Wednesday, November 30, 2011

A problem we face in our discussions

An exchange towards the end of the Second Reading of Lord Pearson's Bill demonstrates clearly one of the problems we face when we discuss even the purely economic aspect of our membership of the EU (not our relationship with Europe, please).

If you scroll down to Lord Sassoon's reply on behalf of HMG you will find the following words:
While we are on this topic, I would say to the noble Lords, Lord Pearson of Rannoch and Lord Willoughby de Broke, that I do not recognise the numbers that they were quoting. The net contribution of the UK to the EU in 2010-11 is estimated at £7.6 billion, up from £4.7 billion in 2009-10, but of course the reason for that increase is because of the give-away that the last Government gave on the UK's abatement. Having stepped up very significantly to the new level, the OBR's figures are that the numbers now remain broadly level over the next few years.
Lord Pearson intervened with the following:
For clarity's sake I should say, following on from what the Minister has just said about our gross and net contributions, that he is talking about the Treasury figures. The figures that we gave are from the pink book and include all our contributions to the European venture, whether they go through the Treasury or not, such as the DfID budget. So I am afraid that our figures are the correct figures.
From which we can assume that HMG does not use the figures published in the Pink Book.

Lord Sassoon added another complication to that discussion:
My Lords, I was quoting the figures of the independent Office for Budget Responsibility, not the Treasury's own figures, but let us turn to the more important issue: that Europe must pursue an ambitious agenda for growth. In the single market, I believe that we have one of the most powerful tools to ensure strong, sustainable and balanced growth not only across the EU but for the UK. The noble Lord, Lord Watson of Invergowrie, quoted all the figures that Ministers would customarily quote, so I am very grateful to him for helping me out. I will simply emphasise that this is a market worth €12 trillion and home to 500 million consumers.
Setting aside the last sentence of that paragraph, which is irrelevant as the market and the consumers will not disappear with our departure from the EU and, in any case, we do better in other markets, there remains the problem of figures: exactly which ones are accurate?


  1. I sympathise with your concluding query, which is driven home when writing a 'numbers' article for publication, only to realise that it is well-nigh impossible to get a definitive number from official sources. Oftentimes I must rely on the integrity and sources (whatever those may be) of the media.

  2. The media will decide which official source to use. So that is no help to us. It is a bit of a mystery as to why HMG ignores the figures in the Pink Book, which is supposed to be the official source for statistical information.

  3. Probably stating the obvious, but my guess is that they would prefer to quibble about the numbers than engage in a debate about the costs & benefits of the EU.