I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
This is a short but important Bill. Let me begin by explaining the background to it. A little over two years ago, at the February 2013 European Council in Brussels, the Prime Minister secured an historic deal. On the expenditure side, it meant that the EU budget was cut in real terms for the first time, and on the revenue side, it protected our rebate.
As Members will recall, under the financing arrangement that was agreed in 2005 and is currently in force, the then United Kingdom Government gave away part of the UK rebate. That has had, and will continue to have, an impact on the UK’s contribution to the EU budget. The European Commission estimated the cost at £6.6 billion over the previous seven-year financial framework, and in future it will cost us about £2 billion a year.
I was one of those who complained bitterly about the supposed renegotiation of the British rebate, which was actually a giveaway. What is the cumulative cost, and will the Government seek to reverse the position that was negotiated in 2005?
As I have said, the estimated cost over the previous seven years was £6.6 billion, and in future it will be about £2 billion a year. I understand the point that the hon. Gentleman is making: he want us to clear up yet another mess that was created by the last Government, although I acknowledge that he was as disappointed by his Government as we were. As for what the UK Government can do about the financial position, let me explain what we did in the 2013 negotiations. Whereas the last Government had agreed to an 8% increase in the spending ceiling, we proceeded with an agenda that was in the UK’s interests. This time, the two sensible things that we could do to protect the British taxpayer were to get the overall budget down and to protect our rebate, and that is precisely what we achieved.
The agreement that the Prime Minister secured back in 2013 was good for Europe and good for the United Kingdom. At the time, some argued that it was not possible, and that the interests of the UK were in some way incompatible with the wider aims of the European Union, but the Government showed them that they were wrong.
Does the Bill not endorse a system that takes £12 billion of our taxpayers’ money and spends it elsewhere on the continent, while we receive not a penny of benefit? If the British people voted “out”, they could presumably be given a £12 billion tax cut to celebrate our leaving the European Union.
My right hon. Friend has taken me in the direction of the wider issue of our EU membership. As became clear this week, the people of the United Kingdom will have an opportunity to vote on that, but this is the system that applies while we are members of the European Union. My right hon. Friend may wish to present his argument during a future debate, but what cannot be in doubt is that the Prime Minister’s achievement during the 2013 negotiations constituted a huge improvement on the record of the last Government. It protected the rebate, and it ensured, for the first time, that we were able to reduce the overall expenditure of the EU over the multi-annual financial framework period.
The hon. Gentleman is very kind. I just wonder whether he intends to mention the debate in the House and the votes, particularly by Labour Members, that gave the Prime Minister such a strong negotiating position and played an important part in strengthening his hand at that time. Will the hon. Gentleman acknowledge that?
It would be a bit rich for the Labour party to claim this success as its own. We have a record of a Conservative Prime Minister who was able to protect the rebate in full as it stood, and also managed to reduce EU expenditure. That is in stark contrast to the record the previous time this process was undertaken in 2005, when part of our rebate was surrendered at significant cost, as I have already set out.
The issue of the CAP has just been raised. By 2019 Scotland’s pillar one per hectare payment rate will be the lowest in the EU. Will the Minister ask the Secretary of State for the full pillar one convergence uplift that was received, as was called for by the Scottish Government and supported across the parties in the Scottish Parliament?
The Conservative-led Government have a very good record in protecting the interests of all parts of the United Kingdom. Indeed, in terms of some of the changes we might have seen in the structural funds, we ensured all parts of the UK were treated fairly, which would not otherwise have been the case. So all I would say to the hon. Gentleman is that of course the Government are determined to protect the interests of all parts of the UK, and, looking at the longer term future of the EU, the CAP does need the type of reform that was once promised and not properly delivered by the last Labour Government.
Let me make a little progress.
This Bill relates only to agreement reached on the revenue side of the EU budget. This is an area that receives much less interest, but is no less important—nor any less of a success for the UK—than the cut to the EU budget. I would like, however, to first remind hon. Members of the details of the deal reached on expenditure, before moving on to revenue, the nub of the Bill.
When others argued that the EU would never reform, and certainly would not cut its budget, we argued that a cut in the EU budget was the right thing to do, especially at a time when so many countries had had to make difficult decisions in their own budgets. We argued that EU spending should be focused on where it could provide real growth, in areas such as high-value research and development, and tertiary education—from which Britain’s universities are particularly well-placed to benefit. We made sure that the UK would not be overly disadvantaged by reductions in spending: so, for instance, we ensured that structural funds would continue to flow to our less well-off regions. Above all, we argued from the point of the view of the British taxpayer, who expects and deserves good value for money—and I should add that the British taxpayer is not unique in this respect. So the seven-year EU budget deal—2014 to 2020—secured by the Prime Minister represents a real-terms cut to the payments limit to €908 billion in 2011 prices. Overall spending on the CAP over this period will fall by 13% compared with the 2007-13 EU budget period. At the same time, spending on research and development and other pro-growth investment will now account for 13%, a 4% increase on the previous budget. That is a good deal for Britain, a good deal for the taxpayer, and very different from the previous time round.
Returning to the issue of the structural fund income to Britain, would it not be easier if we had control of those funds? We could allocate them better, and we would be better off by not having to contribute to the budget. Would it not be more sensible to have regional funds repatriated to Britain, so our Government can decide what and where to spend?
The deal Scotland gets includes support from the structural funds which have been protected as a consequence of decisions made by the UK Government in the last Parliament.
Turning to the deal secured on the revenue side, as hon. Members may be aware, the system by which EU member states finance the annual EU budget is set out in EU legislation known as the own resources decision—ORD for short. At the 2013 February Council, there was strong pressure from some member states, the Commission and the European Parliament to reform the way member states finance the EU budget. These included proposals to introduce a financial transaction tax and do away with the UK rebate, or at least change the way it works.
The Prime Minister stood his ground and made it clear that the UK would not agree to such proposals, nor agree to anything that changed the way our rebate worked. It was a specific objective for the UK that this new financing system would require no new own resources or EU-wide taxes to finance EU expenditure, and no change to the UK rebate, and that is precisely what we achieved.
The political agreement at the 2013 February European Council was accurately reflected in the financing arrangements which all EU member states agreed unanimously at a meeting of the Council of Ministers in May 2014. Under the agreement, which this Bill will implement, the Prime Minister protected what is left of the UK rebate, and this is maintained without any change throughout the life of this agreement.
The agreement also ensures there will be no new types of member state contributions and no new taxes to finance EU spending over this period. The new ORD does not make any changes to the way that the EU budget is financed. There are some changes in the detail of the ORD compared with the previous one, however. For example, it reintroduces reductions in the GNI-based contributions of the Netherlands and Sweden, and introduces small reductions in these contributions for Denmark and Austria. The UK will contribute to these small corrections, which will mean an additional £16 million in contributions from the UK per year compared to the last ORD; that is around 0.1% of our total gross contribution in 2014. Moreover, this will be largely offset by changes in other corrections.
I congratulate the Prime Minister and the Minister on defending Britain’s interests against a far worse settlement, but is it not also the case that under the pre-existing agreements if Britain grows more quickly than the euroland, which it is doing and appears that it will carry on doing, we will get caned by having to pay more tax?
Part of the calculation of member states’ contributions is based on the size of their economy. That means that bigger economies pay more and smaller ones pay less. As an economy becomes relatively bigger, it makes a bigger contribution. That is the factual situation; that is how it works.
I referred earlier to the corrections and the small reductions in the contributions from Denmark and Austria. The UK has always supported the principle of budgetary corrections set out at the 1984 Fontainebleau European Council, which gave us our rebate. In the absence of any meaningful reform on the expenditure side of the budget, we believe that those member states that make disproportionately large net contributions to the budget in relation to their prosperity, such as the UK, should receive corrections.
Further to the point raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (John Redwood), will the Minister explain whether there has been any change as a result of the recalculation of gross national income as the European Union has moved from the European system of accounts known as ESA95 to the later ESA2010, which I believe includes more of the black market? Has that move had the effect of making our economy bigger?
That is not a matter that is related to the Bill. The own resources decision uses the same formula for this financial framework as it did for the previous one. The revisions to GNI to which my hon. Friend refers are a separate matter. The element relating to the hidden economy has on occasions been somewhat overstated in this debate, but yes, there was a correction of our GNI estimates and that did require an additional sum. He will be aware of how this Government negotiated to ensure that we did not have to pay that sum up front—we were given much more time—and that the rebate applied to it.
The own resources decision—the ORD—contains an element that is based on GNI. There may be different ways of calculating the GNI as it is updated. This is not related to the Bill, however. The formula remains essentially the same, and the element that comes from GNI has not changed, although there may be changes to the way in which the GNI works. Indeed, there are changes on an annual basis, because there are revisions to the number.
This new ORD requires the approval of each member state, in accordance with their own constitutional requirements, before it can come into force. The Bill will therefore give UK approval to the Council decision. The passing of the Bill will be the final action necessary in delivering the deal secured by the Prime Minister in 2013. As a result of the deal, EU spending was cut in real terms and UK contributions are forecast to be lower in every year compared with the final year of the Government’s seven-year deal, by on average around £1.3 billion. In addition, our rebate, which is worth around £5 billion per year, is protected. This agreement is in our national interest. It represents a good deal for the taxpayer now and over the coming years.
I would like to draw the House’s attention to what the Prime Minister said in 2013. After the EU budget negotiations, he said:
“Working with allies, we took real steps towards reform in the European Union.”—[Official Report, 11 February 2013; Vol. 558, c. 571.]
Hon. Members will need no reminding that reforming the European Union is one of the key objectives of this Government. The Prime Minister has already had constructive talks with EU leaders on how best to address the UK’s concerns about how the EU is run. These concerns are not unique to the UK. Many in Europe agree with us that the EU is too uncompetitive, too democratically unaccountable and too inflexible to the concerns of citizens in its member states. They agree with us that reform is needed, and the Prime Minister, in turn, is confident that he can and will succeed in negotiating to reform the European Union and our relationship with it.
In February 2013, we saw the positive results of working with partners to achieve real change in Europe. We saw what can be done when we are tough, positive and determined in negotiations with our European partners. Our vision of an open, prosperous Europe can be achieved only on the back of financial discipline. That was the principle on which we negotiated in 2013, and that is a principle we will continue to apply. The agreement that will be implemented by the Bill will be good for Britain and good for Europe, too. I commend it to the House.
I thank the Minister for his welcome. The Opposition will not oppose the Bill, but we will table some amendments that we suggest will improve it. Of course we welcome the fact that a cut was agreed on the seven-year payment ceiling for the European Union budget. This was made clear when we debated the agreement reached at the European Council in February 2013. I remind the Minister of the point I made earlier. The House had voted for a real-terms budget cut in October 2012, which of course helped to create a strong negotiating mandate for the UK. Labour votes in that debate, combined with a Conservative amendment, helped to force a rethink. It was clear at that time that the EU budget could not have continued to rise, year on year, when national Governments were implementing such difficult and deep cuts to public spending.
We all need to work to ensure that the European Union better reflects people’s concerns and that the people who pay for our budget contribution understand and approve of this use of their money. Most people probably do not understand how the EU budget is set or, within that, how our contribution is decided. The language used to describe EU finance is of course technical—the Minister has just used some of that language in his speech. We speak of financial perspectives, own resources decisions, resource ceilings for payments and enlargement-related adjustments. Over the coming months, in the lead-up to the EU referendum, we need much greater transparency in relation to how the EU uses our funding and how the multi-annual financial frameworks and annual budgets are agreed.
An area of concern that has been raised with the Prime Minister is the growing gap between the ceiling on spending commitments and the ceiling on payments. That gap, as agreed in the settlement of February 2013, is between €960 billion on commitments and €908 billion on payments. The gap has crept up from an average of 2.6% to the current 5.4%, and it is projected to rise to 5.7% from 2014 to 2020. When questioned on this during the 2013 statement, the Prime Minister said that the gap was “not untypical”, but we feel that it is important that the public can be reassured that this gap is actually manageable.
We believe that there must be a regular review of the level of EU budget spending and that the process of commitment and payment appropriations—and the gap between them—must be kept under review. There must also be a review of whether alternative arrangements may offer stronger budgetary control and improved transparency. It would help if the European Commission thought it was important to give more and better information on the budget and the budget process, and in language that members of the public could understand.
Yes, indeed. I am making the point that we need to make this process clearer, and I would have thought that the right hon. Gentleman and the Minister would agree with that. It is a difficult technical process, but the people outside this place need to be able to understand it. In my view, they do not.
I think people do understand that. The point is that the benefits are not understood. [Interruption.] The right hon. Gentleman has his view, and other people have a different one. The process could be made clearer, and it is my contention that we will have to do that. As we put this important decision in front of people in the coming months, they will have to be able to understand this better than they do at the moment.
Interestingly, the European Commission recently sent hon. Members a document promising to tell us “How the European Union works”. We have a host of new Members with us today, and I do not know whether any of them have seen that document in among the mountain of material that has landed on them recently. It is a 40-page document, but it contains only two short paragraphs—indeed, 10 lines—about the EU budget. It does not give figures for that budget, nor does it describe how the money is spent. Yet in the months ahead, as I said, that will be a key aspect of the debate for the people of this country.
The debate in the House in February 2013 and other debates since have focused on the fact that substantial reform of priorities is still needed in the EU budget. We have had questions about the balance of agriculture spending, but the Labour party believes that growth and jobs should continue to be prioritised by cutting back even further on agriculture spending and other similar priorities. Spending on the common agricultural policy fell as a proportion of the budget from 55% in 1997 to 46% in 2010. We welcome the continued decline in agriculture spending as a share of the European budget; it will drop from 41% of EU commitments in 2014 to 35% in 2020. The difficult reflection for people outside Parliament, however, is that with agriculture making up only 1.6% of the total output of the European Union, why does it still account for 30% to 40% of the budget? There is still much more to do.
I welcome what my hon. Friend is saying, but although the proportion of the budget commanded by agriculture is falling, in money terms over the past eight years there has been a fairly significant increase of 26%—so agriculture is still increasing in money terms.
Indeed, and that is why I am making the point, with which I am sure my hon. Friend would agree, that if we want more of a focus on growth and jobs in a smaller budget, which we do in the Opposition, there have to be further cuts and changes in priorities.
In the debate on the settlement in February 2013, the modest increase in funds targeted towards growth, infrastructure, research and development, and innovation was welcomed, but we also expressed concern that the balance away from agriculture spending towards the spending on growth and jobs was not sufficient. We need constantly to remind ourselves about unemployment —24 million people are unemployed throughout the EU, including 4.8 million 15 to 24-year-olds. In the UK, of course, we still have 735,000 16 to 24-year-olds who are looking for work. We want to see greatly increased investment in the funds targeted on growth, infrastructure, research and development, and innovation. We need the European Union to provide a better framework and strategy to achieve the growth in jobs. Our missions go further than that, however, and we also need the EU to act as a guardian of rights and protections at work. The Opposition want to talk about creating jobs and to focus on the right type of jobs and on the quality and security of those jobs.
We have supported a cut in the EU budget, but we will continue to press for a reform of budget priorities. During the passage of the Bill, therefore, we will call for a fundamental review by the end of 2015 of the budget priorities and of waste and inefficiency in the EU budget. Debates in the House have included many references to outdated practices such as relocating the European Parliament to Strasbourg each month, which costs €200 million a year. There are a number of other areas where savings can be made.
In previous debates, hon. Members from both sides of the House have suggested many ways in which money could be saved and inefficiencies prevented in the European Union, ranging from cutting spending on the House of European History Museum, costing a reported £137 million, to cutting export refunds. Hon. Members repeatedly raised the need to reform the CAP—today is no exception—and a number have also mentioned the levels of salaries and benefits for EU staff, including their differential tax rate and housing allowances.
The hon. Lady is making an interesting speech with many good points, but does she not think it strange that we are joining a club, paying all those billions of pounds, when for 18 or 19 years the auditors have not signed off its accounts? What other institution would the Government go anywhere near if they could not get the accounts? Do we not have to start with the basics, with that problem?
I very much agree with the hon. Gentleman’s point, and I will come on to that. Within the smaller budget that we will have, if we want to have different priorities and get new things done, clearly we will have to deal with inefficiencies and find savings.
Another suggestion for where savings could be made is to reform or repatriate EU structural funds. There are different views on that in the House, but it has been mentioned, as has reforming a number of EU quangos and agencies.
I have made a short list to show the level of pressure in this House for changes to be made to the EU budget and the wider EU institutions. The question of the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone) showed that we are now expecting future action on the review of such matters from within the EU. As my hon. Friend the shadow Chancellor has said in the past, an effective EU budget review means having
“a relentless focus on the justification behind detailed expenditure.”—[Official Report, 31 October 2012; Vol. 552, c. 304.]
In the debate on the multi-annual financial framework in October 2012, we called for a more effective and independent EU auditor—exactly the point made by the hon. Gentleman. We would then be able to examine the different programmes and their impact on the EU economy. It is time we had that. An auditor could also improve the accountability of spending on pro-growth activities, bringing together all Commission priorities under the auspices perhaps of a single Commissioner for growth.
Those are just some of the ideas. The feeling in this House now is that it is time for action on such things. We will call for improved transparency and accountability in the EU budget process to assist in developing what we see, which is a relentless focus on EU expenditure in future.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Worsley and Eccles South (Barbara Keeley). She reminded us of a number of things. She reminded us of the first flip in Labour’s European policy, when her party chose to join a small group of Conservative Members who were concerned about EU spending, which was perhaps the foundation for Labour’s flip in policy on the EU referendum that we saw this week.
I very much welcome the hon. Lady’s words about trying to look at future EU budget spending and the need for significant control of that budget and the checks on it. My hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone) talked about the accounts not being signed off for two decades. For 20 years there has not been a positive statement on or assurance of the EU accounts being signed off. I have to remind the hon. Lady that in all the time that her party was in office, not once did her Government ask a question about the EU accounts not being signed off. It was only when the previous, Conservative-led Administration came to office that questions were first asked.
The hon. Gentleman refers to what he described as the “flip” in the 31 October 2012 debate, but at the time we were referring back to a Labour position adopted on 12 January 2012 in a motion that ended with the words that we called
“on the Government to strengthen its stance so that the 2013 Budget and the forthcoming Multi-Annual Financial Framework are reduced in real terms”..”—[Official Report, 12 July 2012; Vol. 548, c. 523.]
Excellent. If we are going back in history, I guess I should share with the hon. Lady the fact that from 1999 to 2009 I was not in this House, but in the European Parliament. I sat on the budget and budgetary control committees, watching Labour Members of Parliament and Labour Ministers at the time not particularly bothering at all about EU spending, so I am delighted with the change of heart, because there is a need for focus on this area.
I do not intend to speak for too long because I know that a number of hon. Members want to make their maiden speeches. Small though the Bill is, it is, however, important and it deserves to have a decent amount of scrutiny by the House, which I am pleased to see that it will receive. The sole purpose of the Bill is to approve and implement the EU’s own resources decision, setting into legislation how the EU budget is to be funded, including the EU rebate. That is a big deal for us, because we stick in a massive contribution to the European Union. The Office for Budget Responsibility’s March 2015 economic and fiscal outlook report gives the net contribution figures for our country to the European Union. I had a debate in the Tea Room with my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (John Redwood), who thinks that the figures are downplayed slightly, but they are the ones that I have to hand at the moment.
The net contribution for 2013-14 from Great Britain to the European Union was £10.2 billion; for 2014-15 it was £9.2 billion; and for 2015-16 it was £9.9 billion. Those are significant sums of money.
I wonder whether my hon. Friend thinks it is right to use the net figure, or the gross figure after rebate, because with the net figure the spending that is netted off is spent according to the requirements of the European Union; it is not necessarily spent in the way that a British Government would wish to spend it.
My hon. Friend is completely right about that, so I thought I should also share with the House the gross contribution figures given by the Office for Budget Responsibility in its March 2015 economic and fiscal outlook report. The gross contribution figures were £14.1 billion for 2013-14, £14 billion for 2014-15 and £14 billion for 2015-16. We are talking about massively significant sums and this Bill therefore needs some scrutiny, because it is the one that tells us how the EU budget is funded.
I hope the hon. Gentleman is able to spread that message far and wide across the Opposition Benches. What he says is true: wherever we have a cost in our finances, we make choices in other places. This is a significant sum, but it is one we have chosen to pay over. We must therefore ensure that we allow ourselves, as this decision on the own resources decision rightly does, to keep a check on how our money is being spent.
The European Union Act 2011 requires this House to give approval to own resources decisions. There has always been an Act of Parliament that does that, but the 2011 Act was a good piece of legislation—again, Labour Members came to it late in the process. It allowed greater scrutiny of how the Executive choose to act in European matters; it introduced the referendum lock on certain things; and it made sure that we get a debate on significant matters such as the one before us today. Although we have always had an Act of Parliament in place to do this, I welcome the greater scrutiny.
I should remind hon. Members of what the “own resources” of the European Union actually means. What are these figures for and where do they come from? Well, 12% of the own resources budget is comprised of customs duties, including those on agricultural products; a tiny sum, less than 1%, is sugar levies; there are contributions based on VAT, which comprises about 13%; and the remaining 74% or so is based on gross national income-based contributions. A significant mix of different things goes into our £14 billion gross contribution to the EU.
Actual European spending is set by the annual EU budget, but, as my hon. Friend the Minister said, the annual budget expenditure is governed by the ceilings set by the EU’s multi-annual financial framework. I was pleased to be reminded by him of the good job our Prime Minister did to ensure that the last MFF gave us an unprecedented real-terms cut in EU spending ceilings for 2014 to 2020, which was welcomed by Members on both sides of the House—it was eventually believed by the then Labour economic team.
Unlike the own resources decision, under EU treaties the multi-annual financial framework does not need the national approval of member states in accordance with their conditional requirements. Thus, it is already in force and this Bill deals only with the own resources decision. Alongside the agreement of the new MFF, we had this new own resources decision, which was formally adopted by unanimity by the Council in May 2014, and the Bill approves it for UK purposes. As the Minister said, the rules governing the UK rebate remain unchanged compared with the existing own resources decision. Alas, they do, however, repeat, and this answers a point mentioned earlier by the hon. Member for Luton South—
I mean the hon. Member for Luton North (Kelvin Hopkins). They roll in the old rebate loss that the former Prime Minister Mr Blair negotiated in return for common agricultural policy reform that we never achieved.
I have a couple of questions for the Minister, one of which has been raised previously by my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset (Mr Rees-Mogg). The Minister mentioned the minor additional costs that this might bring to us, because there do seem to be some compared with the existing own resources decision. He talked about their being offset by other corrections and I wonder whether he could detail what they are, because I could not find them in the explanatory notes. I also seek clarification on the answer he gave to my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset on the change in the European system of accounts. I did not quite understand the answer and I would appreciate it if he could go into a tiny bit more detail.
I welcome the Bill and the scrutiny it is giving to EU accounts, and I welcome the opportunity to talk about this in greater detail when we go into Committee next week.
It might be considered a trifle unorthodox to give a maiden speech leading from the Front Bench of your party, so I trust Members will forgive me but I am in fear of the Whips.
The Scottish National party will not oppose this Bill, and I would commend it rather more than my friend the hon. Member for Worsley and Eccles South (Barbara Keeley) would. As I am sure Members appreciate, the SNP takes a broader and more positive view of being a member of the European Union and, therefore, of funding it. As far as I could tell from her contribution, Labour wants to be tough on Europe without wanting to be tough on the causes of Europe.
Congratulations are due to the Government. Interestingly, if we look at the contributions the UK has made to the EU over the past 43 years, we see that the five years in which the UK made the largest contributions were the past five years. The £42 billion to £43 billion sum that the coalition contributed net to the EU in the past five years was roughly the same as the previous Labour Government had contributed in 13 years. The coalition therefore managed to double what it gave to the EU, which slightly contradicts the official position of the Government, which is to be tough on Europe. I can feel for some Conservative Back Benchers who are more anti-Europe in thinking that the line the Government take in public is not actually what they are doing in reality on the EU.
I am somewhat in awe of being here to make my maiden speech in front of the right hon. Member for Wokingham (John Redwood), as I recall that many years ago when I was teaching I used one of his books as a textbook, so I always treat what he says with great concentration and concern, but SNP Members are positive Europeans and we therefore will the spending for the European Union. The way I look at what we are proposing today and going to vote on later is that we are willing our contribution to the European Union to tackle austerity—quite the opposite of what the Chancellor is doing.
Interestingly, too, if we read the papers that come with the Bill, we find that the OBR reckons that in the seven years of the next spending period the UK will make much the same net contribution as it did in the previous five years. Although the Prime Minister has made much of the fact that he has got the formal budget of the EU for the next period down, Britain’s contribution in cash terms will be much the same. [Interruption.] Inflation will have reduced the real value, possibly by about 7%, depending on the outrun, but there is no cash reduction. We are going to be providing much the same contribution as we did in the past five years, so what has happened to the money that has disappeared with the reduction in the overall contribution limits? The answer is: other countries, such as Denmark and Austria, have negotiated smaller net contributions, in real terms and in cash terms. I can feel for the right hon. Member for Wokingham, because his Government are hardly managing to be as tough on the EU as they are pretending to be.
As this is my maiden speech, I cannot go home without saying a few words about my constituency. Given how technical this debate is, perhaps a few words of diversion before we get back to the serious business will not go amiss.
I have reached the age that we in Scotland call the age for “getting your bus pass”. I had expected that I would be spending most of my time after the referendum writing a few more obscure books on economics and tending to my improbably ambitious vegetable garden, but suddenly the good folk of East Lothian sent me here to represent them. I could not be more pleased. My first and foremost duty—I have to put this on record—is to represent all of them whether or not they voted for me.
It is a pleasure to be in this august Chamber. Many, many years ago, as a small boy in Drumchapel, I fell in love with history. In those days, the history we studied in school was not the history from below but, by and large, the history of this Chamber. It was, as some Members may remember, the Whig interpretation of history, which was that all history was about the ever greater improvement of the British constitution—now, there are not so many Whigs left.
I appreciated those lessons, because this Chamber has always been kind to people of my persuasion—Scottish nationalists, people who want self-determination for Scotland. Though most parties here have disagreed with us, we have always had a fair hearing. Whether it was the radicals of the Highland Land League who came here in the 19th century, the Red Clydesiders of the Independent Labour party, or Members from the Scottish National party—we have always had a fair hearing. We may have taken issue with the Executive over the years, but never with this Chamber; we have always had a fair hearing. Indeed, in the past there has been conflict between the Executive and the Speaker. I am sure that if that happens in the future, the Speaker can expect our support.
Let me say a few words about East Lothian, which is the lovely, beautiful flat plain just to the left of Edinburgh. It is a county of small towns—Musselburgh, Haddington, Tranent, Dunbar, Prestonpans, North Berwick and Cockenzie—where people think hard and work hard. It is not a big metropolitan area; it is a county of radical tradition. From the eastern side of Scotland, the area has for centuries looked out to the North sea, to Europe and to the Baltic. Our outward-looking views on Europe and the rest of the world come, I think, from that geographical position. This idea of building positive links with Europe is what animates me. The trade links between East Lothian and Europe brought in new ideas. East Lothian is the county that introduced Presbyterianism to Scotland. We had the earliest mining communities, which added to our radical tradition.
We are the county that gave the world John Knox and Andrew Fletcher. Fletcher was the person who would lead the opposition to the Act of Union. In this context, I must mention the most renowned MP from East Lothian, John P. Mackintosh, who passed away in 1974. He is still remembered. He was a great constitutionalist and a professor of constitutional law.
Mackintosh sat on the Labour Benches, but I was lucky enough to have an old friend of his and his former campaign manager helping me in my campaign. I have always said that Mackintosh was a hero of mine, because of his genuine commitment to constitutional reform in the UK and to home rule for Scotland. He was very clear that home rule was something different from devolution. Piecemeal devolution—granting a concession here and a concession there, a change here and a change there—has hardly resolved the issue of the Scottish desire for self-government. The moves have been grudging. If there has been tension on both sides of the Chamber and argument, fractiousness and debate, it is because those of us on the SNP Benches feel that we are getting piecemeal concessions. The majority of people in Scotland want self-government. We voted for self-government in the referendum last year. Home rule within the Union must mean home rule. Mackintosh argued for that. Perhaps if we had had home rule in 1970s instead of the piecemeal drip that we have had ever since, we might have been able to move forward, and we would not be holding this debate.
I have heard Members vie with each other over which is the most beautiful constituency in the UK; they are all beautiful. In East Lothian, we have a saying, which has been current for several hundred years, which is that East Lothian is the garden of Scotland, and it is. In the east of the constituency, lush volcanic soil has created wonderful arable agriculture and great dairy farms. To the south are the dark Lammermuir hills, which keep the wind off and on which the sheep still graze. To the north, there is a lovely sea coast, which has an important fishing industry. We have a wonderful verdant county.
I am here representing our farmers, and let me say to the right hon. Member for Wokingham that those farmers are not fans of the referendum or of withdrawal from the EU. They are hard working, and do not depend on simple subsidy. The uncertainty that will be produced by a referendum and by the possibility of Scotland being taken out of the EU—most Scots will vote to stay in—is the primary worry of our farmers. One reason I am standing here today is to argue in favour of staying in the EU and of defending the ability of our farmers to access the European market. However, I have not been sent to this place to give a travelogue.
I was asked one question time and again on the doorsteps in East Lothian: why is it that in Scotland’s garden—the bread basket of Scotland—hundreds of children go to bed every night hungry? If there is any place in this United Kingdom where there is a gap between the failure of this Government’s austerity policy and welfare cap and the ability to create food, jobs and economic activity it is in East Lothian. We cannot be the bread basket of Scotland and have children go to bed hungry every night. That is the contradiction. The Government’s dogged policy of austerity—austerity here and an attempt at austerity in Europe—is simply leading to social divisions across the UK.
I am talking here to those the Government Benches, especially the right hon. Member for Wokingham—I am using him as a foil, because I have spent many decades reading his economics and I want to respond rationally to him. We on the SNP Benches believe that we must maintain a serious approach to the deficit—that is not in contention—but the Chancellor’s austerity policies are an ideological fixation. The Chancellor wants to run a primary budget surplus out of ideological intent. Yes, we must reduce the deficit and the budget, but we can do it in an intelligent and rational fashion that does not lead to the social crises that are emerging in places such as East Lothian.
Why we should not run a primary budget surplus at the moment is quite simply because all the UK is doing is growing roughly on trend, but whether we do that over the next period is questionable. It is foolhardy to try to run a primary budget surplus if we are only growing at trend. What we should be doing is running a more modest deficit, probably at around 2% to 2.5% of GDP, roughly on trend, and continuing that to give ourselves the resources to solve some of the structural problems in the economy such as our massive current account trade deficit and low productivity. If we do that and grow the economy in a structural sense, that will ultimately give us the resources to pay down the deficit. I would rather do it in that rational, conscious fashion than have an ideological knee-jerk reaction.
I have wandered far, Madam Deputy Speaker, and you have been very patient, so I shall draw to a close. We are in this place to have a rational dialogue, not to demand or to rampage. During my tenure, as well as representing as best I can the people of East Lothian, I want in some sense to help to heal the divisions between the four great nations of these islands. We want our self-government, and my final point to the right hon. Member for Wokingham is that I would like to see an English Parliament voting on English laws. That is what comes from Scotland’s having independence. I think that within a generation we will have four independent Parliaments in this Atlantic archipelago. We will co-operate, we will have a common market, we will discuss this and that and we will probably have a common defence policy, but we will achieve that by recognising the right of the four nations, and certainly of Scotland, to be self-governing and independent. The family of nations can then treat each other as equals.
Until we do that, we will continue to have to argue in this place for Scottish self-government and for our rights. Once we are a separate family, we will come together as four nations. What is wonderful about these islands is that we have four separate, wonderful nations, vibrant and creative. Co-operating as separate nations, we will challenge the world. Unless we do that we will continue to be caught up in the constitutional debate that has been going on for the past hundred years.
I commend the Bill, which says that Europe is a family of nations. So is the family of British nations, but for that to be a genuine family Scotland must be self-governing with its own sovereign Parliament.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for calling me to speak in this important debate. I praise the hon. Member for East Lothian (George Kerevan), whose tour de force demonstrated the strength of speaking skills in the northern part of our nation. I am grateful to be called to speak today, because the financing of Europe is a matter in which I must declare an interest. As the husband of a French wife, I know all about foreign powers deciding on British finances.
It is an honour to represent the people of Tonbridge, Edenbridge and Malling in this wonderful House. Our beautiful towns and villages prove that England is today enjoying a bountiful summer. The fruits of our fields are enjoyed nationwide and I hope that this summer you, Madam Deputy Speaker, will be among the many who relish the Mereworth strawberries when you go to Wimbledon. I could give you a tour of my wonderful constituency based on the pubs, but for brevity I shall stick to the numerous towns and villages.
In the west, Edenbridge is a wonderful market town that once made cricket balls—indeed, the balls that Lord Cowdrey of Tonbridge smacked out of the ground to the delight of Kent and England fans. Chiddingstone is home to one of the finest ales in our nation, Larkins, which will, I hope, one day be on tap here. A little further on is Wolf Hall or, as it is known on the maps, Penshurst. Sadly, these wonderful communities are not entirely tranquil. As I reminded my right hon. Friend the Secretary State for Transport this morning, Gatwick’s low flights are blighting our days.
A little to the east, our largest town, Tonbridge, is home to some of the finest schools in our country. I declare an interest again, as a governor of Hillview School, which is committed to the arts, to drama, to design and to fashion and through that enriches the lives of many young people. West Malling’s High Street shows that commerce and community can combine. The award-winning florists and shoe shops are indeed a delight to all. East Malling is more famous abroad than at home, as its agricultural research has introduced new varieties to farmers around the world, while at Hadlow College those innovations are translated into reality by the teaching of a new generation.
Our community is not cut off from modernity, but communications too often hamper rather than improve lives. Borough Green, for example, is shaken by heavy traffic while many across our area suffer from poor trains and failing phone signals. The response of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport and of the Rail Minister, the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Claire Perry), has been exemplary, and I look forward to seeing both issues improved with their welcome support.
I am not the first to campaign on these matters. The right hon. Sir John Stanley did so before most people can remember and, indeed, before I was born. In his maiden speech, he tested Hansard with the names of some of our wonderfully yclept villages: Wrotham, pronounced “Routem”; Trottiscliffe, pronounced “Trozlee”; and Ightham, pronounced “Item”. As I say them, I know that I am testing Hansard again 40 years later.
The House knows Sir John’s formidable legacy. His close links with the councils he served alongside and his dedication to every part of the constituency have left an integrated approach and exemplary work ethic that I am determined to maintain. Furthermore, his dedication to our country saw him serve as Minister for housing, for Northern Ireland and for the armed forces. That connection to the armed forces is very strong in Tonbridge and I am proud to join the line of representatives that our town has sent to this House still holding a commission in her Majesty’s armed forces. Sir John continued that tradition of service and his personal courage was clear both from the ministerial offices he held during the darkest days of the troubles and, perhaps most dramatically, as Parliamentary Private Secretary to Baroness Thatcher. That really took courage. I wish Sir John and Lady Stanley well. They deserve our utmost praise and gratitude.
My time in this House is, to be honest, unlikely to match the length of Sir John’s, so I shall briefly outline my reasons for seeking a voice in the heart of our democratic Union. The first is the law. As St Thomas More, a former occupant of your seat, Madam Deputy Speaker, once put it:
“I would uphold the law if for no other reason but to protect myself”.
Though my learned father invariably displayed the judgment of Solomon, I learnt clearly that the rule of law is not the same as the rule of lawyers. Those are not just words of filial rebellion but a call for the sovereignty of the people—the fundamental principle of British governance reasserted many times since Magna Carta 800 years ago—that finds expression in this House, the court of Parliament, and not through the Queen’s courts nor Strasbourg’s.
My second reason for seeking a voice is dementia. That silent time bomb is affecting the whole community, both directly and as carers, and that in turn calls for community response. That is why I am working with the whole community to help Tonbridge, Edenbridge and West Malling to become dementia-friendly towns that can offer the support we need across west Kent.
Finally, I come to the armed forces. Having served in combat in Afghanistan and Iraq and latterly as military assistant to the Chief of the Defence Staff, I know that numerical totems are for accountants, not soldiers. It is capability that matters and that is measured in assets and readiness. As we face an uncertain future in a world in which Russia threatens our allies in the east and Islamic-inspired violent extremism is redrawing the maps of the middle east, we must not only have the ships, the soldiers and the aircraft but must be certain that they are ready. Only by demonstrating our readiness on exercises and operations can we reassure our friends and deter our enemies. Deterrence is about much more than the nuclear boats that are the British people’s ultimate guarantee of sovereignty. It is about the morale and training of our soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines. Like a fiat currency, defence relies on confidence in our ability and only truly works when no one dares test it.
As we continue our debate on financing the European Union, I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister—the only Prime Minister to have lowered the budget. I am also grateful and humbled to be the voice of my community in this Chamber. I will speak for the thousands who supported me and for the thousands who did not. I pledge to serve them all and the interests of our United Kingdom to the best of my ability, as long as the people of Tonbridge, Edenbridge and Malling will grant me that privilege.
I congratulate the hon. Members for East Lothian (George Kerevan) and for Tonbridge and Malling (Tom Tugendhat) on their maiden speeches. They are very impressive new colleagues. I welcome them warmly to the House and look forward to working with them in the coming years.
I agree with the view of my hon. Friend the Member for Worsley and Eccles South (Barbara Keeley) on the Front Bench that matters pertaining to the European Union budget should be made more clear. EU finances are controversial and we ought to be clear what we are arguing about and make sure that our constituents understand as well.
The problem is that numeracy is not given to everyone, especially when it comes to very large numbers. I used to teach economics, and the first question I used to ask my students was, “What is the difference between a million and a billion?” Many of them did not know, except that a billion was probably a bit bigger than a million. When I put the question in terms of the number of houses that they could buy for £1 million and £1 billion —perhaps four for £1 million and 4,000 for £1 billion—the students started to get the message that £1 billion is a substantial amount of money, and many billions are even more substantial.
Our net contribution, be it £10 billion or £12 billion—there might be some debate about the precise figure—is a large sum. Rather than talking billions, I tried to work it out in a way that my constituents would understand. For example, it is the equivalent of about 3p on the standard rate of income tax. People understand that. It is getting on for £200 per person per year. People understand that. For a family of four, £700 or £800 a year is a significant sum, and that is what they are contributing net to the European Union. Our net contribution has trebled in the past six years since 2008. That trebling—people understand an amount multiplied by three—is a very large increase in those years. We do not know how much that is influenced by the poor deal done in 2005. Nevertheless, that is where we are today.
Much has been made of the UK rebate, which was reduced, as we know, but even since 2008 it has gone down as a proportion of our gross contribution. In 2008 our rebate was 38% of our gross contribution; in 2014 it was 25% of our gross contribution. In that sense we have lost out even further. The 2005 deal was described by The Economist at the time as such a bad deal that no deal would have been better than that deal. I have said a number of times in this House, to the previous Government as well, that if they are so worried about it, why do we not at least try to restore the position pre-2005? That has not been taken up. Personally, I would go further than that.
Our net contribution over 40 years has been on a substantially rising trend. It started quite small but it is now much, much larger. The cumulative effect on our economy, on growth and living standards, has been substantial. My good friend John Mills, who runs the Labour euro-safeguards group, has done calculations to estimate the impact on growth during that period and it is substantial. We could have been a richer country by some way, had we not had to pay a substantial sum net into the European Union budget every year.
Indeed. The hon. Gentleman is right. I have the Library note. The only time we had a net receipt from the European Union, or Common Market as it was then, was in 1975.
The major problem for us has been the common agricultural policy, which has been the major drain on the EU budget and to Britain’s enormous disadvantage over that time. Mrs Thatcher’s negotiation of a rebate was based on the fact that our agriculture was very different from that of most of the rest of the European Union and we were substantial net contributors, which was seen to be unfair so we secured a rebate. That rebate is no longer as large as it should be. Nevertheless, we did secure a rebate, which arose because of the CAP.
The Prime Minister would do well to seek Britain’s withdrawal from the CAP in his negotiations. That is certainly one of my red lines in the negotiations. The common agricultural policy is not a good thing for anyone, and certainly not for Britain. Last year I went with the European Scrutiny Committee to Lithuania. Lithuania used to be self-sufficient in food. Now it is being paid not to grow things. Large swathes of the land of Lithuania are being left fallow because the farmers are being paid not to grow things under the CAP, which is nonsense.
If we were outside the CAP we could continue to subsidise our own agriculture at the same level as occurs now, saving vast sums of money for the Exchequer while subsidising our farmers at the same level; or, more sensibly, we could decide how and where we subsidise more precisely, according to our own needs and what is better for Britain. We might want to preserve Welsh hill farms which may not be so efficient but are part of our culture and our environment and it is nice to keep them going, but we would not necessarily want to give such large subsidies to very large grain farmers in East Anglia, and so on. We could target the subsidies more sensibly, according to what we in this Chamber think, rather than what is decided in Brussels.
We should also be free to buy agricultural products on world markets and not have to pay EU duties on such imports. The EU still subsidises the dumping of sugar surpluses on world markets, a nonsense which discriminates against developing and poorer countries that produce sugar. There are many nonsenses in the EU budget and, as was pointed out earlier, it has failed to be signed off by the EU auditors for more than a decade and a half—a scandal. No business could operate having been refused audit approval for 15 or 20 years. It would be illegal to do so, I suspect. I want to see the EU budget substantially reformed.
My hon. Friend is making an excellent speech. Does he wish to comment on the sheer difficulty of bringing about reform? In the October 2012 debate the then Financial Secretary to the Treasury, now the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, the right hon. Member for Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark), said that the British Government had asked the Commission to model cuts of €5 billion, €10 billion and €15 billion in staffing costs. I know that my hon. Friend took part in the debate, but it is worth looking at the Commission’s response to our Government when they asked for that work to be done:
“We declined as it’s a lot of work and a waste of time for our staff who are busy with more urgent matters…we are better educated than national civil servants. We’re high fliers, not burger flippers”.—[Official Report, 31 October 2012; Vol. 552, c. 297.]
If that is the response that we get, is it not time that we took a more robust approach?
I agree very strongly with my hon. Friend, who anticipates my next point: you do not go into a negotiation with the other side knowing that you will give way in the end; you go in making them think that if they do not give you something, you will walk away. Before entering this House, I spent many years working as a researcher in the trade union movement. Trade union negotiators do not go in quietly giving way to the employers. They start off with a tough stance and try to get something real out of those negotiations. We should be doing the same.
The new hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson), currently the Mayor of London, has made the point that we should be prepared to say to the other side in these negotiations that if we do not get a satisfactory conclusion, we would not be resistant to the idea of leaving the EU. A strong negotiating stance is necessary to win anything at all. I think that should be our position. I have a number of other red lines, which it would be inappropriate to go through in this debate, but the budget and the many irrationalities and nonsenses within it, primarily the common agricultural policy, should be addressed in the negotiations.
I congratulate the hon. Member for East Lothian (George Kerevan) and my hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Tom Tugendhat) on their excellent maiden speeches today.
The greatest prize I won on 8 May was the right to serve. I will do my utmost to repay the trust that the people of South Ribble have put in me. As the first Member of this place of Iranian heritage, I feel a particular weight of responsibility on my shoulders. I have a voice in the mother of Parliaments when there are mothers in Iran who have no voice at all, and I have that voice because of the support given to me by my volunteers, my activists and my friends and family.
My father came to Lancashire in the 1960s to study textiles. He met my mother, who is from an Irish family. I grew up in Iran, but we had to leave because of the revolution. I spent the rest of my childhood in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Ribble Valley (Mr Evans), which is adjacent to my own. So I am Irish and I am Iranian; my children have the blood of England, of Wales and of Guernsey flowing through their veins; but above all, and particularly in this place, I am a proud Briton. We meet at a time when we are debating historic choices that will be put to our nation and will influence our role in the world for generations.
Some hon. Members have asked me, “Where is South Ribble?” They assume, because the river rises in Yorkshire, that it is in Yorkshire, but no: it is in the red rose county—the one that won the wars of the roses, God’s own county. I find myself saying that standing between two Yorkshire MPs—[Laughter.] The world has flocked to South Ribble over the centuries. We have a long history of trade and of traffic, including Viking invasions in the 9th century and Irish migration in the 19th, and today we benefit from the hard work of thousands of eastern Europeans who work in our fields. South Ribble has always exported—cars, buses and trucks from the world-famous Leyland Motors, fine salads from Huntapac, and delicious frozen pizzas from Dr. Oetker.
My constituents are open to the world and optimistic for the future, but they want a Europe that works for them, for their families and for our nation. Like many of my constituents, I have never had my say on our role in Europe, and I am delighted that the Conservative victory has meant that we are able to deliver that choice for the British people.
I pay tribute to my predecessor, Lorraine Fullbrook. Lorraine was unrelenting in her work to protect and preserve the countryside and village nature of our constituency. She successfully led the fight against wind farms and was tireless in her commitment to protecting our area from flooding. She was an assiduous member of the Select Committee on Home Affairs, reporting on matters such as female genital mutilation, immigration and counter-terrorism. Her no-nonsense manner and her sense of humour will be greatly missed both in this place and in the constituency. I wish her the very best in the next chapter of her life.
I also pay tribute to the first Member for South Ribble, the right hon. Sir Robert Atkins, who served with distinction in this House and later for many years in the European Parliament. His family’s tradition of service continues with the recent election of my hon. Friend the Member for Louth and Horncastle (Victoria Atkins).
The tradition in a maiden speech is to take Members on a metaphorical open-top bus tour of one’s constituency, so, hon. Friends, jump on board a Leyland-made bus and hold on tight. Those of you who have been in my passenger seat, please be assured that I am not driving today.
Leyland is prospering as a result of the grit and resilience of its people and strong local leadership. Lancashire’s city deal is one of the largest, and it promises to bring further prosperity to the area through infrastructure investment. That will lead to thousands more homes and jobs being created. The initial investment is already in place and has contributed to the renaissance of the town as a hub for distribution and manufacturing. Companies such as Dr. Oetker and Waitrose are choosing to site operations there, and I hope that many more will join them. The forward thinking of South Ribble Borough Council, under the leadership of Councillor Margaret Smith, has meant that over the past five years more jobs were created in South Ribble than in Liverpool and Manchester combined.
Our bus now enters the rolling hills of Mawdesley and Eccleston. Eccleston is home to the first British winner of the Tour de France, Bradley Wiggins. His success in the Olympics is marked with a golden post box, and the villagers justifiably share his pride in this achievement, but for me the site is memorable because it is where I first reversed into a constituent in my car.
The River Ribble shapes the rest of my constituency. The beautiful, rich black soils of the floodplain grow some of the finest salads, tomatoes and brassicas in the country. The industry employs thousands in the villages of Banks, Hesketh Bank and Tarleton, as well as undertaking cutting-edge research. Those people are contributing to our nation’s food security, but they can continue to do so only with the right infrastructure. I welcome my right hon. Friend the Chancellor’s plans for the northern powerhouse and will do all I can to ensure that it extends up the M6 and into Lancashire so that my constituents can benefit from that great devolution. I will do all I can to ensure that the Green Lane link is built to improve conditions for growers and reduce congestion on village roads.
We now arrive at the northernmost part of the constituency, the town of Penwortham, the site of the final bridge over the Ribble. Hon. Members can now alight from the bus and stretch their legs—no doubt nervous that I might have taken control of the wheel at some point without them knowing. If the promise of the city deal is to be realised, we need another bridge over the Ribble. A new bridge would complete the ring road around Preston and, crucially, link the two parts of the Lancashire enterprise zone based at BAE Salmesbury and Warton. Those two sites employ thousands of people in the aerospace sectors, building the Hawk, the Typhoon and the F-35, so they are a vital part of our national security. They also have the potential to become hubs for advanced engineering and manufacturing.
The people of South Ribble play a vital role in bolstering our nation’s defences and contributing to our nation’s food security. As part of the northern powerhouse, they want to play their part in Britain’s future in the world. I thank them for the trust they have put in me, and I look forward to being their voice in this place.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for giving me the opportunity to deliver my maiden speech. I commend the hon. Member for South Ribble (Seema Kennedy) for her very entertaining speech. She spoke about her constituency with great passion and commitment. I also commend the hon. Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Tom Tugendhat) and my hon. Friend the Member for East Lothian (George Kerevan) for their maiden speeches. I thank the Whips on both sides of the House for sending most of their Back Benchers home, thereby significantly increasing my chances of catching your eye this afternoon, Madam Deputy Speaker.
I also want to thank—for possibly the first time in a maiden speech—the air traffic controllers at Edinburgh airport, who this morning arranged for two high-altitude aircraft to fly at right angles to each other, presumably not at the same time, thereby creating a vapour-trail saltire that could be seen all across the constituency. How they organised that, and how they knew I would be speaking here today, I do not know, but they managed it somehow.
If I appear a wee bit nervous, I should explain that although I am now proud to call myself a Fifer, I was brought up very close to Cliftonhill, home of the mighty Albion Rovers. I supported the Rovers as a wee boy, and I am not used to seeing quite this number of people in one place—although since I left Coatbridge they have gone from strength to strength, and are now the reigning Scottish League 2 champions and will play in Scottish League 1 next year.
It is traditional to pay tribute to your predecessor, and I am delighted to be able to commend the contribution to the constituency and to Parliament made by Lindsay Roy during his almost eight years as a Member here. Lindsay was elected in November 2008 in a lengthy and often bad-tempered by-election in which I finished second, and it would have been easy for that to put divisions between us. I was leader of the council; Lindsay became the MP. We could easily have ended up on opposite sides, but thanks to Lindsay’s willingness to work together, we did so on a number of issues, as he worked with politicians across the political divide. Thanks to that willingness to work together, we prevented the threatened closure of our emergency medical out-of-hours service in Glenrothes.
I will be delighted to carry on working on a number of the campaigns in which Lindsay made a lot of progress but which are not yet completed. Those include reopening the rail link to Levenmouth, the largest population centre in the whole of Scotland that does not yet have a railway; making the much-needed and overdue safety improvements to the A92 trunk road; and ensuring that the energy park in Methil fulfils its potential to become not only a national but an international centre of excellence in the renewable energy sector, bringing much-needed and highly skilled jobs to an area that desperately needs them.
It is my intention to follow Lindsay’s practice and refer to the constituency as Glenrothes and Central Fife, because Glenrothes, although it is the town where I live, and I love it more than any town anywhere, represents only 50% of the population of the constituency; the rest do not like being told they live in a new town. I think it was insensitive of the Boundaries Commission not to take that into account.
It is a constituency that is literally built on coal. Although most of the coalmines had gone before I moved to Fife over 30 years ago, once a town has become a coalmining community I do not think it ever stops being that. The community spirit, the independence of spirit, and the looking out for each other get ingrained into the population, and thankfully stay there.
It is a constituency that has produced genuine working-class heroes who were brought up in difficult conditions, sometimes of extreme poverty, and yet achieved absolute greatness. It was the home of the radical socialist poet Joe Corrie, described by T. S. Eliot as the greatest poet Scotland had produced since Robert Burns. It was the home of Celtic and Scotland goalkeeper John Thomson, whose brilliant career was tragically cut short at just 22 by an accident on the football field, and who, even in that short time, had established himself as possibly the greatest footballer ever to pull on a goalkeeper’s jersey.
The constituency is the birthplace of Jimmy Shand, whom these days it is fashionable to mock. Jimmy Shand recorded more tracks than Elvis Presley and the Beatles added together. It was the boyhood home of Andy Thomson, who emigrated as a young man and is now renowned as one of the most successful indoor and outdoor bowlers in English bowling history, with seven world titles to his name. We have also produced great Scotland internationals on the bowling green such as Julie Sword and Lynn Stein, who have represented the nation with great distinction at Commonwealth and UK championships. It is the birthplace of Jack Vettriano, an artist who becomes more popular the more the artistic establishment appear to detest him. There is that rebellious element not only to Jack Vettriano but to most people who have been born and brought up in Fife.
The constituency is home to the mighty and all-conquering East Fife football club—at least they were in 1938, when they became the only team to win the Scottish cup from outside the top division. It is also home to the more recently formed East Fife Ladies football club, whose steady climb through the divisions is worth watching, thanks partly to the contribution of my late and very dear friend Arthur Robertson, but also to Liz Anderson, a coach who is already attracting interest not only from ladies’ football clubs but from the mainstream Scottish clubs, which would be very keen to attract her abilities. Watch out for that name—she will be coaching a national squad, I predict, before very long. Of course, the constituency is both the domestic home and the political home of Tricia Marwick MSP, who will undoubtedly go down in our history as one of our greatest ever parliamentarians.
Although the constituency is named after a new town, it includes sites of great antiquity. Dalgynch is the ancient capital of the kingdom of Fife, which has existed as an administrative and governmental unit since before the days of recorded history. It is possibly the only kingdom that is more ancient than the nation of the Scots itself. The constituency coast is home to the Wemyss caves, home of some of the most priceless works of bronze-age art anywhere and of possibly the oldest existing painting of a real object anywhere in Scotland. Tragically, the caves are in danger of disappearing as a result of the ravages of the weather.
There is a contrast in the local economy, with success stories in some industries and severe problems in others. The constituency, particularly the Glenrothes and Levenmouth area, is still reeling from the loss of the iconic 200-year-old Tullis Russell paper mill, the closure of the family owned retailer Sphere & Turret—which has led to a lot of job losses not only in my constituency but next door in North East Fife—and the closure of the Velux window factory and head office. In the past year, those closures have between them taken 1,000 direct jobs, and a similar number of indirect jobs, out of the constituency.
At the same time, the constituency is also home to the Balbirnie House hotel, which has won the Scottish wedding venue of the year award so often that most other hotels want it to be disqualified from taking part, to give them a chance. It is also home to the Cameron Brig distillery, one of only two places in the world that makes single-grain Scotch whisky that is good enough to drink. I am sorry that the Leader of the House is not here just now, because he mentioned the Epsom Derby earlier. I remind Members who may partake of Gordon’s, Tanqueray, Pimm’s, Archers or Smirnoff at any of the quintessentially English sporting events this season that they will be enjoying something that is produced in the heart of the Glenrothes and Central Fife constituency. So, as well as remembering the huge contribution we make to the sporting culture and social life of our neighbour, do not ever forget the contribution we are making to the Chancellor of the Exchequer’s bank account.
I am going to break with tradition and not even pretend that my constituency is the most scenically beautiful in the whole of the United Kingdom. Even on the SNP Benches, I cannot compete with the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for North East Fife (Stephen Gethins) or with the Western Isles, Angus or East Lothian.
What my constituency does have, however, is people of genuine character and absolute integrity who will work tirelessly to give their families a good standard of living and for the benefit not only of themselves, but of others around them. By entrusting me to represent them, these people have given me the greatest privilege and responsibility I will ever carry. They are relying on me to put an end to the obscenity of benefit sanctions being inflicted on the weakest and most vulnerable in our nation. They are relying on me to put an end to the shame of 10,000 emergency food parcels per year in a single constituency—and it is not even the most deprived constituency in Scotland. They share my belief that, for such extreme poverty to exist in a Scotland that is one of the wealthiest nations on the planet, is nothing short of criminal, and I am determined to change that for the better.
All of us can claim with some justification that we come here with the hopes and dreams of our constituents. I have been humbled and inspired in equal measure by the knowledge that the constituents who have entrusted my hon. Friends and me include a great many who for far too long have been told they have no right to dream. I am proud to speak with the voice of thousands whose voices have never been heard, not because they have nothing worth saying, but because nobody in this place would listen. I carry the awesome responsibility of shouldering the hopes of a people who are now waking up to the fact that the future is something to be faced with hope, not with fear.
The reason the SNP Benches are usually so packed is that one of the four equal partner nations in this Union has once again dared to hope and dared to believe in a better future. “Project fear” may have won the day in 2014. I am proud to stand here in 2015 as a representative of “Project Hope”, and “project hope” will prevail.
It is a wonderful coincidence—a fortuitous concatenation of circumstances—that I am able to congratulate the hon. Member for Glenrothes (Peter Grant), because I stood as the Conservative candidate in Central Fife in 1997, and I know that what he says is true: it is a constituency of wonderful people. They were incredibly kind to me. As hon. Members may have noticed, I am quite English—I come from Somerset. They could not have been more kindly to a young Conservative who they were pretty sure had no chance of winning. When the hon. Gentleman was singing the virtues of his constituents, I know he spoke the truth.
I now know—I did not know before—that, when I enjoy a glass of Pimm’s during the course of the summer, which I hope to do on occasion, it was made in Glenrothes. It is a wonderful constituency and it has a brilliant representative. I just hope the hon. Gentleman becomes a Conservative one day—the only way we will get a Conservative in Glenrothes is if somebody crosses the Floor.
We have had a cornucopia of excellent maiden speeches today. Sticking with the Scottish National party theme, the hon. Member for East Lothian (George Kerevan) made his maiden speech from the Front Bench. I do not know who the last Opposition spokesman to do that was, but I know that the last Minister to do that was Harold Wilson, who made his maiden speech from the Dispatch Box in 1945. The hon. Gentleman is in very fine company, and made a very fine speech, with detailed points on the European Union, which I look forward to cross-examining closely in further debates.
The hon. Gentleman also revealed the extraordinary generosity of benefits in Scotland when he told us that he is eligible for a bus pass. Clearly, the age at which people get bus passes in Scotland is much lower than it is in the rest of the United Kingdom. I will not go on to the Barnett formula and how come bus passes for such relative youths are paid for.
It was a particular joy to hear my hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Tom Tugendhat) make his maiden speech. He comes from a most distinguished parliamentary family—his uncle was the Member for the Cities of London and Westminster—but I am very reassured that he will claim the high ground for parliamentarians against paternal judges. Although paternalism is in many ways a very good thing, the supremacy of the House must be reasserted, even in the Tugendhat family.
I am delighted that my hon. Friend thinks he is going to test Hansard. He will soon come to know that there is no test he can set Hansard that they do not manage to pass with flying colours. However fast the bowling or however good the batting—to go back to the Tonbridge theme of M. C. Cowdrey—Hansard always catch the ball or take the wicket, depending which side they are on.
My hon. Friend the Member for South Ribble (Seema Kennedy) took us on a charabanc tour of her constituency. I have a slight concern—she referred to the “first” constituent she reversed into. I wait for her further speeches and interventions in transport matters, or perhaps health matters, to discover how many of the hospitals locally have been filled with injured constituents. What a tribute it is to her electability that, despite her mowing down constituents right, left and centre, she has still been returned triumphantly. Even better, when she arrives at the House, she models herself on George III. It may come as a surprise to her, but I was listening to her opening paragraphs, and she said she gloried in the name of Briton. That was exactly what George III said—exactly his sentiments. How nice it is to have his late majesty at least alluded to in this Chamber.
I must not speak for too long, and after these pourparlers I must get round to talking about the European Union, because hon. Members may know that my favourite activity on a quiet Thursday afternoon is making speeches on the European Union. If the House is not debating it, I do it at home and make members of my family listen to my views on it.
Of course, we have to start with the basics. There is a fundamental failing in the Bill in its very title, because it refers to “own resources”. It is not “own resources”; it is our money. It is British taxpayers’ money. It is not some fantastic European lottery win that has suddenly been found, and it is not like the gold that the kings of Spain found in Latin America of old. It is not made-up money; it is real money earned by British taxpayers running to the tune of £14 billion a year.
We have to be incredibly careful about how that money is spent and how willing we are to award it. We have already heard that the accounts have not been signed off for 20 years. One may think, “Well it may just be some minor error that means they have not managed to sign them off.” Actually, it is because they think that about 5% of expenditure has not been properly accounted for; roughly speaking, a third of our contribution is not properly spent, or they do not have the right receipts for it. This House has a duty, one of our most ancient duties, to ensure that the Government spend money properly and, when they give it away to international bodies, those international bodies also spend it properly. On whether it is spent properly, I will give the House a note on how the EU categorises spending given to overseas bodies.
The EU, for the purpose of signing off the accounts, says that if it gives £1,000 to a United Nations project and the United Nations project is worth £10,000, and that of that £10,000 in the project £9,000 was stolen, it will maintain that 100% of the money it has given to the project has been correctly spent, because if a percentage correctly spent is equal to or greater than the EU’s contribution, it deems it entirely properly spent. So when the accounts are not being signed off because there is 5%, or just under, of fraud or dishonesty or error, the figure is actually understated. We must push on that continually to make sure our money is properly spent.
There is a lesson for the Government in their success. In the previous Parliament, from time to time—although not as often as my hon. Friend the Member for Bury North (Mr Nuttall)—I did not do as I was asked to by the Whips. On one occasion, however, I was loyal. I was the proper sycophantic fellow that people hope I might be and I supported the Government. When the Labour party—in its wisdom, on this occasion—tabled a motion saying that the Government must come back with a reduction in the EU budget, I thought that that was impossible. I thought we were asking the Prime Minister to go and argue for something that simply could not be done, but he did it. He got a reduction in the EU budget which will feed through to a reduction in our gross contributions—a real achievement. This is the lesson for the Government: it was a real achievement because the Government were bold and ambitious, and willing to try something in the European Union that was thought bound to fail. We are coming to a renegotiation and what one hears so far about the width of that renegotiation is not encouraging. Let us hope the Government learn from where they have succeeded. The message to the Government as we consider the Bill must be:
“Ask and ye shall be given. Seek and ye shall find”.
When they try, they can achieve things people do not expect them to achieve.
This brief Bill is actually at the heart of what Governments do. What we take from our constituents to spend must always be spent carefully. The £14 billion that we spend is essentially a reiteration of our overseas aid budget: it is money going from a rich country to a poor country. It is not going to subsidise the Germans, for example; it is going to the poor countries in the European Union. We are now looking at a total for overseas aid in the order of magnitude of £26 billion. We have a duty to make sure that that is spent correctly. We have a duty to try to reduce it if possible and the Government must be encouraged by their past successes.
Thank you ever so much, Madam Deputy Speaker. The hon. Member for North East Somerset (Mr Rees-Mogg) is a difficult act to follow, but I will try.
I have been a bit slower than some of my fellow 2015 intake at getting around to making my maiden speech, but as a former university lecturer who is used to speaking in one-hour bursts, and with 43 years in Ealing behind me, I wanted to do justice to the magnificent seat of Ealing Central and Acton. With this being a Thursday, I think I might get the time to do this. All hon. Members have assured us that their constituency is the best one in the world, but in my case it is true. As a lifelong local, I am honoured and humbled to be serving its people in this place.
My immediate predecessor was Angie Bray. Although we did not always see eye to eye politically, we did get on, and it was a mark of her generosity of spirit that when my two sisters—both constituents—and I lost our father last September, she handwrote a note of condolence to me. I wish her well.
Before its boundaries were redrawn, my seat included areas now represented by my hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith (Andy Slaughter) and my hon. Friend the irrepressible Member for Ealing North (Stephen Pound). I therefore succeed and join Bray, Slaughter and Pound, which sounds like a vaguely pugnacious firm of solicitors. I am happy now to be Huq in the mix.
Previous Conservative MPs for my seat include Kenneth Baker, immortalised for a generation of school users back when teacher training days were known as Baker days. Then came Sir George Young, “the Bicycling Baronet”, from whom I received an 18th birthday card reminding me of my newly enfranchised status and politely suggesting that I might want to vote Conservative. Members will not be surprised to learn that I did not take his advice.
I never imagined in those days that I would be one of three Ealing Labour MPs supported by a council of the same complexion. A leading Tory at Ealing town hall remarked the other day that we were living in a one-party socialist super state. If only! On the subject of mixing, which I referred to, I can now claim to be the only one of the trio of Ealing Labour MPs to have been a DJ, and, interestingly, I am the only one of the three of us who has never been a bus conductor. In part, that is a function of my age—but hey, never say never.
Transport is a key issue for my constituents. In fact, large parts of my constituency would not have existed without the electrification of the railways. Ealing, Acton and Chiswick feature strongly among the stops on the London tube map. I want to use my position to speak up for the suburbs, which are neglected parts of our nation. If our great cities drive our nation, the suburban districts fuel it.
To sketch a pen portrait of Ealing Central and Acton in 10 minutes is no mean feat. As well as the two towns in its title, it comprises bits of NW10, bordering Harlesden in Brent, near the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Brent North (Barry Gardiner), and bits of W4 in Chiswick. Madam Deputy Speaker, you have probably seen my seat before without even knowing it. In the opening titles of “Only Fools and Horses”, the tower blocks of Del Boy’s Peckham were actually the South Acton estate. For sci-fi fans, it featured in several episodes of “Doctor Who”, including the classic 1970 episode, “Spearhead from Space”, which depicts zombies taking over tranquil Ealing green. I think they were called Autons, or something like that.
Yes, Tories. That’s it.
The whole episode, with people marauding over Ealing green, eerily prefigured the events that unfolded in August 2011, when rioting sadly hit parts of London and further afield. It hit almost the same spot as depicted in the episode.
The seat’s cultural footprint goes wider than on screen; it also covers musical matters. If Members exit Ealing Broadway station, they will see a blue plaque marking the club where the Rolling Stones played their first concert, and The Who formed at Acton County Grammar School, now known as Acton High. At the University of West London in my constituency, there is a Freddie’s Bar, named after Freddie Mercury, who studied at its former incarnation, Ealing Art College. I was reminded of that by Brian May, from the same band, the week before last in this place when he came to lobby against animal cruelty.
The cumulative effect of 43 years in Ealing meant that the 18 months I spent as a candidate knocking on doors in some ways felt like watching my whole life flashing past me. I never knew who I would get behind those doors—would it be my mum’s friends from the swinging Ealing of the ’60s, or my own teachers from the ’70s and ’80s who I never even dreamed had first names, or people I see every day nowadays as a mum on the school run?
The constituency has seen pioneering social experiments. In Bedford Park suburb W4, we had the world’s first garden suburb, while in W5 we have the Brentham estate, which was the birthplace of co-operative housing, where Fred Perry learned to play tennis in the communal facilities. I know that MPs have been fond of the so-called John Lewis list, but they might like to know that its offshoot Waitrose opened its first branch in 1904 in Acton High Street.
Although we witnessed riots in 2011, the spontaneous broom army that came together in the aftermath of the disturbances demonstrated the resilience of what is a mixed community. It is a seat with lush suburbia of Victorian, Edwardian and 1930s-style varieties at one end and the more post-war urban densities and high-rise properties at the other.
My 18 months as a candidate opened my eyes to things I had never seen before in 43 years there. Some of my visits were to places such as the Ealing food bank, the Ealing soup kitchen, the Ealing churches’ night shelter and the Ealing Samaritans—all of whom report an unprecedented take-up of their services. In this day and age in Ealing, which was once known as “Queen of the Suburbs”, that cannot be right. While our victory in Ealing was a great result against the tide, it was tempered with sadness that my dad never lived to see it and disappointment at the broader national results.
I note that my predecessor’s maiden speech pledged to campaign for keeping local A&Es open. She will have been disappointed that we lost Central Middlesex and Hammersmith in September. Maternity at Ealing hospital—we are talking about the London borough with the third highest birth rate out of 33—is about to go at the end of this month, with the last projected birth on 24 June. That can be only a precursor to the A&E going, and Charing Cross A&E is also under threat. With west London’s population going up, not down, that is just plain wrong.
The two immediately preceding maiden speeches for my constituency both praised its multi-faith, multi-ethnic nature. Of course, I shall do the same, as I am a product of it, as can be seen from looking at me. Old and new Europe live side by side and have done for a long time in this seat. I went to school with kids—and teachers—from the immediate post-war Polish ex-servicemen generation, who long predated the 2004 EU expansion. The seat, then, spans tradition and modernity; continuity and change; urban and suburban: it is a microcosm of London at large. Enormous opportunity is coming our way with the regeneration of the Old Oak district, with some 24,000 dwellings, which is being touted as the Canary Wharf of the west; the Crossrail link, which will have two stops in Ealing and Acton; and HS2 is planned to come through, too. It is important that these opportunities serve local people. We do not want to see unaffordable flats being bought off plan by absentee overseas investors. That is buy to leave, not buy to let. As the area’s MP, I will press for the UK to maximise EU funding for these major infrastructure projects, as it is needed to support them. That seems an appropriate point for a debate on EU finance—I did get it in somehow—and the subject of today’s Bill.
It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Ealing Central and Acton (Dr Huq) and the contributions of many Members making their maiden speeches over the last couple of weeks. It is terrific to be able to follow the tutorial from my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset (Mr Rees-Mogg) who, as ever, delivered an incredibly impressive speech. I have often watched his speeches from afar on the television, but it is quite something to witness them in person.
It is an enormous honour and privilege to be the Member of Parliament representing Corby and east Northamptonshire, and to have the opportunity to speak in this important debate on EU finance.
Mine is not only a geographically large constituency, but one whose make-up varies considerably. The town of Corby was at the heart of steel production here in the United Kingdom, and during the second world war it provided the steel for Operation PLUTO, when an underwater pipeline pumped fuel to our allied forces who were invading Normandy. Today’s operation focuses on tube production, and many examples of Corby’s production prowess can be seen at the Olympic Park, the Wembley Arch and the London Eye.
One of the most striking features of Corby is the strength of the local community. As one who grew up in north Northamptonshire, I never cease to be amazed by the fact that people are so willing to dig deep, to look out for others, and to support good causes. There is no better example of that than the way in which the local community came together to support the family of Lance Corporal James Ashworth, VC, a young man who was tragically killed in Afghanistan. Lance Corporal Ashworth made the greatest of sacrifices, and was killed while trying to protect his comrades. We owe our brave armed forces the greatest debt of gratitude, and it is fitting that a square has been named in his memory in the heart of our town.
East Northamptonshire is very different from Corby, in that it consists of four market towns and many beautiful villages dotted around in the mix. Irthlingborough, Raunds, Thrapston and Oundle are thriving market towns that were underpinned by the boot and shoe trade. As a youngster, I grew up in those towns, swimming in Corby, but losing many a game of cricket in villages in East Northamptonshire. In Oundle, I am currently supporting a local campaign to save the playing fields at Oundle Primary School—although I did momentarily hesitate before agreeing to support it, having witnessed a quick-fire double hundred being scored there two or three years ago, most of the runs coming off my bowling!
In east Northamptonshire, Conservatives have led the campaign for the Rushden Lakes development at Skew Bridge. The development will transform our area, bringing it new jobs, shops and leisure facilities, as a result of a multi-million-pound investment in the area which will build on the 60% fall in unemployment that we saw in the last Parliament. This very morning, I attended a meeting at which we talked about the development, and I heard plenty of good news about the progress that is being made in getting started on site.
The constituency was created in 1983, which was a good time for my party but also, I believe, for our country. During my campaign, I was occasionally told that I was a little young to be standing for Parliament, but it is worth remembering that Margaret Thatcher was just 24 when she first stood for Parliament, in Dartford in 1950. As a Thatcherite, I feel both proud and humbled to be following in her footsteps in becoming a Member of this place. I am under no illusions, however: I am pretty confident that that is where the comparisons will end.
In the past five years, Corby has had four Members of Parliament, probably more than any other constituency in the House. 1 hope to bring some much-needed continuity to the role over the next five years. My predecessor, Andy Sawford, was a hard-working and diligent local Member of Parliament, and 1 am proud that we kept to our deal. On day one, we said that we would always stick to the issues and battle hard on them, but would never make it personal. We stuck to that, and I think Andy too can be very proud of that. He will undoubtedly be a tough act to follow, and I am very grateful to him—as are local people—for the huge contribution that he made to our area during the last two and a half years.
Before that, Louise Mensch served as the Member of Parliament. She was a fierce member of the Culture, Media and Sport Committee, and was a more glamorous MP than I could ever hope to be. William Powell and Phil Hope—the latter would become a Minister serving in numerous Departments—also proved themselves to be hard-working local Members, and both are still warmly talked about locally. I thank them, too, for all their efforts in our constituency.
My “Listening to Corby and East Northamptonshire” campaign is all about finding out what issues matter most to local people, and campaigning on them. Indeed, that is exactly what I did during my two years as the Conservative parliamentary candidate. As the local MP, I intend to continue doing exactly that. I want to be Corby and east Northamptonshire’s voice in Westminster, not Westminster’s voice in Corby and east Northamptonshire. That is exactly what my hon. Friends the Members for Kettering (Mr Hollobone), for Daventry (Chris Heaton-Harris) and for Wellingborough (Mr Bone) do so successfully, and I am so grateful to them for all their help, encouragement and support over the years.
My Corby and east Northamptonshire journey started when I helped our excellent candidate at that time, Christine Emmett, in the 2012 by-election. Early in the campaign, my right hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mrs Miller) visited, and I was tasked with driving for the day. Imagine the look of horror on her face as my car clanged into a huge metal gate, causing hundreds of pounds-worth of damage to the car but also great embarrassment to me. The pundits described the Corby by-election as a car crash for the Conservatives. I literally had a car crash. I think it is fair to say that I had at least made an impact.
I know that some in this place will be surprised to hear me say this, but the issue of the European Union and the UK’s membership of it came up time and again on the doorsteps of Corby and east Northamptonshire. One of the key reasons for that is the issue of EU finance—the concern local people have about British taxpayers’ money being sent over to Brussels and how that money is spent. Like them, I am concerned that, despite my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister securing a historic EU budget cut, the cost of the EU to UK taxpayers continues to spiral out of control. We cannot continue to write bigger and bigger cheques to remain a member of an unreformed and uncompetitive EU at a time when domestic budgets are being squeezed. What local people tell me very clearly is that they voted for a common market, not the political superstate that we see today. It is for exactly this reason that I support the Prime Minister in his endeavour to renegotiate our relationship with the EU and then put that to the British people in an in/out referendum for them to decide, because this really is a simple matter of trust.
Another referendum was also of great intrigue in my constituency: that on Scottish independence. We have a proud tradition of generations of Scots coming to Corby to live and work, and the highland gathering and Burns night suppers are very significant events in the social calendar. The desire locally to keep the United Kingdom intact is very strong: 72% of Scots at the highland gathering last year voted to remain part of the UK. Local people were delighted when Scotland opted to stay and chose to be “better together,” but as the Corby MP I am in no doubt about the role local people expect me to play in fighting off the modern-day yellow peril.
In concluding, may I thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, the staff of the House and MPs on all sides for their warm welcome to this House? It is an enormous honour and a privilege to be the Conservative Member of Parliament for Corby and east Northamptonshire.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for allowing me to make my first contribution to this House, and may I take this opportunity to commend all the excellent maiden speeches we have heard today on both sides of the House?
It may surprise my hon. Friends to learn that part of me is a little sad to be here, because the fact that I am standing here means that this Chamber has said goodbye to one of its finest parliamentarians, my predecessor the right hon. William Hague.
William enjoyed a distinguished career over 26 years. He oversaw a landmark Bill to improve rights for the disabled, led our party and served as Foreign Secretary. But his true mark can be found at home in Richmond. He was an outstanding local MP, as well as an outstanding Yorkshireman.
I once arranged a visit to a tiny, remote village and imagined that, for once, I might outdo my predecessor. On arrival, I was told that not only had he held a surgery in the village recently, but that the Foreign Secretary had arrived in a Harrier jet having flown in from a meeting with the President of the United States.
Some have wondered about William Hague’s future. Perhaps he will heed the advice of his Prime Minister who suggested he ought to become the new James Bond. In the Prime Minister’s own words:
“he’s fit, he’s healthy, he does Yoga, he can probably crack a man’s skull between his knee caps.”
That is hard to beat, but I did find a scintilla of encouragement on the campaign trail. Wandering through an auction market, I was introduced to a farmer as “the new William Hague”. He looked at me, quizzically, then said, “Ah yes, Haguey! Good bloke. I like him. Bit pale, though. This one’s got a better tan.” [Laughter.]
In today’s debate on Europe, we should remember that, as leader, William Hague campaigned to prevent Britain from joining the single European currency and instead to keep the pound. His judgment looks even more excellent today than it did then.
We will miss his oratory, wit and intelligence, and I know that the whole House will join me in wishing him well. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear!”]
Sadly, William Hague’s predecessor, the late Lord Brittan, is no longer with us. Fortunately, however, Lord Brittan’s predecessor, Sir Timothy Kitson, still lives locally and his years of dedicated service are remembered fondly.
The constituency of Richmond is known for its remarkable natural beauty. In the east lie the North Yorkshire moors and in the west sit the Yorkshire dales, with their distinctive dry stone walls, stone barns and softly rolling valleys. In fact, admiration for my constituency has even spread to the other side of the English channel, which is why, last year, the remote splendour of Wensleydale and Swaledale became part of the Tour de France.
Interlaced with this natural beauty is a constant reminder of our nation’s heritage. Richmond castle sits magnificently at the heart of the constituency. Built by William the Conqueror, it has witnessed centuries of our nation’s history unfolding. Further afield in Great Ayton, Captain James Cook grew up and left Yorkshire to explore the world.
I am also deeply honoured to represent our soldiers, airmen and their families living at RAF Leeming and at Catterick garrison, our largest Army base. We are home to the historic Green Howards, who served in the Napoleonic Wars, the Normandy landings and Afghanistan. I will never forget that so many of my constituents have risked their lives to protect our nation so that we may debate here in peace today.
In spite of all this, the most remarkable aspect of my constituency is the strength, warmth and independent spirit of our communities. I am fiercely proud to represent them. And although I am not from Yorkshire, they were immensely relieved to learn I was not from Lancashire either! [Laughter.]
I intend to be a champion for the causes of the countryside. I want my hard-working rural constituents to have the strong public services they deserve and every opportunity to prosper.
Our excellent hospital, the Friarage, serves a sparse area of 1,000 square miles, with some patients travelling over an hour and a half to reach it. I shall be a loud voice for ensuring that our local hospital remains strong.
Our rural schools require fair education funding so that they can remain the beating hearts of our villages. I shall be relentless in pushing for better broadband and better mobile phone coverage. The farmers who feed us, proud stewards of our landscape, are too often taken for granted and left alone to battle regulation. Many of our small businesses are making significant exports, and I am determined to help them to give Yorkshire an even bigger place on the map of the world than it already has—if that is possible!
My grandparents arrived in this country with little. My parents, now a GP and a pharmacist, grew up wanting a better future for their children. Today, I have the enormous privilege of standing here as a Member of Parliament. I owe a great debt to our country for what it has done for my family: showing tolerance, providing opportunities and rewarding their hard work.
A great man once remarked that “some of you might not be here in 30 or 40 years” before reminding his audience that decisions made today shape the future for the next generation.
I believe in a compassionate Britain that provides opportunity and values freedom. I hope I can play a small part in ensuring that our great nation continues to hold to those enduring values.
It is a personal privilege to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond (Yorks) (Rishi Sunak), as my grandparents come from Yorkshire, albeit from a different constituency—Beverley and Holderness. It is also a privilege to follow all the other esteemed colleagues who have been lucky enough to win their constituencies.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for giving me the opportunity to speak in this debate and to make my first speech in the House of Commons. I would like to take this opportunity to thank the thousands of fellow Bath residents who voted for me at this election. To say that the past few weeks have been anything less than a whirlwind and one of the most humbling experiences of my life would be an understatement. I am for ever grateful to the people of Bath for entrusting me to represent them to the best of my abilities in the House of Commons. I am still in a state of shock, and I do not think it will ever quite settle in.
Several hon. Members have already asked me why I have chosen this debate for my maiden speech. Many of my colleagues who have already made their maiden speech know that it has nothing to do with the time limit set in more popular debates—graciously set by the Chair—but more to do with my commitment to champion Bath to the rest of Europe and the world at large and with the fact that we have the EU Environment Commissioner coming to Bath in the next week. I hope very much to encourage additional European funding to be spent in Bath.
I am well aware that maiden speeches are not expected to be controversial. Therefore, Madam Deputy Speaker, you will be delighted to hear that after reading Chris Patten’s maiden speech, I will not be spending any time on UK or EU trade union reform—in all honesty, I do not think I could quite control myself. I will therefore start with an uncontroversial statement: both my predecessors as MPs in Bath have been political titans in this place and in the city. I pay tribute to my immediate predecessor, Don Foster, who has been a superb champion for Bath for 23 years. Many in the House have shared fond memories of his time here and of his work in the Department for Communities and Local Government, as well as of his time as Lib Dem Chief Whip—although I understand that that is a much less difficult job these days. We share a passion for Bath rugby and support for the most disadvantaged.
I have already dedicated myself to reducing the number of children living in poverty in Bath, which, in areas of deprivation in the city, has been estimated to be approximately one in five. I intend to spend much time espousing the Conservative case for social justice in the coming years, which is a particular passion of mine given my mother’s own disability and my work alongside the national health service for seven years.
Don’s dedication to the people of Bath over time has been second to none. I wish him and his family the very best for the future—if Don is watching this, I am looking for that statue spot for him even now.
I could not make my maiden speech without making a special reference to Lord Patten, a man of immense intelligence and charisma. Many Members will remember that evening in 1992 and the shock felt in the Conservative party at his loss of the seat. I know that many were pleased to hear that after 23 years Bath is blue again.
Bath’s reputation as an internationally renowned city is clear. In the interests of the Bill, it is important to explain Bath’s European significance. Some of my predecessors have not wished to take people on a tour of Bath, but I shall positively relish the opportunity to do so, given the debate. I am incredibly lucky to represent the only city in the UK with UNESCO world heritage site status, with a history of European influence spreading into our culture, architecture and language for centuries.
Many will know the beautiful Roman baths in the city, but many will not know about the Roman curse tablets—recently added to the UNESCO Memory of the World register of outstanding documentary heritage— which are tablets that visitors to the bath would throw into the water inscribed with a curse. One reads:
“Docimedis has lost two gloves and asks that the thief responsible should lose their minds and eyes in the goddess’s temple.”
As someone who values my mind and sight, I vow to the people of Bath that I will be one of the hardest working constituency MPs.
On our Roman spa, I recently learned from my good friend and previous Conservative candidate for Bath, Fabian Richter, that Bath’s spa waters were not only a perfect cure for consumption and gout—how he knows this, I do not know—but renowned the world over as a cure for infertility. After all, that is why we have thousands of people tasting the waters every day in the Pump Room. If hon. Members do not believe me, James II’s wife Mary visited Bath when struggling to conceive. A convenient nine months later, the future Old Pretender was born—at this point I shall forget the bit about the Tory Jacobites losing in Bath and being removed by the Whigs until a more convenient time.
Since the time of Roman Bath, links with Europe have grown ever closer. Today Bath boasts a twin relationship with Aix-en-Provence, Alkmaar, Braunschweig and Kaposvar. I pledge myself to champion our superb tourism economy in the coming years. In fact, Bath Tourism Plus will be happy for me to suggest to hon. Members that they should do two things: first, book a stay at one of our wonderful bed and breakfasts or hotels—for longer than two nights, by the way—and, secondly, bring a swimming costume and visit our wonderful Thermae spa. That is a subtle hint for Members to have a relaxing experience after a long, successful election campaign—please bring wallets.
Bath is not only a tourist city, however. We are industrially famous for our range of engineering firms. Chris Patten rightly explained in his maiden speech that Bath is not just “a museum piece”. We have some of Europe’s leading electrical parts companies, and design and research and development firms. Our universities are world-leading centres of design and engineering, leading the way on sustainable energy production and renewables, as well as the lowering of vehicle emissions.
My second point to make in the debate on this Bill is that I shall be using this opportunity to call for additional funding from the European Union for the west of England and the south-west. Whereas other areas of the UK have received substantial amounts of infrastructure spend, the west of England is all too often overlooked. Of course we all know of the Chancellor’s success with the northern powerhouse in recent months, so I am very happy to lend my support to the west of England powerhouse, just as so many of my colleagues have espoused such support so eloquently in their maiden speeches. I want to lend my backing for additional funding to be spent in the west of England.
Every Bath resident is aware that Bath’s No. 1 issue is, of course, transport. During the election campaign, we set out our transport manifesto, and I will reiterate to residents in Bath the fact that I will be fighting for funding to deliver a solution to our stalling transport system. I am very pleased that the European Environment Commissioner will be visiting Bath next week to help make Bath a special case study for air pollution levels. That will enable our city to get on and build that long-overdue A36-A46 link road to the east of Bath, which I mentioned earlier to the Secretary of State for Transport. I will also be working alongside my hon. Friend the Member for Chippenham (Michelle Donelan) to help open that long-awaited Corsham railway station. Other matters I am campaigning on include the lack of affordable homes in Bath, the UK’s third least affordable city. More than 5,000 people are on the social housing waiting list, so we need more affordable and social homes built in the city.
Bath has a long history of MPs who have fought the British corner, with none more famous than the only Bath MP to become the Prime Minister—the Earl of Chatham, William Pitt the Elder. I will forgive him for his liberal leanings, as he led Britain through the seven years war with France, with victory cementing Britain’s place in the world. He was renowned for his antagonism towards the chief enemies, France and Spain, and had a lifelong concern to protect the balance of power on the European continent. I can, of course, recommend a good book called “Pitt the Elder” to the Prime Minister when he undertakes his renegotiation strategy with European nations.
As the new Member of Parliament for Bath, I will never shy away from championing our city’s achievements, just like my immediate predecessor Don Foster. In his maiden speech, he quoted Chris Patten’s maiden speech, stating that before 1979 the unemployment figures had, sadly, risen and that 13 years later Bath was still not “quite as busy” as he would have liked following rises in unemployment in 1992. In stark contrast to my predecessor, I am pleased to report that as a result of this Government’s long-term economic plan, in April the claimant count in Bath fell to one of its lowest levels, at 1.8%, which is an overall drop of more than 40% since 2010. With more than 215 new businesses set up in Bath between 2010 and 2014, and almost 1,800 new apprenticeships, this is a superb story to be told and it shows how important it is not to put this all at risk.
Bath has always been at the forefront of innovation, and I intend to champion the causes of businesses such as Polamco, Rotork, BMT and Cross Manufacturing as they grow. I am a strong advocate for the reform of the European Union through the renegotiations, but I would like to place on the record my belief that our country is better off inside the European Union than outside it. As I have explained in the past few minutes, Bath’s culture and heritage are based on strong links with Europe. I do not want to put jobs and investment at risk in the west of England.
In conclusion, it has been traditional for Bath MPs to stand up for progressive values and reform, and I stand for a continuation of that tradition. I finish by saying that Bath has sometimes been called the graveyard of ambition. I stand before this House as the grandson of someone who used to drive Margaret Thatcher, and the son of parents who never went to university and worked hard all their lives. This fundamental belief in aspiration has enabled me to become the MP for Bath, and I hope that others around the country will look to this comprehensive schoolboy’s result and think that one day they could sit beside me. I am proud to represent my home of Bath, one of the best cities in Europe and the world.
It is an absolute pleasure to speak for the first time under your chairship, Madam Deputy Speaker. I know that I will enjoy doing so and it is great to see you in your place.
This afternoon, we have heard no fewer than eight maiden speeches. All have been brilliant and eloquent, and each Member has given a great exposition of their constituency. It is no surprise that they should have been so brilliant, and let me say why. I say this to the hon. Members for East Lothian (George Kerevan), for Tonbridge and Malling (Tom Tugendhat), for South Ribble (Seema Kennedy), for Glenrothes (Peter Grant), for Corby (Tom Pursglove), for Richmond (Yorks) (Rishi Sunak) and for Bath (Ben Howlett), and my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing Central and Acton (Dr Huq): it is no surprise that each one of them has made a fantastic first speech in this House because they chose to make their first contribution in a debate on European affairs, as I did five years ago, so welcome to the club, folks! They all did absolutely brilliantly, especially my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing Central and Acton. It is good to see that we are welcoming another fellow DJ to this place. I know that she will add great things to our debates.
Several Members mentioned their diverse backgrounds, and how proud they were to represent their home towns. The hon. Member for Bath made that point particularly well. He said that Members in this House come from all parts of the world and have diverse family backgrounds. Our country is at its best when it appreciates its wide history and shows its tolerance, which is one of the finest of British values, and I support everything that he said on that point.
On the Bill at hand, this debate has highlighted many important issues, which will undoubtedly be discussed over the next few months as we continue to debate Europe. As my hon. Friend the Member for Worsley and Eccles South (Barbara Keeley) has already stated, we will not oppose this Bill.
The Bill, although short, will give effect to the new financing system of the European Union, which equates to a net contribution from the UK of £9.8 billion for the year 2015-16. We will seek to improve the Bill in a number of ways. First, we need to review the EU budget. At the moment, 6% of the EU budget is spent on administration costs, and we need to ascertain whether that money is being spent efficiently and effectively. If it is not, we need to consider what we can do to change it. We have a collective interest in ensuring that European resources are used efficiently. Indeed, there are so many areas in which we have a collective interest with our European friends and neighbours. We will seek agreement from the Council of Ministers to undertake a review of budget priorities, waste and inefficiency within the EU budget.
There also needs to be an improved process for agreeing the EU budget. My hon. Friend the Member for Worsley and Eccles South has already highlighted the convoluted process that we go through and some of the difficulties. To increase transparency and accountability, it is vital that this House expresses its opinion on the budget, and we should seek to meet budget representatives in advance of EU budget negotiations. I urge the Government to consider what more they can do on that front.
We also need to revisit how the budget is set and how we spend the money. To set a different ceiling on spending commitments and payments seems odd, and we ask for the process to be reviewed to ensure that the gap is manageable.
I am sure that Members would not feel too insulted if I suggested that the EU budget can be difficult to understand. It involves complicated decision-making processes. Set out over a seven-year cycle, it covers everything from spending on research and innovation to public health and even pensions for staff, but it is precisely because of its wide scope that it needs such careful attention.
We have heard Government Members wax lyrical about their achievements on reducing the UK’s contribution to Europe. Labour welcomes the fact that the UK has achieved that real-term cut in spending limits, and I remind the House that we played an important role in pushing for that cut.
We called for a real-term cut in spending in 2010, and pushed for a better deal for Britons in the following years, but a reduction in spending is just one part of the reforms that we need. The budget also needs to be more focused. We need to concentrate on areas that will enhance economic growth across the EU. I was struck by the comments made by my hon. Friend the Member for Worsley and Eccles South about the level of unemployment in parts of Europe. We need to improve productivity, support the creation of new jobs, and, ultimately, enhance living standards within our Union.
The hon. Lady is being characteristically generous in paying tribute to the Prime Minister for securing that reduction in the budget. Given that the Labour party is now indulging in various changes of opinion, not least on Europe, does she recognise that the way so much was given away in the mid-2000s by the previous Labour Government was a great mistake, and will she pledge that no future Labour Government would ever do such a thing in that way?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention and for his kind words. Given the comment I just made about when I chose to make my first speech at this place, I can assure him that I have never changed my mind about Europe. I shall say more about that.
Spending on research, innovation, infrastructure, education and training, and enterprise development is very important and can help us better to promote the European Union as a facilitator of growth within the UK. Of course we recognise that we must also finance all aspects of the EU, but I would question whether continuing to spend so much of our money on areas like the common agricultural policy demonstrates the right priorities. It accounted for 40% of EU expenditure in 2013 yet contributed just over 1% to total EU economic output.
Labour Members have twice now criticised how much is spent on agriculture in the EU. Surely the hon. Lady is aware that over the years there has been a significant shift in and reform of what the agricultural fund is for. It is no longer primarily an agricultural subsidy for production and excess production but is focused on protecting the environment. Surely that is something that we should encourage.
The hon. Gentleman makes a fair point about protecting our environment, but my point is that in these times we need to ensure that each part of this spending is focused in the right place. At a time when the European Union has serious deprivation and so on within its borders, it is right to question each part of its spending.
I know that any discussion of Europe strikes fear into the heart of those on the Government Front Bench, especially because it stirs such joy on their Back Benches. The issue of Europe holds no such fear for me, however, and in the coming referendum I shall campaign to stay in the European Union, because we should not underestimate the benefits we receive from being part of it.
I have no fear of the views of the British people and I only endeavour to listen to them.
Seven out of ten of the UK’s largest export markets are in EU countries, amounting to 42% of the UK’s total exports or £122 billion every year. Some of those exports are made in my constituency, and I see the vital importance of the European market to the whole of the UK and to my constituents no less than to anyone else’s. Of all the investment spending in the UK over the past 20 years, 21% has come from foreign direct investment, and we should not underestimate the importance of that. We have access to 500 million customers in the single market, and in my role as shadow City Minister. I must raise the point that in my opinion the financial services sector benefits enormously from remaining within the EU.
The hon. Lady is being very generous. A lot of the debate on this in the past has been a bit overdone, as though there would be no trade between the EU and the UK if we were to leave. What assessment has the hon. Lady made of what the impact would be? I am sure that there would be costs, but perhaps we need to avoid exaggerating or suggesting that somehow all trade would cease or that there would be massive walls put up when there will not. What is her assessment of the likely impact on trade if we did depart?
I am not always this generous, so the hon. Gentleman should perhaps make the most of it. I have looked my constituents in the eye, especially those who work at General Motors in Ellesmere Port, and I have seen in them a dedication to make things in this country to be sold abroad for the good of our economy. Their dedication in working so hard for our country deserves our commitment to ensuring that our borders are open to our biggest customers. When they sell their cars to Europe, that is good for our country and I think that my job is to stand by their side.
We must work hard to make the EU better for everybody, and the Bill presents us with an opportunity to do that. The multiannual financial framework has already been agreed by the European Council. We should use this process to strengthen budgetary procedures for the future and enhance political and public understanding of how the EU budget works, and we should re-prioritise how EU money is spent so that it works for the benefit of each and every person in Europe, not just for a wealthy few. I look forward to strengthening the Bill as it moves through the House.
What a pleasure it is to see you in the Chair, Madam Deputy Speaker, and to respond on behalf of the Government to the debate on the European Union (Finance) Bill. I welcome the hon. Member for Wirral South (Alison McGovern) to her position as shadow Economic Secretary.
We have had a good-humoured debate today on this important topic. I have noticed that a large number of former university professors chose to speak in the debate. I welcome the eight new Members who made their maiden speeches during the debate. As my opposite number pointed out, they have been shrewd—they know that Thursday afternoon business on a Bill that takes up all of one page and has general cross-party support is an excellent opportunity to enjoy less stricture from Madam Deputy Speaker in respect of a time limit.
We were privileged to hear a range of maiden speeches, first from the hon. Member for East Lothian (George Kerevan), who shocked us by revealing that he already has his bus pass. He tempted us all with the information that his vegetable garden is ambitious and painted a delightful picture of East Lothian. My grandmother, Flora Maclean Macleod Morison, was born in Dunbar in his constituency, so he will forgive me if I take an entirely different view from him of our United Kingdom, but I enjoyed his maiden speech very much none the less.
We then had the pleasure of hearing from my hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Tom Tugendhat), who emphasised the fact that his interest in European finance was related to the fact that his wife is French. He took us on a very interesting tour of his constituency that involved Wimbledon strawberries. He also spoke of his valuable and important tours of Iraq and Afghanistan, for which the nation is deeply grateful.
We heard from my hon. Friend the Member for South Ribble (Seema Kennedy) who, I think it is fair to say, is the first person of Iranian-Irish heritage to serve in this place. She took us back to the wars of the roses. The atmosphere seemed to get quite heated on the Conservative Benches at times during the afternoon, but my hon. Friend made a very funny speech and took us on a metaphorical open-top bus tour in a Leyland bus around South Ribble. The House was alarmed to hear that she reversed into her first constituent. We would all like to hear in her subsequent contributions what happened to that constituent. I was left worrying about what happened next.
We had an excellent speech from the hon. Member for Glenrothes (Peter Grant), who complemented the strawberries from Tonbridge and Malling with some Pimm’s from Glenrothes to add to our summer delights. We also heard from the hon. Member for Ealing Central and Acton (Dr Huq), who has been not only a university professor but, I understand, a DJ. She took us around the musical highlights of Ealing Central and Acton. She clearly knows her area extremely well from having lived there for so long, and she paid a well deserved tribute to her excellent predecessors, Angie Bray and Sir George Young. I only regret that Sir George Young’s letter to her when she was 18 failed to persuade her of the virtues of voting Conservative, but a place is reserved for her, should she ever wish to cross the Floor.
We heard a remarkable speech from my hon. Friend the new Member for Corby (Tom Pursglove), who enchanted us with his description of some of his perhaps less successful outings on the cricket pitch. I think it fair to say that he is already one of the most famous new Members, as his name has been mentioned on numerous occasions by his constituency champion, our hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone). We are delighted to meet him in the flesh. He was elected as the youngest councillor in the country in 2007, which we in Malvern Hills were slightly annoyed about, as we had only the second youngest. None the less, I congratulate him on being here so early in his life and look forward to his being here for many years to come.
We then heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond (Yorks) (Rishi Sunak), who has a very tough act to follow. Not only has his predecessor left a lasting legacy in this nation’s politics by ensuring that we kept the pound and remained strong in our approach to a wide range of foreign policy issues, but he turned up at his advice surgeries in a Harrier jet—a tough act to follow indeed, but the new Member for Richmond (Yorks) clearly shares the oratory, wit and intelligence of his predecessor. I am sure that his speech today gave us the first inkling of the great contribution he will make.
Today, the House has also had a picture painted for us of a spa. What could be nicer on a Thursday afternoon in the House of Commons than to hear about the city of Bath and its place in European tourism? It was an enchanting picture of an historic and famous place. My hon. Friend the Member for Bath (Ben Howlett) shared his pride in the fact—we all agree with him on the great news—that, after 23 years, Bath is once again a blue city. He told us about the innovative and prosperous place that he represents. He, too, will be a great champion for his area in the years to come.
A stable, prosperous society is possible only if the Government spend citizens’ money wisely. We have before us a Bill that is an eloquent rebuttal to all those who claim that we cannot get a better European settlement. Back in 2013, people said we could never do something as ambitious as cutting the EU budget—it was unheard of. But we worked with our partners, we negotiated hard and we did not give in, and that work paid off handsomely. The seven-year deal we secured represents the first ever real-terms cut to the EU budget, at the same time as protecting our hard-won rebate. That is what happens when we stand our ground, fight hard against unwelcome proposals and defend the interests of the British taxpayer. That is exactly the sort of leadership that is needed in Europe.
I want to ask the hon. Lady a question that is important for the next stage of the Bill. Does she think that “standing our ground” will be extended to what the Labour party has suggested and Labour Members have talked about today, which is cutting the CAP and funding for agriculture even further and spending more on growth and jobs? Does she think that that switch of priorities is possible?
The hon. Lady mentioned that earlier and I was going to get to that point in a moment, but yes, we do accept that expenditure on the CAP is still too high both in absolute terms and as a proportion of the overall budget. As she will know, this settlement reduces the amount we spend on the CAP by 13%, but as the Prime Minister said at the time of the deal, reform of EU spending is a long-term project. I will say more later in my speech.
Before I reply to points made in the debate, let me remind the House what the Bill covers and what it does not cover. It relates to the mechanism by which member states finance the EU budget. The mechanism was agreed unanimously by member states in 2014, in a Council decision that fully and accurately reflects the historic deal that the Prime Minister secured. The Bill therefore gives UK approval to that Council decision, finalising the Prime Minister’s historic deal in 2013, which the Government worked hard to achieve and which received widespread praise from both Houses as delivering a good deal for taxpayers.
The hon. Member for Worsley and Eccles South made a number of points, including on the common agricultural policy and the overall enthusiasm her party now feels for reform of the European Union. We welcome that new-found enthusiasm, but I encourage her to induct into that feeling her colleagues in the European Parliament, who play a vital role every year by scrutinising the European budget. I look forward to her being able to engage with them and ensure that there is a good deal of scrutiny, and not only on the points she raised about the common agricultural policy, but on the payment gap, because clearly the Commission has committed to publishing more frequently its analysis on payment forecasts. We welcome the greatly enhanced level of information on the budget but recognise that there is still a great deal more to do.
It is worth saying for the record that in the latest round of CAP reforms, covering the six-year period from 2014 to 2020, Labour MEPs voted against the final outcome, because we believe that the reforms were not far-reaching enough. The Minister mentioned talking to those MEPs, but they have already voted against it.
As I said, I welcome the hon. Lady’s European colleagues’ new-found enthusiasm for rigour and reform in the European Union, and I look forward to working closely with them to ensure that happens.
My hon. Friend the Member for Daventry (Chris Heaton-Harris) made an excellent speech that revealed his deep knowledge of the subject. As a former MEP who sat on the Committee that scrutinised the European budget, he has been assiduous in his scrutiny of this legislation—no doubt the Whips will have noted his enthusiasm to take part when the Bill goes to Committee. He asked a range of questions about the ESA reporting and the accuracy of the EU budget. The UK agrees that more can be done to improve compliance, including simplifying the rules that member states have to comply with to release their funds. We believe that the Prime Minister’s deal on the multi-annual financial framework shows that EU spending can be improved, but that will require a strong UK voice to be heard.
Again, does the Minister understand that the OBR analysis shows that in 2020 the net contributions in cash terms from the UK will be similar to what they are now? When the Prime Minister negotiated a reduction in the EU budget, it was a reduction in the global budget, not in the British contribution in cash terms.
I accept that the OBR has published figures that clearly show that there is a real-terms reduction in the overall envelope for the settlement period.
My hon. Friend the Member for Daventry also asked about the additional costs compared with the existing decision and any offsetting benefits. He raised a number of technical points about the VAT-based contributions, which are calculated by applying a call rate to a hypothetical harmonised VAT base—are not we glad we have him in this House, knowing all the information and all the right questions to ask on the details of the financial settlement? He also asked about the impact of the switch from ESA 95 to ESA 2010. It was taken into account in the own resources decision, but it does affect all countries’ GNI, so the effect on the contribution depends on how all countries’ GNI is revised. For the UK the key determinant of contributions is, in fact, the VAT base, thanks to our rebate, which the Labour party did not succeed in giving away fully in the early 2000s. Changes in the UK’s GNI are corrected in the rebate calculation.
The hon. Member for Luton North (Kelvin Hopkins) mentioned a number of negotiating red lines that he has, although he is in a slightly different position. He asked what are the Prime Minister’s red lines. The Prime Minister has clearly set out areas where he wants change, including reforming welfare to reduce the incentives that have encouraged such mass migration from Europe; increasing economic competitiveness to create jobs and growth for hard-working families; and protecting Britain’s interests outside the euro. They also include halting the constant flow of powers to Brussels, including by ensuring a stronger role for national Parliaments, and dealing with the concept of ever-closer union. That may be what some others want, but it is not for us.
In 2010, this Government took the tough decisions that were needed to pull this country back from the brink. We can have a stable, prosperous society only if a Government spend their citizens’ money carefully, and it is right that we took that approach to the European level of government as well.
The deficit halved—more than halved—over the course of the previous Parliament. Is the hon. Lady now arguing that she would like to have cut spending more? I have not heard that from Labour Members in this Chamber over the past five years. I have heard constant bids for more borrowing, more spending and more taxation, and nothing at all about reducing the deficit.
The Minister challenges me on what I would pledge. I did not write the Chancellor’s emergency Budget that set the Government on the wrong course. So let me ask her this: how did the pledge go to get debt falling, not rising, for most of the previous Parliament?
I must be living in a parallel universe. I have walked through the opposite Lobby from the hon. Lady on numerous occasions when we have taken the tough decisions on spending that we needed to take in order to clear up the mess that her mentor, Mr Gordon Brown, left behind.
In the negotiations on the European budget in 2013 we achieved real, historic change. We got a great deal for the United Kingdom, we proved that we can achieve reform in Europe, and we protected taxpayers’ interests. That historic agreement will be formalised with the passing of this Bill, and I commend it to the House.
Question put and agreed to.
Bill accordingly read a Second time.
European Union (Finance) Bill (Programme)
Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 83A(7),
That the following provisions shall apply to the European Union (Finance) Bill:
(1) The Bill shall be committed to a Committee of the whole House.
Proceedings in Committee, on Consideration and Third Reading
(2) Proceedings in Committee, any proceedings on Consideration and proceedings on Third Reading shall be completed at one day’s sitting.
(3) Proceedings in Committee and any proceedings on Consideration shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion one hour before the moment of interruption on the day on which those proceedings are commenced.
(4) Proceedings on Third Reading shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at the moment of interruption on that day.
(5) Standing Order No. 83B (Programming committees) shall not apply to proceedings in Committee and on Consideration and Third Reading.
(6) Any other proceedings on the Bill (including any proceedings on consideration of any message from the Lords) may be programmed.—(Margot James.)
European Union (Finance) Bill (Money)
Queen’s recommendation signified.
Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 52(1)(a)),
That, for the purposes of any Act resulting from the European Union (Finance) Bill, it is expedient to authorise the charging on, and payment out of, the Consolidated Fund or the National Loans Fund of any sums which, by virtue of the amendment of the European Communities Act 1972 made by that Act, fall to be charged on or paid out of either of those Funds.—(Margot James.)