The MPs debated, yesterday, the European Union Economic Governance proposals.
The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Mr Mark Hoban): That this House takes note of European Union Documents (a) 9433/10, Commission Communication on reinforcing economic policy co-ordination, (b) 11807/10, Commission Communication on enhancing economic policy co-ordination for stability, growth and jobs – tools for stronger EU economic governance, (c) 14496/10, Proposal for a Council Regulation (EU) amending Regulation (EC) No. 1467/97 on speeding up and clarifying the implementation of the excessive deficit procedure, (d) 14497/10, Proposal for a Council Directive on requirements for budgetary frameworks of the Member States, (e) 14498/10, Proposal for a Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council on the effective enforcement of budgetary surveillance in the euro area, (f) 14512/10, Proposal for a Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council on enforcement measures to correct excessive macroeconomic imbalances in the euro area, (g) 14515/10, Proposal for a Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council on the prevention and correction of macroeconomic imbalances, and (h) 14520/10, Proposal for a Regulation of the15 European Parliament and of the Council amending Regulation (EC) No. 1466/97 on the strengthening of the surveillance of budgetary positions and the surveillance and co-ordination of economic policies; notes the Report from the Task Force on Economic Governance in the European Union; notes with approval that budgetary and fiscal information will continue to be presented to Parliament before being given to EU20 institutions; and approves the Government's position, as endorsed by the Task Force that any sanctions proposed should not apply to the United Kingdom in consideration of Protocol 15 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU.
I welcome the opportunity to set out the Government's position on the Commission documents to be debated this evening and our broader position on the co-ordination of economic policy in the EU. As right hon. and hon. Friends will be aware, the European Council last month agreed the report of the EU Economic Governance Task Force chaired by Herman Van Rompuy, and we support its work and conclusions, none of which encroaches on Parliament's economic sovereignty. I want to be clear about that so that there can be no confusion about our position.
Let me deal first with surveillance. Macro-economic surveillance examines the budget plans of member states, and has been around for more than a decade. There is nothing new in that, and a number of international bodies do the same, such as the OECD and the International Monetary Fund. Does the fact that the EU is doing so mean that we will be subject to sanctions? No, it does not, because under protocol 15 of the existing treaty, sanctions do not apply to us.
During the debate, Bill Cash made the following interventions:
Mr William Cash (Stone) (Con): Is my hon. Friend aware that the same Mr Van Rompuy has today issued a vicious attack on Eurosceptics throughout Europe, saying that what they argued amounts to a national lie?
Mr Hoban: I have not seen Mr Van Rompuy's comments. (…)
Let me continue to make the Government's position clear. Will we have to present our Budget to Europe before we present it to the House? No. Will we have to give Europe access to information for budgetary surveillance that is not similarly shared with organisations such as the IMF, or that is not publicly available on the internet? Again, the answer is no. Will powers over our Budget be transferred from Westminster to Brussels? Again, the answer is no.
Mr Hoban: I simply do not take the view that giving the Commission more information is going to be a problem. This goes back to the intervention by my hon. Friend the Member for Harwich and North Essex (Mr Jenkin), who asked whether there is to be an increase in EU jurisdiction as a result of this measure. No, there is not. All that the EU will do is make recommendations, but they will not bind us or be imposed on us. We can simply ignore them. There will be no increase in EU jurisdiction as a consequence of this measure.
Mr Cash: The explanatory memorandum dealing with the jurisdictional question, which was supplied to the European Scrutiny Committee on 23 October, states, under the heading "Impact on United Kingdom Law":
"The Regulations once adopted would be 'binding in their entirety and directly applicable in all Member States'. However, in accordance with Article 1 of the proposed Regulation, the Regulation on enforcement measures will apply (only) to the Member States whose currency is the euro."
That is made absolutely clear by the Minister's own document that he supplied to the Committee.
Mr William Cash (Stone) (Con): This debate and the Minister's remarks remind me of what Alice said in "Through the Looking-Glass", when she referred to Humpty Dumpty and his rather scornful tone:
"'When I use a word,' Humpty Dumpty said…'it means just what I choose it to mean-neither more nor less.'
'The question is,' said Alice, 'whether you CAN make words mean so many different things.'
'The question is,' said Humpty Dumpty, 'which is to be master-that's all.'"
That is the essence of the question of European economic governance. We have been told that it is good for us, that it does not affect us and that it does not make a difference. However much one gets into the interpretation of those words, the European Scrutiny Committee's report makes it clear that there are significant differences, in aggregate, between different parts of the regulations and directives. If the proposal is accepted by the Government, they will effectively cross the Rubicon and similarly, by acquiescing in ever-greater European governance over our economy, they will significantly undermine our ability to govern ourselves. We need less Europe, not more.
The proposals extend to the United Kingdom, as a member of the European Union, thereby raising questions of sovereignty. Under the aegis of the forthcoming Bill on the European Union, my Committee will hold an inquiry so that we can sort out once and for all whether it is the House of Commons, Parliament and that sovereignty which governs the country, or whether it is the European Union. Under Standing Orders, the Committee's duty is to report to the House, not to the Government, on matters that we regard as requiring debate by reason of their legal or political importance. The scrutiny reserve remains in place until the debate has taken place, and thereafter Ministers can, and no doubt will, vote and/or agree the proposals, but may continue negotiations.
I was glad that the Minister's explanatory memorandum stated specifically, on several vital matters, that the Government would
"seek to ensure in negotiations"
that matters of concern would be improved. In doing so, the memorandum by definition conceded that these issues have not been resolved entirely, that negotiations could improve them, that they do make a difference to the United Kingdom, its Government and its Parliament and that they have to be remedied. As Chairman of the Committee, I have placed in the Library a note in my name on all these matters, so anyone who wishes to look at them may do so.
I was puzzled by the Prime Minister's response to a question that I asked during his statement to the House on the outcome of the European Council meeting. He accepted that the matter was complex and required a greater opportunity for exchange of opinions and explanation, but he also said: "This is not a new framework."-[ Official Report, 1 November 2010; Vol. 517, c. 614.] I find that extremely puzzling, however one construes it, given the evidence before us and the specific reference to a new surveillance framework in the taskforce report and in the presidency conclusions that he signed off. The truth is that the Commission intends to exert peer pressure on all member states of the European Union. The taskforce report of 21 October preceded documents being placed in the Library, following an urgent question I asked, emblazoned with the word "limité", which means very restricted circulation. They included a letter of 9 July from the Chancellor of the Exchequer to other member states. It might be thought that there was every reason to present those documents to the European Scrutiny Committee, even if they were not specifically depositable. The Committee does not operate by website.
A substantial question on whether the UK is affected has been dealt with in a note that I received from the Library, from which I shall quote, on increased macroeconomic surveillance. It says:
"It is proposed that a greater role is played by the Commission in macroeconomic surveillance. This surveillance mechanism would be distinct from that currently taking place under the SGP"- the stability and growth pact-
"because it is non-fiscal in nature; it will focus on countries' broader macroeconomic positions in relation to the rest of the EU."
The note goes on:
"The idea of deeper macroeconomic surveillance was put forward in March this year as part of the…Europe 2020 proposals",
which were, of course, under the previous Government. The note continues:
"As originally envisaged, the deeper surveillance framework would apply only to the euro area countries; however, the Commission proposals of 30(th) June"-
after the general election- "
and the Task Force Report of 21(st) October"
both apply to "all Member States". That is a matter of considerable concern. Why have the coalition Government agreed to extend the framework to all the member states, whereas the previous Government appear to have confined it exclusively to the euro area? As my hon. Friend the Member for Hertsmere (Mr Clappison) said, the taskforce recommends deeper macroeconomic surveillance, with the introduction of a new mechanism underpinned by a new legal framework based on article 121. The Minister's explanatory memorandum specifically refers to the legal impact and therefore the jurisdiction of these matters, as I have already mentioned, which clearly shows that there is a legal impact on the UK. Therefore, by definition, the proposed mechanism affects the UK and hands over jurisdiction in these matters to the European Court of Justice for interpretation and construction.
Furthermore, it is possible, and even likely, that the stricter reporting requirements will apply to the United Kingdom under the macroeconomic surveillance proposals, particularly if the UK were placed in an excessive imbalance position. We have always conceded, right from the beginning, way back to the time of the Maastricht rebellion, that there would be no sanctions because of the opt-out that we achieved. The fact that the Government continuously state that it is a victory not to have had sanctions imposed is merely a statement of the obvious. I go further. I would be grateful if someone could tell me which member states have ever paid any fines or had any sanctions imposed upon them under any of these arrangements. The answer is none, and there are those who argue that there never will be.
We are in a difficult situation with regard to how we will vote on the motion. Serious questions arise, and I was concerned when I read the letter and the appended document from the Chancellor of the Exchequer, which I had to extract by way of an urgent question, for which I was most grateful, Mr Speaker. In that, there is a description of economic governance, the words of which would not be easily understood. It states:
"Democratic legitimacy is vital to everything that the EU does, and Ministers need to be accountable both to other Member States and to their electorate."
I find that a new and strange doctrine, and a rather dangerous one. I had no idea that Ministers were accountable to other EU member states. It is conceded, and I agree, that the United Kingdom Budget will be presented first to the UK Parliament, but the essence of the problem is that in the compilation and the construction of the Budget, a series of data and statistical information would have to be provided. That in itself creates the framework that constricts our ability within our parliamentary process to act on our own terms and in line with the principles that underpin our parliamentary Government-that matters of taxation and spending and the formulation of them depend upon the House of Commons, not upon the European Union.
Given the significance that has been attached to these ideas, they represent a drift and an acceptance of European economic government through the surveillance framework by increasing the powers available to the Commission. This does not in any way alter the degree of intrusion into the construction of our Budget before it is presented to Parliament. One of the most difficult aspects is that far from our having a need for much less European economic governance, we are having more. As we move further forward and become more absorbed into this arrangement, we have to ask what is actually happening in the EU itself. As one of the other national European scrutiny committee chairmen said to Mr Van Rompuy when I was in Brussels the other day, "Will the European Union go bankrupt if we refuse to obey your rules?"
Other member states are beginning to get the message, which is why I think Mr Van Rompuy issued that assault on Euroscepticism throughout Europe. He is getting the message that people in national Parliaments are not prepared to accept, for example, the fact that their economies have failed because of the EU's refusal to deregulate and repatriate. I mention in brief the Deputy Prime Minister's remarks on that subject, because he clearly stated that there would be no repatriation, despite what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister asserted in his speech to the Centre for Policy Studies in 2005.
We need to generate enterprise for small and medium-sized businesses. There is the failure of the Lisbon agenda, massive unemployment, of more than 20% in some countries, riots, protests and a sense of failure, despair and democratic hopelessness.
Rules and regulations will not turn the European Union into a thriving economy with which we trade. It is said that 50% of our trade is with the European Union, and that the proposals before us are necessary to achieve stability in the European Union. The crucial point is that, underneath all those rules and regulations and the determination to achieve European economic governance, we are going the wrong way, not the right way. The measures do affect us. We need more enterprise, more small businesses, more deregulation and repatriation. I am not surprised, therefore that in a recent opinion poll 80% of people said that they wanted the repatriation of powers from the European Union.
We are being more and more absorbed by a failed European Union. Under this coalition, roadblocks are being put up to prevent us from sorting that out, and the new surveillance framework is part of the problem, not the solution. I shall vote against the motion.