|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
the impact of membership on the UKs...constitutional arrangements?
Mr. Evans: Absolutely, and that is why the matter is within the remit of this Bill, and why I hope that a Minister will come here as quickly as possible to clarify the Governments position on the very important statement brought to our attention today by my hon. Friend the Member for Rayleigh.
On costs and benefits, every analysis that I have read leads me to believe that there are net costs of the UKs being part of the European Union. I accept the comment made by the hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton that if we were to withdrawI do not believe that the vast majority of British people want to withdraw; they just want reformnot all the costs that we associate with being a member of the EU would be saved, because other costs would be involved. We were given the famous strawberry example in respect of regulations that would doubtless be introduced, or merely adopted, and I suspect that many of the regulations that we observe as a member of the EU would still be observed if we were not a member, because that would be a convenient way of doing things. A number of other countries, including Norway, observe many European Union rules and regulations, even though they are outside it.
Mr. Davey: Just for clarification, may I say that not only does Norway have to abide by regulations that it has not been able to influence but it pays the European Union money for access to markets? So, some costs would still fall on the UK if it were to pull out of the European Union and take on the status of a Norway.
Mr. Evans: That is right. Not only Norway but Switzerland and a number of other countries that want access to the EU markets pay voluntarily. I understand that the Swiss even had a referendum on paying substantial sums to the EU, and the Swiss people voted in favour. That came as a bit of a surprise to me, but it just shows how important trading is to that country.
Even when we talk about how much it costs to be a member of the EU, it is appropriate to mention that the cost would be that much higher had it not been for Margaret Thatcher. She went to Brussels and did what we were told was impossibleshe secured the rebate. She got a substantial sum paid back to the United
Kingdom because we were paying way more than what the vast majority of people thought was reasonable. The sad thing is that some of that rebate has been frittered away by Tony Blair, and I cannot see exactly what we have got back in exchange. This particular audit would demonstrate exactly what the true costs were.
Mr. Evans: That is important to mention when people say that the UK could never survive outside the European Union. It is a bit like the argument made by my hon. Friend the Member for Poole. We were told that if we did not join the euro, it would be a disaster and the City would collapse, but of course that did not happen. Norway is a perfect example of a country that is able to live a prosperous existence within the world, although it is not a member of the European Unionit shows no signs of wanting to be either.
Mr. Davey: The hon. Gentleman is right to reply to the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope) by saying that Norway is a very wealthy country, but for the record, will he admit to the House that Norway has far greater oil and gas reserves per capita than any other European country? Its reserves are certainly far greater than any country in the European Union.
Mr. Evans: I feel somewhat like a post office, or at least like someone who mediates between Liberal Democrat Front Benchers and Conservative Back Benchers. In any case, we congratulate Norway on being a happy, prosperous country. I know some of its politicians, and they do very nicely outside the EU.
After the no vote, President Sarkozy said that we needed to explain Europe better to the peoples. He is right in many ways, but he misses the point, because he does not fully understand that one of the reasons for the Irish no vote was that they understand the EU very well. Everybody remembers the times when for every pound Ireland put in, it got six pounds out. Ireland was very pro the EU then, but that situation has dramatically changed because of the accession of a number of other EU countries. Those new countries are not as prosperous as some of the old traditional EU countries, and therefore some of the money that used to go to Ireland is now going to them. The Irish voted with their eyes open and they knew exactly what they were doing. I suspect that they voted no for several reasons, and I am not about to tell them that they got it wrong. President Sarkozy and the rest of Europe have to listen to what the Irish have said. We cannot force them to have another vote on the same treaty, because they have already made their voices heard. The process provides for 27 countries in unanimity, and I hope that the Minister will confirm that the
British Prime Minister will under no circumstances let the Irish down. All 27 countries must support the Lisbon treaty or it falls. The sooner it is pronounced dead, the better.
When we consider the costs and benefits of being a member of the EU, it is a grave mistake for President Sarkozy to make the point that other countries are seeking to join, such as the Balkan states, Turkey, Georgia and perhaps Ukraine, and that that will have to be put on ice. That is an attempt to blackmail countries such as Britain, which is keen to get the EU expandedI am sure we all think that the more countries are members, the more common sense will prevail, and the project will not be driven by one or two large countries who want to tell everyone else what to do. I hope that President Sarkozy will stop this approach of throwing his toys out of the pram and threatening to spite the rest of Europe by not allowing any other new countries in.
The problem is not only the common agricultural policy, the common fisheries policy or structural fundsthe gamut of European spending. A slice of our international trade budget also goes to the EU for it to distribute, so that must also be taken into account. In the past couple of days, we have also seen a push towards a common defence policy, backed up by a common EU armed forces. That would have a huge cost, and if British forces were used in the EU contingent, it would not mean a net saving for us. Those forces would still have to be paid for whether they were part of the EU contingent or within the British armed forces. I disagree with the creation of any such EU force, and it helps to explain why so many people in the EU are distressed by the journey we are now on. We are all told not to miss the train, but it is being driven from the front cab by the elitesthe politicians and bureaucratsand the people have very little influence.
I remember listening to Hans-Gert Pöttering, the President of the European Parliament, when he spoke at the Council of Europe. He said how distressed he was that the changes to the constitution left out the flag and the anthem. Well, that is not much of a sacrifice. It might have distressed him, but it cheered me up no end
Mr. Evans: It is relentless. If the Lisbon treaty is eventually pronounced dead, we need not think that every aspect of it will go away. We can be sure that the midnight oil will be burned in offices in Brussels and elsewhere while faceless, nameless bureaucrats try to work out how they can bring to life aspects of that dead treaty without consulting the people, such as the Irish, whose constitution requires a referendum. That is the dislocation. That is the arrogance. That is why people feel exasperated at the way in which Europe has progressed. Clearly, there are benefits.
Frankly, I think that the Bill concerns a pro-European issue, which will probably alarm my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch no end. It will offer an opportunity to have a look at the benefits and not just the costs, as I know that newspapers already follow the costs. I pay tribute to Christopher Booker of The Sunday Telegraph who, every Sunday, cheers me up and depresses
me at the same time. He cheers me up because we have a journalist who is prepared to put into print some of the waste and excesses of the EU institutions, bureaucracy and politicians. He depresses me because I get exasperated reading about what the EU is up to. It is important that people such as Christopher Booker are around and can inform us. Once the commission is set up, when the Bill becomes an Act, all the peoples will be better informed. That is all we want, surely. I cannot understand how the Government could oppose that in any way. We want transparency and proper accountability, and I believe that that is what the Bill will introduce.
On cost, I am becoming a little alarmed by the EU drive on biofuels. It is very difficult to put a cost on that, but we all know that food prices are going through the roof. Inflation is way above what the Government say it is. Part of the problem that is causing prices throughout the world to go up is the rush towards biofuels. I have read:
Europe is considering a 10 per cent. target by 2020.
I thought that a figure of 10 per cent. by 2020 had been agreed, but that quotation is from the Daily Mail so it must be true. The article includes a quotation from Kenneth Richter of Friends of the Earth, who said:
The real problem is the scale of the biofuels targets.
Finding enough land to grow 10 per cent. of Europes road fuel will be bad for people and bad for wildlife.
Governments must drop these targets and concentrate on cutting fuel use by improving public transport.
Mr. Chope: Biofuels were not on the horizon five years ago, but they are now a core part of the potential burdens on the UK economy. Does that not show the need for regular audits rather than having them every 15 years, as the hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Mr. Davey) seems to think would be sufficient?
Mr. Evans: Absolutely. In fact, I was wondering whether the five years proposed by my hon. Friend were perhaps too long to wait. There should be an opportunity for a constant update every year at least and perhaps a more comprehensive analysis every five years. That issue could be smoked out in Committee.
As I mentioned earlier, and although the costs are relatively small compared with the common agricultural policy, the common fisheries policy and some of the huge excessive wastes in the EU, I believe that the proposed procedure will bring out the circus of going between one European Parliament in Brussels and another in Strasbourg. The building of the second European Parliament in Strasbourg was an unnecessary luxury. MEPs go between one Parliament and another once a month with all their papers, some of them in crates that are never opened during the week that they are there but still have to be transported at a phenomenal cost to the EU. That probably demonstrates more clearly than
anything how dislocated the EU is from the ordinary peoples. If the cost of that is €100 millionit may be moreI am sure that we would all greatly prefer the MEPs deciding where they want to sit, whether it is Strasbourg or Brussels, going there and staying there. Then, the €100 million saved could be put toward ensuring, for example, that the poorest peoples of Africa got access to clean water and to the drugs that they need to keep them alive.
The fact that MEPs are prepared to squander money in that way is scandalous. It would, I think, be properly exposed in the commissions first report, and the people would have clearer information. so that during election campaigns for the European Parliament, if a candidate knocked on our doorone would have to be pretty lucky or unlucky to have that happen, depending on ones point of viewwe would be able to ask, When you go to the European Parliament in 2009, will you stop the circus travelling between Brussels and Strasbourg, save the money and either give it back to taxpayers or spend it on the poorest sections of society?
I will sit down now, but before I do, let me say that I hope that the Government will look kindly on the Bill and that we will get it into Committee. There, we will improve it as much as possible before it becomes an Act.
Mr. Mark Francois (Rayleigh) (Con): Before I comment in detail on the Bill, Madam Deputy Speaker, and as I have a Foreign Office Minister here to respond to the point of order that I raised earlier, I must press the hon. Lady regarding Lord Justice Richards announcement from his position in the High Court today that he is very surprised that the Government intend to ratify the treaty of Lisbon before he has given his judgment in the case brought by Stuart Wheeler. The House has approximately two hours to sit and we are fortunate in having a Foreign Office Minister present. I urge her to make a statement on the Governments position before the House rises. It would be completely unacceptable if the House rose before the Government had given their reaction to that important statement by the judge.
Mr. Davey: The hon. Gentleman may have better information than I. Was the judge told by the Government or their legal representatives that they intend to pursue the ratification by depositing the instrument of ratification?
Mr. Francois: I say to my hon. Friend that I do not intend to get into a row with the Chair. I simply made the point that we are lucky to have a Foreign Office Minister present. She cannot remain mute about what the judge has just announced.
Turning to the Bill, it was introduced eloquently by my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope). It is clear that he has put considerable work into its preparation. He took a plethora of interventions during his very good opening speech, most of which were generally supportive. One in particular struck me: we were told that a politicianGerman, I thinkhad said that 1 million or so people in Ireland could not be allowed to hold up the treaty of Lisbon. To reply to that specific point, it is far more than 1 million. The people of France and the Netherlands
Mr. Francois: I am sorry, Madam Deputy Speaker. The point is so important that I will look you directly in the eye as I make it. The people of France and the Netherlands voted against the EU constitution, which as the former Irish Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, acknowledged was 90 per cent. the same as the treaty of Lisbon, so in fact 21 million people have voted in referendums against the European constitution and the treaty of Lisbon, which is the constitution by another name. The argument that we are talking about only 1 million people in Ireland holds no water.
I regret the fact that, throughout our debate on this important Bill about the considerable amount of money that we pay to the European Union, not a single Labour Back Bencher has sat in the Chamber, although the Minister and a Government Whip are here. That is indicative of the Labour partys increasingly supine attitude to the British national interest with regard to Europe. Today was yet one more example of the attitude that we have seen the Government take in the past few months.
My hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh) gave a very good speech. He courteously offered his apologies to the House for the fact that he could not remain for the winding-up speeches as he had a meeting with the chief executive of the Driving Standards Agency to try to save a test centre in his constituency. As I have been involved in a campaign to save a test centre in Southend, I wish him all the best
Mr. Francois: Yes, Madam Deputy Speaker. I was just wishing my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough luck, basically. He gave a knowledgeable speech on efforts to combat fraud, both in the European Union, and in the UK as a component part of the European Union. As Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, he has spent a great deal of time looking into the issue in detail, and his speech was an important contribution to the debate.
|Next Section||Index||Home Page|