Orders of the Day — European Community (Budget)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 18th July 1977.

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Photo of Mr Hugh Dykes Mr Hugh Dykes , Harrow East 12:00 am, 18th July 1977

Obviously, my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury was agreeing with that article, but his idea of issuing warrants and instruments to enable journeys to be made seems to be the rational way of developing this. The problem will become even more alarming after direct elections, when salaries will start to be paid and there will be the important relationship between salaries and expenses. I hope that the House and other European Parliaments will apply a searchlight to that.

I should like to say something about the budget, but I do not have time to go into details. Incidentally, two and a half hours is an unsatisfactory time for such a debate because there is a tendency for some hon. Members—who have already spoken previously—to speak for too long.

The budget represents a groping and faltering step in the right direction through the onset, for the first time, of own resources. That is not the same as the creation of an autonomous Community budget in the intrinsic sense of that adjective. I hope that the budget will develop as soon as possible not only in size but along the lines of autonomous decision-making and decisions on spending under the various heads.

As for the procedures for the budget in the European Parliament, the way in which they are scrutinised by national Parliaments is unsatisfactory. It is a Byzantine and mysterious process within the European Parliament. My hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough (Mr. Shaw) has done the House a great service in explaining some of the mysteries. However, the discrepancies in assessments, and the fact that the final budget is different from the preliminary draft produce enormous obfuscation and an opportunity for deliberate obfuscation by the Council of Ministers. I hope that parliamentarians, national and European —and perhaps, to a lesser extent, even the Commission—will work hard together to overcome this central problem.

The development of the budget is an urgent and pressing matter and, therefore, it is related directly to the paradoxical and rather illogical argument about the contribution. The hon. Member for Crewe (Mrs. Dunwoody) complained about the net contribution made by the United Kingdom. However, we shall perpetually be complaining about the contributions of various member States, and if the United Kingdom remains one of the laggard economies in the Community we in particular shall complain about the contribution.

However, since our contribution to the Community budget by definition replaces current or future items of national expenditure, this is not really a contribution in the sense of a direct financial burden. It is a payment into a common budget for, I hope, the common good. The way that it is distributed is partly connected and partly separate, but even that can be decided at a political level in a satisfactory way if the member States' economies do what they should have done—and what they always did up to the time of the oil crisis at the end of 1973—namely, by and large and with some detailed exceptions in performance, move together.

Economic convergence and development of the Community budget go hand in hand. This is not a strategic budget in the national sense of a budget with deficits, surpluses or coming into balance as a result of deliberative economic management performance. It is a passive receipts and payments budget whose original political aim was to prop up the inefficient farmers of Germany and France. That motivation is declining fast, although agricultural expenditure remains high at about 70 per cent.

I hope that the budget will transform itself from an artificial passive budget into an autonomous budget that is more dynamic in its deliberative effects and that it will be decided more collectively with the European Parliament having a more direct say over the whole of the budget. At present, the European Parliament has a direct say in less than 10 per cent. of the budget. It should become a positive instrument for the good of all the citizens of the Community.

Lest my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury be alarmed, I should stress that this has nothing to do with federalism. It is a real long-term expression of the Community in practical terms, developing common funds to counter such problems as unemployment and doing things for the common good that national Governments cannot do.