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In the Parliament, that kind of ambition will be reflected. There will be an ambition to strengthen the commitment in the European budget to emergency aid, but, more particularly, to systematic long-term support for development in the Third World. There will be arguments over that too. I do not anticipate a huge increase in that area, but it certainly will be an alternative presented against the current level of agriculture spending as a proportion of the budget.
Those tensions are healthy, democratic tensions. Those pressures are democratic pressures that really do reflect the changing priorities of modern Europe, including this country. I do not think there would be anything remotely like majority support for maintaining even the level of spending as a proportion of budget that has been reduced, that still goes on the common agricultural policy. It is to the credit of the member
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I think that we are observing a healthy development in two respects. First, no change is implied in the total of the European Union budget, because I foresee no substantial change of will in the member states to bring about an increase in the totalcertainly not one of any significance. Secondly, there will be a new source of argument about the priorities to be pursued with the money available in the European Union budget over a budgetary period. As the noble Lord, Lord Williamson, said, it will deprive the agriculture Ministers, with particular constituencies and priorities to serve over the decades, of a monopoly in conclusive decision-making on the way in which the budget for agriculture is spent. That budget still takes up a substantial part of the budget of the European Union.
Legitimate though his arguments are in a parliamentary context, I hope that in the detail the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, will seek an opportunity to withdraw the claim that the consequence of the changes in the Lisbon treaty will be that the budget will be bigger. That will not be the case. Indeed, I believe that the changes will bring about a better, more accountable and more democratic form of decision-making because it will be a new method of shared decision-making between elected parliamentarians and elected Governments. That will be an advance for the European Union and the people who pay for itthe taxpayers.
Lord Dykes: I apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, who may want to intervene now. If he does, I will give way, but if it is convenient I shall carry on. I think we should all be very grateful that in this brief debateI am sure we hope that it will be brief, because there are plenty of other amendments to followwe have had the great benefit of having in this Chamber two of the key experts on budgetary matters in the form of the noble Lords, Lord Williamson and Lord Kinnock. I am personally extremely grateful, as I am sure these Benches will be. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Kinnock, for his remarks, which to some extent reiterated some of the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Williamson, but they also put a modern gloss on the matters that we will see in the new budget mechanism in the future if all works out well.
What surprised me about the rather masterly analysis of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, which I think we all enjoyed, was that it sounded like an explanation of the budget of several years agoparticularly the CAP
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I regret very much that a person who has honourably described himself as a European enthusiastI accept his explanationwould seek to put a spanner in the works with this amendment. That is why I hope that it will not be pressed and that he will withdraw it at the end of this debate. It is a spanner in the works of a modernisation of the budgetary system which has been extensively worked on, fought for and struggled for over recent years both by Members of the European Parliament andstrangely, because it may seem as though there is a conflict of interestsby members of the Council of Ministers of the various member states. They see the need for modernisation and for the abolition of the distinction between compulsory and non-compulsory expenditure.
This European budget remains a minuscule proportion of the total public, central government and other expenditure in all the member states. It is of the order of 1.5 per cent of total public spending, as was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Williamson. That is a tiny proportion. It remains a virtuous system in the sense that its receipts automatically equal its payments. That is particularly the case given that the UK now has an uncomfortably large budget deficitthe Conservative Benches in the Commons suggest that historically it is one of the biggest deficits ever. How many member states will be in that position? The answer is: not many. A while back, that was regarded as a virtue for member Governmentsor individual national Governments before the European Community was created.
Bringing in the European Parliament must surely be seen as sensible by noble Lords on the Conservative Benches, including the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, and others, who earlier lamented the lack of a sufficient democracy within the European Union. That is precisely why this mechanism is being modernised under the proposals of the treaty. Therefore, it seems a shame that, once again, the Conservatives are not bringing us all up to date on what the Conservative Party in the Lords really feels about the European Union, our
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Subject to further arguments in this debate, surely we must back the Government in the proposal to support new Article 9A in the Lisbon treaty in order to bring about greater involvement by the European Parliament. The need for a health check for the CAP would coincide with that process. That would be mainly a Council of Ministers function and the European Parliament would react to it rather than being a prime mover. That is right because this will be a decision between sovereign member Governments. Personally, I do not believe that the French Government will be as difficult as some of the British newspapers suggest. They see the reality of the changes in the agricultural world, even in France. No one can criticise France, where the agricultural population has now fallen to 3 per cent; after the war, it was traditionally 25 per cent but many farms in France have closed down. The French see the logic of the modern system of the single farm payment, providing for the resuscitation of the environment and all sorts of other activities linked to farming. The end to production subsidies will come about quite soonover the next few yearsand, instead, there will be support for environmental and agricultural modernisation and investment. That must be the way forward. The elected representatives of the European Parliament, as well as the national MPs of all the national parliaments, will work together to achieve that objective. They will work with the Governments rather than follow the old-fashioned system that the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, seems to think should carry on for ever.
Lord Grenfell: I hesitate to intervene. I assure the Committee that I shall intervene very rarely in the Committee and other stages of the Bill, and I hope that I stick by that. The report of your Lordships Select Committee seems to be something of a Cinderella in the debate. By consensus, we reached some conclusions which I think the Committee may want to recall. If I may, I shall mention one in particular, and I do so in no partisan spiritI am neither for nor against the amendment. I am simply recalling what the all-party committee agreed by consensus as a conclusion on the question of the European Parliament being part of the co-decision procedure on compulsory expenditurein particular, in relation to the common agricultural policy. Therefore, perhaps your Lordships will forgive me if I quote from paragraph 10.39 on page 230 of our report, which I hope will be helpful to the Committee:
The future policy impact of the move to co-decision is not clear. Much depends on the European Parliament itself, but the weight of the evidence suggests that the agriculture and fisheries committees of the European Parliament will in future represent, and be closely overseen by, a wider range of interests than the narrow producer interests that have historically dominated those committees. For these reasons, we expect that the change is likely to assist rather than impede further reform of both the common agricultural and fisheries policies.
Lord Pearson of Rannoch: I give rather lukewarm support to this somewhat lukewarm amendment. Before dealing with the amendment itself, I will comment on the usual Europhile canard that has been put forward by the noble Lords, Lord Tomlinson and Lord Kinnock, supported by the noble Lord, Lord Dykes.
Lord Pearson of Rannoch:I fancy that the noble Lord would agree with the other three noble Lords that we really need not worry about this question of the EU budget because it amounts to only some 2 per cent of GDP and so is not worth bothering about.
That canard is closely associated with that other line that we generally get from Europhiles, which is that there is really nothing much to worry about with the European Union because there are only 30,000, or 40,000, or perhaps 60,000 civil servants employed in Brusselsfewer than the Scottish Office used to have. Of course, the answer to that is that those 30,000, or 40,000, or 60,000 civil servants, whose number is difficult to discern accurately, make the law supported in the Council that is then executed by the civil services in all the member nations, which control the democracies of hundreds of millions of people. I hope that we will not get too much more of that in these debates.
On the amendment itself, it is of course good that the European Parliament will now have more control over the budget, as the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Wirral, explained. Well, it would be good if the European Parliament were actually going to use its new powers. The basic point here is that no European institutionnot the Parliament, the Commission or the Courtwants to halt, inconvenience or hold up the gravy train that is the European Union.
We have the clearest possible demonstration of that in the story of Marta Andreasen, who, as your Lordships may know, is now treasurer of the UK Independence Party. Mrs Andreasen was the first qualified accountant ever to be appointed to the position of chief financial officer in the European Union and, under the treaties, the chief financial officer had the power to control and be responsible for the budget. What happened? When she refused to sign off the first set of accounts that were put in front of her, she was first suspended and eventually dismissed. She is now appealing, so I do not want to say much more about her case, except that the first stage of that appealat some form of staff court in Brusselsfound entirely against her and merely parroted the Commissions position. There is no hope, then, of reform coming in this area from the European Union institutions.
As other noble Lords have mentioned, the accounts have not been signed off for 13 years. I remind the Committee that that process has been undertaken by the EUs internal auditors; this is an organisation whose internal auditors have refused to sign off its
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In other words, the countries that produce the money for that absurd circus should be the ones to select a major firm of international auditors to get inside Brussels and see what is happening. Then the taxpayer might begin to get better value from this project and a greater understanding of itand thus a greater determination to leave it. I would be grateful to know what the Government think of that considered suggestion.
Lord Hannay of Chiswick: It is always a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Pearson. I enjoyed him getting his canards in a twist just now; I am glad that he sorted them out eventually. However, on this issue, I was rather astonished to see this amendment proposed on the Marshalled List. I wondered why on earth those who oppose this Bill and treaty were looking a gift horse in the mouth. I understand a bit better now; I suppose that the real answer is that the red flag of more influence for the European Parliament had gone up and was considered to be a conversation stopper.
Through all my experience of the European Union, which has covered quite a few years, British Governments and Members of the European Parliament have railed against the distinction between obligatory and non-obligatory expenditure. Now that that is about to be abolished, they discover that they wish that they had had more of it. I honestly do not think that wise.
The introduction by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, was subtle and careful, as usual, but he did not mention a couple of fairly germane points. First, what he called the nuclear option brings about something that could bring everyone to their senses if it ever had to be used, as the European Union would go on to what are called provisional twelfths. That is to say, it would have to spend per month what was available the year before. That is a conservative measure, so we should not feel worried by the possibility that it might arise in circumstances where one or another institution was going too far.
Secondly, the noble Lord did not mention something rather important on the European Parliamentand although I do not wish to get into it, the proportion of gross national income covered by the European budget is a genuine issue. It is that the European Parliament, in so far as it gets more influence on the obligatory spendingwhen that becomes obligatory no longerwill still be totally constrained by the financial perspectives for the next six years and thereafter. These are agreed by inter-institutional agreement between the Parliament, the Council and the Commission. The flexibility given in all this will be pretty modest, so the amount of risk in giving the Parliament more say on the matter is pretty small.
I will not stand here and argue that it is a sure, done deal that the Parliament will actually use its powers on every occasion as we would wish, but the words of wisdom from the European Union Select Committee should be considered rather carefully. The balance has shifted in the parliamentary committees and I hope very much that this amendment will not, on reflection, be agreed.
Lord Tugendhat: Over 20 years ago, I was the commissioner in charge of the budget. Of course, much has changed in the mean time and my recollections are, no doubt, out of date. However, I would like to cover some of the same ground as the noble Lords, Lord Hannay and Lord Williamson, both of whom I had the pleasure of working with when I was a commissioner. They were then British civil servants.
First, I agree very much with the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, about what my noble friend Lord Hunt called the nuclear option. It is far from that; the budget was indeed rejected one year when I was the budget commissioner and everything went along smoothly thereafter on the one-twelfth systema very effective way of curbing public expenditure. I am not suggesting that it should be used very often but, far from laying waste to the budget, it enables controls to be exerted.
I agree with the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Williamson, that the European budget should be seen not in isolation but as a part of the totality of public expenditure within the European Unionas part of the totality of what is spent at the Union level and what is spent at the national level. In my opinion and the opinion of many noble Lords, rather more is still spent on agriculture than is justifiable but, as the noble Lord, Lord Williamson, said, we are talking about something like 1 per cent, which helps to put it into context.
I do not agree with the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of RannochI rarely do on these occasionsthat because we point out that the European budget is only a very small proportion of European public expenditure, those of us who support the European Union feel that it somehow does not matter. Of course the budget should be subjected to exactly the same disciplines and constraints as public expenditure at the national level or at the local level. No one in his or her right mindI am sure that the Minister will agree on this pointwould suggest that you should exert discipline on public expenditure at one level but not at another level. It is quite absurd of the noble Lord to suggest otherwise.
My penultimate point is that, rather than being about a larger or smaller European budget, the argument ideally should concentrate on whether expenditure can be most effectively made at the European level or at the national level. It is not a case of saying a big European budget is good or bad; it is a case of saying at what levelEuropean, national, local or whatever it may beexpenditure can most effectively be made in the public interest.
The burden of proof in those circumstances should almost always be on those who wish to transfer expenditure from the national to the European. I do not think that a large budget is a sign necessarily of a
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For that reason, I support a cap on the proportion of public expenditure that can be spent at the European level. I am in favour of a cap partly because I do not share the confidence that some others have in the European Parliament. Where you have an elected assemblywhether it is the European Parliament on the one hand or the Scottish Parliament on the other, to take two examplesthat has the power to vote expenditure but is not responsible for voting the taxes that go to fund that expenditure, you tend to get the members of those assemblies generally in favour of spending. It is always nice to be in favour of spending and it is always less pleasant to be in favour of higher taxes. My own experience of the European Parliamentnow a very long time agowas that, in general, there was always a majority for spending more.
If the European Parliament is to exert the kind of discipline on the budget that we wish to see, it needs to be within the context of a cap so that more on one lot of things will mean less on another lot of things rather than more on everything. The lessons of the European Parliament in relation to public expenditure might very well be applied in dealing with the Scottish Parliament.
Lord Tomlinson: The debate has reminded me of my 15 years as a member of both the Budget Committee and the Budgetary Control Committee in the European Parliament. It has reminded me of one of the happier momentsthe noble Lord, Lord Tugendhat, referred to thiswhen the budget was rejected and we went on to provisional twelfths. It was quite remarkable how, just before the summer holidays, the rational European Parliament realised how much in pay and allowances was being stored up by provisional twelfths. I am sure that it had a salutary effect on its members to approve the budget just before the break in order to give themselves sufficient resource to go and enjoy it.
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