[Relevant Documents: 23rd Report from the European Scrutiny Committee of Session 2012-13, HC 86-xxiii, Chapter 11; and 25th Report from the European Scrutiny Committee, HC 83-xxii, Chapter 1]
Considered in Committee
[Mr Lindsay Hoyle in the Chair]
Approval of draft decisions under Article 352 of TFEU
I beg to move amendment 4, in page 1, line 4, leave out subsection (2) and insert—
‘(2) The draft decision of the Council of the European Union under Article 352 of TFEU to adopt the Council Regulation on the deposit of the historical archives of the institutions at the European University Institute in Florence (document number 6867/ 13) is approved.
(2A) The draft decision of the Council of the European Union under Article 352 of TFEU to adopt the Council Regulation establishing for the period 2014-2020 the programme “Europe for Citizens” (document number 12557/13) shall be approved once—
(a) the Secretary of State has laid a report before both Houses of Parliament stating that—
(i) expenditure under the programme may be used only to fund education about and reflection on the Holocaust, armed conflicts and totalitarian regimes in Europe’s history; and
(ii) no expenditure under the programme may be used to fund the promotion of European Union citizenship, integration or institutions; and
(b) following the laying of this report, both Houses of Parliament have passed a resolution that the draft decision shall be approved.’.
With this it will be convenient to discuss:
Amendment 3, in clause 2, page 1, line 16, leave out subsection (2) and insert—
‘(2) Except as provided for under subsection (2A), the provisions of this Act come into force on the day on which it is passed.
(2A) Section 1 comes into force in relation to the draft decision to adopt the Council Regulation establishing for the period 2014-2020 the programme ‘Europe for Citizens’ (document number 12557/13) on whatever day the Secretary of State appoints by order made by statutory instrument.
(2B) The Secretary of State may only make an order under subsection (2A) if—
(a) he has laid a statement before both Houses of Parliament stating that no expenditure can take place under ‘Europe for Citizens’ that could influence any European Parliamentary election or referendum in the year prior to such an election or referendum, and
(b) a draft of the order has been laid before and approved by both Houses of Parliament.’.
Clause stand part.
Today is Holocaust memorial day, and several hon. Members are wearing pins to signify this important date. Through the Holocaust Educational Trust, I have met a number of holocaust survivors. It has been a privilege to meet them; it has also been troubling, in a way. It is important that we should celebrate the work that the trust does to remind us of the terrible things that happened on our continent, not that long ago. Through other initiatives, I have met survivors of the Rwandan genocide. Again, that was amazingly troubling. They, too, were amazing people. Those events, and those that might be going on in Syria as we speak, remind us all of the need to remember and to learn from the horrible things that have happened.
That is the thrust of my amendment. It attempts to get the Government to go back to the negotiating table in Brussels, not to veto this proposal for the Europe for Citizens budget line, but to ensure that
“expenditure under the programme may be used only to fund education about and reflection on the Holocaust, armed conflicts and totalitarian regimes in Europe’s history; and…no expenditure under the programme may be used to fund the promotion of European Union citizenship, integration or institutions”.
I would have thought that that was a pretty uncontroversial thing to ask for.
Let me refresh the memory of the Committee and explain how we have got to where we are. Article 352 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union gives the EU a wide-ranging power to legislate to achieve an objective set out in the EU treaties, if those treaties have not otherwise given the European Union the power to pass such legislation. The UK Government wield a veto over laws proposed on the basis of article 352.
The European Act 2011 typically requires that, before the Government can give final agreement in the Council of Ministers to a proposed article 352 law, the proposal must be approved by an Act of Parliament. The rationale behind that was to subject the use of that treaty article to case-by-case approval by Parliament, owing to the entirely open-ended and therefore unpredictable nature of the power that that gives to the European Union.
The European Union (Approvals) Bill seeks parliamentary approval for two draft European Union laws based on article 352. The Government have brought forward the Bill because they wish to support the proposals at European Union level, following negotiations on them, and the Council is ready to adopt them. If Parliament does not approve one of them—I am suggesting that it does not approve the Europe for Citizens draft law through the Bill—the Government cannot support the relevant proposal in the Council, and the European Union will not be able to adopt it.
The other draft European Union law, which would be approved by clause 1(2)(a), is a fairly uncontroversial measure that would require most EU bodies to deposit their historical archives at the European University Institute in Florence. The one that I am concerned with—I spent each one of my 10 years in the European Parliament tabling amendments to take the money out of the budget for this particular budget line—re-establishes the EU spending programme Europe for Citizens over the period from 2014 to 2020.
My hon. Friend refers to a budget line. Will he confirm, as he is greatly experienced in such matters, that in fact the programme that we are discussing this afternoon is but a very small part of the total amount that the European Union spends on communication and general propaganda?
Absolutely. It is a mere fraction. We are talking about it today only because of article 352, which I have already mentioned.
I feel strongly concerned about this Europe for Citizens line because it has certain requirements that need to be fulfilled before money can be obtained. It wants to build a strong feeling among citizens about belonging to the Union, and it wants to build ever-closer union. Article 3(1) of the draft regulation said that all activities of the Europe for Citizens programme would involve “fostering European citizenship”. Those are all things that go directly against the ethos that the Prime Minister built into his speech at Bloomberg about a year ago.
I understand my right hon. Friend’s point, but even if we vetoed the measure completely, the money would remain within the budget we have agreed. A veto will not stop money being spent at EU level, but would signify the intent of the British Government that money should no longer be spent on EU propaganda budget lines and that when we get the opportunity to cull them, we will.
The draft regulation provides a reference amount for the total budget of the programme over the multi-annual financial framework term of about £154.6 million. That is a reasonable sum of money—
Over seven years, as my hon. Friend the Minister will continue to remind us. It is very small beer when it comes to European budgets or even the UK budget, but it is quite a large amount of money in general terms. The UK Government will contribute between £1.5 million and £2.5 million.
It is a very large sum of money. As it takes more than 100 taxpayers to contribute £1 million in tax, on average, we are talking about thousands of taxpayers who will have to contribute to make up this sum. If we blocked the measure, although the money could theoretically be spent on something else, it would be made more difficult and would send a clear message that we do not want this spending.
I concur with my right hon. Friend. When I was a Member of the European Parliament, I used to table amendments to try to cull such budget lines. There was a Europe for Citizen’s programme between 2007 and 2013, which was the previous multi-annual financial framework period. It had a slightly bigger budget and, essentially, public funding was granted to various organisations promoting European integration and a federal European state. I think that most people in this House would struggle not only with funding pro-European propaganda but with using taxpayers’ money to fund politics in general.
That is the purpose behind my amendment. I understand that only once, or possibly twice, has an agreement in general been struck at the Council that something will go through before someone has reopened the debate about how the money should be spent, and the purpose of my amendment is to do that again. We could just veto the money and kill the programme directly, but part of the programme is truly valuable. That is what the European Commission does in many of its budget strands: it connects a small amount for something good and valuable to a big amount for something that is a waste of money that we would not necessarily stand for.
It would be a bit of a surprise if I did not agree with my hon. Friend, whose constituency is next door to mine.
I believe that one could honestly make the argument that the programme has failed unbelievably badly. Over the past seven years, a group of organisations has received money from it. The European Movement, which states that its objective is to
“contribute to the establishment of a united, federal Europe”,
was awarded the best part of £1.5 million.
The French think-tank, Notre Europe, the Jacques Delors Institute—I will not go into as much detail on this as I did on Second Reading, as my hon. Friend the Minister is now completely up to speed with how moneys from this budget line are spent—was set up by the former European Commission President and champions his vision of a European Union that is a federation of nation states. Over the last multi-annual financial framework period, it was awarded the best part of £1.87 million from the Europe for Citizens programme. The Brussels-based Union of European Federalists got the best part of £500,000. There are also other organisations that I did not mention last time. There is a wonderful—I say that in a sarcastic tone—French organisation called Confrontations Europe. Its website says:
“On April 2012, Confrontations Europe celebrated its 20 years of existence and dedication to the European ideal…Confrontations Europe has become an important network of citizens and European players, a think tank renowned in Paris and Brussels and an active civil lobby of European general interest to the institutions”—
that is, the European institutions. Everyone here will be pleased to know that the body’s founding chairman, Philippe Herzog, a French former academic and politician, was a member of the French Communist party from 1965 to 1996.
As the hon. Gentleman says, we have the cream of the Opposition here. The Opposition’s economic policy would be much more interesting if the hon. Members for Blackley and Broughton (Graham Stringer), and for Leyton and Wanstead (John Cryer), were on the Front Bench, not the Back Benches.
You will be pleased to know, Mr Gray, that Confrontations Europe has a youth initiative called YES-EU!—Young Europeans Supporting EU!—and is engaging in a campaign aimed at the upcoming European parliamentary elections. We are talking about a budget line that pays for people to try to influence, with their pro-EU stance, the parties standing in those elections.
Unfortunately, regulations prohibit those perhaps Eurosceptic organisations that are pro-nation state from bidding for money; they would be ruled out of order.
Under the last multi-annual financial framework, Confrontations Europe got about £1 million from the Europe for Citizens programme, just to support its running costs—not to carry out any programmes, for which it also bids for money.
Why is this important? I have helpful analysis in a letter that the Minister submitted to the European Scrutiny Committee back on 24 April 2012; I know that he remembers every single word of it. On the structure of the Europe for Citizens programme, he says:
“some 60% of the funds would be allocated to democratic engagement in the European institutions”—
that is, to European federalist propaganda lines. Some 20% would be
“for remembrance activities (mostly concerning the victims of World War II); 10% for the analysis, dissemination, and evaluation of results; and the remaining 10% for programme management.”
My amendment would therefore be quite a big ask at European Council level; it would take the 60% that goes to organisations that I am not particularly keen on—I am sure that many in this House are not, either—and put it towards future remembrance activities.
I have a question for the Minister, because the next paragraph of his letter troubles me slightly:
“We would seek to maintain the prioritisation of civic participation over remembrance”.
I wonder whether that is really what we are meant to do, at this time, in our negotiations at Council level. If we were not even trying to change the budget line at the time when it was being discussed, I would have concerns, especially considering the importance of this year and what we are remembering. Perhaps it is a civil servant thing.
That is a fair point, and I am asking for more, more, more for commemoration. Indeed, the House has the power to send the Minister back, back, back to the negotiating table to deliver that.
The Minister will know that bids for the money have been requested by the European Commission. On its website it asks for
“Organisations focusing on the common values of the EU: raising citizens’ awareness of the importance of maintaining and promoting democratic values in the EU”—
blah, blah, blah—
“who have made a significant contribution to later stages of European construction.”
The Commission gives money, which I do not think that it should under the financial regulation of the budget, to organisations just to run themselves so that they can bid for more money from EU projects. Because bids are open, even though the second line of the Commission document says that that has to go through the national Parliaments processes, it feels like business as usual—as if this is a done deal and there is nothing to be concerned about.
That leads to my final point, which is a general concern about what is going on when it comes to education, youth culture and sports councils. The council of 16 December 2013 adopted conclusions on the contribution of sport to the European Union economy, in particular addressing youth unemployment and social inclusion. The conclusions present sport as a tool to address the social challenges facing young people across Europe. The Netherlands informed the council that it considered that there were insufficient cross-border aspects to justify action at EU level, but said that it would not block anything because, essentially, all the other countries, including the UK, were content with the conclusions.
It is that constant drip, drip—the taking away of power; the general drift—that is the problem. In this case, we have a veto and we can do something that is a bit stronger, and I think that the people of our country would expect us to do that.
I would not like to say that, because I am completely convinced that the Minister is 100% engaged with this regulation, and fully aware of past issues. However, I have been in meetings in which Members of the European Parliament—as I was then—sit down with staff of the European Commission and, indeed, member state civil servants to negotiate a trialogue that sets out—[Interruption.] No, it does not do that. It sets out to negotiate a deal at different stages, and one wonders what the political engagement with those civil servants might be, because when the deal is done it is done in that room at that very time.
However, that is by the bye. I have concerns about the Europe for Citizens line, and I hope that I have outlined them to the House. I certainly intend to press my amendment, and I very much welcome support for it.
I was not going to speak, but I thought I might as well have a go since I am here. I feel inspired by the words of the hon. Member for Daventry (Chris Heaton-Harris) who moved amendment 4, which seems perfectly reasonable to me. The key paragraph is that
“expenditure under the programme may be used only to fund education about and reflection on the Holocaust, armed conflicts and totalitarian regimes in Europe’s history”.
Amendment 3 in the name of the hon. Member for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg) is also perfectly reasonable. However, particularly at this time of year with Holocaust memorial day when the work of organisations such as the Holocaust Educational Trust is in full flow, it is worth remembering that there are now fewer and fewer holocaust survivors. A number who survived the death camps came to east London, where my constituency is, and that generation is now disappearing. There are ever fewer of them going into schools, as they do in my constituency, and as they do in many schools in many constituencies represented in this House, to talk about what happened to them and their families.
The amendment seems perfectly reasonable, although I would prefer it if decisions on where those resources were spent were made by national Governments, not by the European Union, since we were all involved in that conflict and in liberating the camps in 1945.
I agree with the hon. Gentleman, and according to the amendment, it could be so used. If the amendment were agreed and put into operation, I do not think there would be anything to stop these resources being used to remember what happened 100 years ago and in the following four years.
On the one hand we have a proposal that says the resources should be used only for commemorating armed conflict and, specifically, the holocaust, and on the other hand the proposal from the European Union is that we have a broad-brush approach and use them for promoting European citizenship. As the hon. Member for South Northamptonshire (Andrea Leadsom) said, European citizenship does not exist. European citizens do not exist. There are citizens of individual countries, but not citizens of the European Union. Basically, the original draft means that we could be allowing resources to be given to some swivel-eyed Euro-fanatic in an office in Brussels or Strasbourg, who will then spend the money on whatever pet project happens to walk along at the time.
I will give way in a moment.
A few years ago when I was the Member of Parliament for Hornchurch, I wrote to the London office of the European Union, asking specific questions about where resources were going on different education and propaganda campaigns. I never had a response, despite the fact that I sent a follow-up a few months later. It never answered a single question in the letter.
By an Act of Parliament, we are European citizens. It was passed in this House by a Conservative Government, and when asked whether the Queen was a citizen, the then Home Secretary said, “I see no reason why not.” We are European citizens by the will of this Parliament, and that is what many of us here want to defeat: this very concept of being cluttered along into something we never wanted to be part of.
I am concerned that the hon. Gentleman feels depressed. It may be the tone of voice used by my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Sir Richard Shepherd). He does not usually sound as down as that.
The hon. Gentleman has come to the debate somewhat late, but he referred to swivel-eyed Euro-fanatics. I can assure him that organisations such as the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations, the Community Service Volunteers and the National Council for Voluntary Organisations—all British-based charities—have benefited from this programme.
Many other organisations have benefited from the programme, some of which were mentioned by the hon. Member for Daventry. Taxpayers’ money is being given to people such as Jacques Delors, who has a very narrow interpretation of what the European Union should be. The phrase “Euro-federalism” is widely used, but I think that it is a misnomer. People such as Delors want the European Union to move not towards a federal structure, but towards a highly centralised structure. That has been the whole direction of travel of the campaigns led by Delors and many other founders of the European Union, or the Common Market as it then was. They want us to move not towards a federation, but towards a highly centralised and quite autocratic structure.
I want to make one thing clear. I think that the debate on the European Union—we have seen elements of this today—is fairly irrational. If someone stands up on a public platform or in this House and praises the European Union, they are told that they are betraying our sovereignty and 1,000 years of history. If they criticise the European Union, however, they are condemned as a nationalist, a xenophobe and a little Englander. The reality is that my objections to the European Union are based on internationalism and the value of democracy, because the European Union has a marked tendency to be anti-democratic. I see that in what we are discussing today. That is why I think that the two amendments are perfectly reasonable and why I will be supporting them.
It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Gray.
I, too, have tabled an amendment—amendment 3 —which is very straightforward. Some 60% of the money that will be available in this pot will be used for the promotion of the federalist agenda. Those of us who listened to the Minister’s recent intervention should have been deeply concerned that otherwise politically independent charities are in receipt of money from that budget, because in order to receive it they have to agree to support the integration of Europe.
I am delighted that my hon. Friend has mentioned twinning, because it is dealt with under the democratic engagement and civic participation strand of the programme. The Commission’s work programme states in relation to that:
“By mobilizing citizens at local and EU levels to debate on concrete issues on the European political agenda, this measure will seek to promote civic participation in the Union policy making process and develop opportunities for societal engagement and volunteering at Union level.”
What the Minister has failed to understand is that they use something that is said to be innocuous, such as twinning, and dish out a little money so that people can go to other countries within the European Union and meet other people, but they have to be doing so in advancement of the European ideal as laid down by Brussels. If they want to have twinning to set forth Eurosceptic ideas, they will not get any money. It is set out in the documentation itself, which the Minister ought to be aware of, that twinning is not an apolitical activity under this programme; it is using taxpayers’ money to further a political scheme.
With regard to amendment 3, I think that it is important that no money should be used in an election period to advantage one party against another. In the United Kingdom that will be particularly sensitive if we have a referendum on our membership of the European Union. If we do that, one side—the side that wishes to get out—will have to raise its own money from the private sector. It will not get any Government or European grants. It will be dependent on the good will and generosity of individuals and corporations across the United Kingdom. However, the other side might get shed loads of money shovelled to it by the European Union.
The Minister, when he answers, might question whether that is a reality and whether I am raising straw men to knock down with what I have to say, but I have looked into the matter and examined, for example, the funding that goes to the European Movement. The European Movement has received about £1.5 million from that programme. It is very committed to the European ideal. It promotes it and argues for it, but it also uses its money in an election period to promote voting against a particular party. The European Movement website includes an undated paper, briefing paper 11, about the rotten planks of the UK Independence party platform. I did a bit of Sherlock Holmes work to try to date briefing paper 11. As you might expect, Mr Gray, being an expert mathematician, it helpfully comes between briefing paper 10 and briefing paper 12. Briefing paper 10, of December 2008, was entitled “How Britain can join the euro”—a very prescient, helpful, wise paper by the European Movement—and briefing paper 12 was an analysis of the election results in 2009. Between those, a paper was issued on the rotten planks of UKIP.
It seems to me that the European Movement must have used some of the £1.5 million received from the European Union to attack a specific political party in the run-up to European elections. It strikes at the very core of democracy, if one side of the argument has access to very substantial sums of money in political terms. The Minister has said that it is not a lot of money in the grand scheme of things, and that may well be true, but for a British general election, €20 million of European Union money is a lot.
I almost always end up on the same side as the hon. Lady. She makes the point that I was just moving on to, so I am deeply grateful to her. It seems to me eccentric of Her Majesty’s Government to go to so much trouble to pass the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill, which I support thoroughly, to control the spending of third parties in our elections, when—suddenly, lo and behold—the European Union, whose law is superior to British law, can come along with a whole pile of money for groups outside the control of the British Parliament or the British people and can unlevel, unbalance and skew the playing field in favour of one side, particularly in a referendum vote. Indeed, that has already happened.
We know that 60% of the programme goes to the advancement of the European ideal, but that ideal is perverted to include even the most modest things, such as twinning. For a charity to be able to spend any of that money, it has to sign up to the political objective, so however harmless it is in any other respect—however modest its aims, and however apolitical it is—it has, in one respect, to be a pro-European charity to apply for the money. The programme goes a stage further, however, in that it hands out money directly to participants in a political process, and that undermines what we as democrats are trying to do in this House.
I tabled amendment 3 to try to prevent that from happening, if it is really the Government’s wish to push ahead with the programme. If the Government have any sense, they would abandon the whole scheme. They should remember that they have a veto, and they should try to find some backbone.
I rise to support my hon. Friends the Members for Daventry (Chris Heaton-Harris) and for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg). It is right that the Government should go back and exercise their veto. I will briefly make the case for the use of that veto. We urge the Government to do so on this issue not only because of the merits of the case—they have been well explained by my two hon. Friends and by the hon. Member for Leyton and Wanstead (John Cryer)-—but because we in this House and outside it are deeply frustrated by the fact that the European Union’s powers, which are already too large, are increasing day by day through court judgments, directives and regulations, with nothing being done to contain them.
The Labour party gave away 168 vetoes on crucial policies, so there are now huge areas on which we cannot respond to our constituents’ wishes to change or improve things, because we are under the control of European law. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Helen Goodman) laughs, but she has no idea of the damage that the Labour party has done and of the pent-up frustrations in the country. We cannot have our own policies on energy, borders or criminal justice because powers have been given away.
Today, we are considering a small area on which we still have a veto. Unless the European Union’s policy is perfect, surely the Government must use that veto. We must either use it or lose it. We need to show that wherever we have a veto, we have a voice and an independent view.
I did not vote for it because I was not a Member of the House when the legislation was passed—I am not that old. I was against giving up the veto then, but the former Prime Minister accepted it because it was in very limited areas. It has subsequently expanded into a huge number of far more important areas, which has led to the passions and frustrations that we hear about every day from our constituents in e-mails and letters and in conversations on the doorstep.
There is an added reason why the veto should be used with respect to this proposal, as has been explained eloquently by the three Members who have made speeches already. The European Union is presuming to intervene in formerly democratic politics in our countries and to build on the technical definition of “citizen” that has been embedded in recent treaties with the idea that people’s primary loyalty should be to the European Union and not to their member state. With these programmes, it is seeking to disrupt loyalty, accountability and sovereignty in its member states still further. This is propaganda on the taxes and expenditure that we do not need at a time of austerity. It is unforgivable that money is being raised from our hard-working constituents and passed to the European Union for propaganda.
I urge the Committee to reject the Minister’s proposal. I urge the Committee to stand up for the British people and for the proper use of taxpayers’ money. I urge the Committee to oppose propaganda on the taxes. I urge the Committee to say to the Government, “When you have a veto, for goodness’ sake use it, because we do not have enough vetoes left.”
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship this afternoon, Mr Gray.
I will not repeat the admirable and persuasive arguments that my hon. Friends the Members for Daventry (Chris Heaton-Harris) and for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg) made in promoting their amendments, but I do support those amendments. I add my agreement to that of my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr Redwood). I also support what was said from the Opposition Benches by the hon. Member for Leyton and Wanstead (John Cryer).
My opposition to the Europe for Citizens proposal and my support for amendments 4 and 3 are founded on the cost and the underlying principle. When budgets in the UK are being reduced, it is entirely wrong for us to be contributing funds to this European programme. If we were to ask our constituents, I am pretty sure that no constituency in the country would support the idea of UK taxpayers’ money going towards the promotion of EU citizenship. We have all, whether we like it or not—I certainly do not like it—been citizens of the European Union since 1993, following the passage into law of the Maastricht treaty.
The EU spends billions of euros to promote itself and justify its own existence. As I made clear in my first intervention this afternoon, the proposal that we are discussing is a very small part of the total amount that is spent by the EU to justify its existence. It funds publications, films, think-tanks and lobby groups, but only if they support the idea of further European Union integration.
My hon. Friend is making a strong and compelling case. Does he agree that it is rather insidious that one of the requirements inserted into the pension arrangements of former EU politicians and bureaucrats is actively to promote the EU and European citizenship? They have to do that to receive their pension.
My hon. Friend makes a good point, and I entirely agree that it is insidious. Indeed, we have seen in the other place in recent days that a lot of their lordships who receive pensions from the EU are voting to prevent the people of my constituency and my hon. Friend’s from having their say on whether they want us to remain a member of the EU.
I now want to turn, Mr Gray—sorry, Mr Robertson; you have changed in the twinkling of an eye—to article 5 of the proposal that we are being asked to approve. The money in question will be available not just to member states but to acceding countries, candidate countries and potential countries. Not only existing member states but all the others that the EU would like to draw into the net will be able to put their hands into the pot. The money will be used to persuade them and their citizens of the benefits of the EU.
To back up what was said earlier about access to the programme, article 6 provides that it shall be open to those wanting to promote
“European citizenship and integration, in particular local and regional authorities and organisations, twinning committees, European public policy research organisations (think-tanks), civil society organisations…and cultural, youth, educational and research organisations.”
Money could be taken from the fund only by those who want to promote EU unity and the EU ideal. Someone who, like me, believes that the citizens of Europe would be better off if we had a Europe of independent nation states working together where it was necessary to do so, and trading with each other as neighbours, would get nothing from the fund. As my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset said, it is likely that they would find themselves up against a political candidate who was funded by the EU and supported, perhaps indirectly, to put forward the case for EU citizenship.
I support the amendments entirely and urge the House to vote for them.
First, I wish to express my appreciation to my hon. Friends who have tabled these useful amendments.
I have great difficulty with the Government’s position. They tell us that they are in a process of evaluating the EU’s competences, functions and so on. I guess the process is rather bogged down in the sands at the moment, but no doubt it can be lubricated with yet more money. To many people in this country, the EU has become just a money trap that has built itself on transfer payments made to other nations. It is as simple as that. Those who queue up for that money have expectations of yet more money, acting as the glue that binds together this quasi-state.
I have lived through all the statements from hon. Friends on the Front Benches. “No essential loss of sovereignty” was one of the great clarion calls of an earlier phase of this debate, but this measure is now being brought forward as a little squeak, without any opposition from those on the Government Front Bench. It is extraordinary; here we are going through a European monetary crisis, solvency questions and all the rest, but it is so automatically the case that the British Government will go in and support almost every initiative focused on or brought forward from the European Union. The country cries out, “Why? Why are we transferring money when we need money? Why are we supporting these endeavours?”
I have a book at home that is rather threadbare now. It is called “Palgrave’s Golden Treasury”. There is a poem in it called “Dane-Geld” and—you might remember this, Mr Robertson—
“once you have paid him the Dane-Geld
You never get rid of the Dane.”
Of course, this is not about Danes but about a principle in life. If we say “no,” it ceases; if we open our arms and say, “Well, it is a cheap price today,” they come back for more. Over 35 years in Parliament, they have done nothing but come back for more. I have heard Front-Benchers issuing praise and saying, “But these are important things, aren’t they?” Yes. Buried in the agreement there is something that the entire House would accede to—the horror that was the holocaust. Therefore the House, in its generosity, mindful of all the other pressures on the British taxpayer and the people of this country, would accede to that. However, consider all the things that this arrangement is used for. It is not about the holocaust for Europe; this is the onward march towards some sort of new political construct.
We were made citizens in 1992 in the Maastricht treaty. It is called the treaty on European Union, and in it was the question, included in the title, of citizenship. Citizenship is to me a matter of our own emotional context, the country we believe in, and what it is we are. That is citizenship. It is not the tick of a box in the Foreign Office or Brussels. It is about who we are and what we feel about our country.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it seems strange that although those on the Government Front Bench have said they want to bring back powers from Europe and will have a referendum—something we all want; well, I certainly do—and although we have here an opportunity to say no to something that the British people overwhelmingly want to say no to, we get excuses and all sorts of things to put the measure through? [Interruption.]
I am grateful not only to be promoted to the Privy Council but for the opportunity to respond to my hon. Friend. Given his concern over wasting money, will he acknowledge that the Government succeeded in getting the first ever reduction in the budget of the European Union?
No. We have a long way to go, as the Minister well knows. [Interruption.] I do not want to have a chit-chat with him outside the rules of the Committee. I am trying to give the Ministry backbone.
I cannot see how the measure is compatible with what the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey) has said. We are in the beginnings of a negotiation. The Foreign Office is supposedly trawling to find the balance of competences and whether it is right. By and large, surprisingly—my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr Redwood) has made a study—it has found that it is about right so far. That is all tosh, and hon. Members know it.
We are playing out a shadow boxing match over what are said to be small sums of money. Governments get very grand. No sum of money is small to those who do not have it, but to Governments, no sum of money is too large to tax people. I am not making a case for not doing good things; I am making a case that was made formidably by the hon. Members who have tabled amendments, which the Committee should support.
Hon. Members are here to represent the British people. As the hon. Member for Vauxhall and I have pointed out, the House agreed that we were to be citizens of the EU, with all the assurances of no essential loss of sovereignty. “Citizens of the EU” is a hollow expression, because the relationship comes from who we are, what we feel and the context in which we grow up.
When I was a new MP, I seem to remember coming to the Dispatch Box and swearing loyalty to Her Majesty the Queen. We are citizens of this country first—[Interruption.] Forgive me. We may be subjects of Her Majesty the Queen, but we are equally citizens of Europe. I know which one takes priority.
I am with my hon. Friend on these matters.
The dissolution in the sense of ourselves in the past 30 years that I have been in Parliament is not entirely down to me. The disillusionment is partly down to the grinding of the EU; its false prospectuses; its lies, lies and lies; and its belief in the objective of creating the dream of a Monsieur Delors or a group of European politicians of the earlier part of the second half of the last century. It is not my dream. It was undoubtedly the dream of a part-generation of British politicians. It has been so encompassing and encased in bonds of steel and iron that Ministers and shadow Ministers sit on the Front Benches not even thinking it necessary to say, on a small matter such as the Bill, “Why? Stop it. No. Don’t go on.”
I urge hon. Members not to pay the Danegeld or to support that message. They should reject it. They should let the Government know that the purpose of Parliament is to ensure a proper negotiation on competences and what we are about. Do not give money to the Danes because they will only come back for more.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Robertson. I should declare an interest: I am half Danish—my mother is Danish and my father is English.
The hon. Member for Daventry (Chris Heaton-Harris), who has moved amendment 4, was right to remind the Committee that today is Holocaust memorial day. As well as remembering those horrific episodes, it is extremely important that people learn from them. In my constituency, I have found that holocaust education has been particularly useful in the learning of young people who might be tempted to get involved with racist organisations. They have learnt that what begins as a small piece of prejudice can grow into something very dangerous indeed.
Her Majesty’s Opposition will not support the hon. Member for Daventry in the Lobby this afternoon. He is of course right that archiving is important and uncontroversial, and that remembrance is extremely important, but it is not adequate to say that we do not want to educate our citizens on the institutions of Europe when they have a role in taking part in elections to the European Parliament. They need to understand what powers it has and does not have, so that they are able to make intelligent decisions. I am sorry, but I am not convinced, as I said on Second Reading, that knowing more will mean that people will be uncritical. I think that if they know more they will perhaps understand the case for some of the reforms.
I wish to remind Government Members that in this country we have a serious problem with the low participation of young people in democratic processes. In the previous general election, only 44%—fewer than half—of 18 to 24-year-olds voted, while 76% of those over the age of 65 voted. I would have thought that it is common sense that people need to understand the institutions they vote on and the influence they can have by doing so. Government Members have as keen an interest as anybody in educating people, particularly young people, so that they participate and take these matters seriously.
Not for the first time, the hon. Lady puts her finger on the nub of this debate. She is supporting exactly the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Sir Richard Shepherd). There is a direct causal link between the reduction in election turnout and the transfer of sovereignty from our UK Parliament to the supranational body and the growth in power of the pseudo-nation of the European Union. That is why so many people, including young people, are bitterly cynical about the power they have with which to influence politics. Decisions that affect their lives every day are taken by that supranational body and not by our sovereign national Parliament.
I do not share the hon. Gentleman’s view. However, there are some organisations and institutions in the modern world that have an interest in undermining democracy. There are large global corporations that do not wish to be accountable to any legal framework, whether European or domestic. It is vital that we build a sense of responsibility and citizenship among our citizens, particularly our young people.
As the right hon. Gentleman knows, that is a completely different issue and is not what we are discussing today. In fact, I am not even sure whether dilating on the matter would be in order, and I do not wish to cut across the Chair.
It is sensible for there to be education on the EU institutions, particularly for young people. The themes of the projects listed in the introduction to the unnumbered regulation are not as hon. Members have described. They are:
“education, vocational training and youth, sport, culture and the audiovisual sector, fundamental rights and freedoms, social inclusion, gender equality, combating discrimination, research and innovation, information society, enlargement and the external action of the Union.”
If the hon. Gentleman will allow, I will come on to that point and ask the Minister some questions about the process and scope for amending the regulation.
Hon. Members should find article 2 of the regulation encouraging. Its aim is to
“encourage democratic and civic participation of citizens at Union level, by developing citizens’ understanding of the Union policy making-process and promoting opportunities for societal”
“engagement and volunteering at Union level.”
That is not the vision some Government Members are presenting.
I turn now to amendment 3, which was tabled by the hon. Member for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg). I think he did some philosophy at university. He is trying to prove a negative here. There is no way the Government can say whether a piece of expenditure would influence elections to the European Parliament. It is logically impossible to do what he asks. It is important to remember that the money is not for political parties.
The hon. Gentleman’s point is not pertinent to the discussion, because the question is this: how will money be spent in the future? The Minister should tell us what measures he will take to prevent it from going to such political organisations. On Second Reading, I asked him many questions that I hope he will answer this afternoon. What will the application process be? Who will get the money? How can we spread it across the whole country, not just organisations that have been habitual beneficiaries, so as to spread an understanding of Europe? Government Members display such understanding in great measure, but they are much better informed about the mechanisms of the EU than most people in this country, and I do not understand why they want to keep this knowledge to themselves. It is profoundly undemocratic.
I agreed, however, with the hon. Member for Bury North (Mr Nuttall) when he raised the issue of money going to non-EU member states under the theme of enlargement and work. It seems to me that whereas we have settled European policies on, for example, education and culture, enlargement is much more contentious.
That brings me to my next point. I am not going to ask the Minister what the process would be if he wanted to veto the regulation, because it is patently absurd to say that because we have a veto, we should use it. There are other matters relating to Europe that I think it would be far more important to veto than this. [Interruption.] Conservative Members are tempting me down a path down which I think it would be wrong for me to go. What I want to ask the Minister is this: what would be the process for amending the regulation, rather than rejecting it in its entirety? We need to get on with some of this work, and we do not want too much delay.
I am grateful to the Minister for that information.
There are weaknesses in the regulation, such as the one identified by the hon. Member for Bury North, but I think it entirely reasonable for us to have a process allowing voluntary organisations to bid for funds so that people can learn about the European Union. The National Council for Voluntary Organisations has provided extremely positive feedback on the grants. It refers to
“Support for participation and democratic engagement. People’s wellbeing…employment, social cohesion and sustainable development. Impact of EU policies in societies”.
What could be more neutral than that? The NCVO also refers to
“Exchange of expertise…Building capacity of voluntary and community organisations.”
Conservative Members claim to support the big society, but now they seem to want to vote down money that would promote it. Finally, the NCVO refers to
“Establishing links between local authorities and community organisations in different countries”.
Although there are weaknesses in the regulation, I think that the positives outweigh the problems raised by Conservative Members.
I should like the Minister to answer these questions. What will the application system be? How will he ensure that the money goes to groups throughout the country, and is not concentrated on small and highly politicised groups? I should also like to know whether he has discovered the answer to the question I asked him earlier about the archiving: why are we locking up the European documents for 30 years—which is what we do with documents in London—and who will have access to them in the meantime?
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Robertson.
We had a lively Second Reading debate on the Bill last week, and I commented at the time that the Chamber was full of the House’s most prominent European experts. I think it slightly unfortunate—although I do not blame anyone in particular—that today’s debate falls at the same time as the annual parliamentary assembly of the Council of Europe. Members will be aware that the Council of Europe advertises itself as an organisation consisting of 47 countries and 820 million citizens. I gather than some of our leading experts on Europe are in Athens, debating matters of European import. It is interesting that their expertise is being put to good use.
I merely note that the experts who were present for the Second Reading debate are experts on so many European matters that they are spread thinly, but able to participate in important European debates wherever they may take place in Europe. There arises from that an important point, which was made by the hon. Member for Hornchurch. [Hon. Members: “Leyton and Wanstead.”] I mean the hon. Member for Leyton and Wanstead (John Cryer).
Debates such as this are sometimes painted in black and white. It is suggested that if one opposes an initiative from the European Union, one is anti-European, and if one supports it, one is fanatically pro-European, but things are actually much more subtle than that. I think we are all pro-Europeans in this House. It is just that some of us are more critical than others of the European Union and its regulations and assemblies.
We are debating two important amendments tabled by two of our foremost European experts. For clarity, I should say that we are debating only the Europe for Citizens programme. The archive measure appears to be relatively uncontroversial—I say that advisedly—and therefore able to be passed without much comment. The amendments seek to do two things. Amendment 4 seeks simply to limit what the money from the programme can be spent on, so that it could be spent only on events commemorating the holocaust and other events in Europe, particularly those relating to the impact of totalitarian regimes, dictatorships and autocracies on their citizens. Amendment 3 seeks to ensure that any money given out by the programme would not interfere with a European election or any subsequent referendum. I hope that, once the Opposition stop playing their silly games, we will have the referendum that this country deserves. I know that many Labour Members desire that referendum and will do all they can to persuade the leadership of their party to hold one.
On amendment 4, I understand the desire of my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry (Chris Heaton-Harris) to make his point as forcefully as possible, but I repeat what I said on Second Reading, which was that it will always be possible to find organisations with which one disagrees receiving money from a grant-giving programme. My hon. Friend has made it clear that there are certain organisations with which he disagrees, along with others with which he agrees. He was humble enough not to propose a Heaton-Harris Europe for Citizens fund, however. He simply told us about the organisations with which he disagreed.
The hon. Member for Leyton and Wanstead talked about grants for swivel-eyed Eurocrats. I challenge him to tell us whether he puts the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations, Community Service Volunteers or the National Council for Voluntary Organisations into that category. The ACEVO has stated:
“The Europe for Citizens Programme allows British civil society organisations…to build capacity for the sector in the UK”
“provides opportunities to promote the agenda for social enterprise and social investment”
which this Government have pioneered. It also points out that the UK is now seen as a leader around the world in that regard.
Community Service Volunteers talks about securing funding in partnership with other organisations across Europe, including its Danish partner, FIC, and Croatian organisations. It is applying for a grant to commence on 1 April. The NCVO says that the Europe for Citizens programme exists to support citizens and community organisations in learning from each other across Europe and enables UK organisations to benefit from the best expertise across Europe and to develop their own links to work across borders.
If the amendment tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry (Chris Heaton-Harris) is not approved today, will the public not think that Members have voted, on Holocaust memorial day, against providing extra money for the remembrance of the holocaust? Would that not be shocking?
I would not use the word “shocking” to describe an amendment tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry. I shall be visiting his constituency next Monday, and I look forward to supporting his important work at the Royal and Derngate theatre. What would be disappointing, however, is that the amendment would effectively vote down the regulation. We cannot amend the regulation, so if we cannot agree to it, it would be voted down and we would have to renegotiate it.
I do not want to make points about the holocaust that might be seen as party political. Nor do I seek to undermine my hon. Friend’s amendment, because he has tabled it in good faith. He has pointed out, however, that today is Holocaust memorial day, and he will be aware that the Europe for Citizens programme has funded our national Holocaust Centre and museum. They have written to us to say that the funding enabled them to develop the History Speaks programme, which has provided the world’s first online resource for young people centred on the testimony of holocaust survivors. I have made the point that we negotiated an increase in this budget for holocaust commemorations and commemorations of the impact of totalitarian regimes. I also made the point on Second Reading that we have reduced the overall budget for the programme. We reduced by 7% not only the whole European budget, but the budget for this programme. More money will be spent on commemorations of the holocaust and other such events within a reduced budget. It amounts to about £1 million to £1.5 million from this Government.
On a point of information, I am the Member for Leyton and Wanstead. I used to be the Member for Hornchurch until I was ejected by an ungrateful electorate—I do not really mean that. However, the point I want to make is that a number of organisations that get money from this programme are specifically integrationist organisations that want to see a closer and more centralised European Union. Presumably, if this scheme were to be even-handed, as the chairman of Labour for a Referendum, I could apply for a grant for that organisation.
The hon. Gentleman makes an interesting point. As I understand it, article 6, which covers access to the programme, says:
“The programme shall be open to all stakeholders promoting European citizenship and integration, in particular local and regional authorities and organisations, twinning committees, European public policy research organisations (think-tanks), civil society organisations (including survivors' associations), and cultural, youth, educational and research organisations.”
It does not exclude the organisation mentioned by the hon. Gentleman. He could argue that he was promoting European citizenship and integration by promoting the reform of the European Union. The article does not talk about signing up to the European Union.
The hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Helen Goodman) asked me to monitor the programmes and the grants that are made. Those grants are made by different organisations; all are free to apply. There is no ban on people applying to this fund. They can apply to the European Commission. I will not hold their hand. The fund is there. She can advertise it. I can advertise it on my website. Parliament and the Commission can advertise it. North Tyneside council applied and got money for the Friendship games in 2012. Thetford Twinning Association applied and got funding for Governance in the 21st Century: Sharing International Perspectives. The London borough of Enfield applied and got funding for the European twin town senior citizen network, which was led by Enfield’s over-50 forum. It brought together older people from Enfield, Courbevoie, Halandri in Greece and Gladbeck in Germany. Wigan council got funding for 2020 Together.
I have made it absolutely clear that the amendments would end up defeating the regulation. They would delay funding for important commemoration projects and projects that commemorate the horrific impact of totalitarian regimes in Europe. My hon. Friends may think that there are some individual organisations that should not receive funding, but there are many other organisations, particularly twinning organisations, that have received funding and that we should support. The Government secured a significant reduction in the budget for this programme, as we did with the overall budget. The amount is about £1 million to £1.5 million a year. We should support the measure, and we certainly should not veto it.
Clause 1 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Extent, commencement and short title
Amendment proposed: 3, page 1, line 16, leave out subsection (2) and insert—
‘(2) Except as provided for under subsection (2A), the provisions of this Act come into force on the day on which it is passed.
(2A) Section 1 comes into force in relation to the draft decision to adopt the Council Regulation establishing for the period 2014-2020 the programme ‘Europe for Citizens’ (document number 12557/13) on whatever day the Secretary of State appoints by order made by statutory instrument.
(2B) The Secretary of State may only make an order under subsection (2A) if—
(a) he has laid a statement before both Houses of Parliament stating that no expenditure can take place under ‘Europe for Citizens’ that could influence any European Parliamentary election or referendum in the year prior to such an election or referendum, and
(b) a draft of the order has been laid before and approved by both Houses of Parliament.’.—(Jacob Rees-Mogg.)
Question put, That the amendment be made.
Clause 2 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
The Deputy Speaker resumed the Chair.
Bill reported, without amendment.
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.
We have had a lively debate, both on Second Reading and in Committee. Interestingly, the other place, which often lauds itself as the scrutinising and revising Chamber, spent a grand total of 37 minutes on the Bill, whereas we in this House have now debated it for more than four hours, which goes to show that there is life in this place yet.
As I pointed out on Second Reading, the reason we are able to debate the Bill is the far-sighted reform introduced by the coalition Government in the European Union Act 2011, which ensures that this House has a vote on any treaty passed by the European Union and any measure passed by the European Commission that is not part of an existing treaty. That is because Government Members believe in scrutinising European legislation, in giving elected representatives of the United Kingdom Parliament a say and, through that process and direct democracy, in giving the people of Britain a say in the future shape of Europe.
I afraid that this debate takes place in the shadow of the Opposition’s shameful behaviour in blocking in the other place an important measure to bring in a referendum on our membership of the European Union. I hope that all Opposition Members will take this opportunity on Third Reading to disavow that.
The Minister makes a very weak point. Why do the Government not arrange, even with Lib Dem opposition, to give the House a vote, in Government time, on whether there should be a referendum so that the matter can be resolved once and for all and their lordships would not be allowed to veto it?
The hon. Gentleman calls my point weak but then asks me to arrange a vote that this House has already had. The House voted for that Bill, and passed it almost unanimously. If he wants to trade insults about weak points, I think that he should look to his own first.
On the Europe for Citizens programme, which has been the cause of most concern to my hon. Friends, I reiterate the points that I have made again and again. I recognise that I will not necessarily convert those who are implacably opposed to the programme full stop, but I ask them to note that we have succeeded in reducing its size by about 7%, that our contribution is one among 27 others over a period of seven years and that this particular part of it amounts to between £1 million to £1.5 million a year. I also ask them to note that we have increased the proportion of funding for commemorating the holocaust and the impact of totalitarian regimes from 4% to 20%, and that in relation to the 60% of the money about which they are concerned, because it appears in some instances to have gone to organisations that they do not support, the vast majority of it goes to organisations that are perfectly innocuous and simply seek to extend the hand of European friendship across borders on our continent.
When I say that I hear what you say, Mr Deputy Speaker, I mean that I accept what you say. That is my interpretation: if we hear Mr Deputy Speaker speak on a subject, we accept it without question. For the avoidance of doubt, if we encounter each other and I say that I hear what you say, I accept what you say.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr Redwood) reminds me of another point, which is that even if the House voted down the regulation —which seems unlikely, given the results of the Divisions—the money would not come back to the UK, but would simply be spent by the European Commission in another way, because it is part of the overall budget.
On my personal preference about what Europe should spend less on, first, Mr Deputy Speaker has made it clear that I should not respond and, secondly, even if I were tempted to do so, I would have to defer to the Prime Minister, who is in the course of evaluating our negotiating position to reduce some of the European Union’s competences. However, as a matter of principle, this Government seek to reduce interference by the European Union.
Another important point is that one should be careful about where one deploys one’s opportunities to veto or block European Union legislation. Many countries across the European Union, particularly in eastern Europe, support the programme because, as new EU members who were freed from the Soviet yoke well within living memory, they see a virtue in educating their populations about the fact that they are citizens of a free and democratic Europe, as well as of their own country.
It is important to work with one’s colleagues in the European Union. In the months and years to come, we will ask a great deal of them—we will put forward forceful arguments about how Europe must change—and, at the negotiating tables in Brussels, I do not want to come across colleagues from other countries who say, “Why should we listen to you, because you simply say no to everything in Europe? Anything that comes across your desk is wrong. You do not believe in the European Union, so why should we listen to you about reform?” We want the chance to have a serious debate about reforming the European Union.
I do not know what my hon. Friend’s definition of unhelpful is. I am sure that voting for an amendment that the Government oppose is not unhelpful. I am simply saying that this is a very small programme that costs us between £1 million and £1.5 million a year, and that the vast majority of the programme supports things that we actively should support, such as commemoration of the holocaust, or other areas that, if one were to be pejorative, might be described as innocuous, such as twinning celebrations.
The serious point is that many eastern European member states will use the programme to support their campaign to remain free and democratic nations as part of a free and democratic Europe. Given that the measure has been supported by all the other member states, I think that we in this House should support it and send those eastern European states a signal that we support the journey that they have taken towards freedom and democracy.
I do not share the Minister’s Panglossian view that our debates today and a fortnight ago have provided effective scrutiny. As he pointed out, it is impossible to change the regulation. When this House deals with other legislation, we can amend it. It would be better if we strengthened the scrutiny of proposals that come from Europe when they can still be changed and when there can still be negotiation. As I am sure the Minister knows, the European Scrutiny Committee has produced a report with a number of suggestions, some quite sensible and some not so sensible, on how we could improve our scrutiny processes. It would be far better if we scrutinised European legislation at a much earlier stage than has been the case today and two weeks ago.
We have reached a consensus about the importance of archiving European documents and putting aside resources to remember the holocaust and other serious human rights abuses that have occurred in Europe, particularly in the past century. Her Majesty’s Opposition believe that it is vital to address the apathy and loss of interest in political processes, particularly among young people. We belong to the European Union, even though many Conservative Members wish that we did not. As long as we belong to it, it is important that people use their rights. This is an opportunity to allow people, especially young people, to learn more about the European Union, which might allow them to exercise their rights.
My hon. Friend puts her finger on an important point in talking about many young people’s disillusionment with and alienation from the political process. Would it not be more important to engage young people if they could vote for the people who make their laws in the European Commission and throw the rascals out? At the moment, those people are appointed in a very undemocratic way.
My hon. Friend tempts me to discuss reform of the European institutions. There is a case for reforming them. Perhaps if more young people had a better understanding of how they work, more of them would take the view that he set out. However, we are in the European Union and we have European elections coming up. It is important that people understand the significance of those elections.
I thought that it was a little churlish of the Minister not to describe the application process more clearly, not just for my benefit, but for the benefit of those who are watching the debate. None the less, that is a small point and I shall not divide the House on Third Reading.
This is a dreadful Bill of which Her Majesty’s Government should be deeply ashamed. They should hang their head in shame at having done it. The Department for Culture, Media and Sport, or the Department of entertainments, as my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Sir Richard Shepherd) called it, has agreed to something that directly contradicts what the Prime Minister said a year ago. We have a Prime Minister, a leader of Her Majesty’s Government, who says one thing and a Department for Culture, Media and Sport that brings forward a Bill to do exactly the reverse. The Prime Minister said he was against ever- closer union; the money that we are discussing will be spent on promoting ever-closer union.
The Commons, in its wisdom, is to contradict the Prime Minister. Does that show the proper control that the Government should have of their legislative programme, if Bills are introduced that make the Prime Minister’s words look like wormwood? Is that how the Government wish to treat the British people? Can we have trust in our politicians in this nation if the Prime Minister says one thing and his Ministers bring forth Bills saying another? Are we to feel that there is any movement in the Government’s policy towards reducing ever closer union when their Bills say the reverse and when the words, which are cheap, say one thing but the Acts of Parliament say another—and say that which the British people are opposed to? We have a review of competences to see whether there is the right balance, yet we increase the competences without having any review at all.
We have, by unanimity, agreed to spend money on promoting the ideal of the European Union, and we have had no apology for it and no defence of it other than the Minister saying that he does not much like it but he does not think it is a grand scheme and it might cheer up his mates in eastern Europe.
I am not sure that my hon. Friend the Member for St Albans (Mrs Main) represented my views entirely as I would have them represented. After all, I read out quotations supporting the programme from four British organisations that have as much right as anyone else to say that they represent the views of the British people, including the national Holocaust Centre.
They are four British institutions that have had to take the European shilling and sign up to promoting closer European integration to get access to money—institutions that are meant to be under British charity law and politically independent, except when it comes to Europe, when they get handouts to be biased in what they say.
Does my hon. Friend agree that, although the Minister is right that the sums are modest and the grants may well go to organisations of merit that the UK would fund anyway without the need to be given our own money back, the programme will undermine us powerfully as we go to our constituencies to try to persuade our electorate that we are sincere about getting powers back to Britain and putting them to the public in a referendum?
My hon. Friend the Member for Worthing West (Sir Peter Bottomley) will find the word in the “Oxford English Dictionary” if he has a chance to look at it later.
The point is that the programme will absolutely destroy trust and we know that trust in politics is at a low. A recent survey showed that trust in the EU was at an all-time low since the survey was started in 2001. If politicians go around legislating in direct contradiction of what they have said, the British public will take them for untrustworthy.
The hon. Gentleman is almost invariably precise on this subject, and I usually agree with him, but he said that the money would be used to promote the ideal of the European Union. In fact, it will be used to promote myths about it, one of which is that the EU, not NATO, has delivered peace in Europe over the past 60 or 70 years.
I am extremely grateful to the hon. Gentleman, and I apologise for understating my opposition to this Bill. That is not an error I shall repeat.
The Bill is a desperate disappointment. When I was first elected, I was told by my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills that Governments would promise things. They would give guarantees, undertakings and reassurances about how Eurosceptic they were, and I, as a young and naive new Member, would believe them and put trust in the leadership of the party to speak as it did, just as my hon. Friend found when he first came here. He said that as time went by I would find that those promises turned out to be as ashes and dust, and that although the Government were willing to say, to play, and to sing the Eurosceptic tune, they would actually be dancing the pro-European dance. In this Bill, that dance has been taken to a further degree. It would win “Strictly Come Dancing” for its skill in dancing to the pro-European tune. It is a great betrayal of trust.
This is not about the amount of money involved, which is small; it is the principle of proposing and advancing the citizenship of Europe—a citizenship that is odious to most subjects of Her Majesty. It is something we never asked for, never wanted, and that most of us would reject, and we object to our taxes being taken to pay for it.
“Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.”
We know Her Majesty’s Government’s true pro-European colours from this particular fruit.
Yes, I suppose I should agree in general principle with my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg). This has been a legitimate exercise in parliamentary scrutiny of the spending, but I am disappointed with how we got to this point. I have been surprised by some of the points raised in the debate. On Second Reading, when the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Helen Goodman) got the number of countries in the European Union badly wrong, she drew a few concerns that perhaps she did not know what she was talking about. Fortunately for us, she proved that exactly today in her speech, so that is all good.
The Minister said that we had a number of experts in Athens; I think the Chair of the European Scrutiny Committee is there today. From my list of 1,000 organisations that received money from this budget in 2007, he will doubtless be visiting the Masters and Mates Union of Greek Merchant Marine organisation, which managed to receive €47,316. The problem is not necessarily with the organisations that bid for money, and what the Minister did not say when he responded to the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland is that things do not have to be written in the regulations for each budget line. Pages 1, 2 and 3 of the European Union’s budget each year state at the front what is expected of organisations that receive money from the European Union. It will not surprise the Minister to know that those organisations are required to promote ever-closer Union, fly things such as the European flag, and there are other requirements. It is disappointing that so many organisations feel they have to bid for European money with so many strings attached.
In a way, this is a bit like the debate on tax credits that we entered when we took office in 2010. So many people had tax credits—someone with up to about £60,000 of household earnings could claim them. However, when we gradually took something away from people because we could not afford it, people were cross because the Government had spread their largesse around. That is what the European Union is doing. It is throwing its largesse around; it is throwing around our cash with its name all over it, and we had an opportunity to change that.
I understand what my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset says about the Bill painting a picture. We have heard two great speeches—one from the Prime Minister last February, and one from the Chancellor only a couple of weeks ago—about what a new UK relationship with Europe should be, but the vote points us in completely the opposite direction and leaves me wondering whether we really mean what we say. I would like to think we do, but—heaven forbid—the politics behind today’s decision defeat me.
I am disappointed. We are paying for propaganda and politics, which we just do not do in this country. It is great shame that we have missed this opportunity to straighten those things out.
Question put, That the Bill be now read a Third time.
Bill read the Third time and passed, without amendment.