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Volume 560: debated on Monday 18 March 2013

With your permission, Mr Speaker, I shall make a statement about banks in Cyprus.

In the light of the financial difficulties faced by the Republic of Cyprus, that country’s Government have requested a programme of financial assistance from its fellow members of the eurozone. Britain is obviously not part of the eurozone and was not party to the negotiations, and there is no contribution from the United Kingdom, either through the European financial stabilisation mechanism or bilaterally.

At the end of a meeting of eurozone Finance Ministers at the weekend, it was announced that it had been agreed with the Cypriot Government that a programme of assistance worth up to €10 billion would be provided, subject to the following measures: a fiscal consolidation amounting to 4.5% of Cyprus’s gross domestic product over four years; a privatisation programme to raise €1.4 billion, or 8% of GDP; an increase in corporation tax from 10% to 12.5%; a gold and assets swap from the reserves of €1.5 billion, or 8.5% of GDP; a withholding tax on interest of €1 billion, or 6% of GDP; and a levy on deposits of €5.8 billion, worth 33% of Cyprus’s GDP, which, it has been reported, will consist of a 6.75% levy on deposits below €100,000 and a levy of 9.9% on deposits above €100,000. In return, the assistance package will allow €5 billion-worth of bond redemptions, excluding the Russian loan which will mature in 2016; €2 billion-worth of deficit financing, less privatisation proceeds; and an injection of €4.5 billion into the banks’ balance sheets.

The agreement established terms of reference for an independent evaluation of the implementation of the anti-money-laundering framework in Cypriot financial institutions.

Those are the main features of the agreement, but parts of it, including the deposit levy, require legislation in the Cypriot Parliament, and that is expected to be considered tomorrow. Accordingly, the situation in Cyprus remains uncertain and is subject to change. What is clear from the proposal so far is that the levy will not apply to foreign branches and subsidiaries of Cypriot banks, including those operating in the UK. Indeed, the two Cypriot banks in the UK, the Cyprus Popular Bank and Bank of Cyprus UK, have been open for business today.

Of course, there are British nationals who have accounts with Cyprus-based branches of Cypriot banks and who would be affected by the proposed levy if it were agreed by the Cypriot Parliament. They include serving British servicemen and women who are required to be based on the island and so, in order to go about their day-to-day activities, maintain local bank accounts. Approximately 3,000 members of the armed forces are on overseas postings serving our country in Cyprus. The Defence Secretary and the Foreign Secretary have made clear that, should these measures be approved, the British Government, as their employer, will compensate those personnel for reasonable losses incurred as a result of the situation.

Several thousand UK pensioners are resident in Cyprus. Today is a bank holiday there, and, to ensure that any payments made by Her Majesty’s Government to banks in the country reach the intended recipients, all future pension payments made by the Government to British citizens there will be temporarily put on hold until at least tomorrow. That will allow us to take stock of developments in Cyprus. All UK pensioners in the country can be assured that their future pension payments are being held safely, and that a normal payments service will resume as soon as the situation has become clear. However, recipients of these payments can switch the bank account into which payments are made with immediate effect by contacting the international pensions centre, the details of which are available on the website of the Department for Work and Pensions.

As soon as more information on the final measures taken is available, I will arrange a briefing for Members whose constituents have been caught up in the situation. I understand that this is a worrying time for other British nationals who have deposits in banks in Cyprus, but, as Members will be aware, deposits in Cypriot banks are subject to the laws and regulations of the Republic. Ministers from the Foreign Office, the Ministry of Defence and the Department for Work and Pensions will update the House as soon as they have information that is relevant to their areas, and will keep the House updated.

This is a worrying situation, not only for the people of Cyprus but for many of our constituents. It is a situation that is uncertain and subject to change, and I will return to the House with updates as events become clearer. However, I wanted Members to have the opportunity to be informed from the outset of what is known so far.

The terms of the Cypriot bank bail-out are extremely concerning, and the market reaction today may be only the beginning of the fallout. While it is, of course, important for the Cypriot banks to be put on a secure footing, it is extremely dangerous to wider economic confidence for the fundamental trust of retail depositors to be undermined in such a way. This was a very risky decision, and we would expect the British Government to caution against such a sequestering of the funds of ordinary bank customers.

The so-called bail-in of banks in jeopardy does not always need to punish savers and depositors in this way. It is essential that the trust and confidence of ordinary bank customers across the European Union is immediately restored, with guarantees that no future bail-in arrangements will operate in this way. Surely one of the lessons from recent history is that rock-solid guarantees for depositors are a prerequisite to stability and recovery. EU Finance Ministers would not have countenanced a move such as this in larger members of the EU, yet somehow it is acceptable for smaller ones. It is never a good message to send to the public in any country that they would have been better off keeping their life savings under a mattress than in a bank.

It is particularly concerning that international institutions with UK input, including the EU and the International Monetary Fund, have adopted this precarious strategy, so I have to ask the Minister some specific questions. First, were the UK Government made aware of this proposal beforehand and, if so, when? Was the Chancellor consulted and, if so, what view was expressed? The UK may not be able to attend the meetings of the Eurogroup of Finance Ministers in a non-voting, observer capacity, but any informal decisions taken there still need referring to ECOFIN, so would it not be sensible, in future, to secure a right for observers, including the UK, to attend such crucial decision-making meetings, given the ramifications of eurozone decisions for the whole of the EU?

The Opposition welcome the decision to compensate UK armed forces personnel stationed in Cyprus who are affected, but can the Minister set out the estimated cost to the Exchequer of that policy? Are British consular officials providing assistance to other affected UK nationals? What is the Government’s estimate of the number of UK nationals affected by this decision in Cyprus? What will happen if the Cypriot Government and Parliament do not actually go along with this proposal? They are obviously between a rock and a hard place, as the further two days of impromptu bank holidays go to show, but surely such public brinkmanship by the EU and the IMF just creates even more uncertainty. What is the extent of British banking exposure and British business exposure to the Cypriot banks? How much does the Treasury estimate that UK investors will lose under this arrangement?

Many EU citizens expected that their deposits were guaranteed up to €100,000, or £85,000, under the deposit guarantee scheme directive, but we now learn that there was a caveat excluding special taxes such as this one. Should consumers be aware of any other aspects of the small print in the deposit guarantee scheme? Does this whole episode not show that we should clarify our own banking bail-in rules in this country as soon as possible, rather than, as Ministers are saying in the Banking Reform Bill process, waiting for the European Union to draw up the bail-in directive in several years’ time? Waiting years for the EU to tell us how a bail-in arrangement might operate suddenly looks like an unwise course to take. Surely we should get these issues sorted out here at home as soon as possible. This is not a matter where the UK Government can just sit on the sidelines, because issues that could fundamentally affect our own stability, growth and prosperity are involved, and we expect Ministers to take firm steps within the EU to reduce these risks now.

I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s points and questions. Let me say at the outset that we will have the chance to discuss these things in more detail, but the situation is very fluid; we understand that tonight there will be a meeting of the Eurogroup members—a video conference—to discuss some aspects of it, and the Cypriot Parliament is meeting tomorrow, so I think it would be unwise to assume that the information that has come out over the weekend will necessarily represent the shape of things to come. However, I will make sure that the hon. Gentleman and, indeed, all hon. Members are kept abreast of things.

The hon. Gentleman’s point about fundamental trust needing to be established in the banking system goes to the heart of the matter. It is crucial that that applies not just in this country, but across the eurozone. It is one of the reasons why we have been supportive of the efforts being made by the eurozone to stabilise the financial system there, including by the introduction of a single supervisory mechanism. Cyprus, as I think he would acknowledge, is in a particularly acute situation, as a very large proportion of its GDP is exposed to international financial transactions and its domestic fiscal situation also leaves a lot to be desired. I think all hon. Members would recognise that the importance of maintaining fiscal discipline as well as adequate supervision of the banking system is exemplified by what has happened.

In terms of the negotiations so far and the parties to them, the hon. Gentleman should know and is, I think, aware that the discussions are among the members of the eurozone, who bear financial responsibility for bailing out Cyprus, and the Cypriot Government. They have negotiated with each other and the plan can be approved only if the Cypriot Parliament endorses it. The UK understands and has intelligence about what went on in those discussions, but was not part of them and had no influence and no votes. Ultimately, this is a matter for the Cypriots and the eurozone.

The cost of the protection that my right hon. Friends have offered to UK serving servicemen and women will depend on the final state of the arrangements, which, as I say, are not certain at this stage. I mentioned in my statement that about 3,000 UK military personnel and their support staff are employed, which gives us a limited ability to estimate the context.

On the question of the supervision of UK banks and any potential exposure, the Bank of England, as the hon. Gentleman would expect, maintains close involvement and is supervising all the banks that might have any exposure to the Cypriot authorities. The hon. Gentleman is quite right that it is necessary at both a European and domestic level to agree a means of bailing in the contributions of holders of capital so that the banks can be resolved without the types of problems we are seeing in Cyprus. We have been very clear that we want to see that and the Irish presidency is making good progress with the recovery and resolution directive. We have said that if that progress does not proceed at the pace we hope and expect to see, we can use the banking Bill to make the necessary amendments.

This looks to be very poorly thought through, possibly dangerously so, not least because it risks triggering a run on the banks of other indebted countries. Is it not also the case that this could be a breach of EU deposit regulation, which requires a full guarantee of up to €100,000? It is not supported entirely by a tax but by shares—which clearly and demonstrably are not a tax. A minute ago, the Minister described the situation as fluid, but a fluid bail-out does not sound like a very robust policy to me. Does that not illustrate the gulf between the rhetoric and reality of the so-called banking union? Does it not illustrate that the eurozone’s problems are unresolved and blighting the UK economy?

I agree with my hon. Friend to the extent that I think that it underlines the importance of having arrangements across the eurozone to anticipate and provide robust measures to ensure that resolution plans for such problems are agreed in advance so that there will not be this fluidity of negotiation. I completely agree with that. The measures that are being taken for banking union are designed to resolve precisely that set of circumstances. As for the legality of the situation, we will need to be assured that the arrangements proceed in accordance with the treaty.

The lack of effective supervision of the Greek Cypriot banking system has been notorious for many years and it has become a haven for Russian money laundering. What steps, either through this package or through other measures, are being taken better to control the banking system in Cyprus?

The right hon. Gentleman will know that the agreement reached at the weekend includes action to address the reputation Cyprus has established as a potential home for money laundering and that is part of the conditionality for the package.

Given the importance of the euro’s stability to the London banking system and the wider world, will the British Government be lobbying the European Central Bank to ensure that it provides sufficient liquidity at all times should a run develop in a weaker bank or a weaker country, given the invitation to people to withdraw their deposits from any difficult institution?

The pace of negotiations, thanks to the fact that today is a bank holiday in Cyprus and that that could potentially be extended, is meant to resolve the matter before a run on the banks is possible. My right hon. Friend is right that the situation is unsatisfactory and it is necessary to establish a more orderly system for anticipating or managing potential bank failures in the future. It is in everyone’s interest to ensure that there is no such collapse of the banking system in Cyprus.

Does the Minister realise that we have reached a sorry state of affairs when the eurozone—we are not members, thanks to the Labour Government last time round—[Interruption.] Oh yes; that is when it happened. I know Conservative Members like it, but we did it at the time. Is it not a sorry state of affairs that the eurozone can implement a poll tax, and that the Government were made aware of it at some point or other and have not told us at any time that they condemn this move? I am giving the Minister a chance now: condemn it!

It was the policy of the Labour party to be committed in principle to joining the euro, and it was our right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond (Yorks), now the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, who was the first in the House to say that the Conservative party would campaign against the euro and would not join. As a result of being outside the eurozone, we are not responsible for the arrangements there. We are not part of those negotiations. This is a negotiation between the Government of Cyprus and members of the eurozone.

The amounts involved are eye-watering as a proportion of the Cypriot economy. We are used to bail-outs involving a haircut for creditors. This is the first time I have ever seen a complete scalping of depositors in order to finance a bail-in. Given that we are outside the various institutions of European decision making, how will the Government safeguard British depositors against future scalpings of this sort?

My hon. Friend makes an important point. To put it into context, the European Central Bank said this morning that the situation of Cyprus and the Cypriot banking sector is unique. I think Members will reflect that it has unique problems that have required a unique and very difficult solution.

Surely the Minister agrees that we have been in this situation before. Taking emergency measures that cause alarm is not the same as making fundamental reforms which are necessary. Will the Minister be pressing for more responsible tax and financial controls? For example, the corporation tax is to increase from 10% to 12.5%. Surely he would agree that a responsible financial policy would mean a much bigger increase.

I do not think anyone is suggesting that the measures that have been taken are not rigorous and exacting. The reaction in Cyprus and across the eurozone indicates that these are regarded as very tough measures, including on the transparency of the banking system, particularly to avoid the reputation for money laundering. However, this is a matter for the Cypriot Government. They have had to convince their partners in the eurozone that this programme represents a credible set of conditions which can give confidence to those who are helping to bail them out.

The Minister will no doubt appreciate that Mr Draghi’s comment that the European Central Bank will do whatever it takes clearly includes daylight robbery of British pensioners, among others. Does he agree that this is symptomatic of the dysfunctionality of the European Union? Will he also note that Germany has very much driven the measures itself, and furthermore that it has a surplus of £29 billion with the rest of the European Union, whereas we have a deficit of £48 billion?

Clearly, it is a matter of regret, and lessons should be learned from the situation that Cyprus finds itself in. One of the clear lessons is that it should not have been allowed to descend into this state of indebtedness, and the banks should not have been allowed to get into their present position of vulnerability. It is in our interests, as well as in the interests of other members of the eurozone, that we have a much more soundly based banking system right across Europe.

I welcome the action that has been taken to protect the deposits of members of our armed forces in Cyprus, but to follow on from what has just been said, is not the lesson of this whole episode to spell out very clearly to anyone who advocates in future any greater European integration or any joining of the euro, “Hands off our money”?

I am sure that our constituents in this country will be relieved and reassured that we are not part of these arrangements and not exposed to the consequences of the failure that is sought to be averted in Cyprus.

This is a truly shocking development, impacting very unfairly on savers who are already feeling the impact of the very low interest rates brought about by quantitative easing; it is acting as a real disincentive to save for one’s older age. I congratulate my right hon. Friend on protecting members of the armed forces, but will he clarify his intentions for British pensioners, having put on hold pension payments? Can anything more be done to reassure British pensioners living in Cyprus that they will not be affected?

It is open to British pensioners to have their pension paid into another account. They can nominate that account from now on through the Department for Work and Pensions’ website. Their pensions are safe; we will make sure of that. The Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions, my hon. Friend the Member for Thornbury and Yate (Steve Webb), will update the House. Once the details of the final package become known, in so far as they have implications for the payment of pensions, we will update the House.

My Cypriot constituents are shocked and angered that the much-publicised deposit guarantee scheme appears to be worthless. They are further outraged that the reason given for that is that the banks have not gone bankrupt, therefore the deposit guarantee does not apply. What action will the Minister take to speak to his EU colleagues to see what can be done, even at this late stage, to repair the damage to trust and confidence in our banking system?

The hon. Gentleman and I had a conversation this morning. I know that he has many constituents who are very worried at this time, and I have said that I am happy to meet them so that we can understand their particular situation. It is clearly an unsatisfactory situation in which the Government of Cyprus, as I understand it, faced a choice between a measure such as this and contemplating the collapse of the banking system. That is a choice that no one would want to make. It is a choice that they made and that they are putting to the Cypriot Parliament, but just as this Parliament is sovereign, so that is true in Cyprus, and the debates that they will be having during the next two days will determine whether what has been proposed over the weekend is what pertains.

The Government are right to protect the position of members of our armed services, but the Minister knows that many pensioners are exposed and I hope that he will consider extending the guarantee to British pensioners living in Cyprus. On a practical note, I believe that the Cypriot Parliament is due to vote on Tuesday evening and that the bank holiday in Cyprus has been extended until Thursday in order to keep the banks shut. Does that apply to branches of Cypriot banks in other countries, and what will happen if the vote in Parliament on Tuesday does not go the way that the Cypriot Government wish it to go?

Discussions are continuing with the eurozone members as well as the Cypriot Parliament, so it would be wrong to speculate on the outcome. I can confirm that Cypriot bank branches in this country are open and operating normally today.

The public will be outraged that British nationals are having their money stolen from them on the orders, let us be frank, of the German Government. Can we now move forward with legislation in this Session of Parliament to put on the statute book the power to have a referendum in this country on our relationship with the European union?

The hon. Lady will know that these matters have been discussed in the House. The Prime Minister has made a speech in which he said that if he is re-elected there will be such a referendum. As to whether the legislation should come before the House before the general election, that is for others.

The Minister will no doubt sympathise with a new Government picking up an appalling financial legacy and having to make tough decisions, but the raid on deposits was extraordinary and unprecedented. Will he provide assurance to my constituents that not only are the Laiki bank branches and the Bank of Cyprus, the headquarters of which is in my constituency, open for business, but the deposits are guaranteed, and that that deposit guarantee scheme applies and will continue to apply whatever the decision of the Cypriot Parliament?

I applaud the work that my hon. Friend does as chairman of the all-party group on Cyprus. The proposal that has been made would certainly protect his constituents who have deposits in those banks, and the final terms are being discussed in the Cypriot Parliament. Certainly, those banks that have subsidiaries in the UK are governed by the UK regulators and subject to the UK financial compensation scheme.

The Minister has mentioned members of the armed forces, but clearly no scheme is yet in place. What advice is being given to members of the armed forces currently serving in Cyprus, and has the Ministry of Defence stopped the payment of wages and expenses into Cypriot bank accounts?

The arrangements for advice on implementation of the commitment to compensate members of the armed forces cannot proceed until the Cypriots have decided on the final arrangements, which will be in the next few days. Having made the commitment to ensure that pensions are not paid into bank accounts to which access might be questionable, I will discuss the hon. Gentleman’s point with my right hon. and hon. Friends to ensure that similar arrangements are considered for the MOD.

The Minister is presumably unable to say how many of the 3,000 members of the armed forces serving in Cyprus will be affected, but does he agree that serving military personnel who have Cypriot bank accounts, even if they are not in Cyprus, should also be included in the scheme? Also, why will the Government be compensating only for “reasonable” losses and not full losses?

I know that many of my hon. Friend’s constituents will be in that situation and will have bank accounts in Cyprus. We have made a commitment, but these are very early days—we learned only over the weekend that these matters are being discussed. I think it is appropriate for the Government to make an immediate commitment of reassurance to those members of the armed forces. They have no choice about being sent to Cyprus, and when they go on this country’s business it seems to me to be reasonable to make that commitment.

Does the Financial Secretary have a view on how it looks to the world that ordinary savers are losing proportionately more of their deposits than institutional investors are? Is there not a strong case for the eurozone to get on and complete arrangements to create a single resolution mechanism so that banks can be resolved in an orderly way?

As the EU has now arbitrarily abandoned its £85,000 deposit insurance scheme, what advice would my right hon. Friend give British subjects in other European countries, such as Ireland, Portugal, Spain, Greece and Italy, whose deposits might also be at risk in future? Would it be best for them to repatriate their funds?

The ECB made a clear statement today that the situation in Cyprus is unique, and I think that a study of the situation there would confirm that.

The ECB action was supposed to create stability, but it has created instability. The Minister has made it clear that the Chancellor was not consulted on that beforehand, but has the Chancellor made it clear to the ECB that, although this particular deal may be renegotiated, the instability will linger in precisely the way the hon. Member for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg) suggests?

The whole House has an interest in ensuring that right across Europe, in countries that are members of the eurozone or those that are not, there is confidence in the banking system. This period of several days of uncertainty is undesirable. We need to get arrangements in place, as the hon. Member for Nottingham East (Chris Leslie) said, to have clear resolution plans in advance. It needs to be sorted out quickly, because the situation is undesirable. I think that it is in everyone’s interests that it is resolved very soon.

I am grateful to the Minister for the conversation he and I had about the issue earlier today. I am also grateful to Councillor Andreas Tambourides, who has discussed it with me, and to my constituent Wayne Boothroyd, who e-mailed me to ask specifically about British service personnel on the island. What assurances can the Minister give me to pass on to my constituent that members of the armed forces will be compensated for their total losses, not their “reasonable” losses, as the Minister said in his statement?

The Defence Secretary and the Foreign Secretary have given a voluntary commitment to making sure that we do right by our armed forces, and their intentions are absolutely clear—that we should not be putting at a disadvantage the men and women who serve our country overseas, in this case in Cyprus.

I am a bit surprised by the lack of moral outrage from the Minister on behalf of the people who live in Cyprus. He calls the measures vigorous and exacting, but are they not actually immoral and unfair? Will he simply say that it is wrong for the Cypriot authorities to pilfer the savings of ordinary people living in Cyprus?

Not having been part of the negotiations, it is difficult for any Member of this House to know what the alternative was. The elected representatives of the Cypriot Government clearly accepted what was proposed in contemplation of a fate that they considered to be worse, which was the collapse of the Cypriot banking system. This is a situation that none of us wants to be in. Thank goodness that in this country, as a result of being outside the eurozone and having introduced discipline into our finances, we are not going to be.

We may well find that some of the biggest British losers are people who are in the process of buying or selling property in Cyprus. Can the Minister offer any reassurance to people who may have lodged money with a solicitor in an escrow account, for example, that the solicitor will be responsible for the losses and not the person who is trying to buy a property?

My hon. Friend raises an important point. I have made a commitment to the House to provide further statements once we have more detailed information on how all these arrangements are likely to apply.

This is clearly deeply worrying for the people of Cyprus, and we have to condemn what is being done to them, but it is also worrying for millions of working people across the whole eurozone. Is this not just the beginning of a situation in which Cyprus and other countries withdraw from the eurozone and, indeed, the euro itself may be wound up? Are the Treasury, the Government and the Bank of England making preparations for that eventuality?

The Treasury and the Government always make contingency plans for many eventualities. It is important to reflect on the statements made by the German Government and by the ECB that the situation in Cyprus is very dissimilar to that prevailing in other countries. It would not be right to draw a parallel between what is happening in Cyprus and the situation that exists elsewhere.

Many British citizens who move themselves or their assets to Cyprus will have done so believing that going to another EU country offered them some protection. This theft clearly shows what a pup we have been sold on Europe over the years. Will my right hon. Friend take up the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg) and ensure that proper advice is offered to British pensioners in other eurozone nations on how they can protect their pensions or return their deposits to this country?

The agreement that was reached at the weekend was an agreement between the Government of Cyprus and the eurozone members. The ECB has said clearly:

“It’s the Cyprus government’s adjustment programme. If Cyprus’ president wants to change something regarding the levy on bank deposits, that’s in his hands. He must just make sure that the financing is intact.”

The Cypriot Parliament will, quite properly, be discussing and debating this matter. It has some influence, and indeed some control, over how these measures are levied.

As the Minister made clear, whether in the eurozone or not, what affects one country in Europe affects us all. Will he therefore answer the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr Skinner) and give us his view on this levy on deposits?

The Government of Cyprus agreed to this proposal. The spokesman for the German Government was very clear that how Cyprus makes its contribution—how it makes the payments—is up to Cyprus. If the Government of Cyprus, recently elected by their people, make this decision, it is for them to justify it to the Cypriot Parliament.

Is this not proof positive, if any were needed, that if a country signs up to the euro it is effectively abandoning its economic sovereignty and national independence?

My hon. Friend makes a point that finds an echo throughout the Chamber. As the days go by, I think we are all reassured and relieved that we did not make the decision that the Labour party made in principle to join the euro.

One of the fundamental rules of banking has been broken, in that the deposits and savings of ordinary people have been, in effect, taken over in part by the state. That is a fundamental breach. What assurances can the Government give us that this precedent will not be followed by other countries in the near future?

As I said, we need to get resolution arrangements in place, but the ECB and the spokesmen for different members of the eurozone have been clear that the decision to impose this kind of levy was taken by the Cypriot Government with the eurozone. They could have done it in different ways, but that is the mechanism they chose.

Although it is absolutely right that the Government should support our armed forces personnel, I share the sense of moral outrage expressed by the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas) that ordinary pensioners who have retired to Cyprus, who are citizens of ours and who do not think of themselves as members of the eurozone but as British citizens, will feel abandoned. Will the Minister assure me that he will fight hard, particularly for those pensioners who have less than €100,000 on deposit, to try to protect their money?

Yes, but discussions and negotiations are taking place between Cyprus and the eurozone—and, indeed, in the Cypriot Parliament—on whether the proposals that were agreed over the weekend will be enacted. We have some way to go before we get to that stage and I will, of course, update the House if and when we get to that final stage.

I am amazed that the Minister is not more scandalised that thousands of ordinary Cypriots, in this country and in Cyprus, are going to lose money. Money will be filched from them when, frankly, the people who caused the problems—the Government of and the bankers in Cyprus—will not lose anything. Leaving that aside, how much British Government money from the Ministry of Defence and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office will be lost in Cypriot banks?

I am scandalised that the situation in Cyprus was allowed to happen in this way. It should not have happened in terms of the supervision of the banking system or the country’s fiscal performance. We will not be able to make an assessment of our guarantee to the armed services until we see the final shape of the negotiations, but when we do I will make sure that the House knows about it.

Further to the question asked by the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant), it is undoubtedly true that the Ministry of Defence has funding in the Bank of Cyprus for operational expenses on our bases, including pay. Are we likely to be scalped? In other words, is it likely that our Government will bail out the Government of Cyprus?

It is too early to make that assessment, but we should know in the next few days and I will, of course, update the House when the situation is clear.

Having visited our sovereign bases on Cyprus and seen the training facilities and some of the excellent decompression facilities for our troops returning from theatre, I am very concerned about the effect this proposal could have on our bases. Although I welcome what my right hon. Friend has said about compensating service personnel, will that include family members who have relocated to Cyprus with servicemen and women during their overseas posting?

Yes, that is the intention. Clearly, if the family of a serving member of the armed forces has to relocate to Cyprus and maintain a bank account for everyday living expenses, it seems reasonable to include that in the proposed compensation arrangements. That seems to be the just thing to do.

What is the Minister’s assessment of the exposure of London financial markets to the potential crisis that may follow from this?

The Bank of England keeps the arrangements under constant review. I think it is fair to reflect that Cyprus is an infinitesimal part of the European banking system and an even smaller part of the world banking system. Although this is an extremely worrying time for citizens of Cyprus and our constituents who have investments or connections in Cyprus, in the wider context Cyprus does not have the systemic importance of other countries.

Whatever the Cypriot Parliament decides this week, this has been a torpedo across the European banking system. What advice would the Minister give to pensioners who live in Spain and Portugal about whether they should maintain large deposits in eurozone banks?

I agree that this is a warning and that it is necessary to have more robust financial arrangements in place to prevent this sort of crisis from happening in other countries. However, I reinforce the advice of the ECB that this problem is unique to Cyprus, which is particularly exposed and is in a state of particular indebtedness.

Does the Minister agree that what we are witnessing in Cyprus is yet further evidence of the disastrous consequences of what happens when a country loses control of its economy by giving up its own currency?

It is perfectly clear that the problems in Cyprus are related to its membership of the euro. Thankfully, we are not part of the euro, we do not have those problems and we have control of our own arrangements in this country—and long may that continue.