Common Market Reforms

Oral Answers to Questions — European Community – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 25th July 1984.

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Photo of Mr Teddy Taylor Mr Teddy Taylor , Southend East 12:00 am, 25th July 1984

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what progress has been made in seeking Common Market reforms since the conclusion of an outline agreement at the Fontainebleau summit; and if he will make a statement.

Photo of Malcolm Rifkind Malcolm Rifkind Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

At the Economic and Finance Council on 9 July Finance Ministers set in hand the work to implement the agreed text on budgetary discipline. The Foreign Affairs Council on 23 and 24 July examined the Commission's draft text of a new own resources decision embodying the budgetary corrective mechanism. Work on both these issues will continue in parallel.

Photo of Mr Teddy Taylor Mr Teddy Taylor , Southend East

A third of every penny spent by the Commmon Market is spent on destroying or dumping surplus foodstuffs. Is my hon. Friend not concerned about the decision of the Commission yesterday to agree to even more spending on the dumping of cheap butter and other foods in Russia and elsewhere when the Commission has no authority from the Council of Ministers for such spending? What powers do our Government or any other national Government have to prevent the Commission spending illegally?

Photo of Malcolm Rifkind Malcolm Rifkind Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

I share my hon. Friend's anxiety about the Commission's proposals. In regard to powers to prevent action such as it contemplates, in so far as its proposals go to the Council of Ministers, the United Kingdom is able to take action in the normal way. Some of its proposals might be dealt with by the Management Committee, in which decisions can be overturned only by a two thirds vote against. I assure my hon. Friend that the United Kingdom will oppose the proposals, but I cannot anticipate whether the two thirds requirement with regard to decisions by the Management Committee will be achieved.

Photo of Mr Robert Kilroy-Silk Mr Robert Kilroy-Silk , Knowsley North

If huge surpluses continue to be amassed, can we not at least ensure that food that is stored in Britain is distributed to people in this country who need it, such as my constituents, who have so little income that food stores in Kirkby are closing down, or is given to the poor of the Third world who are dying of malnutrition and starvation?

Photo of Malcolm Rifkind Malcolm Rifkind Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

There are already schemes for the sale of much cheaper butter to hospitals and orphanages in Britain. The Community also has a major food aid programme, which now amounts to about £280 million.

Photo of Eric Forth Eric Forth , Mid Worcestershire

I congratulate my hon. Friend on the Government's firm stand in the latest round of financial negotiations in the EEC. Will he confirm that it is, therefore, all the more important that the financial mechanism for the future control of Community expenditure is made even tighter and more viable, to ensure that we do not have the same runaway expenditure in future?

Photo of Malcolm Rifkind Malcolm Rifkind Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

That is our objective. It is worth noting that the Commission's original estimate for expenditure this year of 2·6 billion ecu has already been reduced by one half as the Presidency's request is for only 1·35 billion ecu. We still believe that that is unacceptable and that the Commission should be trying to make further reductions to ensure that the Community's spending stays within its legal ceiling.

Photo of Mr Norman Buchan Mr Norman Buchan , Paisley South

Will the Minister confirm that the cost to Britain of the common agricultural policy is about £6 billion to £7 billion a year above what it would be if we could operate our own agricultural policy? Does that not add up to about £78 a week for the average family's food costs? Is it not time that this nonsense stopped?

Photo of Malcolm Rifkind Malcolm Rifkind Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

I cannot accept the hon. Gentleman's figures. He will be aware that if Britain returned to a deficiency payments system that would impose a massive economic burden on British taxpayers.

Photo of Mr Roger Moate Mr Roger Moate , Faversham

Has something gone seriously wrong with the Foreign Office? [HON. MEMBERS: "Yes."] Were we not going to stop all this nonsense about cheap food exports to Russia by being tough about Community own resources? Why are we now proposing an increase in those resources when the Commission's proposals increase cheap food exports to Russia at the expense of the British taxpayer?

Photo of Malcolm Rifkind Malcolm Rifkind Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

The Commission is free to propose what it wishes. The Government believe that the Council of Ministers must take firm action to ensure that any Commission proposals that are contrary to the legal limits of Community spending are not accepted. The Government intend to take seriously their responsibility in that regard and hope that other Community Governments will do the same.

Photo of Robin Cook Robin Cook , Livingston

Is not the reality that the Commission has just decided to ignore the Council of Ministers? Does not its decision to go ahead with unauthorised expenditure, for which the money does not exist, demolish all the promises that we have heard about greater financial discipline? Has the Minister noted that a Commission official is quoted as saying that the decision was taken as a trial of strength? If the Commission believes that being financially irresponsible is a means of showing strength, why on earth should the House agree to vote even more money for the Commission to be even more irresponsible?

Photo of Malcolm Rifkind Malcolm Rifkind Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

If the Community Governments respond as the Government intend to respond to this proposal, it will not take effect. The Council of Ministers and member Governments have the power to prevent any of the Commission's proposals which they believe are undesirable and unacceptable.