Clause 1 — United Kingdom loans to Ireland

Part of Loans to Ireland Bill (Allocation of Time) – in the House of Commons at 5:00 pm on 15th December 2010.

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Photo of Douglas Carswell Douglas Carswell Conservative, Clacton 5:00 pm, 15th December 2010

I wish to discuss amendment 6. It commands great interest across the House, although that may be difficult to believe given the swathe of green Benches that we can see, and I hope that we will have a chance to divide the House on it. It is right that we should be looking to help Ireland and debating how to do so, not simply because of this country's economic self-interest, but because of the close cultural ties between Britain and Ireland. It is fair to say that there is not a street in any town in this country where there are not close kith and kin connections between our two countries.

The question is whether the Bill helps us to do that. My hon. Friend Mark Reckless spoke eloquently, making the point that this deal is not tailored to help the Republic of Ireland, but has been imposed on it. It is not a case of our passing this to bail out Ireland, so much as our passing it to bail out the euro. My right hon. Friend Mr Redwood has said that, and he has blogged eloquently about how the European Central Bank triggered this crisis. It began when the ECB called into question Ireland's ability to finance loans. Why did it do so? It did so because the ECB sacrificed Ireland to staunch the haemorrhaging of confidence in the euro and deal with the growing storm around it. The ECB put preserving a paper currency without a state ahead of the well-being of millions of Irish households.

Ireland is in debt because she is a victim of a credit bubble caused by euro membership, but when we consider amendment 6 we must ask how pushing a potentially high-interest loan on a friend reduces her debts. How does extending a debt as overdraft help that debtor to repay their debts? That will dig Ireland deeper into debt. Each of the eight tranches of this loan is yet another step towards debt. It is time that we stopped digging Ireland into deeper debt. The bail-out will not reduce the debt. People sometimes talk about the bail-out as though it were a solution to debt, but it is a deepening of debt. We need to make certain that the rate of interest and the terms of this extension of Ireland's overdraft are in her interests and those of her people. To do that, we need to make sure that we in this House have the final say over the terms of the small print.

Amendment 6 seeks to ensure that the interest on this £3.2 billion overdraft extension is kept low. The small print is certainly not definitive on the subject. The summary of terms states:

"The rate of interest payable on a loan will be at a fixed rate per annum equal to the aggregate of:

(a) the Margin; and

(b) the Sterling 7.5 year swap rate at the date of disbursement."

We are told by the Chancellor that, at the moment, that would be 5.9% and the document suggests that figure, but it is not definitive. We need to give the House of Commons the final say on the rate, and we need a formal means to allow the House to ratify the rate of interest.

Hon. Members will have heard some discussion about how Iceland got a significantly lower rate. Why is that? Is Iceland a better friend? It is for public debate, public concern and the legislature, not technocrats in the Treasury and watery eyed officials, to decide the rate of interest that we charge our friend.

The explanatory notes have, I think, been issued so that we believe that they are close to what amendment 6 suggests. We are asking for something that is not a million miles away from the explanatory notes, so why not formalise the arrangements? Why not require the approval of an order under the affirmative procedure in the House? We have only the explanatory notes to go on- [ Interruption. ] I am delighted that those on the Front Bench are paying such attention. We only have the explanatory notes to go on, so why not enshrine these arrangements by order? The last time that we left EU matters to Sir Humphrey's explanatory notes, we were, bluntly, mugged. The explanatory notes to the Bill on sovereignty-the European Union Bill-were not even defended by the Minister in Committee. It is a cause of concern that we have only the explanatory notes. We must enshrine these arrangements in legislation to make certain that we in this House, who are accountable to the taxpayers who will ultimately have to stump up for this, are satisfied with the arrangements. That would be good for us and good for Ireland, too.

Over the past seven months, we have seen what happens when the House takes its eye off the small print. We have seen what happens when we leave it to Ministers, officials and Treasury negotiators to handle the small print. For example, we have seen how non-euro member countries, such as Britain, become liable through the small print for open-ended eurozone bail-outs until 2013. That is the price we pay as a House for taking our eyes off the small print. It would be quite wrong, incidentally, to blame the previous Government for that. The deal took effect after the coalition Government came to office.

When this House took its eye off the small print on Treasury negotiations on matters European, the Government managed somehow to sign us up to a European Council document that established a common legal framework for pan-EU economic governance. I suggest that this House should not form a habit of deferring the small print to the Treasury and its officials. It is prudent to require the Government to gain the approval of this House over the interest rate.

The amendment goes to the heart of why we are here and why we have a House of Commons in the first place. It is the purpose of us as MPs-and it has been for many hundreds of years-to oversee what Ministers do with our money. That should include the terms under which they lend our money and the terms under which they make taxpayers liable for debts incurred through such financial arrangements. The amendment is reasonable and in line with what the Government are seeking to do-or claim that they are seeking to do-in the explanatory notes drafted by officials.

The amendment would ensure that Ministers thought very carefully and wisely when they entered negotiations and finalised arrangements. It would also help to restore purpose to the House, which some of us would suggest has been in the past rather supine, submissive and spineless. Ultimately, it would ensure a fairer deal for our closest friend and our closest neighbour. I hope to press the amendment to a Division and to obtain the support of Members on both sides.