HC Deb 14 December 1999 vol 341 cc136-8
5. Mr. Bill Tynan (Hamilton, South)

What representations he has made to the Chancellor of the Exchequer regarding the benefit to Scotland of Britain's rebate from the European Union. [101223]

The Minister of State, Scotland Office (Mr. Brian Wilson)

My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer is conscious of the benefit that the UK generally, and Scotland in particular, derive from the UK's abatement from the European Union. That is why its maintenance was successfully negotiated at the Berlin European Council in March 1999.

Mr. Tynan

I thank my hon. Friend for that short reply. On the positive aspects of our relationship with Europe, and the fact that Scotland as an exporting nation derives great benefit from it, does he agree that the employment aspects and the number of jobs protected in Scotland through that relationship are extremely important?

Mr. Wilson

My hon. Friend is right. The agreement that has been negotiated on objective 2 by the United Kingdom will benefit large parts of his area. The agreement negotiated by the Prime Minister on the highlands and islands will benefit large parts of Scotland, which need that continuing support. On many fronts, we benefit from the European relationship and the funding. It is worth reminding the House—I see that the hon. Member for Moray (Mrs. Ewing) is about to stand up. She will remember that, in the European Parliament, the Scottish nationalists voted against the British rebate. In 1999, it is worth £2.8 billion to the UK, which is equivalent to £48 for every person in Scotland. That is what the nationalists voted against, which I suppose is why "Nats" is similar to "Santa" in reverse.

Mrs. Margaret Ewing (Moray)

Leaving aside those points, the Minister and I recognise the complexities involved in the arrangements. When we speak about rebates, can we also speak about contributions, not least those made by Scotland to the European Union through the agricultural industry? Will the Minister confirm that today, Prime Minister Jospin was prepared to accept into the French market grass-fed herds from Scotland, but that that was turned down by Whitehall? Can he advise me, the House and the agriculture industry what were the roles of the Scottish Office and of the Minister responsible for agriculture in the Scottish Parliament? Where does that leave the alliance, and who is fighting for the Scottish farmers?

Mr. Wilson

I note that the hon. Lady sensibly avoided the fact that the nationalists voted against the subject of the question, which is the British rebate. In other words, they voted against £48 for every person in Scotland, which does not serve the people of Scotland very well—including, incidentally, the agricultural community.

As for Prime Minister Jospin's comments today, let me make it absolutely clear that there is no substance in the claim about the tripartite discussions involving the French, the United Kingdom and the European Commission. Even if such an offer had been made, it would not have been the proper basis on which to proceed.

Even the nationalists, who thrive on division, should think very carefully before backing this. All along, the French have been anxious to drive a wedge into British policy and to achieve an outcome based on a herd-by-herd policy, rather than accepting the European Union's legislative position that all United Kingdom beef that meets the date-based export scheme criteria is safe. In accepting the attempt by the French to divide and rule— not in formal negotiations, but in briefing—the hon. Lady is working not only against the interests of many British farmers, but against those of some Scottish farmers.

Several hon. Members


Madam Speaker

Order. The House will have noted that we have got through only four questions in nearly half an hour.