We are well aware of the strength of feeling in the United Kingdom and among some of our trading partners about the level of export refunds made available by the Community. The United Kingdom has consistently argued that European Community agricultural prices should be brought more into line with those on the world market, which would reduce the need to dispose of surpluses by subsidised export.
My hon. and learned Friend will be aware that this year, for the first time, the decision taken by the Agriculture Ministers on prices involved the freezing of certain prices and the reduction of others. We hope to see the principle extended to areas that have not yet had the benefit of this much more sensible approach.
What is the Minister's response to the increase in farm spending that was announced by the Commission yesterday? Does it not go against the Government's policy? What do the Government think about the proposal to dump more cheap butter on world markets and the possibility of disputes with New Zealand and the United State that that will cause? Will the Minister confirm the reports that only a proportion of the cash due to farmers will be paid in the current year?
In so far as the Commission's proposals, if implemented, would contradict the present 1 per cent. ceiling on Community expenditure, the United Kingdom is and will remain entirely opposed to them. The Commission has accepted that its proposals would contravene the position of the Council of Ministers on the 1 per cent. ceiling. We hope that the Commission will approach the matter in a responsible manner. Any expenditure incurred which goes beyond the ceiling that has been imposed should be unacceptable to the United Kingdom and to all other member states.
While fully accepting my hon. Friend's reply, may I congratulate him on the remarkable success that he and his colleagues seem to have achieved in tapping the job promotion element of the social fund? Does this not more than compensate for any loss that we may have suffered on the subsidising of exports?
For a number of years the United Kingdom has been a main beneficiary of the social fund, and much of the credit for that must go to those in the various Departments who have identified suitable schemes that have been fully in accordance with the criteria. The United Kingdom has been, and I hope will continue to be, a major beneficiary in this area.