I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.
I want to begin, as is customary, by thanking those right hon. and hon. Members who have taken part in debates on the Bill. Even though it contained just two clauses, many Members have raised a number of interesting and controversial points about the context and impact of the European Council decision that the Bill seeks to approve. I am delighted that the Bill stimulated such parliamentary interest. It is difficult to single out any one Member—I apologise to any whom I do not mention—but I want to place on record my thanks to my hon. Friend Mr Cash and the European Scrutiny Committee. The whole House has benefited from his knowledge and his long held and principled approach to these matters. Although the Government do not always take the same view as he and his fellow Committee members on every point that they raise, the Committee has fulfilled its role commendably.
My hon. Friends the Members for Harwich and North Essex (Mr Jenkin), for Camborne and Redruth (George Eustice), for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg), for Stroud (Neil Carmichael), for Hertsmere (Mr Clappison), for Rochester and Strood (Mark Reckless), for Basildon and Billericay (Mr Baron) and for Peterborough (Mr Jackson) have all played a part in debates on the Bill. I value the intelligence and thoughtfulness that they have brought to those debates. I also pay tribute to my hon. Friend Martin Horwood, who ably represented his party and powerfully made the case for the Bill from a perspective slightly different from that of some of my party colleagues.
I turn to Opposition Members. I thank the hon. Members for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Mr McCann), for Swansea West (Geraint Davies) and for Caerphilly (Wayne David). I also thank Kelvin Hopkins, without whom no debate on these matters could be complete. I also put on the record my gratitude for the outstanding work done by officials, at both the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Treasury, in putting together this legislation.
As was set out on Second Reading, the purpose of the Bill is simple and straightforward. It provides solely for the parliamentary approval of an amendment to article 136 of the treaty on the functioning of the European Union. That proposed treaty amendment makes it clear that eurozone member states may establish a financial assistance mechanism—the European stability mechanism, or ESM. In other words, it says that the eurozone can support fellow eurozone members in financial difficulty without contravening their obligations under the EU treaties.
Although article 136 applies only to member states whose currency is the euro, and therefore not to the United Kingdom, it is in our interests to ratify the European Council decision to amend it for two reasons. The first is that the ESM will play an important role, providing the eurozone with a permanent financial assistance mechanism to assist eurozone member states in financial difficulty. It will help eurozone countries work towards stability. Stability in the eurozone is crucial to our own stability in the UK. Although I accept all the points made in our debates about the measure not being a panacea and the European Union needing to do many things to make itself much more competitive and to stimulate economic growth in today’s rapidly changing global economy, the Government believe that the measure is one significant step towards helping stability in the eurozone, which will assist the United Kingdom’s economy.
Secondly, the passage of the treaty amendment will bring a direct benefit to the United Kingdom and our national interest. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister secured an important agreement alongside the treaty amendment. In future, the UK will not be liable through the EU budget for any future eurozone bail-outs under the EU budget once the ESM comes into force.
The treaty amendment was considered by Parliament before the Prime Minister agreed to the treaty amendment decision back in March 2011; at that time, we handled the decision under the provisions of the previous legislation, the European Union (Amendment) Act 2008. At the time, I committed to bring the decision before the House a second time, under the more stringent parliamentary scrutiny of what was then the European Union Bill and is now the European Union Act 2011.
The Bill has been introduced to gain parliamentary approval to enable the UK to complete its ratification process for the treaty amendment through primary legislation, which enables Members of both Houses to debate in detail the implications of the treaty amendment in a way that was not possible under the 2008 legislation, which made provision only for a time-limited debate on a motion before each House.
The treaty amendment is due to enter into force on
Members have examined and challenged both the brief content of the Bill and the wider impact of agreeing to the treaty amendment decision, as was our intention when we introduced the European Union Act 2011. Although we have heard a broad range of views on the rights and wrongs of the eurozone, on the EU and on the UK’s place in Europe, one thing that has found general agreement on both sides of the House is that approving this Bill makes sense. Agreeing to the treaty amendment is in our best interests because it will extinguish our future exposure to liabilities under the European financial stability mechanism. For those reasons, I hope that the House will give the Bill a Third Reading this evening.