Amendment proposed: 1, page 1, line 18, leave out subsection (3).—(Barbara Keeley.)
This amendment removes the automatic coming into force of the Act two months after it is passed, which would be incompatible with any of the new Clauses.
Question put, That the amendment be made.
The Committee divided:
Ayes 254, Noes 301.
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.
The Bill gives UK approval to the financing aspects of the 2013 EU budget deal. As hon. Members will recall, in 2013, the Prime Minister secured a deal that delivered the first ever real-terms cut to the EU budget and preserved our rebate. If we are tightening our belts at home, we should not be spending more through the EU—and thanks to the Prime Minister’s historic deal, we are not. It is a good deal for the taxpayer now and over the coming years.
In addition to forcing restraint on EU expenditure on the revenue side, it was a specific UK objective that there would be no new types of member state contribution; no new EU-wide taxes to finance EU spending; and no change to the UK rebate. That is precisely what we achieved. The political agreement at the February 2013 European Council was accurately reflected in the new own resources decision. This sets out the system of financing the EU budget until 2020, and was agreed unanimously by member states at a meeting of the Council of Ministers in May 2014.
Hon. Members will have noted that the ORD reintroduces reductions in the gross national income-based contributions of the Netherlands and Sweden, and introduces small reductions in those contributions for Denmark and Austria. The UK will contribute to these small corrections, but this will largely be offset by changes to other corrections. The UK has always supported the principle of budgetary corrections set out at the 1984 Fontainebleau European Council, which gave us our own rebate. In the absence of any meaningful reform on the expenditure side of the EU budget, we believe that those member states that, like the UK, make disproportionately large net contributions in relation to their prosperity, should receive corrections.
The Bill will give UK approval to the unanimous agreement on the new ORD—an agreement that maintains the existing system of financing the EU budget. That means no new types of member state contributions; no new EU-wide taxes to finance EU spending; and, crucially, no change to our rebate.
This agreement is in our national interest. It also serves as an important reminder of what can be done when we are tough, constructive, positive and determined in negotiations with European partners. The agreement that will be implemented by this Bill is a good deal for Britain and a good deal for Europe, and I commend it to the House.
I am glad that new clauses 1 and 2 were discussed earlier. Given the result of the vote, I urge the Minister to consider the importance of keeping EU budget spending under review. As I said earlier, the system of commitments and payments is worrying. We want a system of budgetary control, not a system that drives up the pressure for increases through unpaid bills and commitments made in years past.
I also urge the Minister to continue to focus on the need for reform of EU budget priorities, which we spent some time discussing, and, in particular, on the need to increase funding for competitiveness, jobs and growth. It is important for Ministers to be able to reshape EU budget priorities, but, following our discussions, I am not sure that they have that ability.
The Minister resisted our amendments, and resisted our requests for him to make a sensible undertaking that would have removed the necessity for a vote. His position on our amendment and new clauses suggests that he is content with the reports and reviews that are trundling along in the EU, and it does not send the strong message that could be sent about the need for enhanced scrutiny and reformed priorities. That is a pity, and I hope that the Minister will continue to reflect on it.
Thinking back to all the Committee sittings, I recall that the Minister did not feel able to give an effective answer to questions about the Prime Minister’s negotiating stance in relation to the forthcoming European question and, particularly, European finances. He was asked a number of times—by me and by other Members, including Labour Front Benchers—what would be distinctive about that stance, and what the Prime Minister’s precise objectives were. The Minister responded by telling us that the Government’s objective was to minimise the EU budget, to ensure that it was efficient, and to protect the rebate, but that has been Government policy for a number of years. What really interested Members was whether the Prime Minister had a specific intent and negotiating stance, and what his objectives were. We were interested in those questions in the context of European finances, so that we could judge his success or failure after the negotiations.
If the Minister does not feel able to provide an answer to what strikes me as a very reasonable and fair question, he will add to and fuel suspicions among both pro- and anti-Europeans in the House that it is not just a question of the Prime Minister’s having a stance, but of the Prime Minister and the Government deliberately concealing the nature of that stance from the House and the country, so that it will not be possible for them to be judged effectively when the negotiations are over. That seems to me to be a fundamentally unsatisfactory way to proceed in regard to any financial issue, let alone an issue as important as European finance.
The Minister shakes his head. I hope that, if he disagrees, he will intervene and reveal what the Prime Minister’s stance actually is, because we are all mystified by what the targets are in the negotiations that are at this moment taking place in various European capitals. The Prime Minister, on our behalf and at our expense, is moving from capital to capital, and the only people who are not to be informed of his actual negotiating posture are the Members of this House and the people of this country. That is a remarkable position.
I am familiar with the Minister’s steady hand at the Dispatch Box, and with his wonderful cover drive. I know that he would not want, at the very last minute of the Bill’s progress in the House of Commons, to be caught at slip in not answering a simple question: what are the Prime Minister’s negotiating targets, and how will we be able to judge whether he has achieved them?
Question put and agreed to.
Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.