Previous Section Index Home Page

By all accounts, the Chancellor of the Exchequer was not consulted when the deal went through in December. I said that he had been passed a poisoned chalice, because the money has to be found from somewhere and I have already given the details of the considerable increase that has occurred since December. The European commissioner has made that increase public and, as the European Scrutiny Committee report demonstrates, it
8 May 2006 : Column 118
far exceeds the amount that the Prime Minister said that the United Kingdom and other member states would contribute. The sum is so significant that one might say that it smacked of massive incompetence and that he did not want the Chancellor of the Exchequer to know the full details.

Let us consider the appointment of the hon. Member for Normanton (Ed Balls)—he was here at the beginning of the debate, and I am missing him now—to the position of Economic Secretary. He is an alleged Eurosceptic who has continuously put arguments in various publications and given indications to suggest that he is dissatisfied with the way in which the European Union is functioning, but he has been given a job of great responsibility. I say with respect to the Paymaster General that it is a great pity that the Economic Secretary is not replying to the debate. Just as in those days of the Maastricht treaty when I found myself in a considerable alliance with the late Peter Shore, who performed a noble service tothe House over many decades, I wondered whether the disagreements between the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer may not, on close inquiry, turn out to be based on a difference of opinionwith regard to the European Union and its financial management. After all, it is the five economic tests imposed by the Chancellor, which reputedly came from some of the ideas of the new Economic Secretary, that laid down the basis on which we were not, to all intents and purposes, to go into the euro.

I think that a deeper question lies at the heart of the debate: which way are the Government going to go in respect of the future financial management of the EU as seen through the eyes of the British Treasury? It has been badly burned and cannot afford to pay for the public services or to perform the functions that the EU has been given without massive taxation. There is, therefore, a deeper problem.

It is a failed system—an undemocratic and unaccountable system—that we are debating. It is a system that has been rejected by some of the other countries. The financial management and economic management implicit in the Maastricht treaty is the basis on which the European constitution was defeated. Contrary to what was stated at the time, it was not simply because President Chirac had become unpopular; it was actually because the policies that were being pursued in respect of European Union treaties had made President Chirac so unpopular. That is why there were riots in the streets and why the French people turned on their own Government. They did so because of a sense of disillusionment. They were told that they were going to get a good deal and then discovered that they were getting an extremely bad one because of the massive unemployment that followed in the wake of the pursuit of European economic management and European directives, in particular with respect to the contract, which had to be abandoned. The Government wanted to make economic reforms and they could not. Angela Merkel is attempting to make economic reforms in Germany, but she cannot. The bottom line is that the whole of the EU is not merely creaking, but collapsing and imploding. The consequences are severe.

The beneficiary of those policies is the far right. The Eurobarometer poll shows that the EU is even more unpopular in Austria than it is in the UK. There is a reason for that.

8 May 2006 : Column 119

Angus Robertson: The hon. Gentleman is right to point out the dangers of the political far right throughout the European Union. Does not it therefore concern him that his party is prepared to leave the European People’s party and join the lunatic, right-wing, fringe elements to be found in the European Parliament?

Mr. Cash: First, the hon. Gentleman, who is a colleague of mine on the European Scrutiny Committee, knows perfectly well that that is not the case. We are not going in with any fringe, semi-fascist type of party; I dismiss that completely. There are serious discussions about the fact that what I, my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills and others said abut the Maastricht treaty has proved to be the case. We have been right on Nice, Amsterdam and the European constitution. In point of fact, there has been a rejection of integration, financial management and fraud and a repudiation of the system that has been put in place. That must be complemented by sensible, practical policies from the centre right, which is basically where we stand. My party must be more explicit in setting out the case and must look carefully at the local government results, which show the British National party, for example, picking up the sentiment that can be created by leaving a vacuum in the centre right. It is essential that we—

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. Could we return to discussing EU finances in more detail?

Mr. Cash: I am grateful to you, Madam Deputy Speaker, but I see a strong connection between the operation of EU finances and the development of such undesirable political parties.

Mr. David: Will the hon. Gentleman indicate why his party is not making the explicit case that he would like?

Mr. Cash: We need to be blunt and clear with the British electorate about such matters In particular, we must adopt a policy, as I have said on a number of occasions—too often to repeat—of an association of nation states. We must get away from the failed policy of European integration. It is not enough to say in the House or elsewhere that we do not like what we see. The only way to deal with the treaties, which some allege wrongly are set in concrete, is to take the appropriate steps to repatriate powers, by unilateral decision of this House, where negotiations fail and it is in our national interest, and to ensure that the judiciary abide by the legislation that we pass, which would be inconsistent with the European Union’s. That also applies to the provisions under discussion.

Mr. Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con) rose—

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. Before any further interventions are made, I remind hon. Members once again that, interesting though the wider debate might be, we are now discussing EU finances.

Mr. Bone: Does my hon. Friend agree that the£100 billion plus in today’s money that this
8 May 2006 : Column 120
Government have given to the European Union is one of the reasons we are seeing the rise of the extreme right?

Mr. Cash: I am bound to agree. It is a tragedy, because we need a balance. Co-operation is one thing, but appeasement is another.

I was disturbed to discover that the motion, despite being merely a “take note” motion,

I do not know who drafted that, but whoever it was must know—definitely knows—that the European Scrutiny Committee insisted as far as we could, in this case successfully, that today’s debate should take place on the Floor of the House, not least because the December deal was not, and is not, the deal that we are now debating.

I made that point in an intervention on the Minister, who has still not returned to the Chamber. I do not know why. I suppose that he must be embarrassed by the fact that he cannot answer the questions that weare asking. In that intervention I said thatMrs. Grybauskaite, the European Commissioner who I am told is a Lithuanian with a black belt in karate—I do not know whether the Paymaster General is up to a black belt in karate—was more than keen to get the matter out into the open. According to her, the final spending for 2007-13 will exceed £600 billion, which is £24 billion above the budget that the Prime Minister announced in December. That means that the taxpayer will have to find an extra £2 billion, and that Britain will now contribute £44 billion to European coffers over the next budget period. In other words, as I said in my intervention, not only does the new total make a mockery of the Prime Minister’s claim to have held the budget to €862 billion at the December summit; it makes nonsense of the motion that we are debating. That is the key point.

No wonder even the Liberal Democrats have been brought shouting and screaming to oppose a piece of European legislation. This is the first time, during my 22 years in the House, that I have heard words uttered by a Liberal Democrat that indicate any opposition to the maniacal system in which we are now involved. I will certainly give way if the expression on the face of the hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey (Danny Alexander) means that he would like me to.

The hon. Gentleman has nothing to say, because there is nothing to say. I am very glad that the Liberal Democrats are picking up the message, in view of the abysmal results that they achieved in the recentlocal government elections. Those of us who have consistently and persistently—I make no apology for it—maintained an argument that is now being proved correct note that they are having to shift their ground on the issue.

It is also true, as one or two Members have pointed out, that on 8 June last year, when asked during Prime Minister’s Question Time whether the rebate was negotiable, the Prime Minister said

8 May 2006 : Column 121

We all know that that was rubbish. I suspect that the Prime Minister knew that it was rubbish at the time, but he was in a very tricky political environment, and the Prime Minister always becomes trickier the trickier the situation becomes.

Kelvin Hopkins: If the Prime Minister had said “unless and until the common agricultural policy is abolished”, that would have worked.

Mr. Cash: Indeed. It would also have worked if he had said “If we want to achieve economic competitiveness we will have to renegotiate the legislation, or else legislate unilaterally, on our own terms, here at Westminster.” He is not going to do that either, although, as I shall explain shortly, this financial settlement includes a vast amount of money that is being poured down the throat of the European Union for the purpose—allegedly—of increasing competitiveness. As the hon. Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz) knows extremely well, the Kok report criticised the Lisbon agenda because it does not work. The vast amount—billions of pounds—being spent on that agenda is being completely wasted. It is being frittered away, and it is our taxpayers’ money.

Keith Vaz: The Kok report did not say that. It said that the benchmarks set in Lisbon had not been met, and it set out a path to ensuring that the EU countries met them. It did not say that the Lisbon agenda was a waste of public money.

Mr. Cash: The hon. Gentleman gave evidence to the European Reform Forum that we set up, and he has the advantage of being able to read the evidence that Will Hutton, the rapporteur to the Kok report, gave to the forum, which is on the transcript and in the public domain. It would be well worth the hon. Gentleman and others reading what Will Hutton had to say about the Lisbon agenda. Despite further such attempts being made since then to deal with this issue, there has been no improvement.

There is another issue about which I am deeply worried. The European Scrutiny Committee was obliged to say the following in its report:

At the heart of that comment lies the fact that this House is being treated with contempt. We are being invited to debate a matter that, to all intents and purposes, has already been sewn up. I regret to say that it has been sewn up with a degree of misrepresentation, in that the figures have been increased and we were not given the chance to debate the issue in sufficient time.

The own resources decision will have to be debated in the context of a forthcoming European finance Bill. I have asked Ministers when we will have that Bill on a number of occasions, including via a written question. Labour Members—indeed, all straightforward, honest Members of this House—have a decision to make: whether, in the light of the manner in which the House has been treated, they are prepared to vote against their own Government on that Bill. The opportunity to do so will certainly arise, and I strongly urge them to do so.

8 May 2006 : Column 122

Our report also pointed out that this debate could examine the increase in the financial perspective ceilings. As my hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale, West (Mr. Brady) said, the former Minister for Europe stated in his explanatory memorandum as recently as 21 February that the Government would strongly oppose any proposal to increase the overall expenditure ceiling agreed by the European Council. However, the honest truth is that the Government simply rolled over, and at considerable expense to our own taxpayers.

Our report also suggested that the debate should look at the reasons for any reallocation of spending between different expenditure headings. The then Minister for Europe said in February that the Government,given the “delicate nature” of the European Council compromise—I love the way that they put it, but in fact the compromise involved rolling over in the face of President Chirac and pathetic grovelling to other member states—apparently did not see any scope for re-allocation. It is quite disgusting to read how they tried to weasel their way out of explaining what is, in reality, a complete and total failure to subscribe to the principles set out by the Prime Minister during Prime Minister’s Question Time on 5 June last year.

The report continues:

Well, it will cost a good deal of British taxpayers’ money, but it is not a good deal for them.

It is pathetic to have to say so, but the report continues:

We know that that figure has gone for six. The report continues:

it is claimed—

That is the point. It also states that there will be

that is very important and serious—

That is where the money is going. When we talk about regional spending in relation to the UK and elsewhere, we know what it means. The report also mentions

The plain fact is that this is a travesty and a disgrace. This is not a take note motion and there is more than enough reason for the Opposition and Labour Members to vote together to reject this ridiculous financial management.

9.32 pm

Mr. Wayne David (Caerphilly) (Lab): I, too, welcome my right hon. Friend the new Minister for Europe. He has a great knowledge of the European Union and it
8 May 2006 : Column 123
was my privilege to serve with him in the European Parliament for five years, where he was a distinguished chair of the European Parliament United States delegation. I mention that because he is one of those Labour Members who realises that just because one is pro-European does not mean that one is anti-US. He recognises that one can be both, and the way forward is to match the two together, which I am sure he will do skilfully.

My right hon. Friend is also one of those people who are against the whole concept of the European super state or federal state. He believes that Britain’s role is in Europe but as a freestanding, independent, sovereign nation state. He believes that the European Union is about that kind of association, as does the Labour party as a whole.

I wish to focus on one or two areas that have not been mentioned much so far. Much emphasis has been placed on the issue of fraud in the European Union and I am sure that we would be unanimous in condemning fraud in all shapes and forms. However, we should be clear that it has been consistently the case that most of the fraud in the EU has been the responsibility of independent, sovereign member states. It has been their fault for not putting their houses in order in relation to EU finance.

Mr. Bone: Will the hon. Gentleman name the countries that are guilty of that fraud and does he include the UK?

Mr. David: No, I certainly do not include the UK. The southern Mediterranean countries, by their own admission, have not got financial systems in place that are sufficiently vigorous.

My main point is that we have seen monumental change in the past few years in the shape of the EU, and there has been no greater change than the addition of 10 new member states, nine of them in central and eastern Europe. We should welcome that and be proud of the fact that our Government, more than any other, championed the enlargement process, which has been entirely successful.

Enlargement is significant in a political sense, too. Most of the countries that have entered the EU tend to share the British perspective on EU development. They, too, do not want a centralised European superstate, run from Brussels. Having thrown off the yoke of the Soviet Union, they cherish their sense of identity and purpose and, like us, they will not easily give it up again.

Mr. Davidson: Notwithstanding the views of the new accession states about centralisation, does my hon. Friend accept that ever since those countries joined, there has been a constant pattern of more and more power being accreted to the centre? There has been no balancing delegation of powers from the centre to individual nation states, so irrespective of the views of the new accession states, they have actually gone along with the centralisation process. Their presence has made no difference whatever.

Next Section Index Home Page