Oral Answers to Questions — Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 30th January 1974.
asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what further discussions he plans to hold in the EEC Council of Ministers about regional policy.
asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what progress has been made towards an agreed European regional policy.
My right hon. Friend is in Brussels today discussing regional policy in the Council of Ministers. The House will not expect me to speculate on the outcome of these discussions.
Recalling how often the Government have stressed that any regional fund should be of a substantial size, may I ask my right hon. Friend whether he is able to say whether he expects the current spirit of co-operation in the Community to produce a fund anywhere near 3,000 million units of account, as proposed by the British Government? If not, is he able to say whether there is still the expectation that there will be a substantial net benefit to Britain as the result of the establishment of such a fund in the next 12 months?
I am sure my hon. Friend will appreciate that it would not be helpful to my right hon. Friend in his discussions in Brussels if I were to speculate on the likely outcome or to contribute any view here without knowledge of what is being said in the Council of Ministers.
Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether the British Government accept the new offer of the German Government, which is about half of what we applied for originally? Does he not recognise that the French Government appear to be trying to grab as much and give as little as they can get away with? In view of that, will the Government adopt a more robust attitude of retaliation in vetoing payments towards the common agricultural policy?
I do not think that the hon. Gentleman is correctly informed in his analysis either of the German proposal or of the French reaction to it. I do not think that it would help my right hon. Friend in Brussels if I were to express views today while he is sitting with his colleagues in the Council of Ministers discussing this subject.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the latest offer from the Germans, with all the restrictions that it implies, would give to the United Kingdom just about the same amount of regional help as we originally applied for?
There is no doubt that the offer made by the German Government marks a substantial advance. All the same, I do not think that it would be wise for me, while the talks are in progress in Brussels at this moment, to speculate or to give opinions on the different offers, counter-offers and other arguments that may be developed.
Will the Minister at least assure us that the British Government will not accept an annual regional payment from this fund which is less than the £90 million which the development areas are getting in regional employment premium and which they are due to lose?
As I have said, I do not think that it would help my right hon. Friend if I were to make statements or give assurances here on a subject that he is in the process of negotiating. Having had some experience of negotiating myself, I know how tiresome it can be if messages come in in the course of negotiation giving a view that inevitably must be remote from the realities of the negotiations.
While one may understand that the Minister is clearly reluctant to make any statistical speculation, will he express a political opinion—which in the past he has not been reluctant to do—as to whether he thinks that bilateral trade agreements on oil by individual members of the Community are likely to be in any way damaging to European solidarity and, consequently, the likely development of a satisfactory regional policy?
The subject of the pros and cons of bilateral arrangements with oil countries is extremely interesting, but its connection with regional policies is tenuous.