EU Membership

– in the House of Lords at 2:30 pm on 14th June 2004.

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Photo of Lord Pearson of Rannoch Lord Pearson of Rannoch Conservative Independent 2:30 pm, 14th June 2004

asked Her Majesty's Government:

On what basis they maintain that 60 per cent of the United Kingdom's trade and 3 million jobs depend on the United Kingdom's membership of the European Union.

Photo of Lord Davies of Oldham Lord Davies of Oldham Deputy Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household, Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard (HM Household) (Deputy Chief Whip, House of Lords)

My Lords, in 2002, some 53 per cent of the UK's trade in goods and services was with the EU. The Treasury estimates that 3 million jobs in the UK are linked, directly and indirectly, to the export of goods and services to the European Union. This figure is based on the assumption that the share of total UK employment associated with UK exports to the EU is equal to the share of total UK value added generated by UK exports to the EU.

Photo of Lord Pearson of Rannoch Lord Pearson of Rannoch Conservative Independent

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for that Answer. However, that precise sound-bite was used several times last week by the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary and others when campaigning for the European elections. The obvious aim was to frighten the British people into fearing that we cannot afford to leave the European Union. Is the Minister aware that every reputable study conducted this century has found that leaving the European Union would be trade and jobs neutral for the United Kingdom; and that a new study has found that leaving would bring an economic benefit to our economy of at least £20 billion per annum? If the Government do not agree with those studies, why do they continue to refuse to sanction a cost/benefit analysis?

Photo of Lord Davies of Oldham Lord Davies of Oldham Deputy Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household, Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard (HM Household) (Deputy Chief Whip, House of Lords)

My Lords, I am delighted to see the noble Lord on his usual Bench in the House. We on this side wish him well in his continuing efforts to divide the Opposition party.

In answer to his question, let me make it quite clear that there are advantages, well documented and easily identified, to our membership of the European Community. They are represented by the level of investment in this country and by the number of jobs dependent on the European position. The Government are prepared to enter into debate at any stage on any statistics which may be developed on the other side of the argument, but they will need to be substantiated with rigour. The government figures are, of course, rigorous.

Photo of Lord Tomlinson Lord Tomlinson Labour

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, is peddling his usual line of nonsensical proposals and that if we followed it we would be committed to competing in a single market from which we were excluded from making any of the rules? The rules would apply to us and we would have to sit outside and accept them, even if we still traded. At the same time, the noble Lord would inflict enormous damage on British agriculture which currently receives support from the European Union.

Photo of Lord Davies of Oldham Lord Davies of Oldham Deputy Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household, Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard (HM Household) (Deputy Chief Whip, House of Lords)

My Lords, I agree with my noble friend. I emphasise that the single market brings significant advantages to this economy. How else can we explain the significant investment by the Japanese motor industry, for example, if we were not part of the single market? When the Opposition produce their frequent rants about so-called red tape in the United Kingdom and from Brussels, perhaps they should bear in mind that the moment we withdraw from the EC and negotiate fresh terms, the amount of red tape in Customs alone would be enormous.

Photo of Lord Marsh Lord Marsh Crossbench

My Lords, I declare an interest as European adviser to a large Japanese company. Surely this is a time when we should stop the politicking about such a serious subject. If we lost 60 per cent of our trade, that would be total disaster. Can the Minister list the three major sectors about to go bankrupt?

Photo of Lord Davies of Oldham Lord Davies of Oldham Deputy Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household, Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard (HM Household) (Deputy Chief Whip, House of Lords)

My Lords, I cannot do that, but I can agree with the noble Lord that this is a serious debate. He will recognise that the essence of political debate in this country is about serious issues. We are not selling our people short when we engage in this debate with a degree of seriousness that the nation expects.

If at times that looks as though a government Minister might be prone to a little point scoring on the Opposition, that is merely part and parcel of the necessary debate on this serious issue. I have no doubt that it will feature prominently in the next general election and will certainly feature in the subsequent referendum.

Photo of Lord Newby Lord Newby Shadow Minister, Treasury

My Lords, does the Minister agree with the director-general of the CBI, who said earlier today that leaving the EU would be a disaster for British industry as it would deny it a voice at the table at which the regulatory framework, in which it has to operate in relation to 60 per cent of its exports, is determined? If he agrees with that, can he urge on his Cabinet colleagues rather greater effort and energy in making the case which he has made so eloquently this afternoon?

Photo of Lord Davies of Oldham Lord Davies of Oldham Deputy Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household, Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard (HM Household) (Deputy Chief Whip, House of Lords)

My Lords, I could not possibly suggest that my right honourable friends in the Cabinet could be more energetic in prosecuting the essential case before the British people. However, I agree very much with the noble Lord and the director-general of the CBI that it is clear that a substantial amount of British exports from our manufacturing industry is dependent on our participation in the single market. Should the country make the tragic mistake of following the suggestions of the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, we shall risk that being put in jeopardy.

Photo of Lord Forsyth of Drumlean Lord Forsyth of Drumlean Conservative

My Lords, does the Minister accept that governments must govern with consent and, given the results in the European elections, would not a little humility be in order? I share the Minister's view on the importance that he attaches to our continued membership of the Community. Can he therefore confirm that the Government will now abandon their plans to adopt the European constitution, given the clear voice expressed by the people? If we are to govern with consent, should we not react to the clear concern in the country at the continued integrationist stance in Europe when people wish to be in a Community that provides prosperity and free trade?

Photo of Lord Davies of Oldham Lord Davies of Oldham Deputy Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household, Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard (HM Household) (Deputy Chief Whip, House of Lords)

My Lords, the noble Lord is putting his own gloss on, and giving his own interpretation of, the events of last week. But I certainly agree that it ill behoves any of us not to be responsive to the votes expressed by the people. I emphasise to the noble Lord that, so far as concerns the proposed treaty, the Prime Minister has made it clear that, when a Labour government are re-elected at the next general election, the people will be consulted and will have the right to vote on these issues after they have been duly considered by the British Parliament.