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Mr. Prisk: The hon. Gentleman may have misunderstood. I do not claim that all objective 1 funds are good or bad: my concern is what the Government will do, becauseas several hon. Members have pointed outprojects are anticipating that funding and may suddenly find that it will not be forthcoming. I hope that the Minister will be able to help us on that point.
Mr. Kelvin Hopkins (Luton, North) (Lab): On regional spending, surely we should measure not only whether the money has been spent well and effectively, but the cost in terms of the original input. We should measure the cost in terms of budget spend and contributions from member states, as well as the effectiveness when the moneys have finally been spent.
I agree. The danger is that those Government programmes that are not carefully thought throughwhether funded by EU or UK money
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simply transfer job creation from one area to another. We need to ensure that such programmes are fashioned in a way that takes into account the true spatial dynamics of both counties and regions. We need to ensure value for the taxpayer, whether money is spent directly through UK-funded programmes or through EU programmes.
The new financial perspective for the coming years, which the Commission has highlighted and which is contained in these documents, would, in our opinion, need to deliver radical reform of Europe's economies, if the EU nations are to compete globally. At the Lisbon European Council in 2000, member states committed themselves to a 10-year strategy for economic reform, in order to improve Europe's employment and productivity. We were told at the time that that would transform the EU into a dynamic, knowledge-based economy, achieving strong but sustainable growth and creating a thriving environment for enterprise in general, and entrepreneurs in particular.
"Even the most enthusiastic proponents of the Lisbon agenda can only describe the EU's performance over the last 12 months as mediocre."
"Instead of catching up with the US, the EU has fallen even further behind. A report by the European Commission in January this year says that in the three most important categorieseconomic growth, productivity and employmentthe EU is far from meeting its own goals.
With gross domestic product per head stuck at 72 per cent. of the US level, Brussels concludes that 'the Union cannot catch up on the US.'"
In recent months, there have been negotiations to try and revive the reform agenda. The Government have been making the right noises, but to date there seems to have been little actual progress. I hope that the Minister will be able to tell us how far the reform agenda has got and what progress she expects to see over the next year.
Finally, there is the question of member state contributions. Alongside proposals to increase the overall spending above 1 per cent. of gross national income, the Commission has set out a series of options for what itto my pleasurecalls
"a relatively major and visible tax resource payable by EU citizens and/or economic operators".
Apparently, that would replace the existing system. I concur with the Paymaster Generalwe must not concur too often, or people will start to wonderthat such an EU tax would be wrong in principle and in practice. We are happy to join the Government in opposing that aspect, although I look forward to the Liberal Democrats' comments when the moment comes.
The Commission has also proposed a system of budget rebates that would replace our existing UK rebates. As I understand it, that system would be available to any member state making what the Commission describes as "excessive budgetary contributions", but unlike the current system, it would be entirely conditional on the application of what is called "the threshold" and all member states would be required to contribute. I have read carefully through the
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Government's responses and I see that throughout Ministers say that they will "defend" the current rebate. That is supervery encouragingbut what we really want to know is whether they will keep it[Interruption.] The Paymaster General happily says that they will
Mr. Prisk: The Government will accept our amendment and now they are agreeing to my comments. I should probably retire gracefully while I am still ahead[Interruption.] I shall do so in a moment, given that clamour from hon. Members.
Dawn Primarolo: I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will forgive me for saying this, but perhaps the Government can help the Conservatives to clarify their European policy if they are now declaring that they agree with us.
Mr. Prisk: It was all going so well, but then the right hon. Lady had to spoil it. Without pressing the point too much further, can she confirm that the Government have no intention of allowing the rebate to go? Can she confirm that it will not go and that it will not be amended?
Mr. Prisk: Indeed, I know Cornwall well; I am an émigré, although perhaps ex-pat would be a better word. The hon. Lady knows that it would be quite wrong of me to try to make policy on the hoof and I have no intention of falling into that trap. I may be a relatively new Member of the House, but I do not intend to make that mistake.
The issues covered by the documents include some important questions: how much should the EU spend and on what, and how much should we contribute? That is why the Commission's proposals deserve thorough scrutiny. The Conservative party supports many of the
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stated aims of the motion, especially on limiting total spending and on the "unrealistic and unacceptable" proposals for future spending priorities.
We are, however, concerned that the Government have not been forthcoming or clear in explaining their aims and plans for fulfilling their objectives and those of the EU. Further to that, the scandal of nine years of unapproved Commission accounts reflects a huge gulf in attitudes towards public financial management between the UK and those who spend our money in the Commission. We have yet to be convinced that the Government have either the will or the plans truly to resolve that problem.
Again, I commend the work of the European Scrutiny Committee and its continuing consideration of matters European. I hope that in her reply the Minister for Industry and the Regions will be able to answer the questions that I have raised. If she can also indicate that the Government fully accept our amendment and will include it in the resolution, we shall be quite willing to consider withdrawing it at the appropriate stage. I hope she will be able to give us that information when she responds to the debate.
An expanded version of the table to which the hon. Gentleman referred is on page 11 of the original report of the Scrutiny CommitteeHouse of Commons document 42-xvbut the table to which he referred and which should have been in the documents that we are discussing today is now available in the Vote Office. I hope that is helpful.
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