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EU Budget: UK Contribution

Volume 764: debated on Tuesday 21 July 2015


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government, in the light of the United Kingdom’s net contribution to the European Union budget of £43 billion between 2010 and 2014, according to their December 2014 statement European Union Finances 2014 (Cm 8974), whether they plan to include a reduction in the United Kingdom’s net contribution in their renegotiation of the United Kingdom’s membership of the European Union.

My Lords, the Prime Minister has been clear on the areas where we seek reform, including welfare, competitiveness and protecting Britain’s interests outside the euro. The EU budget mechanism, which determines the UK’s net contribution to the EU from 2014 to 2020, was agreed in 2013 when the Prime Minister scored a historic real-terms cut to expenditure and protected the rebate. This House ratified that deal on 8 July.

I thank the Minister for his erudite reply. Does he agree that every penny we remit to the EU to meet its ever-growing demands has to be borrowed overseas due to our huge trading imbalances? So should we not seize the opportunity of renegotiation to repatriate those sums that are used by the EU largely for capital investments, cut our borrowings and spend that money on our own decaying infrastructure?

My Lords, it is kind of my noble friend to say that my Answer was erudite. Of course, what he spotted is that the first response is usually written by erudite officials, not the Minister. On the substantive point, of course it is the case that the UK is an overall net contributor to the EU budget, but it should be noted that the EU does not contribute to specific EU budget programmes such as infrastructure. Indeed, to put it into perspective, the net contribution over the next seven-year MFF will average 0.47% of national income. In addition, as my noble friend will be aware, the UK derives considerable economic benefits from being in the single market and from the deals that the EU collectively negotiates with countries outside the Union.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that a very good job was done in cutting the current seven-year EU budget over the last one, and that those who did the good job included Liberal Democrat MEPs, of whom I was one? The UK contribution in 2019-20 will be 7% lower in real terms than last year. A good job was also done in reorienting the budget towards research, investment and innovation for growth and competitiveness. It is not an ever-growing EU budget; it is a diminishing EU budget.

The noble Baroness is right to say that the overall EU budget was cut in real terms as compared with the last one. I am not 100% sure what role the noble Baroness played in that, but I note that we did not agree the last two annual budgets.

My Lords, would the Minister stretch his erudition a little further and tell the House what the British rebated contribution is per capita of our population and how that compares with other member states of a similar level of prosperity to us? Could he then perhaps add to that by giving us the cumulative figure for the rebate since 1984?

My Lords, we on this side of the House had assumed that the Minister was displaying his own erudition as there is no official in the Box to check on this, so he is on his own. What steps are the Government taking to keep Parliament and the British people informed on the progress of negotiations? The Labour Party of course voted for a reduction in real terms to the current 2014 to 2020 budget, but ahead of the referendum it is quite clear that we need to discuss fully both in Parliament and with the British people directly how the EU budget is constructed and how the money is spent.

My Lords, I acknowledge that the party opposite did support the new MFF, and I acknowledge the support given by the noble Lord personally to that well-attended debate on 8 July with one speaker. In terms of how we will keep Parliament informed, the Prime Minister made a Statement that was repeated in this House about his renegotiations and the outcome of the Council, and he did say that the issue would be addressed at the Council in December. I would expect the Prime Minister to make a further Statement following that EU Council, which is what he normally does. In addition, not only the European Scrutiny Committee of the House of Commons but the Select Committee of this House will scrutinise the budget, as they always do.

My Lords, I congratulate the Minister on his modesty as well as on his erudition. Would he not agree with me that the Prime Minister has set out his negotiating path and that it is always very unwise to deviate from a path almost immediately after one has set it out in public? Would it not be far better to seek changes that will benefit the whole of the European Union and not just the United Kingdom, and is not the best way to do that by seeking to control the budget and looking for ways of repatriating those functions that are suitable for that purpose?

I completely agree with my noble friend. In fact, the Prime Minister has been consistent. In the election he said that we would reform the EU: we would have renegotiation, reform and a referendum. That is what he promised and that is what we will deliver.

When the Prime Minister returns from his negotiations in Europe and recommends to the British public to vote yes in the referendum, as we all know he will, how will we be able to judge whether or not he has achieved his objectives?

He will set out what he believes is his view, and it will be left to the British people to judge whether we should stay in or leave the EU.