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Dr. Palmer: I do not want to be unkindI know that the right hon. Gentleman grew up before the numeracy hour was introducedbut he says that the total cost of the Bill will be £60 million a word. As the total costor gross cost, as he prefersis £7 billion, does he reckon that there are only 100 words in the Bill?
The important point in the attached document is paragraph 16, which states that the Commission shall undertake before 1 January 2006 a general review of the operation of the own resources system accompanied if necessary by appropriate proposals in the light of all relevant factors including the effects of enlargement on the financing of the budget of the European Union with the possibility of modifying the own resources structure by creating new autonomous own resources. From reading the document, one can see that it is wonderful prose. It is the kind of thing that one would fall asleep over whenever one picked it up. However, it is important that we do not fall asleep over this leaden, dead and deadly prose. What it means in normal language is that they have gone away and worked out how to impose direct, new European taxes on the British peopleas well as citizens in other countries in the EUbecause they are after our money and they would rather do it directly.
The House and those who may hear about this outside need not believe me on this. They will say, "We all know that the right hon. Member for Wokingham is very sceptical on these matters." However, they should certainly believe the ambassador of Belgium who, on the "Today" programme only this week, affirmed that the Belgian presidency, which is about to start, has as one of its main aims the creation of those very autonomous own resourcesthose very European taxesthat we see written into the document and referred to in the Bill. So before the House allows the Bill to proceed, we need to ask what those new taxes might be and why the Government have signed up to the possibility of investigating such taxes, with the presumptionthey always like to say that they get on with all the colleagues in the EUthat they will go along with the conclusions of the report, which will undoubtedly involve imposing direct new taxes on British and other voters in the EU.
We already know exactly what the EU has in mind. The Paymaster General chaired a most important working group to try to get rid of what the EU calls unfair tax competition practices. She did so with the express intention of making corporation taxes more penal in the United Kingdom and its offshore islands and dependencies, which have more favourable business tax regimes. I am sure that that is one of the ideas that the EU intends to press home. There is no evidence that the British Government object in principle to that proposal; there is every evidence that they are collaborating by stealth.
Mr. Andrew Smith: Why cannot the right hon. Gentleman accept the assurances, which I gave earlier in answer to his question on this very point, that the Government do not support a new EU tax? I cannot put it clearer than that. We do not support such a tax and such matters should be decided by national Parliaments, accountable to national populations for the tax decisions that they make. Let him forget the fantasy strain of his argument.
Mr. Redwood: How can it be fantasy when the words appear in the paper, which the Government have sanctioned, that we are consideringa proper, high-level study of new European taxes? Will the right hon. Gentleman now stand up and say that he will strike those proposals from the document and that he will move an amendment to the Bill tonight? Will he say that the Government have made an awful mistake and that they do not want the EU to investigate those new taxes? If he moves such an amendment, I shall rush to the Lobby to vote for it. I should be a co-signatory of such an amendment if he would like to share the Order Paper with me when we debate the Bill again.
I offer the Chief Secretary the opportunity to intervene, but we see that the Government are signed up to the new European taxes. They will not strike those proposals from the document; they will not move a suitable amendment, as we know from the Government's actions. The Paymaster General chaired the working party, and the Chief Secretary cannot stand at the Dispatch Box and renounce her works, saying that, of course, it was a huge mistake that they were dragged into discussing unfair tax competition and that there is no unfair tax competition.
I should like the British Government to say, "We want taxes to be lower here than in competitive countries." I should like them to say, "There is nothing unfair about having lower taxes than other countries." That is a sign of good sense and good management, and the main aim of public policy should be to have lower taxes so that people and businesses prosper and more investment is attracted to this country. We could then have better public services because a much more prosperous economy would be taxed at a lower rate. If only the Government would understand that and, instead of occasionally paying lip service to it when speaking to business audiences, actually do it, they might lift the growth rate and make us more prosperous.
Mr. Beard: Will the right hon. Gentleman explain why public services did not improve under the Governments of whom he was a member, who determined to have low taxes and under whom this country's public services rotted and declined to an unprecedented degree?
Mr. Redwood: I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman's analysis at all. Many improvements were made in many public services during the Conservative years, which is why the Conservatives were regularly re-elected with large majorities.
Mr. Redwood: I should be very happy to name the improvements, but it would take a very long time; there are so many of them. A large number of improvements were made in the local police service in my area, with the recruitment of many more police and a falling crime rate in the later years. There were many new hospitals and schools, and many extra public service workers were recruited. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman was a Member in those days and that he will remember the very long list of achievements that the then Prime Ministers
We cannot trust the Government on taxation because of their past actions. I give the Chief Secretary another example. He said that they would never accept new European taxes, but they were forced to accept the art levy. It is doing grave damage to the art market in Britain, as it was designed to do, and it does damage to art markets throughout the European Union. It will send many transactions and deals outside the EU altogether. At the time, the Government claimed that they were battling against the levy, but they then discovered that they could not succeed. Therefore, they caved in and we ended up with a tax that nobody in this country wanted.
We fear that the same will happen with the energy levy, which is one of the most obvious candidates mentioned by the Belgium Government, who now hold the presidency. They want to impose a Community-wide energy tax and to produce from it direct revenues for the financing of Community expenditure.
We know that the European Union harbours ambitions to turn VAT from a European-determined tax to a European-collected tax. It wishes to go the whole hog, so that all VAT is collected centrally through Brussels. We will no longer be able to determine under such a system how much is levied here and how much is levied in Belgium or France. It will be necessary to establish a grant formula rather like our complicated local government grant formulas to decide how much will be given back.
Will the Government guarantee today that they will never accept such a proposal? Will they reassure us and say to our partners in Europe, through this debate, that there is no point in the Commission working on such proposals or in member states discussing them because the British Government will veto them? I shall be happy to give way to the Chief Secretary if he will confirm that we will never accept such a VAT system. Once again, he stays in his place, so it is clear that there is another item on the Government's secret stealth agenda to transfer VAT to Brussels as a European tax. [Interruption.] He chuckles and laughs but he will not give us the guarantee that any decent Chief Secretary would give if he had no serious intention of negotiating on such matters.