Previous Section Index Home Page

That has not gone down well in Ireland. If the Commission decides to put this matter to the vote again in Ireland, it might get a worse result than it did this time.

Mr. Chope: I know that we must not intrude upon private Conservative grief, but this rather reminds me of what happened at the Winchester by-election, when there was a rerun. Basically, the people of Winchester had spoken and, although they had not defeated the Conservative party candidate completely, they had effectively defeated him. He had the temerity to stand again, and the rest is history, as we know. I am trying to tempt the hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Mr. Davey) into the debate, because the Liberal Democrats have an interest in this subject. If my Bill were to become law, it would enable the information to be made available to inform the referendum for which I understand he is still campaigning—namely, a referendum on whether we should remain in the European Union.

Mr. Cash: On the question of a referendum on the costs and benefits of membership, does my hon. Friend know that, in Ireland, under the Nice treaty, a proper evaluation was sent to each person, which is why they voted yes? However, the cost involved was subsequently trimmed to the extent that such an evaluation was not made available for the next vote. It will be essential, in any referendum held in this country, to have an impartial analysis, both politically and economically, along the lines proposed in my hon. Friend’s Bill, in order to ensure that every person in the country has a fair and objective analysis of what is going on, so that they can make an informed choice.

Mr. Chope: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. That is the point that I was trying to develop when I spoke of evidence-based policy making. That concept is often supported by hon. Members on both sides of the House, but when it comes to making evidence available on this particular issue, the Euro-enthusiasts seem to develop an aversion to it. I wonder why.

Mark Pritchard (The Wrekin) (Con): My hon. Friend mentions the word “aversion”. Does he agree that there appears to be an aversion to democracy and to listening to the voice of the people? We have a democratic deficit in Europe and in this country. Many of the people who said yes to Europe in 1975 did not know then what we know now, which is that it would be a political union rather than a trading union. There are people alive today who were not old enough to participate in that referendum—indeed, there are people alive today who were not even born at the time of that referendum. That is why it is critical that the British people should have a voice. I believe that the Prime Minister has acted in a disgraceful way in not fulfilling his promise on a referendum on the Lisbon treaty. Does my hon. Friend agree that the British people must be given a chance at the earliest opportunity to express their views on the position of the United Kingdom within the European Union?


20 Jun 2008 : Column 1198

Mr. Chope: Yes. When that opportunity arises, the decision must be taken with the benefit of the evidence that would be made available as a result of my Bill.

As a result of all the support that I am receiving, and of the wealth of material that is being provided, I am in danger of going on for up to five hours and talking out my own Bill. I certainly would not want to do that. I should like briefly to explain the main elements of the Bill. It would require the Chancellor or the Exchequer to set up, within six months, an EU membership audit commission to report, within 12 months thereafter, on the matters set out in clause 2. The commission would be required to

Mr. David Heathcoat-Amory (Wells) (Con): Would the commission take into account whether the identified costs were reversible? Many people in the European Union—including, I suspect, the Irish—are worried that, whereas the benefits might come and go, the costs are irreversible. An example is the directive on the resale of art, which gives an incentive for people to take their art to be sold outside the European Union. That measure was passed despite the objections of the British Government and the British Parliament, and even an incoming Government after a general election will not be able to reverse that acknowledged cost, because it is enshrined in treaty law. Would the commission take into account the constitutional effect of these costs, as well as their amount?

Mr. Chope: I very much hope so. That is why the terms of reference have been drawn as widely as they have been. I do not think that the commission would be able to take into account cumulative past costs, but current and continuing costs would be taken into account as against the current and continuing benefits. My right hon. Friend is absolutely right to say that, with so much European regulation, once it has been brought in, it can be changed only by a majority vote in support of such a change.

For a recent example, people in my constituency have been complaining about changes to the bus timetables that resulted from a European regulation. Buses travelling more than 31 miles continuously had to have tachographs in them and extra form filling was required. The bus companies said that the costs were disproportionate, so they refused to allow their buses to travel more than 30 miles continuously. As a result, the outlying areas are no longer on the bus routes. I presented a petition to the House about that and the response I had from the Government was, basically, “Woe is me.” When the Government negotiated on the regulation, they did not realise that it would have this perverse impact. Are the Government able to do anything about it? In responding to the petition, they said that they could not do much about it because changing it back to where it was before and removing this unexpected consequence would require a majority vote in favour of that change and others might want to go further. That is a good example of the European Union ratchet, which my right hon. Friend the Member for Wells knows more about than any other right hon. or hon. Member.


20 Jun 2008 : Column 1199

Philip Davies: Returning to a point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr. Cash), the European Commission has been very helpful in acknowledging that the cost of regulation is €600 billion and that the benefits of the single market are something in the region of €160 billion. On its own admission, the costs of regulation are about three times more than the benefits of the single market. Does my hon. Friend agree that whereas only about 10 per cent. of businesses in this country get any benefit from the single market, every single business faces the cost of all the regulations?

Mr. Chope: That is absolutely right. The same point was well made in a debate on similar provisions in the other place, when my noble Friend Lord Pearson of Rannoch—

Philip Davies: A great man.

Mr. Chope: Yes, a great man—or, rather, a great and noble Lord. He set out a strong case for having the same sort of assessment that my Bill is designed to achieve.

Mr. Cash: Would my hon. Friend consider amending his Bill in Committee—we all hope that it will get there—to ensure that the seven members serving on the commission are suitably qualified in economic analysis? I am thinking of someone like Ian Milne, but there should be similarly qualified people on the other side—Will Hutton, for example, who gave evidence to the European reform group that I set up. He criticised the way in which the Lisbon agenda was operating. Speaking as a rapporteur on a European Commission proposal for improving the economy of Europe, he was quite open in criticising it. That is particularly notable, given that he is generally regarded as being very pro-European.

Mr. Chope: My hon. Friend makes a fair point, but I must say that I would prefer to get the Bill into Committee before discussing the detail of amendments. Let us take things one step at a time.

The commission would have to report within a year of its appointment and a copy of the report would have to be provided to the National Audit Office. The report, together with the views of the Comptroller and Auditor General, would then be presented to Parliament and a Minister would have to table a motion for debate, expressing a view on the contents of those reports. Fundamental to the process would be the membership of the EU membership audit commission, to which I have already referred; thereafter there would be further audits every five years, as long as the UK remained in the EU.

Mr. Syms: I presume that the report will be in English, but there might be some benefit in producing it in different languages. I am sure that other EU countries would value reading about the benefits and disbenefits that Britain faces as a result of being in the EU.

Mr. Chope: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Those who have looked into the subject have been much informed by the Swiss Parliament, for example, which sought to establish whether joining the European economic area—not the EU itself—would be in the Swiss economic
20 Jun 2008 : Column 1200
interest. That information was used to inform the Swiss for their own referendum and they voted against joining the EEA.

Mr. Newmark: I do not wish to be too pedantic, but I note that neither MEPs nor employees of the European Commission are to be included in my hon. Friend’s commission. However, I believe that we, as elected representatives of this sovereign Parliament, should have some input into the commission. I am curious to know whether my hon. Friend feels that Members of this House should be included—my right hon. Friend the Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory) or my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh), for example, as they both have tremendous experience on this particular issue.

Mr. Chope: I do not have it mind for them to be included in the commission, mainly because the amount of work needed over a short period of time would make it very difficult for them to carry on their constituency duties. What is important is that their knowledge and expertise would be available when we receive the Government’s report based on the evidence provided by the commission. Knowledgeable and commendable as those individuals and others are, it would be better to draw on their experience in that way rather than in the way that my hon. Friend suggests.

Mr. Syms: Given the amount of work required, I presume that members of the commission—no doubt these will be very well qualified people—would be paid. What is my hon. Friend’s view on that? People serving on the commission might have other busy jobs. If an hon. Member serving on it were paid, it might be viewed as an office of profit under the Crown and lead to a by-election, so that provides another reason why it may not be a good idea to have MPs sitting on the commission.

Mr. Chope: My hon. Friend makes another good point. The Bill makes provision for the costs of the commission to be met out of public funds. If we want people of the right quality to devote the necessary time to the job, we could not expect them to do it wholly without remuneration.

Mr. Cash: Does my hon. Friend agree that what he is seeking to set up is extremely important constitutionally? It would be sort of equivalent to the wise men of the Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee. We would know that when the commission made judgments, they would be really considered judgments. As we conduct our proceedings on this excellent Bill today, it is immensely important that we quell any argument that those who want the sort of independent audit suggested in the Bill are somehow outrageously anti-European and all the rest of it. That is a complete travesty of the truth, as it always has been. It is just that the establishment and the elite of Europe have absolutely no interest, as shown by their response to the Irish vote, in listening to anything that is independent, impartial or objective—even when, as over the last 20 years, we have been proved right.

Mr. Chope: My hon. Friend is correct and brings me to my next point. In a recent Global Vision/ICM survey, 41 per cent. of voters said that their ideal relationship
20 Jun 2008 : Column 1201
with Europe would be one based simply on trade and co-operation. Only 27 per cent.—a very small percentage—wanted Britain to stay a full EU member, while 26 per cent. wanted to withdraw altogether. The centre ground—as hon. Members know, I am always interested in discussing that ground in our Friday debates—is very much focused on 41 per cent. saying that they want a different relationship from the current one, while still wishing to maintain a relationship. Under my Bill, we could have a factual analysis of what a relationship with Europe based simply on trade and co-operation would entail in terms of costs and benefits. The factual background could then be used to inform a referendum on renegotiation of our relationship with Europe. Sooner or later, it will come to that. We are going to need a renegotiation and we will need to have a referendum in order to take the people with us.

Mr. Evans: How detailed will the Commission’s report be? Will it give details of some of the costs that we must bear? Here is a perfect example: every month the European Parliament moves from Brussels to Strasbourg for a week at a cost of, I believe, over €100 million. That is clearly ludicrous, but in the same week in which the European Parliament talked of saving the planet, it voted to continue this procedure of flipping between Brussels and Strasbourg—an exercise that makes “Monty Python’s Flying Circus” look like a documentary.

Mr. Chope: My hon. Friend has cited a well-known example of totally avoidable waste of United Kingdom and other European Union countries’ taxpayers’ money, all to satisfy the vanity of—one supposes—Members of the European Parliament and/or members of the French establishment who consider it important to maintain large premises in Strasbourg and subvent the Strasbourg economy.

However, monstrous and wholly unacceptable though that is, it pales into insignificance in comparison with some of the much larger costs of the European Union. I have not time to go into all of them, but let me remind Members of a document produced in December 2005 by the Treasury, no less: “A Vision for the Common Agricultural Policy”. It states that

—about £80 billion—

It adds that

—over £750. The cost, says the report, is shared by taxpayers and consumers.

The report also states—this, I think, is one of the most amazing figures—that

Can we imagine what would happen in the Chamber if the Government announced that they were going to impose value added tax of 15 per cent. on food? I seem to remember the present Prime Minister, when he was Chancellor, teasing us all in one of his Budgets by
20 Jun 2008 : Column 1202
saying that he was not going to impose VAT on food; but we are already paying the equivalent of a 15 per cent. VAT rate, at a time when food costs are spiralling out of control.

The annual costs of the common agricultural policy fall disproportionately on the poorest in society. That policy alone represents 40 per cent. of global market price support for agriculture, and the Treasury document estimates that

It also estimates that

in this country

It would be very useful, would it not, to reduce inflation by about 1 per cent. as a result of reform of the common agricultural policy. What happened, however, was that the Government said that in order to enable the European Union to deliver its “vision for the common agricultural policy”, we would agree to pay even more to the European Union by forfeiting part of our rebate over the next few years. As a consequence we have given up a large part of it. By 2011 we shall probably have to pay an extra £2 billion a year of taxpayers’ money for membership of the European Union, and what have we been given in return? A hollow promise that something might be done about the common agricultural policy. We need do no more than listen to the leaders of countries in continental Europe to know that they have no intention whatever of doing anything fundamental to the common agricultural policy. Our costs will go up, and the position will be made worse by the fact that we are also paying extra to try and get something done about the common agricultural policy, which is never going to happen.

Mr. Cash: Although the Bill’s provisions are confined specifically to the United Kingdom and our Parliament, should not the other member states be urged to produce similar Bills so that they too can assess the consequences of the increasing dangers visited on their populations, such as rising food and commodity prices and all the difficulties resulting from the common agricultural policy that my hon. Friend has described? Should not each Parliament—throughout the European Union, not just at the bureaucratic Orwellian centre to which my hon. Friend has rightly referred—have the opportunity to make an assessment of the kind that he, in a most moderate speech, is advocating so satisfactorily?

Mr. Chope: I agree with my hon. Friend, and thank him for his generous comments.

It would be wrong not to refer to the benefits of the common agricultural policy, so let me add for the sake of balance that 10 per cent. of this enormous amount of market price support reaches farmers. However, 25 per cent. is lost through economic inefficiencies, and about 35 per cent. goes to suppliers of imports such as pesticides and fertilisers. We know from the Treasury report that the United Kingdom alone bears the cost, amounting to hundreds of millions of pounds each year, of cleaning up water supplies that are polluted as a result of the intensification of farming under the common agricultural policy.


Next Section Index Home Page