I congratulate the Minister on his magnificent handling of the Bill. I am very pleased that he stayed in his place in the reshuffle, because his expertise in matters European is now encyclopaedic. I am sure that the quality of our debates and his contributions has not reduced, but these European Bills are certainly going through faster, as we seem to have got through this one at great speed.
The contributions of Emma Reynolds have been positive and constructive, and there has been a great deal of consensus, even extending at times to some traditional Eurosceptics. I was very impressed to see the hon. Members for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg) and for Camborne and Redruth (George Eustice) among those who have been supporting the Bill during its passage. That is as it should be, because this should not be a controversial piece of legislation. We are not going to be part of the ESM intergovernmental treaty; we are merely seeking to facilitate eurozone members in trying to find their way out of what is still an extremely serious crisis.
That has to be in the British national interest, because whether we like it or not— whether or not we are a member of the ESM or the eurozone, or even of the European Union—we are inevitably and inextricably linked to the whole European economy. Some 50% of British trade, worth £450 billion a year, is with other EU member states. Over 100,000 British firms export to other EU countries, 94,000 of them small or medium-sized enterprises. Over 200,000 UK companies trade with the EU every year. Over 50% of our foreign direct investment comes from other EU member states, worth more than £350 billion a year, and over 50% of companies investing in the UK cite the UK’s membership of the single market as a core reason for doing so. The fate of the European economy is inextricably tied up with our own fate and with our ability to grow and to recover from the financial crisis that has affected the whole continent.
This is, in its own small way, an historic Bill. It is the first use of the European Union Act 2011, which sought to strike a balance between Liberal Democrat enthusiasm to maximise the benefits of EU membership and Conservative caution that we take not one step without adequate parliamentary scrutiny and, if necessary, legislation, and without the option of a referendum if power were being transferred from the British level to the European level. No such referendum is necessary on this occasion, as this is merely a Bill to ease the passage of the intergovernmental treaty for other members of the European Union. However, the full panoply of parliamentary scrutiny of legislation has been brought to bear even on this small, technical change.
As the Minister rightly said, the treaty that will, we hope, follow the Bill at European level will not be a panacea even for ESM members and eurozone members. It will not, of itself, solve the deep and serious problems of the European economy, which relate to competitiveness, lack of growth, and debt. These complex, interacting problems still pose a real and present danger to the whole European economy, including this country’s economy. We have not in any way solved those problems in the few days that we have spent debating this Bill, but perhaps we have made one small contribution to the start of the journey towards doing so.