Motion to Take Note

Part of EU Trade Policy: EUC Report – in the House of Lords at 4:08 pm on 1st December 2009.

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Photo of Lord Dykes Lord Dykes Spokesperson for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, Spokesperson for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 4:08 pm, 1st December 2009

My Lords, I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, concluded with his remarks on Japan. It has been a feature of the recession and its effects in the West and other parts of the world that we have not paid so much attention to Japan on a number of different issues, which are all related to world economic development and progress and the resumption of growth. Japan also experienced a serious prolonged period of extraordinary recession and semi-depression, when it searched for solutions without finding them, and tried all sorts of things, including zero interest rates and so on. Japan took a long time to begin, at long last, to come out of that period. It therefore went off the radar screen in the sense of providing much intellectual thinking for the West; people had previously paid the closest attention to everything that was going on in Japan, because it was such a wonderful success story.

I mention the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, again because of his initial remarks, when he reminded us about the Lisbon treaty, as did the noble Lord, Lord Roper. We thank him for his stewardship of the Select Committee. The work that is being done in this new regime is a matter of great celebration here. Even the comics that masquerade as newspapers in Britain had to admit that Lisbon would be a good thing.

As the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, said, the extraordinary change that took place vis-à-vis various personalities was astonishing. Yet there is always strong nationalism in the British press about these matters. Pascal Lamy was regarded with great suspicion, but now the FT says that he is a much respected head of the WTO who has done well, and thank goodness his term has been renewed. Michel Barnier was not much noticed by the British press when he was Minister for Europe. More recently, however, the press has said, "This man will report straight back to President Sarkozy as a Commissioner. How disgraceful. Thank goodness we have Jonathan Faull, who is British, as his second-in-command, so it won't be too bad, but really it is very nasty indeed".

I remind everybody that Commissioners take an oath to represent the development and interests of the Community as a whole. The press is now saying how good it is that the noble Baroness, Lady Ashton, is now the High Representative and the vice-president of the Community because she can report back directly to the British Prime Minister on British interests and the maintenance thereof.

This is all nonsense and phantasmagorical rubbish in the British press, which has never become used to Britain being in the European Community. It even applies occasionally to the FT, which has used similar phrases in the past few days. The Financial Times would never have done that a few years ago. Given the declining circulation of all these "comics", they are grasping at attention-seeking headlines and getting more and more desperate about the future as we see the ominous threat of the internet arresting the development of newspapers.

I also live in France, where there are real newspapers-that is a very old-fashioned thing to say-as there are in Germany. I suppose that they are slightly dull, but they are actually newspapers rather than the comics that we have in this country. The fact that the Doha round has got stuck-it has not failed but has not succeeded either, to use the able expression of the noble Baroness, Lady Cohen-will mean that we have to attend to a lot of these questions in the future. The European Union has already played a leading role in these matters and will continue to do so.

I repeat that it is sad that the United Kingdom is not a member of the eurozone because the euro has become probably the most successful currency in the world. It has some effect at the margin on global imbalances, to which the noble Lord, Lord Trimble, referred, but it is none the less an outstandingly successful international currency as well as an intra-EU currency. Britain should have had the courage to join the euro. There is still time to do so. The rest of the Union might agree, probably reluctantly, to allow us a reasonably rapid period of adjustment before we join, if any Government in Britain had the courage to say, "That is a good idea".

We have recently informally devalued in the marketplace-not formally, this time-for the sixth or seventh time since the war. That is the easy way out; whenever there is trouble in Britain and internal economic pressure, we devalue rather than join a strong currency. The French authorities, on the other hand-not the Front National and the Communist Party, but all other parties-educated the French public for 10 years about the virtues of the strong currency system that Germany had enjoyed for so long, building up a huge rate of investment in new assets and therefore becoming the world's strongest exporter. Germany is derided in this country. It is regarded by the British press as an unsuccessful country because its internal rate of growth was so low-until recently, when it started to pick up-as all the growth was going into exports, which used to be regarded as a very good thing in Britain.

None the less, the United Kingdom has been the subject of legitimate praise, because it has always strongly advocated free trade all over the world, as well as in the European Union with a single market, although we traditionally have always had a deficit with other advanced countries in the world. That pattern persists. We cannot seemingly get out of it. We rely therefore on the invisible earnings from the City of London to provide the difference. But here again it is very important for the City of London not to go back into a sectoral nationalism in saying, "We do not want the Commissioner in charge and the European Union regulation system to interfere too much with the City of London". That would be very short-sighted. The City of London will benefit enormously from a Union-wide regulation system-that is supported by the Financial Services Authority and Adair Turner-with great strength and resilience. It has been agreed, quid pro quo, that the college of regulators from the nation states will work closely with it.

I, too, praise not only the new President of the European Council, the Belgian Prime Minister, who is well known and highly respected in Europe-even if not in Britain or by the British press-but the noble Baroness, Lady Ashton of Upholland, and her work.

I am looking forward to hearing the winding-up remarks of our distinguished friend, the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Wirral. He has always been an enthusiastic European and we were grateful for the way in which he handled the Lisbon treaty, because that was difficult for him, given some of the attitudes of his senior and other colleagues. He did that very well. He has a background in the English Speaking Union and has carried out a lot of good work in the glorious free trade of the English language throughout the world. Language also assists trade and, therefore, we are lucky that we are a major trading country.

The report rightly looks forward to further reform. As we know, from 2013 the CAP will be in a much freer system, depending on how the new single farm payment mechanism works. We must ask ourselves how the banking crisis will affect the resumption of world growth and free trade that we want. I conclude with a quotation from this very good report. We thank the noble Baroness, Lady Cohen, and other members of the committee for all their work. The noble Lord, Lord Mandelson, when he gave evidence on Thursday 6 November 2008-a long time ago-said:

"I regard the cause of world trade, the openness of markets, our ability to prevent the global economic machine rolling backwards under the pressure of protectionism as vital if not more vital now than it has ever been, but I also see trade as a huge opportunity for poorer countries in the world".

We thank him for saying:

"The main feature of my approach to trade and development during the last four years has been to harness trade to the cause of development and that too will be undimmed as I exercise my responsibilities in my new role".

I thank the Minister for coming here to conclude this debate and I ask him to reassure us all that the Government will stick to that approach. The rest of the world needs a place in the sun as far as free trade is concerned, but that has not happened yet.