[Relevant documents: 26th Report of the European Scrutiny Committee, Session 2012-13, HC 86-xxvi, Chapter 5; 28th Report of the European Scrutiny Committee, Session 2012-13, HC 86-xxviii, Chapter 1; 34th Report of the European Scrutiny Committee, Session 2012-13, HC 86-xxxiv, Chapter 1; 38th Report of the European Scrutiny Committee, Session 2012-13, HC 86-xxxvii, Chapter 2; 40th Report of the European Scrutiny Committee, Session 2012-13, HC 86-xxxix, Chapter 2; 4th Report of the European Scrutiny Committee, HC 83-iv, Chapter 1.]
I beg to move,
That this House
takes note of European Union Document No. 16988/1/12, a Commission Communication on a Blueprint for a Deep and Genuine EMU: Launching a European debate, an Un-numbered European Document dated
observes that the European Scrutiny Committee has reported on these documents and concluded that they raise questions relating to parliamentary sovereignty and primacy as well as fiscal and monetary issues;
notes that the European Commission Communication states that ‘Interparliamentary co-operation as such does not, however, ensure democratic legitimacy for EU decisions. That requires a parliamentary assembly representatively composed in which votes can be taken. The European Parliament, and only it, is that assembly for the EU and hence for the euro’, and that the report from the President of the European Council concludes that ‘further integration of policy making and a greater pooling of competences at the European level should first and foremost be accompanied with a commensurate involvement of the European Parliament in the integrated frameworks for a genuine EMU’;
further notes that the proposals for the Financial Transaction Tax have been challenged by the Government in the European Court of Justice;
notes that recent European Treaties and protocols have emphasised the role of national parliaments throughout the European Union as the foundation of democratic legitimacy and accountability;
and believes that this role is the pivot upon which democracy in the United Kingdom must be based on behalf of the voters in every constituency.
I am grateful for the opportunity to discuss these important issues and thank the European Scrutiny Committee for recommending them for debate. I shall focus on the financial transaction tax before turning to the matter of economic and monetary union. As many hon. Members, and certainly members of the European Scrutiny Committee, will know, the Government have applied to the European Court of Justice for the annulment of the Council decision authorising an FTT under the enhanced co-operation mechanism. I am pleased to be able to set out our concerns about the initiative.
Many Members will know that we have been here before, in 2011, when the European Commission proposed a wide-ranging financial transaction tax that would have applied across the entire European Union. Just like the current proposal, that tax would have applied to all trades, market participants and financial instruments; it would have applied to Government bonds, corporate bonds, equities, derivatives and other financing instruments, and to long-term and short-term transactions. Just like the current proposal, too, that tax would have affected the entire financial system, reducing returns to pension funds and savers, increasing companies’ and Governments’ financing costs and reducing European competitiveness at a time when the EU, frankly, needed competitiveness and growth. It might have been conceived as a way of raising revenue from a small number of people in the financial industry, but it would in fact have been paid by savers and by companies. The Commission itself forecast an impact—a negative impact, I need hardly say—on EU-wide gross domestic product of 1.76%.
The Chancellor made it clear that we would not accept the measure—certainly not at a time when the EU was trying to grow and attract business. He said the UK would have no part in it, and partly as a result, the proposal was dropped. Sadly, however, it was not dead, and this January, under a procedure known as “enhanced co-operation”, 11 member states chose to resurrect it. We believe that member states should be free to set their own tax policies, and if they choose to co-ordinate their tax policies, that, too, is their right. Although we believed and continue to believe that the proposed FTT is a bad idea, it is of course open to member states to pursue it—provided it is lawful, complies with the EU treaty and respects the rights and competences of those member states that choose not to participate.
I am grateful to the Minister for apparently making the argument for international co-operation in order to overcome the concerns that he has raised. President Obama has made the point that Wall street was responsible for the financial crisis, so Wall street had a responsibility to solve the problem. Does not the same apply here, provided that there is an attempt at international co-operation?
I will come on to the hon. Gentleman’s point. I would point out that President Obama and his Treasury Secretary are deeply concerned about the progress of this financial transaction tax, which does not meet any of the in-principle ambitions that people have had for some time. It is a cause of a great alarm among those who believe in free trade around the world.
The proposal under the enhanced co-operation procedure is substantially modelled on the 2011 version. It contains a feature known as the “establishment rule”, under which a UK financial institution would be deemed to be established in the FTT area for the purpose of the tax by virtue of the mere fact that its trading counterparty is headquartered in a country participating in the tax. So in practice, a UK pension fund purchasing a UK Government bond from a UK branch of a German bank would be obliged to pay the tax, and it would pay the tax not to the Exchequer in this country, as would have been the case if we had signed up to the FTT, but to an overseas authority. Likewise, a UK company with significant Treasury operations would potentially be in scope of the FTT when its counterparty happened to be headquartered in the FTT area.
That goes to the heart of our concern, because under the mechanism set out, we would be under such an obligation, which we consider to be a breach of the protections we enjoy, in particular not to have to incur costs when the benefits do not flow to a non-participating member state. That is precisely one of our objections.
Does the proposal not expose the beguiling attraction of allowing enhanced co-operation as a gesture of good will to our European partners, when in fact it is a trap enabling them to exercise powers through qualified majority voting, without our participation, which then creates obligations in relation to our own financial transactions, even though they might be taking place outside the EU? My right hon. Friend expresses support for co-operation between free, sovereign states in their tax affairs, but that is not what we are talking about here, because enhanced co-operation is likely to result in obligations that are enforceable in European Community law, even though we have not had a chance to vote on them.
My hon. Friend makes a powerful point. That is precisely why we are challenging the legitimacy of the proposal. The enhanced co-operation procedure is available to member states provided it is legal and compliant with the treaty, and our view is that it is certainly not. In particular, the extra-territorial effects—exactly what my hon. Friend is concerned about—are contrary to article 327 of the treaty on the functioning of the European Union, as it fails to respect the competences, rights and obligations of the non-participating member states. Furthermore, the decision to proceed with the FTT has extra-territorial effects for which there is simply no justification in customary international law. The Select Committee has been prominent in its scrutiny of that, and no doubt its Chair will have something to say about it.
We should consider the economic effects of the tax as well as the legal issues. What we are discussing is obviously very important to the economy of the United Kingdom, where 2 million people are employed in financial and related professional services. That sector has created a trade surplus for the country at a time when I think all nations should be trying to increase their trade, and its activities are highly integrated with those in other EU countries. Our best estimate is that 30% of over-the-counter derivatives trading in London involves a counterparty in a proposed FTT zone country; similarly, about 30% of investors in UK gilts are located overseas, which means that the FTT is even likely to affect UK Government funding costs.
However, it is not only the financial sector that would be affected. The European Association of Corporate Treasurers, which represents those who manage companies' finances throughout Europe, has said, very explicitly, that the FTT
“will fall on companies in the real economy, and compound the negative effects of the financial crisis.”
In this country, the CBI agrees.
As the hon. Lady helpfully points out, we, unlike many other European countries, have a bank levy. The levy is targeted to raise £2.5 billion a year, but it will raise more than that this year, because we said we would increase it to ensure that it raised the amount it was targeted to raise. It is rather higher than the French and German levies.
“undermines the ability of the financial sector to promote economic recovery”.
The European fund managers association, which is responsible for the welfare of millions of pensioners throughout Europe, has described the FTT—again, very explicitly—as a tax on savers, which will threaten the operation of capital markets and have a damaging impact. I am interested to note that Chris Leslie appears to be sanguine about the effects on savers. I should have thought that the views of pensioners and others with an interest in a prosperous retirement would concern us all.
In fact, we already have a financial transaction tax. It is called stamp duty, and it has existed for a long time.
Let me say something about the opinions of markets outside the European Union. Representatives of other jurisdictions are appalled by the plans, particularly our major trading partners. In the United States, the Investment Company Institute says that the tax would “'crash across borders”, and that
“All investors would be hit.”
The US Government also have serious misgivings: the Treasury Secretary, Jack Lew, has said that, despite objections from financial and non-financial trade associations and Government officials in the United States, Canada, Australia, Japan, Korea and other countries regarding the global reach and negative impact of the proposal, their concerns remain unanswered.[This section has been corrected on 20 June 2013, column 5MC — read correction]
The Financial Secretary mentioned stamp duty. Stamp duty has an extra-territorial application, which he used as a reason for not introducing a financial transaction tax. Further to the point raised by my hon. Friend Chris Leslie, may I ask why, following a G20 meeting in Pittsburgh back in 2009, the then shadow Chancellor supported the principle of a financial transaction tax, and why he is opposing it now while not coming up with an alternative?
I shall say more about stamp duty shortly, but I am sure the hon. Lady, who I am sure is a student of these matters, will be aware that it was agreed at Pittsburgh in 2009 that the International Monetary Fund should conduct a study to establish whether there was an international basis for proceeding. It conducted that study, and found that there was no such basis.
I hope that, given the international concern about the proposed tax, the House understands that we have no choice but to challenge it. Not only are there numerous problems with the design, but the proposal flagrantly disregards the position of those who choose not to participate.
The hon. Member for Nottingham East pointed out that the Chancellor had said that we had no objection to the principle of a financial transaction tax. Of course that is the case. How could we possibly have an objection to a financial transaction tax, given that we in the United Kingdom have had one since 1694? It is called stamp duty, and it is very different from the proposed design of this tax. It contains, for instance, an exemption for intermediaries to avoid the “cascade effect”, whereby at every stage of a transaction a tax racks up throughout the chain. That has a very negative impact on the costs faced by savers and companies. We have no objection to levelling the playing field with countries, including France, that have recently adopted stamp duty-type taxes of one sort or another, but other countries, particularly the United States, are far from being close to a consensus. If the hon. Gentleman has taken an interest in the matter, he will know that President Obama and his Administration have described this development as very troubling.
Of course Britain will play a leading role in promoting global standards when it comes to taxes, but I think the whole House would acknowledge that, in international negotiations, we should focus on what will give us a realistic chance of making a big difference to people, rather than choose to divert effort and negotiating capital into what, given the views of others, would be simply a gesture.
The right hon. Gentleman is a fair-minded Minister when it comes to most matters on which I have dealt with him. I think he is right to say that it would be in the interests of this country to pursue a financial transaction tax—indeed, he has acknowledged that his party views it as such. Can he tell us how many times Ministers from our Government have made representations to the American Government on this matter, given the importance of financial services to both our economies?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his kind words, but when we have a chance to participate in and lead international gatherings, we must decide where our negotiating capital or authority can best be deployed. The Prime Minister decided, correctly in my view, to pursue tax transparency at international level, through our leadership of the G8 and in other forums. I think that the hon. Gentleman, who is as fair-minded as he considers me to be, would be churlish not to acknowledge the considerable breakthrough achieved by the Prime Minister in recent months, and by the Chancellor before him in Mexico, in respect of tax transparency. I believe that that is an example of the palpable progress that even the Opposition should applaud.
In the context of transparency, does the Financial Secretary agree that creating an unlevel playing field in which some countries participate and others do not, which is what this financial transaction tax will do, could fall foul of the second markets in financial instruments directive, which requires best execution in all transactions? In an essentially international if not global business like financial services, might not those wishing to conduct transactions on behalf of their customers struggle with the idea of using a jurisdiction that had imposed an unlevel financial transaction tax?
My hon. Friend is right. This runs contrary to the whole direction of the reform that we have been promoting and think it essential for the EU to promote, namely movement towards a single market in which operating across borders becomes progressively easier and more transparent. I do not think it sensible to do what the hon. Member for Nottingham East would prefer to do, which is make a global financial transaction tax a greater priority than what we are achieving in terms of tax policy, at a time when we are making great progress.
Nor would it be right to leave out of the motion the reference to the UK’s legal challenge to the current proposed FTT, which it is widely acknowledged would hit British pensioners—we know the Opposition have them in their sights at the moment—and which is the whole basis of this Committee’s scrutiny of the proposal.
It would go to the country which was liable for the transaction tax that fell due there, but it would not go to this country, despite the fact that we would incur the costs of enforcing it and collecting the money. There would be no benefit whatever to the UK taxpayer. It would be unfortunate if at a time when we should be enhancing Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs’ ability to collect taxes, we were, in effect, requiring extra resources to be expended on something that was of no benefit whatever to UK taxpayers.
Does my hon. Friend agree that in the context of the City of London needing to be attractive for financial transactions, all this tax would do is add yet another burden? We want more people to come to the City of London and trade, not fewer, and I feel that this tax would drive people away.
I agree. It is not only the London economy that would be damaged; the whole European economy would be damaged, too. That cannot be in the interests of EU members, but members are, of course, sovereign and can make their own decisions, provided that that does not interfere with our competences and rights.
That is absolutely right, although one of the unsatisfactory aspects of the FTT proposal is that it has been frustrating trying to obtain an accurate view of its impact from the Commission. Not enough analysis has been conducted. We know that the original estimate of the impact was a reduction in EU GDP of 1.76% and a loss of half a million jobs across the EU. Mysteriously, those figures have changed, but we have had no rigorous explanation for that.
In the limited time available to us today, I should address the other documents that are the subject of this debate, in particular the one on economic and monetary union. Late last year, the European Commission published its blueprint for a deeper EMU, and the President of the European Commission provided a report called “Towards a Genuine Economic and Monetary Union”. Those reports put forward ideas for possible steps to a more integrated euro area. They are of particular concern to the European Scrutiny Committee, chaired by my hon. Friend Mr Cash, and I am sure he will want to speak about the implications for the primacy of this House and this Parliament.
So far these are not formal proposals but contributions to a wider debate in Europe about what may be needed to bring long-term stability to the euro area. I am sure that further documents will be referred to the Committee and we will have the opportunity to debate them in this House, but I want to emphasise very clearly that the UK will not be part of these arrangements, and although leaders at the December 2012 European Council agreed on a more limited work programme than that set out in these reports, they do raise important questions that need to be addressed.
The European Council December 2012 conclusions were very clear that any new steps towards strengthening economic governance would need to be accompanied by further steps towards stronger legitimacy and accountability. The European Parliament has a role at the EU level as further integration of policy making and greater pooling of competences take place among the euro-area countries, but this does not mean the European Parliament has primacy over national Parliaments, whose role is absolutely essential and inviolate.
As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said in this House on
I am pleased to hear my right hon. Friend make those comments, but the vision so clearly set out in the motion about where primacy in the EU should lie is completely different from the EU vision that the van Rompuy report sets out, which proposes a step change with the European Parliament having primacy over national institutions. Does my right hon. Friend agree that we need to face up to this, and decide whether or not we want to be part of that vision?
My hon. Friend is right, and that is why I was keen to have this debate and make sure the Committee’s concerns on this matter can be aired at an early stage. As I said a few moments ago, the proposals so far do not cohere into proposals that will come forward to be scrutinised, but this debate offers an opportunity for this House to send a clear message, as my hon. Friend may be able to do later, during this process of working-up ideas as to what this House’s clear expectations are with regard to the role of national Parliaments. That is very important.
I hear what my right hon. Friend says, but in the light of the assumption, based on what the Chancellor has said, about the remorseless logic of allowing the core member states to go ahead with proposals for monetary union—which are implicit in the 52 pages of the blueprint alone—does he accept that our policy is allowing this to happen, and although we may not, it appears, be directly involved, we will certainly be affected by it?
We have taken the view that the problems in the euro area that require resolution should be resolved by its members, and it is in the interests of the international economy that that should be so. My hon. Friend is right to point out, however, that our interests are engaged in this, and we will make use of our powers and rights in the EU to insist that those interests are protected. An early example of that is in the single supervisory mechanism, where through repeated interventions and insistence by the Chancellor and me at ECOFIN meetings, the Prime Minister was ultimately able to secure agreement by way of a text in the regulation of that mechanism explicitly stating that there should be no discrimination against any country or currency as a result of these arrangements.
These matters will come up from time to time, and protecting our interests requires eternal vigilance. The work that the Committee does in scrutinising and bringing matters to our attention in advance of discussions at European level is crucial to that, which is why the importance of this Parliament needs to be underlined, and will be by this debate.
Monetary union is like having a bank account with the neighbours, and now the neighbours who have put the money in are panicking about the other neighbours who are taking the money out. We see in these documents that EMU is going to progress with much tighter fiscal and banking controls. Is the Minister going to want to keep all British banks out of the extra controls, as we would then no longer be in charge of them, or does he think that the euro activities of our banks must be part of this new centralised scheme from Brussels?
We have been very clear, and the single supervisory mechanism is a good example, as I have said. We have our arrangements for the supervision of our banks, which are centred around the Bank of England, and it is absolutely right that they should continue in that way, but as each of these proposals is made, we will need to look to our national interest and make sure that our rights are protected.
That was a specific point, but I want to say that it is not only Members of the right hon. Gentleman’s party who have serious questions about primacy. On the European Scrutiny Committee, there is a cross-party problem in particular with the President of the EU’s report “Towards a Genuine Economic and Monetary Union”, which talks about contracts written by the EU—by the Commission—that will be binding on the countries that sign them, and that will then have penalties if they do not carry them out, taking power away from those countries. There is also the question of what happens then with the impact—
Order. Mr Connarty, you were late coming in, so then to make such a long intervention is not good for the Chair either, especially as you will want to speak, as will a lot of other hon. Members. Short interventions are required.
The hon. Gentleman makes a powerful point, and I was wrong in seemingly indicating that it was only Government Members who share some of these concerns. He has a long and distinguished record of being not only concerned but an active force in drawing attention and suggesting remedies to some of these matters.
On the proposals before us, one suggestion that has been made is that there should be new mechanisms to increase the level of co-operation between national Parliaments and the European Parliament to contribute to this process—it certainly will not be the end of the matter. It has been stated that how it is done is a matter for the Parliaments to determine themselves. I understand that the Conference of Speakers of EU Parliaments agreed in April to set up such an inter-parliamentary conference to discuss EMU-related issues. The conclusions of that meeting state that the conference
“should consist of representatives from all the National Parliaments of Member countries of the European Union and the European Parliament”.
That reflects one of the recommendations in the Select Committee’s report.
The Government have consistently highlighted the importance of these issues since the December European Council. For example, it was highlighted by the Prime Minster in his Bloomberg speech in January, when he set out his agenda for EU reform. He was clear that the future European Union we need must entail a bigger and more significant role for national Parliaments. He said:
“It is national parliaments, which are, and will remain, the true source of real democratic legitimacy and accountability in the EU”.
My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has said that
“if the European Parliament were the answer to the question of democratic legitimacy we wouldn’t still be asking it.”
He went on to outline a concrete set of ideas, including the proposal to have an EU “red card” system that would allow national Parliaments, working together, to block legislation that should not be agreed at the European level. Furthermore, we have said that we would support calls by this House to summon a European Commissioner to explain a proposal directly to this Parliament if the Committee demanded it.
I wholeheartedly support the principles set out on the primacy of national Parliaments in the Prime Minister’s Bloomberg speech, but neither of the proposals that the Minister has just mentioned—the red card and the summoning of an EU Commissioner—addresses the primacy issue. The red card just creates another opportunity for our national Parliament to be outvoted by other national Parliaments, and summoning an EU Commissioner has no legislative effect whatsoever. What are the Government going to table in concrete terms that will assert the primacy of national—
Order. Mr Jenkin, I have mentioned that we want short interventions. That was your second intervention and you are hoping to speak as well. If you want Members to get in, we are going to have to use the time well—it is going very quickly.
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, I will be brief. Of course these are not panaceas; they are not solutions to the problem. I have said that when these proposals come forward in a more coherent form than they exist in these discussion documents, we will need to ensure that this House—rather than the European Parliament—unambiguously is the body we look to for the endorsement and the legitimacy of these things.
These are important debates. We are at an early stage of the discussions of economic and monetary union, but I applaud the desire of my hon. Friend the Member for Stone, on the part of the Committee, to discuss them at an early stage. I am sure that we will come back to them time and again. We are not expecting major decisions to be made in the weeks ahead, but as with the financial transaction tax and as always, we are very aware of the national interest and will always staunchly pursue and promote it. We will very much have in mind the importance of safeguarding the primacy of this House. Mr Deputy Speaker, I see from your look that both the Chair of the Committee and many other hon. Members are keen to contribute to our discussion, and I look forward to hearing their advice and guidance on both these important issues.
I beg to move amendment (a), leave out
‘further notes that the proposals for the Financial Transaction Tax have been challenged by the Government in the European Court of Justice’; and insert
‘calls on the Government to support the principle of an FTT and to learn lessons from the EU proposal and work with other global financial centres, especially the US, to reach a consensus on a design set at a modest rate without creating negative economic consequences and which minimises international tax arbitrage;’.
Before I discuss the amendment, let me briefly deal with the latter set of issues that the Minister raised—the general issues of national parliamentary sovereignty, the remit of EU policy, enhanced co-operation and so on. Clearly, the European Scrutiny Committee is right to monitor the relationship between EU decisions and the need for public engagement and accountability. Most Labour Members, however, take a more positive view of the role that Britain should be playing in Europe, because the European Union should be a force for good that increases the chances of greater prosperity, peace and the values we hold being asserted with greater impact across the world. We are comfortable, though, with a degree of flexibility and variance across member states; “enhanced co-operation” could be used to our advantage here in the UK for the future.
Individual member states should have some latitude rather than follow a blind adherence to anything and everything emanating from Brussels. There is a danger that sometimes those who regard themselves as good Europeans—pro-Europeans—end up defending the poor decisions that the Commission and the European Parliament can sometimes come out with. There is nothing wrong at all with national Parliaments disagreeing with the European institutions; it is a healthy sign of an internal dialectic, a constructive challenge and a reality check for those who are more distant from public opinion. We should acknowledge that both the European Commission and the European Parliament need to be reformed to improve their accountability and transparency.
In the short time available to us today, let us not lose sight of what our electors sent us here to do. Our view is that the British people want us to focus right now relentlessly on getting jobs created, boosting prosperity, creating wealth, and helping to stimulate the economic recovery which is now three years overdue. Navel gazing into the constitutional niceties that fall between the gap of domestic or European institutions is slightly indulgent in that context; we should not lose sight of the most important priorities that our constituents want us to focus on. That is why we tabled this amendment.
There seems a slight illogicality in what the hon. Gentleman has been saying. He says that he wants to create jobs but it has already been established that the financial transaction tax would destroy half a million jobs across Europe. How can he have it both ways?
The Minister was talking about the European variant of the FTT, but of course he was forced then to admit that we have already got a partial FTT of sorts—the stamp duty that is in place. I will discuss that in a moment, but it was very instructive that he was vehemently against the extra-territoriality aspects of the European version. Of course the EU version does need to change, and I am not saying in any way that it is perfect. His argument is, “They should stop extra-territoriality aspects in their financial transaction tax”, but our stamp duty contains many of those characteristics, and individuals—those trading UK shares and UK equities—are liable wherever that trade takes place in the world. So the Government clearly have not thought through their position on these things.
The hon. Gentleman will know that stamp duty follows the issuance principle—in other words, the tax follows where the instrument is originated. The proposed FTT contains that and a residence principle, so it captures a far wider range of transactions, as well as this cascade point which stacks up and racks up the impact. So it is a very different FTT from, and a very much inferior FTT to, the stamp duty.
Why on earth then does the Minister not engage in the process, change people’s minds, get a better design, deal with this residence principle properly and let us have a financial transaction tax that is in all of our best interests, particularly across those global centres?
The Minister talked about not having objections to an FTT on equities, but he did not say anything about bonds or derivatives in that context. So I challenge him again on the principle: is he absolutely against any sort of FTT on bonds or derivatives? It sounded as though he was, but I say to him that he has to start waking up and engaging with other jurisdictions on these particular points rather than trying to stop it.
The public are sick and tired of hearing more of the same from the Government—no solutions, just reasons for not doing anything differently. It should not need to be restated—although it clearly does for Government Members—that the global financial crisis and the collapse of many organisations in the financial services sector required an enormous bail-out from the public purse. That collapse in revenues led to an extra £300 billion on the national debt. As the Government have failed to turn things around, we can see that many of the consequences are still being felt today by our constituents and that we need to do something different.
I just want to clarify that my position and that of my party is that a financial transaction tax could make a useful contribution to world development if it were introduced across all the global financial sectors. Is it the Labour party’s position that if the EU proposal, which, as constituted, would affect Paris, Frankfurt and perhaps London, were to go ahead, Labour would support it despite it not also applying to New York, Zurich, Shanghai and everywhere else?
I shall set out our position clearly: we do not think that the EU variant of the FTT is optimal. Of course it should be improved. We think there are better ways to design these things and I shall come to many of the arguments in a moment. I am delighted that the Liberal Democrats—well, the one Liberal Democrat who is in the Chamber—support the principle of a financial transaction tax. That is exactly why we phrased the amendment in the way that we did.
Let me read the amendment out so that Stephen Williams can consider it carefully, because I am minded to test the House’s opinion on it. We are calling
“on the Government to support the principle of an FTT”— so far, so good—
“to learn lessons from the EU proposal”,
which, of course, we have to do, and to
“work with other global financial centres, especially the US”,
as clearly New York is central,
“to reach a consensus on a design set at a modest rate without creating negative economic consequences and which minimises international tax arbitrage”.
I am quite sure that in his heart of hearts the hon. Gentleman does not disagree with a single word of that.
The shadow Minister is absolutely right: I did not disagree with a single word he read out. It was, however, a selective reading of the amendment, because he left out the first couple of lines, which would leave out the reference to the fact that the Government are challenging the European Parliament’s decision in the European Court of Justice precisely because it affects this country adversely while we do not have global agreement. That is the problem.
Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear! The hon. Gentleman cannot seriously be suggesting that he is going to vote against the amendment because we have to leave out the reference to further noting that there is a Court challenge. I would have been quite happy to have tabled an amendment that did not leave out that bit of terminology, but—I am sure that you can confirm this, Mr Deputy Speaker—we did not do so because the Clerks tell me that a motion can only have 250 words. Of course, the Government use up their 250 words in the motion, so we needed to find space to insert the reference to the principle of the financial transaction tax. The hon. Gentleman should trust me: I have been considering the point and I did not want to leave anything out of the motion, but we wanted to put that reference in. I hope that with that assurance, he will think again, because the amendment is eminently supportable.
Well, of all the ingenious ways to concoct a rationale. It is very instructive that out of all the 250 words, he chose to leave out the reference to the challenge to the European version of the financial transaction tax. He could have chosen many others. It is revealing that that is the part of the motion that he thought should be removed.
It is a sentence that takes note of something self-evident. Of course there is a challenge—we all know that there is a challenge and that the Minister’s agenda is to try to throw a spanner in the works and do what he can to stop that European variant of the FTT. He should consider what is in the motion; we did not particularly want to remove any of those other aspects of it. Taking note of the challenge was quite a good bit to leave out. Let me restate the case on which we must focus.
I want to make some progress, as there is not much time.
For the longer term, we must recalibrate the contribution of financial services to society. Of course, we must nurture a revival and restoration of the City of London’s primacy as the most trusted and professional place for financial transactions, but we cannot ignore the fact that most other jurisdictions are revisiting how banking and finance pays into society and what sort of responsibility we seek.
We have heard already from my hon. Friend Luciana Bergerabout the IMF report after the G20 in 2009, which sought to think through new ways for the financial services sector to make a fair and substantial contribution to meeting the costs associated with Government interventions to repair it. In this country the interventions, in one form or another, cost near £1 trillion.
When in government, we started with the bank bonus tax, a payroll tax implemented by my right hon. Friend Mr Darling, the former Chancellor. We thought that was a good idea then and we still think it is a good idea today. The Government then came along with the bank levy; we think that it is a good idea, but it has been poorly enforced. Ministers promised £2.5 billion in every year, but two years ago it raised just £1.8 billion and last year just £1.6 billion. Ministers keep coming back to the House and saying, “Don’t worry, we’ll deal with this shortfall.” The Minister has said that on numerous occasions, but we will believe it when we see it.
A bank levy and a bank bonus tax can only be part of the bigger picture. We must recognise that there is an ongoing systemic risk from financial services innovation and trading beyond the mainstream banks.
I think that any financial institution that could have a systemic impact on our economy and UK financial services needs to be regulated from within the Bank of England and by our regulatory structures. I hope that there will be a match between our arrangements and the European arrangements. That has been part of my anxiety about the Government’s design of the Prudential Regulation Authority and the Financial Conduct Authority in the context of the Bank of England and how they fit together with the supervisory structures in Europe. We have had that debate and I think it will continue to be played out over the longer term.
For the time being—for today—the time has come for the Government to get serious about a financial transaction tax. Doing whatever they can to put a spanner in the works and turning their back on the idea is just not good enough. At a time when deficits are persistently high because of rock-bottom growth, leading economies, including those of Britain and the United States, need alternative revenue measures from continuing financial market speculation to relieve pressures on lower and middle-income households and the public services they use.
There are many lessons from the banking crisis, the most obvious of which is that the sheer globalised might of financial trading can overpower the plans and defences of individual nation states. Governments should not just shrug and accept that fate, which is why the Opposition urge Conservatives and Liberal Democrats actively to champion a financial transaction tax and the reform agenda to harness international financial markets so that they serve our societies and our economies.
If ever there was a time to seek international consensus on a financial transaction tax it is now, as countries continue to deal with the aftermath of the global financial crisis and the large deficits it created. Deducting a tiny fraction of 1% of the value of trades in equities, bonds and derivatives could raise significant sums if introduced in a concerted way across the principal world financial centres.
The House of Commons Library has considered what would happen if we applied the EU variant of the tax in the UK and says that it would yield some £10 billion annually. I do not stand by that figure—I do not think that it is necessarily convincing or viable—but it prompts the question of what could be achieved in the UK by a tax with a more modest and sensible design.
I do not decry the 11 EU countries for forging ahead on the issue—it is a brave decision for those EU countries to go it alone. Even with the participation of Germany, France and Italy, there are still risks involved, and although we are not participating at present we should not withdraw from the debate, not least given the size and importance of the City of London.
I am intrigued by what the hon. Gentleman has just said. He cites the House of Commons Library, which has said that the tax could raise £10 billion, and says that that would be useful. Is he arguing that such a financial transaction tax would be in addition to stamp duty? Is he proposing such a tax?
I think that we need to have a financial transaction tax, ideally in concert with other international centres, in addition to stamp duty. That would be a sensible and modest reaction to the modern circumstances of the financial services sector. As I said to the Minister earlier, he has got to snap out of his “no can do” attitude and to wake up and realise that the public want alternatives. They want different ideas, and the financial transaction tax could offer a good way forward.
Opposition Members support the principle of a financial transaction tax with the widest global participation. London and New York City are the two largest global financial centres. Our view is that enforcement of the FTT needs both to move in concert. The Government ought to support our amendment, which is totally unobjectionable. We should not have to wait for a change of Government to move this agenda forward. We should be building those alliances, especially with the United States. That is a very important task.
The health of the financial services industry is important not just to London and New York, but in my constituency and my city as well. Is not the crucial point that we need international negotiations and international agreement on a way forward? We are all concerned about the impact on jobs in our constituencies. I know that in my area the biggest damage to the financial services industry has been the vagaries of the market, and the uncertainty and instability. That is what we need to tackle.
There are others who make compelling arguments about the need for intervention on the volatility of the high frequency trades, which are clearly many steps removed from the real economy. Some of the potentially beneficial aspects of a financial transaction tax might have a part to play in that, though we must be careful about negative economic consequences. We do not want the impact that the European variant might have.
When did this change in Labour’s policy come about? I distinctly remember, when I was in the European Parliament from 1999 to 2009, Labour MEPs who supported a financial transaction tax being slapped down by their Chancellor, who became Prime Minister. Is it a change in policy that Labour supports a financial transaction tax at European or worldwide level?
I did not know that the hon. Gentleman was so close to Labour Members of the European Parliament. I am not familiar with what they were thinking at that time, but on the Labour Benches here we are keen on the principle of an FTT and I have no idea why he is not. I do not understand why Government Members are taking such a stick-in-the-mud view of the issue when it is clear that some of the obstacles that are in the EU variant could be overcome if we engaged and took a leadership role. We have dealt with the stamp duty issue. There are ways of dealing with the extraterritorial and residence issue.
What is the hon. Gentleman’s assessment of the impact on job losses and costs to savers and pensioners in this country if we were to adopt the financial transaction tax?
I do not think there would be any such impact if we designed the FTT correctly and implemented it in the best interests of the UK, and if we persuaded the Americans to do likewise. Not all financial transaction taxes are the same. Stamp duty is very different from the FTT proposed by the European Union. That is a very broad concept and we need to look at it in a proportionate and modest way. I know that the hon. Lady is familiar with what I am talking about. She should read the amendment. I do not understand why she objects to it.
Surely the hon. Gentleman must realise that if there is a financial transaction tax, that money has to come from somewhere. If it is not coming from savers and pensioners and from moving business overseas, where does he think that money is coming from?
The hon. Lady knows very well that millions and possibly billions of financial transactions take place every day of the week—almost every hour—and it is a question of whether there is a social benefit that we should look at as a recompense to society at large, which should not see those financial transactions as totally disconnected from our economy and our society. We know that excessive risk taking and many of the problems that arose from the attachment to the derivatives trade and others got us into the problems of the global financial crisis. Rather than turning its back on it and not engaging, as the Government are doing, the financial services industry should engage in that and think about the design. Let us get it right and do it on our terms, rather than waiting to play catch-up.
It sounds that way. The Government’s reticence to get involved and start engaging is telling. I still hold out some hope for the Liberal Democrats. The Lib Dem manifesto—who could forget that seminal political tract—promised that Lib Dems will
“work with other countries to establish new sources of development financing, including bringing forward urgent proposals for a financial transaction tax”.
I fully expect Liberal Democrat Members shortly to be in our Lobby—they can call it their Lobby, if they wish—in favour of the amendment.
My hon. Friend is making a much more moderate speech than I expected. He has made some serious logical points, but can he give an unambiguous answer to the question of whether it is his policy to go ahead with the tax if New York and Tokyo do not?
I want to do what we can to persuade New York in particular that including London and its financial centre in this would be the best way forward. The Americans already have a very small security exchange commission fee on individual transactions. In terms of the American principle, the foot is already in the door. I was in Washington DC in February to talk not only to Members of Congress, but to others involved in the issue. Far from the impression that those on the Government Benches have, I think we could work on the principle across the Atlantic.
It is true that Jack Lew, the American Treasury Secretary, has concerns about some of the extraterritorial aspects, but let us work on a solution and find a design that might fit, if that is an issue of principle. However we do that, we should not turn our minds away from it. Similarly, the cascade risk issues could be dealt with. There are issues relating to the impact on the repo market and the funding that many companies depend on there, but again, there are exemptions and ways of dealing with that problem and others, such as at what point a levy would be applied, whether the sale and buy-back of a security would be treated as one transaction, whether the charge would be waived on overnight repos and closing repos, and closing any loopholes that might fall open in the treatment of longer-term maturities. There are ways of dealing with these issues, but any Treasury worth its salt would be engaging on the issue, weighing up the pros and cons, dealing with them and making sure that we had a design of a financial transaction tax that offered some hope for the future.
A one-size-fits-all blanket approach will not reflect the complexities of our economy or the unintended impact that an FTT could have if it was poorly designed, but learning and adapting those early experiences of the EU approach should inform us in good time to engage in a proper dialogue on the most sensible joint approach between America in particular and the United Kingdom, ideally before 2015, but presumably after a change of Administration here.
Radical action is needed and a financial transaction tax is an idea whose time has come. For all the aversion to reform emanating from Whitehall and from the Minister, the public and the business community know that we are at risk of a lost decade of economic progress in this country if we do not take bold steps and change the rules of the game. A whole generation has been indelibly affected by that global financial failure, and the twin financial centres of London and New York are at the centre of what was a world-changing phenomenon. There is therefore an urgency for the UK to lead the way forward. We must move on from discussion of banks as part of the problem and start to settle on how they will help to repair our public finances and solve the challenges of our economy and society.
It is not clear what the Government’s policy is. They still claim in part that they are in favour of some sort of financial transaction tax, maybe a stamp duty, but they intend to oppose the amendment. Now is the time for action and leadership on an FTT. The public are sick of the Chancellor’s blind refusal to change course and look at alternatives, and it is now clear that we need serious change and new ideas, not more of the same. I urge the House to support the principle of a financial transaction tax and to support the amendment.
I thank the Financial Secretary for his extremely diligent approach to the debate. He has dealt with all the arguments on the financial transaction tax and I leave those on the record. It is extraordinary that the Opposition should promote the idea, but there is no need for me to go into that this afternoon. I am primarily concerned about the other aspect of the debate and the report, which is the question of primacy. Without primacy, there is no democracy in the House, and without going back to the financial transaction tax, that is a subset of the question of primacy, which is why the Scrutiny Committee insisted on having this debate. I do not think my right hon. Friend will mind me saying that there was a little uncertainty about having it, and I am indebted to him for the clarity with which he has understood this vitally important question.
Our democracy and legitimacy as a Parliament in this House is the basis on which we decide questions of taxation and spending. As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said, in the Bloomberg fourth principle, national Parliaments are at the root of our democracy. Therefore, it is absolutely fundamental that we stand by that. I veer away slightly from the trajectory of my right hon. Friend—which he takes for perfectly sensible reasons, but which I disagree with none the less—that somehow the blueprint, which is described as “launching a European debate” is somehow just a piece of blue- sky thinking. It is not. It is absolutely fundamental to the one question that lies at the heart of the Bloomberg speech, in the light of what is said in the Commission document and in the Van Rompuy conclusions, both of which put the prime emphasis on the European Parliament, to all intents and purposes at the expense of national Parliaments. They use the word “commensurate”, but it is not commensurate. We cannot have two Governments dealing with the same subject matter. We cannot have two Parliaments dealing with the same subject matter. It is impossible, which is why we have to assert the primacy of this House, and, as the Prime Minister rightly said in the Bloomberg speech, it is at the root of our democracy.
I thank my hon. Friend for highlighting this crucial issue and bringing it to the attention of the House. Will he accept that those of us who will not have time to speak today are fully behind him in wanting to re-establish and re-assert the primacy of this House in all matters that are important to the British people, and we have a long way to go to do that?
We have a long way to go, and in fact the journey is becoming longer. I am extremely glad that we are having a proposal for a referendum Bill, which will enable us to decide these questions, if it comes off. I also believe that there is an understanding among possibly 240 Government Members that there is a serious problem in relation to the EU. There are some who take a different view, but it is a tangential question for them. For us it is fundamental. The biggest demonstration of the problem is this fundamental relationship, which turns on primacy. That is what the Scrutiny Committee focused on, and that is what I will speak about, somewhat briefly.
Basically, the landscape involves a two-tier Europe. I am astonished that the shadow Minister should have said, in parenthesis, that he did not really want to go into—I paraphrase—the rather self-indulgent ruminations on institutional differences with monetary union and the like. I am certain that if the primacy question were properly explained to the hon. Gentleman and Opposition Members, they would appreciate that it is fundamental.
I pay tribute to Michael Connarty because he understands that. I am sure that he will not mind me referring to an interesting altercation the other day with Olli Rehn in a committee meeting that we had in Brussels. The hon. Gentleman made it crystal clear with regard to this idea of the centralisation, with the contracts that he referred to in an intervention, when he was rather abruptly caught short, The reality is that he understands that it is an infringement of our democratic relationship with the electorate. It is about the person in the polling booth voting and making a decision about the kind of Government that they want, and the kind of economy that they want. He and I may have a difference of view about whether there should be adjustments to the public purse. I would argue that if there is a black hole out there in the EU and the black hole prevents growth in the EU and we trade 50% with it, we cannot pay for the public services. The hon. Gentleman understands that.
This goes right to heart of issue of whether we are prepared to accept, at this fork in the road—which is what this document represents—this launching of the European debate, which we must carry forward to ensure that we retain primacy in this House over the issue of taxation and spending. The shadow Minister nods, so now he concedes that it is not a matter of self-indulgence, but a matter of significance. That is why the debate has to take place. I am afraid to say that the black hole, and the direction in which it is going—because of the two-tier arrangement that is being created, on which they are determined; I could quote from the documents, which talk about political integration that is needed within the hard core and they know what it means—will lead to a German Europe. They will control that hard core. The bottom line is that we cannot be part of it. That means that there is a change in the fundamental relationship, not merely for monetary union reasons, not merely for reasons of remorseless logic, but for political ones.
GDP is a measure of productivity, but it is not a measure of wealth, and it is not a measure of growth in the real economy. Derivative volumes have ballooned out of all proportion to the growth of the real economy. Some would say that that says much more about rent extraction by the financial services sector than a real world story of genuine and proportionate insurance.
When the global financial crisis hit in 2008, many banks were weakened precisely by their exposure to derivatives. In fact, Warren Buffett has described them as financial weapons of mass destruction. They have traded those derivatives at ever-increasing speeds. It is the institutions that are heavily involved in high value, high frequency derivative trading that would feel the biggest impact of the FTT, and whose riskier activities the rest of society has a vested interest in reining in. That is precisely the point that my hon. Friend the shadow Minister made. The public want to see these activities curtailed to reasonable levels such that they reflect the genuine risks of economic growth.
“this small tax on churning would limit some of these activities and help to refocus the financial system on to its purpose of the safe financing of real economic activity.”
That is a good thing and we should be open to the idea of exploring it with our colleagues across the water.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The public want politicians to get back to focusing on the real productive economy. They are bewildered, frankly, by the spin-off of derivatives. I was on the floor of the New York stock exchange when it all went belly up on
Andrea Leadsom, who is unfortunately no longer in her place, made the point that an FTT on derivatives might hit pensioners. I do not think that is a convincing argument. Pension funds are obviously vital to our economy, and they buy derivatives to insure against the risk of poor performance by their portfolio, but those funds are much more likely to hold their derivatives until they reach maturity, which means that they would have to pay only a tiny amount under an FTT because their trades are far fewer—the very opposite of the type of short-term, superfast trading that grew in the run-up to the crisis. Most of the burden of paying the FTT would fall on superfast traders and speculative exchanges, which are very far removed from the real economy.
I want to introduce another note into the debate before sitting down. Our Government, along with many other participants in the United Nations framework convention on climate change, have stated that there will be a green climate fund. That fund will have to raise $100 billion each year by 2020—that is the minimum that the UK and our European negotiating partners think will be necessary to help developing countries increase their own economies, reduce poverty and offset the impact of dangerous climate change. The FTT would be an extraordinarily adept mechanism for raising those funds, which are vital to real growth in our economy. If we look at the UK economy, we will find that only 6% relates to the green economy, yet that 6% provided 30% of our economic growth in 2011. I would like to see the funds from the FTT predicated to use in the green climate fund.
I begin by referring Members to my declaration of interests and by celebrating the 198th anniversary of the battle of Waterloo. We are debating Europe on Waterloo day, which commemorates an occasion when an alliance of nation states came together to defeat the ambition of a Frenchman to have a single European state, so it could not be a better day for debating these matters.
I will deal first with the financial transaction tax, because it is a rotten idea. The fact that we have stamp duty, a tax that has been around for centuries and is not paid on rapid transactions—it is paid only on long-term holdings—or by market makers, or for contracts for difference, or on American depositary receipts, is not an argument for saying that a financial transaction tax can work in the sophisticated financial system that the world operates today.
What Chris Leslie consistently ignores is who the tax would ultimately fall on. In the wonderful world that he was creating, there was a tax that could be designed—not, of course, the one that the Europeans have designed, but another, imaginary tax—that would never seem to fall to anybody. It could take £10 billion out of the economy without anyone really having to pay for it, apart from some nasty, evil bankers who, when they take their hats off, can be seen to have horns underneath.
However, that is not the real world, because the transactions that take place in the City represent an underlying reality, be it the debt issued by the Government, mortgages sold on by banks, or pension funds being invested around the globe. Individuals would end up paying that tax because the costs of their doing business with banks would increase. We know that clearly from the mortgage market, complicated as it may be, because the ability to package mortgages and sell them reduces the cost of capital to banks and reduces the cost to people of buying their own homes. What the Opposition are saying is that they want to make mortgages more expensive. They want to put a tax on people who are least able to pay.
The hon. Gentleman was doing so well, but unfortunately the level of scaremongering undermines his whole argument. Is he really saying that there is absolutely no case for a tiny fraction, less than a tenth of one percentage point—[Interruption.] I am talking not about the EU variant but about the principle of a financial transaction tax. Is he saying that there is absolutely no case to be made for a financial transaction tax on derivatives or bonds when we have 50 basis points—half a percentage point—of stamp duty on UK equities, or is he also calling for repeal of UK stamp duty?
There is no case for a financial transaction tax. It would be enormously destructive of this country’s financial system. The cascade effect to which the Minister referred is at the heart of this. When things are being traded dozens of times a day, what starts off as a little tax suddenly becomes a very big tax. The hon. Gentleman conjures £10 billion out of the air. We cannot withdraw £10 billion from the economy without it having an economic effect and without it being paid for by somebody.
I seem to remember that 365 economists said that Margaret Thatcher had got it wrong in 1981, but one great and noble Prime Minister had got it right and 365 economists were flawed in their thinking. I would back the British politician against a collection of academic economists living in an ethereal world.
A financial transaction tax would ultimately be paid for by the British people through higher housing costs, lower pensions and possibly through higher Government borrowing costs leading to higher overall taxation. Of course the Labour party wants higher taxation, because that is what it has always been in favour of—more taxes, more spending and a worse economy.
I would now like to move on to the points made by my hon. Friend Mr Cash, because they, too, are extremely important. They relate to the European Union’s ambitions to become a superstate based on the euro. I accept that we are outside the euro, but that is not entirely a protection from the development of the EU along the lines of a single state with a single Government based in Brussels. Of the papers we are considering today, there is one from the European Commission showing that it wants within 18 months to have a eurozone seat on the International Monetary Fund’s board, that it wants within five years to co-ordinate eurozone tax and employment policies, and that it wants a political union with adequate pooling of sovereignty with central budgets as its own fiscal capacity and a means of imposing budgetary and economic decisions on its members. That means a single Treasury and a single fiscal union.
The danger for us is that, as the European Union obtains more powers for the eurozone, our association with it will become very different from the present one, and one in which we have little influence over what happens because we are outside it. Alternatively, we could get dragged into the arrangements because, as our experience of the European Union shows, our opt-outs will ultimately expire. We have seen that happening with the social chapter, and we will see it again next year with the decision on title V of the Lisbon treaty. We should therefore be very careful about the ambitions of the European Commission in relation to this single government for the eurozone.
We should also be cautious about what the President of the European Union, Mr van Rompuy, has to say. He has published a paper lauding the success of the euro and all that it has done. It states:
That is a fascinating way of phrasing it: “the full benefits”. After all the other benefits that they have so far received, there are further benefits to give the member states if only they will join a tighter system of governance. I wonder whether the unemployed Greek youths have noticed all the benefits that they have received from this wonderful beneficent eurozone.
Mr van Rompuy has also been kind enough to say:
“‘More Europe’ is not an end in itself, but rather a means for serving the citizens of Europe and increasing their prosperity.”
I am proud to say that I am a subject of Her Majesty, and not a citizen of Europe. The idea that we need more Europe to benefit the citizens of the member states is palpably false. The more Europe we have had, the worse the situation has become. The more powers that have accreted to Europe, the more bureaucratic, less democratic and worse run has become the whole system of the European Union. The economies of the European Union have suffered because of the euro.
I apologise, but I will not, as I have only 45 seconds left, and counting. I have had two extra minutes already.
I want to finish on the point of democratic legitimacy and accountability. I am glad that my right hon. Friend the Minister for Europe is in the Chamber, because it was his Bill in 2011 that so wisely reminded us that United Kingdom powers are ceded to Europe only by Act of Parliament and can be withdrawn. However, van Rompuy says that
“the involvement of the European Parliament as regards accountability for decisions taken at the European level” is key. I deny that. It is this House that is key, and it is this House that should maintain our democracy.
I have news for Jacob Rees-Mogg. Bill Gates was not an academic. Indeed, the hon. Gentleman might want to make a comparison with his own career, which his declaration of interest shows to have been in banking.
He has defended that business strongly. Bill Gates is now doing something that a financial transaction tax would achieve universally, across the world. It would raise money from the speculative, gambling casino economy that the world has become and give it to those who are often mineral rich or agriculture rich but massively exploited by those of us who live on the fat of that speculation.
For me, a financial transaction tax is suitable only if it is a worldwide arrangement. It is certainly not suitable for the money-raising powers of the European Commission, yet that is what the Commission is proposing: just another mechanism for a fat, gorged organisation to take money from yet another sector of the economy. If it got rid of the common agricultural policy failures, 40% of the EU budget would be available for positive use, so perhaps the Commission should look at that, rather than at trying to get more money in from a transaction tax.
I was glad to hear my hon. Friend Chris Leslie clarifying our position on this matter, because I was worried that the drafting of our amendment did not make it 100% clear that we opposed the introduction of a European transaction tax at any time. Only in the context of advancing development worldwide can we justify the imposition of such a tax. If it is not done on that basis, it will have an adverse effect.
Andrea Leadsom, who is no longer in her place, spoke against the introduction of any kind of financial transaction tax. She did not seem to realise that, according to her argument, stamp duty, which is basically a national levy for national spend, should theoretically also be abandoned. Her argument was that any kind of financial transaction tax prevents jobs from being created. However, as we use taxation for positive purposes in most cases, there are reasons why people should pay taxes—even those fat bankers with horns on their heads that the hon. Member for North East Somerset described.
Before my hon. Friend moves on, I want to ask a question related to an international financial transaction tax. It appears that progress has been made on getting the UK overseas territories to be more transparent on tax. Is this not a good opportunity to encourage them to also be part of an FTT system, because we all know that a lot of the dodgy transactions take place in bank speculation in some of the countries for which we have an indirect responsibility?
That is part of a separate debate, but I agree that all territories controlled by any of the world’s major economies should be not just transparent, but properly taxed. Just because someone sticks a name on a door in the Cayman Islands and pays a Cayman citizen theoretically to be the director, there is no reason why they should not pay taxation wherever they make their money in the world. That would certainly be helpful.
Turning to economic and monetary union, Mr Cash lauded me highly, but slightly falsely. My main concern with Olli Rehn’s paper on a blueprint for a deep and genuine EMU is that it strongly suggests that countries will have their primacy removed. That is even more the case with the Von Rompuy paper, “Towards a Genuine Economic and Monetary
Union”. It is clear that those documents take away, in the first place, from the weakest of the 17 any right to set their own budget or any budget that has not been agreed by the Commission, and the associated penalties would further damage the economies of those countries.
My great problem with the proposals is that they are a threat to the European Union. I believe that they have become obsessed with the euro. Their documents refer again and again not to the European Union, European citizens, European Governments or European projects, but to the euro. The countries that are not keeping in line with the stability and growth pact are a threat to the euro, which has become the raison d’être of the European project for many people at its centre. The hon. Member for North East Somerset has described it, correctly, as a token for them to control Europe through a single body, the European Commission, in partnership, as its documents keep saying, with the European Parliament. We have no real say in this. The European Parliament legitimises what is done by the European Union. The power of the Lisbon treaty has not just tipped over; it has fallen into the abyss of the Commission-controlled EMU.
There is a negation of primacy and countries are being forced to do things in their budgets that are bad for their citizens. We are supposed to be a co-operative European Union. I voted for it in 1975 and would do so again, but I would like more tools to fight against those centralising powers.
There is also a failing austerity plan in all these countries: Greece, Italy, Portugal and Spain will be weaker economically and more impoverished and indebted at the end of this than they were at the beginning, but for what reason? What contribution will that make to the stability of a new economy? It means that the powerful countries in the north will become more powerful over the rest. I believe that when they are finished with the weaker countries, they will come for the rest of the 17 and start to control their budgets. If they had their way and if we were not outside the euro, they would be telling us that we could not do what we are doing to try to deal with our economy—not that it is being done very well in this country, because the austerity measures here parallel those demanded by the European Commission of the failing economies in the south of Europe.
I am worried that we will not have the ability in the future to ameliorate what will happen in the general European economy. That is what I mean by primacy. Not only will the primacy of those countries be destroyed; our ability to effect and do something positive for the economies of the European Union—through growth and sharing burdens, rather than through penalising and punishing countries—will be weakened.
Finally, when did the stability and growth pact not have any teeth or do anything? It was when Germany broke it again and again as it built investments in its own economy to make it what it is now: a strong, growing economy. I am worried that, as a result of the primacy that will be lost all over Europe, countries will lose the ability to reflate and build a proper economy.
It was fainter praise than good.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend Mr Cash for his kind words. I am glad that we were able to accommodate the two debates that he was keen to have. I welcome the contribution of Barry Gardiner, the characteristic tour de force on Waterloo day from my hon. Friend Jacob Rees-Mogg and the flinty contribution of Michael Connarty, who shares many of the views of my hon. Friend the Member for Stone on the primacy of this place.
This has been a fascinating and enlightening debate. We have discovered that the policy of the Opposition in calling for a financial transaction tax turns out to be to call for an additional financial transaction tax. As has been clear from the exchanges across the House, we already have a financial transaction tax in this country; it is called stamp duty. The hon. Member for Nottingham East made it very clear that he proposes an additional tax on British savers, pensioners, mortgage holders and business of up to £10 billion. He said that that would come not from the magic—
I am grateful, Madam Deputy Speaker. It will be clear for people to see on the record that this is another proposed tax from the magic money tree that the hon. Gentleman frequently has recourse to.
We are not against a financial transaction tax in principle. We have one in stamp duty. The idea that we should not refer this matter to the ECJ is totally inappropriate. I commend the motion to the House.
Question accordingly negatived.
Main Question put and agreed to.
That this House takes note of European Union Document No. 16988/1/12, a Commission Communication on a Blueprint for a Deep and Genuine EMU: Launching a European debate, an Un-numbered European Document dated
integrated frameworks for a genuine EMU’; further notes that the proposals for the Financial Transaction Tax have been challenged by the Government in the European Court of Justice; notes that recent European Treaties and protocols have emphasised the role of national parliaments throughout the European Union as the foundation of democratic legitimacy and accountability; and believes that this role is the pivot upon which democracy in the United Kingdom must be based on behalf of the voters in every constituency.