Will my hon. Friend accept that the directives and regulations that are flooding this country are causing much cost and concern? They extend from tachographs for drivers' hours that recently caused the strike, through fishing to noisy lawnmowers. Will he accept that the only way to resist this flood of regulations and directives and to ensure that the Government retain control over industry and commerce is to amend the European Communities Act 1972? Will he confirm that our best lever is the threat of withdrawal from the Community if reforms are not made?
Such an amendment to the European Communities Act 1972 is not necessary. Before Community regulations and directives have a substantive legislative effect and can be adopted, they require the approval of the Council of Ministers. In the Council each member State can block agreements unless interests to which it attaches importance are met. The United Kingdom Government have made their views quite clear on many of those issues on a number of occasions.
Under what regulation and directive did two officials from the Common Market visit Belfast on Monday and close down certain stands at an important engineering exhibition at Balmoral Hall, Belfast?
Is it not a fact that some EEC directives are so futile that one wonders how they were passed?
For example, at a time when my city and the steel industry generally are in grave trouble, there was a directive on steel that virtually stopped us putting money into our steel industry. We fought that in this Chamber and got the directive changed.
Certainly in some circumstances, dotty. That process is available to hon. Members under present procedure, and in the Council of Ministers some of the nonsenses of gratuitous harmonisation and other requirements are pointed out. But that does not change our basic obligation to abide by the treaty.
Will the hon. Gentleman, whose grasp of these matters is surer than that of some of his colleagues, take this opportunity to make it plain to the House that it is not the policy of the Labour Government or the Labour Party to withdraw from the European Community? Will he also state clearly that idle threats to withdraw diminish, rather than increase, the Government's ability to secure changes within the EEC?
One of the best things that Conservative Members can do is support the Government when they fight for these interests, particularly at the present time when the German press is supporting the British Government's stand, and when even the German farm Minister, Mr. Ertl, makes a statement to the Bundestag that he realises that we have reached the tolerable limit. It would be helpful if the Conservatives could also show some enthusiasm for this point of view.
Against what timetable are the Government seeking fundamental changes in the CAP and the budget contributions? Will the Foreign Secretary say whether the comments that we heard today from the right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Pym) indicate that criticism and abrasiveness on the Opposition Benches are fast becoming fashionable?
We have made substantial progress on the CAP. We still have a long way to go, but we are making progress. The contribution to the budget will be much harder to negotiate, but I believe that as the Community gets nearer to the limit of its own resources, and as VAT has to be looked at, there will be an increasing recognition that the burden currently carried by the United Kingdom is unfair, unreasonable and not in the interests of the Community as a whole.
The Foreign Secretary referred earlier to measures to alleviate unemployment, but he totally ignored the regional fund. Bearing in mind the need for a better balance in the European Community's budget between agricultural spending and spending on other vital matters, such as regional policy, will he explain why, when the European Parliament put through an improvement in the regional fund, the British Government decided to backtrack on that, to the great dismay of the North-West in particular, which, with other regions, would have benefited very substantially from the improvement?
The Government have consistently supported an increase in the regional fund. What we are not prepared to do, and what we are pledged to the House not to do, is to transfer power from this House to the European Assembly without the full permission of the House. The power to fix the budget, which would be involved if the European Assembly could increase the regional fund to the extent it was trying to do, would be the start of a major transfer of power from this House to the European Assembly. Just going for a narrow financial gain when there is a major constitutional issue at stake would serve the interests of the House very ill.
Is it not true that when the negotiations for us to enter the EEC were undertaken the large carrot held out to us was that the regional fund would be £1,500 million? Is it not also true that, once the EEC made us its captive, the £1,500 million came down to £250 million? Will my right hon. Friend press the EEC to give us the carrot that was promised, but not given, before we make any further subventions to the Community?
It was envisaged that the share of the Community budget voted to agriculture would come down from about 78 to 50 per cent. One way of doing that was by reducing the cost of the CAP and by increasing the amount of resources devoted to the regional fund and to the social fund. Therefore, it is very important to work on all three elements—increasing resources, ensuring that they are spread to those less prosperous members of the Community and cutting down on the costs of the CAP.
Would we not get on a bit better if the Government recognised that Conservatives have consistently supported the Commission's proposal for a price freeze this year on certain foods? We have consistently sought that. Is it not also a fact that we do not get very far in protecting our interests in Europe by sending Ministers there who are building their political careers on discrediting Europe?
What the hon. Member does not seem to understand is that what undermines this country more than anything is the constant carping criticism of the British Government. It is very interesting that the only thing the hon. Member can claim is that he supports the Commission. Why does he not support his own Government?