EU: Financial Stability and Economic Growth — Debate

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:29 pm on 3rd November 2011.

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Photo of Lord Teverson Lord Teverson Chair, EU Sub-Committee C - Foreign Affairs, Defence and Development Policy 3:29 pm, 3rd November 2011

My Lords, I welcome this debate as well. The crux of it is the Government's and the United Kingdom's ability to help financial stability and growth in Europe. That is a natural role for us because the United Kingdom is self-evidently part of Europe. We are part of it geographically and economically-as has already been described in the debate-and, absolutely, culturally. I was thinking about this area in particular. Contrast with this country the Obama healthcare reforms in the United States and how they have been received by the media culturally, and all the difficulties that that has caused in terms of ideas of socialism-and that is moving nowhere near to universal healthcare. Here, we have a health Bill going through where even what are seen as contentious propositions guarantee universal delivery, free at the point of need, and competition but not price competition. It shows that there is a big gulf culturally with the Atlantic, and that Britain is very much a European-style nation in the way that it looks at a number of things.

The only way that Britain can contribute towards that economic and financial stability is if it is able to have and promote that influence. My noble friend Lord Newby has already talked about some of that, but I want to emphasise it in the financial regulation area, which is part of the debate. I fully understand why the Financial Services Authority has to be abolished in that it was seen to fail very strongly in its strategic prudential regulation over the last few years. However, there is concern that, in its division into the financial conduct authority and the prudential authority, we could lose our single voice within the new economic and financial structures-in Brussels, the ESMA and the banking authority. I am sure the Minister is also concerned about that area as a high priority. I would be interested to hear the Government's view.

The other area I mention is the one my noble friend Lord Newby raised, which is parliamentary influence. In the last European elections, I would say there were two major winners. One was the Conservative Party. Out of our 72 seats on an assembly of some 730 Members, 26 Conservatives were elected, 13 UKIP Members-a great result for UKIP-with Labour equal on 13, and the Liberal Democrats slightly below with 11. Yet in the European Parliament itself, which post-Lisbon has very literally equal powers with the Council of Ministers in terms of legislation and therefore British interests, the European People's Party dominates in terms of numbers with more than 200 Members-it is the largest party-with the Socialist Group below that at 184, and then the liberal group well below that at 84. Those are the three parties with real control. As in this Parliament and any other Parliament, in the European Parliament-unless one is in the point of balance-power depends on numbers. That is where influence is. I greatly regret that my coalition partners in Europe are in a group that is roughly equal with the Greens, and has absolutely no influence in the power structure of that Parliament at all. I would love to see it change. We have to keep that influence in Europe to ensure the stability that we are looking at there.

The IMF has been mentioned. I was not going to talk about the IMF loans particularly in this debate, but I will spend my last minute on a short excursion on that. I went to New England for the first time this summer, though I have been to the United States many times. I went to New Hampshire and, being a bit of an anorak and an economics student, I noticed that Bretton Woods, which is a minute settlement at the top of New Hampshire, was within striking range. I made my own pilgrimage to the Bretton Woods Washington hotel. Give it its credit: it still has the pictures there of John Maynard Keynes and the other people who came together to put together the post-war financial system. That system-the IMF side of it-has largely survived. It would be a great regret, as that change and that strategy was largely led by Britain, if we were not a participant in carrying forward those obligations.

We have a great role in Europe. Ironically, during the Delors/Thatcher time we pushed Europe forward more than has been done over the last few decades. We must, in this country, make sure that that momentum continues. We must not be marginalised.