I apologise to the right hon. Member for Worthing (Mr. Higgins) and to my Front Bench for not having been present for the opening speeches. As I am an ardent advocate of certain views on the Common Market, the House will take it from me that I would have been present if it had been humanly possible. I shall be present for the rest of the evening and possibly until the small hours of the morning.
I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson) and the hon. Member for Bridlington (Mr. Townend) that the Government's response to the Select Committee's report was unworthy of them. I echo the words of the right hon. Member for Taunton (Sir E. du Cann) that it is an insult to the House to give such a pathetic answer to a well worked out report on matters which affect the House and the country. It is not a party political matter and it would be wrong for us to treat it in that way. That is why I have found some of the comments in the debate a little disappointing.
We are the guardians of the public purse, regardless of what our views are about particular items of expenditure or about the policies behind that expenditure. When, some considerable time ago, we debated the agreement I thought that it was bad, although I did not say so in the House. I said, "Let us give events, member states and the Commission a chance to show those of us who are sceptical, if not cynical, about the procedure that we are wrong." My attitude could be summarised as, "Give them enough rope and they will hang themselves."
During the past year the EEC has had enough rope on the operation of the budgetary discipline procedure for all of us, other than the most dedicated, fanatical supporters of what the Common Market does, whether right or wrong —there are a few of them in the House—to realise that the budgetary discipline procedure has not worked and will not work. There is no conceivable way in which it could work. We made that point at the time of the budgetary discipline agreement.
It is not a legal agreement and, when challenged at the time, the Prime Minister said that she might well have liked to make it a legal agreement but that other member states did not want that. One can well understand that because member states were going through a charade to obtain, as part of a bargaining package, our agreement to the increase to the 1·4 per cent. VAT ceiling, which the British Government would not have accepted had they not been able to assure the House that they had a workable agreement on budget discipline.