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Mrs. Browning: I was not a Member of Parliament at the time of the Single European Act, but the hon. Gentleman is right to say that I was in Parliament for the Maastricht treaty. I will say to the House not for the first time and probably not for the last timeI have certainly said it to my constituentsthat I very much regret my support for the Maastricht treaty.
Mr. David: The implications of the hon. Lady's remarks are profound. Everyone recognises that the great achievement of the European Union is the single market, which is virtually complete. I thought that the Opposition supported the single market. Everyone also recognises that the single market would not have come about without qualified majority voting. The hon. Lady must surely accept that simple fact.
Mrs. Browning: It depends what we imagined the single market would achieve, back in those early days when we first joined the common market. I voted in the 1970s that we should remain in the common market because I believe in free trade, and I could fully understand why colleagues in the party at the time of the Single European Act saw that we would bring about more free trade and remove both tariff and non-tariff barriers. I was all in favour of the principle, but in practice it did not work out that way.
For example, I had always expected that with the single market, if the Germans could make a better-quality toaster at a more competitive price than a British company, they would take our market share of toasters in the UK, and we would have to produce a better toaster. That is my rather basic understanding of the free market, but that was not the route taken by the European Community. It took the route of harmonisation in every blessed product and service, and now it is trying to integrate harmonisation into everything else that we do.
My point is borne out by the statistics. In 1992, when the single market was created, the rate of growth in trade between the United Kingdom and the rest of the European Union was the same as that between the United States and the European Union during the same period. In other
The 1998 figures, which are the latest that I have, show that the average of the tariffs that the EU placed on imported industrial goods was 3.6 per cent. Leaving aside any possible retaliatory measures, an average tariff of 3.6 per cent. would have yielded £3.441 billion had it been levied on the UK. In other words, if we had traded with the EU at the same rate as do the US and many other countries around the world, we would have spent £1.748 billion less of UK taxpayers' money in our contribution to the European budget.
Yes, I am a great advocate of free trade, but I am not in favour of something that parades itself as free trade or a single market, when cabals work to see off the competition and take advantage of qualified majority voting to see off sectors that are perceived as competition. I am not in favour of the United Kingdom having to give up its fishing stocks and much else in order to be net contributors to the EU, if that is not fair and does not take into account the proper rules of free trade, which is what we signed up for in the first place.
Mr. Hendrick: I thank the hon. Lady for giving way. She argues that the United States has benefited more from the European Union than have EU members, and she contrasts the position of the United States and the United Kingdom. Is she not aware that the fact that we share sovereignty and contribute to a common pool of funds means that we can benefit in many other ways, unlike the United States? It is not a simple trade equation. It involves programmes and projects that spread throughout the regions in the EU and benefit many regions as net gainers, such as my region in the north-west.
Mrs. Browning: But as a net contributor, the UK is paying for every EU-financed project that the Government agree to become involved in, as the balance sheet shows at the end of the financial year. There is no great pool of money that the EU in its largesse dollops out to regions of the UK. I know that the image of the blue flag with the circle of yellow stars is used to show that a project is EU-funded, but the hon. Gentleman must know that much of that funding is conditional upon match funding, and that the balance sheet shows that as long as we remain net contributors to the EU, we will be financing such projects ourselves.
Mr. Hendrick: The hon. Lady missed my point. Per capita income and per taxpayer, the north-west is a net gainer, even though as a nation we are net contributors. The hon. Lady may not agree with that method of redistribution, but the majority of hon. Members do.
Mrs. Browning: The hon. Gentleman may be surprised to hear me say that as it is our money anyway, I would trust his Government to decide how those funds should be distributed to the north-west, the south-west or any other region of the United Kingdom, and to be answerable to the House for their decision. I would rather they used our money for our priorities so that they would be
Mrs. Browning: I must move on. The hon. Gentleman and I will have to disagree. The money is ours. The question is who decides what it is to be spent onpeople in Brussels or the United Kingdom Parliament, accountable to the people through hon. Members. I believe that accountability should mainly be here.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory) spelled out his concerns about industrial policy, which I share. Every time the Government establish a deregulation taskforce, we know that it will not succeed. Once one signs up to the social chapterlots more is going to come into itone automatically puts a brake on Britain's competitive edge. There is no way out of that scenario and no exit strategy in respect of the social chapter now that the Government have signed up to it. Like my right hon. Friend, I am concerned about more integration in that hidden 95 per cent. of the treaty that affects our competitiveness through industrial policy.
Mr. Miller: That is terrible, but, none the less, the hon. Lady's last engine, which ran for 150,000 miles, was exported from the UK during all the troubled times that she has mentioned. It went not only to mainland Europe but to Scandinavia and the United States. We have plenty of examples of good manufacturing successes that have occurred during the period in which she is saying our competitiveness was disappearing. When we have had the products, put in the work and acted in partnership with European counterparts, we have had genuine successes.
I am concerned about the treaty proposals that will lead in future to the question of a constitution for Europe. I have heard arguments from below the Gangway about such a constitution. It seems to me that if there is a European army, constitution and single currency, as well as harmonisation in all the other spheres that have been mentioned, we will have a country called Europe. I want to see Europe as a combination of nation states that work together and co-operate. There is a great deal of advantage in co-operation. I do not want anybody to think that I do not recognise that fact or that I do not value co-operation. Once we have a country called Europewe are going that way and are now very close to such an outcomethere will no longer be a country that one would recognise as the United Kingdom or as a democracy that is answerable to the people through this House. That is what I object to.