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growing public sector deficit.
The stark fact is that, as this Government increase our debt to 57 per cent. of gross domestic product and to more than £1 trillion in just three years time, every child born in Britain today is born with £17,000 of debt around its neck.
The Commission also notes the need for credible medium-term budgetary frameworks, and the Governments response relies on the claim that fiscal policy has been set on the basis of delivering a balanced, cyclically adjusted current budget and a declining debt-to-GDP ratio once the recession is over. That was the claim of the Ministers colleagues, but I put it to him that he and his colleagues have no credibility when they make such statements. Their Government ran a structural budget deficit through seven years of continuous economic growth, and in each of those years, they predicted a return to balance in two or three years time. Every year, however, that prediction was postponed by another year. The return to balance was the jam tomorrow that never came.
The Commissions paper argues, as the Minister has said, that the growth and stability pact should be implemented with flexibility during the recession, and that corrective action would be required during the recovery. The Government have latched on to that, saying that they agree with the Commission that excessive deficits need to be corrected over time frames consistent with the recovery of the economy. The Minister cited that statement, but the EU is referring to excessive deficits that arise as a result of tackling the economic crisis, not to excessive deficits that are already in breach of the growth and stability pact limit and that were being run before we even went into recession. Those deficits were earning rebukes from the European Union before the economy had even turned down. That was the situation that the United Kingdom found itself in. The Commissions prescription for those with structural deficits before the recession is very clear, and I have already spelled it out. It is that fiscal policy should essentially aim at correcting such imbalances.
The Government are wrong to interpret these documents as any kind of green light for their unaffordable fiscal actions, which only add to the mountain of debt, hamper the recovery and burden future generations. On the contrary, the warnings to the UK in the Commissions paper could not be clearer, and the UK Governments response is disingenuous in the extreme in trying to interpret it otherwise.
On the global response to the financial crisis, the Commission is empire building and the UK Government are right to rebuff it, but need to do so more forcefully. On Lisbon and supply-side reforms, the Commission is merely cataloguing the failure to deliver on the agenda agreed many years ago to make Europe the most competitive knowledge-based economy by 2010an objective that now looks rather a long way from being achieved. The UK Government response merely endorses that agenda once again, rather than identify the reasons why it has not been delivered.
On the financial markets architecture at EU level, the Government need to dig in and ensure that they will determine the regulatory regime governing Britains biggest industry and that they negotiate globally on cross-border supervision and information-sharing arrangements that can be done effectively only at a global not a regional level. I do not necessarily regard it my purpose to endorse what the Government do in this area, but I have to say that, for the good of my country and the prosperity of my constituents, I would rather
have even this Government negotiating on those matters than the European Commission whose interests are diverse, diffuse and not necessarily focused on the best interests of the UK.
Finally, on the fiscal stimulus, countries that are in a position prudently to increase their deficits must make their own decisions about the case for active demand management and the risks attached to it, but the UK clearly does not have the scope to deliver such a stimulus without damaging medium-term fiscal stability. The Commission, to its credit, makes that very clear, and the Government have failed to respond to the warning, simply pretending that the Commission document says something different and claiming that the EU has provided cover for the Governments politically motivated actions when it patently has not.
Michael Connarty (Linlithgow and East Falkirk) (Lab): I am always amazed at the Conservatives and how they view the world in which they live. They appear not to realise that there is a wolf at the door, but are much happier talking about a bogey man in the cupboard. In reality, we are facing an international collapse in financial credibility and the banking system, so we should be endorsing what the European Union, of which we are a part in terms of policy and decision making, is doing because it is, in fact, copying a strategy designed by this Prime Minister and this Government. That is the reality of it. Every other President, Prime Minister or leader will try to say that they have put in their bit, but the reality is that it was a headless organisation until we put the plan forward that was endorsed.
We have debated this issue before in a European debate: both the framework document and the action plan were debated in early December, just before they went to the European Council on 11 and 12 December and were endorsed by the European Union. I am on the record in that debate, speaking about what I hoped would be endorsed
The UK acting alone would, quite frankly, not be able to deal with the blows coming from the banking credit implosionthat is what it is throughout the world. I do not use pejorative terms such as Johnny Foreigner; I understand the banking system and its international nature. Decisions were taken by some of our so-called great banksthose are the ones that made the greatest errorsso we have the Royal Bank of Scotland with£2 trillion of debt, based on very dubious assets. I studied economics and know what my economics professor would have thought. The Conservative Government took away the rules and we then further loosened them, and he would have been horrified at the leverage on such worthless assets as mortgage debt bundles. This needs to be dealt with on a big scale, and I believe the EU is the best mechanism for doing that.
I thoroughly endorse the Governments approach. I would have preferred it if they had not only noted the documents, but actually agreed with them as well. I often wonder whether people ever take the trouble to read the documents that our European Scrutiny Committee endeavours to read from cover to cover. I shall refer to some that have not been referred to in any detail today. They may not have been read yet, as they were put before our Committee only at its most recent meeting, on 12 January.
I welcome the increasing flexibility thatnotwithstanding the picture painted by Opposition Front Benchersis a feature of communications from the European Union on how the crisis should be dealt with. The early papers that were before the Committee in December on the framework document and the document on recovery from the financial crisis were a little rigid and cautious. The very good officers of the House who advised the Committee, for example, said:
At first blush, some of this
seems to include acceleration or resurrection of pre-existing Commission ambitions, for example revision of the European Globalisation Adjustment Fund rules or stepping up investment in Trans-European Networks.
However, the situation has moved on quite a bit since then. I think that Opposition Front Benchers should note the frameworks and endorse them, and also note later documents showing both the Governments willingness to be flexible andagain, contrary to the picture painted by the Oppositionto resist policies of which they were not yet convinced. I shall give examples of that later.
Mr. Redwood: Why does the hon. Gentleman consider this to be a global banking crisis, given that China, India and Japancountries with colossal economieshave experienced nothing like the problems that the United Kingdom has experienced with the Royal Bank of Scotland?
Michael Connarty: One of our problems is that we became fully involved in a way that I would roundly criticise, without exercising proper caution. There are questions to be asked about the regulatory framework, but we are not here to debate that. I have said the same in statements that I have made both publicly and in the House. The problem began with an attitude towards the banking system that originated with the Conservatives and, sadly, continued under our Government.
I am willing to speak at any time about the Financial Services Authority and the failings in regard to policies on regulatory reform, but that is not the context in which this debate is taking place. We are experiencing a crisis, and we have seen the collapse of the banking system. It has been an international rather than a national development, affecting economies at different levels, but the socialist-leaning economies of the Scandinavian countries seem to be more immune than others.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned a plan earlier, but the plan that we are currently following is not new. It did not appear in 2008 or 2009; it stems from the problems affecting Sweden in 1992 and 1993. An important part of the Swedish recovery was the setting up of toxic banks to take on the toxic assets of other banks, which in the final analysis left the Swedish
economy with a total cost of between 1 and 3 per cent. of GDPless than has already been committed by the United Kingdom Government.
Michael Connarty: As a socialist in the Labour party, I am attracted to the idea of the Swedish model, and if we were to adopt all the other facets of the economy of Swedenor other Scandinavian countriesI would not mind including the little bit that the hon. Gentleman has just endorsed. However, that is not what we are discussing now, and the Labour agenda does not appear to contain the sweeping changes that would probably be on the agenda of anyone who wished to see a Swedish-style economy in Britain.
Let us return to the topic of today. I believe that in its first flush the recovery plan was correct, and the framework was correct. It was, without doubt, driven by the Governments ideas and responses, and it is right for us to endorse the Governments support for it. We debated this matter in December, although not all the Opposition Members who are present today may have been present then. However, there are five documents tagged to this debate, which I consider very important because they show how the situation is developing. We considered some of them back on 24 November.
Document 4938/08 concerns the response to the final crisis. It refers to the new financial architecture and dealing with the impact on the real economy. The aim was to develop the framework subsequently. The document that was tagged at the same time and could have been read with the same bundle referred to increasing the facility for medium-term balance of payments support for member states. One of the first things that happened was that Hungary found that the facility under EU structures was not capable of alleviating its balance of payments problems. In the old days, before the EU and the resulting co-operation, one country would have done down another, damaging its economic ability. I remember that happening under the Conservatives, and I remember very well similar attacks on the currency when I was a young member of the Labour party under the Wilson Government. However, the EU acted responsibly, and extended support for the Hungarian economy and any other economy facing balance of payments problems.
It is great that we are not now throwing other countries to the dogs to our advantage. We are not short-selling those countries. Sadly, the Government ignored their rule on short selling, and Barclays has been short sold in the past few days. We should never have removed that short selling restriction; we should have left it.
Mr. Bone: The hon. Gentlemans speech is well constructed, but if everything is hunky-dory and we are working together as one big, happy family and no country has been singled out, why has our currency collapsed?
It is not collapsing because of attacks on our currency. It is falling because of interest rate and borrowing policies. It is falling because of a natural market pattern, not because of an attack by one economy on another, which is what used to happen. Economies would deliberately do down other currencies, but that is not what is happening now. I agree that being outside the euro at the moment is an advantage for our
competitiveness, and I am pleased that we are outside it. I would have urged us to go in earlier, but I am willing to recant on that, because our flexibility at this time and in this situation is wonderful.
The European Union will have to show great flexibility with the Irish situation, or Ireland may not be able to sustain its membership of the euro. European document 14306/08, which we also considered on 24 November, changed the interpretation of state aid rules in exceptional circumstances of financial crisis. It is important to realise that state aid policies would have choked off any attempt to deal with the problem of the real economy or support for the financial sector.
Another two documents were tagged, and the Committee considered them only last week, on 12 January. The first gave the context for state rules in guidance on the recapitalisation of banks. It is important to consider that, and I shall quote some of the stated aims of that policy, because there is flexibility in that context. Its purpose is
contributing to the restoration of financial stability; helping ensure lending to the real economy; and avoiding systemic effects from insolvency of a financial institution.
Member states own banks should not obtain an undue competitive advantage over banks in other Member States.
The policy is about flexibility. Not everyone is happy and everything is not hunky-dory, or whatever the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Bone) said, but there are signs of willingness to try to create a co-operative approach throughout the EU. We would not have had that without the EU, and I commend the Conservative Government who took us into the European Union. I voted yes then, and I would vote yes again.
state recapitalisation should not distort the domestic market, banks that seek additional capital in the market should not be put in a significantly less competitive position due to state recapitalisations.
That guidance and those rules, which the EU has agreed, are important. Whether the Commission, Britain, the French or the Germans came up with them does not bother me, nor does it bother my constituents who write to me asking why they cannot obtain credit, and why their bank is taking away the credit that they require for their cash flow to enable them to buy the goods required to manufacture the products to sell to their customers. I have written to the chief executives of the banks of those which have written to me because the banks have to realise that they must show co-operation and flexibility, and the ability exists for them to do that. I hope that we will commend the Government for their endeavours.
I repeat that Opposition Front Benchers appear to want to ignore the wolf at the door to talk about the bogey man in the cupboard. It is time they focused on the real problem. The Commission is not some sort of animal that is out of control. We have control of the Council and I hope that, after the Lisbon treaty, we will have control in the Parliament of dual mandate, which is important and will democratise the process. If we are not willing to engage in that and simply want to call names across the water, we become increasingly ridiculous, butthank goodnessthe Government are not doing that, as the motion shows.
The final document that is tagged to the debate is 17606/1/08, which we considered last week, to amend the 2007 to 2013 financial framework. The intention was to change it in such a way that we moved, for example, €5 billion to trans-European energy connections from the defence of natural resources, and thus try to put the money into the real economy. The idea is worth considering. The Government are not currently convinced about it, and the Committee has not cleared the document because we believe that further dialogue is needed with the Government. However, that shows that the Government are not simply jumping in lock, stock and barrel and accepting every proposal that comes out of the Commission. They want to examine it in detail and see how it will affect our economy and our companies. The right framework and the right plan are being pursued, and they should be endorsed.
Mr. Philip Hammond: While the hon. Gentleman is on the subject of the budgetary framework, has he considered the impact on UK demand and the UK fiscal position of the much higher price that our contributions to the Union will cost the UK Government as a result of the depreciation of sterling against the euro?
Michael Connarty: I am very conscious of that. I have a fairly good degree in economics and I am conscious that that will be a problem for those who pay in sterling and have commitments that they cannot escape because the value of sterling has fallen. We are in that market situation because of the major trauma throughout the system. I believe that it could have been avoided if we had not been so growth conscious, growth hungry and, frankly, greedy. I say greedy because, in many respects, we pursued the same philosophy as the previous Conservative Governmentthat was the problem. We told people that they could have everything, that they did not need to worry about the future and that they could just borrow and buy. Now it is coming home to roost. It frightens people and may destroy lives for a long time. I am not happy about that. I have a much more rational and probably less profligate view of the way the economy should grow than that which has been pursued for the past 25 years. My constituents regret what may come down the line in the next year. However, we are considering an international economic framework and financial plan, which has increasing flexibility.
There may be more flexibility and more debate with our Government about the detail, but the House should endorse the Governments actions in supporting the framework and the plan, and I hope that hon. Members will vote for it if it is pushed to a Division later.
Mr. Jeremy Browne (Taunton) (LD): There are occasions, albeit less frequent than in the past, when the Chamber feels like the centre of the political world. Today may not be one of those occasions, but we are holding an important debate, and I regret that more time has not been allocated for our discussions.
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