5.10 pm Hansard Link
Mr William Cash
(Stone) (Con): The Labour party—the Opposition—will of course vote with us this evening, not the other way round. As the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr Skinner) correctly pointed out, exactly the same happened with the Maastricht treaty.
The amendment proposed so ably by my hon. Friend the Member for Rochester and Strood (Mark Reckless) is absolutely right. It deals not just with the mechanics or the technicalities, but with what is really going on under the surface. The real questions are, “Where is the money coming from?”, and “What is the object of this multiannual financial framework?”
I have been to many conferences in the past year in my capacity as Chairman of the European Scrutiny Committee—in Cyprus and Denmark, and, before that, elsewhere—and I have attended similar conferences with my right hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr Lidington). They are living on another planet: that is the real problem. The main feature of that big landscape is where we are today. This is part of a picture that must be dealt with.
I know that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is conscious of that. He knows that Mr Barroso’s speech calling for a federal Europe, which was made only a short time ago, has put us at a crossroads. We cannot continue to assume that what was being considered before that date still applies. We are now on a different journey. They are on one planet, and we are on another. We have to make a stand, and that is what this is all about.
A letter dated 18 December 2011 from the Prime Minister and from the Prime Ministers of several other member states, included the following passage:
“European public spending cannot be exempt from the considerable efforts made by the Member States to bring their public spending under control.”
We are cutting here; we need growth. They are not cutting, but increasing. That is the point.
(Dudley South) (Con): I know that my hon. Friend has a great deal of empathy with the private sector. The private sector is the engine of growth in our economy and it becomes more efficient every year, but does my hon. Friend agree that in Brussels the only thing that increases is the appetite for our money?
: Absolutely. It is impossible to make any public expenditure—including our contributions to the whole of the public sector: health, education, local government, the lot—unless the money comes from reasonably taxed small and medium-sized enterprises. Yet the whole of the Commission’s paper—which is at the heart of the 2020 strategy and at the heart of why the Commission is asking for this increased amount of money, which it calls an investment for growth—contains only one reference to small and medium-sized businesses, in one line. That is the problem we are up against. We cannot give money to the public sector unless we get it from private enterprise on a reasonably taxed basis.
The Prime Minister’s letter continues:
“The action taken in 2011 to curb”
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—“curb”: that is the word he uses—
“annual growth in European payment appropriations should therefore be stepped up progressively over the remaining years of this financial perspective and payment appropriations should increase, at most, by no more than inflation over the next financial perspectives.”
The situation was wrong then, and it has got worse since. That was in December 2011. We are now in October 2012, and we know what the picture is, and it is getting progressively worse. That is why we had to call for a reduction rather than merely what the Prime Minister describes as an
“increase, at most, by no more than inflation over the next financial perspectives.”
Mr Christopher Chope
(Christchurch) (Con): Will my hon. Friend take some support from the fact that on 20 June our right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary told this House he thought reductions in the EU budget of 20% were “highly desirable”?
: Absolutely; that is a very good point indeed.
I would like to dig a little deeper into what this money is supposed to be used for. It is all set out in the papers laid before the House for the purposes of this debate. They talk about turning the EU into a “smart”—whatever that means—“sustainable and inclusive economy” delivering
“high levels of employment productivity and social cohesion.”
How on earth are they going to achieve that given the measures they think will produce growth? Almost every single aspect of what they want to deliver is based on increasing grants and subsidies, but not on asking where the money is coming from.
The money comes from our constituents. It comes from the taxpayer. It does not grow on trees. That is what they do not understand. Therefore, the entire strategy on which this multiannual financial framework is based is nonsense. It is an Alice in Wonderland fantasy, as I have repeatedly said when I have had the opportunity to meet the other 27 Chairmen of the national scrutiny committees. I have noticed that there is increasing awareness, too. The hon. Member for Luton North (Kelvin Hopkins) was with me only a few weeks ago, and he noticed the degree of response I was getting from the other member states’ national chairmen. They understood that they were in deep trouble.
The money does not grow on trees in Spain; that is why there are demands for independence from Catalonia. The money does not grow on trees in France or Germany either. The fact is that it has to be found.
Wayne David: The hon. Gentleman and I have significant differences about what this country’s approach to the EU should be, but does he agree that the important thing at this moment in time, with every EU member state having to make public expenditure cuts, is that the EU itself should make cuts? That message should go out from both sides of this House.
: The hon. Gentleman is right. I do not think this is just a cynical move, even though there is an element of that. As I find when I go to meetings with those in the presidency, there is a recognition: they know they cannot go on spending money that is not there. That is the truth. That is all this argument is really about. It is about the big landscape of whether, like Mr Micawber, we can just hope something will turn up. It will not; it has to be built through real growth policies.
Unfortunately, the report the European Commission produced only a few months ago shows it has not got a clue how to generate that growth. I was also deeply disturbed to see that the amazing report by the European Parliament calling for all these increases was welcomed by the vice-president of the European Commission, Maroš Šefcovic. He said the MFF was “an investment budget” for delivering growth in “the entire EU.” He condemns himself outright simply by endorsing the 150 pages of unadulterated rubbish that came out of the European Parliament in its interim report.
: Even for those in the House who are genuine Keynesians, if our goal is to stimulate the economy is it possible to think of a worse way to spend money than the way the MFF sets out for the EU?
: I absolutely agree. The real problem is that their answer is to give more money to the public sector and to ventures and projects that, as the Court of Auditors report shows, increasingly fail. The trouble is that the European project is a failing project.
They will not recognise that, so what are they doing? They are saying, “We are going to go off and have a federal Europe.” Well, let them have it. They can have their federal Europe if they want, but we, in this country, cannot possibly be part of it—that is unthinkable. The Prime Minister knows it is unthinkable, and my genuine belief is that he will come to discover that it would be better to veto this and to ensure it does not go through, because he has already been presented with the crossroads. The crossroads was presented by Mr Barroso, and the crossroads is being presented by the other member states. There is no turning back. We therefore have to say no. We say no to this, we say no to the illegal banking regulations that we have just been looking at and we will be saying no to the proposals for any new treaty. If we are prepared to put our money where our mouth is and actually say that we will not accept this, we will be serving the national interest.
(Vauxhall) (Lab): I support the amendment standing in the name of the hon. Member for Rochester and Strood (Mark Reckless); as a signatory to it, I am delighted to do so. I am also delighted that members of my Front-Bench team are, for a change, on the same side as me and my hon. Friends the Member for Luton North (Kelvin Hopkins) and Blackley and Broughton (Graham Stringer), among others. It is nice to see so many people in the Chamber.
We sometimes say, “This shows Parliament at its best.” If this amendment is not passed tonight, we will be showing Parliament at its worst, because a lot people here will not be doing what they really want to do. A lot people here, on both sides of the House, will be doing what their party has asked them to do. I believe, fundamentally, that the issue of Europe has reached the point where party is not as important as the issue. I genuinely believe that we, in this Parliament, are way behind the public on the question of Europe. I am pleased that things seem to be moving in the direction of the Labour Members and the Government Members
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who see things as I do. Many of us have worked together on this for many years, going back as far as the time of the Maastricht treaty, when the same pressure was applied by the Labour Whips to vote on it as is probably being applied to Government Members now.
I do not believe that the public would understand the nuances being used here. I refer to the weeny words of the Minister, who was not prepared to give way to me for some reason—I do not know what I have done to upset him—on the issue of why the Government could not support the amendment. He said that it was because the amendment did not contain any criticism of my party when it was in government. We have made criticisms of my party when it was in government—I have done so, as have my hon. Friend the Member for Luton North and various others. Many Labour Members and many others within the Labour party did not support the rebate being removed.
(Luton North) (Lab): Many of us have been critical of the giving away of the rebate, both publicly before the last election and since. The Government make much of that event, but I have said to them in this Chamber, “If you feel so seriously about it, why haven’t you demanded it back?” They have had two and a half years to do that.
: I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. Tonight, we have an opportunity to make it public that there is a united Parliament, for whatever reason and motive. The reality is that we are a united Parliament and we are saying, “We do not want one penny extra spent. We want to see a cut in what the European Union is spending.” I want to see more than that. I want a referendum on our relationship with Europe. I want an end to this nonsense, which we keep putting up with. We could make a decision tonight that says, “We do not want to see an increase—we want to see a cut.” However, come the end of the process, by majority voting, we could be outvoted, no matter how many diplomatic skills we use. I am sure that many hon. Members think that they could do better if they were negotiating, but no matter how good our negotiating skills we may not get what we have asked for. My view is that we should veto at that point and then, when we are sent our bill, we should say no and tell them that we will send what we agreed. We should tell them that we will not send them an increase.
Labels: Bill Cash MP, Kate Hoey MP