I beg to move,
That this House
takes note of European Union Documents Nos. 12478/11 and Addenda 1 and 2, 12474/11, 12480/11, 12483/11, 12475/11 and Addenda 1 to 3, and 12484/11, relating to the Commission’s proposal on the next Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF), 2014-20;
agrees with the Government, that at a time of ongoing economic fragility in Europe and tight constraints on domestic public spending, the Commission’s proposal for very substantial spending increases compared with current spend is unacceptable, unrealistic, too large and incompatible with the tough decisions being taken in the UK and in countries across Europe to bring deficits under control and stimulate economic growth, that the next MFF must see significant improvements in the financial management of EU resources by the Commission and by Member States and in the value for money of spend and that the proposed changes to the UK abatement and new taxes to fund the EU budget are completely unacceptable and an unwelcome distraction from the pressing issues that the EU needs to address;
and supports the Government’s ongoing efforts to reduce the Commission’s proposed budget.
Yesterday, the Prime Minister made a statement to the House following the G20 meeting in Cannes regarding the ongoing crisis in the euro area. As his statement made clear, it is vital that the euro area sticks to the deal agreed to two weeks ago by the European Heads of Government to resolve the ongoing crisis. A resolution to that crisis is vital to UK, European and global economic interests. It is equally important that, over the longer term, the euro area and the wider EU take the necessary steps to tackle the deficits that are the root cause of the crisis.
The ongoing instability in the euro area vindicates this Government’s decision to get ahead of the curve, cut our deficit and impose strict fiscal discipline on our budget. It is vital that EU member states demonstrate the same resolve, and we welcome commitments by Italy and Spain, among others, to do so. However, the European Commission must also lead from the front in a drive to impose financial discipline across the EU institutions. That is why it is unacceptable for the Commission to propose a 4.9% increase in the annual budget for 2012. The UK and the European Council have agreed that we could not approve such an increase at a time when member states are facing tough decisions to impose fiscal discipline and consolidation. We will be taking a firm stand on the 2012 budget when we meet in the budget ECOFIN later this month.
Let me turn now to the principal subject of today’s debate: the multi-annual financial framework that sets out how much the Commission wants to spend in 2014 to 2020 and how it will fund it. The Commission’s proposals seek to increase both its revenue and its spending. It wants new taxes to expand the Brussels coffers, and proposes inflation-busting spending increases. That is simply not acceptable. The answer is not to raise more and spend more; it is to control spending. The best way to restrain EU annual budgets is to set—
On a point of clarification, the Minister mentioned inflation-busting increases, but am I right in thinking that what is being proposed is a 5% cash increase in the ceiling over the seven-year period? If so, that would be less than the rate of inflation in real terms, and therefore not an inflation-busting increase.
The most recent rate of inflation in the EU was about 2%, so clearly a 5% increase would be in excess of the rate of inflation, and therefore an inflation-busting—
No, let me continue.
The best way to restrain EU annual budgets is to set tough multi-annual framework ceilings. That is why, at the European Council in October 2010, member states agreed that the
Rather than following that path, however, the Commission has meekly bowed to pressure from the European Parliament to increase the budget, thereby returning to the extravagance and irresponsible spending that sowed the seeds of the current global economic crisis. Just as we cannot accept the Commission’s 2012 budget, we also cannot accept the Commission’s proposal, as set out on
Instead of consolidation, the Commission proposes expansion. It has ignored the calls made in December last year by the UK, France and Germany for a real-terms freeze in spending. The Commission claims to have done as we have asked, but let me make it absolutely clear to the House that it has not. On average, the spend in each year of the next framework would be about €14 billion higher than it is today.
Given that the Government are now studying the powers and duties that can be brought back to the House for national and local decision, surely we should be taking big lumps out of this budget? If, for example, we repatriated agriculture, industrial aid and regional aid, we could cut the budget by two thirds. I think that the members of the public to whom I answer would be very pleased with that.
My right hon. Friend makes an important point. In parallel to the debate about the ceilings for the budgetary framework over the course of the period between 2014 and 2020, debates are also taking place on the individual lines of expenditure within the EU budget, and we are proposing significant reductions in cost to underpin our strategy of curbing overall spending by the EU.
May I make a little progress? I am conscious of the number of hon. Members, perhaps on both sides of the House, who want to take part in the debate.
In addition to the on-budget spending increases proposed by the Commission, the Commission has earmarked an extra £18 billion in off-budget spending. That is an alarming lack of transparency that brings added risks of poor oversight and control. In a further lack of transparency, the proposal fails to focus on levels of cash payments—actual expenditure that the multi-annual financial framework will allow in each heading. Instead, it opts to use commitments—planned expenditure—but frankly the cost to UK taxpayers is not how much is planned to be spent but the actual cash going out of the door. This should be the starting point for the higher control over spending, and we and our allies have made that clear to the Commission.
Let me make a bit more progress and I will take the hon. Gentleman’s intervention in a short while.
The Commission also asked us to use as our starting point for a freeze—this is perhaps where Geraint Davies has been confused by the Commission’s numbers—the level of spend planned in 2005, but we cannot ignore the fact that the global crisis has taken place since then. Every country has had to scale back its spending from pre-crisis days and the European Commission is no different.
The Commission can also do more to ensure that money is spent more wisely. We are leading the way on reforming financial management in the EU. For the first time in 17 years, we have refused to support the sign-off of the EU accounts. We are pushing for simpler, clearer rules on spending programmes that make it easier to spot fraud and error, and we have also raised our game at home to ensure that EU money spent here is spent properly and wisely.
Let me finish a couple of sentences and then I will give way.
Tackling financial mismanagement in the EU can help meet spending commitments, so our message on spending is clear. There should be a real-terms freeze on spending, a focus on the amounts actually spent, not plans dreamt up over five years ago when the world was different. Let us tackle waste and financial mismanagement across the EU. I give way to my hon. Friend Andrea Leadsom.
Order. Before the Minister gives way to the hon. Lady, I emphasise that, of course it is in the gift of the Minister to give way as he thinks fit, but the total time for the debate on this matter is only one and a half hours, and it would be a pity if Back Benchers were disappointed. I am sure that the Minister will tailor his remarks and his giving way accordingly.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. I shall bear in mind your comments. I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. Does he agree that one of the most ridiculous wastes of money in this day and age, with tight budgets, is that the European Parliament continues to move between countries during the week, at enormous expense to British taxpayers?
We could spend all 1 hour 30 minutes detailing the ways in which the EU wastes money. My hon. Friend has raised one. The EU spends more on buildings in Luxembourg than on vital expenditure. So, conscious of your strictures, Mr Speaker, let me make some progress.
Curbing European spending is not the only priority for the UK. We need to tackle how the EU funds its spending, too. The Commission is trying to increase its control over funding by introducing new EU-wide taxes and amending the correction mechanisms such as the UK abatement or rebate. Now, this Government have been absolutely clear. We will defend our rebate. Last time the UK negotiated the multi-annual financial framework in 2005 the then Labour Government gave ground on the rebate in return for reform of the common agricultural policy. What has happened since then? The value of the rebate has fallen, but the spending on the CAP has not budged. We will not fall for empty promises; we will resist any change to the abatement. Our rebate remains absolutely justified. The structure of EU spending means that we get less per capita than any other member state. Without the rebate, the UK’s net contribution as a percentage of national income would be the largest across Europe and twice as large as the contributions made by France and Italy. Our rebate is fully justified, and we are not going to give it away.
This goes back to some of the challenges in the Commission’s presentation of its numbers. The budget proposed by the Commission is £100 billion larger than the real freeze in spending that the UK and its allies have proposed. [Interruption.] Mr MacShane says that I have not answered the question. It is clear that the way in which the European Commission has structured its budget, by having some things on or off-budget and by talking about commitments rather than actual spending, confuses and clouds the position, leaving some to think that the Commission has embarked on a freeze on the budget, whereas in reality the EU is proposing a real-terms increase in the budget.
Let me move on to the second issue in relation to the funding of the EU budget. The Government strongly oppose the proposal for new taxes to fund the European Union budget. They attach considerable importance to the principle of tax sovereignty. Tax is a matter for member states to decide at a national level. We oppose any new taxes or changes to the existing system that increase the UK’s contributions or pose a threat to our long-term position, including a financial transactions tax to fund the EU budget. We cannot accept a budget which asks for more and asks for a greater share from taxpayers and from the UK.
A year ago, the Government set out their plans for the consolidation of public expenditure at the spending review. Supported by the International Monetary Fund and OECD, the Government set out plans to reduce the deficit. We have shown our resolve by keeping the UK out of the storm that has engulfed the euro area, and we will show the same resolve with the European Commission.
The inflation-busting increases proposed by the Commission are out of touch with the realities felt by taxpayers across Europe, and out of touch with the views of José Manuel Barroso, who in June argued that many states
“need to show more ambition when it comes to fiscal consolidation”.
We as a Government believe that the Commission needs to show much more ambition, too, when it comes to fiscal consolidation. We will continue to press the European Commission and member states to deliver a multi-annual framework that delivers real fiscal consolidation. This will be a challenging negotiation.
There will always be pressure from others to spend more, and a failure to agree the framework would shift the focus to the annual budget process which, unlike the framework, is decided by qualified majority voting. It is an uncertain prospect that we are eager to avoid. That is why we will work tirelessly to seek the best deal on the multi-annual framework, but a deal on our terms—a deal that curbs EU spending and puts a brake on the Commission’s plans for EU-wide taxes and seizing some of our rebate—
This gives me an opportunity to put one thing on the record, not necessarily in a spirit of cynicism. Last year I moved an amendment, which was accepted by the House, that we would have no increase in the budget. By the end of the convolutions that took place, the Government accepted an increase of 2.9%. May I be absolutely assured that on this occasion, given the robust nature and the tenor of what my hon. Friend has said, that there will be no increase whatsoever?
My hon. Friend is well versed in the intricacies of the European Union. As he knows, the budget negotiations later this month are done on a QMV basis. We do not have a veto on the 2012 budget and we will be seeking to build a coalition of allies who are as committed as we are to curbing the expenditure of the EU, and who are as committed as we are to opposing the inflation-busting increase proposed by the European Commission. I am sure that when we reach that deal later this month, my hon. Friend will seek to hold the Government to account on that. I can assure him that we are doing everything in our power to ensure that we curb the EU’s plans and reduce the spending levels proposed by the Commission.
I will not, as I was about to end, bearing in mind Mr Speaker’s strictures.
We are committed to seeking the best deal for the United Kingdom, a deal that curbs EU spending, puts a brake on the Commission’s plans for EU-wide taxes, and seizes some of our rebate. I urge the House to support the motion.
The Minister started the debate by referring to today’s news about the eurozone crisis. Despite the failures of all leaders at the G20 summit, including the Prime Minister, and the continued failure of the eurozone to put flesh on the bones with regard to the dimensions of the European financial stability facility and the role of the European Central Bank, we hope that some leadership will eventually emerge across the European stage to get to grips with the problem. I am sure that the Minister will want to take back the message from both sides of the House that far sturdier action is needed on these issues.
It is important that the House recognise the difference between the issues we would like to discuss today and the specific issue addressed by the motion. The Minister referred to the Council of Ministers’ proposal in the summer for a real-terms freeze in the EU’s annual budget for 2012—in other words, a cash rise of over 2%—yet the European Parliament voted on
I am told that there will now be a 21-day negotiation period among the three EU institutions. If the 2012 budget is not passed by December, it will be worked out on a monthly basis, based on 2011 levels. We believe that the proposal to increase the budget by more than 5% will strike most people as unjustified and wrong-headed. The last time we saw the Government negotiate an annual budget, the Prime Minister started by promising a freeze but ended up claiming that an increase was a victory. This time he needs to do better and must not support another inflation-busting rise in the EU budget.
I will come to that in a moment.
If that means the Government need to stand firm for the full 21-day negotiating period, so be it. The UK should not allow the 2012 budget to rise beyond a real-terms freeze.
With regard to the snappily titled “Multiannual Financial Framework 2014-2020”, we rarely have an opportunity to debate a subject while the Chancellor is talking about it at an ECOFIN meeting, so this is a useful sign that Parliament is in tune with the issues of the day. Defining the main budget priorities over the seven-year period is a process that began in 1986 but was changed in the Lisbon treaty so that there was greater involvement for the European Parliament. It is important to explore the detail, but in our view the notion that there should be any significant overall increase in expenditure is perverse, given the strictures being placed on mainstream public investment projects at home. The Government must ensure that they deliver on their rhetoric in the motion and secure a much better deal than the one currently on the table.
There are two crucial areas on which the Government need to focus: the Commission’s proposal for new revenue powers and the UK rebate. With regard to the Commission’s proposals to change what it calls its “own resources” method of calculating the income it received from each member state, it is suggesting two new direct revenue streams. The first is a top-slice process for domestic VAT revenues, which I would like to ask the Minister about specifically. I am very sceptical about the proposal and would be grateful if he addressed it when summing up, because I do not think he touched on it adequately in his opening comments. Will he tell the House what proportion of our domestic VAT would be diverted to EU institutions if the change was proceeded with? The Commission seemed to suggest that it is a replacement for the VAT element of the funding formula used to calculate contributions from each member state, but how would the existing arrangements and the new arrangements compare?
With regard to the Commission’s proposal for a new EU financial transaction tax, can we at least be clear that it twists the notion of a Robin Hood tax so wide of the mark that it is barely recognisable from the global FTT, which has received so much support from charities, campaigners and leading economists worldwide? Revenues from any FTT must surely be destined for jobs, growth and carbon reduction at home and in the developing world. Pouring those revenues into the EU budget or EU bail-out funds instead would be the wrong thing to do and totally contrary to the spirit of a genuine Robin Hood tax. Instead, the starting point ought to be the proposal that Labour put forward at the 2009 G20 summit, which is that all countries should agree to work together to establish a tax, set at a fraction of 1%, that could be levied on financial transactions, millions of which happen in the City everyday. We want to see a financial transaction tax—but one that is implemented with the widest possible international agreement.
In 1995 I moved an amendment to the Finance Bill proposing exactly what my hon. Friend suggests, but an hon. Friend who later became the Chancellor of the Exchequer and is now my right hon. Friend Mr Darling wrote through it with red ink, “No new taxes”, so the idea died the death some 15 years ago. I agree with my hon. Friend Chris Leslie, but let us not make the best the enemy of the good. If we get this thing going, we are getting something going that will help people. Waiting for everybody in the world to sign up to it will involve a very long wait.
I understand my right hon. Friend’s frustrations, but I really do not think that the proposal on the table from the Commission would achieve the outcomes that he or I seek. We have to make concerted efforts to broker a deal where any FTT applies in any of the world’s big financial centres, all of which by the way have much to gain from a new and reliable revenue stream that supports jobs, growth and the developing world.
The Commission’s proposal falls short, especially because of its intended destination for the revenue, but I think that the difference my right hon. Friend seeks is this: we felt that there was a real window of opportunity to steer the agenda on a financial transaction tax and to persuade other countries that it was something seriously worth considering, but our Chancellor is out there at the ECOFIN meeting today, resisting under all circumstances. Indeed, he wrote a private letter to bankers the other day in which he indicated that he was not in favour of it at all—even though that contradicts some of his statements in this place. He is wrong to block wider discussion among the G20 and beyond.
“the best way to spend our time”.
It is important that we address those issues, because the Government’s weak and defeatist attitude is an abdication of leadership and a total abandonment of the gains made for the cause at the G20 meeting in 2009. It is time that Britain stepped up to the plate and showed the leadership needed to broker a better deal by being open to the idea that it is possible to win the argument for a different approach. That is why we call on the Government to engage internationally—beyond the EU proposals alone.
The second major proposal in this multi-annual financial framework is for the Commission to change the correction mechanisms for countries that are the most significant net contributors to the EU. In other words, it proposes to end the UK’s permanent rebate. The rebate returns about two thirds of the difference between the UK’s contribution to the EU and the money we receive back. Let us be absolutely clear: the Commission’s proposals are totally unacceptable. Of all the 27 countries, only Germany is a higher net contributor to the EU budget than the UK, and we have the lowest per capita receipts from it. The common agricultural policy is a far bigger distortion of the EU budget than any correction mechanism such as the UK rebate.
This is a key test for the Prime Minister. He needs to put up a strong defence of our rebate if the language that he uses here in the House is to be matched by his deeds in those negotiations.
I was not a Member at the time to which the right hon. Gentleman refers, but it is true that there have been changes to the UK rebate, although not to the majority of it. My understanding is that, in terms of money returned, the total amount of rebate has actually gone up, with €5.8 billion in the previous MFF round compared with €2.8 billion before, so the rebate is still a very significant gain for the UK.
There were changes to the common agricultural policy, although—I accept—not as many as people would have liked, but until we have further proposals from the Commission on reforming the common agricultural policy I am certainly not going to get into the business of urging the Minister to change the UK rebate. It is very important that the Government put up a defence of the current position and, indeed, try harder to engage with further proposals on the CAP. That is by far the bigger distortion. We need to pursue a stronger reform agenda and to have a CAP reform that is fairer to small farmers but does not lavish as much on wealthier players in the wealthiest countries. We need to tackle that anomaly as it is an outdated relic.
I am grateful to Business for New Europe’s pamphlet entitled “Rethinking the EU Budget,” which suggests some very important changes to EU competitiveness deficiencies, such as boosting research and development. It is also important that the Minister address the deficiencies in the structural funds. Few of those are helping to boost growth, when they ought to be getting investment moving into the economy. Above all, the MFF ought to contain far greater emphasis on a strategy for jobs and growth, where we know the Government have a blind spot.
The Commission and the European Parliament also need reminding that, without growth, we cannot solve the debt crisis, the banking crisis or the jobs crisis. Energy infrastructure projects, high-speed broadband and transport link improvements could all be brought forward within the MFF envelope and prioritised to boost employment and economic activity. [ Interruption. ] The Minister shouts from a sedentary position that that involves more spending, but we are talking about within the limitations of the budget. We do not wish to see the increases proposed by the Commission. The Minister should be out there arguing for a proper strategy for growth, and his failure to do so betrays Ministers’ and the Treasury’s blind spot on these issues.
The motion before us tonight talks tough on some of these issues and we will not oppose it, but it is important that this time Ministers do not flunk the tests when they get into the negotiations.
Order. A considerable number of Members are seeking to catch my eye. I remind the House that the debate is due to conclude at 19 minutes past 5 and that it would be seemly and courteous to allow the Financial Secretary five minutes to reply to it. Members can do the arithmetic for themselves. There is less than an hour for Back-Bench speeches and, as a consequence, I have imposed a five-minute limit on Back-Bench contributions with immediate effect, beginning with Mr John Baron.
I have added my name to the motion because I very much support the Government’s attempts to reduce the Commission’s proposed budget. We must rein in the Commission’s spending, which is excessive, above inflation and goes against the direction of travel of Government budgets generally, as my hon. Friend the Financial Secretary has made clear from the Dispatch Box.
Taking into account changes to the rebate, our net contribution suggests that the increases are far worse for this country. In the previous Parliament, the total net contribution was around £19 billion. In this Parliament —over the next four or five years—it is set to rise to more than £41 billion. We often talk about big figures in this place, but what does that actually mean in terms of people’s perception of such expenditure? Let us consider the average starting salary of a police officer or a nurse, which is well below £30,000. For that £21 billion or £22 billion increase, we could have an extra 750,000 police officers or nurses, or, at less then £300 million each, we could have a further 80 hospitals.
Alternatively, if we were really interested in spurring on and encouraging growth in this country, given that a 1p cut in basic rate income tax brings around £4 billion into the Treasury, we could have a 5p cut in the basic rate of income tax. That certainly would encourage growth and make a real difference to this country’s economic outlook. Speaking of that, given that a 1p cut in small business corporation tax equates to £500 million, one could eliminate small business corporation tax for the increase we are talking about. If we really are serious about growth, I hope that that gives everyone an idea of the scope of the packages we could introduce, instead of just acquiescing in this monumental increase in the EU budget.
No, because I do not have time and I want to push on. I do apologise.
The situation is made even worse by the fact that the European Court of Auditors has still not signed off the accounts after 16 years. It is unbelievable. Such a situation would simply not exist in the private sector. We would not be more than doubling our contribution to an organisation that has not signed off its accounts. We have no precise idea of how the money is spent. We need to take cognisance of the fact that it is a dire situation when auditors have not been able to sign off the accounts. It proves the lack of transparency that exists when it comes to EU spend.
I suggest to my hon. Friend the Minister that we have to be careful about the position that the Government take. Although our first position is that there should be no net increase at all in absolute terms, our fall-back position seems to be that we do not want any increase in real terms—in other words, that we will match inflation. At the moment, inflation is a touch over 3% across the eurozone. However, there is a risk that inflation could rise, and we should be careful what we wish for when talking about pegging our contribution to inflation.
This recession is unusual in that it is a de-levering recession caused by too much debt. The options available to Governments are to reduce spending, which is difficult in the present environment, to create growth—again, difficult, because people are paying down their debts—or to create an element of inflation in order to inflate the debt away. I suggest that the European Union, or certainly the eurozone, will explore that possibility and is currently exploring the option of quantitative easing on a massive scale. Despite the economic outlook, higher inflation is not an impossibility, particularly looking 12 months out. I ask the Minister to be careful what he wishes for when he talks about pegging our contribution to inflation, because inflation could very well rise shortly.
Although we are all going to acquiesce in this motion—I understand that there will not be a vote—and although I support the conclusion that we should not increase our spending on the European budget, and, indeed, that it should be reduced, I do not support some of the wording in the motion.
I agree that we should not increase our UK contribution to the EU budget, now or at any time. We have to look towards a world where we reduce our contribution very substantially. Mr Redwood and others have mentioned the common agricultural policy. Many times, when sitting on the Government Benches in previous Parliaments, I have called for the abolition of the common agricultural policy. If it were abolished and we carried on subsidising our own farmers at the level they are subsidised now, we would have a massive reduction in our contribution to the EU budget.
The proposed changes to UK abatement and new taxes are unacceptable. We should decide what our level of taxes should be. The UK abatement was wrongly reduced in a previous negotiation on the common agricultural policy that did not result in anything beneficial for Britain. At the time, The Economist said that the deal was so bad that it could have been better to have had no deal. I agree. I support the Government’s efforts to reduce the Commission’s proposed budget. The numbers that are being talked about are clearly unacceptable. It is regrettable, too, that all these things are governed by qualified majority voting instead of unanimity, but there we are.
I do not care for the wording of the motion. It refers to “economic fragility in Europe”. Yes, the situation is certainly very fragile at the moment, and we will not recover from that fragility until we have more common sense about the eurozone. Certain members should be allowed to recreate their own currencies, find an appropriate parity for their currencies, and then reflate behind those currencies. That is the way forward for those countries, and it will benefit the eurozone and the European Union, and indeed the world economy overall, when that is allowed to happen.
I should like to correct the hon. Gentleman on something. The multi-annual financial framework is governed by article 312 of the treaty on the functioning of the European Union, under which:
“The European Council may, unanimously,”— in other words, we could have imposed a veto—
“adopt a decision authorising the Council to act by qualified majority when adopting the regulation”.
That means that it is unanimity first, and then QMV.
I would like to see Governments, and in particular our Government, using their veto from time to time in a more bold and radical way.
The wording that I am particularly concerned about is that which talks about
“tough decisions being taken…to bring deficits under control and stimulate economic growth”.
Those things are incompatible. If one wants simply to bring down budgets by cutting, that will not stimulate economic growth, but reduce it. The wording should be the other way around. If one wants to bring deficits under control, the best way to do so is to stimulate economic growth. Economic growth would bring down unemployment, increase tax revenues and reduce the burden of benefits.
If we encourage all the member states of the European Union to deflate collectively, that is the route to depression. There are lessons from the 1930s on that. I hope that we will quickly come to our senses and realise that we are in a pre-1930s situation. If we do not reverse it, we may head towards depression.
In questions to the Chancellor the other day, I talked about the Labour Government of 1945, who had a gross debt much larger than we have now. They chose not to cut spending, but to create the welfare state, bring in the national health service and run a full-employment economy. Full employment was sustained for two and a half to three decades. That is what brought the deficit under control, and that is what we should do again.
There are other bad examples from history, which I have mentioned before. After the first world war, there was the Geddes axe. There was a deficit after the war—there are always deficits after wars—so we thought that we should cut our way back to a lower budget. What happened, of course, was that for a decade we had low growth, high unemployment and the deficit got worse, not better. We are in danger of doing that again.
In the short term, we have to spend. We could reduce our contribution to the European Union budget and spend some of that money on areas of labour intensity with low import content. Those areas are obviously construction and the public services—precisely the areas that are being cut. Cutting is exactly the wrong thing to do and we should do the opposite if we are serious about bringing the deficit down. That would be beneficial for everybody because the people who do not have jobs would have jobs, the public services that are now suffering would not suffer, and the people who are dependent on public services would not be hurt.
I agree with the objective of reducing our contribution to the European budget and constraining it in the short term, but I do not believe that we should emphasise simply cutting deficits without recognising that that could make unemployment rise and the deficit get worse in the long term. That could lead us into a very serious economic situation.
I welcome this motion and the Government’s efforts to trim back the grandiose desires of the European Commission.
With your permission, Mr Speaker, I will take the Minister back to the Maastricht treaty because it is a pretty good place to start. In 1992, that treaty created the European Union. I am sure that the Minister has read it on many occasions. Article A states:
“This Treaty marks a new stage in the process of creating an ever closer union among the peoples of Europe”.
Would Members believe that the sentence continues by saying
“in which decisions are taken as closely as possible to the citizen.”?
The European Commission has clearly recognised the great strength of the first part of that sentence, but I fail to see where it has recognised the import of the latter part.
It seems to me that our Government have not really got behind the spirit of that part of the Maastricht treaty. Perhaps it is time that they looked at that sentence again, for democracy is about connection with the people and we have seen a little less of that than I would have liked over recent weeks in this place.
For too long, the European Union has failed to recognise that edict. The very fact that the European Commission could propose a 5.9% increase this year shows just how out of touch it is, at a time when Europe is raging under the constraints of a defunct EU currency. The whole European people face a future that could well be made much more difficult by the arrogance of those who created a currency for political reasons without considering the economic constraints.
Every time I go to Europe, I come back with the view that the European Commission does not live on the same planet that most of us live on, that it is out of touch with the people and that it needs to be told again and again about article A. It does not understand what my grandmother would have told it—that when someone is in financial trouble, there are only two things to do, which are spend less and earn more. There is no other way out of any financial difficulties.
The Government suggest that there is another way—mediaeval coin clipping. I say to the Minister, who is looking quizzically at me, that that means financial easing. People went around cutting little bits of silver off coins, and so devalued the currency. That is exactly what the Government are doing. I point out that there is a cost to pay for coin clipping, and it will be borne by our children and grandchildren, which I find totally immoral. It is about time that we faced up to the real purpose of adding to our inflationary burden. The Government think it is a cheap and easy way of getting out of our deficit problems, but have no doubt, there will be a cost to pay in the future.
I want to come on to the role of this Parliament. I welcome what the Government have done to get the 5.9% additional contribution down, and I congratulate them. However, I believe they have to do more in Europe. They have to point out article A of the treaty to the EU, and particularly to the eurozone. They have to point out that if democracy is to succeed, we have to make every effort to get closer to the people, not to take government away from the people. The truth is that the whole European adventure has achieved the latter, and it is about time that our Government got the point that they ought to aim for the former.
I will keep my comments brief. I believe we all agree that we do not want to see an increase in the European budget. We all understand that a €1 trillion fund is being established to bail out the euro currency, and if push comes to shove we all understand that we are being asked for more money for the International Monetary Fund. We all understand that we in Britain are facing massive constraints on public spending. However, we should get our facts clear.
As I said in my intervention, I understand that what is being proposed is that the 2013 budget will be higher, and will become the fixed 5% cash increase ceiling between 2014 and 2020. However, it is said the total amount of the budget as a share of EU gross income will fall from 1.12% to 1.05%. I support what the Government are saying, but let us be fair about what is happening. There will be a cash increase ceiling, and the budget will fall in real terms as a share of overall EU income.
Will the hon. Gentleman recognise that one reason for that fall as a proportion of total European income is that some elements that are currently within the budget are being taken out of it and accounted for in a different way?
No, I do not accept that, but I do accept that there need to be structural changes in the budget, such as a reduction in common agricultural policy funding and more focus on growth, investment and tooling up Europe to compete with emerging markets. All those factors are important. Government Members who think this is all a complete waste of money and that we would be better off spending it at home on chip shops miss the point of having a commonality in research and innovation, and of making Europe more successful for the future. The Government seem to be completely ignorant of any strategic undertakings or documentation that come out of Europe on how to push smart, sustainable and inclusive growth. That is missing from the Government’s armoury—they focus always on cuts and never on growth, and they are missing the wood for the trees.
On the Tobin tax, I clearly do not support a tax when 80% of it would fall on Britain and when it would undermine Europe’s competitiveness. I share the view of the shadow Minister, my hon. Friend Chris Leslie, that we should look for an international basis for such a measure. That said, we need to understand that an international Tobin tax would fall primarily on the US and the UK.
My understanding is that the rebate has been frozen at £3.2 billion a year for the next seven years, but we need to realise that if the gross contribution is increasing, our rebate is going down proportionately. The Prime Minister should argue harder for the rebate to increase at least at the same rate as the increase in our gross contribution. Without further ado, I shall come to a conclusion, because I know that many hon. Members wish to speak.
First, I should like to demonstrate the extent of the documents that I will discuss in the next five minutes, just to give some indication of what is going on.
Secondly, as Chairman of the European Scrutiny Committee, I had the opportunity to go, on behalf of our national Parliament, to a conference on the multi-annual financial framework. It was a complete farce. Mr Barroso, our Minister for Europe, Ministers from other countries and their permanent secretaries and so on were all there. I was completely staggered by their inability to have the faintest idea of what was going on. I said to them, “You are living on another planet!” Somewhat unusually, I ended up being congratulated by our UKRep representatives for at least spelling that out. It is devastating how far removed those people are from the realities of life, as my hon. Friend Mr Binley said.
On the structural questions, the proposals—the financial transactions tax and the change to greater own resources—are fundamental changes. The chairman of the European parliamentary committee, Mr Alain Lamassoure, who gave us the benefit of his many speeches, and who has written a huge pamphlet on the subject, is living on another planet. In the meantime, a meteor has hit planet Europe and huge chunks are falling off it, but it is still spinning, even when the whole thing is disintegrating in front of our eyes. These people are astonishing.
With respect to the Minister, I look to the future with some concern, if only because we could end up with another increase in spending despite the blandishments of the motion. Delighted as I am that right hon. and hon. Friends have signed the motion, I issue that cautionary note.
I would like to test the resilience of the proposal about whether we have to pay more, and say, “No more will we pay,” and see what happens. We for ever capitulate when we are pressed to the point. I would like to say, “This is the will of this sovereign Parliament, and we will not pay any more”. We should test that
I, too, take that view. My hon. Friend is completely right. I note that the motion states that the House
“supports the Government’s ongoing efforts to reduce the Commission’s proposed budget”.
I would hope to go further, but we shall see.
I have already quoted article 312. There is no doubt that the whole process can be blocked by unanimity, but once the European Council has made a decision to go ahead, the decision reverts to qualified majority vote. I think that is right, but the Minister will correct me if I am wrong.
I want to deal with one fundamental question that came up over and over again. That conference was regarded as important because it supposedly carried the national Parliaments with it. That was partly the case, although it did not apply to the United Kingdom Parliament—certainly not to me in my capacity there. Growth is the key question, but, over that too, they are living on another planet, because their idea of growth simply means more investment of public money. I had to ask them, “Where is the money coming from?” There were about 300 people there—I was a little bit in the lions’ den, but it was worth doing simply to see the unreality. As T. S. Elliot said:
“humankind cannot bear very much reality”.
When I asked, “Where’s it coming from?”, they said, “The taxpayers”, but it is not coming from the taxpayers; it is coming from small business men all over Europe, who, when running their businesses profitably, can then be taxed. But what if they cannot run them profitably? Here we have the problem with social employment laws, and I had the temerity to mention to them things such as paternity and maternity leave, the working time directive, the temporary agency directives and the rest. I told them about the scale of redundancy payments. We saw the Channel 4 programme the day before yesterday on pensions in Greece. Apparently, when people leave work, those pensions remain, for the rest of their lives, equivalent to what they had earned per year when working.
The growth must come from the small and medium-sized businesses. I have here another of these documents—none of them ever see the light of day, but I have the pleasure of being able to tell the House about it today. This one is entitled, “Towards a European Consensus on Growth”, but it, too, is completely and utterly unrealistic. There is no serious understanding of where the money comes from or of the fact that the result of having no growth in Europe is that there is no growth here either, because 40% of our economy is tied in to Europe. But these people will not change the structural system or the labour laws.
The EU representatives are talking and talking, but they are doing and doing nothing, and as a result, this black hole, whether Greece, Italy, Spain or wherever else in the EU, is condemned to getting deeper and blacker, simply because there is no realisation of where the money comes from in the first place. That is the problem at the root of this multi-annual financial framework. The whole project is based on a con trick of monumental proportions. They believe that they simply need to spend money on infrastructure and bridges—I would like to know where the contracts are going and how they are composed—but that does not solve the problem of the small businesses that simply cannot operate in the kind of environment that Europe now represents. That is all I need to say. This is a dead parrot.
It is always a pleasure to follow Mr Cash. I well recall when the House, not that long ago, passed an amendment in his name under which there was to be no annual increase in the EU budget. It was a wise amendment, and I was delighted that the House supported it.
I want to reflect on what happened last year—the Financial Secretary mentioned this—when the proposal was for a 6.2% increase in the annual budget. Despite all the tough talk, we ended up with an increase of 2.9%—at a time when budgets are being slashed in many areas vital to our constituents—and people were mystified about why, after all the tough talk, we had agreed to an increase. Today the Financial Secretary has spoken those dreaded words—“qualified majority voting”—and I am worried that we will end up in a similar position this year, despite all the tough talk. I am particularly concerned because I recall the tough talk not just on last year’s increase, but when the question of the European External Action Service came before the House and we were told that it would mean no increase in the budget. It transpired, however, that there would be a £400 million spike increase in the budget for that.
I was also worried when I saw that, after the European Parliament debated the matter on
I am glad to say that the Democratic Unionist party Member of the European Parliament was among those who voted against, and I am delighted that, on this occasion, every single member of the UK delegation to the European Parliament who actually voted, voted against. I have to note, however, that five Lib Dems, one Plaid Cymru Member and two Greens abstained, which I think is amazing on a vote that attracts such consensus in this House. I am sure that their colleagues here will want to ask their European colleagues exactly why they decided to abstain rather than vote against.
The proposal for an increase of £834 million in the UK contribution, which would bring our overall contribution to more than £14 billion indicates just how out of touch are the Eurocrats and many in the European Parliament. It also illustrates why we need a referendum on our relationship with the European Union. We have a situation in this House today where we are going to agree to what I think is an excellent motion signed by many excellent Members and it will be passed unanimously. People in the country will think, “That’s it, then. The sovereign Parliament of the United Kingdom has declared its position.” Yet, there have been hints, and the Financial Secretary is already paving the way for a further statement at some point, about some increase because we are subject to a qualified majority voting process. We are not masters of our destiny in respect of something as vital as the spending of almost £1 billion of taxpayers’ money.
That goes to the heart of what the debate about our relationship with Europe is all about. The incapacity of this House, of Members on all sides, even when they agree, to implement something on which the vast majority —virtually everyone apart from a few Lib Dem and Green MEPs, it appears—agree on, yet we cannot do anything about it. This illustrates far more eloquently than anything any of us could say why we need this referendum sooner rather than later, so that we can address these fundamental inadequacies in the entire process, which leaves us sitting here today, talking about an issue, passing resolutions but powerless in this sovereign Parliament to do anything about it. I hope that the Government and all Members will take that on board.
What a pleasure it is to follow Mr Dodds. It is an honour, indeed, and I entirely agree with everything he said.
It is encouraging to hear our Front-Bench team mention words like “resolve”—a word that seems to have disappeared from the English dictionary for a while. I wish they would follow up their words with action. What further evidence do we—the Government, the country, the world—need to see to show that this whole federalist nightmare is not working? It is undemocratic and corrupt.
I have people in my constituency who are trying to borrow £10,000, £20,000 or £30,000 to keep their businesses and jobs going. They simply cannot get it. Yet we are prepared to give Greece—and, I suspect, Italy—billions and billions of euros to a cause that is lost. It is quite beyond me, quite beyond my constituents and quite beyond most people in this country.
Both motions being debated today will, in their own ways, grant further powers and resources to the EU —despite our best intentions. We have heard that the Government have succeeded in reducing the annual budget increase from 2011 from 6% or thereabouts to 2.9%. I welcome that. Like my hon. Friend Mr Cash, I hope that it will remain at that level.
As to the multi-annual financial framework, these words are marvellous, are they not? The MFF—a slip of the tongue could get one into all kinds of trouble—now commands our attention. I am relieved that the European Scrutiny Committee has recommended that these documents are seen in this House. Only here can such decisions be taken. The absence of precise details about the Commission’s proposal is concerning, and I note that because of that absence, the European Scrutiny Committee has suggested that we focus on the Commission’s expenditure ambitions and revenue proposals.
The Government estimate that the overall MFF budget represents an average increase of £13.5 billion a year over the period. The UK contribution to the MFF between 2014 and 2020 is provisionally estimated to be 14.5% pre-rebate and 11.5% post-rebate. I agree with the Government that such extravagance is completely unacceptable, particularly when the level of public debt in member states will be 50% more than it was in 2007. The Commission argues that much of the increased expenditure is already committed to EU-wide projects, and suggests that there will be no increases in administration costs. That is hard to believe, given that the Government identified £1.1 billion of administration costs in this year’s budget alone. I am glad to hear that there is no possibility of the UK’s agreeing to the level of expenditure contained in these documents.
The revenue proposals are equally serious. For obvious reasons, the EU’s ultimate aim is to finance the budget entirely from so-called “own resources”—which are, of course, nothing of the sort, and will become so only after the EU has levied a series of new duties, taxes and tariffs on member countries for its own benefit. The documents suggest a financial transaction tax, a financial activities tax, the auctioning of revenue from the EU emissions trading scheme, an air transport tax, a new VAT, an energy tax, and an EU corporate income tax. That is utter madness. It is for us in this House to decide issues of national sovereignty. The European Commission deludes itself in stating that such measures do not affect our right to rule ourselves. Document 12478/11 states:
“It should also be stressed the proposals for new ‘own resource’ have no impact on national sovereignty.”
I strenuously disagree.
Finally, there is the question of the rebate. Perhaps most important is the suggestion that the current financing system must
“simplify the existing correction mechanisms”.
In plain English, that means the UK rebate, which is now in the Commission’s sights. Our relative prosperity is held against us, as is the open-ended nature of the rebate, but without it our net contribution to the EU as a percentage of national income would be twice as large as France’s contribution and 50% larger than that of Germany.
In these dying seconds, I urge the Government please, please to begin to stand up for our country and our future.
I stand as a resolute Thatcherite on this question. In 1940, Polish pilots came and grappled with the enemy, getting much closer than our pilots while risking their lives, and shooting down proportionally many more planes. Forty years later, Polish Solidarity helped to dig the grave of European Communism. What is our response? Today Poland is the fourth larger contributor to the UK rebate, despite being a much, much poorer country.
That is why, in the 1980s, the Prime Minister—now Lady Thatcher—was happy to see Britain’s contribution to the European Community budget, as it was then, rise from £656 million in 1984 to £2.54 billion in 1990. During the same period, the EC budget grew threefold. When taxed by Labour Members of Parliament—including my right hon. and good Friend Mr Straw, who said, “She has come back from Brussels, hauled down the Union flag and hauled up the white flag of surrender to Europe”—the Prime Minister said “No, no, no: we must help our new friends and encourage growth in the economies of the countries that are joining Europe.” Well, we are a different Britain now. We do not like the Poles, and we do not like Poland. We are saying to the Poles, “Keep signing a very large cheque for our rebate.”
There has been much talk about unaccountable transfers of money. May I draw the House’s attention to one very unaccountable and huge transfer of money? I refer to the £40 billion that it is proposed that we should give to the International Monetary Fund, which is unaccountable and secretive and whose staff salaries make the average EU salary look like pauper’s pay. That sum—£40 billion—is more than the entire amount raised in corporation tax in Britain each year. It is bigger than the combined budgets of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the Ministry of Defence, the Department for International Development, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, and all Departments except for the big spenders who have responsibility for costly areas such as the NHS and social security. We are happy to send that £40 billion to Washington with barely a nod or a debate in this House, but it is a far bigger sum than any amount being imposed in respect of Europe.
I agree with the points about maintaining budget discipline, but I ask the Minister to confirm in his winding-up speech that from 2014 to 2020 the EU budget is due to increase by 11%, which is a rise of well under 2% per year—far below current inflation rates in this country. I have every sympathy with the Minister, because I have done some of this work in Europe myself and, frankly, dealing with EU budget questions makes the Rosetta stone translation look like child’s play.
The bottom line is that the EU budget will not go above 1% of Europe’s gross national income because it cannot do so. There are debates to be had about how this money should be spent, and 85% of it comes straight back to nation states, including Britain, to spend on agriculture subsidies and structural and regional funds. If we did not have a common agricultural policy, we would have to have a British agricultural policy, and I can assure colleagues that our farmers’ lobby would extract a far bigger share of taxpayers’ money than it does under the CAP.
No, because I want to conclude.
This is not just a European question. The signal we are sending around the world is that we are open to business but are closed to foreigners, and that we want inward investment but want to disconnect from Europe. We are sending a very negative and dangerous signal that we do not like the biggest single market in the world and we do not want to be full partners with the rest of the 500 million people living under the rule of law and democracy.
I understand Front-Bench colleagues’ interpretation of the Robin Hood tax—the fair trade tax—but I feel a lot happier in the current economic crisis standing with the spirit of St Paul’s rather than the spirit of bean counters.
It is a great pleasure to follow Mr MacShane, although I did not agree with a single word he said.
I rise to support the motion in the name of the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, which is signed by me, my hon. Friends the Members for Kettering (Mr Hollobone), for Bury North (Mr Nuttall), for Basildon and Billericay (Mr Baron), for Worthing West (Sir Peter Bottomley), for Brigg and Goole (Andrew Percy) and for Harlow (Robert Halfon), and my right hon. Friend Mr Redwood. It is disappointing that no Member from Her Majesty’s official Opposition or any Liberal Democrat felt able to sign the motion. How can anyone disagree with a motion that says that the EU budget proposed by the Commission is
“completely unacceptable and an unwelcome distraction from the pressing issues that the EU needs to address”, that declares it
“supports the Government’s ongoing efforts to reduce the Commission’s proposed budget”, and that states that
“the Commission’s proposal for very substantial spending increases compared with current spend is unacceptable, unrealistic, too large and incompatible with the tough decisions being taken in the UK and in countries across Europe”?
No, I am not giving way.
How can anyone disagree with a motion that states that the
“proposed changes to the UK abatement and new taxes to fund the EU budget” are “totally unacceptable”?
Why on earth did Opposition Members and our Liberal Democrat coalition colleagues not support the motion? May I suggest that Labour did not do so because of embarrassment, as—
I must go back to talking about Labour, and I suggest that its approach arises from embarrassment, because in its 13 years in power it rolled over to each and every command put to it by the European Union. The lack of Members on its Benches just goes to increase Labour’s embarrassment. Labour does not understand how a Government could put British interests first and stand up to the European political elite. I suggest that the approach of our Liberal Democrat partners does not arise out of embarrassment; it arises because they love European bureaucrats spending British money without any proper democratic accountability to the British people. If the Lib Dems had their way, we would be in the euro and in a complete financial mess. Of course they represent 8% of the British electorate, but they are likely soon to be overtaken by the United Kingdom Independence party, which is at 6% in the polls.
We have a British bulldog of a Prime Minster who is taking the fight to Europe and putting British interests first, second and third. At least on the Conservative Benches there is unity on wishing the Prime Minister success in reducing the budget. We have a superb Minister, and we want the message to go out that our Prime Minister is going to Europe to get a reduction in the budget and to explain to the Europeans that they cannot spend and spend and spend. My speech goes on to say that “the Deputy Prime Minster thinks”—well, actually that is where it ends.
I am glad to have the opportunity to speak, especially after that generous build-up. We are having a curious discussion. We have had many European Union discussions in the past few months, and I cannot recall my hon. Friend the Financial Secretary being received with such warm accolade on every occasion as he has been on this one. I am sure that must have cheered him. We saw the curious alliance of Conservative Eurosceptics and Labour Eurosceptics when there was discussion of the possible demise of the eurozone. However, on this issue we might actually have tri-party agreement. May I assure my hon. Friend Mr Bone, even though I am a Europhile within the Liberal Democrats—that phrase must make him shudder—that my party has usually been at the forefront of calling for reform from within the European Union? We do that because we want the European Union to work. We want it to be a success and we are certainly not blind to its shortcomings.
That is not a position of this coalition Government at Westminster. As a good democrat, the hon. Gentleman will recognise that decisions that we make in local councils or in the European Parliament, where people have their own electoral mandates, do not bind parliamentarians in this House. That is the way in which our democracy works and we take a difference stance on the matter here.
The European Commission has asked for a 5% budget increase, from €966 billion to just over €1 trillion, for the second half of this decade. Most of our constituents would find it extraordinary that a request is being made for the EU budget to wax while people in every member state are having to endure the waning of their budgets. It was right that last December five large net contributors to the EU budget—the UK, Germany, France, the Netherlands and Finland—called for a freeze in the EU budget for the second half of this decade. I would like the Minister to tell us whether the Government are seeking a cash freeze or a real-terms freeze.
Whatever the level of the budget, it certainly is a budget in drastic need of reform. The common agricultural policy still accounts for more than 45% of the European Union’s spending, whereas research and development accounts for only 6.7%. The Commission is actually proposing a switch between those budgets, but that switch is made possible only by the Commission’s call for a larger budget. It is simply ludicrous for the European Union to continue to have agriculture as its largest area of expenditure, rather than the industries of the future—industries where the UK is well placed. We are currently the largest recipient of EU funds for research and development, and that is the budget that should be expanded. The priority for the United Kingdom coalition Government should be to negotiate a major shift within the EU budget and certainly within the existing level of resources. To clarify the issue for Chris Leslie, I say that our budget rebate should remain while the EU budget remains in its current unreformed and out-of-date state.
On sources of revenue for the European Union, I share the sentiments expressed by the Opposition Front-Bench team that it would not be right for the EU to take on the personality of a federal state and have taxes paid directly to it, whether that be VAT or the proposed financial transactions tax. There is a very good case for a financial transactions tax being levied once we can have international agreement among the global financial centres, many of which lie outside the European Union, but there is no case at all for the European Union itself to pinch that money, which the people who have campaigned for the Robin Hood tax have earmarked for other purposes. May I reassure my colleagues that the Government are right to call for a freeze in existing EU budgets? However, they should also vigorously press the case for reform.
It is a great pleasure to follow my hon. Friend Stephen Williams. I am tempted to say that there is more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repenteth than over the 99 who are not in need of repentance.
I have very little time, so I shall address the veto briefly. It is crucial to be clear that there is a veto on the multi-annual financial framework, which applies from 2014, but not on the annual budgets between then and now. The Government are therefore in a very strong negotiating position for that framework but not necessarily for the annual budgets. They are also in a very strong negotiating position regarding the own resources issue, which is also subject to the veto.
I must confess that I rejoiced at the Minister’s speech because we have been hearing for the first time since 1997 a proper and solid view on how we should interact with our European friends and neighbours. However, there is one issue to which I should like to alert Her Majesty’s Government. The budget is drawn up in euros and we have to be careful about what currency that might actually be in the lifetime of the budget. It is of concern to me that the euro might collapse between now and the end of the budget, and that if it were to be a German euro it could be substantially higher in sterling terms than the current euro. We ought therefore to get some acknowledgement of the currency risk in any budget negotiations so that we can protect our position in sterling. That really is a crucial point.
I want to mention own resources, because, as my hon. Friend Richard Drax said, they are not own resources. As Margaret Thatcher once said, it is our money, and we must not let the EU get at our money if we need it for our own purposes.
Finally, as time is short and you want me to wind up, Mr Deputy Speaker, let me mention the financial transactions tax. This is the work of the devil and it must be opposed. We have heard a lot of wishy-washy stuff about “If we get global agreement.” Well, thank God for Lee Kuan Yew, because I think we can be confident that the good people of Singapore will say no to this awful nonsense. A financial transaction tax would not tax invisible, non-existent people: it would fall on the citizens and subjects of the United Kingdom. We must oppose it. We must be robust in opposing it and we must not let the European Union get its grubby little hands on it.
It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend Jacob Rees-Mogg, who made a fantastic speech. I wanted to address the dangerously pro-European speech of Mr MacShane, but sadly he has left the Chamber. We heard from him the usual nonsense about how anybody who opposes the European Union in some way hates foreigners, which is not the case at all. I was going to say to him that he should ask the people of Rotherham what they want their money to be used for and put that to a referendum. They might keep re-electing him out of some sort of strange fondness, but I strongly suspect that they do not agree in the slightest with his views on the European Union.
I was intrigued by the words of Chris Leslie. Obviously, we on the Government Benches are most grateful for his support for the motion. I was not quite sure whether he was suggesting that, had he been here during the previous Parliament, he would have made sure that the rebate that the previous Government gave away without any reform would not have been given away. He certainly seemed to be making a pitch for a better job, if nothing else.
I was happy to sign this motion for the simple reason that I listen to the constituents of Brigg and Goole. I am not the brightest individual, as anyone who has heard my speeches will confirm, and I have not read through all the relevant documents. However, when I speak to my constituents about what they want to have done with their money, they tell me that the last thing they want is for it to be sent off to an institution with massive bureaucracy whose accounts have not been signed off for 16 years, only for large parts of it to be spent elsewhere. I am a passionate advocate of our withdrawal from the European Union, and I have listened to my constituents. Following the recent vote, I received hundreds of messages telling me that I had done the right thing, and only one from an individual telling me that I had done the wrong thing—
No, it was a constituent who informed me that we could not have a referendum on the European Union because the people do not understand the arguments—the usual patronising guff that comes from pro-Europeans.
I fully support the motion, which is why I put my name to it, but we should be going much further. Apart from leaving the European Union, we should be going much further while we are in it to ensure that our budget contribution is substantially reduced. My constituents simply cannot understand why an ever-increasing amount of their hard-earned money is being sent off and spent by that institution.
Does my hon. Friend agree with my constituents who have written to ask me why the European Commission just does not get it? They point out that, when they are keeping their own budgets under close control, the Commission should be doing the same, instead of proposing these continual increases.
As ever, it is a great pleasure to follow my hon. Friend Andrew Percy, who speaks straightforward common sense. I also rise to support the motion. We have had a good debate, and I want to make some brief points.
First, we must not lose sight of the fact that, under the proposed new EU budget, there remain very few net contributors to the budget. Perhaps if more EU nations contributed to it, the EU might become a more prudent organisation. Secondly, I agree with the wording of the motion that states that the Commission’s proposal for an increase is
“unacceptable, unrealistic, too large and incompatible with the tough decisions being taken in the UK”.
Those words would be a good candidate for the winner of the understatement of the year competition.
The Government state, in paragraph 97 of their explanatory memorandum on the EU budget, that their provisional estimate of the UK contribution to the next EU financial framework is 11.5%, after the UK rebate has been taken into account. The Commission’s proposed ceiling for EU payments within the financial framework over the period from 2014 to 2020 is €972 billion, so a UK contribution of 11.5% on that level of EU payments would see this country paying in almost €112 billion, which is about £96 billion at an exchange rate of £1 to €1.6.
Is my hon. Friend aware that, according to the European Commission’s proposal for the lump sums “adjusted for relative prosperity”—the annual lump sums relating to the period from 2014 to 2020—Germany’s would be adjusted to €2.5 billion and the United Kingdom’s to €3.6 billion, which is more than Germany’s?
No, I was not aware of that, and I am grateful to my hon. Friend for bringing it to the attention of the House.
This country will need to contribute about £70 billion to the EU budget during the Parliament that will run from 2015 to 2020. Finally, the EU is proposing a substantial extension of its ability to collect its own revenues by introducing new, EU-wide taxes—the so-called own resources decision. It is also proposing a new, dedicated EU VAT and a new financial tax. And, just to rub it in, it is proposing to end the UK’s rebate.
EU officials should spend more of their time ensuring that eurozone nations start to live within their means and less time devising new ways to tax my constituents. The EU wants to spend more and wants the UK to pay more. The EU wants to scrap the UK rebate, and the UK wants to bring in new Euro-taxes. To each of these, and to echo the words of Baroness Thatcher, it is absolutely right that our Government should say no, no, no.
This has been a helpful debate. It is good to see that harmony has broken out on the EU budget—something that some of us thought was unlikely. There has been a clear expression of view across the House that the EU Commission’s proposals for increases, not just in the 2012 budget but in the multi-annual framework, are excessive and need to be curbed. I welcome the support for the Government’s approach to building a coalition of allies to curb the increases and seek to restrict the increase in budget to no more than a freeze in real terms.
I want to correct the misconceptions of one or two Labour Members. Chris Leslie lectured us on the need to stay firm on the rebate. That was an extraordinary position, given what happened under the previous Government. He said that the UK rebate had gone up in cash terms since the 2005 deal, but let me tell him that the OBR’s forecast says that, thanks to the giveaway by the previous Government, our rebate falls from £4.2 billion in 2009-10 to £2.7 billion in 2010-11. That is the cost of having a Labour Government in office when these debates are being held in Europe.
Mr MacShane, who I notice is not in his place, said that Poland was the fourth largest contributor to the UK abatement. Well, he should get his facts right; it is actually the sixth largest. But of course Poland is the largest net recipient of funds from the EU, and our support for developing the Polish economy far exceeds its contribution to our rebate.
In this settlement, we are looking for a rebalancing of funds to help economic development in those accession countries to give a spur to the economy, and that is in the long-term interest of the UK economy. The right hon. Member for Rotherham said that the EU budget was capped at 1% of EU gross national income. It is not. If one looks at what is on and off-budget, one sees that on average, over the course of the financial framework, EU spending is 1.11% of European GNI, in breach of that condition. He and Geraint Davies were also misled by the presentation of the numbers. It is clear, and the information in our report demonstrates clearly, that the EU Commission proposes a real-terms increase in spending, and that is simply unacceptable when countries across the EU are trying to curb their deficits and tackle their public spending.
We will take a tough line in the negotiations on the budget and the financial framework. We want to ensure that Europe lives within its means rather than seeking to expand its means with new taxes and expanding its own resources. Europe should spend the money it has wisely and well. I hope that the House will support the motion before it today.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House takes note of European Union Documents Nos. 12478/11 and Addenda 1 and 2, 12474/11, 12480/11, 12483/11, 12475/11 and Addenda 1 to 3, and 12484/11, relating to the Commission’s proposal on the next Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF), 2014-20; agrees with the Government, that at a time of ongoing economic fragility in Europe and tight constraints on domestic public spending, the Commission’s proposal for very substantial spending increases compared with current spend is unacceptable, unrealistic, too large and incompatible with the tough decisions being taken in the UK and in countries across Europe to bring deficits under control and stimulate economic growth, that the next MFF must see significant improvements in the financial management of EU resources by the Commission and by Member States and in the value for money of spend and that the proposed changes to the UK abatement and new taxes to fund the EU budget are completely unacceptable and an unwelcome distraction from the pressing issues that the EU needs to address; and supports the Government’s ongoing efforts to reduce the Commission’s proposed budget.