|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
Mr. Wayne David (Caerphilly): I congratulate the hon. Member for Leominster (Mr. Wiggin) on his first contribution. It was a lucid and at times humorous speech and it clearly showed that he is already well aware of the problems of his constituency. He comes across sincerely, as a man who cares. We wish him well.
One of the most important debates in the European Union in 1996, 1997 and 1998 centred on the document entitled "Agenda 2000". The debate was conducted in the EU institutions, but it also took place in the various national Parliaments. It examined enlargement and how that would improve existing member states and bring political stability and democracy to countries that aspire to EU membership. It was and is a debate about regional policy, and about how the structural funds and the cohesion funds might be developed to the betterment of the EU. It is a debate about how the common agricultural policy might be reformed, in the context of the changing world in which we live, to meet the new stresses and strains that enlargement will inevitably bring to it. It is also a debate about how the European Union could be funded in the future and how the own resources issue could satisfactorily be resolved.
Following that continuing debate and the discussions that have been held on those issues, an extremely important European Council summit took place in Berlin in March 1999. The Bill before us today follows on from the decisions taken at that meeting. I honestly believe that that European Council meeting in Berlin came to a conclusion that was good for the European Union. There were also conclusions that were good for the British Government's negotiating position and for Britain's national interest. I say that for three reasons.
The first reason is that a clear decision was taken at Berlin to bring the common agricultural policy under much tighter control. Decisions were taken to cap the CAP, so to speak. It was agreed that, by 2006, agricultural spending in the EU would be 2 per cent. less than in 2000. Many of us would like to have seen a much greater reduction in expenditure on agriculture. However, that decision was enormously significant, especially if we bear in mind the fact that it was decided at the Edinburgh European Council meeting just a few years earlier to increase agricultural expenditure by 9 per cent. Compared with just a few years ago, therefore, progress has been well and truly made.
The second notable outcome of the Berlin Council concerned regional policy, particularly with regard to the cohesion fund and the structural funds. Reference was made earlier to the importance of the MacDougall report, which was written some time ago. The Berlin Council still addressed the underlying theme of the MacDougall report, which asked how a single European market could pull together in an integrated social sense. A market, wherever it may be, cannot exist without a sense of economic and social cohesion behind it. Markets will soon fall apart unless they are underpinned by that kind of ethos. That is why I particularly welcome the clear decision that was taken, after Berlin, to establish objective 1 status in many parts of the EU that had not previously had it.
Objective 1 status is for those parts of the EU whose gross domestic product is less than 75 per cent. of the EU average. Unfortunately, many parts of the United Kingdom fall into that economic category. I say "unfortunately" because it is nothing to be proud of that parts of the United Kingdom are among the poorest parts of the European Union. Areas that have now been categorised as objective 1 areas include Cornwall, south Yorkshire and also Merseyside, which retained its objective 1 status. In this context, Northern Ireland received a special objective 1-related package. West Wales and the south Wales valleys also received objective 1 status for the first time.
As a Member who comes from south Wales, I welcome the fact that, because of the Government's negotiating success in Berlin, the economy in south and west Wales is receiving an injection of £1.2 billion over the next seven years. That money is desperately needed to rejuvenate the economy of more than two thirds of Wales. It is currently being used to develop training, to provide infrastructure and to ensure a different and much stronger base for the Welsh economy. If we had not achieved that negotiating success in Berlin, that money would not today be providing the tremendous boost that it is to the Welsh economy.
That money is being spent not according to a diktat from Brussels, as the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) alleged, but on the basis of partnership. Local authorities, the voluntary sector, the National Assembly and local businesses are coming together in Wales in a true spirit of partnership to determine their own priorities for spending the money that is coming from the European Union. That is the true principle of subsidiarity: that decisions are taken as close to the people as is practicable. That is my vision of what the European Union should be about in future.
The money coming in to areas such as south and west Wales as a consequence of the Berlin decision has meant that, for the first time, public expenditure in Wales is going beyond the Barnett formula. We are determined never to repeat what happened under previous Administrations, when money was not claimed from Brussels because there was no match funding already in Wales. Now, because extra resources are coming through beyond the Barnett formula, we are confident that that will never happen again. When there is money to be spent, it must be spent.
In addition to objective 1 status benefiting the United Kingdom, objective 2 status is doing the same. Objective 2 applies to rural areas of the Union that are suffering real difficulty and to those areas suffering industrial decline. Some 14 million people in the United Kingdom are now living in areas benefiting from objective 2 status, which I am sure that Members on both sides of the House will warmly welcome.
The third important outcome of the Berlin Council was the new formula to be introduced for the revenue side of European Union finances. A key decision, as has already been stated, was that a greater proportion of moneys raised from contributions will be linked to gross national product, while fewer contributions will come from VAT and Customs payments. That is enormously important because it is a far fairer formula than the one that we had before. It is fairer on the United Kingdom and on poorer
Another important aspect is the fact that we have maintained the rebate that was first negotiated in Fontainebleau in 1984. It is worth underlining how significant an achievement that is. We should not forget that many member states of the European Union fought tooth and nailthat is not putting it too stronglyto try to take away the United Kingdom's abatement. It is to the Government's great credit that we have successfully maintained it. I want to emphasise that that was a huge achievement. Crucially, too, maintaining the ceiling on own resources at 1.27 per cent. of EU national income was something that I would expect Members on the other side of the House to welcome as much as we do. Taken together, the achievements negotiated in Berlin were very notable. For the first time ever, spending in the European Union will be less in real terms at the end of this financial period.
As hon. Members have noted, this is a short Bill, containing just two clauses. However, it is a Bill of enormous significance. Despite what some people have suggested today, it is not about federalism or about creating some kind of mythical European superstate. It is not about taking power away from the United Kingdom and giving it to strange bureaucracies overseas. This practical Bill is all about creating a fairer and more effective funding mechanism for the European Union in the future. I sincerely hope that it gets the full support of the House.
I should like to begin by paying tribute to my predecessor, Mr. Martin Bell. He was the first Independent Member elected to the House for 50 years. He tells the story of how, shortly after his election, he was invited to tea by Barbara Castle. Over tea and biscuits in the House of Lords, she summed up her advice, drawn from her 60-year career in politics. She said to him, "Young man"which, he confesses, completely won him over"whatever else you do, you must never be afraid to stand alone." Of all people, this former war reporter probably needed that advice the least.
Martin Bell had stood alone courageously in the Balkans when he reported the wars in that region in all their brutality. In the House, too, he stood alone. He stood alone when he forced the Government to find time to ratify the Ottawa convention on land mines. He stood alone when he controversially spoke out against the air strikes against Iraq. He also stood alone when he campaigned to overturn 50 years of Whitehall stonewalling on the question of far east prisoners of war.
Be it Serbia, NATO or the Ministry of Defence, Martin Bell took on powerful opponents and won. However, two opponents in the end defeated him. The first, I am happy to say, was my hon. Friend the Member for Brentwood and Ongar (Mr. Pickles) who defeated him in the general election. The second was the Speaker's Chair, because he
Many people come to the House as idealists and leave it as cynics. I have got to know Martin Bell quite well in the past couple of years, and it strikes me that he came to the House as a cynic and left as an idealist. The man in the white suit will be as missed in the corridors of the Palace of Westminster as he will be by people on the streets of the Tatton constituency, whose interests he represented so well. I am greatly honoured to take his place in the House.
The very name of the Cheshire constituency that I now represent is a clue to the fact that it is not a single community, but a collection of communities. Tatton is not a town or a village. In fact, no one lives in Tattonor not any more. Tatton is a building. I believe that I am one of only two Members whose constituency is named after a building. If hon. Members are trying to remember who the other one is, I shall put them out of their miseryit is the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Lepper).
Unlike the Brighton Pavilion, Tatton Park is the rather austere, imposing ancestral home of the Lords Egerton, who are now deceased. It is now the National Trust's most visited property, and home to many popular exhibitions and concerts in my constituency. On Tatton Park's doorstep is the beautiful and historic market town of Knutsford. Once a major stop for travellers on the road to Manchester, it has long been replaced in that function by the less historic and frankly less beautiful M6 Knutsford service station. Thankfully, the coaching inns on King street remain, and more leisurely tourists still visit in large numbers.
Knutsford got its name from the place where the Danish King, King Canute, forded the River Lilyhence Canute's ford. I can report to the House that the majority of the residents in Knutsford, like me, take what could be called a Danish view of the Government's plan to join the single currency. Knutsford may be steeped in history but it has its modern problems, such as the constant pressure of development and traffic and the fear of crime. I shall seek to overturn the recent decision of Home Office Ministersthe Financial Secretary to the Treasury is a former Home Office Ministerto deny us funding for closed circuit television. There is also the noise and pollution from Manchester airport's second runway. One of my priorities will be to try to change the law to allow airports to fine planes that deviate unnecessarily from agreed flight routes and noise limits.
Around Knutsford stretches the fertile Cheshire plain, in which lie the beautiful rural villages of Mobberley, Pickmere, Plumley, Allostock, Byley, Whitley, Comberbach and Lower PeoverI have left out half of them. Lower Peover is an idyllic village with a fantastic local pub called "The Bells of Peover", in which General Eisenhower and General Patton once planned the D-day landings. These days drinkers plan who will buy the next round.
All those villages have suffered from the collapse of rural services, the deep recession in agriculture and the disaster of foot and mouth disease, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Leominster (Mr. Wiggin) eloquently referred. Farmers in Crowley, who are now
On the western edge of the constituency are Barnton, Rudheath and Andertonthree suburbs of the old ICI salt town of Northwichwhich have often been neglected in the politics of the constituency. I am determined that that will end. At the other end of the constituency lie the former cotton towns of Wilmslow and Handforth, and the famous village of Alderley Edge, which is known to locals for its infamous traffic problems. Together they make up a wonderful residential area that is also home to many successful companies, including the research laboratories of Astra Zeneca, where world-leading research is carried out into cancer and heart disease.
Wilmslow is famous across Britain as the home of football players, "Coronation Street" stars and pop singers. However, the town's most famous celebrity is known simply as Pete. He was an unfortunate man who was found garrotted, beaten and stabbed on Lindow common. Wilmslow is not a violent place, so that discovery came as a bit of a shock. The local police launched a murder investigation. Inquiries were made and suspects were interviewed, but even the excellent detective work of the Cheshire police could not solve this murder, for it turned out that Pete had been dead for 2,000 years, preserved in the peat bog that gave him his name. He now lives in the much safer surroundings of the British museum.
Another famous Wilmslow resident was the code breaker and computer pioneer, Alan Turing. It is a sad irony that the man who did more than almost anyone else to defeat the Nazi tyranny by breaking the Enigma code was persecuted in Britain for his homosexuality, and committed suicide. It is a welcome sign of a more understanding age that a statue of Turing has just been unveiled in Manchester.
Although much of the Tatton constituency is prosperousnot for nothing is it the place where Mr. Rolls met Sir Henry Roycethere are pockets of deprivation on the Longridge, Spath Lane and Colshaw Farm housing estates, and in many of the rural areas. I shall do everything that I can to help those communities.
I am delighted to have been elected to represent such a fine constituency, but it deeply concerns me that so many fewer of my constituents chose to participate in the election. Our turnout, like that of many constituencies, fell by more than 10 per cent. Some people argue that that is nothing to worry about, as it is a sign of a contented population who are happy with the present state of affairs. I believe that that is a dangerous and mistaken understanding of what is happening out there in the country.
My constituents are not content with the state of the national health service, the education system or the transport system. They are not happy to go on paying ever more taxes, or that their streets are not safe. Far from itthey are deeply angry about all those things, and they feel that we, their politicians, are not listening to them. The people of Cheshire feel remote from what is going on in Westminster. They see our debates and watch Ministers on television, but they do not hear much that relates to
New directives emerge from the bureaucratic ether, and no one bothers to explain to the people and the companies affected where they came from or why they are needed. Billions of pounds of taxpayers' money is spent on hugely wasteful EU projects, such as the aid budget or the common agricultural policy. Everyone throws up their hands and says, "We know it's a waste of money, but there's nothing we can do about it."
The politicians of Europe, including our own British Government, proceed down the path of ever closer European integration, drawing up plans for European armies, European constitutions and European taxes. No one stops to ask the people of Europe whether this is actually the direction in which they want to travel. It is striking that the only two countries that have asked their peoples, in the last year, whether they are happy with the direction that Europe is taking have received a resounding no as an answer. But the reaction of European politicians to the results of the Irish and Danish referendums has been to bury their heads in the sand and pretend that they did not happen.
This Bill and the Bill that we shall debate tomorrow are supposed to pave the way for the enlargement of the European Union. No one is more passionate about enlargement than I am; no one is more anxious than I am to see the countries of central and eastern Europe brought in from the cold, and welcomed fully into the concert of democratic European nations. Let me declare an interest: I am part-Hungarian. My grandmother's family fled to Britain from Budapest just after the war because they had lived through the devastation of the Nazi tyranny, and wanted to escape the tyranny of Soviet rule. In 1956, their house in London became a home for refugees from the Hungarian uprising.
The lessons that I learn from my family's past are these: one must not impose political systems on peoples who are unwilling to accept them; one should not allow a gap to open up between the governed and the governing; and one cannot afford to stop listening. The situations are of course very different, but the lessons are ones that we in Westminster, and those who are shaping the future of the European Union, would do well to remember.