The House of Commons considered, yesterday, a government motion in support of the Banking Union. Bill Cash tabled an amendment “…urging ministers to use their veto if the eurozone pushes ahead without signing a new treaty.” Unfortunately, the amendment was defeated. A total of 33 MPs supported Bill Cash’s amendment, including 21 Conservative backbenchers. Bill Cash was quoted, in The Daily Express, as saying, “Many more MPs agreed with us than voted for the amendment.”
The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Greg Clark): 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:
“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.
Mr William Cash (Stone) (Con): 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 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?
Greg Clark: 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.
Mr Cash: 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.
Greg Clark: 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 would need to be satisfied before any of the proposed measures can be adopted.
Mr Cash: 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.
Chris Leslie: 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.
Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans): Order. We will start with a six-minute limit, but it will have to be lowered. I call Mr Cash to move his amendment.
Mr William Cash (Stone) (Con): 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.”
Mr Jenkin: 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.
Mr Cash: 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.
Mr Baron: 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?
Mr Cash: 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.
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 House divided:
Ayes 33, Noes 273.