§ 46. Mr. Spearing
asked the Lord President of the Council what are the current arrangements for debate in the House of Commons of the annual budget of the European Economic Community.
§ Mr. Foot
At each stage of the Community budget procedure the relevant documents are deposited as soon as they are received. In the past the Scrutiny Committee has recommended them for debate, and such debates have taken place as soon as possible. Last year, following a change in the timetable for consideration of the 1977 budget, introduced largely at United Kingdom instigation, it was possible for the House to debate the preliminary draft budget before decisions were taken on it by the Council of Ministers. This new timetable will also be followed this year.
§ Mr. Spearing
I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply and I thank the Government for making improved arrangements for the discussion of the budget. Will he confirm that, whatever the view of the House, we have no control over the EEC taxation of the people of this country or the manner in which moneys for agricultural support are expended? Is it not a fact that despite Government policies we already have an element of a federal system?
§ Mr. Foot
I would not call it a federal system, but undoubtedly we have a system that removes certain powers from the House. That was debated at considerable length during the passage 1012 through the House of the European Communities Act. Since then we have had an opportunity to ensure that, despite the limitations on the powers of this House, we do the best we possibly can to retain powers and see whether procedures can be improved. The Select Committee is looking at this matter. I hope that its discussions and its report—and I understand that my hon. Friend is submitting evidence to the Committee—will help us to improve our procedures.
§ Mr. Marten
If it is not federalism, is it not crypto-federalism? Shall we have an opportunity to debate the decision of the European Court on pigs? Will the Lord President say whether the Government have a new policy about pigs?
§ Mr. Foot
As the hon. Member knows, there is a constitutional exchange proceeding on this matter. The European Court has made some comments about the action by the British Government. Obviously the matter raises an important question about pigs, but it also raises an important question about the constitution. These are matters that should be carefully considered by the House.