20 Jun 2008 : Column 1191

House of Commons

Friday 20 June 2008

The House met at half-past Nine o’clock


The Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means took the Chair as Deputy Speaker, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): I beg to move, That the House do sit in private.

Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 163 (Motions to sit in private):—

The House divided: Ayes 0, Noes 28.
Division No. 226]
[9.33 am


Tellers for the Ayes:

Philip Davies and
Mr. Robert Syms

Baron, Mr. John
Bottomley, Peter
Bradshaw, Mr. Ben
Brennan, Kevin
Burns, Mr. Simon
Campbell, Mr. Alan
Cash, Mr. William
Chope, Mr. Christopher
Davey, Mr. Edward
Dhanda, Mr. Parmjit
Evennett, Mr. David
Fitzpatrick, Jim
Francois, Mr. Mark
Heathcoat-Amory, rh Mr. David
Jenkin, Mr. Bernard
Khan, Mr. Sadiq
Leigh, Mr. Edward
Mackay, rh Mr. Andrew
McAvoy, rh Mr. Thomas
McCabe, Steve
McFadden, Mr. Pat
McNulty, rh Mr. Tony
Munn, Meg
Newmark, Mr. Brooks
Olner, Mr. Bill
Robathan, Mr. Andrew
Southworth, Helen
Sutcliffe, Mr. Gerry
Tellers for the Noes:

Mr. Nigel Evans and
Mark Pritchard

It appearing on the report of the Division that fewer than forty Members had taken part in the Division, Mr. Deputy Speaker declared that the Question was not decided.

Orders of the Day

European Union (Audit of Benefits and Costs of UK Membership) Bill

Order for Second Reading read.

9.45 am

Mr. Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con): I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

I begin by thanking the sponsors of my Bill, my hon. Friends the Members for Wellingborough (Mr. Bone), for Stone (Mr. Cash) and for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans), my right hon. Friend the Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory), my hon. Friends the Members for Poole (Mr. Syms), for Isle of Wight (Mr. Turner), for Gosport (Sir Peter Viggers) and for Macclesfield (Sir Nicholas Winterton) and the hon. Member for Castle Point (Bob Spink). At the time when the Bill was drafted and presented, they were all my hon. Friends. All bar one still are, and since then my hon. Friend the Member for Gosport has rightly been awarded a knighthood in the honours list.

Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley) (Con): Not enough.

Mr. Chope: Not enough, no. I think that everybody on that list is entitled to a knighthood.

Who could have known when the Bill was presented, seven months ago on 10 December, that today it would top of the billing for Second Reading and that it would be so highly topical? There is even a petition on the Downing street website calling for exactly what the Bill would deliver—an audit of the benefits and costs of the UK’s membership of the European Union.

In The Sunday Telegraph last Sunday, there was as leading article headed, “If EU will not listen, it risks popular revolt”. It stated that

That leads me to a quotation from our distinguished former Speaker, the late Lord Weatherill. He wrote a preface to the excellent work by Ian Milne, “A Cost Too Far?—An analysis of the net economic costs and benefits for the UK of EU membership”. I am delighted to see that my hon. Friend the Member for Stone has a copy of it with him. It was published in July 2004, and in his foreword, Lord Weatherill stated that when he was the Conservative Government’s deputy Chief Whip in 1972, he supported entry into the European Common Market

He stated that things had moved on a bit since then, and that what was important was that

Of course, at that stage we had as our Prime Minister somebody who had said that he wanted to dispel the myths about Europe and “let battle be joined”. He suggested that we would have a referendum and that the
Government would win it. I shall not go over the history since then, but the Government are now running away from the will of the people.

Mr. William Cash (Stone) (Con): My hon. Friend may care to mention the fact that Ian Milne wrote that pamphlet on behalf of Civitas and that, I am glad to say, he was the first director of the European Foundation, of which I happen to have been the chairman since 1993. He has held that post since 1993. He was also the director of Global Britain, so his analysis credentials are absolutely first-class. He is one of the most distinguished economists in his field.

Mr. Chope: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I am sure that Ian Milne would be in a strong position to give evidence to the commission.

Only as recently as Wednesday, the Prime Minister was using that familiar refrain of justification for our position in the European Union, by saying that 60 per cent. of our trade is with the EU and that 3 million jobs depend on the EU. He told my hon. Friend the Member for Congleton (Ann Winterton) that it would be “bad for Britain” to be out of Europe altogether.

However, the Prime Minister’s claim about trade is wrong. The Library note for this debate summarising national statistics data says that in 2007, 52 per cent. of the UK’s total trade in goods and services related to the European Union, which was lower than it was in 2006. The Prime Minister was therefore wrong in asserting that the figure was 60 per cent. He was also wrong in implying, as the Euro enthusiasts do so often, that, because perhaps 3 millions jobs depend on exports to the European Union, they would be in jeopardy were our relationship with the European Union to be different.

My hon. Friend the Member for North Essex (Mr. Jenkin) made that point well in the debate on European affairs earlier this week, saying:

He then gave some other figures and concluded by saying:

At the same time, our exports have been static or declining. Anybody who suggests that our having a different relationship with the European Union would put those 3 million jobs at risk will find that there is no evidence for that suggestion.

Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): As my hon. Friend knows, I agree with him wholeheartedly about that. Does he agree that there are plenty of examples of countries that have free trade agreements with countries in the European Union, but which are not members of the EU? Therefore, not being a member of the EU would in no way jeopardise our free trade agreement.

Mr. Chope: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The figures for Norway, Lichtenstein or Iceland, for example, show that those countries have increased their wealth
far in excess of what we have been able to achieve, because of their relationships with the European Union, which are different from ours.

Mr. Evans: Does my hon. Friend agree that there is a further dishonesty, in the argument that states that because people vote against the Lisbon treaty, for instance, they wish to pull out of the European Union altogether? Is anybody seriously suggesting that when the French, the Dutch or the Irish voted no, they wished to leave the EU? They want to see the EU doing less and doing it a lot better.

Mr. Chope: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. What really grates with the Euro bureaucracy is the fact that most Irish people support the concept of Europe and the European Union, but have seen through what is contained in the Lisbon treaty and have voted it down overwhelmingly.

If the Government accept my Bill today, as I hope they will, they will have the opportunity to have a proper audit of whether 3 million UK jobs depend on Europe and of whether there would be a net loss or gain of British jobs if we had a different relationship with the European Union. The Bill is essentially about transparency and openness. The Government support labelling on products, so that consumers know what they are buying. The Bill would ensure that our people knew what was in the EU chalice, if anything other than poison.

Philip Davies: As my hon. Friend knows, I am a member of the Better Off Out campaign, which tries to highlight how we would be financially better off out of the European Union. Is it not striking that the most fanatic supporters of our membership of the European Union are also the most fanatic objectors to his Bill? Does he agree that that shows that if such an audit was conducted, people would see the European Union for what it really is?

Mr. Chope: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. It is significant that in this packed Chamber today there is nobody on the Government Benches, other than the Minister replying to the debate and the Government Whip. That suggests that the Government think that by freezing out debate on the issue it will go away, but it will not.

Mr. Brooks Newmark (Braintree) (Con): Is there not a more fundamental problem than transparency about the costs and benefits to UK plc, which is that the accounts have not been signed off for some 13 years. I was in business for 20 years before I came to the House, and frankly, I would not have invested a penny into any company unless I had seen fully audited accounts. That is where the real shame of the EU and its auditing process lies.

Mr. Chope: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. It is wonderful that the Chairman of the Select Committee on Public Accounts is in the Chamber today. I hope that he will make a major contribution to this debate, because his Committee has done some useful work on the failure of the EU to eliminate fraud or even account for the money that we pay into it.

Mr. Robert Syms (Poole) (Con): Britain has done quite well over the past 30 years in terms of GDP, but some of that was down to the supply side reforms of Mrs. Thatcher’s Government and some of it may be because the EU is a big market. How would my hon. Friend’s commission distinguish between what is British and the effect that Europe has had?

Mr. Chope: That would be a matter for the commission. My hon. Friend, who is kindly supporting my Bill, will see from its contents that we are talking about setting up a commission that would be independent, in the sense that the chairman would be truly independent and the other members would be drawn equally from those in favour of continued membership of the European Union and those against it. It would be unfair to restrict them in what they did or the evidence that they gathered.

It is not good enough for any Government to say, “This is all far too difficult to calculate; therefore, we’re not prepared to go in for the calculation.” If people who manufactured food said that it was too difficult to say on a label what was contained in a package, neither consumers nor the Government would accept it. However, that is effectively what the Government are saying to us, the people, about our relationship with Europe. The Government are saying, “We can’t go into the costs and benefits in detail, because it’s all too difficult.”

Mr. Cash: It may well be—indeed, I am sure that it is likely—that my hon. Friend will come to the issue over-regulation. In order to determine the costs and benefits, one must also look into the costs of the burdens on business that result from over-regulation. Mr. Verheugen, the German commissioner, said that over-regulation was costing Europe £600 billion a year. The Government’s better regulation task force also said that over-regulation was costing the British £100 billion a year. That is an astonishing state of affairs, which demonstrates the fact that the whole thing has to be renegotiated and revamped, and that we have to get some common sense, through the audit that my hon. Friend suggests.

Mr. Chope: My hon. Friend is right in citing those figures. However, instead of prejudging their validity, I want an independent assessment of them. That is why the Bill is expressed in neutral terms. It will not have escaped hon. Members’ notice that the short title talks about the benefits of EU membership before the costs.

Mr. John Baron (Billericay) (Con): In one respect, my hon. Friend’s wording is a little too fair. Some of the comments coming from the European elite following the Irish referendum show a certain arrogance that the House needs at least to acknowledge. I will not bore hon. Members with them for too long, but I shall just give one or two quotations. Wolfgang Schaeuble, the German Interior Minister, said that

while the Polish Prime Minister said,

Comments like that smack of arrogance, and that is one good reason why people in this country and on the continent are fed up with the European elite dictating to the peoples of Europe what they should be voting on.

Mr. Chope: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. That view is very much reflected in the opinion polls. I find it disappointing that our own Government are not being more robust in this respect. The Irish people have spoken, but when I intervened on the Foreign Secretary on 16 June to ask him whether he would condemn people—particularly Members of the European Parliament—who refused to respect the verdict of the Irish people, instead of saying, “Yes, I will”, he said, in rather circumlocutory language:

That kind of language makes our people very suspicious of the real motives in Europe.

Mr. Cash: Did my hon. Friend also hear the Foreign Secretary talking about the Irish vote this morning, and pivoting most of his comments on the suggestion that the Irish constitution should be revised? That is what people seem to be aiming at, judging by his remarks this morning.

Hon. Members: Staggering!

Mr. Chope: Indeed. I think that the Irish people have more common sense than to allow that to happen.

Mr. Newmark: The Irish people have done us all a favour and we should thank them. Many countries have not had the opportunity to hold a referendum, but if they did, I suspect that most of them would say no. The initial vision of the European Union as a European free market has changed, and people today are saying that enough is enough. I find it strange that we have reached a stage at which the European Union has almost become an Orwellian state—it is a shame.

Mr. Chope: I do not think that my hon. Friend is exaggerating at all. If we look at the background to the Irish referendum, we see that the people supporting a no vote asked for the treaty—the subject of the referendum—to be given to the people so that they could read it for themselves and see what was involved. The Irish Government, who supported the yes vote, refused to allow that. That just shows the extent to which the European elite are keen to keep their people in the dark. This is all about evidence-based policy making.

Mr. Evans: I do not know whether my hon. Friend has had an opportunity to read the Metro this morning. It contains a fantastic letter stating that one of the reasons why the Irish voted no was that they did not understand the treaty. The letter went on to suggest that they would have had to be bonkers to vote for something that they did not understand.

Mr. Chope: That is a very old-fashioned approach, is it not? I am grateful to my hon. Friend for bringing that to our attention, because I have not yet had a chance to read the Metro today.

Mr. Baron: I apologise for intervening on my hon. Friend a second time—we really must let him make some progress—but I want to point out that recent press reports suggest that there might be a backlash in
Ireland as a result of the arrogance that has been shown. Let me give the House another example of that. Axel Schäfer, the SPD Bundestag leader, has said that

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