[Relevant document: The Fourteenth Report from the European Scrutiny Committee, on Banking Union and Economic and Monetary Union, HC 86-xiv.]
I beg to move,
That this House takes note of European Union Documents No. 13682/12, a draft Regulation amending Regulation (EC) No. 1093/2010 establishing a European Supervisory Authority (European Banking Authority) as regards its interaction with Council Regulation (EU) No…/… conferring specific tasks on the European Central 5 Bank concerning policies relating to the prudential supervision of credit institutions, No. 13683/12, a draft Regulation conferring specific tasks on the European Central Bank concerning policies relating to the prudential supervision of credit institutions, No. 13854/12, Commission Communication: A roadmap towards a Banking Union, and an unnumbered Explanatory Memorandum: Towards a Genuine Economic and 10 Monetary Union: Interim report; and welcomes the Government’s decision to remain outside the new supervisory arrangements while protecting the single market in financial services.
I welcome these debates. The subject matter of today’s debate is, if anything, even more important than what we discussed last week. It is essential that proposed developments in the EU are robustly scrutinised by this Parliament. I am grateful for all the work done by the European Scrutiny Committee and its equivalent Committee in the House of Lords, as they applied their attention to the 1,100 European documents that were referred to them last year.
One theme we will come on to is how we can strengthen the scrutiny of sovereign national Parliaments over the institutions and policies of the EU. I believe that that is essential. It is principally Members of this House and our colleagues in the other place who will search for assurance that our national interest is not being blown away by a zeitgeist that is capable of carrying people along in the wrong direction.
This week is a particularly appropriate one in which to recall the value of that questioning voice. It was 15 years ago on 10 November 1997 when the then Leader of the Opposition first stood out against all fashionable opinion at the time and, in a speech to the Confederation of British Industry conference, committed my party to oppose joining the proposed euro. I had a hand in preparing that speech, and I recall one of the lines that I was proud made the cut. It said that
“if the nightmare of our experience in the ERM teaches us anything, it is not to steer by the siren voices of a supposed consensus, but to exercise the independent judgement of a cool head.”
Of course, the two people responsible for that decision and that speech are now our Foreign Secretary and our Chancellor of the Exchequer. They were excoriated at the time for declaring on that day that they intended
“to campaign against British membership of the single currency at the next general election”.
I believe that this caused the brand-new Labour Government of the day to hesitate, and by missing the moment, they spared Britain from a disastrous fate.
Fifteen years on, the documents that we are considering today are a direct consequence of the creation of the euro and, in particular, of the failure to address from the outset some of the inevitable factors. Now, as then, it is imperative that the United Kingdom exercises the independent judgment of a cool head to determine whether the new policies being proposed are consistent with the interests of our own economy.
Let me deal first with the proposals on banking union. The first thing to say is that we and the EU need to tread particularly carefully on matters that affect financial services. The financial services industry, including banking, is not evenly distributed across all member states of the EU. The United Kingdom has a vastly greater strength in the conduct of, and international trade in, financial services than any other member state. Financial services and related areas employ more than 2 million people in this country—two thirds of them outside London—and contribute £1 out of every £8 of Government revenue. That is about £1,000 for every man, woman and child in this country.
We have a £37 billion trade surplus in financial services and Britain accounts for 61% of the whole of the EU’s exports of financial services. Commissioner Barnier said last month:
“It is in our general interest in Europe to have the biggest financial centre in the world. A strong City is good not only for Britain but for Europe.”
That is a welcome recognition. We will never jeopardise an industry of such particular importance to the United Kingdom.
In scrutinising these proposals, we need to have a clear fact in mind. People do not need banking union because they are part of a single market. The appetite for banking union arises solely because of the problems of the single currency. However, although banking union is primarily a matter for members of the eurozone, it strongly engages Britain’s interests in two ways.
I and, I think, the country are pleased that the Prime Minister was prepared to stand up for British interests, and I know that he will always do so. It is certainly not a matter of regret.
I think it is desirable from the point of view of the British economy that, since the eurozone exists, it should be successful, rather than a source of economic weakness. Indeed, as the Governor of the Bank of England has said:
“The biggest risk to the recovery”
in this country
“stems from the difficulties facing the euro area, our main trading partner.”
Secondly, we need to be vigilant to ensure that our access to the single market in banking, now and in the future, is not undermined and jeopardised by the creation of a banking union. That means putting in place safeguards to ensure that the UK cannot be discriminated against in the future in single market decision-making processes.
The Commission’s current proposals are not yet acceptable in that respect. For example, the European Banking Authority—which, as Members know, is the organisation that currently ensures that there is a level playing field for banking within the single market—operates on the basis not of unanimity but of majority voting. The European Central Bank regulation specifies that that the ECB would
“coordinate and express a common position of representatives from competent authorities of the participating Member States in… the EBA”.
That effectively requires participating member states in the euro to caucus in adopting positions and voting in the European Banking Authority.
I warmly welcome the approach that my right hon. Friend is taking to the whole issue, and to voting rights in particular. Are not the voting arrangements for the European Banking Authority completely unacceptable to our national interests, as he has described them, in that they will result in a banking authority that is determined by a caucus that has been arranged in advance and in which this country is deprived of its say? The Labour party may think that that is somehow in accordance with our national interests, but it most certainly is not.
I, too, welcome my right hon. Friend’s approach, but may I caution him about the double-edged invocation of the single market? We are threatened not just by the voting rights in the European Banking Authority, but by those in the Council of Ministers. It is equally possible that the member states of the eurozone that are in the banking union will caucus in the Council and use a single-market measure to create a single market in banking services to reflect the policy already adopted by the banking union. How are we to be protected from that?
My hon. Friend is right to be alert to those dangers and risks. One of the clear principles on which we have insisted throughout all our negotiations on all the different dossiers is that we will accept nothing that would compromise our ability to participate in the single market.
Let me say a bit more about our stance on the EBA. What is currently proposed would not just require but enable members of the eurozone to caucus and adopt positions, which poses the clear risk that the ECB could dominate EBA decision-making. Given that 17 of the 27 EBA members are in the eurozone, that would constitute a blocking minority on all issues decided by qualified majority voting, and indeed a qualified majority under the new Lisbon rules.
Moreover, such action by the Commission would create an asymmetry of treatment between supervisory bodies. The proposal reflects the legal position that, as an EU institution, the ECB cannot be legally bound by EBA decisions on binding mediation, whereas the Bank of England could be. We have argued since the start of the negotiations that it would be inequitable and unacceptable if the Bank of England could be directed in that way but the ECB could not. We are pleased that our concerns are finally being acknowledged, but the asymmetry must be resolved if there is to be any final agreement.
As is required by both the motion and the amendment tabled by the Chairman of the European Scrutiny Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr Cash), we will certainly use what the amendment describes as our
“best endeavours to ensure that the proposed changes…in the European Banking Authority are not adopted”.
In fact, that is an uncharacteristically mild form of words from my hon. Friend. We will insist that those changes are not adopted, and we will require full protection for the position of the United Kingdom and the other non-eurozone members in the EBA.
I am very pleased to hear what the Minister is saying, but what concrete guarantees would exist if the Government’s proposals were adopted to ensure that the City of London’s interests could not be adversely affected by qualified majority voting by eurozone members, the ECB or anyone else on the continent? That is the key question that concerns us today.
A number of mechanisms could require that, for example, the requirement for a dual majority. A number of possibilities are being discussed at the moment. What I have set out clearly is a very firm principle that we will not find ourselves in a position where we will be dominated by the ECB. That is what we are taking into the negotiations. We take a firmer view even than we are urged to do by the amendment.
Does my right hon. Friend not accept that because this is governed by qualified majority voting, even with our best endeavours the reality is that it is not merely likely but it is as certain as we could imagine, given what we hear from the other side of the European Union, that we will be outvoted? To follow on from the remarks made by my hon. Friend the Member for Basildon and Billericay (Mr Baron), what guarantee can the Minister give, in the light of the fact that this is so important for the City of London?
As my hon. Friend knows, the ECB aspect of the regulation requires unanimity, and we regard both aspects of this as reinforcing each other. We have made it plain, as I am doing from the Dispatch Box today, that it is an absolute requirement that we will not be dominated by the ECB. After the Prime Minister goes to the Council he will come back to this House. If he has been able to establish agreement, he will set out what that is, and if not, he will set out why it was not possible.
Let me deal with the second part of my hon. Friend’s amendment, where he draws attention to the need to ensure that the powers of the ECB’s governing council are not delegated to the single supervisory function in a way that is unlawful in terms of the treaties. That is a serious matter. It is vital that the weighty responsibilities that the single supervisory mechanism will discharge are vested in a way that is accepted to be legal. His observation in his amendment that it would ultimately be a matter for the European Court of Justice if there were doubts about the legality of the final arrangements is very constructive and accurate, and I hope that he will accept my assurance that our criteria in evaluating the SSM will be as in his amendment. In other words, they will be: first, that it is lawful—we reserve the right to establish that; secondly, that the integrity of the single market is respected, as I said; and, thirdly, that the UK cannot be discriminated against in the way that is proposed.
Does my right hon. Friend recall that in relation to the fiscal compact our representative at UKRep, Sir Jon Cunliffe, wrote a letter to the Secretary-General of the European Council specifically stating that the UK Government wanted a legal reserve in respect of the illegality of that matter? On this issue, where there is clear evidence from the Council of Ministers’ legal adviser that the matter is regarded as unlawful, will my right hon. Friend guarantee that not only have we received a legal reserve, but, unlike on the previous occasion, we have followed it through with a reference to the European Court? So far, we have got a promise but no completion of it.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that. I am not as familiar as he is with what went on in the previous exchange of correspondence, but I can say that it is essential that the arrangements need to be legal. There is no point marching up a hill of banking union if the whole thing falls apart—I mix my metaphors, but he understands what I mean. There are also other matters on which we will need to be satisfied before any of the proposed measures can be adopted.
My right hon. Friend made an important point when he said that the British Government would reserve their position on the legality of this new instrument and how it might be used. Will he just expand on that? Would it not be sensible for UKRep to write a letter similar to the one written in the case of the fiscal union treaty, at the very least, in order to make that clear?
I do not think that there is any difference between us on this. It is essential that this arrangement is legally sound. At the moment, the negotiations are continuing and the shape of the regulation is evolving, but the sensible commitment I have given is to make sure not to proceed unless we are satisfied that it is legally robust.
Let me talk about some of the other measures we need to bear in mind. We must make it absolutely clear that both now and in the future there should be no requirement, for example, for clearing houses that handle significant amounts of euro-denominated business to be located geographically in the eurozone, as proposed by the ECB—a proposal against which we have launched legal proceedings. That blatantly undermines the single market and the United Kingdom’s financial services industry. It is a poor indication of the ECB’s attitude if it intends to proceed in such a way. We need to be clear, too, that London is home to more clearing houses than any other EU capital and such proposals are unacceptable.
As the House will see, there is some way to go before the banking union proposals are acceptable to the Government. They will not be agreed by the United Kingdom unless and until we are satisfied that the UK’s position in the single market has been secured.
Let me turn briefly to the document known as the four presidents’ report, which was published on 12 October. It is an interim report that gives a general overview of the measures that the euro area member states might want to consider taking to improve the functioning of the euro. At this stage, there is little detail in the report apart from in the area of banking union and a great deal more discussion will be needed before there is agreement even on which issues should be explored further. The House will have a particular interest, however, in the discussion about democratic legitimacy and accountability.
I emphasise again that although the UK will not be part of the arrangements, it seems to me to be important that when significant decisions are being taken at the eurozone level about national matters, national Parliaments should be able to scrutinise those decisions, just as the Bank of England, the UK regulatory authorities and not least Ministers are accountable to this House and the House of Lords.
I welcome what the Minister has just said, but does he accept that in much of the documentation we are discussing, as the European Scrutiny Committee has pointed out, preference is given to the European Parliament rather than national Parliaments as regards accountability?
Indeed it is. The point I am making very clearly—perhaps not clearly enough—is that I think there should be a greater role for national Parliaments.
The Chairman of the European Scrutiny Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Stone, was characteristically eagle-eyed and meticulous in his regard for independence when he baulked at the line in my explanatory memorandum that stated that
“there should be further consideration of how we can use national parliaments to enhance legitimacy and oversight.”
He is absolutely right that “use” is not the mot juste and instead I should have said that the authority of national Parliaments should be respected. It was the very independence and rigour of his and the Committee’s scrutiny that I was commending, and anyone who labours under the misapprehension that his Committee can be used does not know him or his colleagues. I will be more exact in future.
When the document was considered in the October Council, the Prime Minister secured an explicit commitment that the final report and road map in December must include concrete proposals to ensure that the single market’s integrity is respected. I look forward to this afternoon’s debate and tell all hon. Members who will participate that their guidance and advice will be taken seriously by the Government as the detailed negotiations on all these matters proceed in Brussels and across capitals in Europe over the weeks and months ahead.
Order. Before I call the shadow Minister, let me remind the House that the debate is time-limited and will end at 6.29 pm. When the shadow Minister sits down, I will announce the time limit to ensure that all Members who have indicated that they wish to speak get in.
No pressure there, then, Mr Deputy Speaker.
I have a lot of sympathy with the Minister today. Let us hope that he is a little luckier than he was last Wednesday, although of course the curse of Tunbridge Wells will have its way. In a way, as he explained, banking union is a natural downstream consequence of monetary union. It would be wrong to resist it for the eurozone, as the eurozone crisis has exposed a series of risks to economic stability, not least of which is the relationship between sovereign debt and banking debt and the need to find credible ways to prevent private banking losses from dragging down sovereign fiscal positions. The UK has its own banking union and our monetary policy sovereignty has given us a measure of protection during the sovereign and bank debt crises that have engulfed the eurozone.
I thought the Minister was perhaps labouring under the impression that his plucky Members of Parliament kept us out of the euro between 1997 and 2010—that is too funny, as of course that was the decision of the previous Labour Administration. It was the right decision.
I will not give way yet, as I am conscious of the time.
We were right, too, to bail out the banks in 2008, but that came at a high cost for the taxpayer and for the country’s economic prospects. UK public debt was adversely affected by the purchase of banking assets and the subsequent loss of revenues from financial services. These issues are now affecting countries around the world, especially in the EU. Monetary policy sovereignty has allowed the UK to adopt an active interest rate policy to counteract those economic headwinds—something less available to those in the eurozone.
To save the euro, the eurozone has looked at new rules to grip the fiscal policies of its member states. Fiscal union in the EU is now widely recognised as dependent on banking union. Germany initially insisted on that, and it has asked that the single supervisory mechanism—the eurozone nation state regulators and Governments—be completed before banks can access the European stability mechanism and the European Central Bank’s outright monetary transactions programme, hence the imperative to agree these matters. In recent weeks, however, Germany is rumoured to have lost some enthusiasm for that tougher banking union and its consequences, especially as some of its smaller banks face major regulatory upheaval.
It is right that the ECB’s role in supervisory policy should be triggered, by unanimity if necessary, as required in the Maastricht treaty. Central banks are increasingly in the driving seat in financial regulation, as is the case in the UK, and it is necessary for the ECB to have a clear capability in its role overseeing the operation of the eurozone. The ECB is a full treaty institution, and it must be governed by treaty rules and member state unanimity, as we heard from the Minister. In that process, the rights of non-eurozone members, particularly the UK, must be safeguarded in several ways. We should not be party to any deposit guarantee mechanisms or pre-fund recovery or resolution mechanisms. The UK has undertaken its own measures in that respect, and there are no proposals on the table that would affect our taxpayers directly.
The rules for the single market, including a single rule book for the financial services sector in the EU, should involve all 27 member states. The European Banking Authority—as well as other European supervisory authorities—is the vehicle for preserving the integrity of the single market. The Commission says in its documentation that
“it is proposed that voting arrangements within the EBA should be adapted to ensure EBA decision-making structures continue to be balanced and effective and preserve fully the integrity of the Single Market”.
That is absolutely crucial, but we need far more details about how that will work. The 17 eurozone countries will act en bloc through the ECB in their seats on the EBA, which could represent a permanent majority on all issues, as the Minister explained. The EBA has rule-making powers under qualified majority voting decisions, it mediates between supervisory institutions, and it shares supervisory best practice. There is a real risk of the ECB bloc acting as a permanent caucus to overrule the 10 non-eurozone nation states.
As I shall come to, we should seek such key guarantees. I do not think that there is a sufficiency under the proposals on the table. As I said, I am sympathetic to the Government’s situation. However, there is a crucial difference between the Opposition and the Government. We believe that it is really important that we stay in the room somehow so that our voice continues to be heard and we can shape and mould supervisory rules, given the importance of financial services to our economy. How can we continue to be involved while not being at risk of being overridden by the 17 eurozone members? That is the conundrum with which we are trying to grapple, and it is shaping up to be a test case in the two-speed Europe debate.
It is right for the hon. Gentleman to voice that anxiety. I do not want us to be on the margins, unable to promote the best interests for our nation and our economy. Given that our financial services sector represents approximately 40% of the total of the European Union’s financial services sector, that is absolutely at the core of our vital national interests. It is therefore imperative for us to remain an active driving force in the EU single market in financial services.
It seems to me that the hon. Gentleman is trying to have his cake and eat it. Either he is going to be in the room—in the banking union—or not. If he is not going to be in the banking union, the question that he is failing to grapple with is this: what safeguards and protections do we need given that we will not be in the room because we will not be in the banking union? Perhaps he could provide an answer to that question instead of just waffle.
The hon. Gentleman is too kind, as uncharacteristic of him as that may be.
I am afraid that this is a tall order for the Government to negotiate. It is a conundrum. I do not in any way shrink from the mountain that needs to be climbed in squaring this circle, if I may mix my metaphors in that way. I am just concerned that the Government’s approach—perhaps an echo of their approach to the EU budget—is not ambitious enough. I urge hon. Members to talk to institutions across the City of London and to financial services practitioners across the country. They are very worried about their position if they are not able to be part of a single market. They know very well that there are forums in which the rules will be made and shaped, and yet of course they want to reserve our rights from a UK position. Somehow, we have to try to forge a negotiating strategy that manages to do better.
I will in a moment, but I am conscious of time.
The motion expresses, in only the most general terms, the Government’s policy to
“remain outside the new supervisory arrangements while protecting the single market in financial services.”
That is necessary, but it is not sufficient. Perhaps it would be better if Ministers found ways to stay outside the scope of the eurozone’s rules—the point made by the hon. Member for Harwich and North Essex (Mr Jenkin)—but somehow still be in the room on EU-wide supervision matters as they develop, and to secure protections in any future settlement on EBA rule-making and mediation.
Surely the hon. Gentleman is missing one major point, which is that the transfer of the jurisdiction under the single market arrangements that took the City of London away from the United Kingdom and gave it to the European Union was a decision taken by his Government. That is why the problem he is now having to deal with—the anxieties he referred to—has arisen. That the coalition has acquiesced in that is another story. The fact is, however, that the real responsibility lies with those who transferred the jurisdiction, as I pointed out in the Financial Times three years ago.
I do not want to get too much into the history of these things. We could go back to the Maastricht treaty, the formation of the eurozone and the inexorable logic of how we have got to where we are today. All I know is that it is important that we try our best and redouble our efforts to ensure that we have a negotiating strategy that secures the best deal possible for the UK.
I should like to make a little progress if I may.
I know that hon. Members will say, “How can we manage to secure these particular arrangements? What should our stratagem be?” Government Members will recall Lady Thatcher’s invocation of the Luxembourg compromise—a quiz question for hon. Members who recall that device. It has not been in use in recent times, but it was a way, in certain circumstances for qualified majority voting arrangements, to ensure that there was a capability of promoting vital national interest. There was at one point a recognised device for ensuring that one could stay in the room. If vital national interests were affected, then certain levels of protection were possible. I do not in any way deny that that is a difficult position, but that is the sort of scale of proposition that the Government should be more actively asserting. The Government need to negotiate a clearer and more distinct set of rules that protect our status outside the eurozone while ensuring that we have an ongoing role in how new rules develop across the whole EU. In our view, that must be the Prime Minister’s negotiating objective.
We have other concerns and questions about the SSM. How can it connect with the wider public and be subject to democratic accountability? That is an important point, because the bodies at the heart of the SSM will need to be more transparent. I am not clear whether they will publish their minutes in the same way as the Bank of England or the Federal Reserve, but we need to start addressing some of those transparency questions. Furthermore, what will be the relationship between the ECB’s monetary policy stance and its approach to decisions on financial supervision?
The composition of the SSM is complex and lines of accountability are extremely confused. For example, the European Central Bank is a superior treaty institution, yet the EBA will in theory sit on a junior institution. It is extremely difficult to see lines of accountability and how the legal issues raised in the amendment will be resolved. What will happen in the intervening months and potentially years before this complex constitutional wiring is settled? What if new market pressures force banking crises that require the stability mechanism or outright monetary transactions to be triggered, and what if there is no SSM in place?
How do we prevent City of London institutions and firms, which contribute about one sixth of Britain’s GDP, from changing their opinion about London in the long run as the right place to locate, when there is a risk that we will be marginalised in the decision-making forum for EU banking rules? They will worry about the prospects of operating under a different set of rules from those on the continent. Our vital national and economic interests are at stake, so we need to ensure that we keep involved, do not get pushed out and avoid being marginalised, while of course reserving our rights.
My hon. Friend has set out a precise and appropriate agenda for the country to pursue, but does he agree that for that agenda to be pursued effectively we need the ability to put across arguments and to persuade? What we do not want is rhetoric and empty gestures, which is what we are getting from the Government.
I worry that that is the problem with the Government’s approach to the negotiations. I do not deny for a moment that this is a tall order as a negotiating strategy, but it is necessary to protect our national interests. Of all the 10 non-eurozone countries, we have the most at stake. As I said, 40% of the EU financial services sector comes from Britain. We cannot allow ourselves to be treated as an afterthought in these negotiations. Why are the Government letting others shape the thinking and make all the running on EU banking union reform? Our vital national interests are on the line. We need a clearer negotiation strategy from the Government from the one we have seen to date.
I beg to move amendment (a), in line 10, leave out from ‘and’ to end and add
‘whilst welcoming the Government’s desire to seek safeguards for the UK, calls on the Government in respect of Regulation (EC) No. 1093/2010 to use its best endeavours to ensure that the proposed changes in the voting rights in the European Banking Authority are not adopted, to use its veto in respect of European Union Document No. 13683/12 so as to ensure that the powers of the Governing Council of the European Central Bank are not unlawfully delegated to the Single Supervisory Mechanism without an amendment of the treaties and/or to refer that matter to the European Court of Justice for adjudication of that proposal.’.
I am deeply troubled by the wording of the motion. In my judgment, it simply does not make sense to state that the House should welcome
“the Government’s decision to remain outside the new supervisory arrangements while protecting the single market in financial services.”
We acquiesced in to the Lisbon treaty, the Labour party agreed to the transfer of jurisdiction over the City of London to the EU, which was wrong—the Single European Act was never remotely intended to produce such a result—and, furthermore, views I have received from the City clearly demonstrate that it does not believe that the proposals in the motion will protect the UK or a single market in financial services.
There is another massive issue about the rule of law in Europe. The Foreign Secretary, in his speech to the Körber Foundation conference in Berlin a fortnight ago, said that what bound us together in the EU and the reason for the Government wanting to remain part of it was that it
“has helped to spread and entrench democracy and the rule of law across Europe.”
The tragic reality is that the EU does not subscribe to the rule of law. On 17 December 2010, Madame Lagarde said about the first bail-out fund, the European financial stability mechanism:
“We violated all the rules because we wanted to close ranks and really rescue the euro zone.”
Germany and France themselves broke the stability and growth pact. Furthermore, both the Government and the Attorney-General are clearly of the view that the agreement on the fiscal compact was unlawful, but in reality nothing has been done—hence my call for the legal reserve on this matter, although the legal reserve issued before has never been implemented.
The Government know that the proposals referred to in the second part of my amendment are unlawful. The Council of Ministers’ own legal adviser, in a lengthy opinion which I have seen and which the Government cannot dispute, states that there will have to be an amendment to the treaties if the powers of the governing council of the ECB are to be delegated to the single supervisory mechanism.
The legal opinion says on the proposal amending the EBA regulation, in effect, that in terms of the EBA’s dispute resolution powers there is no justification for treating the ECB differently from banking authorities in non-eurozone member states by exempting it from those powers. To do so would be a clear breach of the principle in law of non-discrimination.
As to the proposal giving the ECB prudential oversight of credit institutions in the eurozone, the legal opinion states that in establishing the single supervisory mechanism the council must respect the legal framework for decision making within the ECB set by primary law—that is, the treaties. This framework does not allow the ECB’s governing council to delegate decision-making functions on banking supervision to a subsidiary body such as the SSM. There is nothing in the legal base for the SSM proposal, in article 127(6) of the treaty on the functioning of the European Union, which would permit secondary law—that is, this draft regulation—amending the rules laid down in primary law. There is no question about it and the Government know that.
Non-eurozone member states are not entitled to participate in the ECB’s decision making, so they can have no formal decision-making role in the SSM as conceived. Furthermore, the law on banking supervision in the EU will be made up of directives to a significant extent. This is a requirement of the treaties. That means that the ECB cannot propose one-size-fits-all legislation on banking union. Rather, it can propose legislation which allows for differences in national transposition.
We simply cannot countenance a situation in which there is a wilful breach of the rule of law and where the dysfunctional European Union vaunts the rule of law, yet deliberately breaks its own rules. This is precisely what led to the kind of constitutional crisis that we have seen in our own history when Governments from the Stuarts onwards claimed a divine right to rule but then broke the common law. This is the primrose path to constitutional disaster not only for the United Kingdom, but for Europe as a whole. I hope the House will understand my concern, as I suggested back in the 1990s that this would happen.
I hear what the Minister says but I cannot understand why and how, given comments that I have received from the City of which I am sure he is aware. Those in the City make it clear that the single market would be put at risk by an imperfect single market in financial services in which rules differed by level of membership of the EU. Furthermore, they say:
“It is essential that voting arrangements within the European Banking Authority are clarified so as to avoid members of the Banking Union voting together en bloc and imposing financial regulation on non-Eurozone members through qualified majority.”
Does my hon. Friend agree that for us to invoke the single market is doubled-edged, because in the end it will be the Commission that invokes the single market as a pretext for levelling the playing field which has been unlevelled by measures taken by the banking union? We will therefore finish up with measures that we do not want being imposed on us by qualified majority voting.
That is precisely right. It was never intended when we voted—and I voted at the time, with a reservation about the sovereignty of the United Kingdom Parliament, which I was not allowed to debate—that we would be in this very position. That was in 1986 when I voted for the measure, but it was with that reservation.
To complete my point, where the comments from the City say “clarified”, I would say changed. We must change the rules, not merely clarify them, but we cannot do so because of QMV. That is the problem and it comes from the Single European Act.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the Government’s defence that QMV cannot be extended to decisions regarding the City cannot be right, and their defence of the idea that the ECB cannot override non-eurozone members is at least highly questionable when it comes to the legal situation that my hon. Friend is highlighting, and that therefore there is a distinct danger?
I would go further and say that the Council’s legal adviser knows exactly what the position is, as do the whole European Union and our own Government. The opinion is out there; I have read it and it is crystal clear. The reality is that there is absolutely no question about it.
I have great sympathy for the Minister and pay tribute to him. I will not go into the details, but it was because of him that we got the documents in the first place. He is a man of great integrity, and I think that he is in a very difficult position tonight, stuck between a rock and a hard place. I have to say that I do not believe that what he has told us really gives us the necessary guarantees and satisfaction. This is not about what we think, or about grandstanding or being difficult for its own sake; as he said at the beginning, this is in many respects—I would not say entirely—on a par with the matters on which we rebelled last week. We do not want to have to do this, but it is a matter of fact that we face this situation.
I have another commentary from City analysts stating that the concern is that the UK could
“still lose the ability to prevent a decision from being taken by the EBA to intervene in a UK bank directly under the EBA’s binding mediation powers.”
They make a similar point about the need for amendments to the treaties. The truth is that it would not be right for Members of Parliament not to register their votes against these proposals in the hope—like Mr Micawber—that something would turn up, because I am afraid that what this amounts to is complicity by our own House and our Government in the violation by the EU of its own laws and the avoiding of amending the treaties for reasons of mere expediency. Even if the EU does come up with something, I believe that it will be merely a fix to avoid revealing its real intentions and, of course, the real results, which will cause so much harm to the UK and the City of London. I blame the Labour party for much of this, as I warned of it several years ago.
The so-called remorseless logic of advocating a banking union is more of a remorseless shift away from our own national interests while the banking union moves the eurozone into an ever deeper and blacker hole with money, either invented or printed, pouring into it. That is a recipe for economic disaster.
I wish to speak briefly in support of the amendment, which I have signed, and to applaud everything the hon. Member for Stone (Mr Cash) said, apart from his comments about the Labour party. I believe strongly that banking regulation should be determined by national Governments and Parliaments and that, if there are to be international agreements, they should be bilateral or multilateral agreements between Governments and not determined by the European Union.
I am certain that my views on banking regulation are very different from those of Government Members, but I agree that we should determine what it is, not the European Union. The most damaging change for Britain was when Mrs Thatcher abandoned exchange controls in 1979, which was the most serious act taken by the Conservative Government in those years. Since then, we have seen all the crises arising from globalisation. We cannot put the genie back in the bottle, although I think that in time we might have to try, but it would take another massive crisis before that happens.
With regard to the euro, I have always been wholly opposed to economic and monetary union and wrote my first paper about it in 1979, when I opposed the European monetary system. I wrote another paper about the exchange rate mechanism and predicted its crash, and I opposed Maastricht. I have written and spoken thousands of words on these matters over many years, and I am afraid that I have been proved right. The crisis now affecting us is quite appalling. In Greece there is now a fascist party infiltrating the police and threatening to undermine democracy while the Greek economy disappears into a black hole, and that is the result of a mad economic policy and strategy. Countries should have their own currencies and should be able to determine their own parities relative to other countries.
The Government ought to go into the negotiating room at any time feeling strong, because the European Union needs Britain much more than we need it. We buy vastly more from the EU than it buys from us. With Germany and France now predicted to be going into recession, they will need our trade even more. Our exports, compared with our imports, are tiny. The German economy is heavily dependent on massive exports to Britain, so we can negotiate from a position of strength and say, “If you make life very difficult for Britain, we could make life very difficult for you as well.” We do not want to do that; we want to be comradely and internationalist. But let us not think of ourselves as a weak country, because we are very strong.
I warmly welcome the approach taken by my right hon. Friend the Minister for Europe and the words that he used to describe the situation. However, I support the amendment tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr Cash). It is an important amendment, which complements the Government’s motion. It questions the legality of the arrangements and, in particular, the voting arrangements, which I drew attention to in an intervention.
My right hon. Friend spoke entirely correctly—with great conviction and accuracy—about the lawfulness of the delegation of powers. The only comment that I make in addition to what my hon. Friend the Member for Stone said is that it is important, given that the EU is governed by a legal framework and is a treaty organisation, that we should have certainty when it comes to the legal provisions of those treaty arrangements. All too often we have seen not certainty but legal terms and conditions being overridden by political will. The situation that we are discussing looks very much like another case of that type, and in such cases one simply cannot trust the legal arrangements.
On the voting arrangements set out in the regulation on the European Central Bank and their implications for the European Banking Authority, while the single supervisory mechanism in the ECB concerns the eurozone, the European Banking Authority concerns all members of the European Union and the whole single market. It sets the rulebook for the single market and has important supervisory responsibilities. The arrangements in the ECB regulation are breathtaking. It is not just a question of having the political will for nations to cohere together; it is a condition of the EU’s law—a regulation—that the member states of the eurozone work together, co-ordinate their actions and take a common position when it comes to the European Banking Authority. That means that in the European Banking Authority’s arrangements for voting, the eurozone bloc will have the whip hand in each of the decisions taken. They will be determined in advance.
The situation is a bit like those council meetings that we sometimes see in this country in which political groups with a majority decide everything in advance in a caucus. They then go into the council to debate a decision, but everybody knows what it is going to be. The same is happening here—the European Banking Authority is being turned into a sham. All the decisions will have been taken elsewhere and in advance and we will be deprived of our say.
The hon. Gentleman is making an important point, but it surely only emphasises the importance of carefully negotiating the voting rights of the United Kingdom and non-eurozone members within the European Banking Authority. Does not the process advocated by the amendment—a veto and then Court adjudication, effectively—blow that negotiation out of the water and risk damaging this country’s rights within Europe?
The proposals are here in black and white. I hope very much that the hon. Gentleman will join us in supporting the Government to take every measure, up to and including a veto if necessary, to preserve our position and to stand up for our interests in the European Banking Authority. We simply cannot have a sham.
It is no use pretending that by talking nicely, going into the room, being at the top table and all the rest of it is going to be the solution. We have heard those warm sentiments so many times in the past. We are discussing a matter of negotiation to protect our interests, and we have to be prepared to take decisions that are unpalatable.
Further to the point made by our hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham (Martin Horwood), is it not the case that every member state of the European Union, with the exception of the United Kingdom and Denmark, is obliged to join the euro at some stage? When 25 out of 27 EU members are members of the euro, they will have a majority whatever voting system is cooked up.
My hon. Friend pre-empts my next point. I am drawing attention to the voting arrangements laid down as a matter of European law in a regulation that gives the eurozone the whip hand, as matters stand. But of course he is absolutely right that other non-members of the eurozone have the ambition to join the euro and that, along with Denmark, we do not have to join it as a result of the opt-out.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Harwich and North Essex (Mr Jenkin) said, even without the legal obligations we could expect members of the eurozone to cohere together to be a majority, and we can see that it will be a growing majority.
If the opt-in countries and eurozone members are subject to the ECB rules but are not legally called a caucus because the ECB does not write it down as such, they will nevertheless, de facto, hunt as a pack and outvote us in the European Banking Authority, so it does not matter what the regulation says.
My hon. Friend is right. It is quite extraordinary to have a regulation setting out that they must act in a caucus, even though it is probably likely that they will do so anyway of their own free will; they will certainly see a common interest in it.
This sets a very worrying precedent for the future whereby the eurozone is going in one direction in working together as a political, coherent body, and being required to do so as a matter of law. For the avoidance of any doubt, and particularly for the benefit of the hon. Member for Cheltenham (Martin Horwood), I will read out the provision that is in black and white—not up in the air somewhere, subject to negotiation—on page 33 of our documents. It requires member states of the eurozone:
“To co-ordinate and express a common position of representatives from competent authorities of the participating Member States when participating in the Board of Supervisors and the Management Board of the European Banking Authority, for issues relating to the tasks conferred on the ECB by this Regulation.”
That is European law, and if they fail to do what it says they will be breaking it—although they may, of course, choose do it anyway of their own free will.
This is a striking illustration of the fact that the eurozone is going in one direction, seeing its political interests as a whole cohering together, while we stand in a quite different position. This provision, and the nature of the relationship that it seeks to put in place between the ECB and the EBA, should give us all a lot of food for thought, because it has major implications for our future in the European Union.
Like all Members here, I urge the Government to consider renegotiating Britain’s relationship within the European Union as a full member but using every opportunity that presents itself to get a better deal for British taxpayers. I firmly believe that that is entirely possible and that the establishment of the European Banking Authority may give us one of the greatest opportunities yet to negotiate not just to defend British financial services but to get something back that enables us to expand our financial services activities.
The hon. Member for Nottingham East (Chris Leslie) talked about the Luxembourg compromise, which was proposed in 1966 following General de Gaulle’s refusal to take part in European Council proceedings. It urged the EU to recognise nation states’ vital interests in particular industries. For example, the French have a veto over the common agricultural policy and the Spanish have a veto over fisheries policy. The automotive industry is as important to the Germans as financial services are to the UK, but they are able to use not only qualified majority voting but competition legislation to defend their industry, which is much less flighty than financial services. We in Britain have less protection than any other member state for this strategically vital industry which produces 1 million jobs directly within it and represents 10% of our GDP and 10% of our annual tax take.
I applaud my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr Cash) for his work on looking at the legality of European banking union, but I urge that instead of focusing on that aspect, which is a given—I do not for one moment believe that our Government would sign up to something that is illegal at EU level—we should instead focus on what we can get in return for our consent. Of course, European banking union is in all our interests; it is absolutely crucial for our economic growth because if the eurozone collapses, we are in big trouble too. Nevertheless, financial services are core to us as well. As the Prime Minister showed by using his veto last December, he is not afraid to stand up for this most important sector.
I would like the Government to negotiate three things. The first is a legal safeguard for the single market so that no other eurozone caucusing can put up protectionist barriers and prevent British financial exports from being sent into the rest of the European markets. That is a basic key point. Secondly, I believe that in the culture and honour of the Luxembourg compromise, the rest of the EU needs to recognise the strategic importance of the financial industry to Britain, and give us the ability to impose an emergency break at European Banking Authority level if we believe that a proposal from the EU directly harms that industry.
Under qualified majority voting we have an 8% vote at the EBA, yet Britain represents 36% of EU wholesale financial services markets. We are therefore greatly under-weighted in what we can do to defend our financial services sector, and I urge the Government to make that case strongly in negotiations with the rest of the EU.
The third point is more proactive. The EU focuses its attentions on negotiating free trade agreements mainly for goods, and there is little intra-EU service trading. In spite of British UCITS—undertakings for collective investment in transferable securities—being the most successful financial export ever, that is only within the EU and not externally. The future for growth in financial services lies in big emerging markets such as Brazil and China, and involves not Government bond trading, but basic things such as mortgages, life insurance policies, health insurance and so on. I hope the Government will urge the EU to commit—in return for our consent—to promoting free trade agreements with emerging economies in services, and specifically financial services.
British success in financial services generated more than 1% growth in GDP per annum across all key EU member states during the financial boom. We now need to solve the financial crisis together, but Britain is in the uniquely strong position of being able to gain something back at the same time.
I remember well those long-gone days when we were told that monetary union would bring strength to the EU, be enduring and serve to bring our economies together. By golly, how time does fly, and how truth changes the vision. Recent experience has shown that political ambitions exceeded economic reality, and fault lines were built into the single currency from the start. Structures have been put to the test and, quite frankly, been found wanting.
The problems facing the euro might not have started in financial services, but the crisis has certainly highlighted those fundamental flaws. Sovereign debt might not be limited to the eurozone, but its constraints within the economic and monetary union exacerbated the crisis. Unless Europe gets to grips with those problems, the entire project could disintegrate before our very eyes. That is the situation we are facing. We are debating a desperate attempt to apply sticking plaster to a serious wound. The flaw is inherent; the mistake already made. Membership of the single currency was extended way beyond that initially envisaged, and therein lies the fault, which is not dealt with by any of the measures proposed today. Banking union may sound like a measured response, but the creation of a European banking union is a world away from a co-ordinated international response. President Barroso revealed his agenda in his “State of the Union” speech, raising the issue of banking union in the context of a push towards a federal European state. That is the truth of the matter.
Our first priority must be to resist any financial transaction tax. That is not a new idea; in 1984, Sweden introduced a 0.5% tax on the purchase or sale of shares. By 1990, 30% of all Swedish equity trading had moved offshore—more than half of it to London—and the volume of bond trading had declined by 85%. That is the damage that a financial transactions tax can do to this country. It is vital that the Government have the courage to resist it.
Will the Minister expand on the references to fiscal probity that allow for spending on social fairness? Is that a get-out clause for grossly indebted Governments who want to keep spending they do not have? It sounds very like it to me.
The report on EMU accepts that public opinion is key, but that is another way to justify spending taxpayers’ money on propaganda. Our Government have stopped the money-go-round in local government and quangos. It would be totally inconsistent to allow Eurocrats to deploy hard-earned taxpayers’ money to propagate grand visions that have already proved to be failures.
Earlier comments on the document made it clear that fiscal integration is about a continued movement to a federal Europe. I could quote page after page, but I will not bore the House. The truth of the matter is that we need to be sure that our Government’s promises to us are absolutely watertight, fast and hard-held. If they are not, the House will be doing a massive disservice to our children and grandchildren. That is what this measure is about.
I noticed a slight smile on the face of the Minister when I made a point about social well-being. If he looks into it a little more, he might begin to agree with me. If I had the time, I would explain.
Finally, as my hon. Friend the Member for South Northamptonshire (Andrea Leadsom) said, we need to take this opportunity as a base to renegotiate—
In some respects, this is a modest debate compared with last week’s, although it is worth reflecting that employment in the City, as reported by City AM, has collapsed by more than 100,000 since the peak of 2007. Some of that was self-inflicted, but much of it was inflicted by increased regulation. The Centre for Economic and Business Research reports that employment in the City is set to fall much lower. Most of the jobs are highly paid, high-taxpaying jobs, on which the economy in general and the economy of London and the south-east in particular depend very deeply.
I commend the sincerity of my right hon. Friend the Minister’s approach. He is in a difficult position. The difficulties he is confronting are a microcosm of the conundrum of the UK’s place in the EU. We are not in the room, so we cannot function as a positively engaged member of the EU on our current terms of membership, but we are also not negotiating the alternative terms of membership that would protect us from the effects of the treaties we have already signed.
It needs to be pointed out that banking union simply was not envisaged in the Lisbon treaty. We now find ourselves confronted with a new institution and a reform that simply was not regarded as necessary when the Lisbon treaty and its predecessors were signed. The treaty is not fit for purpose for a banking union.
The problem is that no arrangements that nibble at those problems will protect the UK’s interests—a wholesale change in our relationship is the only way to protect them. Sadly, the motion represents the Government yet again passing up a substantial opportunity to start laying the foundations of a different relationship and to start leveraging the renegotiation of our terms of membership. That is a matter of great significance.
Unfortunately, our party’s leadership does not intend to start substantive renegotiation of our relationship until after 2015, long after this particular opportunity will have passed us by. If we attempt to remediate this measure and its effects on our interests, we will not succeed. This is happening in case after case—the fiscal union treaty is another example.
Does my hon. Friend agree that we should use every opportunity and not waste any of them? We have an opportunity to make a difference. If we just keep noting everything and do not use our opportunity, that will be another chance gone and the electorate will not forgive us for it.
I am afraid that my hon. Friend is right that failure to get the maximum leverage out of these opportunities means that they will be forgone for ever. We may well get to 2015 and find that all the major decisions to federate the eurozone will have already been taken and our opportunities to then renegotiate will look slim and incredible.
I will close by picking up on the contribution of my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr Cash), who is the Chairman of the European Scrutiny Committee and whose comments add a Götterdämmerung-like quality to this debate. Hitherto, the architects of European integration have, like the gods in “The Ring”, attempted to construct their Valhalla on the basis of principles and the rule of law, yet they are now compromising those very principles, on which the legitimacy of this structure depends, and, in doing so, sowing the seeds of their own destruction.
If this was being done properly—I invite the House to reflect on this—it would be a treaty change and there would be an intergovernmental conference. There would be a huge amount of debate about what other changes needed to flow from an intergovernmental conference and we would end up with a whole Act of Parliament, which would have to pass through both Houses of Parliament in this great building. The issue, however, is being debated in a mere 90 minutes on a quiet Tuesday afternoon before the Minister is sent—haplessly, perhaps —to the Council of Ministers to either agree or disagree with these momentous changes.
Major changes are being made in a more casual manner as the European Union becomes more desperate to shore up its previous mistakes. “Macbeth” comes to mind: the worse a situation gets, the more rash and irrational the actors become in defence of the indefensible. I hope that right hon. and hon. Friends will remember this debate, because the move from legality to illegality is a very big step, yet that is what we are witnessing as the Government approach this particular decision. I hope yet that they will see sense and veto the proposal.
I have a feeling that Christmas has come particularly early this year, because I had the opportunity to speak in a European debate just three hours ago, and to speak twice on Europe in one day is almost as joyful as 25 December.
The Government have a problem and I am sympathetic to them. The report of the European Scrutiny Committee—its Chairman, my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr Cash), spoke brilliantly, as always, and has tabled a sensible amendment—shows that the Government’s problem is that, of the two decisions that they face, the one that they support requires unanimity and the one that they oppose will be decided by qualified majority voting. I have quite an easy solution for them— I think they are looking for a solution—namely that they should use the threat of not supporting what they support to get leverage on the decision that they do not support. As we have heard from the Minister, there is widespread agreement across the House on the things that the Government do not support and on concerns about the European Banking Authority, particularly on voting and caucusing in the voting, and the nature of the European Central Bank, as against other central banks, in relation to the European Banking Authority.
When it comes to caucusing, getting a particular voting arrangement in the European Banking Authority will be no good at all. It will be a temporary palliative, because unless a voting system is devised that gives the UK a permanent veto, which personally I would be all in favour of, but which seems unlikely, then as soon as other member states begin to join the euro—which they are under a treaty obligation to do, with the exception of the United Kingdom and Denmark, as I said earlier— the non-euro member states will be easily outvoted. Therefore, we need to look, with the veto we have got, at the whole system of financial regulation and how it affects the United Kingdom. I understand that total renegotiation of the treaties is not currently being considered. I appreciate that in a coalition with the Liberal Democrats—which includes my hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham (Martin Horwood), who loves the European Union and everything that comes from it—it is difficult to get a renegotiation that would satisfy Conservatives.
Just to put the record straight for the benefit of Hansard, I do not love everything that comes out of the European Union. I simply regard it as another level of authority with which we must negotiate gently and carefully, rather than necessarily taking the rather Gaullist approach that the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues are taking today.
I am enormously grateful to my hon. Friend, who gives me an extra minute every time.
This is an important and good opportunity for the Government to get back powers that should never have been given away. It was a great folly to give away financial regulation to the power of the European Union, because as my hon. Friend the Member for South Northamptonshire (Andrea Leadsom) so wisely said, we have much more financial services in this country—I think she gave the figure of 36% for wholesale financial markets in the whole of the European Union that are in the UK. Therefore, we ought to regulate our own affairs and we ought not have delegated that to the European Union. We need to be careful about what is being proposed when it comes to the regulation of what are substantial international banks based in the United Kingdom in their business—which may be subsidiary business—with eurozone countries, because there is obviously a risk that they will find themselves under the auspices of a European regulator when they ought more appropriately to be under the auspices of a British regulator.
I think the Government’s position is quite strong, and I think the amendment is extremely sensible. It is interesting that we learn only through the Financial Times that the proposals that have come forth from the Commission are illegal. We do not learn it from the Government or the Commission; we learn it from an underhand leak, which comes via a newspaper to inform our debates, which is a pity. It would be nice if we could get such information directly to a sovereign Parliament, so that we knew what was or was not legal. Perhaps the Government will consider releasing the legal advice that will guide them—or perhaps ought to guide them—in their approach to this debate.
I would encourage the Government to accept the amendment tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Stone. I listened very carefully to the Minister—I always do: he is a great Minister, who is much admired on this side of the House, and I imagine in other parts too. There was nothing he said which in essence contradicted my hon. Friend’s amendment, so I ended up thinking that what we were really debating was which way up an egg should be eaten—whether it should be the big side or the little side up. We are united as egg eaters in this context, and we think it would be “egg-cellent”—if I may carry on with this theme—to support my hon. Friend’s amendment, to which I was pleased to add my name, because it provides us with a solution in our negotiations in Europe and a clear way forward.
I am delighted to follow my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg), who is perhaps one of the most articulate Members on the Government Benches. I am not going to argue the whys and wherefores of whether we should bring financial regulation back to this country. That is an important question, and I totally agree with my hon. Friend the Member for South Northamptonshire (Andrea Leadsom) on it, but I am going to argue on the narrow question before us—namely, the substantive motion and the amendment.
As a non-eurozone member, we will not be participating in European banking unification. I agree, however, that we need to ensure that the measures taken by our European partners do not adversely affect British interests, particularly in the banking and financial services sector, given its importance to UK plc. The City of London is the pre-eminent financial services centre not only in Europe but in the world, and we want it to remain so. Remaining globally competitive is critical to the United Kingdom and to the eurozone, and it is important that the single supervisory mechanism for the eurozone should function effectively. As long as we remain outside the eurozone, the mechanism will be aimed primarily at eurozone banks and not at our own financial institutions. As many colleagues have pointed out, however, there could be unintended consequences at some future date that could have an impact on us.
The Minister has given us assurances today that the Government will seek to secure sufficient changes to the European Banking Authority voting arrangements to protect the interests of member states, such as the UK, that are not members of the eurozone and that do not choose to enter into the proposed co-operation arrangements. I am therefore happy to support the Government’s substantive motion.
My hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr Cash) has tabled an amendment to the motion. I congratulate him on his leadership of the European Scrutiny Committee and on his tenacity, perspicacity and overall determination to protect Britain’s interests. He has always been a strong defender of our interests and I congratulate him on that. In fact, I wholly endorse the opening line of his amendment, in which he welcomes
“the Government’s desire to seek safeguards for the UK”,
and the reasonable tone that he adopts in asking the Government to use their best endeavours. That is reasonable, and it is not didactic. I have a problem with the second part of my hon. Friend’s amendment, however, in which he calls on the Government to use their veto to
“ensure that the powers of the Governing Council of the European Central Bank are not unlawfully delegated to the Single Supervisory Mechanism without an amendment of the treaties”.
We have heard from the Minister’s mouth today that we will not proceed unless the arrangements are legally robust. I have had no insights into the matter, and I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset that it would be good to see the leaked document, but, unlike many others, I have not had the privilege of doing so. I fear, therefore, that the amendment is somewhat tautological, if not unnecessary, in that the Government would neither support an illegal arrangement nor table a motion that was not in order. I will therefore put my faith in the Minister’s assertion that there is nothing illegal about the proposed arrangements and that he would not waste Parliament’s time by proposing anything that was illegal. I will therefore support the Government’s motion and vote against the well meant but unnecessary amendment that my hon. Friend the Member for Stone has put before us today.
Like many other Members, particularly on the Government Benches, I have a healthy respect for the Ministers sitting on the Front Bench this evening—the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, my right hon. Friend the Member for Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark) and the Minister for Europe, my right hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr Lidington)—but I believe that they are trying to defend the indefensible. I find it hard to understand how a Government who are prepared to use the veto, and who have used it in defence of City interests, can be prepared, by passing these regulations unamended, to enter negotiations without being able to assure the House that cast-iron guarantees are in place to ensure that qualified majority voting will not be allowed adversely to affect the City.
I have asked the Minister at the Dispatch Box where those concrete guarantees are. Unfortunately, I have not heard anything to convince me that they actually exist. The idea that the European Central Bank would not be allowed to overrule or override non-members of the eurozone is, I am afraid, not a strong enough guarantee. I do not see where that stands up, particularly given that the legal opinion that has been sought and confirmed brings that sort of red line very much into dispute. There is no guarantee there at all. I very much look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say about what other concrete guarantees exist in defence of the City. Going into negotiations or allowing these regulations to pass without a clear idea of what the guarantees are could, I suggest, turn out to be a fool’s errand.
We all know how the eurozone has got into this mess. The eurozone went for monetary union, courtesy of the single currency, but we all know that there cannot be monetary union without fiscal union, so now it is playing catch-up. Easy credit and easy money have led to Governments borrowing too much, and the eurozone is trying to sort out this mess.
I have to say to the Minister, if he is listening, that having just returned from Germany with the Foreign Affairs Committee and having asked about the possible solution, I know that fiscal union or fiscal compact is definitely on the table—despite the fact that most members of the fiscal compact that is coming into effect next year have already broken the parameters of the financial limits set. The universal answer, whether one spoke to politicians of the left or the right or to trade unions, businesses or lobby groups, was more integration and more political union in order to make the fiscal compact work. We are on a collision course with the proposals that are now coming out of the eurozone.
My suggestion is that that is fine: let the eurozone members get on with it; we wish them well in their endeavour. I doubt whether it will succeed, because the economics do not stand up and time does not allow any further exploration. Let them proceed, but my concern as they do proceed along that journey is what damage they will do to our interests. My deep concern is that, if we are not careful, we are going to walk into negotiations without having the ability to call upon cast-iron guarantees if they are needed, and that our interests will be adversely affected as a result.
We all accept that in this country we perhaps need to rebalance the economy somewhat and to get manufacturing up. We cannot, however, ignore the importance of the City to our economy. We have been prepared to use the veto in the past, and it makes no sense for the Government’s proposals to proceed without those cast-iron guarantees in place. There is little doubt that if we enter into negotiations without those safeguards in place, we will stand a real risk of allowing others adversely to affect the City’s interests and, in the end, our prosperity as well.
I look to hear from the Minister what those concrete guarantees are. If, as I believe, they are not forthcoming, I will have no hesitation, having put my name to the amendment of my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr Cash), in supporting him in the Lobby—[Interruption.]
I think that what has united all my hon. Friends who have spoken tonight is their justified anxiety to safeguard a vital strategic interest of the United Kingdom, namely our financial services industry. Let us never forget that most of the jobs in financial services in the United Kingdom are outside London, and that when we talk of the City we are also talking about firms that employ thousands of people in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and the northern and midland cities of England.
The City has thrived through a single market in European financial services. Roughly a third of its business is in Europe, and we should be proud of the fact that it is not just a strategic asset for the UK. The presence in London of a global financial services centre is an asset for Europe as a whole, and we should be prepared to shout loudly about that: about the millions of French workers whose savings are invested through London funds, about the energy companies throughout Europe whose exposure to dollar exchange rates is hedged by funds in London, and about the projects involving privatisation and public-private partnerships in eastern and central Europe that look to London for both expertise and capital. We are standing up for the interests of the British people and, indeed, those of citizens throughout Europe in defending the interests of the financial services sector.
For a single market, we need a common rule book, and we need the EBA to help with the enforcement of common rules. I felt that there was a lot of common ground between the views of my hon. Friend the Member for South Northamptonshire (Andrea Leadsom) and the Government’s position. We do indeed believe that, in negotiating free trade arrangements with the rest of the world, the EU should ensure that services constitute one of the key dossiers, and that is what we are pressing for in every free trade agreement negotiation. I also agreed with the strictures expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton South (Mr Binley) about the financial transaction tax. We could not have made it clearer that we will not accept such a tax on a European level. If other countries are so foolish as to implement it, that is a matter for them.
We are faced with the reality that our friends in the eurozone are committed to a single currency. We respect their decision and want that currency union to be stable, which must involve a banking union. The package of measures that we have before us groups together some elements on a single market treaty base which will be determined by qualified majority, along with, critically, a key measure which, under article 127(6) of the Lisbon treaty, requires the establishment of a single supervisory mechanism in the European Central Bank that requires unanimity. We have always seen those different elements as a package. I must tell my hon. Friend the Member for Basildon and Billericay (Mr Baron) that we could not have been clearer about the fact that we will not agree to a measure to establish the single supervisory mechanism under article 127 unless the package overall protects our interests.
In his opening speech, my right hon. Friend the Financial Secretary said that we would insist that the proposed changes in the EBA were not acceptable, and would require full protection for the UK and the other non-eurozone members’ positions within the EBA. The documents that we have here are draft texts which do not represent the final position. If they were to represent the final position, we would not agree to them in their current form.
I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Braintree (Mr Newmark) that the amendment, although well intentioned, misses the point. We are not going to agree to something that is unlawful, and neither is Germany. I ask the House to have confidence in the Government’s determination to defend and advance the interests of the United Kingdom, and in particular to safeguard our financial services sector. I also ask the House to contrast that with the view of Labour’s Front-Bench team, the logic of which was not simply to be in the room, not simply to take part in negotiations, but to follow it through to join—
One and a half hours having elapsed since the commencement of proceedings on the motion, the Deputy Speaker put the Question (Standing Order No. 16(1)), That the amendment be made.
The Deputy Speaker then put the Question necessary to dispose of the business to be concluded at that time.
Main Question agreed to.
That this House takes note of European Union Documents No. 13682/12, a draft Regulation amending Regulation (EC) No. 1093/2010 establishing a European Supervisory Authority (European Banking Authority) as regards its interaction with Council Regulation (EU) No…/… conferring specific tasks on the European Central Bank concerning policies relating to the prudential supervision of credit institutions, No. 13683/12, a draft Regulation conferring specific tasks on the European Central Bank concerning policies relating to the prudential supervision of credit institutions, No. 13854/12, Commission Communication: A roadmap towards a Banking Union, and an unnumbered Explanatory Memorandum: Towards a Genuine Economic and Monetary Union: Interim report; and welcomes the Government’s decision to remain outside the new supervisory arrangements while protecting the single market in financial services.