HC Deb 16 February 1999 vol 325 cc715-7
2. Mr. David Watts (St. Helens, North)

What representations he has received about Agenda 2000 in respect of enlargement of the Union; and if he will make a statement. [69421]

9. Mr. Lawrie Quinn (Scarborough and Whitby)

What representations he has received about Agenda 2000 in relation to European institutions; and if he will make a statement. [69428]

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Robin Cook)

We are in regular contact on Agenda 2000 with consumer groups, regional organisations and the business and farming communities. In the negotiations, we support the Commission's proposals on reform of the common agricultural policy, particularly the cut in intervention prices, which will bring annual savings of £80 a year for the typical British family.

We support streamlining the structural funds, and will work to preserve the current proposals, which will make the United Kingdom one of only two member states to receive an increase in the number of areas covered by objective 1. We shall press vigorously for stabilisation of Europe's budget at broadly the level of the current year, and have made it plain that the case for the British rebate is as compelling as ever.

Enlargement of the European Union is an historic opportunity to unite east and west. In order to afford enlargement, the European Union must get spending under control. We are determined that it should do so.

Mr. Watts

I thank my right hon. Friend for that response. Does he agree that it is a sad indictment of the policies of the previous Government that Britain has some of the poorest regions and some of the richest? Will he do all that he can to ensure that structural funds continue to go to the areas that need them to try to bridge that gap?

Mr. Cook

As I have told the House, we shall have an increased number of areas covered by objective 1 structural funds. That should not give hon. Members any comfort, because it reflects the extent to which those regions have suffered over the past two decades, since they were last looked at. We are determined to ensure that they have every opportunity to recover from their current position. We shall ensure that they are supported by appropriate Government measures.

Mr. Quinn

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the reform of the common agricultural policy is inextricably linked to European Union enlargement? Would he like to contrast the Government's attitude with the little England mentality of the Conservative party—

Madam Speaker

Order. That is not the Foreign Secretary's responsibility. Will the hon. Gentleman finish his question?

Mr. Quinn

I apologise, Madam Speaker.

Will my right hon. Friend do his utmost to ensure that the Labour party's policies are seen to flourish at the forthcoming negotiations on reform of the common agricultural policy and European Union enlargement?

Mr. Cook

My hon. Friend's question speaks for itself. [Laughter.] I do not know what the Conservatives find funny about the fact that they were unable to make progress on the beef ban for two years. We have made progress through constructive engagement. Through our approach to Agenda 2000, we are likely to achieve prices in cereals and beef that will be broadly comparable to world prices. That was never secured by the previous Administration over 18 years. The rest of the nation may laugh at the Conservatives' record, but Conservative Members have nothing to laugh about.

Mr. Bowen Wells (Hertford and Stortford)

Will the Foreign Secretary confirm that he accepts the recommendation of the International Development Select Committee on Agenda 2000—that all development should be undertaken by one commissioner, so that the whole development budget can be combined in a managerially and administratively sensible way?

Mr. Cook

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that we have considerable concerns about the European Union's development budget. It does not follow the policy, which we have adopted strongly, of targeting help on the poorest people in the poorest countries. As Britain is increasing its development budget thanks to the Government's policies, we can speak with authority on the issue and will continue to do so.

Mr. Michael Trend (Windsor)

Will the Foreign Secretary give the House an absolute assurance that the British rebate is non-negotiable?

Mr. Cook


Mr. Jim Marshall (Leicester, South)

Madam Speaker, I apologise for having called you Madam Deputy Speaker last week.

Madam Speaker

I said that the hon. Member would never be called again. It shows what a softy I am.

Mr. Marshall

It shows that we can both make mistakes.

My right hon. Friend referred to the need to reform the structural funds. Britain is also keen on reform of the cohesion fund, but Spain—a main beneficiary of the fund—is violently opposed to the proposals. Is there any evidence that Spain might be adopting positions on other issues affecting UK-Spanish relations to change our stance on the cohesion fund?

Mr. Cook

Spain's position on Gibraltar existed long before the cohesion fund was invented. It is our view that as the cohesion fund was invented to prepare countries for membership of the single currency, it is illogical to continue with that fund once they are actually in the single currency. In those circumstances, we remain to be convinced of the case for the cohesion fund.