HC Deb 07 December 1994 vol 251 cc417-26

'No Minister of the Crown shall give assent to any Regulation, Directive, or other instrument relating to the operation of the decision of 31st October 1994 in the Council of the European Communities in section 1(e) above, unless the text of that instrument has been approved by a Resolution of the House of Commons.'.—[Mr. Spearing.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

10.45 pm
Mr. Spearing

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

The clause deals with the powers of the House of Commons in the voting of money. I shall not speak for long— [Interruption.] That is partly because the Conservative Members who are jeering and laughing should quickly understand that they have been sent to this place to do a job of work. If they do not examine taxation and how it is used, their party will not be pursuing its constitutional and parliamentary purpose. The clause would ensure that that purpose would be pursued.

The clause turns on how the House of Commons decides where taxpayers' money goes. We all know from previous debates that about £10 billion of taxpayers' money may be allocated to the European Communities in the next year or so. Some Conservative Members may feel that that is a good deal. I shall not deal with the merits of membership, because I wish to confine myself to whether the House controls taxpayers' money. [Interruption.]

The First Deputy Chairman

Order. It is difficult to hear what the hon. Member is saying. The Committee must settle down.

Mr. Spearing

As I was saying, Mr. Lofthouse—

Mr. Campbell-Savours

On a point of order, Mr. Lofthouse. Shortly before the most recent Division, the Paymaster General gave an assurance that a certain document had been placed in the Library. I understand that those in the Library, having been requested by a number of Members to produce the document, undertook an extensive search but found no reference to it, except for one last March, when two Members of the other place asked for a copy to be placed in the Library. Perhaps the Minister would care to qualify what he said earlier. We cannot find the document that he assured Parliament was available to Members.

The First Deputy Chairman

That is not a matter for the Chair. The hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) has the floor.

Mr. Spearing

An essential question is how the House of Commons votes money. The Chamber is crowded at Budget time, especially when it comes to debates about whether value added tax is to be reduced, for example. When it comes to voting up to £10 billion a year to the European Communities, we demonstrate a failure to take control. Conservative Members who are talking while in their places and perhaps not understanding the purpose of the clause may demonstrate a greater understanding when we come to 1999, when perhaps a third of the rebate that we were debating earlier will disappear. The hapless Government of the time will be faced with an extremely difficult situation.

The Bill authorises the maximum amount that the Community can impose on its members. It does not provide, however, how much each annual budget will be. That is a matter for annual procedure, in which the Paymaster General is a key figure. The Chancellor of the Exchequer watches to see how much each year the Communities are to spend. The details come before the House of Commons, where they are scrutinised in what is usually a take-note debate. That debate usually takes place late at night, and is usually attended by relatively few hon. Members.

The moneys for the 1995 budget were debated on Monday evening, and I do not think that more than 20 hon. Members were present. That shows the extent to which hon. Members on both sides of the Chamber are unaware of the power that is potentially in their hands, or rather in the hands of the Government, that is not being used.

In the past couple of hours, we have had a long debate about fraud. If one is not satisfied with the bookkeeping of a company or organisation to which one subscribes, the ultimate weapon to ensure that fraud is diminished or tackled properly—clearly, in this case, it is not—is to say, "No. Next year we will not vote you any more money. We will not cut you off, but we will not vote any increase at all." Conservative Members support a Bill which says, "We will give you virtually carte blanche to increase our contributions up to £10 billion gross a year, without any practical possibility of saying that, in any one year, we are not going to provide any more."

New clause 11 would ensure that, before a Minister of the Crown agreed to the annual budget in Brussels, the Government presented an instrument to the House and obtained approval of that budget, not just in a take-note discussion in respect of a document when it is of perhaps even greater import than some previous Budget motions.

We want some control. The only way of doing that is by agreeing the new clause, which says that no Minister shall give assent to expenditure for a certain Community year unless the proposal receives, by resolution, the assent of the House. At present there is a take-note debate and a bit of discussion, and the Minister goes off and does more or less what he likes. That is proven by the revelation of a previous Paymaster General, when we discussed this very matter in 1988. He said: I fully accept the need for the Government to take careful note of the views of the House whenever possible before agreeing directives or regulations linked to the new own resources decision, but—I do not intend the next remark ironically, although it may be so taken—I nevertheless urge hon. Members to reject the new clause"— which is virtually the same as new clause 11— as it would impose an excessive and unnecessary constraint on the Government's freedom of action."—[Official Report, 24 October 1988; Vol. 139, c. 129.] That is freedom of action to send to the European Communities, after negotiation, what they consider suitable.

In doing that, the Government are throwing away most of the power to ensure proper prevention of waste, proper prevention of fraud, and even their bargaining power in the Council of Ministers. If the Government went to the Council and said, "Our House of Commons will allow only a certain amount," they would have real muscle behind them. Instead, the budget of the Community expands year on year because there is a mutual back-scratching exercise for everybody to obtain a bit more, so that they can agree and then go home and tell their Parliaments and nations how well they have done, and how much they have, at the expense of an ever-expanding budget and an inability to tackle fraud.

It is even worse than that. Many hon. Members have talked about waste. I shall conclude this relatively brief speech by giving an almost breathtaking example. The hon. Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Dykes), who knows much about the Community, decried people for talking about waste, and said that there are scare stories in the newspapers and so on. I shall give an example of how a resolution such as we suggest would actually bite.

I refer to expenditure, which will almost surely occur, of £6 million by the European Community. The money will be spent to tell us something which most of us know already: lifelong learning is important. All hon. Members will agree that we continue to learn, and in these modern times we have the opportunity to learn to a relatively late age. We learn new facts and new ideas and gain new insights every day. There is no dissent about that.

The European document of 29 September 1994 under the name of Mr. Klaus Kinkel, President of the Council of the European Union, advocates a year of European lifelong learning. The "year" will spread over one year of preparation and a second year of expenditure. It will cost £6 million, but it will not suggest any procedures for lifelong learning. It will simply produce a number of conferences, logos and surveys in order to impress upon the citizens of the member states of the European Union the importance of lifelong learning.

According to the explanatory memorandum which accompanies the document, it is based on articles 126 and 127 of the Union's treaty of Maastricht. In other words, the treaty has given it a form of legislative and statutory basis.

Mr. MacShane

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way. Will he provide details of the document to each Member of the House? We would like to see a little of that £6 million spent in Rotherham. A lifelong learning scheme would do all of us a power of good.

Mr. Spearing

I think that my hon. Friend misunderstands what I have said. Unfortunately, I gather from the raw document that not a pound of the £6 million will be spent on the sorts of excellent adult education schemes that they have in Rotherham. The document explains what will happen under the proposal. It says: Contents: Actions wholly financed out of the Community budget. Organisation of European conferences on the abovementioned themes to launch and close the European Year. Organisation of meetings in the Member States in order to stress the contribution made by the European Union to the abovementioned themes. Community-wide information and promotional campaigns involving: the designing of a logo and a slogan for the European Year of Lifelong Learning". If the project were confined to grants for adult education or lifelong learning it might be a different story, but I am afraid that my hon. Friend has been taken in by the document's title; it is an advertising campaign.

Mr. Lofthouse, if you and I heard about the proposal and started up a consultancy or put in a bid to run the campaign in Britain— I presume that about £1 million will be spent on this rather curious exercise— we might be in the money; particularly if we had warning of what was going to happen.

The project is not an example of fraud, but it will generate enough money for someone to do quite well. We do not want to see the Commission financing that sort of project, even if, like my hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Mr. MacShane), we are very much in favour of the Union.

My hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) talked about certain schemes which did not do the Union any good. I suggest that the project is a bad use of public money. That sort of thing can be stopped only if the Chamber uses its power to vote money—just as it does on voting Supply to the Crown, or on voting, as we did last night, on measures which will make money for the Government. Unless and until we get a grip on the European Community's finances, there will be trouble ahead for the Chamber, the Government and, above all, the people of this country.

11 pm

Mr. Heathcoat-Amory

I open by answering a point raised by the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours), although he does not seem to be in his place. He is probably back in the Library trying to find his book. I did not give an undertaking that the book on European agriculture was available. I said that I understood that it was in the Library. I had been told such by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. If it is not in the Library, I apologise, and I shall make sure that it is placed there at the earliest possible moment. I repeat that it is not the intention of the British Government to suppress the book. It appears to be a useful contribution to the issue of reform of the common agricultural policy, which has been led by the Government and by Britain.

Although I sympathise with some of the points made by the hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing), I cannot accept his new clause 11. It is potentially extremely wide. The House will accept that already a huge quantity of documents is submitted to the House and is available for parliamentary scrutiny. Earlier in the evening, I quoted the figure of 673 explanatory memorandums submitted to the House in 1994 alone, of which 59 applied to budgetary issues. So Ministers who go to Council meetings and negotiate on behalf of the British Government already provide the House with a great deal of information. The Scrutiny Committee sifts through those explanatory memoranda and recommends some for debate.

Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich)

This is an important point. This morning in one of the European Committees the House was asked to examine four major directives on the training of marine employees, safety at sea and pollution. We made it clear that it was not in the interests of the House of Commons that such major pieces of legislation, which will have the effect of law in this country if they are passed, should be allowed to go through in one block sitting without proper examination or any opportunity for the House of Commons to vote against any amended resolution brought to the Floor of the House.

It is all very well the Minister saying that more than 600 memoranda have been looked at. If that is the sort of scrutiny they receive from the House of Commons, neither the Government nor the House should be satisfied that we are monitoring what is happening in the Community.

Mr. Heathcoat-Amory

It is up to the House to order its scrutiny proceedings in order to give proper attention to the memoranda put before it. I emphasise that the Select Committee, not the Government, decides which shall be recommended for debate. I assure the hon. Lady that, when a draft directive or regulation is submitted to the Government, it is in turn provided to the Scrutiny Committee by way of an explanatory memorandum before final decision, and often before any decisions are taken in discussions in Council meetings in Brussels or elsewhere.

So the Government are most anxious to supply the House with all necessary information, although it has been observed in the debate that the very quantity of explanatory memoranda means that they do not individually receive the attention that they deserve. I have already made the suggestion that we should consolidate some of the information into an annual report, which could perhaps receive more concerted attention from the House as a whole.

The effect of new clause 11 would be to mandate Ministers at each stage of every negotiation in Council meetings. That is simply not realistic. A negotiator must be able to speak for those he represents. Obviously, during negotiations positions have to shift; opening bids retreat or advance; and objectives are secured by giving concessions elsewhere. If, at every point in the negotiations, reference had to be made back to the House and another resolution passed before they could proceed, they clearly could not proceed in any realistic sense of the term.

Any hon. Member who has negotiated in any forum will appreciate that it is unwise for a Government to reveal their negotiating position in full before exchanges take place. I think that the House accepts that it is consistent with our scrutiny proceedings that Ministers should go to Council meetings with the knowledge of where the House stands on important issues, but free to negotiate the best deal possible.

One should not forget that the negotiations are international discussions, and it behoves Ministers and officials negotiating for this country to get the best possible deal. They are conscious of the need to keep the House of Commons informed, but that position would be undermined by new clause 11, and I recommend that the House reject it.

Mr. Spearing

With the leave of the House, Mr. Lofthouse. I shall be brief, but I think that the Minister is not absolutely clear about the meaning of new clause 11 in respect of the decision.

I believe that it might be desirable—the Minister thinks it undesirable—for Ministers to be bound by decisions of this House in scrutiny debates, because all the things he mentioned will be a consequence. The resolution required by new clause 11 relates to the Council decision of 31 October, which concerns finance and the voting of money. I suggest that that changes the position.

Inadvertently or otherwise, the Paymaster General has been most frank in revealing the nature of the constraints that would be applied by the House and that he and any Minister would be placed under. He used the words "advance", "retreat", "negotiating positions", "concessions" and "concessions elsewhere". I hope that he means elsewhere in a regulation, but I am afraid that he means elsewhere in other matters of policy.

Since the negotiations take place in secret, who is to know what minority interest in this country—employment in one hon. Member's constituency, or capital appreciation somewhere else—has been sacrificed. Hon. Members and the people of this country would be unaware of that.

The Minister could come back and say, "I've done the best for the United Kingdom." The reason why any Government—including one whom I supported strongly, who said virtually the same—would say that is because the nature of the constitution of the European Union makes it thus. It mixes up the important matter of legislation, which we do openly and in public in this House, with negotiation, which is a matter of policy formulation between sovereign states. In their reply to the new clause, the Government admitted that mix, which is poisonous to the spirit of democracy, if not to its actuality.

The hour is late, Mr. Lofthouse, and the Government in their wonderful democratic way, having allocated two days to debate the matter, appear to want to press on. I do not want to give them too much, but by refusing the new clause, with its deep, underlying constitutional principles, they have revealed the fix they are in, the fix that any Government would be in, and the nature of the treaties to which successive Governments have adhered and advocated to the House. Given the opportunity, I would negative the new clause, then we can perhaps move on to the next business.

Question put, That the clause be read a Second time:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 50, Noes 312.

Division No. 15] [23.10 pm
Adams, Mrs Irene Gordon, Mildred
Banks, Tony (Newham NW) Graham, Thomas
Barnes, Harry Hall, Mike
Benn, Rt Hon Tony Hanson, David
Betts, Clive Hoey, Kate
Burden, Richard Illsley, Eric
Campbell-Savours, D N Lewis, Terry
Canavan, Dennis Livingstone, Ken
Cohen, Harry Loyden, Eddie
Connarty, Michael Mackinlay, Andrew
Corbyn Jeremy Mahon, Alice
Cunliffe, Lawrence McAvoy, Thomas
Cunningham, Jim (Covy SE) Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley)
Dalyell, Tam Mullin, Chris
Davidson, Ian Olner, Bill
Davis, Terry (B'ham, H'dge H'I) Paisley, The Reverend Ian
Dixon, Don Pickthall, Colin
Donohoe, Brian H Pope, Greg
Evans, John (St Helens N) Prentice, Bridget (Lev'm E)
Gerard, Neil Rooney, Terry
Rowlands, Ted Spellar, John
Salmond, Alex Williams, Alan W (Carmarthen)
Shore, Rt Hon Peter Wise, Audrey
Simpson, Alan
Skinner, Dennis Tellers for the Ayes:
Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent) Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody
Spearing, Nigel and Mr. Austin Mitchell.
Ainsworth, Peter (East Surrey) Currie, Mrs Edwina (S D'by'ire)
Aitken, Rt Hon Jonathan Curry, David (Skipton & Ripon)
Alexander, Richard Davies, Quentin (Stamford)
Alison, Rt Hon Michael (Selby) Davis, David (Boothferry)
Amess, David Day, Stephen
Ancram, Michael Deva, Nirj Joseph
Arbuthnot, James Devlin, Tim
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham) Dorrell, Rt Hon Stephen
Arnold, Sir Thomas (Hazel Grv) Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James
Ashby, David Dover, Den
Aspinwall, Jack Duncan Smith, Iain
Atkins, Robert Duncan, Alan
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham) Dunn, Bob
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset North) Durant, Sir Anthony
Baker, Rt Hon K (Mole Valley) Dykes, Hugh
Baldry, Tony Eggar, Tim
Banks, Matthew (Southport) Elletson, Harold
Banks, Robert (Harrogate) Emery, Rt Hon Sir Peter
Bates, Michael Evans, David (Welwyn Hatfield)
Batiste, Spencer Evans, Nigel (Ribble Valley)
Beggs, Roy Evans, Roger (Monmouth)
Bellingham, Henry Evennett, David
Bendall, Vivian Faber, David
Beresford, Sir Paul Fabricant, Michael
Biffen, Rt Hon John Fenner, Dame Peggy
Bonsor, Sir Nicholas Field, Barry (Isle of Wight)
Booth< Hartley Fishburn, Dudley
Boswell, Tim Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)
Bottomley, Peter (Eltham) Forsythe, Clifford (Antrim S)
Bottomley, Rt Hon Virginia Forth, Eric
Bowis, John Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman
Boyson, Rt Hon Sir Rhodes Fox, Dr Liam (Woodspring)
Brandreth, Gyles Fox, Sir Marcus (Shipley)
Brazier, Julian Freeman, Rt Hon Roger
Bright, Sir Graham French, Douglas
Brooke, Rt Hon Peter Fry, Sir Peter
Brown, M (Brigg & Cl'thorpes) Gale, Roger
Browning, Mrs. Angela Gallie, Phil
Bruce, Ian (Dorset) Garel-Jones, Rt Hon Tristan
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon) Garnier, Edward
Budgen, Nicholas Gillan, Cheryl
Burns, Simon Goodlad, Rt Hon Alastair
Burt, Alistair Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles
Butcher, John Gorst, Sir John
Butler, Peter Greenway, Harry (Ealing N)
Butterfill, John Greenway, John (Ryedale)
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE) Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth, N)
Carlile, Alexander (Montgomry) Grylls, Sir Michael
Carlisle, Sir Kenneth (Lincoln) Gummer, Rt Hon John Selwyn
Carrington, Matthew Hague, William
Cash, William Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)
Channon, Rt Hon Paul Hamilton, Rt Hon Sir Archibald
Chapman, Sydney Hampson, Dr Keith
Churchill, Mr Hanley, Rt Hon Jeremy
Clappison, James Hannam, Sir John
Clarke, Rt Hon Kenneth (Ru'clif) Hargreaves, Andrew
Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey Harris, David
Coe, Sebastian Haselhurst Alan
Colvin, Michael Hawkins, Nick
Congdon, David Hawksley, Warren
Conway, Derek Hayes, Jerry
Coombs, Anthony (Wyre For'st) Heald, Oliver
Coombs, Simon (Swindon) Heathcoat-Amory, David
Cope, Rt Hon Sir John Hendry, Charles
Cormack, Patrick Hicks, Robert
Couchman, James Higgins, Rt Hon Sir Terence
Cran, James Hill, James (Southampton Test)
Hogg, Rt Hon Douglas (G'tham) Newton, Rt Hon Tony
Horam, John Nicholls, Patrick
Hordern, Rt Hon Sir Peter Nicholson, David (Taunton)
Howard, Rt Hon Michael Nicholson, Emma (Devon West)
Howarth, Alan (Strat'rd-on-A) Norris, Steve
Howell, Rt Hon David (G'dford) Onslow, Rt Hon Sir Cranley
Howell, Sir Ralph (N Norfolk) Oppenheim, Philip
Hughes, Robert G (Harrow W) Ottaway, Richard
Hughes, Simon (Southwark) Paice, James
Hunt, Rt Hon David (Wirral W) Patrick, Sir Irvine
Hunt, Sir John (Ravensbourne) Patten, Rt Hon John
Hunter, Andrew Pattie, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey
Hurd, Rt Hon Douglas Pawsey, James
Jack, Michael Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth
Jackson, Robert (Wantage) Pickles, Eric
Jenkin, Bernard Porter, David (Waveney)
Jessel, Toby Portillo, Rt Hon Michael
Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey Rathbone, Tim
Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N) Redwood, Rt Hon John
Jones, Robert B (W Hertfdshr) Renton, Rt Hon Tim
Jopling, Rt Hon Michael Richards, Rod
Kennedy, Charles (Ross,C&S) Riddick, Graham
Key, Robert Rifkind, Rt Hon Malcolm
Kilfedder, Sir James Robathan, Andrew
King, Rt Hon Tom Roberts, Rt Hon Sir Wyn
Kirkwood, Archy Robertson, Raymond (Ab'd'n S)
Knapman, Roger Robinson, Mark (Somerton)
Knight, Dame Jill (Bir'm E'st'n) Roe, Mrs Marion (Broxbourne)
Knight, Greg (Derby N) Ross, William (E Londonderry)
Knight Mrs Angela (Erewash) Rowe, Andrew (Mid Kent)
Knox, Sir David Rumbold, Rt Hon Dame Angela
Kynoch, George (Kincardine) Ryder, Rt Hon Richard
Lait, Mrs Jacqui Sackville, Tom
Lamont, Rt Hon Norman Sainsbury, Rt Hon Tim
Lang, Rt Hon Ian Scott, Rt Hon Nicholas
Lawrence, Sir Ivan Shaw, David (Dover)
Legg, Barry Shaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey)
Leigh, Edward Shephard, Rt Hon Gillian
Lennox-Boyd, Sir Mark Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)
Lester, Jim (Broxtowe) Shersby, Michael
Lidington, David Sims, Roger
Lightbown, David Skeet, Sir Trevor
Lilley, Rt Hon Peter Smith, Sir Dudley (Warwick)
Lloyd, Rt Hon Peter (Fareham) Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
Lord, Michael Smyth, Rev Martin (Belfast S)
Luff, Peter Soames, Nicholas
Lyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas Speed, Sir Keith
MacGregor, Rt Hon John Spencer, Sir Derek
MacKay, Andrew Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)
Maclean, David Spicer, Sir James (W Dorset)
Madel, Sir David Spink, Dr Robert
Maginnis, Ken Spring, Richard
Maitland, Lady Olga Sproat, Iain
Malone, Gerald Squire, Robin (Hornchurch)
Mans, Keith Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John
Marland, Paul Steen, Anthony
Marshall, John (Hendon S) Stephen, Michael
Marshal, Sir Michael (Arundel) Stern, Michael
Martin, David (Portsmouth S) Stewart, Allen
Mates, Michael Streeter, Gary
Mawhinney, Rt Hon Dr Brian Sumberg, David
Mayhew, Rt Hon Sir Patrick Sweeney, Walter
McLoughlin, Patrick Sykes, John
McNair-Wilson, Sir Patrick Tapsell, Sir Peter
Mellor, Rt Hon David Taylor, Ian (Esher)
Merchant, Piers Taylor, John M (Solihull)
Mills, Iain Taylor, Rt Hon John D (Strgfd)
Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling) Temple-Morris, Peter
Mitchell, Sir David (Hants NW) Thomason, Roy
Moate, Sir Roger Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Molyneaux, Rt Hon James Thompson, Sir Donald (C'er V)
Monro, Sir Hector Thomton, Sir Malcolm
Montgomery, Sir Fergus Thurnham, Peter
Needham, Rt Hon Richard Townend, John (Bridlington)
Nelson, Anthony Townsend, Cyril D (Bexl'yh'th)
Neubert, Sir Michael Tredinnick, David
Trend, Michael Whitney, Ray
Trotter, Nevillé Whittingdale, John
Twinn, Dr Ian Widdecombe, Ann
Vaughan, Sir Gerard Wiggin, Sir Jerry
Waldegrave, Rt Hon William Willetts, David
Walden, George Wilshire, David
Walker, A Cecil (Belfast N) Winterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)
Waller, Gary Winterton, Nicholas (Macc'fld)
Wolfson, Mark
Ward, John Yeo, Tim
Wardle, Charles (Bexhill) Young, Rt Hon Sir George
Waterson, Nigel
Watts, John Tellers for the Noes:
Wells, Bowen Mr. Timothy Wood and
Wheeler, Rt Hon Sir John Mr. Timothy Kirkhope.

Question accordingly negatived.

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