Outcome of the European Union Referendum - Motion to Take Note (Continued)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 8:40 pm on 6th July 2016.

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Photo of Lord Shutt of Greetland Lord Shutt of Greetland Liberal Democrat 8:40 pm, 6th July 2016

My Lords, when I saw that I was to be preceded by the noble Lord, Lord Desai, I knew it would be a case of “Follow that”. I will try. I had hoped otherwise, but I feared the result that we have. As speaker No.108, I go back to the introduction by the Leader, the noble Baroness, Lady Stowell, yesterday and I précis it: we must make the best of a bad job. But let us look at the good job of the EU—I will try to help the noble Lord, Lord Cavendish, here. It seems to me that there are three major elements to the EU: there is the issue of peace, reconciliation and the world order, human rights, and fraternity, including areas such as the Erasmus programme for youth exchange; secondly—so much has been said about this—the promotion of and involvement in the single market; and, thirdly, the combining of financial resources, including but not exclusively, the redistribution of resources from the rich to the poor nations.

I would like us to consider that third element a bit further. It is very relevant—even if the result of the referendum were somehow to be reversed, it is still relevant. Using 2004 figures, the UK contribution to the EU was €14 billion, but there was a return of €7 billion. Amazingly, many people seem to think that we in the UK are the only people putting any money into Europe, but we are eighth in the list per head; it is under £100 a head per annum. Where does the money come back to? Of the €7 billion that comes back, €4 billion is returned to agriculture, €1.72 billion to regional development, and more than €1 billion to research and development. These are areas where resources are needed here in the UK.

As I understand it, we are in until we are out. We do not know how long negotiations to depart will take. There are not many who think it will take two years. I have heard five years; I have heard up to 10 years. Therefore, our involvement in the budget could last a very long time. I have three areas on which I would like question the Minister. What is the attitude—where is human nature?—of those looking for European Union money now, today? They might think, “We had better get an application in fast, or else it will be gone”. Or they might say, “What is the point? We are on our way; there is little point in applying”. Whose job is it to make certain that applications continue to go in and that the UK gets its fair share of what ought to be returned? Is there a parliamentary element to this?

Secondly, what will be the attitude of those in charge of budget heads in the European Union where funds should be returned to the EU? Will they be thinking, “Oh, they are on their way out; we need not respond to that particular application. Anyway, we have programmes that last five or seven years and they will not be there at the end of it”? Will they be saying no? Whose job is it to see that the EU grant-making budget is used properly and that the UK gets its proper share? Is there a parliamentary element to this?

It must be somebody’s job to assess the areas where there should be return grants. If they are not there, proper consideration should be given to a replacement. Indeed, there may well be items of EU expenditure where money is returned here which the UK Government have forgotten about. We have been in the EU for 43 years and there is no budget head here at all to look at. The EU grants budget should be looked at and gone through with a tooth-comb to be certain that the UK is clear of its future needs. Whose job is it and is there a parliamentary role for this too? I believe we are in until we are out and the return grants budget is very important.