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19 Nov 2007 : Column 1027

The second big problem is that the Conservative party has shown this evening that it does not want to face up to the facts. I put to the hon. Member for Runnymede and Weybridge (Mr. Hammond) the two most striking facts—I described them as salient—about the package. One was that for the first time the share of agriculture in total spending is now on a downward path. That is enormously important, as it means that the issue of agricultural spending is being resolved over time. As anyone who can do elementary logic will know, the curve could be steeper or less steep, but we are going in a direction in which the common agricultural policy problem will inexorably be resolved. The hon. Gentleman did not want to recognise that.

The second fact that I put to the hon. Gentleman was that, under the settlement, France and Italy will increase their contributions at twice the rate of those of this country. That is also unprecedented, and an extraordinary achievement. Signor Prodi and Monsieur Sarkozy will have a much more difficult time defending this settlement in their national assemblies than the Government will have here. I have some sympathy for them, and I am glad that we have reached this sensible compromise, for all the reasons that I have mentioned. The hon. Gentleman did not even recognise those facts. I intervened twice, and his response was to run away from them and evade the points that I made.

I must tell the hon. Member for South-West Hertfordshire (Mr. Gauke) and the hon. Member for Runnymede and Weybridge, who is not in his place at present, that if they are serious about wanting to come into power, being in denial about the facts is a very bad basis for statesmanship and a disastrous basis for government— [Interruption.] I did not hear that point; if the hon. Member for Broxbourne (Mr. Walker) wants to make an intervention, I shall certainly take it. Members have been generous in taking interventions this evening, and I am happy to live up to that convention.

The third problem, which goes back to good faith, or perhaps just to a lack of information or understanding on the part of Eurosceptics, both in the Tory party and in many parts of the press, is the rubbish and systematic, libellous and defamatory nonsense talked the whole time about the Court of Auditors and corruption and waste in the European Union. It is perfectly true that the Court of Auditors has regularly put reserves on the accounts that it has signed. [Interruption.] I will give way again to the hon. Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar, but I hope that I can proceed after his intervention.

Mr. MacNeil: Before we move on to the subject of corruption, we should acknowledge the deep, inbuilt, structural problems in the common agricultural policy. Crofters in the highlands of Scotland get less favoured area support of tens to twenties of pounds per hectare, whereas farmers in Luxembourg, other parts of Scotland, England and the European continent get support of up to thousands of pounds per hectare.

Mr. Davies: The hon. Gentleman will forgive me if I do not burn the midnight oil to discover the rates of payment to crofters in the Highlands and Islands. His figures might be right or wrong; I am afraid that I cannot comment on that.

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A regular feature of Eurosceptic rhetoric both from Conservative Members and from the press has been to say that the European Union is a sink of corruption, that the Court of Auditors has never approved the accounts, and to ask how we can go on being part of such an organisation. Of course it is true that every human organisation is exposed to fraud, corruption, mismanagement or waste; there is no such thing as perfection in these matters. If I look back to the Conservative Government, there were egregious cases of waste and, indeed, corruption in the national health service in Wales at one point. We have also had corruption in local government. One can never clear that up completely. This country has a very good record, and northern Europe as a whole has a very good record and good traditions in this matter, particularly Germany, Scandinavia and the Netherlands. Therefore, by world standards, such cases are few and far between, but they exist in all institutions.

I suspect that the hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale, West knows this, but I do not know whether the other Conservative Eurosceptic Members do, or whether they are genuinely bemused by their own rhetoric or that of the Tory press. The fact of the matter, however, is that the Court of Auditors has not for many years put a reserve on the Commission’s accounts. It has criticised not the Commission or the institutions of the Union, but the member states, which in many cases distribute the money.

The logic behind the criticisms made of waste or corruption in the European Union is that we should have a federalist policy, and that member states should stop distributing structural funds and agricultural support of various kinds. The Commission should do it directly, and there is every chance, given its record, that it would do it very well. I have a little experience of the Commission, and it is a superb bureaucracy. There are few bureaucracies around the world that are so professional, good, clean, well motivated, efficient and so small in relation to the money that they are disbursing—even if it has 20,000 people, that is a small number in comparison with bureaucracies around the world and the money that they disburse. Getting 300 directives through and creating the single market in a few years was a formidable achievement. I am not advocating a federalist policy, but that is the logic of what Conservative Members are saying—they will not like it, but I ask them to examine honestly the logic of their criticism.

The problem lies in the member states, not in the Commission. If the Conservative party thinks that a radical solution is required, it ought to be a federal solution, extending the competence of the Commission and reducing the role of the member states. That would be a logical solution, but is it the solution that the Conservative party is suggesting? No, because the Conservative party will not recognise reality. The Conservative party will not draw the logical conclusions from its own position. The Conservative party will simply go on talking contradictory nonsense—for that it is what it is: it is contradictory and it is nonsense, and it is about time that it was exposed as such. But that is extremely difficult in this country, because the Eurosceptic press will never reproduce the points that I am making. [Interruption.] Of course it will not: we know that. So the public are genuinely bemused about the issue, which
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is extremely worrying. Here is a consistent and systematic libel—it is no less a libel for being consistent and systematic, and for being pursued for many years—which has infected public opinion about the European Union.

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

Mr. Davies: Will the hon. Gentleman give me a moment?

I do not think the Eurosceptics should be proud of that achievement. I do not think they should be proud of having deceived the public. I think they should be ashamed of using such methods, and I hope that the more honest among them will now examine the facts. I hope that they will look at the report from the European Court of Auditors, which they will find in the Library. If they do, they will see that I am right. The reserves, I repeat, relate to the member states’ role in the disbursement of Union funds, not to the Commission and the other institutions of the Union itself. That is very important.

It is clear to me that the Conservative party is engaged in pure political opportunism. The Conservatives do not wish to draw the logical conclusions of their own policies, and they do not wish the public to draw those conclusions. They want to be all things to all men. They want to go in for doublespeak. They want to go around the Conservative clubs and talk to the chauvinists there. We all know that such people exist in Conservative clubs throughout the country, and I have met a great many of them over the past 20 years. The Conservatives want to go around those clubs and say, “Get these nasty foreigners out. We aren’t going to let our country be taken over by France and Germany,” and so on. They want to come out with all that rhetoric, which will be popular in their constituencies and with the Tory party, but they know that it will not play with those on the middle ground of politics, so they will say to those people, “Oh no, we really believe in our membership of the European Union; we’re totally signed up to it.”

I can give two reasons—indeed, I could give more—why it is clear that the Conservatives are not genuinely signed up. One is their policy on the European People’s party, which was a gratuitous unprovoked insult to those who had been their best friends for generations. [Interruption.] That is what it was, and how can they possibly expect it to be forgotten? We are talking about having a relationship with someone, signing an agreement agreeing to sit with someone—in this case, in the European Parliament—for five years, and then saying “We’re going to tear up this agreement because we don’t like it. We’re going to spit in your face.” Do the Tories really think that if they ever came to power, that would be forgotten? Do they really think that a bank of good will would be waiting for them if, by some awful mischance, they ever found themselves in Downing street? They would be far less well placed to negotiate anything on behalf of this country; that is absolutely clear.

What will happen if the House turns down the Bill tonight? Let us again draw the logical conclusions from the Conservatives’ position, for they do not want to do it themselves. There will be an unnecessary and
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gratuitous crisis in our relations with the European Union. People will say, “The British Government signed up to this, and then backed out of it.” The east Europeans will say, “My goodness me! We thought that the British were our friends, we thought that they supported us in enlargement, and now the Tory party has got itself a majority in Parliament”—if that were ever to happen, which I trust it will not—“and turned the deal down.” It would take a long, long time to restore our reputation for good faith after that.

I put it to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that there are only two possible explanations. Either the Tory party has not realised the logic of its position, or it has, and it wants a crisis in our relations with the EU. That is why the Tories talk nonsense about pulling out of the common fisheries policy or the social chapter. It is really shorthand for creating a crisis and putting us in an impossible position—a position in which we could not pursue the principles that they have set out, and will I suppose set out in their manifesto, and still maintain our full membership of the European Union. That is a very serious matter for the House, and I am glad that the Tories have so blatantly revealed what is clearly their agenda.

7.44 pm

Daniel Kawczynski (Shrewsbury and Atcham) (Con): Thank you for calling me to speak in this important debate, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

If the Bill is passed tonight, it will set a dangerous precedent. It will mean that every time a new wave of relatively poor countries joins the European Union, we in the United Kingdom will somehow have to give up more of our taxpayers’ money to support those new member states. As I told the hon. Member for Grantham and Stamford (Mr. Davies), the Foreign Secretary has stated publicly that he wants to expand the European Union to include countries in north Africa and beyond. The hon. Gentleman disputes that. Only time will tell, but what is genuinely agreed on all sides is that Turkey will inevitably wish to join the European Union and become a full and active member.

I met the Serbian Foreign Minister today. He spoke of his concern about the possibility of Kosovo’s becoming independent. If that happens, Kosovo will want to join the European Union as well. Many other poor countries either wish to join the EU or are in the process of actively submitting application forms. Ukraine, Georgia, Bosnia, Macedonia—all those countries are very poor, and will require massive financial assistance. At a time when budgets are being tightened here in our own country, with an ageing population and a massive borrowing requirement, the Government want us to go on bailing those countries out. I understand that we, as a nation, are already £700 billion in debt.

Andy Burnham: Given the thrust of the hon. Gentleman’s remarks, does he agree with the comments of his party leader in a speech to the conference of the Movement for European Reform on 6 March this year? He said:

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Daniel Kawczynski: No, I do not wish Turkey to be a member of the European Union. As I said, we are currently £700 billion in debt as a nation, and this year alone we borrowed £34 billion. My constituents will find it extremely difficult to comprehend how the Government could forgo such a huge rebate when we are borrowing so much money and our own public services are at breaking point.

The Chief Secretary says that this is all about helping eastern European countries, and that we in the Conservative party are against eastern Europeans because we oppose the Bill. I feel very angry and upset about his comments. Never, in two and a half years, have I sat in the Chamber and been so incensed and appalled as I am by rhetoric of that kind. The Chief Secretary claims that we are against Poles because we are not prepared to give them huge financial subsidies. I feel very insulted by him. This is the arrogance of power. This is what the Labour Government are all about: they cannot justify giving up the rebate, so they want to insult us by saying that we are against eastern Europeans. What I object to is our country, the United Kingdom, footing almost the entire bill for the assistance of eastern European countries.

Of course all of us in the Chamber want to help those countries, which underwent a terrible experience during the days of communism and the iron curtain. However, we have helped them a great deal in the past. It was Britain, and Margaret Thatcher, who insisted that they enter NATO and become members of the European Union. We wrote off all the debts that they had incurred during the days of communism. We have always stood by the Poles, far more than many other European Union countries, and what the Minister said was very misleading.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. I am happier if the word “misleading” is used as little as possible in debates, and, if it is used, is preceded by the clarification that no deliberate intent was implied.

Daniel Kawczynski: Yes, of course I retract that and apologise, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

We are also one of the few countries that have allowed Poles and other eastern Europeans to come in and work, and they have made a tremendous contribution. The way to help the Poles, however, is to facilitate trade between our two countries; we should do everything possible to help British companies trade with Poland and other eastern European countries. Vast state subsidies and giving up our own rebate are not the answer.

The Economic Secretary to the Treasury (Kitty Ussher): The hon. Gentleman talks about helping the Poles. Does he think it would be helpful to them if we—the UK—got a windfall from enlargement and their joining the EU?

Daniel Kawczynski: Nobody is talking about us getting a windfall from them. Conservative Members are scrutinising the Government on how they managed to give up such a large slice of our UK rebate, which is a totally different matter.

The Minister will not be surprised to hear that I have been to eastern Europe on many occasions. During visits to farms in Romania, for instance, we find that they are taking a great deal of our British taxpayers’
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money, but simply not complying with the rules and regulations that our farmers have to comply with.

We should have stood up for the British national interest during these negotiations. As hon. Friends have said, we should have used the veto in these discussions on the rebate. We are too important and big a country not to be able to stand up and use our veto. That would have been possible, and it should have been used.

We have tremendous support across Europe, not necessarily over the rebate but certainly over the future of the EU. Many eastern European countries are very troubled about Brussels railroading them on some of their concerns and the Franco-German control of agenda setting in the EU. They want to challenge that stranglehold, and they look to the UK for leadership. I feel passionately about that and will try to help my party find the right-of-centre partners in eastern Europe that the Minister spoke about. [Interruption.] He laughs from a sedentary position, but there are in fact many young right-of-centre politicians across Europe, such as myself, who feel passionately about having a European Union of sovereign states that trade and want to work together in co-operation, but also to guard their own sovereignty. There are a lot of them; I can assure the Minister that I myself have spoken to many young right-of-centre politicians from across eastern Europe who will work together to ensure that that happens.

In 1984 Margaret Thatcher showed that it was possible for the UK to fight for a rebate, and I wish to take this opportunity to acknowledge the tremendous courage she displayed all those years ago in standing up for our country’s interests. It is clear that the current Prime Minister played a large role in the debacle over handing back our EU rebate. He was in constant contact with the former Prime Minister—Blair. He has built a reputation of having been an iron Chancellor, but he displayed a great deal of weakness over the EU rebate.

I wish to put it on the record that I am very disappointed about the lack of help from Poland and other eastern European states in the negotiations over the UK rebate. I have openly stated to many politicians from Poland and other eastern European countries how disappointed I am that they did not come to our aid over these critical negotiations. Britain has done more for Poland than any other European country has, and it is very disappointing that on this one occasion when Britain needed help and support from her allies in eastern Europe, Poland and others did not do anything to support us. Britain was, after all, at the forefront of getting them into the EU.

Little has been said about the accounts, which have not been signed off. The hon. Member for Grantham and Stamford suggested that Opposition Members were trying to whip up hysteria about them. While trying not to be rabid on the issue, I must say to him that it is concerning if the media report repeatedly, year after year, that there have been complications and difficulties with the auditing of accounts. All of us want to ensure that those accounts are watertight and can be presented to constituents as representing value for money.

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