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I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
The sole purpose of the Bill is to support two draft regulations of the Council of the European Union. They both rely on article 352 of the treaty on the functioning of the European Union, which permits the adoption of a measure to attain one of the objectives set out in the European Union treaties but for which no specific power is given in the treaties, provided that it has the unanimous support of all member states.
Thanks to this Government, who passed the European Union Act 2011 to ensure that no treaty could be passed without a referendum, such measures must be approved by Parliament. Parliamentary scrutiny of European measures is a matter of lively debate at the moment, and I am delighted to see so many of my colleagues who are experts on European matters present in the Chamber this afternoon. I am also delighted that it is this Government who have given Members of both Houses the chance to decide whether to approve such measures. I note that the Bill was debated in the other place, which is renowned for its scrutinising abilities, for precisely 37 minutes. The German Parliament carried out similar scrutiny before approving the measure—its measures are similar to ours—although I am not sure how long that debate lasted.
Is my hon. Friend aware that the Europe for Citizens programme could be construed as no more than a provision to enable grant-making for organisations that tend to be of a Europhile capacity? Hopefully it would be resisted by the Government on the grounds that it would be likely to induce propaganda for the purposes of European elections and the like.
I do not want to get ahead of myself, because I must first cover the specific regulations. My hon. Friend is a lawyer and an expert on European matters. I am not here to defend every measure. For example, I note that one of the measures audited in 2013 related to supporting the “European Network on forward policies and actions for seniors in Europe”. With one in five Europeans already in their 60s, our take on old age needs reconsidering. That programme focused on older people in the European Union, not European federalism. I will address the Europe for Citizens programme, to which he refers. It is one of two regulations—I say this for the benefit of all hon. Members taking part in the debate—that will be approved by the Bill.
It is not a question of subsidiarity. The question of subsidiarity applies to the whole programme, which has been in place since 2007 and supports a number of measures. I will come to examples of the programme shortly.
Following my hon. Friend’s perceptive intervention, I hope he will indulge me for a few minutes while I deal with the first measure and see what interventions we have on that. The measure establishes a legal obligation on the European institutions to deposit their paper historical records at the European University Institute, which is based in Florence. Previously, European institutions have voluntarily deposited their archives at the EUI under contractual agreement, and the proposal is to make this obligatory. It is designed to provide long-term certainty that the archives will be preserved in accordance with recognised international standards at a single accessible location.
Speaking on a measure on archiving documents of European Union institutions gives rise to the possibility of many light-hearted comments. I have resisted making such comments, but that is in no way an indication that I would resist those of other Members about the interest, or otherwise, that these documents could engender when being read by future generations.
A 1983 Council regulation already obliges the European institutions to preserve and provide access to the historical papers once the records are 30 years old, when they would no longer be in business use. Europe’s Council, Parliament, Commission, Court of Auditors and Economic and Social Committee, and the European Investment Bank, currently meet that obligation by depositing their paper archives with the EUI on a contractual basis. The proposed legal obligation reflects those existing arrangements and will not change the point in time at which the public can access historical records or the place at which they can be accessed.
Making this practice a legal obligation will help to ensure transparency and scrutiny of the European institutions’ work, and it fits alongside this Government’s drive for greater transparency both at home and in Europe. We should all welcome a measure that allows for greater accountability around EU decision making, the more so because it will have no impact, financial or otherwise, on the UK’s own archives.
As the European Union moves towards digital record-keeping, the measure also provides that the European institutions should, where possible, make their records available to the public in digital format. In addition, the EUI is to be given permanent access to each institution’s digital archives to fulfil its obligation to make historical records accessible to the public from a single location once they are 30 years old.
The European Court of Justice and the European Central Bank will be exempt from the obligations under the proposed regulation, although they can deposit their records on a voluntary basis. The Court is exempt because of the large volume of records, most of which are case files often containing sensitive personal data that need to be quickly accessed to support its functions. The exemption of the ECB is due to its organisational autonomy and the fact that its historical records are subject to a separate 2004 regulation.
The measure will be financed by the depositing European institutions from within their existing budgets and so will have no financial impact on the UK. Hon. Members will be delighted to learn that the Italian Government have made suitable premises permanently and freely available to the EUI to ensure that the deposited archives of the European institutions are preserved and protected in accordance with recognised international standards. The European Council has published the text of this measure and has received consent from the European Parliament. It is therefore ready for adoption, subject to the agreement of hon. Members.
Let me move on to the second measure, on which I do not anticipate a great many interventions. It provides for the continuation of the Europe for Citizens programme for the period January 2014 to December 2020, building on the previous programme that covered the period 2007 to 2013. It is important to point out that there have been some crucial improvements to the programme. More effort will be put into monitoring and evaluating funded projects against published performance indicators and boosting the transferability of results to give a better return on investment.
I am sorry to disappoint my hon. Friend in his hope that there would not be too many interventions, but before he gets into how this will be improved, may I ask him to look at paragraph 4 of the document? It says that this is being introduced in order to
“bring Europe closer to its citizens and to enable them to participate fully in the construction of an ever closer Union”.
The Prime Minister said a year ago that he did not want ever closer union. Will my hon. Friend square the circle?
It is important to look at the kinds of programmes that will be supported by this measure. It is also important to note that when one uses the phrase, “Ever closer union”, it can mean many things to many different people. Perhaps if I spend some time giving examples of the programmes that have been funded and those that might be funded, we can have a wider, almost philosophical debate on the issue.
It is my hon. Friend’s fourth attempt and I think it would have been his third intervention, had I accepted it. I expect him to make several interventions during my remarks and I will take them at the appropriate moment. I also expect him to make one of his formidable speeches, for which he has become legendary in this House. With his indulgence, however, I will elaborate on the point I was making.
As well as highlighting the improvements in transparency and evaluation, I want to make the point that the commemoration element of the programme has been significantly increased. In the previous programme, commemoration was just 4% of the budget, but it now amounts to 20%. This is a serious point, because, of course, 2014 is the year in which we begin our commemorations of the great war, so I for one am pleased that the commemoration element of the programme will increase.
It is also very important—this is also serious—to point out that the commemoration element of the programme goes beyond simply commemorating the great war. It will include funding to commemorate the second world war—that is particularly relevant given the 70th anniversary of D-day this year—as well as the victims of totalitarian regimes such as Nazism and Stalinism, and, of course, the holocaust.
On my hon. Friend’s earlier point about ever closer union and what it means, is he saying, as has been said to this House before, that we should not pay attention to the detail of the document and that we should accept bland assurances that it does not mean what it says?
What I am saying is that one should look at the kinds of projects that have been funded in the past and the kinds of projects we expect the programme to fund in the future. Hon. Friends may well disagree with the funding of some events, both past and future, while other hon. Members of a different political persuasion may disagree with the funding of others. That is the nature of a programme that funds a huge range of projects.
Does my hon. Friend agree that, during these times of a rise in anti-Semitism in Europe, anything that remembers what happened in the holocaust can only be a good thing?
My hon. Friend quite rightly achieves approbation from all corners of the House for his intervention. I know that the hard work he undertakes on these issues as a Member of Parliament is well recognised. It is a serious point that much of the programme’s funding supports issues relating to commemoration, which covers the holocaust, and some British organisations that commemorate the holocaust have received funding.
I suspect that the House probably feels that the United Kingdom is quite capable of providing its own recognition of the holocaust and the great war and that we do not need any help from Europe. At the start of his remarks, my hon. Friend said that the Bill had been debated in another place. I suggest to him that the bill that matters is that to the British taxpayer. Could he tell us how much cultural citizenship costs the UK taxpayer?
In this debate, we will find that many hon. Members are incredibly well informed and know a lot about the issue. My hon. Friend’s intervention is the second that tempts me to jump ahead in my speech. It is important, however, to answer a direct question directly: the budget is €185 million. I will come on to the budget, because there are certain things to say about it at the right moment.
I can hear another hon. Friend wanting to intervene, but I do not know whether or not the intervention is about the budget.
On questions of percentages and budgets, I understand that 20% will go towards commemorations, but will my hon. Friend comment on the 60% for projects linked to the Union political agenda?
My hon. Friend neatly takes us on to the next element of the budget. Some 60% of the budget will support other measures to encourage greater friendship between people living in Europe. One example of something that will be financed is twinning.
I was about to say that I did not know hon. Members’ views on the European Union, but I should perhaps say that I do not know their views on twinning, apart from that of my hon. Friend Mr Turner, who has just made his view quite clear.
As a constituency MP, I for one see that twinning brings great joy to my constituents. If you will indulge me for a minute, Madam Deputy Speaker, the market town of Faringdon in my constituency is twinned with Le Mêle-sur-Sarthe in France, and it intends to twin with Lipcany in the Czech Republic. The market town of Wantage is twinned with Mably in France—in fact, we even have a Mably way—and Seesen in Germany, and Didcot is twinned with Planegg in Germany and Meylan in France. May I use this opportunity to pay tribute to the late Terry Joslin, a Labour councillor in Didcot—he sadly died at the end of last year—who was very much at the forefront of Didcot’s twinning arrangements?
I accept that point, and as a good Conservative, I am always in favour of anything that has no cost to the taxpayer. I also think that we all, as constituency MPs, know that when there is an opportunity for support, whether from the Big Lottery Fund or any other grants programme, we would encourage our constituents to apply for it, where appropriate.
Another example of the kind of programmes that are likely to be supported is shown by the recent grant of €100,000 to the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, which is a British organisation. It received the money last year to help European bodies understand how to run voluntary organisations. The rest of the budget will be spent on programme administration and the evaluation and dissemination of best practice between participating organisations.
Like its predecessor, the programme will be implemented through grants based on open calls for proposals and through service contracts based on calls for tender. To provide for the analysis and dissemination of the results, these activities will be supported by regular external and independent evaluation. Priority will be given to projects using new working methods or proposing innovative activities. An interim evaluation report on the implementation of the programme will be drawn up by the European Commission no later than the end of 2017, and a final evaluation report will be drawn up no later than 2023. The programme has no new impact on UK domestic policy. Such activities have been supported since the programme first began.
Will the Minister update the House on the size of the budget of the programme compared with the size of the budget of its predecessor, and on whether the budget reflects the search across the European Union—supposedly—for savings for the taxpayer in these straitened times?
I will certainly do so, but to put the answer to my hon. Friend’s question in context, it is important to stress that the Bill will have no financial effect on the UK Budget. Some might say, for the sake of argument, that the money could be better spent in the UK, but the fact is that it forms part of the European Union budget that has been agreed, so money not spent on this European project would be spent on a different one. I therefore take my hon. Friend’s intervention as an opportunity to remind the House that the Prime Minister secured a significant reduction in the European Union’s overall budget. In fact, I think it is the first time the EU has ever reduced its budget.
The original budget proposed for the programme was €229 million, which would have been a 7% increase on the budget for the 2007-2013 programme, which was €215 million, but I am pleased to say that, following the budget negotiations—otherwise known as the multi-annual financial framework—that figure came down to just over €185 million, which was a reduction of €44 million. It is also important to stress that the €185 million is spread over seven years and that we estimate the UK contribution to be about £2 million to £3 million a year. With that, I commend the Bill to the House.
As the Minister set out, the two purposes of the Bill are to provide proper archiving arrangements for European documents and to establish a programme for a citizens’ Europe. At first sight, they seem rather disparate, but they have a shared theme—history. The first is about preserving documents for future historians and the second is about looking back at the European events that catalysed the foundation of the EU.
I hope the programme can be used to strengthen people’s understanding of the EU, although I am not wholly convinced that more knowledge will mean a less critical view of the current institutional arrangements.
I have some observations and questions for the Minister about these two major themes in the Bill. As he has explained, EU documents will be archived at the European University Institute in Florence so that future historians can benefit from complete records. The Clerk of the House has explained to me that our own material is archived in Victoria Tower. Will the Minister tell the House—[Interruption.] Could he stop talking to his Parliamentary Private Secretary and listen to me? Would the EU institutions be able to make duplicates in vellum as we do in this Parliament?
The Minister said that the Bill does not cover the documents of the European Court of Justice and the European Central Bank. The ECB position is rather controversial, given our own decision, in 1997, to publish, after only six weeks, the meetings of the Monetary Policy Committee. Expectation management is an important part of monetary policy, so I wonder why we are not seeing the ECB papers in the same way. The whole exercise cannot be described as a measure to improve transparency, given the decision to keep everything secret for 30 years. Who decided that these documents should be kept secret for 30 years and why? My hon. Friend Mr Skinner, who sadly is not in his place, has commented on Mrs Thatcher’s approach to the miners’ strike, demonstrating how few people can fully understand the significance of papers when they are kept locked up for 30 years.
The aim of the citizens’ programme is to improve how citizens participate in and contribute to the EU by strengthening remembrance and common values and encouraging a broader engagement and debate. The budget is €185 million, so by my calculation about £7 million will be spent in this country—not, I would suggest, a vast amount. The Minister has said what he thinks we will contribute to the budget, but I wonder whether he can say how much of it he thinks will be spent in the UK.
As the Minister said, 20% of the money will go towards commemorating the world wars and victims of totalitarianism. The Government are spending some £50 million on commemorating world war one. If the remarks of the Secretary of State for Education and the decision to put Lord Kitchener on the £2 coin are anything to go by, the Government are embarking on an unnecessarily jingoistic approach, which this EU programme might usefully counterbalance.
I want to ask the Minister how the funds will be distributed. It is unfortunate that world war one appears only fleetingly for children in key stage 3, so a little more understanding can only be a good thing. Will the money for the commemoration of the world wars be distributed in its own channel, or will it be bundled up with the money the Government are spending directly and through the Heritage Lottery Fund?
As the Minister said, the major part of the moneys will be used on EU citizenship projects for learning and twinning. Since the major wave of twinning took place in the late-1970s, just after we joined the Common Market, and given that the EU now has 22 member states, it seems a good idea to give this initiative fresh impetus so that new relationships can be built across the Union.
I am happy to be corrected by the hon. Gentleman. His arithmetic is better than mine.
I wonder whether some towns will choose to be twinned with places in Bulgaria or Romania. I do not know whether the Minister has heard anything about that.
Projects for young people to learn about EU citizenship are particularly good, especially given the Government’s foolish decision to take personal, social, health and economic education, which included citizenship, out of the core curriculum. Young people are the most likely to self-identify as European. I hope that more information and education on, and more understanding of, Europe will mean that people will not be misled by the wilder claims about the European Union made by people who are Eurosceptic. However, I am not convinced that, once people know how the European institutions operate, their views towards them will be flattering.
I have received some interesting information from the National Council for Voluntary Organisations about how the Europe for Citizens programme is operating. I hope that it will reassure Mr Cash that the money will not just be taken up by Europhile institutions. It states that the grants have enabled
“support for participation and democratic engagement”,
which is surely a good thing; projects on the
“impact of EU policies in societies”; and the
“exchange of expertise between members in different countries”.
When I was thinking about who might benefit from taking part in such programmes, I thought of the Minister. Many parts of his brief could benefit from a more collaborative approach with our European colleagues.
For example, there could be collaboration on child protection on the internet, tackling the uncompetitive behaviour of the internet giants, and providing a proper copyright and intellectual property protection system. On the point about expertise, it might be worth looking at what some of our European colleagues do to prevent the export of heritage items, which is far more effective than what he is doing.
On the hon. Lady’s comments about my intervention, does she agree that grants that might be made to organisations to promote European values, as they are called, should be evaluated against what is in the interests of all citizens? Should they be confined only to political organisations or to charities?
The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. I was going to come on to the question of whether they should be purely political, but he will surely agree that there is a shared commitment in Europe to democracy and liberty, and that is it is fruitful for people to understand how they can exercise their rights within the European context and in the European institutions.
It would have been better for these projects to be up and running before the EU elections in May. Why has it taken the Government so long to bring the Bill to this House? The Lords dealt with it at the end of July, when the Minister in the other place stated that his intention was for the Bill to receive Royal Assent by the end of 2013. Will the Minister say why the timetable has slipped? That is particularly unfortunate, as we are only four months away from the EU elections.
I am slightly concerned that the hon. Lady ties the Europe for Citizens programme with the European elections, because to gain funding from it people have to sign up and put in their contract bid that they will support the European Union’s initiatives and be pro-European. It would be useful if the hon. Lady had bothered to read any background information on this before she stood up at the Dispatch Box. Surely it is not necessarily in the interests of democratic debate to have only one side of the argument funded by this programme?
The hon. Gentleman’s remarks are rather ungenerous. It is obviously important for people to understand what it is they are voting for. They are being asked to elect candidates and they need to know what powers the institutions have. I would have thought that could be shared across the House. I was struck by the energetic twinning arrangements in Oxfordshire.
I am extremely grateful to the hon. Lady for giving way. Following on from the point made by my hon. Friend Chris Heaton-Harris, the programme says that strand 2 will spend 60% of the money and that
“It will give preference to initiatives and projects with a link to the Union political agenda”,
so there is an underlying political agenda. I agree with my hon. Friend that to spend the money before the elections could have an improper influence on them. It would be unlikely to give money to the UK Independence party, for example.
The money will not be given to political parties in any case, so the hon. Gentleman’s concern about unfairness is somewhat misplaced. The fact is that the money will not be spent before the European elections.
How will the money be publicised, so that we in Durham might benefit from it as much as people in Oxfordshire evidently have? How will people apply? It is crucial to the success of the project as a lever in raising people’s participation that it involves not just the same group of organisations that have a long-standing interest and involvement in European projects, but goes wider than that.
I hope the evaluation is not too onerous, because as much could be spent on the evaluation as the sums of money that are being given out, which would not be efficient. What steps has the Minister taken to ensure that the arrangements are open and straightforward?
Given that the EU accounts, as I understand it, have not been signed off for the past 15 years, how can anyone be confident that this money will go where it is meant to go?
The hon. Gentleman needs to look at the areas that have caused the European Union’s auditors to qualify the EU’s accounts. My understanding is that they do not include the Citizens programmes of education and learning for young people.
I am content with the arrangements on the Order Paper for further scrutiny of the Bill. I do not intend to divide the House tonight, but I agree with the suggestion made by other Members that it is important that we encourage and facilitate non-political cultural exchange, for which the Minister has responsibility. Over the Christmas holiday I was looking at the BBC’s collection of the nation’s favourite poems. Hon. Members will be pleased to know that the nation’s No. 1 choice is Kipling’s “If—”. I think that reveals something about the British, while the collection taken as a whole tells us something about our imaginary life and the value we place on our countryside. It would be fascinating if we knew more about the cultural life, views, experience and perspectives of the other member states, so I wonder whether the Minister has paid any attention to what we might do to facilitate more cultural exchange as well.
I am most grateful to you for calling me at this opportune moment, Madam Deputy Speaker, because I was going to ask a rather pertinent question about the BBC. There has been a lot of publicity recently about what I think is called the media action trust. This is an organisation within the BBC that apparently also has its own premises there and has, so we are informed, been provided with substantial funds from the EU for training journalists and activities of that kind. I have raised this issue in the House in the past, but that is typical of the kind of thing that is going on in the run-up to the European elections.
Let me say straight away that I do not have any particular concern about the first part of the Bill, which concerns the archives. There might well be some hidden problems buried in the archives in Florence that turn out to be a concern, but that is not what I am concerned about today. What I am profoundly concerned about, however—I shall vote against the Bill for this reason—is the question of European citizenship, which goes back to the treaties and the objectives of political union. One of the things that I well remember and that deeply concerned me in the very first part of the Maastricht debates, all those years ago, was the reference in the Maastricht treaty to conferring rights of citizenship on the people of the United Kingdom.
There was a good deal of debate about that in this House at that time. Although that reference did not say specifically what “European citizenship” would mean, we now know where it has been intended to lead. We only have to look at what Viviane Reding, the senior vice-president of the European Commission, said last week to know that it is based on an absolute determination to go pell-mell for a full united states of Europe. The proposals in this Bill, which, if it were possible, I would prefer to describe as a disapprovals Bill rather than an approvals Bill, aim to provide money for the purposes of generating information about and supporting the study and promotion—that is the key word—of political union.
I have with me with the full documentation from the Council of the European Union dated
“to initiatives and projects with a link to the Union political agenda.”
However—no doubt when he rises to speak he will also refer to this; I hope I am not pre-empting him too much—under the heading “Programme Management”, that document also says:
“In general, preference will be given to grants for projects irrespective of their size but with a high impact, in particular those which are directly linked to Union policies with a view to participate in the shaping of the Union political agenda.”
These provisions are said to be done under article 352. Those of us who have been involved in the whole process—I have the honour to be Chairman of the European Scrutiny Committee, and I have been a member of it for the best part of 30 years—may remember the old article 308, now replaced by article 352. Those associated with administrative law will know that where there is a statute, there is often a supplementary provision that allows one to do all such things as are reasonably incidental to the carrying on of the main functions. That is precisely what article 352 achieves.
Although I deeply disapproved of the provisions of the Referendum Bill in most respects, which is why I voted against most of them, it is quite right that—and I am glad that the coalition Government have provided for this—for matters of this kind to be dealt with by Act of Parliament. This regulation and these arrangements are dictated by unanimity, which means that we could say no. I shall now provide a number of reasons to explain why I believe that this grant-making exercise is aimed at providing propaganda, as I see it, for purposes of political union. That is why we should say no.
I heard what Helen Goodman said in her reasonable speech about the whole question of European elections, and I alluded to the same point in my intervention on the Minister. I believe that although not much money is involved, this will benefit organisations—I mentioned the word “charities”, but this measure will not relate solely to charities—that are politically motivated for the purposes of promoting the objectives under article 352, which amount to the whole integrationist process. I have in mind statements of the kind recently made by Mr Barroso, who said in the so-called blueprint for the future of Europe that
“the European Parliament and only the European Parliament is the Parliament for the European Union.”
That shows the sort of propaganda whose mechanism and funding will drive the argument further and further in that direction. As many argued in the documents relating to the Bill, this could be extended towards schools, for example. Some in the House of Lords spoke of greater engagement with schools, educational colleges and the rest. Then there is the BBC and the training of journalists, and so it goes on.
If the money, albeit only £2 million, is to be tied under the contract and the tender by these arrangements, many of the organisations concerned will have a very significant impact because what they write will be reproduced in much of the press. There might then be, shall we say, £150,000 or £250,000-worth of grants, providing a very substantial opportunity to disseminate propaganda for the European Union.
In the present situation, however, 95 Conservative Members—I believe it is really well over 100—have said that we should veto European legislation if it is not in our interests. I would be interested to know whether I am right—I believe I am—that this is mainly aimed at providing money for foundations, organisations and, as it specifically mentions, think-tanks to promote European policies and European integration, and not the other way round.
At the same time a serious debate is taking place between those who are in favour of more integration and those who are against it. The Prime Minister is trying to find some middle ground, but it is crystal clear that what is also happening is the promotion of European integration, and this programme will assist that process. If we are to have an in-or-out referendum, albeit far too late in my opinion, I think it very important for the Bill’s immediate objectives to be confined to ensuring that no money is provided under the aegis of the United Kingdom, or with its encouragement, for the purpose of promoting activities in which we in this country have effectively said that we do not want to engage.
I sense that you, Madam Deputy Speaker, would not wish me to go too far down that route, but the short answer to my hon. Friend’s question is yes. That is a good illustration of why we need a provision—under the aegis of the European Scrutiny Committee’s report, which has been supported by numerous Conservative Members of Parliament—to ensure that we do not end up paying for the promotion of integrationist policies that are contrary to what we believe in.
My hon. Friend is making some excellent points. Does the Bill contain any provisions or mechanisms that would prevent the use of money from this pot for propaganda purposes before a referendum in this country?
That is an extremely important question, to which the answer is zero: none at all. Perhaps the Minister would like to intervene in order to repudiate what I am saying, and to assure me that none of this money will be used for any propaganda exercises—that none of it will be given to think-tanks that are promoting the idea of the European Union—and to make absolutely clear that we are not, as a Government, supporting the promotion of propaganda for the purposes of political union in advance of European elections. The Minister is sitting with a Sphinx-like expression on his face. I suspect that he knows the answer, but is not terribly keen to give it to me.
It is a poker face, actually, not a Sphinx-like expression. I will respond to my hon. Friend when I sum up the debate. There are so many Members in the Chamber this afternoon who are experts on this subject and who will want to make lengthy interventions to educate the House about the Bill that I do not want to stand in their way, given that I know I have a slot.
There is another point, too. A very interesting statement, which I happen to know is true, was made under the aegis of the European Scrutiny Committee. In his letter of
I am not denying that the Minister has come to the House and said that he endorses this, and the same situation arose in the House of Lords. However, I want to emphasise that our report, which has been supported by all those Members of Parliament, identified that process as a matter of concern, because it had been dealt with by officials in the first place and ticked off by them, and then along came the Government and agreed to it. We had recommended that the whole matter be dealt with in a European Standing Committee. Our recommendation has understandably been overtaken by events, in the shape of the Bill, but we remain deeply concerned about the way in which the money could be used.
I am always pleased to be able to be constructive, and to offer a tribute when it is required. I was glad to hear the Minister tell us—and I happen to know that this is true—that the amount of money in question started out as £229 million, and has been reduced to £185 million. I am glad he linked that to the reduction in the budget generally under the multiannual arrangements he described, but I would only make this point, especially on behalf of some on this side of the House: I put down the amendment that helped the Government to arrive at the decision that reducing the budget would be a good idea, because that was a unanimous decision that had been agreed to on both sides of the House.
My hon. Friend talks about propaganda and UK taxpayers’ money being used to fund it. Is he aware that, anecdotally, as we approach the centenary of the first world war it is being referred to by the European Union as the European civil war?
I am extremely interested in that because I recall that a serious dispute arose only a few days ago, when the distinguished Secretary of State for Education made remarks regarding the manner in which world war one was being addressed. The debate ultimately turned on the question of whether or not it was Germany that started the first world war, and I have no doubt at all, and nor did A. J. P. Taylor.
Order. The hon. Gentleman rightly said earlier that the Chair would be keeping a watchful eye to ensure that this debate sticks to the purpose of discussing this very short Bill. At the moment the hon. Gentleman is just within the bounds of discussing Europe for citizens. He may be straying somewhat, however, and I am sure he will bring his remarks back to the subject under discussion.
I certainly will, and precisely because of that reference to world war one. I took part in the debate on the Floor of the House about the idea of our helping to commemorate world war one, and I believe we can do it, as my hon. Friend Sir Roger Gale said, on our terms without European money. It is about remembrance, and that is most emphatically in this Bill, as I am sure all Members of this House will recognise, so when I referred to the question of world war one, I was referring to the remembrance aspect of this strand of the programme. I would like to make it clear that I am very much in favour of that and in no way would want to prevent substantial remembrance events from taking place. Indeed, I shall be going to Normandy next year, where my father was killed in the second world war, and won the military cross, at Maltot near Caen. I shall be going there to commemorate all the brave men and women who died in the second world war and also to pay tribute to those who took part in the first world war. I am not against the principle of this, therefore, and I am very much in favour of moneys being provided for it, although I think we can do it on our own terms and we do not need this Bill to do it.
There is one final point I wish to make. I think the entire debate that we have had in the last few days about whether or not there should be vetoes and whether or not there should be disapplication of legislation is very important. For the reasons I have given, and because of the way in which the money, which is our money, is being spent by the European Union on projects that are not consistent with the voters’ wishes in general, this is not the kind of thing I would want to support. Furthermore, that is why I shall be voting against this Bill. I am also extremely surprised because I do not think the Minister is in any way disagreeing with my general proposition that, for the reasons set out clearly in the programme itself, this money is going to be made available to those who promote the political objectives of the European Union and the citizenship that goes with it and will provide substantial grants for that purpose.
All of these points are reasons why we should exercise a veto. Indeed, this proposal would provide a perfect example under my parliamentary sovereignty Bill, which
I introduced a few months ago. If 100 Members were to decide they did not want something like this, I hope that would lead to its being vetoed.
In summary, I do not approve of this approvals Bill. This is all about democratic decision making. Let us bear in mind that the draft regulation is indeed a regulation, which is of a higher order even than a directive. We have to comply with every aspect of a regulation. I have great affection for the Minister, and I have heard what he has said. I greatly approve of almost everything he does, but not this measure. This should be a European Union disapprovals Bill.
Although we have just passed the auld Scots new year, this is the first chance I have had to congratulate you on your new appointment, Madam Deputy Speaker. In the context of another debate that is going on outside this place, which is not unrelated to Europe in some respects, it is good that a Scot has been elected by her colleagues to such a prominent and important UK constitutional position. Long may that capacity continue in the United Kingdom.
We are talking about another Union today, however. The matter of the United Kingdom draws Mr Cash and me together, but that other Union has forced us apart for 30 years. I shall not echo his concluding remarks about the question of a veto. Were that to be established as governmental and Commons practice, he would want to apply it even to something as gentle, timorous, limited and constrained as this European Union (Approvals) Bill. That would certainly vindicate my view that his election to the chairmanship of the European Scrutiny Committee was akin to putting King Herod in charge of a maternity ward. Indeed, he has proved that in his attitude to this generally meek, mild and inoffensive measure that the Minister has put before the House tonight.
Actually, such a veto already exists. The measure that I like to call “Bill’s Bill” would not even apply to this. I think the right hon. Gentleman followed us through the Lobby on the EU legislation that gave us a veto on the Bill we are discussing today. So, timorous though it might be, we already have the ability to veto it.
I gather from the hon. Member for Stone’s speech that we are going to face a Division on the Bill’s Second Reading, so the House will have an opportunity to decide. The Minister will be aware of the presence of some notable evergreens who remember the days, and particularly the nights, of the Maastricht saga in this House. He will know that, on this Bill, he has the backing of the Government and, I would imagine, of a swath of the parliamentary Conservative party. He also has the backing of Labour, as the official Opposition, and I think I am correct in saying that he has the unanimous backing of the Liberal Democrats, although I never seek or aspire to speak for them in any leadership capacity or in an ex cathedra manner.
Before the Christmas recess, I raised a question with the Deputy Prime Minister, my party leader, who was standing in for the Prime Minister. I pointed out that there could be quite a difference between Government rhetoric on Europe and the reality. The Bill is interesting because, on this occasion, the rhetoric and the reality are as one. The hon. Member for Stone is correct—I have read the correspondence—to say that the Minister pointed out in the early stages of this measure that the Government were not pleased about what was then a projected percentage increase in the available budget, and that they would seek, through negotiation, to push that sum in the opposite direction. I congratulate the Government on their act of positive engagement at European level, which has achieved exactly that. Those cost reductions are to be welcomed, and the rhetoric of the Government has matched the delivery. That makes it all the more easy for people like me to support the Government in the Lobby on this issue. We have also supported the Bill in the Lords, as my noble Friend, Baroness Falkner, made clear.
I do not wish to dwell at all on the established practice of the European University Institute being based, located and accessed in Florence and that now being given legal status as a result of this measure. However, I want to say a word or two about the second half of the Bill, which deals with the Europe for Citizens programme, where I wish to make a contribution not on behalf of the Liberal Democrats, but in a personal capacity on behalf of the European Movement, with which I have been associated for a number of years—I have had the privilege and pleasure to be its UK president. As the Minister knows, the European Movement is all-party and, most significantly, as I always say, non-party in its composition. It has been with us, in this country and elsewhere on the continent, since the formation of Europe itself—the political Europe in the aftermath of the second world war. Over the decades it has made a notable and distinguished contribution to the dissemination of knowledge—genuine knowledge, not propaganda—through schools, local voluntary organisations and so on.
The European Movement suffered in the era of the Blair Government through the launch of Britain in Europe. As we all know, Britain in Europe was not so much a case of “Waiting for Godot” as of waiting for Gordon; it was a two-act play in which nothing happened, twice. The Prime Minister assembled his pro-European forces and marched them to the top of the hill on more than one occasion, and absolutely nothing came of it. The group that suffered most during that period of raised expectation followed by zero was the long-standing European Movement, which was rather eclipsed by Britain in Europe and has been clawing its way back ever since.
The European Movement is central to the second part of the Bill, because its entire raison d’être fits ideally with precisely what the Bill talks about. The characteristically excellent Library research paper states that in an explanatory memorandum of
“the Government approved of the proposed simplifications to the programme’s administration”— the Europe for Citizens programme—
“and observed that the programme reflected, and could potentially support, the UK Government’s aims and programmes, in particular the Big Society agenda and Positive for Youth. There were also potential benefits to UK civil society organisations, local authorities and organisations, and grassroots sports and culture projects.”
The constitution and raison d’être of the European Movement fit ideally within what the Government have pointed out, but here comes the rub: the European
Movement used to enjoy a direct subvention from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. That came to an end in Mrs Thatcher’s days, and perhaps that is no great surprise. What is perhaps a wee bit more surprising is that nothing was ever restored in the long years of the Labour Government that occurred later. I raised the issue with both Prime Minister Blair and Prime Minister Brown but to no avail. It is not a matter for the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. It has, in the past, been a matter for the FCO, although if DCMS wished to enter and make good the breach, I can assure the Minister that it would be welcome to do so. I hope that he will take this opportunity to point out that there is a bit of an irony that the European Movement is often offered practical support, through the use of facilities, by many European consulates and embassies within the UK yet receives nothing by way of practical support from our own FCO.
When we are passing a Bill such as this, with the very things that the Government are highlighting approvingly and the potential that this Bill can bring, it does seem a bit ironic, if not perverse in the extreme, that the European Movement is getting overlooked in this way. Wearing that hat, I make a plea to the Minister to draw the matter to the attention of his colleagues at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and to look for a little bit of largesse as we reach the closing stages of this coalition Parliament.
I am listening with great interest to the right hon. Gentleman, not least because, from his perspective, the European Movement does its job. However, is he not over-concerned about this matter? Surely, under these arrangements, he should expect the European Movement to get the moneys, because that is made clear under the Bill. I may not believe that we should pass the Bill, but if it does go through, as seems likely, I believe that the European Movement will benefit. Is he not being a bit over-anxious?
I am less anxious now than I was just before I accepted that intervention. If the European Movement makes an application to such funds, I will be able to quote an opponent of the very measure that gives rise to such access as well as supporters such as the Minister and me. I hope that that might help its prospects as and when it makes an application. For the first time ever in nearly 30 years in a European debate, I can look at the hon. Gentleman, regard him as my hon. Friend and say, “D’accord”. I am most grateful to him.
In conclusion, one thing that always bedevils the European debate is the meaning of vocabulary. The classic is “federalism”, which has a very different meaning the minute we cross the English channel to what it has come to mean not least in the tabloid press in this country. Another example is the term “ever-closer union” on which we have touched. Of course it has its antecedents with the initials ECU, which was used in a slightly different context several decades ago.
As we are seeing in the Scottish debate, and as I think we can see in the European debate—these measures can assist in this process—the words “ever-closer union” could be more appropriately replaced with the words “ever-closer understanding”. The more that the practical implications, particularly for citizens’ rights, in the second part of this Bill create a climate of more accessibility and greater, ever-closer understanding, the better it will be.
There is a huge amount about the European Union that I would like to change. Indeed, all organisations of that type need to be reformed, and there is a huge opportunity coming up. The Prime Minister’s commitment to a referendum in 2017 is predicated on the fact that we will also see substantial changes. I would like to see a lot of changes, particularly the deepening and widening of the single market to include energy. I want to see more emphasis on productivity across Europe, and more capacity for European countries to trade with each other and, above all, strike a bigger punch in the global economy as well. That is all about ensuring that the European Union is fit for purpose. I am, therefore, by no means immune to the idea that the European Union needs to be reformed and changed. However, let me first celebrate the fact that we are today debating this issue, which is down to the coalition Government who passed the European Union Act 2011.
This is a fabulous opportunity for us to demonstrate the value of that Act, because it is through that Act that we are making this decision. It is proof that Parliament—I am talking about this Parliament, but other Parliaments could pass similar legislation—can indeed exercise some authority over the decision making of the European Union. The Government should be congratulated not just on being bold enough to pass that Act but on being so easily able to use it in a situation such as this.
Importantly, this legislation is founded on the treaties to which we have signed up. Those treaties require, in this particular case, unanimity, which gives the decision we are making even more force, which is useful. That does not mean that we should be handing out red cards every time we think about an issue, because we also must ensure that the European Union works. A single market is one example where we need a more considered and conciliatory approach to ensure that it operates not just for our benefit but for that of everybody else in the European Union, particularly when we are negotiating a free trade agreement with the United States.
Such decisions require unanimity in the Council of Ministers, and our Minister will not be able to nod the matter through unless or until we vote accordingly tonight. That is a clear statement that this Parliament has more power than it did before, and that is down to the European Union Act 2011. When we confront either the next general election or the referendum, we will be able to say that we have delivered for Parliament more capacity to influence the situation in the European Union.
Having talked about the Bill in a constitutional context, I now want to move on to the measures it contains. It is a good idea to move all the archives to Florence, particularly to the European University Institute, which I have visited. It is obviously logical to have everything in the same building. None the less, I cannot imagine that many people would want to visit Florence just to look at the archives. If that is the case, they are indeed committed to something that is not as exciting as other things they might like to find. The fact is it is right to have archives for the European Union. Historians will want to know how things unfolded, and will want to be able to access such findings, so I am happy with that measure.
On citizens and, effectively, promoting the European Union through the fund, it is sensible to take into account the Minister’s remarks on twinnings. In my constituency, a large number of towns and villages are twinned. They enjoy the experience and get a huge amount of cultural advantage from it, as they meet many people from different regions. Stroud itself is twinned with Saint-Ismier near Grenoble, and I find the linkage with the people there extraordinarily valuable, but it is neither overtly political nor party political in any sense. The people in the twinning organisation are Conservatives, Liberal Democrats, Labour party supporters—there are some—independents and those who are not interested in politics at all. The linkage is first and foremost cultural.
I will not go into detail about all the things that will be supported by the money, because Members might raise an eyebrow about some of them. In broad terms, however, this is a reasonable amount of money spent in a reasonable way, especially as it has already been allocated through the budget.
My last point is a territorial one. In the explanatory notes, we are reminded that the Bill applies to the whole of the United Kingdom. Scotland might make the foolish decision to leave the UK, in which case it will effectively leave the European Union, and that may well raise an issue for this measure. I remind the House that we should be absolutely emphatic in our view that Scotland should remain a member of the United Kingdom and, therefore, a member of the European Union. These matters should be discussed in 2017 when we have had an opportunity to recalibrate some of our policies and reassess where we stand, and—fundamentally, in my view—we should then ensure that Britain’s membership of the European Union continues through a reformed, modernised and, in many cases, vastly reduced EU, but one in which business can thrive, trade is developed and our punch as a country and as a continent are enhanced.
It is absolutely right that the 2011 Act was passed. The Bill is an example of the value of that Act, and I hope to see more opportunities to show that in the months and years to come.
It is a privilege to follow my hon. Friend Neil Carmichael, because I am going to start my speech with a similar point to that with which he finished his. It is interesting to see how we got to the point of having this debate. As the House knows, the legal position is that the UK now holds a veto over these proposals under the EU treaties and section 8 of the European Union Act 2011. The Government are not permitted to support the proposals or abstain unless they are approved by Parliament.
The European Union Act is the much-heralded Act that means that we, as the UK Parliament, are getting scrutinising some aspects of European business that have never been properly examined before by nation state Parliaments. Our Government should be congratulated on that and I thank them for the opportunity. To provide such parliamentary approval, the Government have introduced this Bill, and hence we have the debate today.
As we have heard, the Bill has already been approved by the House of Lords with minimal debate, but unless the House of Commons approves it the Europe for Citizens programme, for example, will simply fall. The UK will have to block that programme in the Council of Ministers and it will not be able to go ahead. To put it simply, voting against the measure means that Parliament is telling the Government to veto this element of EU spending. It is a welcome development for Parliament to be able to scrutinise such spending in such detail. I was pleased to hear that the Minister has done some of his homework and he has done very well at getting up to speed on the matter.
As a number of Members have mentioned, the Bill will also approve a pretty uncontroversial proposal, which is also subject to section 8 of the 2011 Act, that will require most European bodies to deposit their historical archives with the European university institute in Florence. I have a “Boring but important” box in which to file things in my office and also a “I don’t give a toss” box; this measure would certainly be flung into the latter. There is no reason to talk or get excited about that measure.
There is good reason, however, to talk about the Europe for Citizens measure. I first came across the measure during my work not as a member of the European Scrutiny Committee of this Parliament but as a Member of the European Parliament for the East Midlands, which I was for 10 years, when I sat on both the Committee on Budgets and the Committee on Budgetary Control. When, as a Member of the European Scrutiny Committee of this Parliament, I saw that the Government were proposing to support a draft EU regulation re-establishing the Europe for Citizens programme for the period from 2014 to 2020 it caused me to raise an eyebrow. I have many concerns about the programme—I have harboured them for a long time—and I want the Government to alter their position so that the UK and other EU countries are not saddled with funding what is likely to be wasteful pro-European propaganda, political in its very nature.
Ages ago, when I was a Member of the European Parliament, I asked questions of the European Commission about what organisations would get funding from the programme. I will talk about some of them, but let me say first that we are not talking about one or two organisations. I have in my hand a list of all the organisations that received funding from that budget—I will not read it out, as it has seven or eight pages of closely typed words. The copy I have brought with me is just for 2007.
I was concerned then about the level of transparency with which those organisations spent their money, with the European Commission’s evaluation of that programme and with how the moneys were spent. I am pleased to hear that the European Commission has decided at least to say that it has decided to up its game in evaluating the programme. Will the Minister tell us whether that is an admission by the European Commission of its failure to do things properly in the course of the previous programme? Lots of money was wasted on a number of projects, some of which I will detail later.
I would like to hear confirmation from the Minister of whether any official or Minister of a UK Government—either this Government or the previous Government—has raised any concerns about how money is prioritised and spent in the Europe for Citizens programme. I doubt that has ever happened.
The preamble to the draft regulations introduces the Europe for Citizens programme with the following words:
“While there is objectively an added value in being a Union citizen with established rights, the Union does not always highlight in an effective way the link between the solution to a broad range of economic and social problems and the Union’s policies.”
If one was Greek, one would probably say that those policies were the cause of the problem, not the solution. The preamble continues:
“Hence, the impressive achievements in terms of peace and stability in Europe, long-term sustainable growth”— interesting—
“stable prices, an efficient protection of consumers and the environment and the promotion of fundamental rights, have not always led to a…feeling among citizens of belonging to the Union.”
I apologise for arriving late to the debate. The hon. Gentleman talks about stable prices, but prices have started to fall in Greece and deflation is a much more serious concern for anybody who understands economics than inflation. Greece faces a serious problem and prices are hardly stable.
I understand the statistics that the hon. Gentleman has just relayed. That just goes to prove that what the European Commission believes to be happening and what is happening are two completely different things. Indeed, the Commission is quite Orwellian in its interpretation of what goes on around it.
Fortunately, that is one for the Minister to answer. There are plenty of experts on both sides of this very political argument and one point that I shall continue to make during my speech is that this is a very political matter that should therefore not be funded by taxpayers’ money.
It is interesting to see that the European Commission recognises some of the issues it faces. The preamble continues:
“In order to bring Europe closer to its citizens and to enable them to participate fully in the construction of an ever closer Union, a variety of actions and coordinated efforts through transnational and Union level activities are required.”
In other words, the solution to some of the issues we face today is not less Europe but, according to the European Commission, more Europe, and to ensure that people think that way the Commission will pay for a bunch of projects to try to tell them that that is the case.
Article 1 of the draft regulation states that the general objectives of the programme are
“to contribute to citizens’ understanding of the Union, its history and diversity” and
“to foster European citizenship and to improve conditions for civic and democratic participation at Union level.”
I am pretty sure that that is a reference to the European elections, which is slightly concerning. That, together with the preamble, suggests that the programme is aimed at lauding the European Union as a political project with, as I will demonstrate, many a federalist overtone. That is reinforced by the fact that article 6 of the proposal states that the programme is open to
“stakeholders promoting European citizenship and integration”.
In other words, one can apply for money from the programme only if one believes in one side of the political argument.
I heard what the Minister said about the collaboration element of the project. Like everyone else in the House, I supportive any attempt realistically to encourage the commemoration and remembrance of important events in the history of Europe, volunteering, or participation in the democratic process, where there is genuine enthusiasm for it, but I am greatly concerned about trying to force one particular political viewpoint down peoples’ throats.
My soon-to-be right hon. Friend’s organisation could benefit from funding, if it changed its basic principle on belief in the European project, but he is a very principled gentleman and would not do that, so no is the simple answer; there would be no access to EU funding for those groups.
I am supportive of trying to encourage the things I mentioned, but I do not believe that that is best achieved by a European Union spending programme that has its decision making centralised in the European Commission, and in which everything is tied to a supportive view of European Union political integration. The draft regulation’s preamble even asserts that there is a link between remembrance and European identity; I struggle to see that link.
The Government’s support for the regulation calls a number of points into question. It sits uneasily—does it not?—with the Prime Minister’s speech on Europe on
“There is not, in my view, a single European demos.
It is national parliaments”— not EU institutions—
“which are, and…remain, the true source of real democratic legitimacy and accountability in the EU.”
The regulation, which we might be asked to vote for, would establish a political programme, which we would fund, with exactly the opposite ethos. How can that be?
Moreover, the regulation states that the programme would have a budget of €185.5 million, which, according to the Google currency converter last night, is about £156.5 million over the multi-annual financial framework period. The Government have estimated that the UK will meet about 11.5% of the cost of the multi-annual financial framework, after the rebate is applied. That means that the UK may end up paying roughly £18 million for the programme, over its course. The shadow Minister said that we expect to receive about £7 million back. That is not a bad return on European money—normally, we pay in a fiver and get £2 back—but the money comes back to us with caveats on how it should be spent, and who it should be spent on. I understand the Minister’s point about the general budget envelope, but there are better ways that we could spend the money; we could spend it on much more worthy projects in the UK, without the involvement of a middleman with sticky fingers in Brussels.
The House might be interested to know how much money was spent on the previous Europe for Citizens programme, which ran from 2007 to 2013. Most of this information comes from budget questions relating to 2013, because it is best to have the most up-to-date information, and from a compendium of summaries of reports submitted last year under strand 1 of the programme, produced by the European Commission agency responsible for selecting projects, the Education, Audiovisual and Culture Executive Agency. As I mentioned, I have followed this issue for quite some time.
Let us start with a nice, friendly organisation, the Transeuropa citizens festival, an annual festival that, in 2013, took place in October in various cities simultaneously. Page 4 of the Commission’s compendium says that it took place in nine cities, but the festival’s website claims that it took place in 13: London, Paris, Berlin, Barcelona, Amsterdam, Bologna, Prague, Bratislava, Belgrade, Warsaw, Lublin, Sofia, and Cluj-Napoca in Romania. The compendium’s summary says:
“Transeuropa Citizens Festival is an annual festival of citizenship happening across Europe. For the European Year of Citizens it will take place in 9 cities simultaneously in October 2013 and will celebrate free movement. The festival promotes active citizenship: it is made by and for citizens from throughout Europe (particularly central and eastern Europe). About 300 active citizens”—
I have no idea what they are—
“will meet and work together to make events which promote their vision of Europe to a wider public”,
so it is an interesting festival.
My hon. Friend is making an excellent speech, and I am most grateful to him for giving way a second time. If this nightmare continues, can he foresee a time—say, in 10 or 20 years—when countries that do not participate in these awful affairs will be fined for not doing so?
The few times in my political career when I have not relied exactly on facts, I have always stumbled and fallen over, so I will keep to what has happened and is happening, rather than having a guess at what might happen in future.
The 300 individuals, and the people they then talk to, will
“act as European Citizens of the future and peer-leaders. The festival will focus on the issues of precarity, poverty and solidarity in a Europe facing the financial crisis, as well as themes of common goods, media pluralism, migrants and Roma rights and the fundamental rights given by Europe.”
Obviously, to be involved in this scheme, one has to approve wholeheartedly of the application of the EU charter of fundamental rights by the European Court of Justice. Those interested in Roma migration should note that the festival was held in London, as well as many other European cities, to promote that sort of thing.
Last year, the festival was awarded €149,000 from the Europe for Citizens budget. It appears that the 2011 festival was awarded €150,000. In 2010, European Alternatives Ltd was awarded €40,000 for a project called “Transeuropa citizens”. In 2009, the same company was awarded €36,300 for a project called “active and transnational citizens in dialogue”. In 2008, the company was awarded €24,800 for a project called the “active and transnational citizenship programme”. I wonder what all these programmes did, or do; from the preamble, one can probably guess exactly what they did.
In addition, European Alternatives Ltd has been awarded grants to fund its existence, which the Commission said it would cut out; no longer could organisations bid for money simply to run themselves, so that they could bid for more European money to run projects for the Commission, so that they could bid for more money from the Commission, so that they could run more projects for the Commission. That was not the case here. In 2012, 2011 and 2010, it was awarded a €100,000 annual operating grant. In 2009, it did a bit worse: it got only €60,000. This one organisation was awarded, all in all, approximately €760,000 from one section of the Europe for Citizens programme budget over the period from 2007 to 2013. Bear that figure in mind when I come on to the sort of grants that have been issued to projects in the United Kingdom.
Let us look at another example of an organisation that has received money from the Europe for Citizens programme. The grants were intended to support the running of the organisation itself, so I am pretty sure that it would not exist were it not for this funding. It is the French think-tank called—perhaps Members will be able to work out why it has been awarded funding—Notre Europe, the Jacques Delors Institute. It was set up by Jacques Delors in 1996 after he stepped down as European Commission President. It aims to contribute to the debate on the future of Europe and to influence decision makers. We are paying for an organisation to try to influence decision makers in a highly political way on the future of Europe and other European integration matters.
I strongly sympathise with what the hon. Gentleman is saying, but he keeps referring to Europe, as so many people do, when he really means the European Union. They are two different concepts.
Chris Bryant is quite right. I will try to remember to say “European Union”, but if I slip up and say “Europe” by mistake, please add “ean Union” for me.
Notre Europe’s handy charter states:
‘When reflecting on its mission, Notre Europe continues to take its cue from its founding president, Jacques Delors. Besides the masterstrokes the Single European Act and the Maastricht Treaty represent, and their two great attending projects, namely the single market and the economic and monetary Union, European integration owes him one of the most dynamic and inspired periods of its history. A virtuoso in the art of working the Community method and its famous “institutional triangle”, he can rightly join the ranks of Europe’s founding fathers. It is his vision, which Notre Europe aims to grow and perpetuate.’
Let us examine what Notre Europe does and its principles:
“The end goal of European integration, for Notre Europe, is the creation of a political community, beyond market and economic trading. What brings the Europeans together within the Union is therefore, beyond lifestyles, a set of founding political values. The which—freedom, democracy, rule of law, human rights—are enshrined in the treaties and itemised in the Charter of Fundamental Rights in a corpus of human rights which are at the core of integration. These values are not merely declaratory: the European Court of Justice is their ultimate guarantor”.
That last bit is the problem.
In the light of that last point, does my hon. Friend recall that the European Court of Justice has effectively stated that the provisions in the treaty that introduced the Lisbon treaty, which were meant to exempt the charter of fundamental rights, apply in the United Kingdom and that therefore the objectives he has just described would promote the striking down of UK Acts of Parliament?
I absolutely agree. It is the guarantor bit that causes the real problem in this matter.
Notre Europe also calls for
“substantial improvement to the coordination of economic policies” as part of building a European “social market economy”. Notre Europe
“insists on the pressing necessity for the Union to become a global and influential actor... It must, in due course have summoned up a defence policy and the joint forces to go with it.”
The charter also states:
“Though healthy emulation may be conceivable, nay desirable, competition between nations is the harbinger of all sorts of conflicts and the very negation of all concepts of political community, not to mention being a brake on the coherence and might of a large integrated economic block. Some types of fiscal and social competition are destructive and must be resisted.”
In other words, the European Union should set tax rates and social and employment law.
Notre Europe, which is funded from the Europe for Citizens budget line, also believes that
“there are domains where Union action is of the essence and where it will have to be increased. The issue of mobility”— currently a pertinent subject in the UK—
“comes in that scope: a European labour market is needed for those who go from one country to the next, including common rules and protections. Member States must further come to an agreement on a minimum package of social rights to be observed everywhere and at all times.”
Notre Europe also
“champions Jacques Delors’ groundbreaking vision of a Federation of Nation-States.”
It is notable that that phrase was later propounded by the current Commission President, Mr Barroso, in his state of the Union address in 2012.
Does not that episode underline the point of our signing a letter to the Prime Minister at the weekend, because it is not the lack of a power of veto that seems to matter in this case, but the reluctance to exercise a veto even when we have one?
The latter part of my hon. Friend’s intervention is exactly right. We have a veto on the matter, so it is up to Parliament to choose whether it wants to exercise it. That is the point of this debate.
Finally—this bit I find particularly galling—Notre Europe’s charter states:
‘The 21st century EU must also have at its command a budget in keeping with its ambitions. It will not be possible… to settle for a ceiling at 1.27% of Member States’ gross national product without abandoning stated goals. It must establish new own resources levied through genuine European taxation, proof perfect of European solidarity beyond the States’ calculations in terms of “return” on their contribution, calculations the philosophical, political and economic basis of which Notre Europe disputes.’
In other words, the funding that Notre Europe receives from that budget line goes to try to get a European tax to fund even more Europe.
Mr Deputy Speaker, I am sure that you, as Chairman of Ways and Means, will be pleased to know that we were fairly generous in 2013, because Notre Europe was awarded €435,500 from the Europe for Citizens budget line. It was awarded €500,000 in 2012, €550,000 in 2011 and €605,000 in 2010. That means that under the last Europe for Citizens programme that organisation was awarded a total of almost €2.1 million.
It also turns out that Notre Europe has been awarded grants for particular projects under the last Europe for Citizens programme—the European Commission likes not only to fund an organisation, but to give it things to do. In 2009 it received €46,400 for a project called “Think Global—Act European”. In 2011 it received €102,500 for a project of the same name. A cursory examination of the European Union’s budgets online shows that that programme received about €2.24 million.
Mr Kennedy, who has just left the Chamber, would have been pleased to hear my next point. Also benefiting handsomely under the previous Europe for Citizens programme is our old friend the European Movement. Hon. Members might have noticed that we all receive a regular e-mail commenting on British and European political matters from the UK chapter of the European Movement. It claims that it raises its own moneys and that its objective is to
“contribute to the establishment of a united, federal Europe”,
which is a fairly political objective.
Seemingly, however, the European Movement does receive EU moneys. The grants that I am about to list were all given to help the running of European Movement International, which is based in Brussels, rather than for any one specific project. The European Movement received €432,500 in 2013, €430,000 in 2012, and €430,000 in 2010. A little more delving shows that in 2007 it was also awarded €56,360 for a project that is not identified on the relevant list of selected projects but it still got the money. The total receipts for this organisation under the previous programme, the latest version of which the Government want us to recommend to go through, were almost €1.78 million—the best part of £1.5 million.
My final example of egregious spending under the Europe for Citizens programme is the money doled out to the Union of European Federalists. As its name suggests, this organisation is “dedicated to the promotion” of a “federal Europe”. Over the course of the previous programme, the UEF was awarded grants totalling €671,000 to support its existence—again, not to support projects that it runs. It received €121,000 in 2013, €110,000 in 2012, €110,000 in 2011, €110,000 in 2010, €110,000 in 2009, and €110,000 in 2008. It was also awarded grants for particular projects. In 2010—this money was given to the Belgian member organisation of the UEF, the Union of European Federalists Belgium, which is based somewhere in the same location—it was awarded €15,214 for a project called “European issues and citizenship”. We can see a theme running through many of the sums that are given. In 2007, it too received money—€27,670—for an unspecified project. The UEF got so much money during the course of the previous programme that it raised €714,000.
This money is paid by way of grant, out of taxpayers’ money, direct to these organisations. Does my hon. Friend accept that these organisations, including many Eurosceptic organisations, can receive money only out of donations after the tax has been paid on them? The taxpayer is funding all this.
Absolutely. In fact, the United Kingdom taxpayer is funding all this. That is why I am worried about allowing this measure to progress much further without having the opportunity to amend it to strike out the Europe for Citizens programme completely. As I said, we have the ability, as a Parliament, to do exactly that.
I have written to the Minister regarding my concerns about these moneys being spent in this fashion. At the end of last week I received a reply that is a close-to-desperate attempt to justify such spending, in which he said:
“In negotiating the regulation my officials ensured that the overall bill was cut from €229m in the Commission’s proposal to €185m, as part of the PM’s historic cut to the European budget.”
I am very pleased about that. He continued:
“The programme would cost the UK around €2-3m annually, and we will of course get some of that back in funding to projects in the UK. A recent example is a project called ‘History Speaks’ at the Holocaust Centre in Newark.”
I thought I would have a look at that project because it sounds like a really worthy project that I would want money to be spent on, and it absolutely is—it is fantastic. However, since the financial crash the Holocaust Centre in Newark, like every other organisation that does good work, has struggled financially. In 2007, this memorial and educational trust, founded 14 years ago by non-Jewish brothers Stephen and James Smith, needed to slash its annual budget from £800,000 to £500,000, and its activities such as professional training to spread the word about what the holocaust meant had to be axed so that it could focus its resources on educating the young. The centre deals with over 22,000 primary and secondary school pupils who visit it each year.
If we were really serious about this, we could ask the European Commission to rebalance the Europe for Citizens programme in negotiations. I understand that it is a complex package; indeed, I have been in trialogues between the Commission, the Parliament and the Council where such a complex package has been rebalanced before. Then we could talk about funding worthwhile commemorative projects such as the Holocaust Centre in Newark above and beyond anything we give to political organisations that should be raising their own money and not suckling on the teat of the taxpayer. Surely our Government are also capable of funding worthy remembrance and town-twinning projects. As the whole House will know, town-twinning projects do not just involve European Union countries; UK towns and cities are twinned with towns and cities across the world. EU funding is not needed for this, and so we do not need the associated EU federalist propaganda that goes with it, which, as I have proved, is a significant part of the programme.
The UK wields a veto over this draft regulation. I realise that the Government are planning to submit their support for the proposal to the approval of the House of Commons under the terms of the European Union Act 2011; the Minister has confirmed as much. However, I would be delighted if they went back to the Council and insisted on a radical rethink of the matter so that British taxpayers do not end up paying for schemes aimed at furthering a political project with which most of them disagree.
It was fairly obvious that the shadow Minister did not know what was included within these programmes. Nevertheless, as the Labour leadership is trying to engage more sensibly with the British people on European matters and has given a commitment to European Union budgetary restraint, I would like Labour Members to see this as a matter where they could help the Government to take the right course and have UK taxpayers’ money spent in a better way.
The Minister will be relieved to know that I do not intend to push for a vote on Second Reading, although others might do so. However, I will seek at a later stage to remove clause 1(2)(b), which approves the Europe for Citizens programme for the period 2014 to 2020. The Government’s programme motion provides that the Bill’s next stage will be taken in Committee of the whole House, and I look forward to that debate.
It is a particular pleasure to follow my hon. Friend Chris Heaton-Harris because he has gone through so much of the rather painful detail of what this money goes towards. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Minister on putting his case as he did. I could not quite decide whether he was modelling himself on Horatius at the bridge or the boy who stood on the burning deck, because I noticed that he was not supported not only by his Secretary of State but by any Secretary of State. He had the occasional support of the Lord Privy Seal, and I am glad that he now has the support of the Minister for Europe, but I think he should feel rather let down by Ministers who have not turned out in greater numbers to rally to this particularly disagreeable cause.
I will mention in passing the first part of the Bill, on archives and the value—or the vanity—of archives. When I was doing my A-levels, I was told that if ever we ran out of something to say when discussing 16th-century history, we should always refer to a report sent by the Venetian ambassador. That is because the archives in Venice were so great—so large and comprehensive—that nobody ever went through them all, and therefore if we attributed a view to the Venetian ambassador nobody could tell us that we were wrong. In the same way, if we were to visit the Escorial we would find that some of the documents of Philip II of Spain still have on them the sand used to blot the ink, because nobody has looked at them in the many hundreds of years that have passed. I have a feeling that the institute in Florence—this wonderful, glorious, illustrious European institute that is going to educate us so much about the virtues and kindness of the European Union—will find that the sand remains on these documents until scholars yet unborn finally get round to sweeping it off.
I want to deal most particularly with the idea of “Europe for Citizens”. Let me start by saying that I object to the idea that I am a citizen of Europe in the first place. I do not believe that it is, was or ever could be legitimate to foist a citizenship on people who have not asked for it or were not born into it. To say in about 1990, as the Maastricht treaty came through, that those of us who were proud to be subjects of Her Majesty were suddenly also citizens of some foreign multinational organisation seems to me an affront. Therefore, I deny— I repudiate—my citizenship of this body.
Order. I do not think we are going to go down that route. We are going to stick with what is before us.
I will turn to the text of the document, because we need to look at the detail of what the Government are signing us up to. My hon. Friend the Member for Daventry has mentioned paragraph 3 of the “Europe for Citizens” document, but I should like to construe it in some detail. It says:
“While there is objectively an added value in being a Union citizen with established rights, the Union does not always highlight in an effective way the link between the solution to a broad range of economic and social problems and the Union’s policies.”
But that is not true. The very fourth word of that paragraph is a falsehood. Objectively, there is no added value in being a European citizen—that is a subjective view of being a European citizen. The document is a dishonest document and we are only on the third paragraph.
The paragraph continues:
“Hence, the impressive achievements in terms of peace and stability in Europe”.
It occurs to me that the achievements in terms of peace may have had something to do with the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation and the willingness of the United States of America to spend billions of dollars on putting a defensive shield around western Europe to protect us from the USSR, the evil empire. This is a document of ipsedixitrists: people who believe that, because they say it themselves, it must be true, but, by and large, it is not true.
The paragraph goes on to tell the great joke—I doubt you ever thought, Mr Deputy Speaker, there would be such humour in a European Union document—about long-term stable growth. Tell that to the Greeks, the Italians, the Cypriots, the Spanish, the Portuguese and the Irish. Are there any other offers from hon. Members? [Hon. Members: “The French!”] The French and Monsieur Hollande would like to hear about the stable growth provided by their kind brethren in the European Union.
The paragraph goes on to tell us about the “promotion of fundamental rights”. How splendid that is. I am all in favour of fundamental rights—we have had them in this country for quite a long time—but what is the one fundamental right that the European Union disapproves of? Why, it is democracy of course. They do not like that a bit, because we might vote against them. I am sorry to say that even our own Foreign Secretary does not much like democracy any more, because he thinks this Parliament may have the discourtesy to vote against rules and regulations and instructions sent down from on high by the European Union.
The paragraph notes that the situation has, sadly,
“not always led to a strong feeling among citizens of belonging to the Union.”
My infant children blow raspberries sometimes. In this House of Commons it may not be appropriate to blow a raspberry literally, but let me metaphorically blow a raspberry at the idea of having a strong feeling about belonging to the Union.
I will come back to the next page later, because it ties in with a comment made by the Prime Minister that, importantly, needs to be examined. The sixth paragraph looks at the
“interim evaluation report of the Europe for Citizens programme”,
which says that the last programme was a great success and worked very well. The European Commission has carried out a report to say that what it has just done was enormously successful. That strikes me as, to coin a phrase, marking one’s own homework.
I will move on, if I may, to paragraph 7. Where are they going to do all this wonderful stuff? They are going to do it
“in the areas of education, vocational training and youth, sport, culture and the audiovisual sector, fundamental rights and freedoms, social inclusion, gender equality, combating discrimination, research and innovation, information society, enlargement and the external action of the Union.”
Not all of those are, in fact, competencies of the European Union, so in this article 352 extension to the powers of the EU we see an attempt to push those powers even further by spending money in areas that are not actually competencies of the EU. The Government are agreeing—in breach of the coalition agreement—to an extension of the power and competence of the European Union.
I quite like paragraph 8, because it wants to promote reflection on defining moments in European history. If we do have to have this Bill, I hope it will get through by 2015, because there are four defining moments in European history that I am looking forward to celebrating in 2015. It will, of course, be the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta; the 750th anniversary of the meeting of the House of Commons with Members from boroughs; the 600th anniversary of Agincourt; and the 200th anniversary of Waterloo. We can have a jolly time in 2015 celebrating the defining moments in European history, which I am glad to say mainly involve the success of the English and, more latterly, the British.
Given that my hon. Friend is giving such an excellent speech and talking about anniversaries, I would be failing in my duty if I did not point out that it is his wedding anniversary today and that his other half is not too far away.
My hon. Friend is spot on. He has discovered the secret of the Rees-Mogg household: we celebrate our anniversary by speaking about the European Union. I have a feeling that that is probably true of Members on both sides of the House. Could there be a nicer way to spend one’s seventh anniversary?
Reflecting on the history of Europe is important, because we as Britons can take some pride in the fact that we have on four occasions—arguably five—destroyed an attempt to have a single European superstate: Louis XIV was unquestionably one, followed by Bonaparte, the Kaiser and Hitler. It may be that the fifth attempt to create—
Order. I do like the hon. Gentleman’s history lessons, but I am bothered because this is the Second Reading debate on a Bill that is quite tight and narrow. As much as the hon. Gentleman’s history may add up, I know that he wants to actually concentrate on the Bill before us.
Order. I think I might be able to help. As much as I welcome the history lesson, it is the length of the history lesson that I do not quite need. I am sure the hon. Gentleman wishes to shorten it.
We should be proud of our influence on European history. The document goes on to say that it wants to remember the existence of European identity. I am not too sure what European identity it is talking about. I think we have an identity as people belonging to the individual nations that make up the European Union, not as people belonging to a supranational state.
We must not forget that this is a European document and no European document would be complete without at least one sentence—probably many more—of complete gobbledegook, so I shall quote one. It may be that a cleverer hon. Member present will be able to translate it. It states:
“A horizontal dimension of the Programme should ensure the valorisation and transferability of results for enhanced impact and long-term sustainability.”
Ain’t that just fine and dandy?
I want to—[Interruption.] I am scattering my papers—this is how European documents should be treated: tossed in pieces around and about—but I want to address a point that has already been raised. The nub of this is that 60% of the money spent will be spent on giving preference to initiatives and projects with a link to the political agenda of the European Union. This is all about promoting what it thinks of as being the advantage of the EU. It is about advancing the superstate and using British taxpayers’ money to do so.
To give my hon. Friend a moment to relocate his script, may I ask him whether we are perhaps in danger of being unfair to the Government? Could not the reason why our Government are so keen to suggest that we sign up to this nonsense, garbage and propaganda be that they want to impress on the House and the British people how important it is to have an in/out referendum on our membership of the European Union?
My hon. Friend makes a wonderfully ingenious point. I am not sure that a coalition Government could be quite that clever, though that may be uncharitable.
I want to move on to the real problem about the programme. In not only mine but a succession of speeches this afternoon and early evening, we have established that it is about propaganda for the European Union, but why have Her Majesty’s Government brought it before the House in a Bill when they have a veto? That question takes us to the heart of the matter—it is about trust. We are told by the Government very regularly, or at least by the Conservative part of the Government, that they are Eurosceptics and do not want to see further integration, but believe we should restore powers to the United Kingdom. Then, when they have the chance to veto something, what do they do? They bring it forward with further expenditure and adopt, or wish to adopt, a European regulation, irrespective of their previous propaganda. It seems to me that people will notice the disjunction between what is said and what is done.
Like my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry, I want to quote the Prime Minister, who said about a year ago:
“Let me make a further heretical proposition. The European Treaty commits the Member States to ‘lay the foundations of an ever closer union among the peoples of Europe’. This has been consistently interpreted as applying not to the peoples but rather to the states and institutions compounded by a European Court of Justice that has consistently supported greater centralisation. We understand and respect the right of others to maintain their commitment to this goal. But for Britain—and perhaps for others—it is not the objective.”
However, paragraph 4 of the document we are asked to approve this afternoon mentions bringing
“Europe closer to its citizens and to enable them to participate fully in the construction of an ever closer Union”.
What will people in the country say when they read in the newspapers that politicians do not stick to their promises, and when they are told by UKIP that the Tories may say they are Eurosceptic, but they are in fact little more than sheep in sheep’s clothing? They will look at us and think that we are playing ducks and drakes with them. We ought to be honest with the British people. We should make sure that our promises, words and actions go together.
When we have the power of veto, the right to stop this further piece of European integration, we should without question exercise it. The Government deserve praise for the fact that under the 2011 Act we at least have a vote, but they should never have allowed the Minister to come to the Dispatch Box with this odious piece of further pro-European integration. It is against what the Conservative party stands for, and as that party forms the majority of the coalition, it ought to be against Government policy.
I am grateful to have the opportunity, with the leave of the House, to respond to the debate, which has been wrapped up by my hon. Friend Jacob Rees-Mogg. There was an element of disloyalty from my acting Parliamentary Private Secretary, my hon. Friend Simon Kirby, who said to me during the debate, “You’d better hope that you don’t follow him.” I think that that was a reference to the rhetorical qualities of my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset, who certainly did not disappoint. It is my sad lot to have to follow his excellent and perspicacious speech.
My hon. Friend pointed out that I have been without friends on the Front Bench for most of the debate. It is true that we invited Justice Ministers to wind up the debate, because archives are obviously an important element of their portfolio, but for some reason we found that none was available. It is therefore down to me, with the leave of the House, to wind up the debate.
It is very rare for a Minister to open and close a Second Reading debate—[Interruption.] Apart from two weeks ago, it is a very rare event. [Interruption.] It happens all the time, according to Chris Bryant. Here I am, however, closing a debate that I opened. Let me begin by asking the hon. Gentleman not to intervene from a sedentary position. Frankly, if he has something to say, he should come to the Dispatch Box and say it. [Interruption.] Heis trying it again, but let me move on.
I congratulate Helen Goodman on her response to my opening remarks. She raised several points that I want to address. In relation to archives, she asked whether European institutions can deposit their documents written on vellum. That is not part of the regulations that we are debating and approving. It is of course welcome that she takes a traditionalist view of how documents should be written and archived, but it is rather sad that when any spending opportunity presents itself, she seizes the moment.
It is true that the European Central Bank will not deposit its documents in the archive. Its situation is similar to that of the Bank of England, which does not deposit its archives at the National Archives. To be frank, the hon. Lady’s point was more to do with the general issue of whether the European Central Bank is transparent enough, which is nothing to do with today’s debate.
The hon. Lady asked how much money will be spent in the UK. Many hon. Members debated the issue of how much is likely to be spent. Normally, we would expect to see a return on our investment of about 5% to 10%. Any money to support commemorations for world war one, for example, would not be part of the Government’s main programme of commemoration, but to support programmes involving different countries across Europe.
The hon. Lady said that I am not doing well enough on stopping the export of objects that have been legitimately purchased. I remind her that our export ban system has been in place for 60 years. The delay to the Bill was simply to do with finding parliamentary time.
We heard excellent speeches from my hon. Friend Mr Cash, my right hon. Friend Mr Kennedy, and my hon. Friends the Members for Stroud (Neil Carmichael), for Daventry (Chris Heaton-Harris) and, of course, for North East Somerset.
I must say that my hon. Friend the Member for Stone made a fantastic contribution. It was generous to me, and it showed off his remarkable knowledge of the subject from his 30 years of looking at European issues.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber described the Bill as “gentle”, “timorous” and “meek, mild and inoffensive”. I think he was making a plea to hon. Members not to be cruel to the Bill, but to shepherd it through with the utmost care and attention. He mentioned that the funds in one of the regulations supported the European Movement, of which he is the UK president and which, of course, was started by Sir Winston Churchill.
My hon. Friend the Member for Stroud made a very good point when he reminded us that this debate was happening because of the Conservative party and the Bill we passed, in the teeth of opposition from Labour, to give the House the opportunity to scrutinise European legislation. It is shocking, when we see the House filled up with people ready to scrutinise European legislation, that Labour still refuses to give the British people a say on their membership of Europe. It is only by voting Conservative that the British people will get a say, in a referendum, on whether we should remain a member of the EU.
My hon. Friend the Member for Daventry welcomed the scrutiny, but asked for a rebalancing of the project. He is the chairman of the Royal and Derngate theatre, and it is welcome to see him in that position. We will always find examples, as he did, of funded projects with which we disagree, but I know, as someone responsible for funding the Arts Council—I do not want to start another debate—and looking at the distribution of lottery funds, that we will always find funded projects with which we disagree and many projects we think should be funded that are not. That is in the nature of it. The process for getting funding will involve an open application system, and we should encourage people to make applications, should the House support the regulation, as there is no reason, in principle, why they should not receive funding.
This has been a lively, enjoyable and informative debate. It remains for me to conclude on the most important issue, which is of course the wedding anniversary of the hon. Member for North East Somerset. It falls on St Canute’s day. It is said in Scandinavia that good St Thomas brought Christmas and the evil Canute took it away. The death of Canute started a minor European civil war, and it is important to remember that this fund will commemorate some horrific events in Europe that are worth commemorating—the totalitarian nature of Stalinism and Nazism and the holocaust, as well as the carnage of the great war.
But I am running out of things to say. I will not refer to the Venetian ambassador. I simply commend the Bill to the House.