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I should like to inject a note of caution. The Minister talked earlier about the environment. Of course, the environment is hugely important; global warming is a huge challenge. We must be very careful, however, that people in the European farming community do not use the environment as yet another reason to deny African
farmers access to our markets by talking about the number of air miles involved in the shipment of food. I am sorry, Madam Deputy Speaker. I know that you do not want us to talk about carbon footprints, but foods imported from Africa often have a far smaller carbon footprint, because they are grown in natural sunshine rather than in expensive, heated greenhouses. We must not use the concern about the environment that is shared by our EU partners to block African farmers access to our markets.
When we have debates about Europe, we do not do the political class any great favours. We use abstract phrases and high-minded language. Of course, we are very high-minded people, but we must remember that what we do here has to be relevant to a wider audience. I know, from going around my constituency, that there is concern about the European project and about these quite significant additional sums of money that we are going to hand over to the newly joined member states of the European Union. I do not think that my constituents are mean-minded people, however. They understand that there is an argument for helping emerging economies in Europe to get the foothold that they need to become wealthier and to become our trading partners, but they also have a legitimate right to be concerned about the sums of money being talked about. We must not dismiss those concerns as the concerns of racists and xenophobes. After all, any money that we spend in this place belongs to the taxpayer. It belongs to the people whom we represent, and it is therefore incumbent on us to make a strong case for spending it. Ultimately, we should be answerable to them for where their taxes are going.
David Taylor: The hon. Gentleman is probably right in one respect: there is relatively little concern about the unreformed CAP providing net sums to the accession countries. I see little wrong with that. What does concern me is countries such as Austria, France, Ireland, Portugal and Spain, which are all net beneficiaries from the unreformed CAP. That cannot be allowed to continue for much longer, can it? How can that strike constituents in the hon. Gentlemans area or mine as being fair or sane?
Mr. Walker: I share many of the hon. Gentlemans concerns, and I will tell him why. My constituency faces significant funding pressures on public services. For example, we face the closure of not one hospital, but possibly two. My constituents are told that there is not enough money to meet and pay off the historic deficits and that that is the reason for the closures. We need to answer those concerns. If we believe in sending money to the emerging economies of eastern Europe, we need to make that argument. I personally believe that this country gives too much to the European budget and that we could do with giving quite a bit less. Again, however, I am happy to argue the case, as we have today, across the Chamber.
If the argument were about giving from the rich to the poor, there might not be so much opposition to it. In this country, we see the money going to rich people such as the Duke of Westminster and several other landed gentry. As some Labour Members have pointed out, countries such as Greece, Spain, Belgium and Luxembourg are achieving most of
the gains per capita from the common agricultural policy, so the money is not being transferred from rich to poor at all. If it was, it might not raise so much opposition.
Mr. Walker: I take the hon. Gentlemans point. If anything, the EU is too much about agriculture. The EU is obsessed with agriculture and with agricultural subsidies. For the EU to gain the support of the European population, it has to be seen to be working for everyone, but all too often, as he points out, it seems to be working for very few people. Conversely, for far too many people, it amounts to a nice dollop of extra cash on top of what they are already getting.
I have said before that I love the French rural way of life. I imagine it is rather like the way of life in this country 60 or 70 years ago, but the reason why the French can have farms of 50 and 60 acres, which are economically unviable, is that we in the EUus and othersare subsidising that lifestyle. If France wants to continue with its agricultural marketplace in its current form, that is a matter for France, but it should not be incumbent on us to fund it on its behalf.
Mr. Lee Scott (Ilford, North) (Con): Does my hon. Friend agree that my constituents, like his, are annoyed that the rest of Europe is laughing at us over this matter and at the sums of money we give to countries that are doing far better than we are?
Mr. Walker: I accept my hon. Friends observations. There is and must be a sense of frustration out there among the public. When we talk to our constituents, we find that about 50 or 60 per cent. now question the future direction of the European project. About 60 per cent. of our electorate think that it has gone too far and that it is not in this countrys national interest. It is no good Labour Membersor, indeed, some Conservative Members who are more pro-Europe than I ampooh-poohing those people and calling them little Englanders. That is a legitimate concern and we need to listen, understand and act on it.
I listened carefully to the Minister earlier when he spoke about immigration in the European context. I am delighted that skilled and talented people want to come and work in this country. I really am, but I wish that we had given a little more thought as to how we could have managed that influx of workers to make it better for us and for them. Although I represent a Conservative seat, the south of my constituency includes what I would call a large working-class area: two of the wards are among the 20 per cent. poorest in the country. I understandthis needs to be confirmed later this weekthat in one of my primary schools, English is now the first language of only a minority of students
I will take your lead, Madam Deputy Speaker. All I am saying is that as Europe grows, and as more people come to this country, we need to ensure that we finance not only emerging economies in eastern
Europe but our existing economies and infrastructure. If children whose first language is not English are to come into our schools, we need to ensure that we have the infrastructure in place to fund the specialist teachers who will allow them to take advantage of their education. We should ensure that children born in this country, of whatever race, creed or colour
Mr. Walker: I shall, of course, take my lead from you, Madam Deputy Speaker, and not from the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, who gave us a wide-ranging exposition of Europe in a long speech that was good in parts and slightly repetitive in others.
Mr. Bone: Would it not surprise the general public to know that the budget settlement means that in gross terms we will pay £100 billion in taxes? Could that money not be better used to improve the infrastructure that my hon. Friend has been talking about?
Mr. Walker: I have to disagree with my hon. Friend: I do not think that it will surprise the public. I think that they are horrified, to be honest, and very concerned. We are talking about huge sums of money that many people feel could be better spent on existing and new infrastructure in the United Kingdom, for example in east and south-east England.
If the Government truly believe that there is an appetite in this country for closer integration with Europe and increased spending on Europe, the best way to test the view would be to have a referendum on the treaty. By having the courage to go to the people, we could have a serious argument and debate that would engage not only the political classes in this Chamber but the public
We need a much wider debate. The debate that we are having today is among the political classes. Our constituents have a desire to take part in the debate, and we must provide them with the opportunity to do so. We can do that by having a referendum on the treaty.
Let me put the record straight on Wales. The right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) seemed to do down all the financial benefits that we have ever had. If everyone had sent money backthat is what he is most remembered for in Walesthat might have been the case, but fortunately we have benefited in many ways. As the hon. Member for Falmouth and Camborne (Julia Goldsworthy) also pointed out, the
rate of growth in some of the objective 1 areas has been above the UK average. In Wales, the increase in jobs and recently in exports have both been above the UK average.
Julia Goldsworthy: Does the hon. Lady agree that it is not necessarily appropriate to try to compare the growth of the economy and other factors in rural areas that have a long history of deprivation with the same factors in prosperous areas such as the south-east and London?
Nia Griffith: Absolutely. The comparison was made with London, which has enormous financial institutions of world repute. Clearly, wealth creation in London is disproportionate when compared with the rest of the UK. It is therefore important that we work hard in the peripheral areas.
Mr. MacNeil: Does the hon. Lady agree that London has not only all those advantages but a Government who tailor their fiscal policy for south-east England, as well as a currency that is tailored for it? When the Republic of Ireland got outwith that orbit, it showed the benefits of independence. Perhaps that could be recommended for Wales.
Nia Griffith: I must disagree. We have ways in which to disperse funding and we are beginning to make a genuine difference in our peripheral areas through many projects, including the settlements that have been given to the devolved Administrations.
Clearly, one cannot make up a huge difference in a short time. The comparison with London is therefore unrealistic, but a huge leap forward has been made. We had a difficult coin to toss on convergence funding in Wales. Would our position be so improved that we would not get the convergence funding, or would we continue to be classified as needing it? It was a strange dilemma, because on the one hand we wanted to be poor enough to get the European money, but on the other, we would have liked to celebrate being not so poor as to attract it. However, we were clearly borderline, and we have been lucky because we have made progress, but we have also benefited from another £1.4 billion for Wales.
Let us revert to the CAP, which needs reform. That is on the EU agenda, and it throws up anomalies in that some wealthy farmers manage to get even more money. However, it is a tremendous lifeline to many of our small hill farmers in Wales. Many have benefited enormously over the years from EU subsidy, which has
enabled them to keep going. Frankly, many would be out of business were it not for that money.
It is easy to criticise administration and find one example of something going wrong or being misappropriated. However, we must understand that there can be examples of good and bad practice in all government, whether we are considering Brussels, the UK national Government or local government. It is sometimes easy to overlook the significant benefits that we have enjoyed from EU membership, such as opportunities for Japanese electronics companies, for example, to invest in this country and to be part of the market, economy and purchasing power that is Europe. When we consider financial gain, we must therefore take into account more than the single sum of money that is being pushed one way or another in any specific budget.
Nia Griffith: We could discuss for ever individual figures and what goes where at any particular time. However, we clearly benefit enormously from being in the EU. We have lost many markets that we had previously. For example, we are not in the same position as we were in the Commonwealth, and we rely much more on our EU partners.
There has been an anti-French aspect to our debate. Sarkozy is possibly being over-ambitious in his goals for when France has the presidency of the EU. We should not fall into that trap. The power vested in the presidency is not sufficiently significant to push things in the French direction in the way that has perhaps been suggested. It is ironic that Sarkozy has ambitious ideas about defence given that the Assemblée Nationale turned down the idea of a European army in the 1950s. He may therefore be overstepping the mark, and we, too, do so if we suggest that his influence will be quite so great when France takes on the presidency.
Clearly, the issue of enlargement is directly linked to that of budget. Adjustments will have to be made. One cannot simply move from six to 27 states and expect nothing ever to change. Sometimes, we, as one of the richer nations, will have to shoulder part of the burden. We need to be careful to ensure that the debate does not become anti-enlargement or focus negatively on specific countries. Turkey has been mentioned a number of times as a country that is not suitable for EU membership, but for quite the wrong reasons. There are huge concerns, which I share, about Turkeys human rights record, treatment of people in custody, attitude to minority groups, treatment of groups such as the Kurds and policy towards Cyprus. The argument that is often repeated, however, is that if Turkey joins the EU, we will be swamped by people from Turkey seeking economic benefit here. The economic and religious issues seem to drive a lot of the prejudice against Turkey, but neither are relevant. In 10 or 15 years time, when Turkey joins the European Union, it will be better off than countries such as Bulgaria and Romania.
Mr. David Gauke (South-West Hertfordshire) (Con): It is a great pleasure to wind up todays debate. Those of us who deal with Treasury matters are used to Finance Bills, so a Bill with only one operative clause appears somewhat less daunting.
The debate has also been a pleasure because of the range of views heard. From Conservative Members, perhaps not surprisingly, we have heard forceful criticism of the deal facing us, and of the consequences that will flow from enacting the Bill. Such contributions were made by my hon. Friends the Members for Altrincham and Sale, West (Mr. Brady), for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski) and for Broxbourne (Mr. Walker) and by my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood). We also heard strong speeches making precisely the same point from Labour Members, particularly the hon. Members for Luton, North (Kelvin Hopkins), for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) and for Glasgow, South-West (Mr. Davidson).
We have also heard the counter view from the right hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr. MacShane) and the hon. Member for Grantham and Stamford (Mr. Davies). Until the hon. Member for Llanelli (Nia Griffith) spoke, I thought that the hon. Member for Grantham and Stamford was going to be in a somewhat isolated and minority position in his own party on this issueonce againbut it was not to be.
The simple question dealt with by the Bill is whether the deal obtained by Tony Blair in December 2005 was a good one and in Britains interests. He went to negotiate with an objective to protect the rebate, to limit EU spending and to reform the CAP. He delivered on none of those. Our gross contributions are up, what we get back is down, and our net contribution is up. Moreover, our negotiating position for the next financing period has been horrendously undermined. The UK will therefore pay the price for this deal not just until 2013 but for the seven years after that. All that has occurred at a time when, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham made clear, we had a vetowe had an ability to block something that was clearly against our interests, and we failed to do so.
The argument is made that the deal is all about redistribution from the wealthy west to the poorer east. But let us look at the factsthe comparative data. What do they tell us about the winners and losers from the budget settlement and the own resources decision? The Government will not give us all those figures, but Open Europe has obtained leaked copies of working papers, and there is little link between spending and needs. The highest per capita spending is in the EUs wealthiest country, Luxembourg. In second and third place are two members of the original EU15, Belgium and Greece, not new accession countries. Ireland, one of the richest countries in Europe, will receive more per person than eight of the 10 accession states. To be fair, there is one western country that does do poorly. The country that does worst in terms of funding is the United Kingdom.
How is it spent, this money that will do so much for the eastern countries? Administration costs are rising by 28 per cent. between 2004 and 2013, to £34 billion. Between 2000-06 and 2007-13, the common agricultural policy budget has risen by 12 per cent. The hon. Member
for Glasgow, South-West made a good point about the need to return structural funds to member states, a point also made by the Prime Minister in the past, but that has not happened either: it is another failed negotiating objective.
The accounts, of course, have been rejected by the Court of Auditors for the last 13 years. I say that fearing that I may aggravate the hon. Member for Grantham and Stamford, who became very worked up about the allegations, saying that this was nothing to do with the Commission. I refer the hon. Gentleman to the European Scrutiny Committee reports summary of the statement of assurance produced by the Court of Auditors. It gave as an example of a reservation
the incidence of omissions and double or wrong postings
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