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Column 417

Scott, Rt Hon Nicholas

Shaw, David (Dover)

Shaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey)

Shephard, Rt Hon Gillian

Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)

Shersby, Michael

Sims, Roger

Skeet, Sir Trevor

Smith, Sir Dudley (Warwick)

Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)

Smyth, Rev Martin (Belfast S)

Soames, Nicholas

Speed, Sir Keith

Spencer, Sir Derek

Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)

Spicer, Sir James (W Dorset)

Spink, Dr Robert

Spring, Richard

Sproat, Iain

Squire, Robin (Hornchurch)

Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John

Steen, Anthony

Stephen, Michael

Stern, Micheal

Stewart, Allan

Streeter, Gary

Sumberg, David

Sweeney, Walter

Sykes, John

Tapsell, Sir Peter

Taylor, Ian (Esher)

Taylor, John M (Solihull)

Temple-Morris, Peter

Thomason, Roy

Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)

Thompson, Sir Donald (C'er V)

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Thornton, Sir Malcolm

Thurnham, Peter

Townend, John (Bridlington)

Townsend, Cyril D (Bexl'yh'th)

Tredinnick, David

Trend, Michael

Trimble, David

Trotter, Neville

Twinn, Dr Ian

Vaughan, Sir Gerard

Viggers, Peter

Waldegrave, Rt Hon William

Walden, George

Walker, A Cecil (Belfast N)

Walker, Bill (N Tayside)

Waller, Gary

Ward, John

Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)

Waterson, Nigel

Watts, John

Wheeler, Rt Hon Sir John

Whitney, Ray

Whittingdale, John

Widdecombe, Ann

Wiggin, Sir Jerry

Willetts, David

Wilshire, David

Winterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)

Winterton, Nicholas (Macc'f'ld)

Wolfson, Mark

Wood, Timothy

Yeo, Tim

Young, Rt Hon Sir George

Tellers for the Noes: Mr. Bowen Wells and Dr. Liam Fox.

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Question accordingly negatived.

Mr. Shore: On a point of order, Mr. Lofthouse. I raised the matter with Dame Janet Fookes when she was in the Chair. It was my clear understanding that there would be a Division on new clause 10.

The First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means (Mr. Geoffrey Lofthouse): I know of no undertaking being given

Mr. Spearing: Further to that point of order, Mr. Lofthouse. We accept your ruling, of course, but would it be possible for you to read the relevant passage in Hansard tomorrow?

The First Deputy Chairman: I shall certainly read Hansard tomorrow.

New clause 11

House of Commons approval of subordinate action

`No Minister of the Crown shall give assent to any Regulation, Directive, or other instrument relating to the operation of the decision of 31st October 1994 in the Council of the European Communities in section 1(e) above, unless the text of that instrument has been approved by a Resolution of the House of Commons.'.-- [Mr. Spearing.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

10.45 pm

Mr. Spearing: I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

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The clause deals with the powers of the House of Commons in the voting of money. I shall not speak for long-- [Interruption.] That is partly because the Conservative Members who are jeering and laughing should quickly understand that they have been sent to this place to do a job of work. If they do not examine taxation and how it is used, their party will not be pursuing its constitutional and parliamentary purpose. The clause would ensure that that purpose would be pursued.

The clause turns on how the House of Commons decides where taxpayers' money goes. We all know from previous debates that about £10 billion of taxpayers' money may be allocated to the European Communities in the next year or so. Some Conservative Members may feel that that is a good deal. I shall not deal with the merits of membership, because I wish to confine myself to whether the House controls taxpayers' money. [Interruption.]

The First Deputy Chairman: Order. It is difficult to hear what the hon. Member is saying. The Committee must settle down.

Mr. Spearing: As I was saying, Mr. Lofthouse--

Mr. Campbell-Savours: On a point of order, Mr. Lofthouse. Shortly before the most recent Division, the Paymaster General gave an assurance that a certain document had been placed in the Library. I understand that those in the Library, having been requested by a number of Members to produce the document, undertook an extensive search but found no reference to it, except for one last March, when two Members of the other place asked for a copy to be placed in the Library. Perhaps the Minister would care to qualify what he said earlier. We cannot find the document that he assured Parliament was available to Members.

The First Deputy Chairman: That is not a matter for the Chair. The hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) has the floor.

Mr. Spearing: An essential question is how the House of Commons votes money. The Chamber is crowded at Budget time, especially when it comes to debates about whether value added tax is to be reduced, for example. When it comes to voting up to £10 billion a year to the European Communities, we demonstrate a failure to take control. Conservative Members who are talking while in their places and perhaps not understanding the purpose of the clause may demonstrate a greater understanding when we come to 1999, when perhaps a third of the rebate that we were debating earlier will disappear. The hapless Government of the time will be faced with an extremely difficult situation.

The Bill authorises the maximum amount that the Community can impose on its members. It does not provide, however, how much each annual budget will be. That is a matter for annual procedure, in which the Paymaster General is a key figure. The Chancellor of the Exchequer watches to see how much each year the Communities are to spend. The details come before the House of Commons, where they are scrutinised in what is usually a take-note debate. That debate usually takes place late at night, and is usually attended by relatively few hon. Members.

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The moneys for the 1995 budget were debated on Monday evening, and I do not think that more than 20 hon. Members were present. That shows the extent to which hon. Members on both sides of the Chamber are unaware of the power that is potentially in their hands, or rather in the hands of the Government, that is not being used. In the past couple of hours, we have had a long debate about fraud. If one is not satisfied with the bookkeeping of a company or organisation to which one subscribes, the ultimate weapon to ensure that fraud is diminished or tackled properly--clearly, in this case, it is not--is to say, "No. Next year we will not vote you any more money. We will not cut you off, but we will not vote any increase at all." Conservative Members support a Bill which says, "We will give you virtually carte blanche to increase our contributions up to £10 billion gross a year, without any practical possibility of saying that, in any one year, we are not going to provide any more." New clause 11 would ensure that, before a Minister of the Crown agreed to the annual budget in Brussels, the Government presented an instrument to the House and obtained approval of that budget, not just in a take-note discussion in respect of a document when it is of perhaps even greater import than some previous Budget motions. We want some control. The only way of doing that is by agreeing the new clause, which says that no Minister shall give assent to expenditure for a certain Community year unless the proposal receives, by resolution, the assent of the House. At present there is a take-note debate and a bit of discussion, and the Minister goes off and does more or less what he likes. That is proven by the revelation of a previous Paymaster General, when we discussed this very matter in 1988. He said:

"I fully accept the need for the Government to take careful note of the views of the House whenever possible before agreeing directives or regulations linked to the new own resources decision, but--I do not intend the next remark ironically, although it may be so taken--I nevertheless urge hon. Members to reject the new clause"-- which is virtually the same as new clause 11--

"as it would impose an excessive and unnecessary constraint on the Government's freedom of action."--[ Official Report , 24 October 1988; Vol. 139, c. 129.]

That is freedom of action to send to the European Communities, after negotiation, what they consider suitable.

In doing that, the Government are throwing away most of the power to ensure proper prevention of waste, proper prevention of fraud, and even their bargaining power in the Council of Ministers. If the Government went to the Council and said, "Our House of Commons will allow only a certain amount," they would have real muscle behind them. Instead, the budget of the Community expands year on year because there is a mutual back-scratching exercise for everybody to obtain a bit more, so that they can agree and then go home and tell their Parliaments and nations how well they have done, and how much they have, at the expense of an ever-expanding budget and an inability to tackle fraud.

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It is even worse than that. Many hon. Members have talked about waste. I shall conclude this relatively brief speech by giving an almost breathtaking example. The hon. Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Dykes), who knows much about the Community, decried people for talking about waste, and said that there are scare stories in the newspapers and so on. I shall give an example of how a resolution such as we suggest would actually bite.

I refer to expenditure, which will almost surely occur, of £6 million by the European Community. The money will be spent to tell us something which most of us know already: lifelong learning is important. All hon. Members will agree that we continue to learn, and in these modern times we have the opportunity to learn to a relatively late age. We learn new facts and new ideas and gain new insights every day. There is no dissent about that.

The European document of 29 September 1994 under the name of Mr. Klaus Kinkel, President of the Council of the European Union, advocates a year of European lifelong learning. The "year" will spread over one year of preparation and a second year of expenditure. It will cost £6 million, but it will not suggest any procedures for lifelong learning. It will simply produce a number of conferences, logos and surveys in order to impress upon the citizens of the member states of the European Union the importance of lifelong learning. According to the explanatory memorandum which accompanies the document, it is based on articles 126 and 127 of the Union's treaty of Maastricht. In other words, the treaty has given it a form of legislative and statutory basis.

Mr. MacShane: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way. Will he provide details of the document to each Member of the House? We would like to see a little of that £6 million spent in Rotherham. A lifelong learning scheme would do all of us a power of good.

Mr. Spearing: I think that my hon. Friend misunderstands what I have said. Unfortunately, I gather from the raw document that not a pound of the £6 million will be spent on the sorts of excellent adult education schemes that they have in Rotherham. The document explains what will happen under the proposal. It says:

"Contents: Actions wholly financed out of the Community budget. Organisation of European conferences on the abovementioned themes to launch and close the European Year.

Organisation of meetings in the Member States in order to stress the contribution made by the European Union to the abovementioned themes.

Community-wide information and promotional campaigns involving: the designing of a logo and a slogan for the European Year of Lifelong Learning".

If the project were confined to grants for adult education or lifelong learning it might be a different story, but I am afraid that my hon. Friend has been taken in by the document's title; it is an advertising campaign.

Mr. Lofthouse, if you and I heard about the proposal and started up a consultancy or put in a bid to run the campaign in Britain-- I presume that about £1 million will be spent on this rather curious exercise-- we might be in the money; particularly if we had warning of what was going to happen.

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