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Volume 737: debated on Thursday 17 May 2012


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they intend to make any further financial contributions to the eurozone bailout.

My Lords, first, we should be clear that there are no requests on the table for further financial assistance. The Government have made clear their view that the responsibility for sorting out the problems of the euro area rests primarily with euro area Governments. The UK will not be a member of the permanent European stability mechanism, which will replace the European financial stability mechanism established under the previous Government, for which the UK holds a contingent liability.

The Minister will be aware that there is considerable confusion in the public’s mind about what our commitments to the eurozone actually are. Although we may not have those commitments through formal European agreements, we are putting more money into the IMF and have done a bilateral deal with Ireland. Can the Minister clarify, in language that people outside can understand, exactly what our liabilities to the eurozone and its member countries are in the event of further financial turbulence?

My Lords, as I explained, there are no requests for further assistance on the table at the moment, so it would be entirely hypothetical to discuss what our further commitments might be. However, as I have said, as of July this year, the permanent European stability mechanism comes in. The UK is not party to the agreement to establish that mechanism and there will be no further commitments from the UK under the European financial stability mechanism from July this year. The IMF does not support the eurozone or any other currency union. It is there to support individual countries, and any assistance is considered country by country on the merits of each case.

My Lords, my noble friend the Minister is causing some of us a little concern. Why did he not answer the Question on the Order Paper with a simple no?

My Lords, as the decisions affecting the eurozone clearly have a major impact on this country and its economy, can the noble Lord at long last tell us precisely what advantages are achieved for the United Kingdom by excluding ourselves from some of the very important European decisions?

My Lords, we are not excluding ourselves from very important decisions; we are saying that it is for members of the eurozone to take the lead in sorting out the problems with the euro. We are very much at all the discussions. As well as questions of potential and past bailouts, we are discussing growth strategies and the completion of the single market, which will put Europe back on a sustainable growth path.

My Lords, what is complicated about our country borrowing at an increasing rate so that the national debt will be 50% larger in seven years’ time? What is complicated about ruling out providing money to the eurozone that we do not have to spend?

My Lords, I have been completely clear that as of this July, the mechanism in the eurozone, which the previous Government signed us up to, will no longer make any future commitments. The new permanent mechanism that is being put in place is a eurozone-led mechanism and the UK is not part of it.

My Lords, I referred yesterday to a report in the best newspaper in the country, the Financial Times, which obviously the noble Lord, Lord Howell, does not read. That report, by two journalists, said that the Prime Minister was contemplating capital for a European growth fund. That would be a sensible compromise with the new French President. Will the Minister either confirm the truth of this or deny it completely?

My Lords, like my noble friend Lord Howell, I did not see the article. I thought that my noble friend’s answer yesterday was exactly to the point. Ideas have been floated around that the European Investment Bank should increase its capital and stability and in some way its ability to lend. If proposals come forward, we will look at them, but it is very important that the EIB does nothing to prejudice its own debt rating.

My Lords, given the relatively healthy state of the German economy and its growth rate, are the Government having any conversations with the Germans about using fiscal measures to unleash some consumption and spending within Germany so that 80 million Germans do not keep their money under their mattresses but use it as a spur to generate further growth?

My Lords, we do not offer advice to the Germans on how to manage their own economy any more than they would offer advice to us.

My Lords, are Ministers saying that, if the European Union were collapsing all around us, we would stand aside and do nothing at all?