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26 Feb 2008 : Column 1016

Mr. Hendrick: There is nothing to stop those accounts being signed off properly now. It is just that the will to sign them off is not there among the auditors responsible.

Mr. Bone: As a chartered accountant, I declare an interest. The suggestion that an accountant would sign off accounts when they knew them to be fraudulent is quite preposterous.

Mr. Hendrick: I am sure that many Government members and MEPs would say that, in a good many cases, the reason why accounts are not signed off is not fraud but because the level of detail and the care with which many of the budget lines are spent.

The Lisbon treaty will mean that all EU legislation will be subject to a level of parliamentary scrutiny not seen before. I have visited a number of legislatures in the European Union, and apart from the Danish legislature—the Folketing—the European Scrutiny Committee here in the House of Commons is probably one of the best means of providing that scrutiny. Under the Lisbon treaty, the Commission will give us sight of proposed legislation for national Parliaments, the European Parliament and the Council long before our Ministers go to Europe and do deals, contrary to what happened in the past. I am a former member of the European Scrutiny Committee, and there have been times when I have questioned members of my Government on the stance and positions that they took. The introduction of the new procedures will allow national parliamentarians to do that with much more ease, as they will be aware of proposed legislation much earlier.

Democratic control and the exercise of delegated legislation powers by the Commission will be reinforced through a new system of supervision by the European Parliament and the Council. That will enable either of them to block decisions on delegated legislation. That cannot happen at the moment. The Commission can, through delegated legislation, take many decisions that cannot be stopped by the Council or the European Parliament. The treaty will change that situation for the first time.

MEPs will be given separate votes to approve the President of the European Commission and the college of Commissioners. The European Council, in nominating a Commission president, must strongly take into account the position of the European Parliament, which is a directly elected body.

On reform, after the 2009 European elections there will be a new MEPs’ statute. The statute will reform salaries, providing a standard base across the Union. The standard MEP’s salary across Europe will not affect the UK tax system. That will ensure that UK MEPs’ net salaries remain equivalent to UK MPs’ salaries. The question is whether the new budgetary procedure will enhance Parliament’s say on spending. Will it block the budget review? Will it put the UK’s rebate at risk? The treaty will expand member states’ influence by giving them a greater say on all parts of the budget. Again, that is a move away from intergovernmentalism to give member states more say, as their Parliaments will be able to speak out much more loudly on the budget. It will also enhance member states’ say on the overall size of the EU annual budget.

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The distinction will be removed between compulsory expenditure—I have already mentioned agricultural spending—and other areas of expenditure over which the European Parliament has the final say and which is the larger and increasing share of total EU expenditure— for example, expenditure in relation to structural funds, from which my region has benefited greatly. The ceilings on EU expenditure are set by the seven-year financial perspectives. Those multi-annual financial frameworks will continue to be decided strictly by unanimity in the Council.

The Council, not just the European Parliament, will take decisions on all subjects covered by the budget review. There can be no changes to the UK’s budget abatement without the UK’s agreement. The Lisbon treaty will not change that.

We have gone from being a European Parliament that was composed initially of appointed Members on a purely consultative basis to a modern electronic Parliament which, as a result of the treaty, is a legislature that can flex its muscles and which, in many more areas, carries weight equal to that of the Council. We are seeing the development of a Parliament that Europe can be proud of.

I am proud to be a Member of the House, and I was proud to be a Member of the European Parliament. Having both those Parliaments working well and parliamentarians working hard for the constituents whom they represent is important in bringing power and law-making closer to the people. I see the treaty as a genuine development which moves away from intergovernmentalism and gives the people of Europe more say over the things that affect them.

Angus Robertson (Moray) (SNP): I am delighted to speak to amendment No. 222 in the name of my right hon. and hon. Friends, and to signal that if we have the opportunity we will press it to a Division. We are delighted to have received indications of support from across the House, not least from the official Opposition.

I shall speak in a moment about the matter of concern, the exclusive competence of the European Union in relation to marine and biological resources, which has already been raised, but by way of introduction I should like to make a point that is very important to me. I take part in the debate not as a Eurosceptic, but as somebody who supports the European Union. I believe that it is an important institution. In a time of extraordinary change on our continent, it is vital that we live in peace, with security, open borders, open markets and hope for so many, in particular for the new nations of central and eastern Europe. Independence in Europe is the norm for most nations. It is the preferred model to share sovereignty where that is essential, but retain important decision-making powers at home for vital areas.

I speak as a friend of the European Union to point out that when there are gross failings, they need to be addressed. The greatest failure of the European Union is the common fisheries policy. That is not just a Scottish issue. We heard an impassioned contribution from the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell). The policy impacts on the English fleet, the Northern Irish fleet and the Scottish fleet. We on
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the Scottish National party Benches appreciate that the anger about the policy is felt in all coastal communities.

Amendment No. 222 gets to the root of the problem, which is the exclusive competence that is ascribed to the CFP in the treaty. It is exactly the same wording as was to be found in the draft constitution. There has not been a single change.

It should be obvious why this matter is of such importance to Scottish nationalist Members, Scotland being one of the great maritime nations of Europe with over 11,000 km of coastline and 70 per cent. of its population living within 10 km of the sea.

10.15 pm

Kelvin Hopkins (Luton, North) (Lab): Is it not unacceptable that a large number of landlocked nations with no interest at all in maritime affairs, with no fishing, vote on matters concerning the fish that swim round our shores?

Angus Robertson: Nations such as Slovakia, Austria, Hungary, the Czech Republic and others may have had intermittent maritime histories, but they certainly have none now, and the notion that their Agriculture Ministers—they do not even have Fisheries Ministers—turn up at Council of Ministers meetings and have more say over the Scottish fishing industry than my right hon. Friend the Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond), the First Minister of Scotland, who has responsibilities for fishing in Scotland, shows what nonsense the CFP is.

I return to the importance of this industry. I may have misinterpreted the laughter earlier, but this is a serious issue for coastal communities. It is about the existence of towns, jobs, their lifeblood, just as it was for those towns that suffered during the miners’ strike when people were faced with the closure of their pits and were looking into the black hole of their future. It needs to be understood in urban centres that that is why the CFP is such a controversial policy, and one that needs to be addressed.

More than 5,000 fishermen are employed around the coast of Scotland, and for every job at sea there are an estimated five more fisheries-dependent jobs onshore. In 2006, £390 million-worth of fish was landed in Scotland, two thirds of the UK total, and Scotland accounts for 70 per cent. of all fish landings into the UK. Ironically, when the Council of Ministers discusses these fisheries, the UK Minister who represents only 30 per cent. of the industry has the lead role over the Scottish Minister who represents 70 per cent. of the industry—another anomalous situation that is unsustainable.

Kelvin Hopkins: Is it not unacceptable that fish taken out of what were British fishing waters by foreign fleets amount to a net loss of £2.5 billion to our economy every year?

Angus Robertson: The UK Government are happy to have that situation based on case law enshrined in the treaty, and they would have accepted it as the status quo in the previous draft constitution. That is completely unacceptable. I note with interest that recently the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation maintained that fish stocks are best managed not through intergovernmental organisations
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such as the EU, but through exercising national jurisdiction over natural resources, and further warned that at an international level, governance arrangements are inadequate and do not result in effective management of fisheries.

Amelioration is possible. My friend who represents the same constituency as me in the Scottish Parliament, Richard Lochhead, the Scottish Fisheries Minister, has worked hard to seek changes within the present set-up. It is a tremendous improvement on the previous regime, as was recognised by the European Parliament, which adopted a report that praised the SNP Scottish Government for implementing sensible measures to conserve fish stocks and encouraged other member states to follow the Scottish scheme. Therefore it is possible to make improvements, but we need a quantum leap in approach to this policy, not the smaller managerial steps that are possible with the CFP as constituted.

The UK Government support a policy that allows literally millions of perfectly edible healthy fish to be thrown overboard, and that is outrageous—not that we have heard anything from those on the Treasury Bench about how advantageous it is. Throughout all these days of debate in this House, not once has anybody from the Treasury Bench got up to say how great a policy it is. Of course they cannot—it is indefensible.

Mr. Frank Field (Birkenhead) (Lab): Before the hon. Gentleman finishes, will he comment on the loss of not only the stocks that are thrown back, but our sovereignty over the whole of our fishing stocks? They used to provide important nutritious meals to poorer people in this country, but their relative price has changed so much that they are now not on the menu.

Angus Robertson: The right hon. Gentleman makes a good point, which underlines the fact that this unsustainable policy needs to be addressed seriously. Yet nothing seems to have been done.

The relative positions of the fishing industries in neighbouring countries have been mentioned a number of times in interventions and speeches. Why are the fisheries of Norway, Iceland and the Faroe islands infinitely more successful and sustainable than the situation within the EU? If the CFP was such a good thing, surely the Norwegians, the Icelanders and the Faroese would be queuing up to join because of that. Not in a month of Sundays will they do so, because they know that that would mean the end for their fishing industries.

Mr. Cash: Has the hon. Gentleman considered the question of salmon fishing in tidal waters, for example? Although the issue may seem to be outside the territorial boundaries of a particular part of the United Kingdom, including Scotland, is it not possible that Scottish salmon fishing could be at risk under the proposals?

Angus Robertson: The hon. Gentleman makes an important point; I hope that he will join us in the Lobby tonight, if we are able to press amendment No. 222 to a Division.

I was trying to make a point about the fisheries industries in neighbouring countries. Why in the past 10 to 15 years, during which extraordinary pain has been felt among the fishing fleets of the United
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Kingdom, have we seen an increase in the power and tonnage of the fishing fleets of those other countries? We are told that fish do not respect borders. That is very interesting—of course they do not. Why, then, are the fisheries policies of those neighbouring countries infinitely more successful than those within the European Union?

In preparing for this debate, I looked at some interesting correspondence that I received a few short years ago from the Prime Minister of the Faroes. He wrote:

If the people of Norway, Iceland and the Faroes wanted to join the European Union, I would like the idea that they could. However, unfortunately the UK Government have signed up to a treaty enshrining fisheries as an exclusive competence, and that will make it impossible for those neighbouring nations ever to join. That is a travesty.

Let us consider how the issue has progressed. I would like to point out certain important realities for the record. The Scottish National party’s position on this point, and others, has been consistent through the whole process of first the draft constitution and now the treaty. My friend Professor Sir Neil MacCormick, former MEP, was the only democratically elected member on the Convention that drew up the constitution. He raised the problems with the draft as it was emerging. The problems were reiterated in the Standing Committee on the Convention on the Future of Europe debates that brought together Members from the House of Commons and those from the other place. They were raised repeatedly. They were raised in the European Scrutiny Committee and in meetings that my right hon. Friend the Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) and I had with the then Foreign Secretary, the right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw).

The UK Government have known that the issue is a red-line one for the Scottish Government. Despite that, they have ignored it from day one. The consequences are that the treaty is unacceptable. As a pro-European, I could live with 95 per cent. of the treaty as it stands. However, because this issue has been pointed out from day one and because the UK Government could have sought an amendment but did nothing, the treaty has been made completely and utterly unacceptable.

Mr. Siôn Simon (Birmingham, Erdington) (Lab): The hon. Gentleman started off by telling us what a good European he is, but he will have noticed throughout his remarks, which are very impassioned and some of which I do not disagree with—I am not sure that if I represented a coastal community I would be keen on the common fisheries policy either—that all his friends in the Chamber are very strongly not friends of the European Union; indeed, they are very bad enemies of the European Union. The bottom line is that he cannot have it both ways—he cannot have the amendment and the treaty.

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Angus Robertson: The hon. Gentleman does not have the benefit of eyes in the back of his head, which would enable him to see his colleagues on the Labour Benches agreeing with our criticisms of the common fisheries policy. That applies not only to Labour Members in this House but to socialists in the European Parliament, not least in the Fisheries Committee, where there was a vote of 23 to zero—there were four abstentions but no votes against—saying that exclusive competence over fisheries is a bad thing. That is exactly what the SNP amendment would expunge.

As the hon. Member for Leominster (Bill Wiggin) said, the Royal Society of Edinburgh has sought to encourage us to delete exclusive competences—and not just the Royal Society of Edinburgh, august as it is. All hon. Members representing Scottish constituencies were contacted over the weekend by the Fishermen’s Association Ltd, which said:

It then asks hon. Members to support the SNP amendment.

The common fisheries policy is a failed policy. Discards are obscene. The idea that communities are horse-traded in the middle of the night at annual Brussels negotiations is completely unacceptable. The UK Government have failed to address the issue and failed to listen to the Scottish Government. For them, fishing is still expendable. A Conservative Government made a mistake in the early 1970s that a Labour Government are repeating now. That is why we will seek to press the amendment to the vote. Members of all parties in this House stood on manifesto or policy commitments to let the people decide on the treaty, and that is what should happen. The SNP has supported a referendum from day one, not least because of the disastrous common fisheries policy.

Rob Marris: I do not know a great deal about fisheries—

Mr. Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con): Sit down, then.

Rob Marris: If the hon. Gentleman had been here from the start, he would know that there are about 12 amendments before us, only two of which deal with fisheries, so there are other things to talk about.

Nevertheless, what I would say about fisheries is that it is clear that the current policy is not working. It is clear to my constituents, I think, that part of the reason why it is not working is the presence of foreign vessels in UK waters, which, as far as I know, bought quotas from UK fishermen. It is also clear that when the United Kingdom discusses the common fisheries policy in the European Union, it is often the case, as is reported, that the UK is asking for higher quotas than the EU thinks are applicable to preserve fish stocks in UK waters. That suggests to me that fish might be better off with the European Union, because stocks continue to decline in UK waters.

The treaty will help to improve scrutiny of European Union legislation in this place. We need to go further in our scrutiny of legislation from the EU that may be
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implemented in domestic law. I am pleased to hear that the Government are making progress in that regard, and I hope that further progress can be made. I served on a Committee scrutinising European legislation—I cannot remember which one. The Minister was on it; he may remember; he was a very able Whip then. We served on Committee A or B for about two years, which conducted ex post facto scrutiny, and it was always an all-or-nothing affair. We need to improve decision making in this House, as the representative of this country in terms of the European Union.

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