aid available. However, it is right that we should pay close and urgent attention to that problem, including not only the amounts sent but the assurances for effective delivery. I can assure the House that my right hon. Friend the Minister for Overseas Development, in particular, will be keeping the closest possible eye on that.