My Lords, I add my congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, on the work of his committee and on his contribution today. He is a friend and a colleague of many years' standing-indeed, going all the way back to our years in the European Parliament, where he was especially renowned for his championing of small and medium-sized businesses. I know that he continues with that cause in your Lordships' House.
This evening, my noble friend Lord Harrison has presented the House with a first-class, thorough and, I think, essentially pragmatic report on the most vital economic issue of the day-the euro area crisis. I had a first read of the report over the weekend. I know that it will repay further study and that it will be a guide to all of us in this time of extreme difficulty and uncertainty throughout Europe.
This is a time, if ever there was one, for stout-hearted men-and, in my case, just stout women-to rally to the European vision while holding our nerve, if both actions can be achieved together. This is certainly not the time for the rather startling questioning of the whole basis of our membership of the European Union, as some in our political parties, especially but not solely in UKIP, are engaging in currently, and this is where the bulk of my short remarks tonight will be concentrated. As the report before us says unequivocally:
"The EU, and the euro area in particular, face massive challenges and there is a need for effective and proactive leadership both from the EU institutions and Member States, in the interests of the wider Union"- leadership, not carping, questioning and indecision. The importance of maintaining the euro cannot be overstated for our fiscal and economic health internationally.
As we know, these are perilous economic times, as the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, said. The UK is running a trade deficit of £2.7 billion per month, unemployment is an extremely worrying 8% and our annualised rate of GDP growth is so small that it can be detected only inside the Hadron Collider. Meanwhile, we still sell around £15 billion-worth of exports to the EU27 alone each month. Around 30% of all imports to Ireland, for example, are from the UK.
So I say this to those in the political class who are raising the possibility of referendums: with the turmoil in the eurozone and seriously depleted growth prospects in Spain, Portugal, Greece, Italy and Ireland-although, as the report says, Ireland is giving us some hope for the future-are we seriously suggesting that it is in the best long-term interests of British companies and British workers to start the debate about EU membership all over again, to revitalise the politics of what I would call the very worst of provincial isolationism in Britain and to tolerate the possibility that we could start dismantling every piece of European legislation introduced in the UK since the 1970s? Do we think that it is in the long-term interests of British workers and British companies to send the signal to large global corporations and the Governments of the USA and China alike that, in our troubled but emphatically interdependent world, the British political class would prefer to give the British economy over to a kind of nervous breakdown just because some people, who probably wear Union Jack waistcoats when alone in their homes, want to go back to the days of Commonwealth preference, pounds, shillings and pence, black and white television, jumpers for goalposts and long queues at airports for anyone without that old black passport?
It is not a question of being pro- or anti-European these days; it is a question of pro- or anti-economic sanity. Withdrawing from Europe makes as much sense as the people of Hampstead declaring UDI from London, or trying to divert the flow of the Thames, or shifting the UK's longitude. No major party represented in your Lordships' House went into the general election campaign promising a referendum on the European Union and this is certainly not the time to start.
Instead, I respectfully suggest that we should steer our focus to what the report refers to as,
"ultimately the resumption of sustainable economic growth", across the European Union. We should also listen to people such as Mario Monti, the Prime Minister of Italy, or President Hollande, who are beginning to construct a serious debate about the bridge between austerity measures and the vital necessity for growth. As my noble friend Lord Monks said, in his excellent contribution, this should be our sole focus in these difficult times.
Before resuming my seat, I shall, if I may, congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Boswell of Aynho, and welcome him to his new duties, and thank the noble Lord, Lord Roper, for his excellent work over many years.