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6.50 pm

Sir Teddy Taylor (Rochford and Southend, East): I have a few questions and I hope that I shall get some answers.

I was glad to hear the thoughtful and challenging speech of my hon. Friend the Member for West Chelmsford (Mr. Burns). He talked about the transfer of power to this European organisation. Bearing it in mind that this is an important issue that will cost much public money and involve a substantial transfer of power, it would be helpful if the Minister could tell us whether it will make the slightest difference whether we vote for or against the motion. I hesitate to mention voting because my party has recently made it clear that we do not want to vote on anything, but I should like to establish the point.

My first point is that there is much undue optimism and hopefulness about the establishment of this massive new body. Instead of discussing how to set up this huge new

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organisation, which will overshadow organisations that are already working well, would it not be infinitely better for Britain, and for Europe, to set up an organisation to consider the basic problem of over-production of food?

I ask that question because the Minister may have noticed that on Friday I received a written answer that described the success of the European Union in destroying food. I found to my astonishment that last year 269,000 tonnes of apples were destroyed at public expense, as were 255,000 tonnes of peaches, 229,000 tonnes of oranges and much more besides. Well over 1 million tonnes of food were destroyed at public expense when we have already paid farmers a great deal of public money to produce it. Is there not a danger of over-optimism? What will this new organisation be able to do that is not already being done by our national organisations?

Secondly, how much power will be transferred? The report of the European Scrutiny Committee notes:

and that, although responsibility was not exclusive to the Community—

It strikes me that there will be a substantial transfer of power to the EU and that, once it goes, our Parliament, our Government and the European Parliament will have no control over what happens: total independence will be given to the organisation.

The organisation's remit will cover matters such as animal health. What powers will it have on that? For example, if it thought that the conditions in which calves were kept in, for example, like Holland were deplorable, shocking and disgraceful, what could it do about it? People who are concerned about animal welfare will be especially interested to learn from the Minister about the powers that the organisation will have to deal with nasty or cruel conditions.

Thirdly, I want to ask about the power to charge fees, which is another substantial power being given to the organisation. In three years, it will be able to charge fees for any of its services. If British food producers, farmers or shopkeepers thought that the costs and fees were unfair or unreasonable, what exactly could they do about it? My understanding is that once the organisation has decided on its fees, there is nothing that we can do about them.

Fourthly, will the Government have any power or control over the organisation? The proposed article 37 includes the words:

That means that they should not be subject to any political controls. Is it a fact that that organisation, once established, is fully independent and cannot be controlled in any way?

Fifthly, where will the organisation be located? It is most unusual to have before us a motion that does not allow us to decide anything that sets up an expensive new organisation in an unknown location. Of all the European organisations, such as banks, that have been established, hardly any have come to the United Kingdom. Has it been decided where this organisation will be located, and if not, who will decide?

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Sixthly, I want to ask about the costs. The hon. Member for South-East Cornwall (Mr. Breed) said that there was no indication of costs, but there are a good many references to them in the papers that we have been given. Paragraph 27 of the explanatory memorandum, headed "Financial implications", says that the start-up costs were to be £5.4 million, the annual costs initially £14.9 million and the running costs thereafter £26.6 million. Is that a realistic projection? Will we in fact spend £26.6 million after spending the £5.4 million, and will the costs be kept under control? My feeling is that, like all the Euro-ventures, it will probably end up costing a great deal more.

Seventhly, I want to ask the Minister about media, because the legislation and papers refer to the organisation's setting up a substantial media organisation. If the British Parliament, the British Government, the European Parliament or any other democratic body thought that the organisation was using its media consultants and staff—which are provided for in the legislation referred to in paragraphs 23 and 23.1 of the Government response to the report of the House of Lords Select Committee on the European Union, headed "Risk communication and relations with the media"—to put out information that they regarded as unsatisfactory, untruthful or misleading, what power would our Government have over the organisation? My understanding is that they would have none.

Eighthly, what controls will the organisation have over imports? All the written answers on imports make it abundantly clear that as a result of our chronic problem of over-production of everything in Europe, which is getting a great deal worse, there is massive pressure to try to restrict and control imports. I do not feel a special obligation in that respect because I consider that we have a responsibility to other countries that produce excellent food to high standards that the consumers of Britain like to consume.

I always buy New Zealand butter because I know that it is produced in a country where standards are high, and the knowledge that it is produced without subsidies adds to my enjoyment when I eat it. I would be very upset if I felt that our European so-called friends were going to have the power to restrict or control imports from such countries. I simply ask the Minister, if, for example, the new organisation said, "Because of a specific plant or flower, we take the view that New Zealand butter is unacceptable" because we have too much butter of our own, what could New Zealand, the British Government or consumers who wanted to consume it do?

I am afraid that I have been a bore about this over the years, but in Europe we have set up a number of organisations over which we and our democratic bodies have no control, but in respect of which we have expressed undue hope and optimism. I found that that was the case when I had the pleasure of being a member of the Treasury Committee—although I misbehaved—for a brief period and visited Germany and France.

I met the business communities there to discuss the single currency. They all thought that everything was going to be wonderful. The Germans were delightful people. They said, "We've got a rubbish Government and, unfortunately, rubbish Opposition but once we get the single currency everything will be sorted out."

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The French were even nicer, although they seemed to drink a little more. They said that they had a mad Government who were, unfortunately, introducing a 35-hour week, but that all that would stop once they had the single currency. In the continent of Europe, they seem to think that anything new and any new power, such as the food authority, will bring benefits that they simply do not bring.

Another strange aspect of the matter is that on page 18, the document uses the words

That influenced me a great deal. Will the Minister say how the body will be open to public scrutiny? If my constituents, the Confederation of British Industry or some organisation in my constituency wanted to find out more about it, how would they do so? She will be well aware that organisations set up under the European Union are not open to public scrutiny.

For example, on financial controls, the Minister will be aware of the horrific news the other day that for six years the Court of Auditors has not approved the EU accounts. The way in which the money is being spent should be a matter of concern.

I do not wish to speak for too long as other hon. Members want to contribute, although the motion does not matter and it will not make the slightest difference what we say about this or any other matter relating to the European Union. What benefit will result from this measure? Are we not simply transferring powers that were effectively controlled and managed and that could be altered and adjusted as we thought appropriate?

I was interested to hear all the talk about labelling. Hon. Members must know that although we propose private Members' Bills, the system is a load of codswallop. We do not have the power or control. Although we can let people put "Made in England" on goods, we cannot demand, under European laws, that it be stated that something is made in Germany, France or Portugal.

There is a danger that we think that we have powers that we do not have. Tonight we are simply transferring more power for something that will be of no good purpose. We are setting up an organisation that we cannot control. It will be wholly independent and outside democratic control and it will cost us a great deal of money. We are transmitting far more powers than we contemplate. The measure is a great mistake. I think that we could press the matter to a vote, but bearing in mind the views of the Conservative party—we do not want to vote on anything—I will not do so. We certainly should make it clear that we regret the measure and are concerned about it.

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