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When my right hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron) becomes Prime Minister, as I sincerely believe he will, he will be the most Eurosceptic leader of our country since Mrs. Thatcher. He will be more Eurosceptic than the current Prime Minister and Tony Blair-or John Major, for that matter-and he will do something that none of those Prime Ministers attempted, which has never been done before: he will get powers
back from Europe. [Interruption.] Labour Members say that it cannot be done, but it can if we follow the reverse salami-slicing principle. If we try to eat a whole salami sausage in one go, we spit it out in disgust, but if we eat it slice by slice, it is okay and we can put up with it. That is how the European Union has taken so much more power over the past 25 or 30 years. We have never been asked if we want to give up any of those powers, but, slice by slice, it has taken them away.
Mr. Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): As all this slicing is going on, how does the hon. Gentleman slice the opinions of the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke)? He has been pretty consistent. Does he not have a voice in the modern Conservative party? Where have all the pro-European liberal Tories gone? Is that species now extinct?
One of the great things about the Conservative party under the leadership of my right hon. Friend the Member for Witney is that there is a wide variety of views, but the policy is settled and we all know where we are going. I am not criticised for saying that we should come out of this rotten thing called the European Union; I am not hauled into the Whips Office for saying that, but I know that our policy at the next general election will be to bring back power to this country, and that the reverse salami-slicing principle works. If we start bringing power back-if the EU will let power come back-slice by slice, we will bring more and more power back to this country.
Mr. Evans: We are the largest net contributor to the European Union. Does my hon. Friend agree that he who pays the piper should choose the tune, and that we therefore have a lot of clout, because we pay billions of pounds as a net contribution to the EU?
Mr. Bone: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that issue, and I shall address it later. For now, however, I want to return to the point about reverse salami slicing, which will bring power back to this country.
We know that no more power can go, because the Conservatives will promise a referendum on any future transfer of power. We now have a ridiculous situation, with this Government, in their last few months, still saying, unbelievably, that this country should go into the euro. Why can the Minister for Europe not say that that policy is redundant-largely, of course, thanks to the campaigning all those years ago by my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks? The Government are to go into the next general election saying when those mythical conditions are met they will go into the euro-but the fact that we have not been in the euro has kept this recession from being worse than it is. In Wellingborough, double the number of people are
unemployed now than when Labour came to power, but the situation would have been much worse if we had been in the euro.
Jo Swinson: I am listening with great interest to what the hon. Gentleman is saying. He is slightly contradicting the right hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron), who at yesterday's Prime Minister's questions seemed to spend most of the time pointing out that Britain was lagging behind many countries that are members of the euro in coming out of the recession. How does the hon. Gentleman square that with what he has been saying?
Mr. Bone: I am sorry that the hon. Lady was not here earlier, because some of these points were made by earlier contributors. The value of the pound against the euro has decreased, and because we are not in the euro we have been able to make our products more accessible and cheaper. The economy is in a terrible mess, and the Government did not abolish boom and bust-most people, even the Liberal Democrats, realise that-but it would all have been far, far worse if we had been in the euro.
I wish to return to the subject on which my hon. Friend the Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans) intervened on me: the very important point about cost. I am not going to talk about the gross numbers of tens of billions of pounds that we pay in gross taxes to the European Union-but they are unbelievable. We do get some of that back, although first the money goes through the European Union, and it can decide whether we get it in the end. The whole thing is a complete farce, and of course the hon. Member for Luton, North (Kelvin Hopkins) was right to say that we should decide on that and it should not go through the European Union. Even after that, there is a net cost. We are part of the customs union, but there is a net cost to it, which unbelievably-I am sure that you will find this hard to believe, Mr. Deputy Speaker-was £2.5 billion last year. Next year that cost will be either £6.4 billion or £7.2 billion, depending on which Government figures one believes. That means an increase of at least £4 billion.
We talk of a time when we shall have to cut public expenditure. We know that we have a great deal more interest to pay on the huge debt that the Government are racking up and we know, unfortunately, that many more people are out of work so that more money has to be spent on unemployment. But why on earth do we have to pay an additional £4 billion to belong to this club, which most of the people in this country do not even want to belong to in the first place?
Mr. Cash: Is my hon. Friend aware that according to the papers recently supplied to the European Scrutiny Committee, the total draft budget for 2010 is £340 billion? As our net contribution is £6 billion, and given the amount that Europe is demanding by way of an increase, no wonder we are now having to contribute more and more. It does not even work. This is completely mad.
Mr. Bone: I could not agree more with my hon. Friend, especially with his last remark-that the European Union is completely mad. Nobody, realistically, would go into this Union now, knowing what we know-but we are where we are. At the next election my party will campaign to get powers back and to have a sovereignty Act so that the courts will interpret Acts of this House-of this Parliament-as ranking above the measures of the European Union. Those are huge pluses for the British people.
In conclusion, as it would be unfair not to let those on the Front Benches have their say-indeed, I want to hear them-it would be wrong of me not to congratulate Labour Members on their contribution today. If I were Prime Minister, I would have the hon. Members for Luton, North, for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart) and for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) in my Government, as well as the hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew). I would remove the Minister for Europe. I am sure that he could find a role as-I do not know: Culture Minister, perhaps. I have not quite decided which one of those other Members should be Minister for Europe, but, as I am chivalrous, I think that it should be the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston.
Mr. David Lidington (Aylesbury) (Con): I am sure that the whole House is impatient to see the Cabinet photograph for the first Administration of my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Bone).
What has been most striking about this debate-I am grateful to all Members from all parties who have taken part-was the degree of consensus that we saw emerging. It was perhaps unexpected, particularly for the Minister. We heard the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) remind us of the need to see the European Union as it is, and not through some kind of romantic haze as the institution that we might wish it to be. The hon. Member for Luton, North (Kelvin Hopkins) argued for the need to repatriate powers from a European to a national level. The hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart) spoke of how powers had been steadily accumulated at a supranational level without the consent of the people being sought, let alone given. Far from my party being the one left marginalised or isolated, as the Minister charged, it was the Minister who found himself increasingly in that position as the debate continued. The only wholehearted, enthusiastic support for his speech came from the Potemkin opposition on the Liberal Democrat Benches.
The truth is that the official Opposition see the European Union as an important means to advance the interests of the United Kingdom. It is in our national interest that the EU should work well, and that means that we want it to focus on those issues that matter most to the peoples of Europe and for it to function in a way that is much more accountable so that public support for membership can be genuine rather than grudging or resentful, as is too often the case, and not merely in the UK.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Forest of Dean (Mr. Harper), in particular, pointed out, that means we need the European Union to focus on the challenge of the global economy and the fact that Europe's relative position in the world economy is slipping backwards. If
we are not careful, its absolute position in the world economy might also slip as new economic powers in Asia and Latin America gather strength.
We also want to see the Union strengthening further the single market and not relaxing into the protectionism that some of us fear following the recent appointments to the Commission. We want the European Union to focus on the challenges of global poverty and climate change. We also want the Union to be much more accountable than it is now.
The hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Michael Connarty) was right to talk about the need for better, more rigorous parliamentary scrutiny. I am sure that he will have been delighted by the Conservative party's proposals in that regard. It is also right, as a number of hon. Members on both sides of the House have argued, that Parliament should debate European Union issues more frequently and in a more timely fashion. I thought that the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston was right to talk about the serious implications of the creation of the European External Action Service, and I hope that when the Minister responds he will pledge on behalf of the Government that they will allow proper time for Parliament to examine and debate the implications of that reform.
The hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Mr. Davey) asked specifically about Conservative policy on the referendum. I assure the hon. Member for East Dunbartonshire (Jo Swinson), who is now representing him on the Front Bench, that the Conservative party has a very clear policy on the referendum, which will appear in our manifesto. Given what the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Sir Menzies Campbell) has said in recent days, the same cannot be said of the Liberal Democrat party. We are saying that any treaty that proposes the transfer of further competences to the European Union from the national level should not be ratified by the United Kingdom unless it is confirmed by the British people in a referendum. We would apply that rule to any proposal from a future Government that Britain should join the euro.
The other issue that troubled the hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton, on which he sought to tease my hon. Friend the Member for Rayleigh (Mr. Francois), was the European arrest warrant. I must ask the hon. Lady to go back to the hon. Gentleman with a reading list. If she had been speaking on behalf of her party, she might not have made the same error, but it was none other than the hon. Member for Eastleigh (Chris Huhne), the Liberal Democrats' official spokesman on home affairs, who wrote on 4 October 2008 that the European arrest warrant was
"rushed through without proper thought as a knee-jerk reaction to terrorist offences."
Not only the hon. Gentleman, but Lord Burnett and Baroness Ludford, MEP, have called for the European arrest warrant to be looked at again, and for the laws concerning it to be changed. The reason why my party is worried about the warrant is that it puts citizens of this country at risk of facing trial for actions that are not criminal under the laws of the United Kingdom. It also risks the extradition of United Kingdom citizens,
without prima facie evidence being demonstrated to a British court, to jurisdictions where they might face trial for offences that are not related to terrorism or to the very serious offences to which the Minister referred. That situation could lead to British citizens, for whom a prima facie case has never been presented before a court, facing considerable periods of detention without trial in jurisdictions that do not have the same traditions of habeas corpus or bail that we have here. I must say to the hon. Lady that there was once a time when people who described themselves as liberals would have stood up for the liberties and freedoms enjoyed by British citizens, and would not have sought to restrict them in the way that her colleague did today.
The Minister took us through the agenda of the forthcoming European Council, but he focused much of his time on chiding my party about our allies in the European Parliament. I thought that my hon. Friend comprehensively demolished the Minister's case in his excellent speech, so I shall leave the Minister with just one thought on the subject. In the European Parliament, Conservative MEPs sit alongside Polish MEPs who were active in dissident movements and were imprisoned by the former regime for that activity, whereas Labour party MEPs sit alongside Polish MEPs who were active members of the Polish Communist party that was responsible for imprisoning those who sit with my colleagues in the European Parliament.
I understand the Minister's reluctance to celebrate his Government's vision for the future of Europe, because it has become clear in the past few days that for all their claims of influence, we have seen a massive defeat for United Kingdom diplomacy. The Conservatives wish Baroness Ashton well, but the fact that no major economic portfolio in the Commission is now held by a Briton rightly causes us serious concern.
We could see how uncomfortable the Government were over this matter by the way that their story kept changing. First of all, the media were briefed about the Prime Minister's epic battle to stop Monsieur Barnier getting the job of Internal Market Commissioner at all. Then the line was "adjusted", as the Business Secretary might have put it, to say that, even if Monsieur Barnier were appointed, financial services would be removed from his portfolio. Now, in the aftermath of utter defeat, the Government are trying to pretend that everything is okay and there is nothing to worry about. If we are to believe the Minister, Monsieur Barnier has probably forgotten altogether that he was ever French.
However, that was not the view of the President of the Republic of France, whose words have been referred to by a number of colleagues. Frankly, it is difficult to see how the President of the Republic, short of climbing personally up the steps of Notre Dame to ring a celebratory peal, could have celebrated more conspicuously the appointment of Monsieur Barnier as a decisive triumph for France and for French interest in Europe.
The truth is that this Government like to boast about their influence in Europe. We need Britain to maximise its influence in Europe, but we should measure that not by the number of times that the Government meekly assent to things proposed by others, but by whether European decisions advance our country's interests. For that to happen, however, we need a change of approach, and a change of Government.
Chris Bryant: With permission, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I should like to respond to the debate. I had hoped to be able to commend the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington) on his speech, because I am a friend of his and we often train at the same time in the gym. However, I think that he has been sitting too close to the hon. Member for Rayleigh (Mr. Francois) and that he has caught some of his infections. It is as though a rising damp has slowly taken hold of his brain.
We have seen the sad obsessions of the Conservative party this afternoon. The Opposition's opening and closing speeches were both completely obsessed with tittle-tattle and gossip dressed up as political arguments. They are obsessed with talking about treaty making, which is something that countries in the rest of Europe have decided is not worth spending time on because they want to move forward on the things that really matter to ordinary families, such as jobs and economic prosperity. However, the hon. Member for Rayleigh did make two serious points, on Cyprus and Iran, and I agree with him on both.
My hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Michael Connarty), the Chair of the European Scrutiny Committee, is not now in the Chamber. He asked whether it was right for us to have moved so swiftly on the timetable for the accession of Bulgaria and Romania to the EU. It is pretty well universally accepted that we should have been much stricter in enforcing the various different chapters. Indeed, an additional chapter has now been added, and that is important for the accession talks with Turkey and Croatia.
My hon. Friend also asked a specific question about the Standing Orders that affect his Committee. He wants them changed to allow both legislative and non-legislative measures to go to the Committee on exactly the same basis. I do not think that that is possible, however, as it would make it very difficult for the Government to fulfil their required representational role in Europe.
The hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Mr. Davey) supported the appointment of Monsieur Barnier as Internal Market Commissioner, as do I. He, too, referred to Cyprus and Iran, but he also talked about Bosnia, which is one of the matters on which we could have had more debate.
The situation in Bosnia is very worrying. Although the military task is over, it does not mean that all the troops there should be drawn down. It remains important to maintain security and to complete the transition of the Office of the High Representative at the same time as we change the configuration of the military presence there.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz) is not in his seat either-my friends seem to have abandoned me!-but he was very nice about me and I was going to be very nice about him in return. He raised the important matter of Sri Lanka, which I do not think will be debated at next week's European Council meeting. We agree wholeheartedly that although there have been significant changes in recent months and the number of people allowed to leave the camps and return to their homes has increased, there is none the less a serious humanitarian issue in Sri Lanka that needs to be addressed. We believe that a robust European Union position is important.
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