In 2011, our priorities for the European Union will be to ensure, first, that it can seek to deliver economic growth, through action to increase trade, competitiveness and jobs; and secondly, that it demonstrates effective control over its own spending.
I thank the Minister for that answer, but can he explain to the House why the European Parliament’s lead budget negotiator has stated that the EU spending increase is likely to be at least 4.5%, when the Prime Minister is still publicly stating that there will be a 2.9% cap?
I think the MEP concerned is demonstrating a certain amount of wishful thinking. Our position remains that we are not prepared to accept anything beyond 2.9%, and the Prime Minister was able to win the support of 12 other Heads of Government for that position at the recent European summit.
It certainly forms part of the efforts that we need to make to ensure much more effective budgeting and expenditure control by all the European Union institutions. As my hon. Friend knows, part of the problem is not simply fraud; it is the over-complicated, bureaucratic nature of many European Union rules. That root cause needs to be addressed.
May I suggest to the Minister that our priority should be to seek the abandonment of the common fisheries policy, which is universally regarded as nonsense and has been a major factor in the depletion of fishing stocks in the North sea and elsewhere?
My right hon. and hon. Friends from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs will be trying to ensure in the forthcoming fisheries negotiations that we reform the fisheries policy in a way that delivers the proper conservation of fish stocks and the marine environment.
Could the Minister reconfirm that it is a priority of the coalition Government to veto any transfer of powers to Brussels by treaty, and thereby also confirm that there will never be a need for a referendum on Europe during this Parliament?
It is certainly the policy not just of my hon. Friend’s party and mine but of the coalition Government as a whole that there should be no transfer of powers or competence to the European Union by way of treaty change for the duration of this Parliament, up to 2015. We also intend to introduce legislation to ensure that any future British Government would need to seek the approval of the British people through a referendum if they ever sought to impose such a transfer of powers or competencies.