Motion to Take Note

Part of European Banking Union: EUC Report – in the House of Lords at 6:10 pm on 24th January 2013.

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Photo of Lord Liddle Lord Liddle Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs) 6:10 pm, 24th January 2013

My Lords, I begin with two personal points. First, I declare an interest in that the think tank that I chair, Policy Network, has in the past received support from the City of London Corporation. Secondly, it is a pleasure to welcome the noble Lord, my brother-in-law, to the Front Bench opposite. Therefore, there will not be an excess of partisanship on this occasion on my part.

As always, it has been an interesting debate, not least because of the final contribution from my noble friend Lord Desai, which I am still trying to absorb. My noble friend Lord Harrison began the debate with an admirable summary of his report. As usual, one wishes that the country was governed by the committees of your Lordships' House rather than by the prejudices of its Executive, because we would be much better governed. It is an admirable report.

An interesting, rather off-the-wall point was made by the noble Baroness, Lady Falkner. It is something on which I have long reflected: why is discussion of Europe such a male-dominated subject? That is not something that we should discuss at length today, but we have to take it very seriously if the pro-Europeans want any chance of winning a referendum, so thank you to the noble Baroness for raising that issue.

I want to make three points. First, on the state of the euro itself, I believe that adjustment is on the way. Things are a lot better than they were. The question is whether what is occurring is socially and politically sustainable. I do not think that it will be without more fiscal flexibility. Nor do I think that it will be sustainable without considerable debt write-offs, particularly after the German elections in September. There will have to be an element of a transfer union to make the position of the mezzogiorno of the south, which the noble Lord, Lord Trimble, mentioned, sustainable. That will require further steps towards banking union, particularly in the case of Spain, because there is such an obvious link between bank debts and the sovereign debt position.

My second point is on the Britain in Europe debate. Banking union is the fourth major institutional development since the euro crisis started from which the United Kingdom has stood aside. There was the European stability mechanism, the euro-plus pact, the fiscal compact and now the banking union, which was agreed in principle in June 2012, and which the British urged the eurozone to get on with. Indeed, I think George Osborne first recommended it as long ago as January 2011. He was very foresighted about that, but it is something from which we have chosen to stand aside.

If you read what this is about, while in the British debate it is presented as a measure to rescue the single currency, in the continental debate it is about the creation of what is called a financial market union. I think the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, pointed that out. In the British Government's view, this is all part of a clear narrative in which the eurozone is integrating and we have to establish a new kind of settlement and relationship with the members outside it; that is the British Government's narrative. However, the real question is: to whom does this narrative apply, other than the United Kingdom? How many other euro-outs share this conception of the British narrative? I might ask the Government what their view of that is.

That is a crucial point, first, in informing a view about the sustainability of the safeguards that the Government obtained on the banking union in the December 2012 summit. Secondly, it is fundamental to whether David Cameron's essential assertion in his speech yesterday-that the core of Europe is the single market-is right. For most members, however, will it actually be the single currency? This point is fundamental because it is a question of whether we are going along with the support of other euro-outs, to try to negotiate a balanced relationship between outs and ins, or whether we are just making a case for special treatment for Britain, which will be far more difficult to negotiate.

The third point I want to make is about the position of the City of London. These are not just intellectual exercises; we are talking about something that is fundamental to our national interests. I have long believed that the UK is overdependent on financial services and I support the whole concept of rebalancing the economy towards manufacturing. My noble friend Lord Mandelson's comment was right; there has been too much financial engineering and not enough real engineering. I agree with all that. However, the City is a crucial national interest and the financial centre of the single market. I also agree with the noble Lord, Lord Flight, that it is global and very resilient but it has benefited a lot from the single market in Europe-particularly from the opening-up of the financial single market, a lot of which occurred under the previous Labour Government.

Of course, no one worried about this at the time because it was the era of light-touch regulation. No one worried about the financial imbalances that were building up between countries and the lack of cross-border regulation. Well, the banking crisis changed all that and the Government recognised the need for regulation at EU level. It was a good thing that the Conservative Government, including Chancellor Osborne, accepted when they came in what Chancellor Darling had already agreed to: the establishment of European regulatory agencies.