HC Deb 10 January 1990 vol 164 cc935-7
11. Mr. Marlow

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what is the United Kingdom's likely net contribution to the European Community budget in (a) 1989 and (b) 1990.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Francis Maude)

The latest estimate of the United Kingdom's net contribution to the EC budget in 1989, published in the statement on the 1989 Community budget last April, was £1,966 million. An outturn figure for 1989 and an estimate for 1990 will be published in the statement on the 1990 Community budget.

Mr. Marlow

I did not catch the second figure that my hon. Friend gave, but if I got it right, I believe the first figure for the full year was about £2,000 million. That is a heck of a lot of bread, if I can put it like that. As we are net receivers of excess European manufactures and net importers of excess European agricultural produce, and despite the fact that our right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has done a magnificent job in getting some of our money back, is it reasonable that we should be spending £2,000 million a year of our taxpayers' money to subsidise those Europeans who seem to do nothing but insult us? Can we not take further action now to get more of our money back?

Mr. Maude

My hon. Friend may think that there are those in the Community who insult us, but my hon. Friend is well capable of holding up our end on this, and perhaps that is valuable. My hon. Friend drew attention to the advances made because of the deal negotiated by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. By the end of this year there will have been an abatement of about £7.5 billion since the Fontainebleau agreement in 1984. That is a considerable achievement, and it represents a substantial reduction in the net contribution. We are by no means the largest net contributor to the Community budget and, at this stage, there are two other contributors. We must maintain our vigilance, however, to ensure that the size of the Community budget does not rise unreasonably.

Mr. Leighton

Is it not the case that many EC countries pay nothing into the budget whereas Britain, one of the poorer nations, has to pay grotesquely large sums—something like £2 billion—to subsidise richer countries? Would the Minister care to imagine what we could do with that £2 billion in the National Health Service? Even after all the rebates, when will the Government take steps to stop us acting as Lady Bountiful with British taxpayers' money?

Mr. Maude

Such criticism comes ill from the hon. Gentleman, as it was negotiation by the previous Labour Government which led to the net contribution by the United Kingdom. Only the firm stance taken by this Government in the earlier part of last decade led to that appalling legacy of incompetence being substantially reduced.

Mrs. Currie

The European Community is set to change considerably if associate status is offered to the newly democratic countries of eastern Europe. Does my hon. Friend agree that many of these are poor countries and will need a great deal of help? Has any thought yet been given to the effect on the United Kingdom's likely net contribution during the 1990s as Europe is widened to include the newly democratic countries?

Mr. Maude

No one is suggesting that in the early part of the 1990s there is any question of the European Community being enlarged to accommodate reforming countries from eastern Europe. Co-operation agreements are being negotiated with other countries. Earlier this afternoon the House heard about some of the financial contributions that are very properly being made by the European Community to eastern European countries. I assure my hon. Friend that this country's net contribution should not increase, and because the Community's budget has remained substantially within the ceilings negotiated at the Brussels Council in 1988, the net contribution should be reduced in subsequent years.

Mr. Anderson

As democratic centralism and purges end in central and eastern Europe, is there not a danger of the same democratic centralism and purges being reasserted in the Conservative party? Has the Minister noted the recent article by the right hon. Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit) suggesting that if Tory Members of the European Parliament do not toe the Prime Minister's little England line on the Community and the Community budget, they may have to leave the party? Does he approve of that view?

Mr. Maude

The hon. Gentleman tries hard, but to little effect. His words come a little oddly just after one of his hon. Friends expressed an ultimately little Englander view. He tries hard but he does not cut any ice. In the Conservative party we have a firm view about the sort of Europe that we want to develop—an open, liberal European Community based on co-operation between friendly states. That will remain the case.

Mr. Gow

Does my hon. Friend consider that an annual net contribution to the Community of £2 billion is too much, too little or about right? Is it not true that if the vaulting ambitions of the supra-nationalists had been restricted and the Community had devoted itself only to the free movement of people, goods and capital in the member states, this massive contribution would have been dramatically reduced?

Mr. Maude

Undoubtedly one of the principal causes of the large Community budget which has led to the United Kingdom's net contribution has been the common agricultural policy, and that is well understood. When my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister was carrying out the negotiations which led to such a substantial and dramatic reduction in our contribution, plenty of Opposition Members were prepared to decry her efforts. I am glad that she stuck firmly to her purpose and succeeded so well.