European Community (Budget)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 9:55 pm on 2nd July 1980.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Mr Tony Marlow Mr Tony Marlow , Northampton North 9:55 pm, 2nd July 1980

If I were to have a text for what I am about to say, it would be the expression dredged up by the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) from a sackful of bits of paper that we were all required to read before starting on this debate—the need for member States to contribute to greater integration within the Community.

I reject that concept absolutely. I believe, in the circumstances in which we now find ourselves, with an increasingly aggressive Russia and an increasingly uncertain United States, that it is absolutely vital for European nations to get together and to work together in certain areas such as foreign policy, defence and our approach to the Third world. Those areas, however, in which we have been integrated in the past, such as trade and agriculture, have, from this country's point of view, proved to be an absolute disaster. Any attempt to move further down the road to integration will destroy what European unity we might otherwise have.

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has performed a signal service to this country. Not only has she come back with a much improved position with regard to the Common Market financially. She has also opened the eyes of the country, and of many hon. Members, to the true situation existing between ourselves and the European Community.

Opposition Members will say that the Conservative Party is divided on the subject of Europe. I do not believe that the Conservative Party is divided. It is in the process of transition. Opposition Members will realise that for many years Europeanism in the Conservative Party has been next to godliness. Unquestionable loyalty with regard to Europe has been the requirement. I believe that, even now, many of my right hon. and hon. Friends regard Europeanism as the last memorial to the previous—and perhaps I should say lamented—leader of the Conservative Party.

As Opposition Members will realise, there is always a reluctance to forsake accustomed pilgrimages to the shrines of past gods and theologies. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has, in that respect, done the undoable, attacked the unassailable, achieved the unachievable and vanquished the unconquerable. There is no doubt in my mind that she returned from the Continent with a package better than anyone else would have dared to ask for.

My right hon. Friend has done two things as well, both of them beneficial. First, she has alerted the other countries of Europe, as many hon. Members have said, to the inconsistencies, the unfairnesses, the absurdities and the stresses of the system we have at the moment. Secondly, and far more importantly, she has alerted the people of the United Kingdom to the scale and nature of the damage that has already been done and is still being done. Such damage will continue to be done unless and until the remaining problems can be resolved.

Among those problems is that of finance, which we still face. Before the Brussels agreement we were faced with a payment of £1,200 million net to the Community this year. That has now been reduced to £370 million. I have a vision in my mind that on the first Friday of every month a crocodile of civil servants dressed in Civil Service type rig and carrying Gladstone bags boards a plane with £100 million to take to Brussels. On the first Friday in January £100 million went to Europe, on the first Friday in February it was £200 million, in March, £300 million, and April, £400 million. We have already sent £400 million to Europe. When will these civil servants stop boarding the Viscount jet to Brussels with their briefcases? When will someone go there with an empty briefcase to start to bring our money back?

Additional to the cost of our budget contribution is the immense burden on our housewives of having to buy food at CAP prices instead of world prices. A calculation in The Sunday Times put the figure at £1,500 million a year, net of the cost that we would have to pay for agricultural support. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food in an answer to me said that the figure was £500 million. Let us add the lower figure to our budget contributions. That still makes us net contributors to Europe to the extent of £900 million a year, which is £64 for every family of four in the country. What benefits do we get? If there are benefits, does not every other member State benefit as much as we do? Why should we continue to pay?

Let us take a look at the CAP. When we joined the Community, 60 per cent. of the Community budget was being spent on the CAP. Promises abounded that it would reduce to 40 per cent. It now gobbles up 80 per cent. of the Community budget. The point has been made that, whereas in 1975 the CAP took 60 per cent. of the Community budget, it now takes 80 per cent., and 60 per cent. of the total budget is spent on the disposal of surpluses. In other words, £3 out of every £5 that we spend in this country—£50 for every family in this country—goes on the disposal of surpluses in the Common Market.

Where do those surpluses go? They are spent on butter, which we sell to the Russians for 31p a pound and which the Russians sell to their people for £1·20 a pound, using the profits to make helicopter gun ships, napalm, bullets, rockets and gases in order to bomb and destroy villages in Afghanistan and harass and kill innocent people. Since January, 60,000 tonnes of European beef has gone to Russia, which is more than in any other period since we have been in the Common Market. It has gone through Romania to Afghanistan, to feed the Red Army in its blundering and plundering.

What about the problems of trade? Not only have we surrendered our agricultural policy and our ability to buy cheap food on the world market. We have also surrendered our trade policy. As many hon. Members know, I represent a constituency that manufactures footwear. When footwear is dumped in the United Kingdom, what can we do about it? We can do nothing. We have to go to Brussels. Is Brussels concerned with what is happening in Northampton? When we have problems getting our footwear into other countries because their tariffs are too high or because of unfair trading practices, what can we do about it? We can do nothing.

Hon. Members may say that Europe is our fastest growing market. So it is. However, let those hon. Members remember that when we joined the Community we were in net balance with our manufactured goods. In the past year we had a net deficit of £2,400 million in manufactured items to the European Common Market. We should look closely at our relationship with Europe. Any action that interferes with trade puts up prices and reduces choice, which is bad. It condones inefficiency. Every industry requires a bread-and-butter level of trade in order to cover its overheads and go on to make a profitable output. If through replacement we could produce half that £2,400 million of deficit of manufactured items in the European Community, we could save and bring back to this country 100,000 jobs, so much good is the European Community doing us at the moment.

Despite the magnificent achievements of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister —[Interruption.] No one would have done better. No one would have attempted what she has done. The European Community is still manifestly unfair to the people of this country, and it is seen to be unfair. Inasmuch as politics have a meaning, realities—however much anyone tries to suppress them and gloss over the top with propaganda—will come through. If the approach and the activities of certain hon. Members of this House do not reflect those realities, then realities themselves will impose their own disciplines by changing the very membership of this House.

We must change our relationship with Europe. We must disengage from the stupid little nitty-gritty, items of harmonisation so that we can the better combine with Europe and our European friends on those issues that are so important to us.