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Mr. Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for calling me to speak in this European affairs debate. It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Luton, North (Kelvin Hopkins). I listened very carefully to everything that he said, and I am afraid that I could not disagree with one word.

The hon. Gentleman covered some of the topics that I wanted to address. As he said, it is extraordinary that we are going into the World Trade Organisation negotiations with a European Union position whereby we are not prepared to make proper cuts to the tariffs, and yet we are asking some of the developing countries to make huge cuts in their protection. That is "Alice in Wonderland" politics.

I have learned two important things while listening to the debate. First, the new leader of the Conservative party must be absolutely right to take Conservative
 
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MEPs out of the European People's Party because his decision has been so hotly disputed by Government, Liberal and Plaid Cymru Members. That is good enough for me—he must be right.

Mr. Breed : Does the hon. Gentleman accept that the proposal has been roundly abused by Conservative Members of the European Parliament?

Mr. Bone: That intervention simply proves that we must have a party that speaks with one voice in Europe. Perhaps the Members of the European Parliament should be more in tune with the new leader.

Let us think about the pause for reflection. I understood why that happened after the French and Dutch victories over the constitution, but it must have ended by now. Early in his speech, the Foreign Secretary let slip that the euro is dead and the pound is safe. That must be new Government policy. It is good news. If nothing else, I have learned that, and I hope it is widely reported.

What is the European Union? Someone said that it was a little like a large public limited company. It spends a great deal of money and has a huge budget. I thought about that and realised that there is no proper control over the plc. The auditors have not signed the accounts for 11 years. If the EU genuinely resembled a plc, it would have gone bust and its directors would have been imprisoned. Clearly, that was not the right definition.

I therefore thought that I would ask my son Thomas. He is a bright lad, but he is only four. I sat him down and asked, "Thomas, can you tell me what a large area of land is called that has a president, courts, a parliament and taxes people?" He asked, "Is it a piece of land that has a flag and. Members in a parliament?" When I said "Yes", he replied, "Don't be silly, Daddy, that's a country." Unfortunately, that is way that the EU has gone.

Labour Members have expressed the federalist approach with some clarity. I do not doubt their sincerity and it is right that they make their point. They believe in a central country called Europe with nation states that become regions, rather like a united states of Europe.

David Taylor : Does the hon. Gentleman accept that Europhiles are not confined to the Labour party and that Eurosceptics are not confined to the Conservative party, as evidenced by the fine speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, North (Kelvin Hopkins)?

Mr. Bone: All I said was that, today, the federalist case was made eloquently by Labour Members. However, I do not believe that they are right. We need a Europe of nation states that is based on free trade and co-operation. I welcome enlargement—I should like the EU to be enlarged much more and include the North American Free Trade Agreement area so that we have a proper free trade area and not a superstate in Europe.

The budget surprises me most. When we joined the European Economic Community, nobody spoke to me about a budget of £600 billion. That is so much money that nobody can comprehend the sum. The EU now is much nearer the federalist position than mine. I cannot believe that it simply happened, but it did. How did we
 
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get into that position? There was no great debate in this country about whether we should be part of the EU. No referendum took place. Suddenly, one sunny winter's morning, we woke up in the EU.

How did it happen? I put it down to the salami approach. If we try to eat a salami sausage in one go, we spit it out in disgust. It is horrible and we cannot possibly taste it. Yuck. Some of the powers of this country have gone to the EU slice by slice. We can put up with each piece individually, but over the years we will find that we have become part of the superstate of the European Union.

The elite of Europe—the Commissioners and the failed politicians who run the European Union—have got a bit ahead of themselves and started to believe their own spin. They said, "Why don't we have a constitution, and why don't we put it to the people of Europe?" Of course, that is where they fell down because the people of Europe rejected it. I have a real fear that the bureaucrats, Commissioners and politicians in Europe are simply going to say, "Okay, we can't get this through using a constitution, so we'll use the salami approach that has worked so well over the years. We'll just put the bad bits in piece by piece, so that nobody really notices."

I want to talk about the democratic deficit in the European Union. We have heard that countries are queuing up to come into the EU, and that may well be right. However, it is their Governments who are queuing up to come in, and they never ask the people. If the European Union can impose such regulations and conditions on countries coming into the union, why cannot it impose the simple regulation that a country has to hold a referendum of its people before it can come in? We would then know that that country really did want to come in.

That is a suggestion for the future, but we have a problem in this country now. We were never asked whether we wanted to be in the European Union. There is a strong argument for holding a referendum every 10 years to see whether the people of this country want to stay in the EU. That would take the issue out of the daily political argument, because people would know that, every 10 years—

David Taylor: What country does the hon. Gentleman live in?

Mr. Bone: Well, it seems to me to be a reasonable approach.

We talked about Romania and Bulgaria earlier. They have just escaped from the yoke of the Soviet Union, and the great thing is that they now have democracy. However, they have been brought into the European Union without any consideration of their people's wishes. That seems fundamentally wrong.

I want briefly to talk about the £600 billion budget. We have talked about the budget largely in generalities today, but there has been a lot of spin about the rebate. Can we just look at the actual figures? In 2005, this country was taxed £12.7 billion, and at the end of next year, we might get back £3.6 billion. So the taxpayers of the United Kingdom will have paid £9 billion in 2005 alone to belong to the free trade area called the
 
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European Union. That £9 billion could have been spent on many things in this country. I would have liked to see a new hospital and a new secondary school in my constituency, for example, and they would have cost only a fraction of that £9 billion that we are giving to the European Union. People will say, "Ah, but we get a lot of that money back." According to the figures, we will get £4.8 billion back, but we get it back to spend on the projects that the European Union decides we can spend it on. So we give the European Union our money, and it makes bureaucratic regulations to determine what we can spend it on. What a weird world we live in.

There has been much talk of the Prime Minister giving away our rebate, but I do not believe for a minute that he will do so. I am sure that he will pull a rabbit out of the hat. But let us just assume that he did give it away. The United Kingdom would then have to pay five times the amount that France pays into the European Union. This is a topsy-turvy world and the Government have failed in their presidency of the European Union. It is time that we got the European Union sorted out, and time that we got the common agricultural policy scrapped.

6.24 pm

Nia Griffith (Llanelli) (Lab): I very much welcome the publication today of the UK presidency's proposal on the financial perspective 2007–13. Leading European Union member states in agreement on such an immensely important issue as the budget for 2007–13 is tremendously challenging. It is particularly challenging when we remember that any agreement must be unanimous and that every member state wants to go home with a victorious message. Everybody wants to be a winner, and that is all the more difficult now that we have an EU of 25.

Our proposal shows magnanimity and generosity and leads the way. We have put an offer on the table to start the drive towards tackling CAP reform. It is a sensible offer, which reflects our increased prosperity as well as our sincerity and determination to do business. The way to ensure that that document is seriously and sensibly considered is to make sure that as many member states as possible have a good message to take home. No fewer than 13 individual member states are specifically mentioned in the proposal, as they will benefit from specific funds such as the regional development or rural development funds. In addition, there is the progressive proposal that will ensure that new EU states can access funds more easily, with less reliance on match funding—real funds that they can use, rather than theoretical funds that they cannot access. That is a good message to take home. Furthermore, several of the richer countries not mentioned in the proposal will welcome the overall reduction in the overall percentage of EU funds, which will be a good message for them to take home.

It is vital that the financial framework for 2007–13 is decided as soon as possible, so that all member sates can begin their planning in good time to be able to take advantage of the funds available in 2007. Not least, of course, we need an early settlement, which will mean that forward planning can begin in our areas, which have, until now, benefited from objective 1 funding, and which will benefit from transitional funding in 2007–13. Those areas include west Wales, the Welsh valleys, the Scottish highlands, Northern Ireland and parts of
 
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England. I also welcome the Chancellor's assurances that if EU funding to those areas is reduced, the Treasury will ensure that the shortfall is made up to ensure the continuity of the excellent economic progress that has been made in those areas.


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