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European Council

Volume 508: debated on Monday 29 March 2010

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I would like to make a statement on the European Council held in Brussels last Thursday and Friday.

First, I am sure that the whole House will join me in paying tribute to Lance Corporal of Horse Jonathan Woodgate from the Household Cavalry Regiment and Rifleman Daniel Holkham from 3rd Battalion the Rifles. They lost their lives fighting in Afghanistan. We owe them the greatest debt of gratitude for their courage and their service.

Their sacrifice reminds us that terrorism is an ever-present danger which requires vigilance and the willingness to take tough action in all areas where terrorist groups operate. So I know also that the thoughts of the House—and indeed our country—are with the Russian people today after this morning’s terrorist attack on the Moscow transport network. I have written to President Medvedev this morning to send our condolences to the victims and their families. I pay tribute to the Russian emergency services and the people of Moscow as they have responded to this appalling attack.

The focus of the European Council last Thursday and Friday was on actions needed to secure growth for the future and on Europe’s determination to bring new impetus and momentum to the international negotiations on climate change. Last week’s Budget set out our proposals for the next stage of economic recovery. It made it clear that the risks to recovery remain real and that we must avoid a premature withdrawal of stimulus measures, instead seeing through our commitment to halving the deficit over four years without choking off the recovery itself. The European Council agreed that

“The economic situation is improving, but the recovery is still fragile”.

It concluded that while deficit reduction plans must go ahead, measures to reduce the stimulus should be taken only once recovery is secured. That is the position that we, like our European partners, will continue to follow.

In our Budget, we also set out the actions that we must now take to secure jobs and growth by investing in the key growth sectors for the future. The Council’s conclusions agreed that Europe needs

“to deliver more growth and jobs”

to boost European competitiveness and productivity. Before the financial crisis, the imbalances within Europe were at an all-time high. The Council agreed that

“The EU needs to focus on the pressing challenges of competitiveness and balance of payments developments”.

It also agreed to develop a new strategy to deliver higher levels of long-term growth and recognised that the key elements of increasing productivity and growth include action on employment, on research and development, on reducing greenhouse gases to boost low-carbon industries and on education and social inclusion. The European Council will now, once a year through a leaders’ annual economic summit, assess the progress achieved at both national and European level in delivering those objectives.

The Council also discussed the economic situation in Greece. Agreement has now been reached by the euro area member states on a set of guidelines for Greece, and I am encouraged by the statement from the eurozone leaders that the eurozone will meet its responsibilities. There was no request for the United Kingdom to make any contribution to that programme, and none of the arrangements agreed by the European Council will see any powers being ceded from Britain to the European Union.

One year on from the G20 summit in London, we also discussed Europe’s plans for the next G20 summit, which is to be held in Toronto. The Council agreed that “rapid progress” is now required on strengthening financial regulation and supervision within both the EU and the G20, while we also need to ensure a level playing field for financial centres worldwide. In particular, we agreed that progress is needed on the issues of capital requirements, systemic institutions, financial instruments for crisis management, transparency on derivative markets and the implementation of internationally agreed principles for bonuses in the financial services sector. The Council agreed to make rapid progress on those issues, concluding work on the new European supervisory framework in time for the European systemic risk board and the three European supervisory authorities to begin work in early 2011.

We must also agree in Toronto a co-ordinated approach to levies on the banks to deliver a fairer balance of risk and reward in the financial system. That is something that I have been advocating for some months, and the Council agreed that as part of the G20’s work:

“The Commission will shortly present a report on possible innovative sources of financing such as a global levy on financial transactions…The Council and the Commission will report back on these issues to the June 2010 European Council, ahead of the Toronto summit.”

The Council also discussed climate change, ahead of the first meeting of the advisory group on climate change financing, established by the United Nations Secretary-General, which I am co-chairing with Prime Minister Meles of Ethiopia. Our pledge on climate change finance is a vital first test of the commitment of the developed countries to meeting the promises made in Copenhagen. The Council concluded that Europe would rapidly and unconditionally implement its commitment to providing €2.4 billion annually for fast-track financing for developing countries, and to that end the EU

“will initiate consultations on practical ways”

to implement that in specific areas. There will be a presentation on those commitments at the Bonn summit. The Council confirmed that Europe’s objective remains a

“global and comprehensive legal agreement”

and that Europe will “strengthen its outreach” to other countries to galvanise negotiations in the coming months.

The euro area’s economic growth is predicted to be just 0.7 per cent. this year and next, recovering to 1.5 per cent. in later years. By contrast, world growth is projected to be 3.5 per cent, so we need stronger European growth to help deliver stronger growth and new jobs here in Britain. Europe is the world’s largest trading bloc and also the world’s largest internal market. It offers 500 million consumers for British companies. With 3 million UK jobs linked to the EU, and still more than half our exports going to the EU, Britain’s livelihood is inextricably linked to the success of the European economy. Distancing ourselves from Europe makes no sense and would hold back our economy, our companies and people in work. It is by working with, not against, our European partners to deliver jobs and growth for Europe that we will help to deliver jobs and growth for Britain. I commend this statement to the House.

I join the Prime Minister in paying tribute to Rifleman Daniel Holkham and Lance Corporal of Horse Jonathan Woodgate, who have been killed in Afghanistan in the past few days. When one thinks of what Jonathan Woodgate had already been through, it is a reminder of what an exceptionally brave young man he was. It also reminds us that what we ask of our servicemen and women today is exceptional; we need to refresh and renew the military covenant in every way that we can.

I also agree with the Prime Minister that we should send a clear message of sympathy and solidarity to the Russian people after the appalling outrage on the Russian metro. We are tragically familiar with such an event in this country, too.

I want to ask about three issues that were discussed at the summit—the EU economy, financial regulation and climate change. First, on climate change, the summit rightly said that we must redouble our efforts to achieve the global deal that we all want and push ahead with practical action to cut emissions. The UK has the lowest contribution from renewable energy of any major EU country—just 6.8 per cent. of our electricity and, in total, 2.5 per cent. of our energy comes from renewable sources. Why has so little progress been made?

Secondly, on financial regulation, President Obama spoke about a tax on wholesale funding, but, as the Prime Minister has said, the summit conclusions referred to a transaction tax. Would not a tax on wholesale funding rather than a transaction tax be more likely to help keep business here in Britain?

The summit conclusions mention the need for greater economic co-ordination. There was some controversy about whether we will end up with any new treaty changes. Should not the Prime Minister make three things clear today? First, any talk of “economic government” in Europe is wrong. If he agrees, can he explain why the phrase remains in the French version of the eurozone statement? Secondly, should we not rule out any new treaty change that increases EU control over our economic policies? Thirdly, should we not change the law in the UK so that any treaty that proposed handing over new areas of power from Britain to Brussels would automatically be subject to a referendum, as is the case in Ireland?

It is good to see the Prime Minister smiling so nicely, as he does on all our posters—it is good to see him in that sort of positive mood. There are plenty more where they came from. [Interruption.] If he will not put himself on posters, we have just got to do it for him.

On economic policy, does the Prime Minister agree with the Europe 2020 strategy document, which says that

“sound public finances are critical for restoring the conditions for sustainable growth and jobs”?

Given that, will he comment on the serious news today that Standard & Poor’s has stated yet again that the outlook for Britain’s triple-A credit rating remains “negative” and that

“additional spending measures will likely be required”

to tackle the debt burden?

Europe’s leaders talked about a bail-out for Greece, and Portugal’s credit rating is being downgraded. However, is not Britain borrowing more this year as a share of our economy than either Greece or Portugal? Did not the same agency that downgraded Portugal’s credit rating say last week that Britain’s finances are “vulnerable”?

The European Commission says that “a number of countries” may have to start tackling their deficits this year. Given that Britain and Ireland have the worst budget deficits in the OECD, to which countries does the Prime Minister think it was referring?

On unemployment, business closures and the decline of manufacturing, the UK clearly has some real problems. Why, therefore, does he propose to raise taxes on small businesses and hike national insurance on everyone earning more than £20,000 and on every single new job in this country?

The Chancellor admitted in the Budget that there was £11 billion of waste in Government spending, but he proposes to do nothing about it until 2011. Why is not he tackling the waste this year rather than putting up national insurance for hard-working people next year? Have not the Prime Minister and his Chancellor created one of those great dividing lines that they like so much? Labour stands for waste and taxes, and the Conservative party stands for efficiency and aspiration. As the Prime Minister contemplates his national insurance increase on employees and employers, what on earth makes him think that the way to rescue an economy from the longest and deepest recession on record is a tax on jobs that hits every single business in the country? [Interruption.] He says that he wants to talk about Europe—I am talking about our economy in Europe and our failure in Europe.

The Prime Minister used to go to European meetings to lecture others about their economic policies; now the reverse happens. He thought boom and bust had been abolished and that he could borrow with impunity; he never prepared for a rainy day. Were not those catastrophic misjudgments? Will not the British people be paying for those misjudgments for another generation? Is not his latest misjudgement to sit back and let the waste, the taxes and the debt pile up even more? Is it not the case that we need a Government who will get on with tackling the waste, stopping the tax rises and securing growth for the future?

First, let me share with the right hon. Gentleman our sympathies, as I mentioned earlier, for those families whose loved ones have died in Afghanistan, and our sympathies for the Russian people as they face a terrorist incident of very substantial proportions today.

Let me also agree with the right hon. Gentleman that climate change is an important issue that Europe and the rest of the world must continue to address, that we must move forward on the Copenhagen summit, and that we must get a worldwide framework for a climate change agreement. He asks that renewables should be at a higher level in this country, and I agree with him that we should have higher investment in renewables. That is why we are making plans for public investment in renewables at the same time as the Conservatives oppose them. If I may say so, that is why we are asking councils to approve wind farms, while just about every Conservative council is trying to hold back that policy.

The right hon. Gentleman mentioned the issue of a levy on financial transactions, which is something that we have been proposing for some time. Originally, the Conservatives opposed it; then they said they would support if it was at a multilateral level; then they said they would support it even if it was not done multilaterally; and then they retreated into saying that they would support it if it was multilateral. That is about a policy a day, but it is the same policy that is being reinterpreted every day. That is the reason that people have very little trust in Conservative economic policy.

I come now to the European Council discussions on the economy. I just have to say this: why does the Conservative party want to attack the European Union all the time? Three million jobs depend on our European membership, more than 50 per cent. of our trade depends on Europe, and 750,000 companies depend on Europe, so why does the right hon. Gentleman want to go to the European Council—if ever he were elected—to say that he wants to renegotiate our treaties in respect of membership of the European Union? Why does he want to repatriate the social chapter and employment legislation to Britain? Why does he threaten that he is going to have a sovereignty Act for this Parliament to suggest that the law affecting the European Union could somehow be modified and amended by doing so? Why does he resist the European advice that we should work together so that we do not put the recovery at risk?

The announcement by the Conservative party today was first to withdraw £7.5 billion from the economy this year—[Interruption.] The right hon. Gentleman says that it is good to hear that, but he also wants to withdraw the support that is necessary for the economy to have a sustained recovery. The first thing that the Conservatives have done today is make it more difficult for us to retain the jobs, businesses and industrial infrastructure that are necessary, despite the fact that every bit of advice that we are getting—and that he is getting—is that we must maintain the investment necessary for recovery.

The Conservatives must explain why, at a time when people are worried about the recovery, they wish to withdraw support for the recovery. The second thing that they have got to explain is their panic measure today on national insurance—[Interruption.]

Order. I gently say to the Prime Minister that I know he will want to focus his reply very specifically on the European Council—[Interruption.] Order. The shadow deputy Chief Whip has got something wrong with his head and I am worried about him. He does not have to keep shaking it. The Prime Minister will talk about the Council and, of course, the policies of the Government.

The policy of the Government is to make sure that we have a sustained economic recovery; the Conservative party policy, I am afraid, would put that recovery at risk. Then the Conservatives are going to spend nearly £30 billion on tax cuts in the next five years, which puts front-line public services at risk. People will understand that these panic measures by the Conservatives will not help a recovery, that they will mean public spending cuts and that they will put sustained investment in our economy at risk.

We are the party that believes in Europe: it is the party opposed to Europe. We can see that if the Conservative party had ever been willing to change, it would have changed on Europe. It has not changed on Europe, and it has not changed on anything else.

I wish to add my own expressions of sympathy and condolence to the family and friends of Rifleman Daniel Holkham, from 3rd Battalion the Rifles, and Lance Corporal of Horse Jonathan Woodgate, from the Household Cavalry Regiment, both of whom tragically lost their lives in Afghanistan this week.

I also wish to join the Prime Minister in expressing our condolences to the families and friends of the dozens of victims injured and killed in Moscow. Londoners especially, given the horrors of 7/7, will feel a strong bond of sympathy for the families of commuters affected in Moscow.

I thank the Prime Minister for his report from the European Council. It will most probably be his last European Union summit. I imagine that he will be feeling some relief about that, given that in a few short years he has gone from lecturing his colleagues in Europe on how not to run an economy to teaching them how not to run an economy by example. At last week’s summit, the Prime Minister called in some of the few favours he has left from his colleagues in Europe to delay a decision on the alternative investment fund managers directive. Instead of defensively trying to stave off damage to the City, why did he not take the chance to show real leadership on the reform of our banking system? Real leadership is breaking up the banks. Real leadership is imposing an additional levy on their profits until that is done. Real leadership is getting banks lending to small, viable companies that are going to the wall.

Will the Prime Minister report on any conversations that he had with President Barroso, the President of the European Commission, as this summit was after all their first meeting since the Commission issued its damning verdict on the Prime Minister’s handling of Britain’s huge budget deficit? No doubt the European Commission will today be equally dismayed by the shiny promises of tax cuts from the shadow Chancellor, who is not in his place—he must be preparing for the mauling that he will get on television tonight. He has no idea how he will pay for those tax cuts. Labour and the Conservatives seem to be competing to come up with the most ludicrous fantasy announcement paid for with bags of gold found through efficiency savings. I am not sure who is winning, but I am certain that no one is falling for it.

On the bail-out for the Greek Government, as the Prime Minister knows, instability in the eurozone can and will rapidly turn to instability across the European Union, which will affect us too. Given that, I found the lack of details about the potential Greek bail-out a little concerning. Yes, Greece has not yet formally asked for help, but we have a deal on the table that is meant to calm the markets’ nerves but gives us very little in the way of detail. The Prime Minister is frowning, but can he tell me what will be the exact role of the IMF in this deal? How will the burden be broken up between the other eurozone countries? What is the maximum level of support likely to be given to Greece in the event that it asks for help and, crucially, what conditions will be put on Greece in return for this support?

I will tell the right hon. Gentleman the facts. There is a limit on the amount of support that the IMF can give. It is limited by its constitution and how it has always done things. That is a matter that we will discuss with both the IMF and the eurozone at the right time. It is limited by the regulations that it has.

On the right hon. Gentleman’s other points, in the Budget last week we reached agreement with the banks about £92 billion of additional lending in the next year. We also reached an agreement—and said in the Budget—that proper supervision of that would be needed, so that the public and small businesses could be assured that the money was being paid to them. So we are setting up a small business mediator who will act on behalf of small businesses to try to resolve the issues that have left them without the funds that they need—[Interruption.] An Opposition Member says that that is ridiculous, but we have to protect small businesses to ensure that they can grow. As far as the banks are concerned, we are taking the necessary action.

As far as directives are concerned, we did not accept the compromise proposed by the European Finance Ministers. We will therefore renegotiate that over the next period of time, because we are determined both to have proper regulation of those industries and, at the same, to allow companies to have access to the full range of countries in the internal market, and that is what we are doing.

As for ludicrous policies, the right hon. Gentleman would win the race any day.

I prefer the Prime Minister’s posters with a smile to the Leader of the Opposition’s airbrushed images. There were reports in the press over the weekend that Angela Merkel is calling for economic government, which would require treaty changes. If that were to be the case, can I press the Prime Minister to make a commitment that that would also involve a referendum in this country?

We made it clear a few months ago—this was a decision that we asked the European Union to make—that there would be no further constitutional or institutional change of that sort over the next 10 years. We made it absolutely clear that the European Union should not be contemplating further constitutional or institutional change in the way that is suggested. As for improving the way the European Union works, there is a case for that improvement to be made, and we will join those forces at work in this taskforce to ensure better and improved governing of the European Union.

Does the Prime Minister agree with the French Finance Minister Christine Lagarde that the eurozone has no hope of achieving sustainable recovery while the huge problem persists of a massive German trade surplus and persistently low consumer demand in Germany, and will he express those sentiments to the German Chancellor when he meets her?

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his comments, which are, in essence, supportive of our economic policy. I am grateful for that, first, because in the European Council conclusions we say that we have to look at the issues that have arisen from the severe imbalances in the European Union. Secondly, it is clear from what he says that he supports the maintenance of a stimulus and the public support necessary for the economy to have sustained recovery. In that, he is at odds with those on the Conservative Front Bench, who want to take £7.5 billion out of the economy, which would mean lost jobs, lost businesses and lost economic progress.

Did the Prime Minister have the opportunity, either in the meeting or at the margins of the meeting, to have any discussion with his colleagues about the issues of international terrorism to which he has referred? In particular, was there any discussion about the prospects for European Union involvement to try to reactivate the negotiations in the middle east or about the situation in Iran?

I have talked about this on a bilateral basis with President Sarkozy and with Chancellor Merkel, and, outside the European Union, with President Obama. As far as the middle east peace process is concerned, we want the proximity discussions to move forward, and we want George Mitchell, the American mediator, to have all the necessary power to move them forward. As for the discussions in relation to Iran, Iran has not been prepared to accept the offer made by the major countries to help it get civil nuclear power without having nuclear weapons, which are a danger to the region and the world. We are contemplating what we must do next, and I believe that there will be pressure for a United Nations resolution.

Will the Prime Minister bear in mind that following the ratification of the Lisbon treaty, despite his breaking of the pledge that there would first be a referendum on the subject, he assured us, as a sop, that there would not be another European treaty for at least 10 years, a pledge that he has repeated this afternoon? So how does it come about that we are now asked to contemplate the establishment of a super finance ministry for Europe, which would certainly require another treaty and would certainly lead to Berlin being able to dictate British tax policies?

Does the Prime Minister recall any conversation at all by the other countries in respect of joining the euro? Because I have a good idea for a poster, which the Tories will never produce: “Gordon Brown kept us out of the euro. Five conditions. Superb leadership.” I think it would be a good idea for us to do that.

That was a difficult decision, but it was the right decision. In other areas, such as the financial crisis, we have also made the right decision, even when the Tories have proposed the wrong one.

The Prime Minister’s opening remarks on the casualties in Afghanistan and on the terrorist attack in Moscow will receive widespread support. At the European Council, did he raise the issue of the terrorist threat to Europe and the poor performance in Afghanistan by most of our European allies?

This was a meeting to discuss two specific things: the economy and climate change. Of course, in the bilateral meetings that I had with President Sarkozy, Chancellor Merkel and others—and with the President of the European Council, Mr. Van Rompuy, and with the presidency, in the form of the Spanish Prime Minister—the issue of terrorism was uppermost in our minds. We have to persuade some of our allies that we need to increase the police presence in Afghanistan, and that we have to increase the number of police trainers to raise the number of effective, trained police there. I believe that President Sarkozy has been meeting President Obama to talk about exactly these issues. We have increased the number of trainers that we have made available for policing in Afghanistan, and we are looking forward to other countries doing the same.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that any reasonable person—and any reasonable political party that is interested in more than just appeasing its anti-European factions—would recognise that a serious response to the recession requires common effective action at European level? Will he tell me whether the continuing problem of the higher unemployment among young people than among the population at large was discussed at the Council, and whether specific measures for tackling it were considered by our various European partners?

There are more than 20 million people unemployed in Europe, and the attention of the European Council was on what we can do to raise growth in Europe so that we can get unemployment down. The way to do that at the moment is to ensure that we maintain the support for our economy, and that support is maintained for the European, American and other economies, until the recovery is fully secured. I am working with 27 countries in total—26 and us—and they all agree that we should maintain the support that is necessary for the economy. I can think of only one party competing for government in the whole of Europe that is against that, and that is the Conservative party.

We associate ourselves with the Prime Minister’s comments about the loss of service personnel and the deaths in Moscow. We should also like to mark the funeral today of Billy Wolfe. Billy led the Scottish National party with distinction through the 1970s, and we pay tribute to his efforts to banish weapons of mass destruction from Scotland.

The Prime Minister must have discussed economic best practice among EU and non-EU member states at the European Council over the weekend. Will he explain how it has been possible for Norway to have a sovereign wealth fund that is significantly larger than the UK deficit?

I join the hon. Gentleman is his tribute to William Wolfe. I have to say to him, however, that when people talk about non-EU countries, they often refer to what was sometimes called the arc of prosperity, and the SNP often talks about the parallels between Ireland, Iceland and Scotland. That arc of prosperity collapsed a few months ago.

May I disagree with the Prime Minister when he says:

“Distancing ourselves from Europe makes no sense”?

Surely it does make sense to distance ourselves from politicians who support the Waffen SS, who are climate change deniers or who have odd views on what happened to the Jews in world war two. Surely it makes sense to distance ourselves in particular from homophobic Members of the European Parliament. Listening to the Leader of the Opposition reduced to absolute speechlessness while trying to defend them last week was a collector’s item.

I think that the British people would be shocked if they heard what Conservative Members of the European Parliament were doing in that Parliament. Only a few days ago, a number of Conservative MEPs voted against proposals to support the automatic exchange of information needed to crack down on those seeking to hide their money from the tax authorities. So here in Westminster they are saying that they want openness and transparency, but in Europe they are voting for the very tax havens that we know Lord Ashcroft has been very much a part of.

In the context of future changes to the governance of the European Union, of which the Prime Minister has just spoken, will he tell us whether he told his colleagues at the Euro Council that any proposal to transfer significant power from the United Kingdom to the European Union would have to be the subject of a referendum in the United Kingdom? If he did not tell his Euro colleagues that in the Council, will he please tell the House that now?

I have already mentioned the agreement made a few months ago that there would be no further institutional or constitutional change in the European Union for the next 10 years. Any colleagues in the EU know precisely what the British position is. Unlike the Conservative party, however, I am prepared for Britain to be part of a taskforce to look at how we can improve the management of the EU; only people who are blinded by Euroscepticism would oppose any form of co-operation in Europe.

Will my right hon. Friend give a cast-iron guarantee that he will reject the policies of Conservative Euro MPs who tour America denouncing our national health service?

Those people who said that the national health service was a 60-year-old nightmare were completely wrong. The NHS has been for many millions of people a 60-year-long liberation from ill health and disease. I think the Conservative leader should be ashamed of some of the people he supports in the European Parliament.

Does the Prime Minister accept that the Greek and the Portuguese crisis demonstrates that the European Union is in systemic failure? Does he also accept that by collaborating with the proposals for economic government, which he has done under the surface and directly in agreeing to the statement, he is in fact betraying the British people? As President Barroso said, it is time for Europe to talk the truth.

Every time the hon. Gentleman speaks on Europe, we hear that he wishes to see the European Union fail, and every time he talks about Europe, it is as if he has a visceral hatred of everything European. I am sorry that his views are shared so widely within the Conservative party.

“Pink and smooth like a baby’s bottom” or “A bit rough and grumpy”. Which poster would the other European leaders prefer?

Since this Government came to power, the burden on British businesses from EU regulation has risen from £6 billion to almost £6.5 billion a year. Is the Prime Minister proud of that record? Is it something he took the trouble to discuss with his European colleagues at a time when many British businesses are struggling and suffocating due to over-regulation?

Of course we want to cut down on unnecessary regulation. We have made proposals in the EU, as we have in Britain, to do so. I would have thought that the hon. Gentleman would start his question by acknowledging that there are 750,000 companies trading with the rest of the European Union, that 3 million jobs depend on our membership of it and that we should support our exporters by co-operating in the EU. It is only the Conservative party that seems to think that having a permanent conflict with the EU is in Britain’s interests. That is not in Britain’s interest; co-operation is.

The Prime Minister mentioned his pledge on climate change. Why, then, has the UK so abjectly failed to meet its obligations under the landfill directive and failed to follow the lead of many other EU countries in developing energy from waste projects?

The landfill levy has been strengthened over these last few years. It is our desire to make sure that we do everything in our power to use our waste effectively. Unfortunately, the hon. Gentleman, again, is so blinded against the European Union that he cannot acknowledge that the way to move forward is through greater co-operation with the EU on climate change issues, that we should be pressing to reopen negotiations that failed in some respects at Copenhagen, that the Bonn summit is the way to do so and that we should support Chancellor Merkel in doing that. We need co-operation on the environment if we are going to move forward in Britain, Europe or the rest of the world. It is global and European co-operation that we need, rather than conflict between us in Europe.

Last year, the British taxpayer paid £3 billion to the European Union. Next year, the British taxpayer will pay £6.6 billion to the EU. Is it not strange, at a time when the Government are planning public expenditure cuts, that an additional £3.6 billion is paid to the EU? Does the Prime Minister agree that we cannot go on like this and that it is time for change?

It is very interesting that every single question from the Conservative Back Benches has repeated the anti-European position of the Conservative leader. Is it not amazing that not one person has stood up and said, “I support the European Union”? Although the Conservatives have a Back Bencher who did so, he is not even bothering to stand again at the next election. The Conservative party is fundamentally Eurosceptic and anti-European Union.

Did the Prime Minister discuss referendums at the summit so that British people could vote on the Lisbon treaty, which all three main parties promised them they would be able to do? Or does he think that the British people have simply got it wrong?

We secured all our negotiating objectives, and made sure that the constitutional treaty—as it was talked about—did not become a constitutional treaty in the end. As for the Conservative party, I accept that it gave an iron-cast guarantee that there would be a referendum on the European Union, but, like the Conservatives’ iron-cast guarantees on so many other things, it fell away.

Lance Corporal of Horse Jonathan Woodgate served in the Household Cavalry in Windsor. I add my condolences in respect of Lance Corporal of Horse Woodgate and those who have gone before. We must never underestimate their contribution to our security.

It seems to me that—whether in a European Union or in a world context—the Prime Minister has certainly led our country, but has led us into being the first into recession and the last out of it. Does he accept any responsibility whatever for the decisions that he made?

We have talked about this many, many times in the House of Commons. We had a global banking crisis, and we had to deal with it. If we had taken the advice of the Leader of the Opposition, we would still be in recession. On every big decision, he and his shadow Chancellor got it wrong, wrong and wrong again.