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In the final stages of todays consideration, I want to mention how unfortunate it is that so little time has been allowed to debate a Bill that will see £104 billion of taxpayers money spent over the next few years. It is a great shame that this evenings debate was not allowed to continue until any hour. I have to have sympathy for the Chief Secretary, who battled hard, although I am afraid he has no support on the Government Benches. He did his best while batting on a very sticky wicket, defending the indefensible. He did not deny the fact that as from 2007, we are going to have a net contribution to the EU of £4.7 billion, which is expected to be £6.8 billion by 2011. That cannot be and is not a good deal for the British taxpayer.
My most important point relates to what the Chief Secretary said at the very beginning of the debatethat the EU would implode if we did not agree to the Bill tonight. Let me quote him what Her Majestys Treasury says about that:
If any Member State fails to adopt the new Own Resources Decision by 31 December 2008 then the current Own Resources Decision (Council Decision of 29 September 2000: 2000/597/EC, Euratom) continues to operate until such time as the adoption process is completed, with the new Own Resources Decision then coming into force on the first working day of the month following the date of notification of the final adoption or ratification, retrospective to 1 January 2007.
Her Majestys Treasury says that the whole EU would not collapse. The budget would remain, but on the basis of the existing formula. The Chief Secretary could therefore quite happily have agreed to the new clause tabled from the Opposition Front Bench. That is a missed opportunity, which I believe the Government will rue.
The Government have an obligation to ensure that every red penny of taxpayers money is spent efficiently. That applies to the money that will be given over by the Government to fund enlargement. Fifteen years ago, I went to Mayo to go fishing, and I had the great pleasure of flying into Knock international airport. It is in the middle of an enormous great bog; it is a very beautiful bog, but a bog nevertheless, with an international airport in it. When one gets out of the plane to get a taxi, one is swept down an amazing highwaya dual carriageway with many beautiful blue signs saying Made possible by the European Union. After about 7 miles, one reaches nothing more than a cattle track. It would be argued in Ireland that that is effective spending of European money. On being asked why on earth there should be an international airport at Knock, the taxi driver said, Because somebody had a vision that it needed to be here. We observed rather
dryly that it was probably the building contractor. Anyway, that demonstrates the sort of thing we need to guard against as we pass over this money to an expanding Europe.
The Government need to reassure the House over and over againand prove over and over againthat every penny is being spent effectively. They need to do that because at this moment they are breaking deals with public servants left, right and centre. The Chief Secretary spoke of the importance of not breaking deals, but if somebody is a prison officer their deal has been broken, and if they are a police officer their deal has been broken. It is not impossibleI cannot believe that it is impossiblefor the Government to find a few extra millions, £30 million to £60 million, to ensure that at least prison officers and police officers, who do the hardest job in the country, receive the money that they deserve.
Mr. Jenkin: I listened to much of the opening skirmishes of the debate on clause 1 stand part, and I am afraid that I heard nothing to convince me that it is in the national interest to give the Bill a Third Reading. I put it to the Chief Secretary that he should take his arguments down to his local pub in the constituency, and tell those who are enjoying themselves there that he has personally put through a Bill that will give the European Union an extra £7.4 billion of taxpayers money over the planned period of the current financial perspective. I do not think he will get a very good reception.
I am afraid that it is an indictment of the House that this is almost a private occasion for the few Members who are present this evening, and the very few others whom I might be tempted to spy in the House. This is a serious matter. It is extraordinary that, at a time when the pressure is on public spending and given that the rate of growth of public services such as health and education is to be much curtailed in the years ahead, the Government have squandered such a vast sum on the notion, described to us by the Chief Secretary, that somehow we will get back the money that is to be spent in the European Union through our relationship with the European Union.
I want to explore two of those points. The idea that public spending creates prosperity was debunked in the 1970s, and has long been dismissed. There was recently a savage analysis of the efficiency of the European structural funds, showing how inefficiently and wastefully they are spent. That was just adumbrated by my hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne (Mr. Walker), who gave the example of Knock airport. I have nothing against Knock itself
Of course it is a religious shrine. Perhaps the matter has something to do with the Catholic plot that was referred to earlier, and the European Union, but I had better not go there. In any event, there is no evidence that European structural funds are any better spent than other parts of the European Union budget. The European Court of Auditors has failed to sign off
the EUs accounts for the last 13 years because it is so concerned about the EUs inability to account for how its money it spent.
Andy Burnham: We could have a debate about fraud related to structural and cohesion funding, but did I hear the hon. Gentleman correctly? Is he saying that there is no evidence that money from structural funds has not helped the economies of the countries that have received it? Merseyside, in my home region, has received substantial objective 1 funding over many years. Is he saying that the improvement in Merseysides local economy is unrelated to any impact from structural funding? I find that very hard to believe.
Mr. Jenkin: I know that the right hon. Gentleman finds it hard to believe, but what has transformed the Irish economy, for example, is not the structural funding, but the much lower rates of taxation. It is possible, I concede, that the substantial subsidies that the Irish received in previous years allowed them to carry a much lower burden of taxation, but what is leading to the astonishing rates of growth in the eastern European countries is the liberalisation of their economies, the cutting away of bureaucratic interference from Government, and the lower rates of taxation. The fastest growing economies in eastern Europe are those with the most dynamic, enterprise-oriented tax systems. One of the things that is eroding our competitiveness is the inexorable rise of public expenditure and taxation, which will, as the shadow Chancellor, my hon. Friend the Member for Tatton (Mr. Osborne), described, leave Britain in the position of having failed to mend the roof while the sun was shining during the past 10 years.
I have some relevant figures to hand. The Government inherited a national debt of £400 billion in 1996-97. That rose substantially in subsequent years, and by 2012-13the year this financial perspective endswe will have a public debt of £810 billion. That should be set alongside the situation in some European countries, which have no public debt at all because they have managed their economies very much more efficiently than we have.
Mr. Goodwill: On a point raised by the Chief Secretary, he might recall that three years ago his colleagues in Sheffield were crowing about the fact that Polestar publishing had got a £6 million grant to build a new printing plant in Sheffield. At the time, I raised the concern that that would have a direct consequence for the four existing plants, including the one in Scarborough. This week, Polestar has announced 190 job losses in Scarborough as a direct consequence of that European structural funding going into that objective 1 area in Sheffield. So it is not all good news on objective 1 funding.
Mr. Jenkin: I not only welcome what my hon. Friend has said, but I add that if public spending in Scotland and the north-east and north-west was the answer in securing the prosperity of those regions, they would be growing faster than London and the south-east, but they are not. The disparities between those regions and the south of England have widened during this period of Labour government. I think what we need to be looking at is differential rates of taxation throughout the United Kingdom, as the idea that we should have a unitary tax system is holding back the UKbut that is a matter for another debate.
When I think about the money that the House will be committing tonight, I look at my constituency. The Eastern Angles theatre company grant from the eastern Arts Council, for example, is being slashed by £100,00050 per cent.which will severely disable that extremely vibrant and capable arts and theatre company that operates throughout the entire region. I also look at the failure of the local health authority to open the Dedham surgery for want of £50,000 a yearnot £7.4 billionand at other surgeries that need to be upgraded. I look at the lamentable state of the A12, which grinds to a halt at least once a week because it is the most stressed piece of dual carriageway in the UK, yet the Government cannot find the money to upgrade it in the way that is necessary for the prosperity of my constituency. I look at the lack of money to spend on special educational needs in Essex schools, despite the fact that Essex is spending above the standard spending assessment on education. I look at the vast overspend on personal social services, particularly child welfare services, in Essex county council, which is not being funded by the Government because they are spending £7.4 billion on the European Union for no reason at all, instead of tackling these problems. This is not banging on about Europe; it is banging on about the needs of my constituency, which this Euro-obsessed Government think are less important than placating other countries interests in the EU.
I also look at the failure to honour the pay increase of the Essex police in my constituency, which is undermining the morale of the police who are fighting for law and order. I look at the Colchester garrison, which is training for operations in Iraq; 16 Air Assault Brigade is due to go to Iraq next spring. It is meant to have 110 up-armed Land Rovers for training in Iraq; it has six of them, because this Government think it is more important to appease EU interests than to fund our own armed forces. I look at the lamentable story of what happened to Corporal Wright, who was not lifted in good time from a minefield in Afghanistan because there were no helicopters with winches in Afghanistan as there should have been in order to address that matter.
Mr. Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman has been here long enough to know that this is the Third Reading of the Bill. He can talk about those things on other occasions, and he would be welcome to do so.
Mr. Jenkin: I shall sit down, but I should say that this Bill is about allocating very large sums of money to Europe instead of to those other vital national interests. It is a shame on this Government that they have such a weak European policy that they need to pay the money there instead of using it for our own people.
Mr. Shepherd: I am sorry; the hon. Gentleman is the former interim leader of the Liberal Democrats. He touched on what unites many of us in this House, strange as it may seem. I profoundly believe in the comity of nations. For the four most recent centuries of this countrys history, it has been vitally engaged in what happens in Europe. Our prosperity as a mercantile nation depends on trade. All those things are true. Where we have common interests, surely we should work together for them.
At the heart of this matter is the question of who governs. I am delighted to see the Chief Secretary to the Treasury in his post, but goodness knows what has happened to the Treasury. Contrary to the environmental policies of the Government, he paraded a forest-full of notes, letters and papers. They were pushed across to him along the Benches to assist him in trying to define a very curious position.
As my hon. Friend the Member for North Essex (Mr. Jenkin) has just said, this is about who bears taxes, how we negotiate and how we achieve the objectives of those who sent us here. What the Chief Secretary has tried to do in presenting this Bill represents an extraordinary distortion of facts that are on the record. We know what Mr. Blair negotiated and what promises and undertakings were given, as do the Liberal Democrats. This is not about Europe per se, in the sense of people being anti-Europethat will come next week if we are to engage on a great issue. This is about now, and the Chief Secretarys characterisation of other hon. Members as having a distaff viewif I may put it like thatdoes no credit to the Government. Each one of us here accounts as best we can for the arguments that we support. We heard the poorest level of distillation, spin and obfuscation. He was confronted with rational arguments and, as often as not, he did not even understand them.
The proposition put during a most distinguished contribution from the Front Bench by my hon. Friend the Member for Runnymede and Weybridge (Mr. Hammond), and put by my right hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr. Lilley) and by the hon. Member for Twickenham (Dr. Cable) was a rational argument as to whether the proposal was negotiated worthily and in the British interestthe interest of the people whom we represent and of whom
my hon. Friend the Member for North Essex was speakingand whether we could have done better. The judgment of most independents standing to a side would be to say that this Government did not do at all well.
In the end, we have to stand before our electorate and justify what we are doing. The tranches of money involved are huge, and we are entering a period of great uncertainty in the international situation. All of us know and recognise that, and we tremble in many instances. This Government have committed the taxpayersthe people whom we representto laying out sums of money, and they then come to dance in front of the House hoping that their spin will get them out of the situation. That they promised something else is neither here nor there, because they try to rewrite the story of what was promised.
That is the deceit that we have had this evening. The Financial Secretary can keep waving. I take it as an indication that she and the Chief Secretary are drowning, in the terms of the poem. There is no poetry in this debate. It is a sad reflection of how destitute the Government are in the arguments that they now advance to try to show probity. We could get a better deal and the only amendment
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