|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
There are also many countries in eastern Europe that are thinking twice about whether it was wise to have that economic model imposed on them. If they had
kept their own currencies and gone for a balanced, social democratic, managed economy, they might have done better than by making the transition from a centralised, communist economy to extreme free market neo-liberalism. That has caused those countries all sorts of problems. If I were from one of those countries, I would certainly be arguing for a more managed economy and for those countries' currencies, saying, "Let's get a competitive value for our currency against others and work to build the economy on a sound basis for the longer term."
Mr. Harper: I am listening carefully to the hon. Gentleman, and most of what he says makes sense. One of the points that is often lost is that discussions about economics can become very introspective, with everyone talking about the European Union and forgetting that it is probably one of the slowest growing parts of the world. For our economy in the future, what we in this House need to focus on is the faster-growing parts of the world and Britain's ability to compete and trade outside the European Union, as well as with our European partners.
Kelvin Hopkins: Indeed. Growth is at the heart of it all. As my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby pointed out, the European Union has been a massive drag on growth across the European Union, but particularly in Britain. If we had not been in the European Union and instead been able to negotiate our way in the world, we would have grown more quickly. The sheer fact is that we have net fiscal transfers to the European Union that take out a chunk of our economy every year. If we had invested that money over the past 30 or 40 years, we would have a higher standard of living now. It is absolutely right to say that the European Union has acted as a drag on economic growth, not the other way round. The idea that we should deflate our way to success is quite mad.
The European Scrutiny Committee recently visited Spain-we came back yesterday-where we had some interesting discussions. Like Ireland, Spain was one of those countries that initially benefited enormously from going into the European Union. It went into the eurozone at a comfortable parity and with reduced interest rates, all of which pushed its growth. Spain also received substantial fiscal transfers, through both structural funds and the CAP. It experienced rapid growth and everything was going along nicely, but now Spain has got into difficulties. Growth has stopped and unemployment is rising; it seems likely to rise to some 20 per cent., with 40 per cent. youth unemployment.
There is an argument in Spain that says, "Let's just restructure. Let's have some reform and a bit more competitiveness." However, that will not solve a problem of that magnitude. One has to look at serious control of one's macro-economic basics and at the Government managing the economy in a direct way. Just changing the terms of trade and getting wages down in order to compete more effectively with other European nations will not solve Spain's problems. Indeed, those whom we met were quite shocked by our, let us say, robust comments on Europe, the European Union and how it operates.
I have fallen into the trap myself. My hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby kept referring to Europe, but the European Union is only a part of Europe. It
represents a particular model of politics and economics that has been imposed on a group of nations within Europe, but it is not the complete Europe. Some countries that have chosen to stay outside, such as Norway, have done rather well. I know that Norway has oil and fish, and so on, but it has chosen to stay outside and has done rather well. I am not suggesting that we should leave the European Union, because that would be seen as bad form. [Laughter.] We want to be comradely with our fellow European nations.
We want to see radical change and a move back towards the kind of post-war social democracy that worked so well between 1945 and 1970. Lots of myths have been perpetrated about that system, but it worked well. We had steady growth, full employment, rising living standards, growing equality and growing welfare states. It all worked well, until somebody had the bright idea of destroying it all. The European Union has taken that model and imposed it on us, which has been a big mistake. We ought to rethink where we are going economically. Unfortunately, I will not be asked to do that; if I were, I would know what specific things to do immediately-but there we are.
Let me deal briefly with some of my other concerns. I have already mentioned enlargement and whether or not it is a good idea. There has been a change of mood on that, and I believe that even my hon. Friend the Minister for Europe-we used to debate these matters enthusiastically when he sat on the same Bench as me some time ago-has adopted a more pragmatic rather than theological tone, if I may use those terms again, which is very sensible, too. I look forward to more European debates with him. I am happy to have him representing our interests in Europe, as I believe he is one of the most intelligent Ministers for Europe we have had-we strongly disagree on some issues, but he has a real grip on things-and I believe that he will represent us well.
The common agricultural policy and the common fisheries policy are the real problem. If we are to roll back the European Union, that is where I would start. The CAP still takes about 41 per cent. of the European budget, which is massively distorting. France and Spain, for example-two of the more prosperous nations-are still net recipients of funding, while we are a massive net contributor. That is nonsense. I believe that each country should manage its own agriculture. We should choose what we do and do not subsidise. We should decide what level of agricultural production we want in our own country for security reasons. It is wise to retain some degree of agriculture for the long term. A country that cannot produce sufficient for itself is a poor country.
Mr. Evans: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that although so much of our money is going to support European agriculture, a lot of it is being hived off for the bureaucracy, and this country still has farmers-certainly dairy farmers in my constituency, for example-who are going out of business simply because they are producing at a cost greater than the price they can get for their milk? Is not the CAP letting them down badly?
Indeed, the whole thing is a bureaucratic nightmare. All those organisations and structures are
always inefficient. I think that the polities or Governments who can make the best decisions on behalf of their agriculturalists are the national member states. Our Government would make much better decisions about how and what to subsidise than any European Union could ever do. The milk producers would have a much better time if they were looked after by our Government rather than by the European Union.
Let me finish by saying that the biggest nonsense of all is the common fisheries policy, which has led directly to the over-fishing of our seas. They will not be restocked, I believe, until we abolish the CFP and re-establish the national waters that used to be recognised, so that each country has responsibility for husbanding its own resources in its own fisheries. The issue would be taken more seriously in that case. While it is possible to fish in other countries' waters and land "black fish" as they are called-effectively cheating on the system and over-fishing elsewhere-countries will carry on doing it. Only when they have the responsibility for managing their own waters will we start to see fisheries restocked as they should be and a more sensible approach to fishing. We all enjoy fish, and as we have been told over the last couple of days, the Spanish enjoy them more than anyone else. Unless we go back to that system, however, we may finish up not being able to eat any fish at all. I would have liked to have spoken for longer, but perhaps I have said enough.
Mr. Robert Goodwill (Scarborough and Whitby) (Con): There has been a lot of debate this afternoon about influence and securing positions, and we have discussed how the work of the European Parliament can impact on the UK's influence on legislation and other matters. Having been a member of the European Parliament for five years-more than five years ago now-I know that there are interesting contrasts between debates there, where one is allocated two minutes at 8 pm so that one has to sit down at 8.2 pm, and debates here, where there is genuine discussion and testing of arguments as a result of interventions and so on.
The problem in this Parliament, partly because a party is either in government or it is not, is that there is no real communication between the parties aimed at reaching a consensus. That may be a good thing in some ways, but it often means that the views of minorities are not taken into account in quite the same way. The voting system in this Parliament means-we saw this happening last night-that amendments sometimes cannot be debated or voted on. At least the European Parliament could vote on 300 amendments in the space of an hour, and Members could table amendments in order to put down a marker. Even if they knew the amendments would not succeed, it would allow them to smoke out the opposition, who might have to declare their position.
There has been much talk about the new Conservative group in the European Parliament. There has been some criticism from Labour Members, much of which is, I think, due to a misunderstanding among both the wider public and the political elite-if that is the right word for the House of Commons-of the way in which the European Parliament works and influence is brought to bear. That is not helped by the fact that our newspapers rarely, if ever, report on the ministrations and machinations of the European Parliament. Only The Financial Times
seems to take the processes there seriously. Today a Liberal Democrat made the sensible suggestion that a European Question Time in the House of Commons might provide a useful way of separating European policy from wider foreign policy.
Mr. Bone: I hate to disagree with my hon. Friend, but throughout the debate only one Liberal Democrat, at best, has been present. I really do not think we should be taking too much advice from the Liberal Democrats on Europe, especially after their performance last night.
The Conservative party used to sit with the European People's party and the European Democrats, the biggest group in the European Parliament. The European Democrats "bit" was the Conservative "bit". It was recognised that the British Conservatives had a separate Whip. The reason for that was the fundamental difference between the British Conservatives' vision of Europe-I suppose it could be summed up by the famous slogan of my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague), "In Europe, not run by Europe"-and the majority of the rest of the European People's party, who were intent on establishing a federal united states of Europe.
That system worked well to a degree. Many of us who were MEPs engaged well within the group. I was a deputy co-ordinator in the environment committee, and a member of the bureau. However, there was always a niggling doubt about whether the thrust of the group's policy was going in the direction that the majority of the people who had voted for me in Scarborough and Whitby at the last election would have wished. I was delighted when our new group was formed because it allowed us to be a good neighbour to the EPP, rather than an annoying and irritating tenant from time to time.
I predict that the operations of the EPP group and the new Conservative group in the Parliament will work very well. Having been a member of the environment committee, I know that in order to secure the majorities that are needed-particularly on Second Reading, when a majority among those eligible to vote is required rather than a majority among those who turn up on the day-it is vital to get the other political groups together and, often, to forge a compromise agreement. I am sure that the new Conservative group will be the first port of call for the EPP when it wishes to get its amendments through. I often found that I had to do deals with all sorts of people-green communists, former communists, Liberal Democrats and, on many occasions, socialists-to get amendments through.
The criticisms levelled at the new group are largely unfounded, and I do not believe the British Conservatives will lose influence as a result of the new arrangement. As has already been pointed out, Malcolm Harbour, an excellent west midlands Conservative MEP who used to work in the motor industry, will chair the internal market committee. I can think of no one more suited to advancing the work of that committee. Philip Bradbourn, another west midlands MEP, is to chair the committee for relations with Canada, and-this is more significant, in my view-Struan Stevenson is to chair the committee
for relations between the European Parliament and the new Iraqi Parliament. Those are important positions of influence.
Every committee also has a team of co-ordinators who dole out the reports and sort out the business. In the past, it was often frustrating when there was no Conservative, or even like-minded EPP, co-ordinator. Deals were done behind closed doors without our being involved.
The new group will have a co-ordinator on every single committee, which means we will have a voice on every committee when those important reports are given out. [Interruption.] The Minister says we will not get any, but only last week Martin Callanan, a British Conservative from the north-east of England, secured the very important report on light commercial vehicles and CO2-I am sure the hon. Member for Luton, North (Kelvin Hopkins) will be interested to learn that that report has been secured by a British Conservative-which will enable him to take that legislation through the Parliament in the same way as a Westminster Minister takes legislation through this Parliament, and steer it in the right direction.
I therefore strongly feel that this new group will be able to secure such important reports. Indeed, we might do particularly well in securing smaller reports. I remember that the EPP and the Socialist group would often save up their points for a bidding battle on a very big report, and the smaller groups such as the Union for Europe of the Nations and the European Democratic party would therefore pick up along the way many smaller reports, which nevertheless had a lot of influence on business and employment in the fields they addressed.
Many people do not understand how the rapporteurs and co-ordinators work; when people do, they can understand just how much influence we will have. That particularly comes into play in the context of conciliations. I was a member of the EPP's conciliation group. We had meetings that went on late into the night, sometimes finishing at 4 o'clock in the morning. I remember a meeting on the waste electronics directive. We were very keen to prevent the producers of printers from making printer ink cartridges non-recyclable by putting a smart chip in them, which would mean that they could not be replaced. I and a Liberal Democrat Member, Chris Davies, threatened to walk out, make that committee inquorate and force the Environment Council to give in on that point. That is an example of a Liberal Democrat who represents a small group being able to make an important impact on the work of the Parliament. The European Parliament is not like our Parliament, where we are either batting or fielding. There, we all take turns to bat, and the new group will have some very good opportunities to do so.
Bizarrely, it has also been said that President Sarkozy and Chancellor Merkel will not talk to the leader of my party if the Conservatives are not in the same group as their parties. It is interesting that they talk to the current Prime Minister of this country, even though he is in a different group that is diametrically opposed to their views.
One particularly frustrating aspect of my time in that Parliament was that, in trying to cobble together deals and get vital majorities in Britain's interest, we were often working closely with officials and Ministers of the British Labour Government, but their own Members of
the European Parliament refused to take the advice they were getting from Westminster. Instead, they sometimes sided with their European socialist colleagues and blew legislation out of the water. I am thinking in particular of the large combustion plants directive. We sought amendments to exempt some of the smaller coal-burning stations that operated for short periods at peak demand. The advice from the British people in Brussels-the United Kingdom Permanent Representation-and from British Ministers was that we should get those amendments through to protect our coal mining industry and those coal stations in case of peak demand. However, Labour MEPs combined with colleagues in the European Socialist group to undermine those amendments and prevent that from happening. As we warned at the time, that has contributed to some of the energy supply problems we now face in this country.
Many of the new Members of the European Parliament from newer states such as the Czech Republic and Poland very much share our view that we should have a Europe of independent member states. That may be because they have experience of being dominated by another capital-Moscow-and do not want quickly to exchange that for another situation where domination, albeit more benign, can be imposed from Brussels.
Whatever happened to subsidiarity? Perhaps the Minister will address that in his winding-up speech. I remember that when I first arrived in the European Parliament, subsidiarity was the buzz word. The fashionable topics were devolving power down to member states and only making decisions at the European level if that was absolutely necessary. In the new treaty, however, things are going in the opposite direction, which is a great concern.
I am very proud that Polish and Czech members from mainstream parties in their countries have joined us in our group. Some of the criticisms that have been levelled at my colleagues-especially Michael Kaminski, whom I have known for six or seven years-are absolutely unfounded and I hope they will not be repeated in this Chamber.
A lot has been said about the waste involved in Europe and the fact that its budget has not been signed off for 14 consecutive years. I speak as a farmer who has received common agricultural policy aid, but the CAP has distorted markets and, in particular, third-world access to them. How can anyone justify spending €1 billion of taxpayers' money every year subsidising tobacco production in southern European states? Much of this tobacco is of such low quality that it cannot be consumed in the European Union and has to be exported to third-world countries, where, obviously, it contributes to health problems. How can that situation be justified?
How can the Strasbourg Parliament be justified? It is outrageous. I recall the frustrations of having to pack my stuff into those tin boxes-we always missed out the important file that we should have taken-and of trying to work there; the expense of travelling there, and of transporting all the officials there and putting them up in hotels; and the difficulties of working there. One way to make progress would be to prevent the continuation of the Strasbourg fiasco.
|Next Section||Index||Home Page|