Clause 1 — United Kingdom loans to Ireland

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

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Photo of Chris Leslie Chris Leslie Shadow Minister (Treasury) 5:15 pm, 15th December 2010

Although most of the Opposition's amendments relate to clause 2, these amendments deal with a number of incredibly important issues, and I am grateful to hon. Members for tabling them.

Let me take up some of the points made by my hon. Friend Mark Durkan about amendment 6 in particular. I understand what he said about the document that was presented to us about five minutes before the start of the debate, which, I have to say, was not only unfortunate, but verging on action that I would describe as morally out of order. It has been very difficult for the Committee to assimilate rapidly what is going on in the negotiations.

However, although I understand, at first glance, my hon. Friend's impression that amendment 6 or others might have been overtaken by events, the more I think about it, the more I feel that it would be important to have an opportunity to debate the interest rate question in particular because it has such an important bearing not only on the British taxpayer, as the organisation making the loan, but on the Irish people themselves. There are a number of circumstances that can change from time to time. What we have before us is a summary of key terms of the credit facility, which does not necessarily give us the full picture. Although we support the principle of the loan, I am slightly uncomfortable about nodding through quite technical terms without our having had even a retrospective opportunity to air the details properly. That, I think, is essentially what amendment 6 is trying to rectify. I shall say more about that shortly, but let me first deal with amendment 3, because it makes an important point.

I entirely understand the attempt by Mr Cash to limit the way in which the current drafting of the Bill might affect all sorts of other unforeseen loan opportunities. He spoke of the European Union's inveigling its way into other loan arrangements. In particular, he is worried about whether the Bill excludes what might be done under European law, because, as he sees it, this legislation leaves open opportunities for the EU to enlarge and change the mechanism, and to build on what we, at face value, know about the dimensions of the loan under discussion.

There are some interesting points about the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice in the case of a default, and some questions probably merit further scrutiny, but I am not entirely convinced of the hon. Gentleman's arguments or of whether his amendment to clause 1(2) would necessarily achieve much of great use. I am grateful to him, however, for at least tabling it.

We have not touched on some of the other amendments in the group. The Chancellor addressed the denomination in sterling issue in his opening comments, but the question about whether the loan should be repaid over a particular length of time is quite interesting, and Mr Hollobone tabled a useful amendment involving the 30-year period. The Opposition have also tabled amendments on those matters, in our case to clause 2, but our proposals are about the reports having to comment on the duration of the loan. Amendment 10, on the terms of the credit facility being open to greater debate, is quite interesting, too.

Amendment 6 looks most interesting, however. Given the drafting of this quite hurried legislation, and the unusually conspicuous absence of certain dimensions of the loan, we have a duty to pay attention to what Mr Carswell suggests. When one thinks about a loan, one should think about not just the sum of money, but the duration and the interest rate. The rate of return on the British loan is a fundamentally important fact that cannot be simply skimmed over by references in documents that are not currently official documents before the House. The Chancellor said that the Swedish and Danish bilateral loan arrangements have not yet been completed, so it is difficult for us to determine whether our prospective interest rate is more or less favourable than theirs. What would happen if there were a sudden spike in global interest rates? Where in the Bill is there any protection for the British taxpayer?

Conversely, where in the legislation is there any protection for the Irish if the current or any future Government decide to chop and change the rate from time to time, perhaps making a unilateral, Executive decision to raise the interest rate in future tranches of the loan arrangement? The Chancellor said that the interest rate will be fixed for the duration of each tranche, but there is no assurance of that in the Bill.

There is no harm in allowing the House the opportunity to debate and approve, by the affirmative procedure, a statutory instrument on the interest to be charged following the recommendation of Ministers. Our parliamentary democracy is often disregarded as some kind of rubber-stamping device, but perhaps these are good times to take back some of those safeguards, given the serious issues at hand. While Parliament votes on those moneys tonight, it must also consider taking greater ownership of the process, rather than delegating absolutely everything in absolutely every arrangement to the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I am certainly interested in amendment 6, and I commend the hon. Gentleman for his prescience in tabling it.