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Why have we decided to be members of the European Union? Is it to make a small profit, or to achieve some long-term concrete goals? If one studies the record of both Labour and Conservative Governments in the past 40 years, the goals become clear. The first is to achieve a lasting peace in Europe. The right hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble) recently attended the commemoration on the Somme and we all know from recent living memory how fatal it can be for our continent if we swerve away from that goal.
That means that we must retain as an overriding objective the goal of European harmony. We spend much time arguing about European federalism and European unity, but the central goal of the European Union is European harmony. We disturb that at our peril. That is why expansion of the EU is so important. It is not to enable us to gain the economic strengths of, for example, Hungary or Poland, but to bring the eastern European countries into the European family of nations so that they, too, are committed to harmony and unity. If that costs us 1p eachor even 2pwe should accept that price.
The second objective is the promotion of trade within the EU. The figures leave no room for doubt that that has been astonishingly successful over the years. It is crucial to Britain, as a central trading nation, that such trade continues to expand and develop.
Some Opposition Members are extremely sceptical about our membership of the EU, but are none the less willing to pay lip service to the idea. They say, "In 1965, Sir Edward Heath persuaded me to vote 'Yes'. I thought I was only joining a trading community, but I see to my horror that it is something quite different." I believe that the overwhelming majority of British exporters would subscribe to the view that it is only within the EU that we
The hon. Gentleman is becoming positively misty-eyed on the matter. I acknowledge and respect the fact that he is a committed European federast, but I presume that he does not seriously suggest that the cause of peace in Europe has been, or will be, achieved by European Communities (Finance) Bills. Why does he not simply acknowledge the central fact that the crucial and noble goal of peace in Europe has been achieved not by the European Union, but by NATO?
The central issue is that, with the Bill, we are making a commitment that protects our current level of contribution to the EU. As I and other speakers have argued, that amount is a tiny proportion of our total spending. With that commitment, we are playing a part in achieving the goal of European harmony, European trade growth and European joint commitment to a common future.
The Opposition do themselves no credit either with Labour Members or with the wider public when they try to focus the whole debate on small items of expenditure. The focus should be on where we take the European Union and whether our current finance base is sufficient for those goals.
The most important power that this House of Commons won over many centuries was the sole right to impose taxation on the British people. What we are debating here today is an incredibly expensive Bill that is a very large tax demand upon the British people, running to almost £8 billion in the current year, on the figures of my hon. Friend the Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison), and perhaps more in subsequent years.
One of the most unsatisfactory things about the Bill is that it puts forward a very complicated formula, derived from a correction to a European Commission document, for calculating how much the British people may have to
Mr. Redwood: It happens all too infrequently when we have such an unbalanced Parliament, with so many unthinking and uncritical supporters of the Government on the Government Benches. But I remember that sometimes, under previous Governments, proposals were rejected when independently minded Back Benchers combined with more independently minded Labour Back Benchers, in those days when they were in opposition, to inflict justice on the country and correct the Government's wrong decisions. I welcomed that. I was not always in the rebel Lobby myself but, as an independently minded Member, I always admired a system that could make the Government think again.
Mr. Redwood: I am not sure that I agree with that statement. I seem to remember that under Baroness Thatcher measures that had spending as well as legislative implications were rejected, so I believe that the hon. Gentleman is misinformed. That is not unusual for the Liberal Democrats, who live in a fictitious world where they cosy up to the Government at every available opportunity and then try to tell the British people the biggest mistake of them all: that they are now in some way the official and effective Opposition. Yet we see them on their knees in the Chamber day after day, grovelling to, agreeing with and supporting the Government; and then they dare to tell the public outside the House that they are in some way Opposition MPs.
Today the hon. Gentleman again showed that there was no stuffing in him. He said that he agreed with some of the things that the Government did. He said that he would support them in the Lobby tonight. However, if one listened carefully, one detected a soupcon of criticism because the Government were not giving enough of our money awaythey were not going wholeheartedly enough in the European federal direction. So I will take no lectures from the Liberal Democrats on how to conduct ourselves in the Chamber and how to hold this unworthy Government to account.
The Government are after our money yet again. After the stealth taxes of the last Parliament, they have the gall to come before us today with this socking great bill, and they cannot even tell us exactly how much money is entailed. Nor, of course, can they tell us how the money will be spent. In the debate, these important points have already been dragged out of a reluctant Government. They do not know how much will be spent. They do not know entirely how it will be spent. They have very little control
So I say to the House, do not just look at the net cost, whatever that may be; my hon. Friend the Member for Hertsmere suggested £3 billion as a good starting price. Look at the gross cost: £7.5 billion or rather moreit has been in other yearsgoing out from our taxpayers. All that money will be spent in ways to be determined by unelected people in Brussels, and quite a lot of it spent in places far from any of our constituencies.
Mr. Beard: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman, who is making a most interesting fact-free point. I have the figures. In 1995remember who was in office thenour net contribution, with abatements, was £4 billion; in 1996, it was £2.3 billion; in 2000, it was scheduled to be £2.4 billion. Those figures should hardly turn the earth upside down and cause the revolution to which he is pointing.
Mr. Redwood: I am delighted that the hon. Gentleman thinks that I am pointing to a revolution, as I have not come to my prescription for what might be done in place of the Bill. He has missed my main point, which is that he should look at gross spending, which is what requires taxation to be levied in this country.
My worry is that the Government, who recommend the surrender of 29 or more vetoes over important policy matters in the Nice treaty, are, by stealth, giving away the power of this placeand, therefore, of the British peopleto tax themselves in the way in which they and their elected representatives choose.
Two documents accompany this debate. The first is the Bill, which refers to the Commission decision of September 2000 contained in an extended paper. If it is passed, the Bill will expressly write the paper into our legislation. It is most important that we study the paper as carefully as we do this slim Bill. The Bill, as I have said, is probably the dearest Bill that has ever come before this House, costing about £60 million for every word.
The document is even more worrying than the Bill itself. Labour Members and Ministers will argue that we have had finance Bills from the EU before. That is quite true; they have always caused me some difficulty, because they represent budgets that have high proportions of waste and fraud and expenditure in far-away countries that do not give any direct or indirect benefits to my constituents. What is worrying is the wording in the attached paper concerning future intentions over our abatement and the power of the Community to tax directly.