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5.7 pm

One and a half hours having elapsed since the commencement of proceedings on the motion, the Deputy Speaker put the Question (Standing Order No. 16).

The House proceeded to a Division.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): I ask the Serjeant at Arms to investigate the delay in the No Lobby.


The House having divided: Ayes 330, Noes 156.
Division No. 14]
[5.7 pm



AYES


Ainger, Nick
Ainsworth, rh Mr. Bob
Alexander, Danny
Alexander, rh Mr. Douglas
Allen, Mr. Graham
Anderson, Janet
Armstrong, rh Hilary
Atkins, Charlotte
Austin, Mr. Ian
Austin, John
Bailey, Mr. Adrian
Baird, Vera
Baker, Norman
Balls, rh Ed
Banks, Gordon
Barlow, Ms Celia
Barron, rh Mr. Kevin
Battle, rh John
Bayley, Hugh
Beckett, rh Margaret
Begg, Miss Anne
Beith, rh Sir Alan
Bell, Sir Stuart
Benn, rh Hilary

Berry, Roger
Betts, Mr. Clive
Blackman, Liz
Blackman-Woods, Dr. Roberta
Blizzard, Mr. Bob
Blunkett, rh Mr. David
Borrow, Mr. David S.
Bradshaw, Mr. Ben
Brake, Tom
Brennan, Kevin
Brooke, Annette
Brown, Lyn
Brown, rh Mr. Nicholas
Brown, Mr. Russell
Browne, Mr. Jeremy
Bruce, rh Malcolm
Bryant, Chris
Buck, Ms Karen
Burden, Richard
Burgon, Colin
Burnham, rh Andy
Burstow, Mr. Paul
Burt, Lorely
Butler, Ms Dawn
Cable, Dr. Vincent
Caborn, rh Mr. Richard
Cairns, David
Campbell, Mr. Alan
Campbell, Mr. Ronnie
Caton, Mr. Martin
Cawsey, Mr. Ian
Chapman, Ben
Clapham, Mr. Michael
Clark, Ms Katy
Clark, Paul
Clelland, Mr. David
Clwyd, rh Ann
Coaker, Mr. Vernon
Coffey, Ann
Connarty, Michael
Cook, Frank
Cooper, rh Yvette
Corbyn, Jeremy
Cousins, Jim
Creagh, Mary
Cruddas, Jon
Cryer, Mrs. Ann
Cummings, John
Cunningham, Mr. Jim
Cunningham, Tony
Curtis-Thomas, Mrs. Claire
Davey, Mr. Edward
David, Mr. Wayne
Davidson, Mr. Ian
Davies, Mr. Dai
Dean, Mrs. Janet
Devine, Mr. Jim
Dhanda, Mr. Parmjit
Dismore, Mr. Andrew
Dobbin, Jim
Donohoe, Mr. Brian H.
Doran, Mr. Frank
Dowd, Jim
Drew, Mr. David
Eagle, Angela
Eagle, Maria
Ellman, Mrs. Louise
Engel, Natascha
Ennis, Jeff
Etherington, Bill
Farrelly, Paul
Farron, Tim
Field, rh Mr. Frank
Fisher, Mark
Fitzpatrick, Jim
Flello, Mr. Robert
Flynn, Paul
Follett, Barbara
Foster, Mr. Don
Francis, Dr. Hywel
Gapes, Mike
Gardiner, Barry
George, Andrew
George, rh Mr. Bruce
Gerrard, Mr. Neil
Gidley, Sandra
Gilroy, Linda
Godsiff, Mr. Roger
Goodman, Helen
Griffith, Nia
Grogan, Mr. John
Gwynne, Andrew
Hain, rh Mr. Peter
Hall, Mr. Mike
Hamilton, Mr. David
Hamilton, Mr. Fabian
Hancock, Mr. Mike
Hanson, rh Mr. David
Harman, rh Ms Harriet
Harris, Dr. Evan
Harris, Mr. Tom
Harvey, Nick
Havard, Mr. Dai
Healey, rh John
Heath, Mr. David
Hemming, John
Hepburn, Mr. Stephen
Heppell, Mr. John
Heyes, David
Hillier, Meg
Hodgson, Mrs. Sharon
Holmes, Paul
Hoon, rh Mr. Geoffrey
Hope, Phil
Hopkins, Kelvin
Horwood, Martin
Howarth, David
Howarth, rh Mr. George
Howells, Dr. Kim
Hoyle, Mr. Lindsay
Hughes, rh Beverley
Huhne, Chris
Humble, Mrs. Joan
Hunter, Mark
Iddon, Dr. Brian
Illsley, Mr. Eric
Ingram, rh Mr. Adam
Irranca-Davies, Huw
James, Mrs. Siân C.
Jenkins, Mr. Brian
Johnson, rh Alan
Johnson, Ms Diana R.
Jones, Helen
Jones, Mr. Kevan
Jones, Lynne
Jones, Mr. Martyn
Jowell, rh Tessa
Joyce, Mr. Eric
Kaufman, rh Sir Gerald
Keeble, Ms Sally
Keeley, Barbara
Keen, Alan
Keen, Ann
Kelly, rh Ruth

Kemp, Mr. Fraser
Kennedy, rh Mr. Charles
Kennedy, rh Jane
Khan, Mr. Sadiq
Kidney, Mr. David
Kilfoyle, Mr. Peter
Knight, rh Jim
Kumar, Dr. Ashok
Ladyman, Dr. Stephen
Laxton, Mr. Bob
Leech, Mr. John
Lepper, David
Levitt, Tom
Lewis, Mr. Ivan
Linton, Martin
Lloyd, Tony
Llwyd, Mr. Elfyn
Love, Mr. Andrew
Mackinlay, Andrew
MacNeil, Mr. Angus
MacShane, rh Mr. Denis
Mactaggart, Fiona
Malik, Mr. Shahid
Mallaber, Judy
Mann, John
Marris, Rob
Marsden, Mr. Gordon
Mason, John
McAvoy, rh Mr. Thomas
McCafferty, Chris
McCarthy, Kerry
McCarthy-Fry, Sarah
McCartney, rh Mr. Ian
McDonagh, Siobhain
McFadden, rh Mr. Pat
McFall, rh John
McGovern, Mr. Jim
McGuire, rh Mrs. Anne
McIsaac, Shona
McKechin, Ann
McKenna, Rosemary
McNulty, rh Mr. Tony
Meale, Mr. Alan
Merron, Gillian
Michael, rh Alun
Milburn, rh Mr. Alan
Miliband, rh David
Miliband, rh Edward
Miller, Andrew
Mitchell, Mr. Austin
Moffat, Anne
Moon, Mrs. Madeleine
Moore, Mr. Michael
Moran, Margaret
Morgan, Julie
Morley, rh Mr. Elliot
Mudie, Mr. George
Mullin, Mr. Chris
Munn, Meg
Murphy, Mr. Denis
Murphy, rh Mr. Jim
Murphy, rh Mr. Paul
Naysmith, Dr. Doug
Norris, Dan
O'Brien, Mr. Mike
O'Hara, Mr. Edward
Olner, Mr. Bill
Osborne, Sandra
Owen, Albert
Pearson, Ian
Pope, Mr. Greg
Pound, Stephen
Prentice, Bridget
Prentice, Mr. Gordon
Primarolo, rh Dawn
Prosser, Gwyn
Pugh, Dr. John
Purchase, Mr. Ken
Purnell, rh James
Raynsford, rh Mr. Nick
Reed, Mr. Jamie
Reid, Mr. Alan
Reid, rh John
Rennie, Willie
Riordan, Mrs. Linda
Robertson, John
Rogerson, Dan
Rowen, Paul
Roy, Mr. Frank
Roy, Lindsay
Ruane, Chris
Ruddock, Joan
Russell, Bob
Russell, Christine
Ryan, rh Joan
Salter, Martin
Sanders, Mr. Adrian
Sarwar, Mr. Mohammad
Seabeck, Alison
Sharma, Mr. Virendra
Shaw, Jonathan
Sheerman, Mr. Barry
Sheridan, Jim
Simon, Mr. Siôn
Simpson, Alan
Singh, Mr. Marsha
Skinner, Mr. Dennis
Slaughter, Mr. Andy
Smith, rh Mr. Andrew
Smith, Ms Angela C. (Sheffield, Hillsborough)
Smith, Angela E. (Basildon)
Smith, rh Jacqui
Smith, John
Smith, Sir Robert
Soulsby, Sir Peter
Southworth, Helen
Spellar, rh Mr. John
Starkey, Dr. Phyllis
Stewart, Ian
Stoate, Dr. Howard
Strang, rh Dr. Gavin
Straw, rh Mr. Jack
Stringer, Graham
Stunell, Andrew
Sutcliffe, Mr. Gerry
Tami, Mark
Taylor, Ms Dari
Taylor, David
Timms, rh Mr. Stephen
Tipping, Paddy
Todd, Mr. Mark
Touhig, rh Mr. Don
Trickett, Jon
Truswell, Mr. Paul
Turner, Mr. Neil
Twigg, Derek
Vis, Dr. Rudi
Waltho, Lynda
Ward, Claire
Watson, Mr. Tom
Watts, Mr. Dave
Weir, Mr. Mike
Whitehead, Dr. Alan

Wicks, rh Malcolm
Williams, rh Mr. Alan
Williams, Mrs. Betty
Williams, Hywel
Williams, Mark
Williams, Mr. Roger
Willott, Jenny
Wills, rh Mr. Michael
Wilson, Phil
Winnick, Mr. David
Winterton, rh Ms Rosie
Wishart, Pete
Wood, Mike
Woodward, rh Mr. Shaun
Woolas, Mr. Phil
Wright, David
Wright, Dr. Tony
Wyatt, Derek
Younger-Ross, Richard
Tellers for the Ayes:

Chris Mole and
Ian Lucas
NOES


Afriyie, Adam
Ainsworth, Mr. Peter
Amess, Mr. David
Ancram, rh Mr. Michael
Arbuthnot, rh Mr. James
Atkinson, Mr. Peter
Baldry, Tony
Barker, Gregory
Baron, Mr. John
Bellingham, Mr. Henry
Benyon, Mr. Richard
Bercow, John
Bone, Mr. Peter
Boswell, Mr. Tim
Bottomley, Peter
Brady, Mr. Graham
Brazier, Mr. Julian
Brokenshire, James
Browning, Angela
Burt, Alistair
Butterfill, Sir John
Carswell, Mr. Douglas
Cash, Mr. William
Chope, Mr. Christopher
Clappison, Mr. James
Clark, Greg
Clarke, rh Mr. Kenneth
Clifton-Brown, Mr. Geoffrey
Cormack, Sir Patrick
Crabb, Mr. Stephen
Davies, Philip
Davis, rh David
Djanogly, Mr. Jonathan
Dorrell, rh Mr. Stephen
Dorries, Mrs. Nadine
Duddridge, James
Duncan, Alan
Duncan Smith, rh Mr. Iain
Dunne, Mr. Philip
Evans, Mr. Nigel
Evennett, Mr. David
Fabricant, Michael
Fallon, Mr. Michael
Field, Mr. Mark
Fox, Dr. Liam
Francois, Mr. Mark
Fraser, Christopher
Gale, Mr. Roger
Garnier, Mr. Edward
Gauke, Mr. David
Gibb, Mr. Nick
Gillan, Mrs. Cheryl
Goodman, Mr. Paul
Goodwill, Mr. Robert
Gove, Michael
Gray, Mr. James
Grayling, Chris
Green, Damian
Greening, Justine
Greenway, Mr. John
Grieve, Mr. Dominic
Hague, rh Mr. William
Hammond, Mr. Philip
Hammond, Stephen
Hands, Mr. Greg
Harper, Mr. Mark
Hayes, Mr. John
Heathcoat-Amory, rh Mr. David
Hendry, Charles
Herbert, Nick
Hoban, Mr. Mark
Hollobone, Mr. Philip
Holloway, Mr. Adam
Hunt, Mr. Jeremy
Hurd, Mr. Nick
Jack, rh Mr. Michael
Jackson, Mr. Stewart
Jenkin, Mr. Bernard
Jones, Mr. David
Kawczynski, Daniel
Key, Robert
Kirkbride, Miss Julie
Knight, rh Mr. Greg
Laing, Mrs. Eleanor
Lait, Mrs. Jacqui
Lancaster, Mr. Mark
Letwin, rh Mr. Oliver
Lewis, Dr. Julian
Liddell-Grainger, Mr. Ian
Lidington, Mr. David
Lilley, rh Mr. Peter
Loughton, Tim
Main, Anne
Malins, Mr. Humfrey
Maude, rh Mr. Francis
May, rh Mrs. Theresa
McIntosh, Miss Anne
McLoughlin, rh Mr. Patrick
Mercer, Patrick
Miller, Mrs. Maria
Milton, Anne
Mitchell, Mr. Andrew
Moss, Mr. Malcolm
Mundell, David
Murrison, Dr. Andrew
Neill, Robert
Newmark, Mr. Brooks
O'Brien, Mr. Stephen
Osborne, Mr. George
Ottaway, Richard
Paice, Mr. James
Paterson, Mr. Owen
Penning, Mike
Prisk, Mr. Mark
Pritchard, Mark

Randall, Mr. John
Redwood, rh Mr. John
Robathan, Mr. Andrew
Robertson, Mr. Laurence
Rosindell, Andrew
Ruffley, Mr. David
Scott, Mr. Lee
Selous, Andrew
Shapps, Grant
Shepherd, Mr. Richard
Simpson, Mr. Keith
Spelman, Mrs. Caroline
Spicer, Sir Michael
Spink, Bob
Spring, Mr. Richard
Steen, Mr. Anthony
Stuart, Mr. Graham
Swire, Mr. Hugo
Syms, Mr. Robert
Taylor, Mr. Ian
Timpson, Mr. Edward
Tredinnick, David
Turner, Mr. Andrew
Tyrie, Mr. Andrew
Vaizey, Mr. Edward
Vara, Mr. Shailesh
Viggers, Sir Peter
Villiers, Mrs. Theresa
Walker, Mr. Charles
Wallace, Mr. Ben
Walter, Mr. Robert
Waterson, Mr. Nigel
Watkinson, Angela
Whittingdale, Mr. John
Widdecombe, rh Miss Ann
Willetts, Mr. David
Wilshire, Mr. David
Wilson, Mr. Rob
Winterton, Ann
Winterton, Sir Nicholas
Young, rh Sir George
Tellers for the Noes:

Bill Wiggin and
Jeremy Wright
Question accordingly agreed to.
20 Jan 2009 : Column 650

20 Jan 2009 : Column 651

20 Jan 2009 : Column 652

20 Jan 2009 : Column 653

Resolved,


20 Jan 2009 : Column 654

Financial Management

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): Before I call the Economic Secretary, may I say that as the Front Benchers took 63 minutes out of the 90 on the previous motion, I hope that there will be a little more awareness of the number of Back Benchers wishing to take part in this debate? I shall try to vary the cast to some extent.

5.22 pm

The Economic Secretary to the Treasury (Ian Pearson): I beg to move,

I am pleased that we are able to have this debate on EU financial management issues on the Floor of this Chamber for the first time in three years. I appreciate that there are other attractions taking place at the moment, most noticeably the inaugural address of the 44th President of the United States, but Parliament rightly attaches great importance to the protection of the financial interests of EU taxpayers. Even though this debate might be relatively sparsely attended, I am sure that there will be other opportunities to address some of the issues that have been talked about today.

Bob Spink (Castle Point) (Ind): The Economic Secretary has started generously, and that is characteristic, but what value can we put on any of these documents, and what confidence can we have in them, when the EU is totally unable to get its accounts audited? The reasons for the lack of audit are not minor errors, but major deficits and major spending errors in each of the main heads. What confidence can we have in any of this? Is it not just nonsense?

Ian Pearson: It is not nonsense; it is an important part of the scrutiny process. The hon. Gentleman got to the nub of the question, and in a few moments I will address directly the issues that he raised

This is a timely debate, because on 10 February, European Finance Ministers will meet at ECOFIN to make their recommendations to the European Parliament on the discharge of the 2007 budget. I look forward to hearing hon. Members’ views today; I am sure that they will be useful in helping to shape the UK’s position in the run-up to those Council discussions.


20 Jan 2009 : Column 655

Regrettably, today we are faced with the inability of the European Court of Auditors to give a positive statement of assurance on the EU’s accounts for the 14th consecutive year. I want to be clear from the outset that the Government consider the situation entirely unacceptable. It is simply not good enough that the majority of the EU budget suffers from a material level of error; errors affect more than 2 per cent. of expenditure in most policy areas. On expenditure on the structural and cohesion funds, the court estimated error of 11 per cent., or approximately £4 billion. That is a particular concern, as is the Court’s opinion that the member states’ and the Commission’s supervisory systems are only partially effective in ensuring the legality and regularity of transactions in that significant area of EU budget expenditure.

It is disappointing that the Court was unable to give a positive opinion on agricultural expenditure; last year, it anticipated that it would be able to do so. In that area, it estimates that the material level of error still lies between 2 and 5 per cent., which is between €1 billion and €2.7 billion. European Union taxpayers deserve better.

Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): It really is not good enough for the Minister to say, “It’s not good enough of the European Union.” Surely the problem is that each year the accounts are not signed off, but the following year the UK Government give even more money to the European Union. In what other case would the Treasury agree to give ever more money each year to an organisation that had not had its accounts signed off properly? Surely the answer is for the UK Government to say, “We won’t give you any more money until you get your accounts signed off properly.”

Ian Pearson: I certainly agree that European Union taxpayers deserve better. Before turning to some of the key actions that we believe are needed to deal with the recurrent problem, I want to mention the improvements that have taken place in recent years. In many instances, they are in large part due to the UK’s continued pressure on financial management issues.

The European Court of Auditors has again been able to give a positive opinion on 40 per cent. of EU budget expenditure. That compares to 35 per cent. in 2005 and just 6 per cent. in 2003. It is not good enough, but still a significant improvement. This year, the Court for the first time gave a positive opinion on the reliability of the EU’s accounts with no reservations. The accruals-based accounting system introduced by the Commission in 2005, with our support, is now fully on stream and is successfully giving the Commission greater control of its day-to-day finances, enabling it to produce more accurate financial information. The estimated level of error for agricultural transactions outside rural development programmes remains “immaterial”, and the whole European agricultural guarantee fund, which makes up the majority of agriculture expenditure, has received a positive statement of assurance from the Court.

Bob Spink: When can we expect pragmatic progress on reform of the common agricultural policy, and when that progress takes place, what financial benefits will there be for the UK? What savings will be passed on to
20 Jan 2009 : Column 656
the UK? What cuts can we make to the amount of money that we are providing to subsidise agriculture in the rest of Europe?

Ian Pearson: As the hon. Gentleman is aware, it is a long-standing policy of the Government to seek fundamental reform of EU finances. Spend on agriculture accounts for 40 per cent. of the EU budget; we do not believe that that faces modern realities, and we will continue, through the review process that is under way, to ensure that we negotiate and make our points clear.

Mr. Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): When we agreed to the massive increase in contributions to the EU, was it not the Government’s position that we did so only because, during the French presidency, the CAP was to be reformed and there would be a massive reduction in expenditure? That just did not happen.

Ian Pearson: There has been reform, although in the UK’s view there needs to be further reform. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that the EU budget is going to go down in this financial year, compared to the previous financial year. I would have thought that he would welcome that.

Mr. David Heathcoat-Amory (Wells) (Con): Will the Minister comment on page 210 of the pre-Budget report, which shows in a small footnote that our net contributions to the EU budget are increasing from £2 billion this year to £6.5 billion in two years’ time? In the light of the appalling mismanagement and waste shown by the European Court of Auditors, to which he has just alluded, can he instance any other Government programme that is increasing by that magnitude?

Ian Pearson: I do not have to hand the detailed figures that the right hon. Gentleman has quoted, so I cannot verify or comment on them. However, if I can find an opportunity to look at them during the debate, I will certainly respond to him in closing it.

I must emphasise that the disappointing error rates highlighted in this year’s report should not be mistaken for widespread fraud in the European Union budget. As the 2007 “Fight Against Fraud” report makes clear, overall levels of estimated fraud remain relatively low, at approximately 0.2 per cent. across the 2007 budget, affecting 0.1 per cent. of agriculture spending and 0.3 per cent. of structural and cohesion fund spending. No level of fraud or corruption can be tolerated, and I welcome the increased activities of the European Anti-Fraud Office to stamp out the fraud that exists.


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