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Kelvin Hopkins: I agree with much of what my hon. Friend has said, but would not giving back agricultural policy to member states mean that we could choose to have lower prices and subsidies? That cannot happen under the CAP.
Chris Bryant: I am delighted that my hon. Friend agrees with nearly everything that I have said. He has said that twice in one afternoon, which must be something of a record, although it does worry me slightly. However, what he does not recognise is that an agricultural subsidy free-for-all in Europe would lead to dramatically increased subsidies in Spain, Greece, France, Germany and Italy. That would give us a far greater problem with the WTO, and mean that we would stand not an earthly chance of delivering anything for countries in Africa, Latin America and south-east Asia. There is therefore a strong moral obligation on us to argue for reduced subsidies. In the interests of internationalismand of socialism, for that matterwe must try to do our best by the poorest countries in the world. I therefore think that it is vital that we retain a version of the CAP, but we must make sure that it is a restrained version.
The question of structural funds is slightly different. I agree with the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy that we need a process to make sure that economies that are peripheralin the geographical rather than the political sensehave a chance to prosper. It is important that the Rhondda in Wales, or Ronda in Spain, or places in eastern Europe, have equal opportunities to prosper
The question is whether repatriating large amounts of structural funds would open the door to a vast expansion of inappropriate state aid in the eastern bloc, in those countries that have joined the EU most recently, and in those that intend to do so in the future. My worry is that any extension of state aid in Poland and Hungary would not be in the interest of the south Wales valleys, as the competition would be entirely unfair and unsustainable. Again, we want to maintain a structural funds system that brings money not only to the poorest countries but to some of the richest countries.
That takes me to the UK abatement, which, of course, like many aspects of the budget, is not as simple as it sounds. I would guess that most of my constituents, in so far as they know about the abatement at all, would presume that it is a fixed amount of money that we get back every yearthat we get a cheque for £2 billion or £3 billion, or whatever, every year. Of course, the abatement is far more complicated than that, because of several determining factors. It is proportional to 66 per cent. of the net contributions in the previous year. Of course, net contributions cannot be finally adducted until four years after the year in question, because we do not know precisely what the expenditure will have been in each member state and, consequently, we cannot know what each member state's net contribution will have been. Also, most people will not realise that, by definition, our abatement will therefore rise and may frequently fluctuate. Over the past few years, it has fluctuated between €5.2 billion and €5.7 billion a year.
People might also think that the system is straightforward in that we get some money back and everyone else pays a little bit extra. Broadly speaking, that is true, except that it is not entirely true, because Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden and Austria pay only a quarter of the extra share of our abatement. France and Italy pay nearly half of our abatement. Of course, that might explain the major problem that we have in negotiations with France. There is a row not just about the CAP and the UK abatement, but about the fact that France and Italy between them effectively pay half our abatementnotwithstanding the fact that, as the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Bone) mentioned earlier, France is not one of the larger contributors to the EU, because of its receipts under the CAP and structural funds. Nevertheless, politiciansespecially President Chirac, who is wanted for a third term by a mere 1 per cent. of his country's population and is not particularly popularobviously have an opportunity to play to their home market and perhaps to fight unfairly.
Given the way that the abatement is structured, the new 10 countries will pay €290 million of our abatement this year. If there were no UK abatement, France's net contribution would therefore be a mere €1.6 billion and ours would be €9.9 billion. So it is rightindeed, it is entirely ethically and morally justifiablethat the Government should hold to the idea that the UK abatement must continue, but I disagree with some people because I do not believe that the structure of the abatement can remain exactly as it is today. First, it places a particular emphasis on some nations, not on others. Secondly, it places a requirement on new member statessome of the poorest in the EUto contribute towards our UK abatement, which can only
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lead to resentment against the UK among those members states' populations. That cannot be in our long-term political interests.
We were the countryI include hon. Members on both sides of the Housethat argued most forcefully for the enlargement of the EU. The right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks said that we should provide a hearty welcome for the new members of the EU. I do not think that that means that we can invite them to dinner, sit them down at the table and say, "Sorry, we all just had Christmas dinner, but you're now going to have mulligatawny soup." We must be able to provide a clear sense that the welcome is met by the financial requirements that must surely fall on us.
I believe that there should be a principled rebate. We should welcome the new members and pay our fair share. As I told the hon. Member for Wellingborough, the major, prosperous nations should pay in proportion to one another. That is what we should strive to achieve, because the biggest irony of our situation is that, as I said earlier, given the present structure of finance, rich countries with poor areas do best. Repatriation of agricultural and structural funds might be possible under some form of co-financing, but the last thing we want is a free-for-all.
I want to stray slightly into the area of how the House carries out European business. We hold debates such as this regularly and the speeches are more or less interesting, but we are poor at scrutinising the process of European legislation coming into UK law. For the most part, we undertake it through statutory instrument, or secondary legislation, which is debatedI use the word generouslyfor an hour and a half at most in Committee, with no opportunity to amend. That provides us with only scant understanding of how the EU genuinely affects us.
We tend to consider that European policy is always part of foreign policy, whereas in fact it is largely part of domestic policy. Sometime today, the Government will probably finally agree an artists resale right for the UK, to meet our obligations under the directive passed last year, which we have to put in place by 1 January 2006we shall have to proceed at quite a pace to do that. When the matter is eventually debated, it will be for only an hour and a half upstairs, even though it is remarkably controversial for some people. To my mind, it is a great progressive measure that will enable many UK artists who struggle on a remarkably small amount of money to retain some of the value of their reward.
Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): Does the hon. Gentleman agree that one of the problems is that there is so much European legislation? Will he acknowledge that about two thirds of all the laws applied in this country each year come from the EU rather than from Westminster? That is probably why there is not enough time to scrutinise all that stuff. We are overloaded.
Indeed. There is certainly a lot of legislation, but there is plenty of opportunity to debate it. Unfortunately, remarkably few of us attend the debates. We need a halfway house between the full legislative process that we undertake for UK-originated
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Bills and the one and a half hour statutory instrument procedure that allows no amendment and no great degree of debate.
We need an opportunity for Ministers who attend Council meetings to report back. While I worked in Brussels for the BBC, the number of times that Ministers agreed something that was never reported in their country was extraordinary. We do not need an oral statement every time a Minister has attended a Council, but a written statement should be made to the relevant Committee after each Council meeting.
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