Mr. Bercow: I do not know why the Paymaster General is so churlish. When I think that I need communications advice from the hon. Lady, for whom I have a high regard, I will be happy to consult her. However, I do not think that that is necessary. There are good arguments to be made, and there are several examples that elucidate them. I have a little way to go, and many key points to emphasise. I am sorry that she is so frosty about it. I am not usually as disobliging to her as she is insisting on being to me.
I should like to draw attention to the failure of the CAP and the inadequacy of its reform. If that pains the hon. Lady, I can only say to her that she has taken the offer. She is in the Government and she has to defend the position. If she is not happy about it and finds it uncongenial, she knows the options that are open to her.
The Paymaster General would expect me to have done a little research into these matters. I have also had the chance to see what relevant commentators said at the time in response to the Government's achievement. It is not a question of what the Paymaster General or the Economic Secretary think, but of what other observers think. What did the Select Committee on Agriculture conclude? I can quote it with exemplary succinctness for the benefit of the Paymaster General and others. In five words, it said:
What did the National Farmers Union chairman, Ben Gill, have to say on the matter? In the foreword to the 1999 NFU publication "Farming Economy", he said that the reforms of the CAP made under the present Government had left UK agriculture in an "inherently unstable state".
Having dealt briefly, but with relish, with the Economic Secretary's claims about reform of the common agricultural policy, I now move on, with due enthusiasm, to stealth taxes. I do not want the Paymaster General to feel left out; I shall come to her, and she will not be disappointed. I do not want her to feel that she is excluded from my remarks today, because she will feature in choice fashion. However, I hope that she will exercise the patience for which she is renowned on both sides of the House, because first I want, properly and politely, to address my remarks to the Economic Secretary.
Before I go any further I shall say something to the Economic Secretary that I probably should have said at the outset; I have certainly said it to her outside the House. I have always regarded her as possessing a rare combination of intellectual ferocity and personal charm, so I feel flattered to be opposing her across the Dispatch Box. [Interruption.] The Paymaster General, in what I take to be a slightly more jocular fashion than that in which her earlier observations were made, says, "That's the end of a good career."
On Second Reading, on 3 July, considerable attention was paid to article 9, page 14, of the Council decision on the system of the European Communities' own resources. The Economic Secretary will be well aware that that article states:
In the course of Second Reading my right hon. Friend challenged the Chief Secretary to the Treasury to strike from the document those references to the creation of autonomous resources and to seek to amend the Bill accordingly. If the Chief Secretary had been prepared to do so, or if he had even replied to my right hon. Friend's request to him to intervene, we might have had some reassurance.
As the Economic Secretary will confirm, the Chief Secretary is no more reticent than I am. He is a regular contributor in the House, and I have always thought that among Ministers he is the veritable Dr. Pangloss of new Labour. He always thinks that the best is in evidence, and that all is for the best in this best of all possible worlds. Yet when he was challenged by my right hon. Friend to respond to that question, he chose not to do so.
The Economic Secretary, who is a rather braver soul, was prepared to do so, and on Second Reading she quoted a passage from the European Communities (Finance) Act 1995, which was in fact article 10 of the Council decision of 31 October 1994 on the system of the European Communities' own resources. She used the quotation to support her alleged refutation of what my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham had said.
We need to play the gamean important gameof spot the difference. The notable difference between the two articles is that that of 29 September 2000, as distinct from the one put forward six years before, refers to the creation of new autonomous resources. There is clearly a difference here. We might ask whether the word "autonomous" refers to member states' ability to raise own resources through their own autonomous powers or to the power of the European Union to raise money itself through its own direct and autonomous budgetary powers over and above, and separate from, the autonomous budgetary powers of sovereign states. "Which is it?" I might ask. I am sure that the answer is on the Economic Secretary's lips even as I pose the question.
At my request, James Cartlidge took it upon himself to contact the European Commission to try to get clarification on the subject, which the Minister had not offered. He spoke by telephone to a Mr. Jean-Pierre Bache, who has responsibility for the
Mr. Bache was unhappy with the use of the word "autonomous", although that is the English translation given, because he felt that it did not adequately explain the intended meaning. He felt that the phrase "visible and accountable" would have been more appropriate. The reason, as Mr. Bache explained, is that the Commission's intention is to bring EU budgetary affairs closer to the people. Indeed, one might argue that what "autonomous" means in this case is just thatbring the EU budget closer to the people by reaching directly into their pockets. In other words, autonomous EU budgetary authority inevitably leads to Brussels levying its own taxes directly on the British people.
If the Economic Secretary does not share that analysis, she at least owes it to the House to explain what is the purport of the very particular remarks contained in the document announcing the Council decision. As Mr. Bache further explainedit is his explanation and not necessarily oursthat is not the same as the EU taking on its own tax-raising powers. Rather he argued that the new autonomous own resources measures would manifest themselvesI like this and I hope that my hon. Friends doin more indirect forms while nevertheless achieving greater direct revenue-raising powers for Brussels.
The example that Mr. Bache used was one in which the EU might choose to specify certain percentages of excise duty or VAT as new own resources to be paid into the Brussels budget. The Economic Secretary might argue that we have nothing to fear from article 9 because similar such articles negotiated by Conservative Governments have not led to EU taxes, but we all know that this article will result in the EU having the opportunity to propose new ways in which autonomous resources can be raised.