I congratulate my right hon. Friend on defeating the wholly unwarranted and expansionary budget plan proposed by Jacques Delors earlier this week. Does my right hon. Friend agree that so long as Britain makes such massive net contributions to help the supposedly poor countries of the European Community —Portugal, Ireland, Spain and Greece—we shall find it virtually impossible to meet the United Nations target for overseas aid to third-world countries in genuine need?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for those remarks. He will be encouraged to know that the majority of European Community Finance Ministers agreed with him because they took the view that the proposals by the President of the Commission for an expansion of the Community budget were not justified. That must be right when one considers that the suggestion is that the Community should expand spending at the rate of about 5.6 per cent. per annum in real terms. Frankly, that is unaffordable. As my hon. Friend said, it is extremely difficult for Finance Ministers in each country to justify economy at home when such incredible extravagance is proposed at European Community level.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that if the Government are serious about reducing public expenditure, as they ought to be in view of the forecasts of how it is rising, a good place to start is our net contribution to Brussels? Should it not be reduced rather than increased?
I have already explained the position that the Government and the majority of other Governments in Europe take. The Community ought to take into account the fact that, even within the existing own resources ceiling, there is plenty of room for increased expenditure. Under the existing guidelines, it could increase by more than 3 per cent. per annum in real terms. The ambitious plans for interference in European industry and trans-European networks are not projects that we can endorse. I accept my hon. Friend's point. There are many competing claims for public expenditure in this country, and Europe ought to take that into account before telling us that we should economise at home.