European Union Fiscal Union — [Annette Brooke in the Chair]

– in Westminster Hall at 2:30 pm on 14th September 2011.

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Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash Chair, European Scrutiny Committee, Chair, European Scrutiny Committee 2:30 pm, 14th September 2011

In the light of developments not only today but over the past several decades, not to mention more immediate events since the Lisbon treaty and the general election, I am glad to have the opportunity to deal with the question that has been embedded in the history of the European Community and the European Union over a long period. It relates to the creation of a two-tier Europe, which the fiscal union appears to represent. I cross-examined the Prime Minister on the issue in the Liaison Committee about a week ago, and I cannot say that his answers were satisfactory. I therefore take this opportunity to reply, vicariously through the Minister, to the Prime Minister on a number of the matters that remain outstanding.

Mr Barroso, the unelected President of the European Commission, gave a speech this morning, lecturing the whole European Union, and the world for that matter—not to mention the United Kingdom—on what is to be done about the mess that has been created over the past 20-odd years. In fact, it is much more than that, but I shall draw a line at the Maastricht treaty for present purposes; otherwise, we will be here all night.

Curiously, Mr Barroso takes the view that, in the short term, there has to be—surprise, surprise—reinforced economic governance. He also argues that all this can be done only by way of the Community method; in other words, nothing changes. In his speech, he had the temerity, despite the failure of the Lisbon agenda and the 2020 agenda, to say:

“Growth is key and we must use all instruments available to promote growth”.

He went on to talk about using the Single Market Act to promote sustainable growth. Then, somewhat ominously, he referred to his promise—this is not just a floated idea—that

“the European Commission will very soon propose a Financial Transaction Tax.”

The clear implication is that that will apply to the European Union as a whole. It would be interesting to hear what the Minister has to say about that.

Mr Barroso went on to talk about the governance of the euro area, saying:

“A system based purely on intergovernmental cooperation has not worked in the past and will not work in the future. After all, this is why the Community method and the European Union institutions were created by the member states in the first place.”

He continued:

“The Economic and Monetary Union cannot function properly only on the basis of decisions taken by unanimity,”

So there goes that veto. He went on:

“Because if a eurosceptic fringe”—

I suspect that that refers to the likes of me and, I hope, other Members of the Government, and certainly to the majority of hon. Members who have turned up to this debate—

“can determine the position of one Member State and one Member State can block decisions, the result is that we are not credible.”

That raises the question, of course, of whether the policies are credible in the first place.

Photo of Kelvin Hopkins Kelvin Hopkins Labour, Luton North

On the Eurosceptic fringe, the fact is that, on many occasions when referendums have been held, the majority have voted in a Eurosceptic way, so it is possible that there is a Eurosceptic majority in the European Union.

Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash Chair, European Scrutiny Committee, Chair, European Scrutiny Committee

Opinion polls in this country have regularly indicated that 70% want a referendum and, moreover, would vote yes against the idea of the continuation of our present relationship with the European Union. People want renegotiation and if they do not get it, they want to leave. That is the position.

We are confronted with an incredibly serious situation that is getting worse. There will be a telephone conference this afternoon—it might already be in progress, at the very moment when we are debating this question—between Monsieur Sarkozy, Angela Merkel and Papandreou, because the system has failed. If, however, we raise the question of its failure, the response is, “We don’t want less Europe; we want more,” so they want more integration, not less.

Photo of Jake Berry Jake Berry Conservative, Rossendale and Darwen

Will my hon. Friend concede that the system was set up to fail by the fiddling of figures when it was established?

Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash Chair, European Scrutiny Committee, Chair, European Scrutiny Committee

Yes, I certainly will. In the case of Greece, it is perfectly clear that, to put it bluntly, misrepresentations —and even lies—were contained in the statistical base on which it was brought in. Indeed, even the present German Chancellor has criticised the way in which it was allowed to come in when it did.

In his speech, Mr Barroso said:

“The conclusion I draw is crystal clear—The only right way to stop the negative cycle and to strengthen the euro is to deepen integration, namely within the Euro area, based on the Community method.”

He went on to say:

“What we need now is a new, unifying impulse—‘un nouveau moment fédérateur’”.

Let us get this clear—he means a new moment of federal fervour, although that is my translation. He continued by saying,

“let’s not be afraid of the word, moment fédérateur is indispensable.”

He went on:

“It has become clear that we need an even greater integration of our economic and budgetary policies.”

Do not get the impression that he is referring exclusively to the proposed fiscal union. His ambitions extend to the whole European Union. This is a call to arms by the Eurofanatics—let us be in no doubt about that.

On eurobonds, Mr Barroso, having said that we need even greater integration of our economic and budgetary policies, confirms that the Commission, again, on behalf of the European Union,

“will soon present options for the introduction of Eurobonds”,

on which, as it happens, the German constitutional court has cast grave aspersions. Indeed, I understand that the President of the German Republic has also said that he regards them as illegal. I could spend a lot of time going into that, but I do not need to for the moment. Mr Barroso said:

“Some of these options could be implemented within the terms of the current Treaty”— that is the abominable Lisbon treaty, which we accepted after we had opposed it as a party, united together, and called for a referendum that we never got—

“and others would require Treaty change.”

I wanted to draw all those matters to the attention of my colleagues, because they are the latest emanations from the European Commission. This is what it is about and, as we speak, none of it is being reported.

Photo of Graham Stringer Graham Stringer Labour, Blackley and Broughton

The hon. Gentleman is describing something that is not surprising; we are getting milk from the milkman in terms of the statements that he has read. Does he, like me, find it depressing that the Front-Bench representatives of both main parties argue for less democracy, rather than more, in the eurozone?

Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash Chair, European Scrutiny Committee, Chair, European Scrutiny Committee

That is absolutely the case, and it is very depressing. The whole objective of the treaty arrangement, from its inception and the days of Jean Monnet onwards—and as evidenced by recent treaties, including the Lisbon treaty—is essentially undemocratic.

Implementing the measure would create a situation in which people in this country, who in general elections have voted through their own free choice at the ballot box for policies, were denied those policies because the proposals brought forward by majority voting in the European Union are inimical to growth and deficit reduction.

I shall explain why it is so fundamentally wrong for the Prime Minister, the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the coalition Government as a whole—under the baleful influence of the Liberal Democrats—to advocate the idea of a fiscal union. For reasons that I will explain, fiscal union is immensely damaging to the national interest and our economy.

Photo of Anne Main Anne Main Conservative, St Albans

Does my hon. Friend share my concern that it is the language surrounding these new moves that is deeply worrying? I believe that those people who had a chance to vote on whether they wanted to join what they thought was the common market would never have done so at any time if the rhetoric that we are now hearing had been used then. The language being used relates to deeper fiscal integration, eurobonds and basically subsuming what the British people want. That is why we need to ask the people again whether they wish to embark on this experimental project.

Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash Chair, European Scrutiny Committee, Chair, European Scrutiny Committee

I am grateful for that intervention. Indeed, when the Chancellor of the Exchequer made his statement—which he slipped in, as it were, in the middle of the emergency debate on the riots—he said that he was going to promote the idea, and that the Prime Minister had already spoken to Mrs Angela Merkel and Mr Sarkozy and had encouraged them to go ahead with fiscal union.

In addition, he said that he, as Chancellor, had already made overtures to other Chancellors in other member states advocating the idea of fiscal union. When he said that, he was ignoring the fact that the consequences of going down that route would, as I said at the time, have been such that even Edward Heath would not have proposed it back in 1971-2. Indeed, if hon. Members look at the White Paper produced at that time, they will see that it says that we would retain the veto in our national interest and that to fail to do so would not only be immensely damaging to the United Kingdom, but would even endanger

“the fabric of the European community itself.”

Since then, we have had an accumulation and aggregation of policies in defiance of the democratic issues and principles to which Graham Stringer referred—and, indeed, in defiance of the wishes of the people of this country and, as Kelvin Hopkins said, of other member states such as Ireland, Denmark, Holland and France. Every single time a referendum, which shows the democratic wishes of the people in question, has been overriden, we are being taken down a route that, above all else, does not work. That is the problem.

Apart from the matters of principle, the real problem is that such an approach does not work and is now causing immense damage. For example, there are incredibly high levels of youth unemployment in places such as Spain, where 47% of young people are unemployed. There are similar levels of unemployment in Greece and Italy, although the figures are not quite as high as 47%.

I do not need to read all the figures out, but the official statistics for unemployment among youths under 25 are 46.2% for Spain, over 23% for eight countries and 32% for one country. This is not a working system; this is a system that is destroying people’s aspirations and prosperity.

Photo of Gregory Campbell Gregory Campbell Shadow Minister (International Development), Shadow Minister (Transport)

I commend the hon. Gentleman for securing the debate. I agree with what he is saying, particularly his comments about the system simply not working. However, does he agree that part of the problem that the United Kingdom is faced with is that we need to have a cohesive alternative to the total integration policy that he is outlining, which I am sure is completely different from the approach that he will discuss shortly? A practical coherent alternative needs to be laid out by our Government to try to lead ourselves out of the mess into which we have got over the past 20 years.

Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash Chair, European Scrutiny Committee, Chair, European Scrutiny Committee

I am extremely grateful to the hon. Gentleman. He may recall that I raised the matter in Prime Minister’s questions, when I asked when the Prime Minister would lead us out of the mess that had been created by the existing treaties. This morning on the “Today” programme, we heard Lord Lawson of Blaby echoing that call and saying that he had always had grave reservations about the political union. I can only say that when the Maastricht treaty came and went, a lot of those arguments developed at the same time. The hon. Gentleman is completely right in saying that we must have a constructive alternative.

I have always advocated the idea of our working effectively with a European system capable of producing the right results. In fact, I hope that no one will mind my holding up a copy of a book that I wrote in 1990 called “Against a Federal Europe: the Battle for Britain.” I think I can confidently say that there is not very much in there that I would change and that most of it appears to have come true. To answer the question asked by Mr Campbell, I should say that it is very alarming to note that the first chapter is entitled “Britain for Europe”; it is not only a case of “Britain for Britain” but of “Britain for Europe,” because it is certainly true that we are affected by what goes on in the other member states.

As I have said many times before, the answer to the question is to go down the route of having an association of nation states, whereby we would return the right and proper power to this Parliament to make judgments on behalf of the people who have chosen us in a ballot box, to follow through policies, and to try to work in a form of understanding made on the basis of trade and political co-operation.

That was the situation anticipated by the 1975 debate when we had the referendum, which people understood. However since then, there has been onward and continuous progress towards ever further integration in an ever more undemocratic and ever more dictatorial manner. The time has come when we have to draw a line. It should have been drawn a long time ago. We drew it as a party over Lisbon. We said that we would not accept that treaty, but now here we are implementing it like there was no tomorrow.

A rather intriguing article by Camilla Cavendish was published on 8 September—only a few days ago—in The Times, which also had rather a good leader, either on the same day or the day before. It is rather amusing that she says:

“It’s no longer cuckoo to take the Swiss road; Britain and the EU are no longer going in the same direction. We should grab the chance for an amicable divorce”.

She then explains how that would be done. Essentially, she is arguing for an association of nation states, as many of us have. We are at a dangerous crossroads. A particular reason for this debate is the fact that the idea of fiscal union is being promoted. In our opinion—or in my opinion, anyway—that is entirely the wrong direction to take in the context of the broad landscape that I have been seeking to identify.

Photo of Henry Smith Henry Smith Conservative, Crawley

My hon. Friend is making a persuasive argument. On the point of European nations not being members of the EU but being very successful, the article that he mentions refers to Switzerland, but there have recently also been articles about how the Norwegian krone is attracting a lot of investment. That is another example of a successful European nation outside the EU, which reinforces the point that an association of nation states rather than a political union is the best way forward.

Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash Chair, European Scrutiny Committee, Chair, European Scrutiny Committee

I endorse entirely what my hon. Friend has said. We are at a crossroads and it is a very dangerous crossroads. We have to get it right. It simply is not good enough to appease the European institutions by going along with their ideas when we have our own national interest to stand by, support and protect. We are not just talking about institutional arguments; we are talking about real people, their real daily lives, the unemployed and the people who cannot increase the enterprise of their businesses.

I was deeply concerned in my exchanges with the Prime Minister. I put a question to him on the question of the single market. In reply, he made it clear that he was conscious of a fact, which I had put in a pamphlet that I had published the day before. The pamphlet, by the way, is called “It’s the EU stupid”, because we have got to a stage where it is obvious that the EU is at the root of so many of these problems.

On the question of the single market, I pointed out to the Prime Minister that if there is a fiscal union of certain member states it is inevitable, as a matter of solidarity, that they will use the treaties to transfer their own wishes, through majority voting and a block vote, in a way that will be contrary to our own domestic economic interests. What would be the point of a fiscal union if, when it came to questions of legislation relating to the economy, the member states were not prepared to vote together? They will. When they do, and they outvote us, that will gravely undermine our competitiveness and our ability to grow small and medium-sized businesses. It will affect our growth. It will damage and destroy our prospects of reducing the deficit, because it will lead to a reduction in growth, which is already stagnant.

Photo of John Redwood John Redwood Conservative, Wokingham

Does my hon. Friend think that we should allow the fiscal union to go ahead, for those who wish to join it, if our Government negotiated for us independent democratic control over everything here that mattered to us as the price for making that sacrifice?

Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash Chair, European Scrutiny Committee, Chair, European Scrutiny Committee

The short answer is that it would depend on how the renegotiation went. If the renegotiation was entirely in line with protecting fully our own interests, if it were guaranteed that we were not tied to the existing arrangements by a treaty that drew us in to all the adverse consequences of being part of this overall European Union in the shape and form that it has at the moment and if we could manage to achieve the perfect answer, then that would be a good idea. However, I do not think that that is the way it is going to go. I think that we will put forward positions, if we ever get to the point of renegotiating the treaties. A meeting took place a couple of days ago in which it was clear that a very large number of MPs in the Conservative party want renegotiation. Some of us have been arguing for that for 20 years. However, the fact is that that is the position in the party as a whole. The question is not only whether we want to renegotiate, but how that would be done.

Photo of Bernard Jenkin Bernard Jenkin Chair, Public Administration Committee

My hon. Friend makes an important distinction. The Chancellor of the Exchequer seems to be suggesting that we would consent to a fiscal union provided that we were insulated in some way from the direct effects of that fiscal union. My right hon. Friend Mr Redwood is saying something much more profound, which is that we should use this opportunity to recover control over a whole lot of policies that are already damaging the British economy, and continue to damage the British economy, whether there is a fiscal union or not. It is that latter position that has to be, ultimately, subject to a referendum, or the danger is that we will sell the pass on fiscal union and we will not recover very much.

Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash Chair, European Scrutiny Committee, Chair, European Scrutiny Committee

I agree with that entirely. My hon. Friend is very much in line with the views of many us on this side of the Chamber, which is that if this is going to be done, let it be done properly. Let us not nibble away at some of the minor matters. Let us get down to the real nub of the issue and say that this kind of Europe is not a

Europe with which we are prepared to continue. The status quo is completely untenable, and so a referendum question that dealt with those matters—including the question of fiscal union, because it will be so damaging, and I will give further examples of where I think it would be damaging in a moment—should be: do we want to leave the European Union all together; or, given that the status quo is untenable, do we want to renegotiate the treaties?

We now know that the bulk of the Conservative party, which, after all, is the bulk of the Government, wants renegotiation. The next question is, are we just going to nibble away and pretend that it is renegotiation, or are we going to get down to the structural questions and really do it? I believe very strongly that the Prime Minister has an obligation to go the next summit and to put forward proposals for renegotiating those treaties in a way that would actually change the entire system. If the other member states say, “No, we are not prepared to put up with that,” then we will deal with that situation at that point in time. The case for a referendum in either event, to my mind, is completely unanswerable.

On the question of fiscal union itself and damage to the United Kingdom, I have already mentioned the problems that will arise in relation to the single market bloc voting arrangements. We are always being told that our trading relationship with the EU is vital to us, and that it represents approximately 50% of our trade. Some dispute that, but the reality is that it is a substantial proportion of our trade. However, if one actually looks at the net results of the so-called benefits of that trading relationship, I am bound to say that in the past year alone, between 2009 and 2010, our trade deficit with the European Union, the other 26 member states, has gone from minus £14 billion to minus £53 billion. The deficit has leapt up by £40 billion in one year.

Those figures are taken from the House of Commons Library and the Office for National Statistics, so I am not going to dispute them—others may wish to do so, but they are official figures. I have repeated them several times and no one has challenged me on them. That demonstrates that our trade with the rest of the European Union is not working. The reasons for that are over-regulation and a system of economic constraints that prevent us from allowing our small businesses to grow. After all, small businesses make up the greatest percentage, by a massive amount, of the prosperity of this country. The downside of our failure to grow is increasing unemployment. We heard the figures today. The truth is that we are not growing because we are trading with a Europe that is bankrupt, except for Germany.

There is also the question of the position vis-à-vis the City of London. The Minister and I have crossed swords on this from the very outset. When the de Larosière report came out—it was about four years ago, I think—I wrote letters to the Financial Times, several of which it published. I argued that we had to keep the City of London within the framework of our own legislation and not appease those in the European Union, such as those in France and elsewhere, who would like to take control over our City of London. The Government caved in, and now the whole City of London is within the jurisdiction of the European institutions and the rules and regulations that will be made there. Every single time there is a new problem in the City of London, we will have to ask ourselves to what extent it is the consequence of that fatal mistake.

Photo of John Redwood John Redwood Conservative, Wokingham

Does my hon. Friend agree that the situation causes the electorate to believe that we have a dishonest political debate in this country? We are having a big argument over the Vickers report and how and when it should be implemented, whereas it will all be settled under the capital requirements directive, CRD IV. I do not see the point of the Vickers report.

Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash Chair, European Scrutiny Committee, Chair, European Scrutiny Committee

That is all part of the problem. I have been on the European Scrutiny Committee for 26 years now, and over and over again I have found that legislation brought to this House is based on European legislation, but that is never disclosed. People do not say, “Oh, by the way, we have got to do this, therefore we are going to,” so we go through a charade of passing legislation as if we have control over it. The Whips move in like the clappers, saying, “You can’t possibly vote against this, because it’s all based on European legislation that we have already agreed to under the European Communities Act.” In reality, we are being governed by Europe, and that is my greatest objection—plus the democratic question, which the hon. Member for Blackley and Broughton has mentioned—and why I got so exercised about the Maastricht treaty. We have gone beyond that now, and what we are faced with is much more critical, but we can remedy it if we renegotiate the treaties.

Photo of Bernard Jenkin Bernard Jenkin Chair, Public Administration Committee

Before my hon. Friend leaves those shocking trade figures too far behind him, do they not demonstrate another factor? Our European partners, notably Germany, have far more to lose by disrupting the trading relationships between us and the rest of the EU than us. I do not diminish the point that we want to maintain the free movement of goods within a customs union, if we can, but the idea that they simply will not talk to us or chuck us out is absolutely ludicrous.

Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash Chair, European Scrutiny Committee, Chair, European Scrutiny Committee

Given the growth the rates elsewhere in Europe and the complete mess that the eurocrats and other Governments—including our own—have created, allowing us to get into this parlous state, it is inconceivable that they would dare to argue that somehow or other they could operate without us. That suggestion is simply child’s play and a joke, although it has got beyond a joke because it is so serious. That seriousness might come out this afternoon, but it will certainly come out—as night follows day—over the next few months.

I have been looking into the £53 billion trade deficit. I made some further inquiries, because I wanted a breakdown, and I was given the figures yesterday. In the trade balance of £53 billion against us, £17 billion is in vehicles—cars and lorries. In other words, we have destroyed or have had destroyed our manufacturing base in car making—as my hon. Friend the Member for Luton North knows that better than me—and yet our trade in commercial and other vehicles is now on a monumentally adverse basis.

Another point that I am bound to make, which is deeply concerning, concerns the consequences of the departure of one or more states from the European Union, which some advocate. Some will have read Hans-Olaf Henkel in the Financial Times the other day. He is the former head of German industry, the equivalent of the director-general of the CBI, and he said that the “biggest professional mistake” of his life was to have supported the euro process, which is an important statement from someone of his standing. He is completely against the idea of the European Union as it now is. Germany has some very important voices, because it is effectively the paymaster for the rest of Europe.

Our negative trade balance with Germany is devastating. I was in Poland the other day, and I looked at its trade figures. I suspect that a lot of people in Poland desperately want to remain within the framework of some protective system but are deeply worried about the imbalance between Germany and Poland. And so it goes on—if we look at the Greek or Spanish situations and at the bottom line, what is happening with fiscal union is also, to use an expression, the creation of a greater Germany. For practical purposes, if we examine what is said at the various meetings, no one can be in any doubt that the Germans call the shots. The Germans are benefiting enormously from the European Union for one reason, which is that they are benefiting from their investment in other countries.

In that context, I have the figures for unit labour costs, if anyone is interested. In the past 10 years, German unit labour costs have gone up by only 2%. The average of all the other member states put together has unit labour costs increasing by no less than 25%. That is worth thinking about. Not only do we have the most monumental trade balance against us with Germany, but its trade balance with the rest of Europe is monumentally in its favour, and the Germans have done that largely through what we might call their skill or commercial nous. None the less, they have managed to do it and so they make huge profits from other parts of the European Union. Let us not be taken in by the argument that, somehow or other, Germany will suddenly go walkabout. The Germans get so much out of the European Union, and Angela Merkel is making it clear that they will continue to do so, and that is one of the reasons why Germany is so committed to political union. That does not mean, however, that it is in our interest.

Photo of George Eustice George Eustice Conservative, Camborne and Redruth

My hon. Friend gets to the nub of the issue—whether it is realistic to expect the Germans to accept mutual liability with countries such as Greece, Spain and Portugal. It was different when they wanted to reunite Germany, and when West Germany was prepared to accept some of the liabilities of East Germany. Does he accept the difference, and that that is why going to full fiscal integration to prop up the euro is a very big decision for the Germans?

Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash Chair, European Scrutiny Committee, Chair, European Scrutiny Committee

I very much agree with that. I put that same point to the Prime Minister in the Liaison Committee last week. I asked him whether he seriously believed that Germany was going to be able to bail out the other member states. The money is simply not there. To imagine that Germany could carry the weight of the Spanish debt is, as Camilla Cavendish has said, complete cloud cuckoo land. We can see the Italian position getting increasingly out of control, while the Greek situation is beyond critical. Greece should exit the euro—that is perfectly clear—but there are desperate attempts to prevent it happening, although that is literally trying to do something impossible. One might as well believe, as Alice said in Wonderland,

“six impossible things before breakfast”,

and the truth is that one of them is the idea that Germany will be able to sustain the whole of the European Union or, indeed, that its own people will allow that. All the evidence is that there is a very serious concern that they simply cannot afford to do it and that they do not want to do it. I will not give all the instances, because they are so well reported in the newspapers and other media.

Photo of Richard Shepherd Richard Shepherd Conservative, Aldridge-Brownhills

One of the reasons that things have worked quite well for Germany is that, without the southern countries, the exchange rate of the euro would have been even higher. They therefore helped suppress the exchange rate in the free markets, to some extent, which has been of benefit to Germany.

Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash Chair, European Scrutiny Committee, Chair, European Scrutiny Committee

Absolutely right. Germany has gained much, but now the chickens are coming home to roost. The system is not working because the Germans have made investments in other countries. If we look at the Greek sovereign debt situation, an enormous amount of investment—by far the greatest amount—is from Germany, followed by France. So the sovereign debt question is now part of the overall problem of Europe as a whole, and the mess created, which many of us predicted, is now with us. Any sovereign debt default will become all the more serious the longer that the European Union attempts to sustain the euro. Economists such as Tim Congdon and others have made that case, but it is absolutely clear that the situation will get worse the longer that the European Union tries to put sticking plaster over what is a clear case for complete renegotiation of the treaties to get some sanity back into the situation.

The idea that those of us who are eurorealists and who have argued this case for so long would take any satisfaction from the fact that the situation might implode is complete rubbish. Of course we do not want it to implode; we want to get stability back, to reduce our deficit and to increase growth, but none of those things can happen if we have over-regulation, too much integration and too much governance from European institutions, which prevent oxygen reaching our small and medium-sized businesses. That is an issue not only for this country, but for other countries, which all face greater and greater unemployment. I therefore strongly urge the Prime Minister to sort this out at the next summit.

We cannot create growth unless the money to pay for the public sector comes from reasonable taxation on private enterprise. It must be reasonable taxation, because growth must come from the development of small and medium-sized businesses. There is no way we will reduce the deficit if we continue trading as we are with a Europe that is bankrupt, with the exception of Germany. Incidentally, while we had a £53 billion trade deficit with the EU in 2010—that went up by £40 billion in one year—we had a trade surplus with the rest of the world of £7 billion, and it could be much more if we made the big strategic change that I am proposing. That, too, underpins my resistance to the idea of fiscal union.

Fiscal union will lead to greater implosion, greater sovereign debt, more defaults and more trouble. It might also—I say this cautiously—lead to the rise of the far right, because that is the consequence of implosion in democracies and of their being forced into situations where their people start saying, “We’re not going to put up with this any more.” One has to be careful about what is done. That is the dangerous crossroads we are at, and the Prime Minister must make the right call.

Photo of Denis MacShane Denis MacShane Labour, Rotherham

As I understand it, the Chancellor is rather keen on fiscal union. Does that mean that the hon. Gentleman opposes the Chancellor’s point of view?

Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash Chair, European Scrutiny Committee, Chair, European Scrutiny Committee

The answer is yes. I did not say it so emphatically, but I said so when the Chancellor made his announcement in the House. I said that even Edward Heath would not have done what we were seeing now, so that probably sums the situation up quite well.

In my exchanges with the Prime Minister about fiscal union—I understand that these things can come out of the blue, but I wonder about the extent to which that was the case—he said:

“Of course, it will have an effect on us, but the clear rule for a referendum…is whether we are transferring power from Britain to Brussels.”

I do not agree that that is the basis for a referendum. It would be under the European Union Act 2011, but where a European decision, treaty or other legal instrument —in this case, there will be a mixture of those—applied on the face of it only to the eurozone, there would, under section 4, be no referendum.

That is why I have introduced a Bill saying we should have a referendum, and that Bill is supported by no less than six Select Committee Chairs, plus some distinguished Members, such as my right hon. Friend Mr Redwood, and members of the new intake who have taken a great interest in these matters. As I have said, the Bill has been presented, and the good news is that there will be a ten-minute rule Bill debate in October—the Leader of the House is here, and he knows that already. The Bill is intended to advance the case for a referendum on fiscal union.

In the Liaison Committee, the Prime Minister seemed pretty confident that there would not be a treaty. When I said:

“you are implying that there might not be a treaty” , he said—this was on 6 September

“There is an important point on the issue of the treaty…Let us be clear: no one in Europe at the moment is currently talking about a new major treaty to put in place deeper fiscal union or changes in the eurozone. That may well happen in future…and if it were to happen, there would be consequences for Britain. Britain should think carefully about how to maximise our national interest”.

My answer to that is, first, that we now know that there will be a treaty, because the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced it from Marseilles. Secondly, I do not see how Britain can maximise its national interests when the new treaty, by its very nature, will erode the heart of those vital national interests.

There will be consequences for Britain, which raises another issue. We know there will be a treaty. As Mr Barroso said this morning—the Prime Minister has said this, too—it will be dealt with through a mixed bag of measures. Part of the process will no doubt be dealt with through enhanced co-operation, although the legality of that is very questionable indeed, and the European Scrutiny Committee will certainly look at that. Part of the process may also be dealt with through European Council decisions and intergovernmentalism, if those involved can get away with it. However, the bottom line is that the policy and the judgment are wrong, and we should not promote them. The best thing that I can suggest, therefore, is that we go to the next summit, put down a clear marker and insist that we will refuse to accept the treaty for fiscal union.

Photo of Henry Smith Henry Smith Conservative, Crawley

Would our position as a country not be further strengthened in the negotiations if other EU members knew that any decision would be subject to a referendum in this country? The worst time to make irreversible treaty changes is during a crisis.

Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash Chair, European Scrutiny Committee, Chair, European Scrutiny Committee

I could not agree more. That is why I am making the plea that we get ahead of the curve now, although it is almost too late. We should get ahead of the curve now, get things right now and make sure that the crisis that we are in is remedied in good time. We will then be able to make sure that we get things right. However, that will involve turning the current treaty arrangements into an association of nation states. It will mean abandoning the current concept of the institutions, directly in opposition to Mr Barroso’s proposals today. The crisis is very great, but our ability to grow our economy and reduce the deficit—the very raison d’être of the coalition agreement, which said that that was the way to proceed—will be totally undermined unless the proposals that I have set out are pursued with vigour now.

Mrs Brooke, I am glad to have been able to make some of the arguments, and I hope that you will listen to the rest of the debate with pleasure.

Several hon. Members:

rose —

Photo of Annette Brooke Annette Brooke Liberal Democrat, Mid Dorset and North Poole

Order. Before we proceed, I should point out that I will call the Front-Bench spokesmen to begin the winding-up speeches at 3.40 pm. Quite a few Members are standing, so whether everyone gets in is in your hands, gentlemen.

Photo of Kelvin Hopkins Kelvin Hopkins Labour, Luton North 3:18 pm, 14th September 2011

I am grateful to have an opportunity to speak in the debate and to support Mr Cash in his concerns about fiscal union.

The issue has been raised because the eurozone is in deep trouble and is starting seriously to fall apart. A fiscal union would mean that one had substantial redistribution between the wealthy parts and the poor parts of an area. That would be acceptable in a democratic member state with a meaningful policy, but the European Union is not one. I suspect the German people would have something to say about such a proposal, if it ever went ahead. As we have seen, the German representative on the European Central Bank has already resigned because he knows that such a proposal will cause serious problems for Germany and is completely unacceptable.

I have something of track record on this issue. Thirty-two years ago, I did not think I would be speaking in such a debate. At that time, I wrote a brief for the general secretary of the union I worked for—the National and Local Government Officers Association. Economic policy was one of my areas, and I wrote a brief urging him to suggest to the TUC that we should not join the European monetary system, or the snake, which was a forerunner of the exchange rate mechanism and the single currency. He took my brief to the TUC, banged the table and demanded that the TUC take that line, which it did. The TUC then went along to see Denis Healey and banged the table, and he did not join the snake. I do not say it was all down to my brief, but at least I was on the same side, and we got the right answer. Unfortunately we joined the exchange rate mechanism a little later, and that was a mistake, but I could see the direction of travel then, and that it would be a disaster for both democracy and economics.

My hon. Friend Graham Stringer, who is no longer in his place, raised the question of democracy. It must have certain features: not just votes, but votes for people who will have power—Governments and representatives who can make decisions on voters’ behalf, and make the votes meaningful. If the vote has no meaning at all—if it is just a declaration and power is held by other people—that is not a true democracy.

Another feature of democracy is the ability to change Governments, as we have just done. The change we made was not to my taste, but nevertheless that is democracy. The way to keep the far right, and extremists of all kinds, away is to have a meaningful democracy, in which Governments can be changed, and where they have power over the lives of the people they represent. If they have no power there is no point, which is when street politics takes over. We do not want street politics. The things that happened on the extreme right and left before the second world war made for a very unpleasant time, which led to the war. We do not want that to happen again.

Photo of Denis MacShane Denis MacShane Labour, Rotherham

Does my hon. Friend take comfort from the fact that the most dramatic rise of the far right has been in Sweden, while the most dramatic and horrible single incident associated with it was the terrible slaughter in Norway? There was also the anti-Muslim referendum in Switzerland on places of worship, sponsored by the hard-right nationalist SVP. Does my hon. Friend take comfort from all those countries either being outside the European Union or not using the euro?

Photo of Kelvin Hopkins Kelvin Hopkins Labour, Luton North

With the far right we need to look at each individual case; I think that in Norway it was just one lunatic—an obsessive. Of course the far right does attract people who I would suggest are not entirely sane. Nevertheless, the far right in general has not taken hold in post-war Europe because we have had meaningful democracies; but I think those meaningful democracies are starting to fade. Fiscal union would, again, mean democracy taking more of a back seat.

It is clear that the founding fathers and mothers of the European Union in the 1950s wanted a world in which electors did not have the power to change Governments; they wanted power safely in the hands of a stable body. That is why the Commission was set up—to make sure that we do not have distasteful changes of politics and Government. However, changes of Government mean that people believe in democracy and work for it. They know that they will have a chance of getting their party into power next time. I shall certainly work hard next time to make sure that our party comes back into power; and no doubt our Conservative and Liberal Democrat colleagues will do the same. That is why democracy means something: we know it matters because those elected have power, and because it is possible to change the Government. That cannot be done with the European Union.

We are in a European crisis. The hon. Member for Stone constantly refers to Europe, but I refer to the European Union. The European Union is not Europe: they are two concepts. Europe is a wonderful continent full of fabulous people and great culture, history, music, art, languages, and literature; but the European Union is a political construct imposed on some of the countries of Europe. I fully support the idea of a different kind of European Union—a loose association of democratic member states co-operating for mutual benefit. I do not support a bureaucratic and anti-democratic machine that controls our lives and makes our votes decreasingly meaningful at national level.

The polity over which a Government govern must also be meaningful. If national boundaries are dissolved, and other structures are imposed—especially if those are not democratically controlled—that is not democracy. The great thing about democracy is that it is accepted these days that it will govern a national state. I am an internationalist, but I think that internationalism is about good relations between states, not the abolition of states, national boundaries or national entities. We get on extremely well with other states around the world because we co-operate across national boundaries, but we do not want them to disappear completely. We have culture, language and history that unite us in particular polities. That is why Germany, for example, could unite its east and west and spend a vast amount of money rebuilding East Germany. It was accepted that it was part of Germany. I doubt whether it would have spent so much money rebuilding, say, Greece—because Greece is not part of Germany but a separate country.

I think that many people would be upset if the same kind of money that went into rebuilding East Germany went into helping Greece. Greece now has the opportunity to get out of the euro, recreate the drachma and devalue. Suddenly, Greece would become the cheapest place in Europe for people to holiday, and the tourist industry would take off like nobody’s business. Greece would recover, because that is what it will be good at. It is a beautiful place, where people go on holiday. That is the logic for Greece.

The problem, of course, is that banks—and particularly French banks—have lent vast sums of money to Greece, and will be in trouble if that happens. However, as was said in a good discussion on “Newsnight” last night, either the euro will collapse and there will be a crisis with many people losing their money, or we will deconstruct the euro in a progressive and managed way, and some banks will have problems. Then Governments will have to step in and no doubt recapitalise those banks, if they choose to keep them alive. That is a difficult choice, but the logic is for countries that cannot sustain membership of the eurozone to get out, recreate their own currencies and devalue.

Ireland’s major economic partner is Britain. The British isles is not a single economy, but we are close. The fact that we are not in the euro and have depreciated our currency substantially means that the poor Irish, who are stuck in the euro, are massively over-valued relative to Britain, and so have a trading problem with

Britain. I have suggested to Irish friends that they should recreate the punt, depreciate and rejoin the sterling zone, which is where they belong, instead of remaining in the eurozone, where they do not. I have not had any positive answer to that suggestion, but that is the logic of where we should be going.

I could speak for much longer, but others want to speak and I have probably said enough for the time being. I support the hon. Member for Stone in arguing the strong case against fiscal union.

Photo of Annette Brooke Annette Brooke Liberal Democrat, Mid Dorset and North Poole

After the next speech, by Mr Binley, I would like to call Priti Patel, and I know that there are others who want to speak. The winding-up speeches will begin at 3.40.

Photo of Brian Binley Brian Binley Conservative, Northampton South 3:27 pm, 14th September 2011

I shall try to be brief and will therefore quickly congratulate my hon. Friend Mr Cash on securing a debate of such importance. There is no doubt that the eurozone is contemplating its very existence, so the debate is not only timely but vital. The whole thing could blow up in our faces in the next four or five weeks, and I want to be assured by the Minister that contingency plans for that possibility are well established. I hope that he is not over-affected by what appears from the outside to be the culture of Treasury officials, who have not been over-helpful on this issue for a long time.

It is a truism that what has happened in the European Union in recent months will have profound consequences for the eurozone and a wider region, including Great Britain. It is unlikely that future efforts to provide protection for the failing currency will have any more success than those undertaken to date. The truth of the matter is that the euro is a failed currency and had within its creation the very traits for its destruction. Those are coming into view at a time when pressure is being applied.

The euro is in trouble not only for that reason, but because its membership does not understand what a properly conducted fiscal society means. I visited Greece three months ago and went to the Greek Parliament. I had to be smuggled in. I talked to a Greek politician and said, “Is tax evasion really widespread?” He said, “Of course.” I said, “Who are the people who do it?” He said, “Everybody.” I said, “Are you?” He said, “Yes.” I said, “What are you doing?” He said, “I’m buying gold.” What a story! Greek politicians are begging us to prop up their currency, yet they are getting out of it and buying gold. I hope that the Minister will take serious account of that.

We all know that Italy has deliberately—I shall use a kind word—misled people ever since the creation of the eurozone. Many would say that it lied—I would not say that in this place—about its situation. Many would say that other nations accepted Italy’s deceit, and therein lies another problem. There is no proper monitoring or policing of any fiscal measures in any eurozone country. How can we expect those nations suddenly to become as white as white on the application of a united fiscal unit? Of course it will not work, and we know it.

We face two possible measures. The eurozone could shed nations—those to the south, mainly—that cannot compete with the price of the euro, and never could, or the eurozone could dissolve completely, which would be very expensive for this nation. What might the Minister do to protect business if that happens?

I accept the figures given by my hon. Friend the Member for Stone, but business is worried about the impact of the eurozone dissolving. It has had a tough time for three years, and has not been overly helped by Governments of either party in this country, and it certainly does not want another great deluge of problems. Will the Minister refer to business when he responds? This country must make a decision, and it might need to do so quickly.

Photo of Andrew Smith Andrew Smith Labour, Oxford East

I am following the debate carefully. The hon. Gentleman refers to the possibly cataclysmic effect on this country of dismemberment of the eurozone, or of some states leaving and contingency measures being required. Might that be precisely why the Prime Minister and the Chancellor have been arguing the case for fiscal union within the eurozone, and what does he think about that?

Photo of Brian Binley Brian Binley Conservative, Northampton South

That might be. I did not say “cataclysmic”; I said there would be problems for British business. I would be grateful if, when the right hon. Gentleman puts words into my mouth, he used the words I used.

Photo of Andrew Smith Andrew Smith Labour, Oxford East

It is a serious problem.

Photo of Brian Binley Brian Binley Conservative, Northampton South

The problem is serious, and I simply want to hear what the Minister has to say about it, because we expect our Government to recognise the impact on business and to do something about it. But that does not mean being involved with or part of the creation of a fiscal Europe in the eurozone. That is not the way to go, and I would rather go the other way: free up British business and restore some of the ancient and traditional markets that we have neglected for some time.

Photo of Nigel Dodds Nigel Dodds Shadow Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs), DUP Westminster Leader

I have listened to the debate from the outset. The truth of the matter is that there is no pain-free option, and that whatever happens there will be difficulties, but to continue with the old, failed approach and carry it forward to fiscal unity would be an even greater disaster than the alternative. We must inject some common sense and democracy into the argument. That is the alternative that faces the British people.

Photo of Brian Binley Brian Binley Conservative, Northampton South

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend, and that leads me to my final words.

British business is important. We must help the eurozone to come to a sensible conclusion, but that does not include our being part of a fiscal union. We must help to ensure that we renegotiate a relationship with Europe that is much more sensible than we have had for a very long time. If necessary, we must come out. We face a tough time, whatever occurs, and we must use that time in the interests of Britain, not of the eurozone, which is the creator of its own downfall.

Photo of Priti Patel Priti Patel Conservative, Witham 3:34 pm, 14th September 2011

I shall be brief.

I congratulate my hon. Friend Mr Cash on securing this debate and on all that he does on all matters European and their scrutiny in the

House. This is a timely debate, and it is essential that all necessary steps are taken to protect hard-pressed British taxpayers from paying the costs of eurozone bail-outs, full stop, and to defend Britain from efforts to enforce closer fiscal integration in the wider EU.

Having campaigned for several years against Britain’s entry into the euro, I strongly recall the arguments that monetary union in Europe would inevitably lead to fiscal union. We heard many of the arguments today. We now see Europe heading in that direction, and it is a road down which we should never be drawn. As we heard over the summer, the desire in Europe to move towards fiscal union has accelerated, and the eurozone crisis is being used to support ever-closer union and to further federalist ambitions.

The EU’s Competition Commissioner said:

“This is one moment where we need greater integration…We need fiscal union”.

As we have heard this afternoon, that is not the right way forward, and I support all the views I have heard. I appreciate that much of the talk about a fiscal union is concerned primarily with the 17 eurozone countries, but there would be dire consequences for Britain, and we have a role in the wider discussions of the implications, particularly with those countries that are trying to take the whole EU with them. We must stop that.

The Europe 2020 strategy, which my hon. Friend the Member for Stone touched on, has implications for our fiscal and economic policies, including scrutiny of national reform programmes, and for plans to increase the size of the EU budget. The European semester, for example, includes proposals for greater monitoring and peer review of our domestic budgets. Our pre-Budget report is being looked into, but it is only a matter of time before Europe tries to grasp more control of such matters, because it believes that interdependence within the EU requires tighter economic governance to apply to all member states, and not just to those in the eurozone.

I urge the Minister, politely but forcefully, to notify our European partners that any interference in our fiscal policy is unwelcome. We should not encourage that. I and many others have argued that Britain should not surrender any of its fiscal powers, but should instead use this and all opportunities presented by the prospect of any new treaty to repatriate powers to this country. That is the right way forward.

Finally, I reiterate the importance of cutting all costs relating to Europe. Over the lifetime of this Parliament, our contributions to Europe will increase by between £8 billion and £9 billion, which is unsustainable. Businesses and consumers in this country keep facing additional costs. We know the direction of travel for all matters financial in the EU. It is preventing the creation of jobs here, and action must be taken.

Hard-pressed taxpayers in my constituency and throughout Britain want cuts in the EU budget—and no more increases, not even the proposed 2% increase. We must just say no. We must defend the rebate, and if we tighten our belts at home Europe must get the message and tighten its belt. Such matters should be a priority for the Government in the months ahead and, importantly, now, while there is a eurozone crisis, but they are also an opportunity.

Photo of Bernard Jenkin Bernard Jenkin Chair, Public Administration Committee 3:38 pm, 14th September 2011

I invite the Minister to explain why the Government are now advocating fiscal union. We opposed the euro because we did not believe that fiscal union was viable. Lord Lawson graphically explained on BBC Radio 4 this morning that fiscal union will not work because it needs budgetary union and a European Treasury, which needs a European Government and a federal Europe. There is no popular support in any European state for a federal united states of Europe, so fiscal union is unsustainable.

This is no time for positioning or appeasing; it is a time for blunt truths, and I thoroughly endorse the comments of my hon. Friend Mr Cash that it is time for us to go to Europe and to tell our European partners positively that we have an alternative plan for Europe, which is about the orderly break-up of the euro to limit liability. The longer the issue continues, the greater the liability will be.

It is like the ERM; the officials who are today advising the Minister to support fiscal union are the same officials who advised the Conservative Government to stay in the ERM. The longer we stayed in the ERM, the more damaging it was. Why are the Government on the wrong side of history?

Photo of David Hanson David Hanson Shadow Minister (Treasury) 3:40 pm, 14th September 2011

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Brooke.

I pay tribute to Mr Cash, who is nothing if not consistent in his arguments. The holding of today’s debate reminds me of the fact that I have been in the House for 19 and a half years and that the bags under my eyes started to appear when I was up all night listening to the hon. Gentleman in the debates on the Maastricht treaty in 1992 and 1993.

Photo of David Hanson David Hanson Shadow Minister (Treasury)

On many occasions I voted differently, because the purpose of the Opposition was to keep the Government on their toes and divided—as, indeed, we see today in the interactions between Back Benchers and the Minister.

I pay tribute to other Members who have spoken. The consistency of my hon. Friend Kelvin Hopkins is unparalleled, although his approach has differed from that of Labour Front Benchers. The hon. Members for Northampton South (Mr Binley) and for Witham (Priti Patel) hold strong convictions on this subject, which does not come as a surprise to hon. Members or to their constituents.

I confess that I feel like an onion in a strawberry patch, as I take a different view of the benefits of our relationship with Europe and with the European Community. I want the Government to engage positively, not within the potential framework of withdrawal—the tone that percolates through the comments of the hon. Member for Stone and his colleagues and of my hon. Friend the Member for Luton North—but in tackling deep and serious issues of economic policy, and ensuring growth, stability and fairness across the European Community.

As I said, I feel like an onion in a strawberry patch because I hold positive views about Europe and the European Community. Our EU membership gives British companies full and direct access to 500 million consumers —the single market that Governments of all parties have supported. The 3 million jobs in the United Kingdom—10% of the work force—linked directly to the export of goods and services to the EU exist partly because of the structures of the European Community.

Our EU membership makes the UK an attractive place for investment from Europe and creates stability for the emerging countries in the east, the growing markets. Furthermore, the EU brings democracy to countries that when I was first elected were still under dictatorships and were not the positive members of Europe that they are becoming today.

Photo of Julian Lewis Julian Lewis Conservative, New Forest East

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for giving way, but this really will not do. He is making a general defence of the European Union in a debate on fiscal union, and the fact remains, as many of us have argued for many years, that there cannot be a single currency without a single economy, there cannot be a single economy without a single Government and there cannot be a single Government without a single state. That is why the Eurofederalists want fiscal union, and regardless of whether it works or fails they say we should have more union. The reality is that it is failing and we must disentangle ourselves from this mess, not have a general debate on trade in the European Union.

Photo of David Hanson David Hanson Shadow Minister (Treasury)

If the hon. Gentleman allows me, I shall cover some of those points in a moment. It is important to record the fact that we have economic growth partly because of co-operation, because of the single market, because of the widening of the European Community to the east and because of EU investment in this country.

Photo of Richard Shepherd Richard Shepherd Conservative, Aldridge-Brownhills

I am sorry that the right hon. Gentleman has repeated the old canard about 3 million jobs, but perhaps he will comment on the other side of the equation. How many jobs on the European continent depend on trade with Britain?

Photo of David Hanson David Hanson Shadow Minister (Treasury)

I believe that the single market and the European Community have contributed to growth and jobs in this country and throughout mainland Europe. The hon. Member for Stone touched on the potential difficulties with the euro and Greece, Portugal, Spain and Italy, but the argument that he advanced about renegotiation does not fly and would not be a starter in relation to the positive policies that I hope I share with the Minister on engagement and the future of Europe.

We need to look at three issues. The economic growth strategy for Europe is key to economic growth as a whole. When we look at what we are doing in reducing public spending—in achieving a balance between public spending and private expenditure—we see that the growth strategy is missing in Europe and that the collective strategy of reducing public spending will not lead to economic growth.

Given the potential collapse of the euro, it is important that we look at the current stability mechanism, and I am sure that the Minister will speak about the future stability mechanism for 2015. We must consider negotiating an earlier end to the temporary European financial stability facility, of which the UK is a member. The UK’s exposure is too high and is a risk, and if the euro collapsed now we would face severe difficulties with the funding mechanism.

My right hon. Friend Mr Darling negotiated the facility—with, I believe, all-party agreement, although there is dispute about that—before the general election, and it is key to stability with the euro. It is not in this country’s interest for Greece to fail, for the euro to break up or for other countries to default. As my right hon. Friend Mr Smith said in an intervention on the hon. Member for Northampton South, one of the reasons why the Prime Minister and the Chancellor are looking to develop an EU fiscal policy to follow the current agreement is to ensure that a collapse is avoided, that the currency is strengthened and that a positive Europe, geared to growth in the future, is maintained.

Photo of Brian Binley Brian Binley Conservative, Northampton South

Will the right hon. Gentleman explain how that policy might be policed to ensure that nations properly abide by its dictates and do not act as they do in many other instances with the other regulations imposed on them?

Photo of David Hanson David Hanson Shadow Minister (Treasury)

One of the hon. Gentleman’s points that struck me most forcefully is that some countries do not play by the same rules as this country on tax evasion, tax avoidance and other issues, but that is not a reason to say that we should leave the pitch. It is our job to work responsibly within the structures of the European Community—with our Members of the European Parliament, with the European Commission and with national Parliaments—and to make the case for a single market, properly regulated, in which tax evasion and other issues are dealt with firmly.

We cannot walk off the pitch and withdraw from the European Community, although that is the ultimate aim of Members who have supported the hon. Member for Stone today. We must ensure that the replacement mechanism in 2015 is strong and stable but oriented solely on the eurozone, where the UK Government’s liabilities are limited.

Honourable, determined and consistent though the hon. Member for Stone is, and difficult though the challenges are in relation to countries, such as Greece, that should not have joined the euro in the first place, the failure of the currency and our failure to act to help to maintain stability in Europe would ultimately lead to lower growth, further unemployment and the UK being distanced from potentially successful markets.

There are many issues ahead of us about which there is clear disagreement between Labour Front Benchers and Members who have supported the hon. Member for Stone today, but I look forward to hearing the Minister’s response.

Photo of Mark Hoban Mark Hoban The Financial Secretary to the Treasury 3:49 pm, 14th September 2011

First, I congratulate my hon. Friend Mr Cash on securing the debate. I do not think that anything he said came as a surprise to any of us who have taken part in discussions on this issue in this Chamber, in the main Chamber or in European Standing Committees—he has the merit of consistency.

There were helpful contributions from Kelvin Hopkins, from my hon. Friends the Members for Northampton South (Mr Binley), for Witham (Priti Patel) and for Harwich and North Essex (Mr Jenkin) and from Mr Hanson. Let me deal with a couple of specific points that were raised. My hon. Friend the Member for Stone raised the question of a financial transactions tax. He is aware that President Sarkozy and Chancellor Merkel discussed that at their summit in August. Let me be clear about the UK Government’s view on a transactions tax. It would work only if applied globally. If it were applied any less completely than that, the transactions would simply move away. Business that was previously booked in, say, France would move to the UK, Singapore or New York.

Photo of Mark Hoban Mark Hoban The Financial Secretary to the Treasury

No. My hon. Friend—[Interruption.] May I continue? My hon. Friend spoke for nearly an hour; I have 10 minutes and want to cover a wide range of topics.

The UK would not agree to the introduction of any financial transaction tax that damaged competitiveness and growth and, in the absence of a global agreement, the UK sees no evidence that a transaction tax would maintain EU competitiveness. Of course, that does not prevent other countries from introducing a transaction tax if they wish to do so.

My hon. Friend is quite keen to ensure, given his legal background, that words are used carefully. I think that he said that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer had said that there would be a new treaty. Let me give the quote, so that we do not set any hares running. The Chancellor said in Marseilles this weekend:

“I think it is on the cards that a treaty change may be proposed.”

That is a very conditional statement. It is not saying that there will be a treaty. Before we let the argument run away with itself, I point out that there is no proposal at the moment for a treaty.

My hon. Friend the Member for Northampton South asked whether the Treasury was monitoring the situation in the eurozone. Yes, it is. We are working closely with the Financial Services Authority and the Bank of England to monitor what is happening in the eurozone and to understand its potential impact on the UK economy and banking system. We take that particularly seriously because of the interconnection between financial markets and our economy.

Let me be clear: the responsibility for sorting out the problems of the euro area ultimately rests with the euro area Governments. We are not members of the euro and will not join it in the lifetime of this Parliament. Being outside the euro area has clearly given us the flexibility to adapt our fiscal and economic policy to manage the crisis. It is not our responsibility to deal with their problems.

However, no one should be under any misapprehension about the importance of the euro area to the UK economy—a point that my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton South made very powerfully. A strong euro area means a growing market for our goods and services; a weak euro area puts at risk jobs and businesses in our constituencies. We should not lose sight of that. A weak euro area is not in our interest: it puts jobs and businesses at risk. More than 40% of our exports go to the euro area. Hon. Members will know that we export more goods and services to Ireland than we do to Brazil, Russia, India and China combined. No one should be under any illusions about the importance of the euro area to our continued success. Britain wants a successful euro area that can deliver growth and stability, so we want the euro area to have the rules that it needs to prevent future crises.

Photo of Mark Hoban Mark Hoban The Financial Secretary to the Treasury

No. I am sorry, but I am going to continue. As the Chancellor has said, the eurozone must accept the remorseless logic that leads from monetary union to fiscal union. That is why Conservative Members have consistently opposed joining the euro—we recognise that fundamental link. There can be a successful single currency only if there is a fiscal policy to back it up. We are seeing in the current crisis the consequences of not having that link between monetary policy and fiscal policy in the eurozone. Recognising that remorseless logic, we cannot stand in the way of closer fiscal integration in the eurozone. Clearly, our status—

Photo of Mark Hoban Mark Hoban The Financial Secretary to the Treasury

Let me just finish the point. Clearly, our status as a euro “out” has implications for our influence over the outcome of the discussions. None the less, we should be engaged in the debate on closer fiscal integration. It is very much in our interest to have a say in the design of any new structures or processes that may be required.

Photo of Bernard Jenkin Bernard Jenkin Chair, Public Administration Committee

Precisely because our economic interests are so intertwined with our European partners, my hon. Friend is making the case for our having a clear position to ameliorate the crisis that is developing in relation to the euro. To light on one little piece of remorseless logic, which is that there cannot be a currency union without a fiscal union, but then abandon logic on every other part of his argument is not remorseless logic; it is putting his head in the sand. Does he actually think that a fiscal union can work?

Photo of Mark Hoban Mark Hoban The Financial Secretary to the Treasury

I think that there is a great deal of work to be done on this and that it is my hon. Friend who is putting his head in the sand. We need a successful euro area if we are to protect jobs and businesses in this country. We can see some of the impact on the economy today as a consequence of the uncertainty in the eurozone. We have seen the impact in the form of growth in France and Germany being below the rate of growth in the UK in the second quarter. These issues have an immediate impact on what happens in our constituencies and businesses. We need to ensure that the eurozone is successful if we are to continue to have a successful economy.

Photo of Mark Hoban Mark Hoban The Financial Secretary to the Treasury

No, I am going to continue. [Interruption.] No, I have four minutes left and there are more things that I need to say. My hon. Friend would have had a chance to speak earlier if there had been a more even division of time.

The situation in the euro area remains one of great concern. Market tensions have persisted since the euro area summit of 21 July. The European Central Bank’s purchase of an additional €70 billion of euro area bonds since early August has been accompanied by an alleviation of some of those tensions, but Greek 10-year bond yields are at a new high of about 20% and Italian and Spanish 10-year bond yields remain high. Commitments were made at the summit of 21 July to enhance the scope and flexibility of the European financial stability facility, to lengthen the maturity of euro area loans and to lower interest rates. Those commitments must be implemented in full. Euro area countries need to get ahead of the curve and move towards a more permanent, comprehensive solution to the ongoing crisis.

Several further proposals for greater fiscal integration in the eurozone have been put forward, most notably by President Sarkozy and Chancellor Merkel following their summit of 16 August. There will be further debate about that, but let me be clear: nothing in the agreement of 21 July or in the current proposals put forward by Chancellor Merkel and President Sarkozy requires a treaty change or a transfer of powers from the UK to the EU. That is the state of play at the moment, but it is clearly not possible to say where the debate on fiscal integration may end up.

As the Chancellor has already told the House, more radical proposals should be considered as part of a permanent solution for the euro area, including measures such as euro bonds or other forms of guarantee. However—this goes back to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton South—any move in that direction needs to be matched by more effective economic governance in the euro area to ensure that fiscal responsibility is hard-wired into the system. I am pleased that he recognised the need for those monitoring controls to be in place.

Although euro bonds or other guarantees could be designed in a number of ways, it is possible that such a proposal would require a treaty change. If that were to happen, the Government would act to protect the UK’s national interest, as we did last December when leaders agreed to amend the treaty to allow the creation of the new, permanent crisis resolution mechanism. As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said when he appeared before the Liaison Committee last week, we will take that opportunity seriously. He said that

“when there is a treaty change, you have an opportunity to put forward what you want in your country’s national interest. I have done that once already, and I would do it again in the future.”

He also said:

“Britain should think carefully about how to maximise our national interest if that”— treaty change—

“were to come about, but I think that it is some way down the road.”

We need to ensure that there is a strong eurozone and, as hon. Members said, a clear growth agenda in the EU. The current position is one of the barriers to those countries digging themselves out of the recession. However, we should not underestimate the value of the European Union to this country. It adds £600 billion a year to the economy. Further liberalisation could add a further £800 billion to the value of the economy. We need to ensure that we get this right. It is in our national interest to get it right, and we will work to ensure that we do so.