HC Deb 24 June 1999 vol 333 cc1282-3
9. Sir Teddy Taylor (Rochford and Southend, East)

What estimate he has made of the gross and net contributions by the United Kingdom to the EU in the current calendar year; and what the figures were in 1998. [87065]

The Chief Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Alan Milburn)

In line with established practice, the Government are arranging for information about the UK's gross and net contribution for the years in question to be published shortly, in the annual White Paper "European Community Finances".

Sir Teddy Taylor

Although the Government do not appear to have those figures, do they agree that the gross contribution to the European Union exceeds £100 billion since we joined, and that the net contribution of £33 billion has cost the average British family £2,400? In view of the appalling amount of fraud and mismanagement in the EU, can the Government give us an assurance that they will not agree to further expenditure by the EU, and that they will argue strongly for a fairer contribution by the United Kingdom, which, under Governments of both parties, has paid in a huge amount since we joined?

Mr. Milburn

That is precisely what the Government succeeded in obtaining for the UK at Berlin. The Opposition argued that we would lose the UK's abatement, but we retained it. Moreover, we got a good deal for the regions and nations of our country, with objective 2 status, objective 1 status and so on.

It is always useful to have a question from the hon. Gentleman on European issues. Not so long ago, he was a voice in the wilderness on the Conservative Benches, but now he represents mainstream Conservative opinion on Europe. He is a reminder that the Conservative party's position on Europe is to weaken Britain in Europe, to isolate Britain in Europe and, ultimately, to withdraw Britain from Europe.

Mr. Tom Clarke (Coatbridge and Chryston)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the figures will highlight the indolence and negative approach of the previous Government to Europe, by contrast with other member states—for example, the Republic of Ireland, which can show a great deal for its proactive commitment? Given the Government's intention to play a full role in Europe, is my right hon. Friend as confident as I am about the figures that will emerge in future?

Mr. Milburn

My right hon. Friend is right. The best way for Britain to get the best from Europe is to take a leading role in Europe, and that is what we have done. The lifting of the beef ban, the successful retention of the UK's abatement, and more investment in our regions and nations show what happens when a UK Government take a leading role in Europe, rather than standing on the sidelines, as the previous Government did.

It is worth reminding right hon. and hon. Members, as my right hon. Friend has just done, that 3 million jobs and 60 per cent. of our trade depend on our relationships with Europe. We are securing jobs, investment and industry by engaging in Europe. Those would all be threatened by the Conservative party.