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19 Nov 2007 : Column 1009

Mr. MacShane: My hon. Friend is talking through his hat. Ireland was so poor when it joined in 1973 that the amount of net transfers from the UK economy would have been absolutely enormous. The idea that each country goes round with a begging hat saying, “I’m poor, please give me some money”, simply will not work. I respect my hon. Friend—although he does not like the EU and the way it works, he has always taken a consistent, cheerful and friendly position on it—but we have to work with what we have, and if we want to change it, we have to engage, network and discuss. That is what the Conservatives completely and resolutely refuse to do.

Daniel Kawczynski: The right hon. Gentleman has been talking about Ireland. I must tell him—we get on quite well with one another, so I hope that he will take this on board—that the Irish Government have just spent £300 million of taxpayers’ money on propping up the Irish dairy industry. I am chairman of the all-party group on dairy farmers. How can our dairy farmers in the west of England and Wales compete when the Irish are so flagrantly contravening the spirit of the common agricultural policy?

Mr. MacShane: I wonder whether that is a wise intervention on the afternoon when we have learned how much money we are giving to Northern Rock. If the Irish subsidy, subvention or support is against EU state aid provisions, let it be taken to the European Court of Justice. To be fair, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer made it clear that any aid that the British Government choose to give to protect the 1.5 million borrowers and savers in Northern Rock must be within EU rules.

Hon. Members have spoken as if Britain were a net contributor to the EU in all areas and we got nothing back in return. In fact, last year’s structural fund expenditure figures show that the UK gets a third more than France, 20 per cent. more than Belgium and nearly twice as much as the Netherlands. We get more than Slovenia, one of the accession member states, and—the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham might want to listen to this point—only €1 per head less than Poland. The world’s fourth largest economy gets from the EU only €1 per head less in structural funds than Poland, which, despite its enormous economic progress, is still a not very rich EU country.

I want reform of the CAP. What we are debating was, in effect, set in stone in 2002 with the agreement between the then French President, Jacques Chirac, and the then German Chancellor, Gerhard Schröder, to maintain CAP expenditure at a fixed amount, not as a percentage amount. That was in the context of the Iraq conflict and, frankly, a deep worsening of relations and divisions within the EU. If we want to achieve desired British goals of getting some reduction as regards the CAP, we will have to look at linking up, making networks, making the argument and going out to persuade people. These decisions are not taken in some closed caballing session in Brussels. They are taken by parliamentarians like ourselves in Paris, Dublin, Germany and Rome, and we need to talk and network far more with them ahead of decisions being taken.

We might also decide that the common agricultural policy could focus its attention on the poorer farmers
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in Britain—the hill farmers, the sheep farmers and those with a very small income—and increase the support that goes to rural development. But what did I read yesterday in The Observer? It was suggested that the richest recipients of CAP aid, such as the Duke of Marlborough and all the Tory-supporting ex-aristocracy, are receiving hundreds of thousands of euros. The British Government, who like a duke when they see one, will try to defend outrageous payments to the richest cereal and agro-industrial companies in Europe, as well as to some very rich individuals in our country. We have to consider motes and beams before we lecture other countries on those issues.

My hon. Friend the Member for Luton, North (Kelvin Hopkins) mentioned Ireland, which has become very rich since it joined the EU. I welcome that. I went on holiday to Ireland as a small boy, and it was a very poor country then. I saw cattle driven through the streets of rather big towns. In the 1950s, almost every second Irish male had to emigrate to find a job.

Mr. Cash: I would like to draw to the right hon. Gentleman’s attention an extremely interesting book by Roy Foster called “Luck and the Irish”. I heard Roy Foster on “Today” or the Andrew Marr programme the other day, explaining that although there is no doubt that the EU contributed to the manner in which the Irish have become far more wealthy, which I greatly enthuse about, it was to do with the American money that was invested and the cutting of tax rates.

Mr. Angus MacNeil (Na h-Eileanan an Iar) (SNP): Independence: that’s the word.

Mr. MacShane: I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman really thinks that the Ireland of the 1920s, 30s and 40s, or even the 1950s, was a rich and successful country. The kind of ultra-nationalistic independence that he believes in usually bankrupts and impoverishes a country very quickly.

Mr. MacNeil: Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. MacShane: I was in Edinburgh on Saturday, and I wept. I did not drink Italian coffee or eat spaghetti for a whole 24 hours. However, the Scots must have their point.

Mr. MacNeil: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman, who has such a fine Scottish surname, or perhaps it is Irish. Does he think that Ireland would be as successful today if it were not independent?

Mr. MacShane: Ireland is successful today because it plays a full role in the European Union. Were Scotland to quit the Union, I would be interested to see the price it would have to pay to enter the EU, because it would be a tricky renegotiation. However, we are veering way off the subject.

What counts is that the Irish used the moneys that they got from the EU better than almost any other country. They were combined with enormous investment in education and a sensible taxation policy—a point that I concede to the hon. Member for Stone. None the less, are we saying that after 1973, Britain should not, to
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a lesser degree than Germany or the Netherlands, have made significant fiscal transfers that have allowed Ireland as a nation during the past 33 years to become richer and happier than it ever was when it was an independent state before it joined the EU, or when under English control? I do not think so. It must have been in our interests to do so. It is why Ireland today is a country of immigration, not emigration. Immigration brings its own problems, as we know, but it is far better to be a country that is so successful it needs to attract workers to do jobs that nationals are not prepared to do.

That ought to be our ambition for the rest of Europe. Many hon. Members will remember travelling to Spain, southern Italy or even bits of France not so long ago and being able to see rural and social poverty. It was quaint, and it was nice for the British ex-pats who could buy houses and drinks that did not cost very much, but now it is far better that Italians and Spaniards can, in contrast to their position in the 1950s and 1960s, stay in their own countries, and that those countries are rich enough to attract people to work in them. That is my ambition for Poland and the Baltic states. In order to achieve that ambition, some generosity on our part, and some lessening of the assumption that it is only the Germans, Dutch and Swedes that should pay, would be welcome.

We can see the success that membership of the European Union brings to all countries. I have explained why it makes us all more wealthy, and I hope that the figures are not in question.

Mr. MacNeil: Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. MacShane: No, I will not, if the hon. Gentleman does not mind.

In 1960, about 14.6 per cent. of GDP was in exports to what are now EU member states. That figure is now closer to 60 per cent. Britain’s wealth has doubled in the past 10 years, principally on account of our membership of the EU.

Mr. Austin Mitchell (Great Grimsby) (Lab) rose—

Mr. MacNeil rose—

Mr. MacShane: I love my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell), but he has not been in his place since the beginning of the debate, and neither has the hon. Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Mr. MacNeil), so I shall not give way. I will do so to those who have been here since the start of the debate.

As well as making us more wealthy, it transpires that membership of the EU makes us more healthy. A new book that has just become available in the Library, in the new arrivals section, contains a marvellous statistic showing that between 1965 and 2004, the life expectancy of the British male increased by 13 years. In the United States over the same period it increased by only eight years; in France, it increased by 10 years and in Norway by just seven years. Membership of the European Union is allowing us to live longer; I would have thought that all hon. Members would welcome that.

This modest Bill will allow financing of the European Union that has been negotiated, agreed and signed, and
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on which our word has been pledged. The shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury is quite right to say that we can veto it and reject it, but he would have a hard time explaining to the Poles, Hungarians, Czechs and other eastern Europeans who are the principal beneficiaries why we should continue the current practice, which will come to an end once the Bill becomes law, of their sending large cheques to Her Majesty’s Treasury. It is not worthy or honourable. The Conservative party is not anti-Polish or anti-European, but it seems to be absolutely locked into a philosophy of rejecting anything that helps the EU to grow.

This time last week, the shadow Foreign Secretary, the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague), made endless appeals in a fine and effective speech for more European Union action. He said that EU Foreign Ministers had wasted opportunities and that they ought to do more on Iraq. I agree with him. On Burma, he says that the EU should tighten

I cannot disagree with him. He also said that EU Ministers need to show collective strength over Zimbabwe. I agree with him, but if he wants those desired goals to be achieved, there is a problem. It is not possible to demand more action from partners in Europe—I might add the case of Afghanistan or one or two other places—at the Dispatch Box while allowing members of one’s party to campaign openly for withdrawal from the EU, or while writing articles and making the bulk of one’s speeches utterly contemptuous of our partners. When the Leader of the Opposition talks about one-legged Lithuanians, the Opposition have a problem. When members of the Public Accounts Committee say, “We’re going to have to get tough—these guys coming in to talk to us are foreigners”, we see the subconscious xenophobia deep at the heart of the Conservative party.

Mr. Charles Walker (Broxbourne) (Con): You are a disgraceful man.

Mr. MacShane: Does the hon. Gentleman wish to intervene?

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. The right hon. Gentleman really must bring his remarks closer to what he himself admits is a modest Bill. I have allowed him a fair degree of tolerance, but I think that he has been somewhat extravagant in dealing with a modest measure.

Mr. MacShane: Any rebuke from you is always well merited, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I just think that we should help one-legged Lithuanians, and the Bill will do that. If Conservative Members find it difficult to understand just how offensive some of their anti-European bile is, that is a problem for them.

To conclude, the Bill gives a legal mechanism to discharge a debt of honour to many friends in eastern Europe. We shall not be paying as much per capita as some other countries. France and to a lesser extent Italy will significantly increase their contributions under the new regime. Were this debate taking place in the French National Assembly, many deputies would be arguing that the Brits were again getting off scot-free and that the French were paying a massive
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increase in the bills for Europe— [ Interruption. ] The hon. Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar, speaking for the Scots nats, seems again to be joining up with the rabid anti-Europeans slightly to his right, in arguing— [ Interruption. ] The hon. Member for Broxbourne (Mr. Walker) keeps making remarks from a sedentary position. He is entitled to do that, but if he wants—

Mr. Walker rose—

Mr. MacShane: Oh good!

Mr. Walker: Does the right hon. Gentleman not recognise that it is this type of speech that gives debates about Europe such a bad name? He has spoken for 37 minutes, two minutes of which has been worth listening to and 35 minutes of which has been utter drivel. Please can he spare us any more of this torture?

Mr. MacShane: After 13 years I am torturing a Conservative MP. There we are—happiness is mine. When the hon. Gentleman has been here a bit longer, he will realise how utterly focused, short, relevant and to the point my speech has been.

It is time to return to the debate of 1984, when Margaret Thatcher brought back a similar deal and was bitterly attacked by the then Opposition, who were gripped by a paranoid Euroscepticism of bile and hostility to the notion of being generous to poorer nations in Europe, and stayed in opposition for another 13 years. I commend to the House the Opposition’s opposition to the Bill.

6.43 pm

Julia Goldsworthy (Falmouth and Camborne) (LD): It is a great pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr. MacShane). He said that we would all live longer thanks to the European Union. It was a great pleasure to spend some of those extra minutes listening to him. I am sure that they did not feel wasted.

The right hon. Gentleman made two important points, somewhere in his speech. One was that we should remember that it is not as if we do not get anything back at all in this country. I come from a part of— [ Interruption. ]

Mr. Philip Hammond: On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am sorry to interrupt the proceedings, but is it in order for Back-Bench Members to speak to civil servants in the Box during the debate?

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Only Ministers or Parliamentary Private Secretaries should approach the Box.

Julia Goldsworthy: As I was saying, the right hon. Gentleman made two important points. The first was that we should remember that we get something back from the European Union and that it is not just the new member states that benefit from matters such as structural funds. Some of the poorest parts of Europe are in this country, such as Cornwall, where GDP per head of population is still less than 75 per cent. of the European average. It is right that some of those resources should be directed towards helping to boost growth in the economy there.

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Kelvin Hopkins: I sympathise entirely with the hon. Lady’s concern about poor regions in Britain, including Cornwall, but would that not be better addressed by a vigorous and generously funded national system of regional assistance?

Julia Goldsworthy: It would be fantastic if that were the case, but unfortunately it was a hard fight even to get Cornwall recognised as a distinctive economic region in its own right, something that neither the Conservatives nor the current Government were prepared to countenance. Only through the work of the then MEP Robin Teverson, now Lord Teverson, was the area identified as an economic entity in its own right.

The second point that the right hon. Gentleman made was about the need for reform of the common agricultural policy and about how we should make the most of our opportunities. However, as I shall explain, we had an opportunity but we passed up on it.

We on the Liberal Democrat Benches are not going to engage in anti-European rants. We have always been clear that we take a constructive, pro-European approach, which we do not intend to change. We welcome the fact that the EU has brought a period of unparalleled peace and prosperity to Europe, and that there has been successful integration with new member states. However, that does not mean that there is no need for a proper public debate about the future of Britain’s relationship with the European Union.

Over our 35 years as a member state we have seen the EU widen its membership and share sovereignty, from Mrs. Thatcher’s Single European Act to a succession of treaties agreed by both Conservative and Labour Governments. The EU has changed beyond recognition since 1973, which means that the need for a renewed debate has never been greater. Since 1997 Labour has given away powers, but has refused to make the positive case for Europe and engage in a proper debate about the direction of the EU. The Conservatives, who promoted closer integration without referendums while in government, now indulge in populism of the worst kind, calling for a referendum to mask their own divisions. So let us have that proper debate.

That debate could be achieved by a referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU. That was raised on the Liberal Democrat Benches during the debate on the Loyal Address, and I was proud to walk through the Lobby supporting our amendment, which would have delivered that. I was disappointed that the Conservatives chose to oppose such a proposal, or are they afraid that too many Conservative Members would vote to withdraw from the EU altogether? Instead, the Conservatives will use the debate on the treaty as a proxy for that debate, despite the fact that it has much narrower terms. I am sure that those opposed to EU membership altogether will take the opportunity to air their views then, but much of the treaty is in fact about the practicalities of dealing with an enlarged EU, such as whether we need 27 Commissioners.

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