The Deputy Prime Minister: With the greatest respect to the hon. Lady, I feel slightly as though we are looking at the matter from opposite ends of the telescope. The

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problem has arisen because of the refusal of her colleagues and others to will the means to deliver something to which she is committed, under not only the coalition agreement but successive Conservative manifestos. I have been looking at the long pedigree of commitments in favour of an elected element in the House of Lords in Conservative party manifestos going back to 2001. Interestingly, the 2005 Conservative manifesto states that

“proper reform of the House of Lords has been repeatedly promised but never delivered.”

That sounds more like a prediction than anything else.

Mr Angus Brendan MacNeil (Na h-Eileanan an Iar) (SNP): This latest episode of omnishambles shows the public that Westminster is unreformable. Twentieth-century democracy has patently failed. Does the Deputy Prime Minister understand that this is yet another example of why, in the 21st century, Scotland would be better off making all its own decisions with independence rather than continuing under the cronyism in the House of Lords?

The Deputy Prime Minister: I agree with the hon. Gentleman that one of the virtues of a reformed House of Lords would have been a voice in the second Chamber for the Scottish people as well as for the English and Welsh people and for all the nations and regions of the United Kingdom; we have spoken about that before. At the moment, that second Chamber has a very high preponderance of people from the south-east of England. There is chronic under-representation, not only from Scotland but from Wales and the north of England. That would all have been balanced by reform. I do not think that that point argues in favour of ripping up the United Kingdom altogether, but it does argue in favour of pushing for reform once again in the future.

Mr Richard Shepherd (Aldridge-Brownhills) (Con): The Deputy Prime Minister refers to his proposals as a simple matter of democracy. I wonder how he reconciles that with the greater principle of how it can be democratic to have a once-elected person who is never held accountable by an electorate.

The Deputy Prime Minister: We had extensive debates, in which the hon. Gentleman participated, when the Government set out our ideas in the draft Bill about the concept of a non-renewable term. I totally accept that there is an issue about legitimacy versus accountability. A non-renewable term improves legitimacy, but not standing for election again raises question marks about accountability. I would say two things. First, a 15-year term is better than an illegitimate life membership of the House of Lords. Secondly, we did not draw on something that this Government have suddenly invented; we drew on the work of countless cross-party committees in the past—the Cunningham work, the Wakeham work, and so on. Those all came up with the same conclusion—that if we were going to create a clear distinction between this House and a reformed upper House, and to make it absolutely clear that the legitimacy and accountability of this place was supreme, then the best way of doing that was, yes, to introduce democracy, but to do so on the basis of long, non-renewable terms.

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Mr Denis MacShane (Rotherham) (Lab): I have some sympathy for the Deputy Prime Minister, because in our parliamentary history there are constitutional moments, but this is not one of them. I do believe, though, that the Liberal Democrats will be able to get House of Lords reform through when they go into the Lobby with the majority Labour Government after the next election. In the meantime, is it really a good use of public money—taxpayers’ money—to keep this extraordinary boundary change operation going? He has a duty of care to the taxpayer. He should finish it now.

The Deputy Prime Minister: I find it almost touching that the right hon. Gentleman thinks that his party has any credibility whatsoever left on political reform. Labour did not introduce democracy in the House of Lords during 13 years. An opportunity was delivered to the Labour party on a silver platter—[Interruption.] I am perfectly calm, but I am seeking to make myself heard, because I am not sure whether the right hon. Gentleman is listening. Given that the Labour party did not reform the bastion of privilege and patronage at the other end of the corridor—that it did nothing in 13 years to introduce democracy into the House of Lords—why on earth does he think that anyone believes that it will do so in the future?

Mr Stewart Jackson (Peterborough) (Con): I find the Deputy Prime Minister’s apologia at best confusing and possibly disingenuous in that he will know that the coalition agreement did not specifically call for primary legislation on House of Lords reform but for a settled cross-party consensus to be reached. We tried to do that and could not, but that consensus could have been formed around the Bill put forward by Lord Steel of Aikwood. On that basis, why has the Deputy Prime Minister chosen to resile from a solemn agreement to support fair and democratic boundaries?

The Deputy Prime Minister: As far as I can remember, I have not sought to make any apology over the past 45 minutes. I feel that the Government have acted in good faith to try to generate cross-party support for a reasonable set of proposals drawing on a lot of work from other members of other parties over several years. It is a great pity that the hon. Gentleman and other colleagues felt that it was not possible to get behind that reasonable package of proposals with a timetable motion. The coalition agreement said that this Government were going to come forward with proposals to reform the House of Lords. We are not a think-tank. The Government do not talk about proposals just to float them idly in a newspaper article and then do nothing about them. If one is going to propose something as a Government, one proposes it with a view to actually doing something.

Mr John Spellar (Warley) (Lab): The Deputy Prime Minister has been ducking and diving on the question of the Boundary Commission review. Is he aware that the Boundary Commission has today written to all Members of Parliament saying that it proposes to publish its revised proposals on 16 October? That will involve a huge amount of expense. Why does he not shut this exercise down and save a shed-load of money?

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The Deputy Prime Minister: Because, as I have explained, the primary legislation remains in place, and—this is not rocket science—there is clearly no agreement between the Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties in the coalition Government to repeal that primary legislation, so it stands. I happen to agree with the right hon. Gentleman that, given that the result of the final vote is a foregone conclusion, we might as well not push the issue to a vote; but, perfectly understandably, other members of the Government want to do so. I have made it crystal clear what my position and that of my Liberal Democrat colleagues will be when that vote occurs.

Greg Mulholland (Leeds North West) (LD): I commend my right hon. Friend for his robust stance on the boundary changes. I was delighted by that and remind him that a not inconsiderable number of Conservative Members were also delighted by his announcement. In light of his dignified and statesman-like statement accepting that House of Lords reform will not happen, is it not time for the Prime Minister to follow suit and make a similarly dignified statement to say that he accepts that the boundary changes will not happen, because they will not?

The Deputy Prime Minister: I am at risk of carbon-copying my previous answers. The legislation on boundary reviews stands, so the process continues. It is not in my power to stop that without reversing the primary legislation altogether. When and if the matter comes to a vote, I have made it clear what the voting intentions of the Members of my party within the coalition Government will be.

Joan Walley (Stoke-on-Trent North) (Lab): It is clear that the Deputy Prime Minister has linked everything about House of Lords reform to the Boundary Commission’s proposed changes. Every MP has received today a letter dated 3 September about the proposed changes coming in for consultation on 15 or 16 October. Does that not bring Parliament into disrepute? He has said that there is a gap in the legislative programme and that we will hear further announcements. Why cannot he and his Conservative colleagues introduce a Bill to get rid of the proposed parliamentary boundary changes?

The Deputy Prime Minister: Because, self-evidently, as I have answered previously, there is no agreement within Government to repeal that primary legislation. The hon. Lady can wave as many letters as she likes at me, and I am terribly sorry that she is upset about what appeared in her mailbag this morning, but that is the situation. I have been entirely open about it and I agree with her that what will happen at the end of the process is pretty much a foregone conclusion, because of what I have said about how Liberal Democrat Ministers and MPs will vote when the time comes.

Craig Whittaker (Calder Valley) (Con): Following the recent vote on House of Lords reform, one Conservative member of the Government resigned and another was sacked for voting against the Government. In light of the fact that the right hon. Gentleman has instructed his party to vote against the boundary review, will he also instruct members from his party to resign from the Government?

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The Deputy Prime Minister: I remind the hon. Gentleman that the timetable motion for the House of Lords Reform Bill was not even been put to a vote, so Conservative MPs, whether they be Front Benchers or Back Benchers, were not asked to choose which Lobby they would go through. If we really want to draw a parallel, I have some sympathy with the argument that says let us draw stumps and not vote on either the timetable motion for the House of Lords Reform Bill or on the result of the Boundary Commission’s work.

Diana Johnson (Kingston upon Hull North) (Lab): The Deputy Prime Minister has failed to change the voting system and failed to change the House of Lords. Will he tell the House what constitutional change he is turning his eye to in the remaining half of this Parliament?

The Deputy Prime Minister: As the hon. Lady knows, there are issues to do with the recall of MPs who are guilty of wrongdoing; there are ongoing cross-party talks on party funding; and we are committed to taking measures to tighten up lobbying activity and make it more transparent. Those are all important issues and I hope that she will not lightly dismiss the progress that we will seek to make on them. There is also a bigger quasi-constitutional issue, namely: how do we, as we rebuild our shattered economy—which, in my view, suffered from excessive over-centralisation in the way in which economic decisions were taken in the past—also breathe life into local communities and local authorities so that they can play a role in rebuilding and rebalancing our over-centralised British economy?

David Tredinnick (Bosworth) (Con): Surely it would be better for my right hon. Friend’s reputation if he accepted the Steel Bill, which has widespread support in the Lords, and maybe made some modest amendments to it.

The Deputy Prime Minister: As I sought to explain earlier, the Steel Bill would do three things. It would stop future crooks from sitting in the House of Lords; it would stop people who had never turned up to the House of Lords from sitting, but pretty well all of them turn up at one point or another; and it would offer voluntary retirement, which so far has not been taken up by more than two or three peers. If we look at the detail rather than declare that the Bill is a great alternative to an elected House of Lords, we see that it does not really stand up to scrutiny. It would not make much of a difference. Call me old-fashioned, but my view is that if we are going to reform the House of Lords, we should do it properly once and for all and ensure that it has democracy at its heart.

Jonathan Reynolds (Stalybridge and Hyde) (Lab/Co-op): Is the Deputy Prime Minister satisfied that the Prime Minister did everything he could to support the Bill? If so, why does he believe the Conservative party rebellion was so large?

The Deputy Prime Minister: Of course I am satisfied that the Prime Minister did all he could. This happens in politics, but thankfully our political parties are not North Korean political parties that jump when their leaders say jump. I should know that as well as anybody after this weekend’s press coverage.

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This debate divides opinion and provokes strong reactions in people. In this instance, as the Prime Minister has said, he sought to persuade Members of his own party, but the commitment that he and I made to having the first elections take place in 2015 proved not to be possible. What we have done is perfectly sensible, and it happens from time to time in politics. We have drawn a line under that issue and the boundaries issue, and we will move on with the many important matters, particularly economic ones, that we must now tackle.

Nadhim Zahawi (Stratford-on-Avon) (Con): The Deputy Prime Minister talks about the shortcomings of the Steel Bill, but he also speaks passionately about the unwieldy number of Lords, about patronage and about all the other things that we can get on and reform now. I implore him to produce a short Bill to get on with those reforms, building on Lord Steel’s Bill. Or is he just an all-or-nothing man?

The Deputy Prime Minister: As I have said, I suspect that if the situation was quite as straightforward as the hon. Gentleman feels, reformers in the past and over the past couple of years would have reached the eureka moment. As I explained, the Steel Bill would make only a tiny difference to the size of the House of Lords. As the debates over the past several months have proved, anything more substantial appears to be too controversial right now. That is why we have rightly said that the Government are now going to focus on the things that people want us to focus on, as I believe he has urged me to do in the past. We want to ensure that we create circumstances in which growth and an increase in jobs take root in our economy.

Mr William Bain (Glasgow North East) (Lab): The Library has confirmed to me this afternoon that this wretched boundary review will lead to the wasting of £11.9 million of taxpayers’ money. Why has the Deputy Prime Minister been so hasty in rejecting the Opposition’s offer to support a Bill repealing the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Act 2011 and ending this farcical process once and for all?

The Deputy Prime Minister: I have heard promises from the Opposition before about support for constitutional and political reform, and look where that got me.

I have set out the position clearly. The Act remains on the statute book, and it will not be repealed because there is no coalition Government agreement to do so. I have been clear about how I and my Liberal Democrat colleagues will vote when and if a vote is brought to the Floor of the House.

Andrew Bridgen (North West Leicestershire) (Con): We have heard that the Deputy Prime Minister has gone on the record first as stating that boundary changes and Lords reform were not linked, and then as changing his mind and saying that they were. If the electorate had delivered a yes vote in the alternative vote referendum instead of a resounding and unequivocal no, would boundary changes and Lords reform be linked today?

The Deputy Prime Minister: The whole agenda of political and constitutional reform had a number of principal components as set out in the coalition agreement. Frankly, the way in which some of those measures were

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legislatively arranged is not really the point. The point is that it was clear that it was a broad agenda whose main components would be pursued by both parties in the coalition. For reasons that I will not rehearse again, that has proved not to be possible, so we have made an adjustment to that package. We will proceed with its other elements, and I hope we will have some success on party funding and make progress on recall and on regulating lobbying. Much more importantly, we will now have legislative time available to make progress on the economy, too.

Ann Coffey (Stockport) (Lab): A powerful argument in favour of House of Lords reform was that, if the current level of patronage continues, the membership of the unelected Chamber will be more than 1,000 by 2015. I hear what the Deputy Prime Minister says about the limitations of the Steel Bill, but does he not think that there is some merit in bringing forward a proposal to cap the membership of the House of Lords at that of the House of Commons? At least that would be some progress.

The Deputy Prime Minister: If one did that, one would hard-wire party political imbalance into the House of Lords, and that would not be acceptable without allowing the British people any say in its composition. There has clearly been a setback for people such as the hon. Lady, who believes in and has been articulate in her advocacy of democratic reform of the House of Lords. However, I do not think that it is the end of the story. The current trajectory of the House of Lords, even if the Lord Steel Bill were introduced, is impractical and unsustainable. I hope that, if not now, then in the next few years, we can return to the matter and both reduce the size of the House of Lords and make it more legitimate.

Lorely Burt (Solihull) (LD): Is my right hon. Friend aware of a recent quote from Lord Prescott, who said:

“The House of Lords is a bit like a job centre, you have to go down there to get paid expenses, and it just gets totally tiring”?

Is not it a shame that we have been unable to help the noble Lord out of his and our misery?

The Deputy Prime Minister: No wonder he wants to be a police and crime commissioner, given all the hard work that he clearly puts into the House of Lords. It is one of my many regrets that we have not been able to make progress on the matter, and that I have been unable to put Lord Prescott out of his misery in the House of Lords.

Ian Lucas (Wrexham) (Lab): Will the Deputy Prime Minister support an amendment to the Electoral Registration and Administration Bill, calling a halt to the boundary review?

The Deputy Prime Minister: I have set out my position 100 times already in the past hour.

Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington) (LD): Will the Deputy Prime Minister speculate on how history will view Members of all parties of this House and the other place who overtly or covertly manoeuvred to block the reform of the House of Lords?

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The Deputy Prime Minister: Badly, I think, because if we in the coalition Government had been dogmatic about the Bill’s content, the critics of our approach would have had a point, but we were extraordinarily pragmatic and flexible, making a barrage of changes to the measure to try to secure cross-party support. The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office, my hon. Friend the Member for Forest of Dean (Mr Harper) and I clearly signalled on Second Reading that we were prepared to change the Bill further to make it more acceptable to as many people as possible in all parties, as long we retained the principle, in some shape or form, that the British people, not party leaders, would have a say in who on earth actually sits in the House of Lords. Although we were rigid about the principle, we were pragmatic about the details, and that is why I regret, given our pragmatic approach, that we were unable to build on that to create a cross-party approach to the matter.

Mr John Baron (Basildon and Billericay) (Con): The Deputy Prime Minister has said that he will not take his seat in the House of Lords when the time comes. Will his party continue to make nominations to the House of Lords?

The Deputy Prime Minister: Yes, of course. Just because the reforms have not been implemented, it does not mean that we will turn our back on the real world. The system is as it is, at least for a while longer, and we will continue to operate in it. I would be delighted to take my place in a reformed and more democratic House of Lords, but, as I said, I suspect that I am not wholly welcome in its current configuration.

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Mr Speaker: Patience rewarded. I call Dr Julian Lewis.

Dr Julian Lewis (New Forest East) (Con): Thank you, Mr Speaker. The spectacle of Cabinet Ministers voting against a major Government Bill without resigning their positions will surely bring collective Cabinet responsibility into total disrepute. Given that the Deputy Prime Minister believes in making progress by inches, will he not support a single, simple, one-line Bill to allow the exclusion from the upper House of people who have been convicted of serious criminal offences?

The Deputy Prime Minister: As I said before, that barely scratches the surface of the issues that exist in the House of Lords. On the first point, the failure of collective responsibility is a political one in which one party in the coalition Government has not honoured the commitments set out in the coalition agreement to proceed with reform of the House of Lords. Let me be clear—[Interruption.] If I can make myself heard, let me be clear: I have asked Liberal Democrat Members countless times to vote for things to which they strongly object, because they were in the coalition agreement. The hon. Gentleman cannot reasonably ask me to ask Liberal Democrat MPs to continue as if nothing has happened, when the other side of the coalition chooses not to do so on an issue as important as reform of the House of Lords. That is coalition politics, and it will continue until one party—the hon. Gentleman’s party or another—wins an outright majority. That did not happen in the previous election; that is why we have a coalition, and the country is better for it.

Mr Speaker: I am grateful to the Deputy Prime Minister and to colleagues.

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5.1 pm

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr William Hague): With permission, Mr Speaker, I will make a statement on Syria.

More than 20,000 people have now died in the conflict in Syria, up to 1.5 million are internally displaced, and 230,000 have fled to Lebanon, Iraq, Turkey and Jordan. According to the UN, 2.5 million people in Syria need urgent humanitarian assistance—double the number in March—and fewer than half of Syrian primary health care facilities and hospitals are now fully functional. The regime is using indiscriminate shelling, aircraft, helicopter gunships and militias to terrorise civilians. There are reports of up to 400 people slaughtered in a single atrocity in the town of Darayya.

Our objective remains an end to the violence and a transition to a more democratic and stable Syria. That is the only way to avoid protracted civil war, the collapse of the Syrian state, an even greater exodus of refugees, and further appalling loss of life. That is not just our view or the view of other western countries; it is the view of the Arab League and the vast majority of UN member states, and I particularly welcome the recent strong statement by President Morsi of Egypt condemning the Assad regime’s actions.

Despite our best efforts, the United Nations Security Council has been unable to put its full weight and authority behind a peaceful resolution of the crisis. On three occasions we have tried with our partners to adopt a Security Council resolution that would require the regime to begin a political transition, rather than simply call on it to do so. On each occasion, Russia and China have used their vetoes, most recently on 19 July. It is a terrible indictment of the Council that approximately a quarter of all those who have been killed in Syria died in the month following the last vetoed resolution.

We continue to urge Russia and China to work with us to end the crisis and to allow the Security Council to live up to its responsibilities—a case the Prime Minister made to President Putin during August, and a case I made again at the Security Council in New York last week. We are also working closely with the new UN and Arab League special representative, Mr Lakhdar Brahimi, whom I met in New York last week as well.

In the absence of that international unity, however, we have sharply increased our work to help the people of Syria in five areas: helping to create the conditions for a political transition; providing further humanitarian aid; increasing the pressure on the regime; supporting justice for victims of human rights violations; and planning assistance to a future Syrian Government. In each case our actions are carefully co-ordinated with our partners, and I organised a conference call in mid-August with Secretary Clinton and the Foreign Ministers of France, Germany and Turkey to ensure that that is the case.

Briefly, I will take each of those five areas in turn. First, a political transition requires the Assad regime to stop the violence, but it also requires Syria’s opposition groups to win the trust of the Syrian people and provide a united and viable political alternative. We are therefore greatly increasing our work with opposition groups and political activists in Syria. The UK’s special representative

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to the Syrian opposition continues to meet opposition groups in the region, and last month I authorised his first limited contacts with political representatives of the Free Syrian army outside the country.

On 10 August, I announced an extra £5 million in non-lethal practical assistance to help protect unarmed opposition groups and human rights activists in Syria, including communications equipment, training to support the documentation of human rights violations, and other equipment for civilians. Communications equipment is en route to Syria as I speak.

We have already trained more than 60 activists in documenting human rights violations, and provided support, including equipment, for 100 Syrian citizen journalists to report on events in Syria. Activists who helped investigate the massacre in El-Houleh, for example, were trained by the United Kingdom. The new assistance I announced on 10 August is designed to support similar work and to help save lives. All the support we provide will be carefully targeted, co-ordinated with like-minded countries, consistent with our laws and values, and based on rigorous analysis and risk assessment.

The second area is action to address the humanitarian crisis. The UK is the second largest bilateral donor to the Syrian people. Since July, our aid has provided food to more than 145,000 people, water and sanitation for up to 60,000 people, and health care for more than 50,000 people. In August, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development announced a fourfold increase in UK assistance for Syrian refugees. At the UN Security Council last week, I announced a further increase in UK aid from £27.5 million to £30.5 million. It includes £2 million in new funding for medical aid inside Syria and £1 million for refugees in Jordan, particularly those who have been victims of sexual violence—a particular focus for our Government ahead of our G8 presidency next year.

Both my right hon. Friend and I have visited the Jordanian border with Syria in recent weeks to meet refugees, and we have seen how the need is growing. As of last week, the $180 million UN humanitarian response plan was only half funded. There is an urgent need for other countries to help make up the shortfall. To that end, in New York I proposed, with the French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, that Development Ministers and UN agencies meet to help generate donations and co-ordinate assistance. Through the conflict pool, we are also increasing our bilateral support to the Government and armed forces of Lebanon as they grapple with insecurity caused by Syria’s conflict.

Thirdly, the UK has been at the forefront of efforts to isolate the Assad regime and cut off its finance. We have led the way on 17 rounds of EU sanctions on Syria since last May, targeting 155 individuals and 55 entities close to the regime. Senior Syrian military officers and diplomats are joining senior members of the Government in courageously turning their back on Assad, including former Prime Minister Riad Hijab. At the UN Foreign Minister Fabius and I also called for others around Assad to follow Mr Hijab’s example and dissociate themselves from the regime.

This leads into our fourth area of work—supporting justice for the Syrian people and helping to deter crimes. The UN Human Rights Council commission of inquiry has reported human rights violations on an appalling scale by the regime and its militia, and also abuses by

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some armed groups. A list of individuals and units believed to be responsible for human rights violations and abuses will be submitted by the commission at the end of this month, for the purposes of holding to account those responsible for atrocities. We strongly believe that the commission’s mandate should be extended so it can continue that vital work.

We also support the initiative by the Swiss Government to build momentum for a referral of the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court, and urge others to join these efforts. If these do not succeed, we look forward to a day when a different kind of government in place in Syria will take responsibility for voluntarily referring the situation to the ICC. The UK’s expert human rights monitoring mission visited the region earlier this year. We will continue to work to help improve the quality of information and evidence gathered by Syrian human rights activists which may be used in a future accountability process.

Fifthly, Assad’s departure from power is inevitable. His regime is doomed, and the international community must plan rapid support to a new government in Syria now.

Any such government will face a broad range of challenges, from reforming the security sector and restoring health and education services, to ensuring people have shelter, water and food. So FCO officials are working closely with the Department for International Development, the Ministry of Defence and the stabilisation unit, and also with key allies in the Friends of Syria including regional countries, so that we develop and co-ordinate plans for assistance now.

This crisis began when the people of Syria demanded their legitimate rights and freedoms. The Assad regime has tried to crush their aspirations and extinguish their hope. We will use all diplomatic means available to us to help them, working with the UN, the Friends of Syria, the European Union, Arab countries and key allies such as France, the United States and Turkey. As I have said to the House before, we have not ruled out any options as this crisis deepens. At the UN General Assembly later this month, we will seek once again to generate the determined, concerted international action that the situation demands and that Syrian people have every right to expect.

5.10 pm

Mr Douglas Alexander (Paisley and Renfrewshire South) (Lab): I thank the Foreign Secretary for his remarks and for prior sight of the statement.

Since the House last debated the situation, the pace of the conflict unfolding in Syria has quickened and the situation on the ground worsened. It is impossible yet to quantify the scale of the tragedy, but already, as we heard from the Foreign Secretary, the figures are stark and the suffering immense. I welcome much that he set out for the House today, therefore, but does he accept that the situation in Syria continues to represent not only, of course, a terrible indictment of Assad’s brutality but a tragic failure by the international community? The longer the conflict continues, the greater the risk of a rise of jihadism on the one hand and indiscriminate sectarian violence on the other, making a sustainable

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resolution to the conflict even harder to achieve. Military action alone will not bring peace to this country, and the bloodshed will not stop unless there is a plan to build the peace as well as one to win the war.

It is deeply to be regretted that the continuing division of the international community has meant that the UN has failed, time and time again, to take the necessary action. Since the House last debated the matter, Kofi Annan has resigned as special envoy, the UN observer mission’s mandate has expired and only today the man brought in to replace Mr Annan has described his mission as “nearly impossible”. But adversity cannot, and must not, be an excuse for inaction, so I welcome—on behalf of the whole House, I am sure—the fact that the Foreign Secretary has set out in his statement the vital and urgent support and relief that the UK is offering for the millions both within Syria and in the border regions.

The number of internally displaced people inside Syria is 10 times greater than the number of refugees in neighbouring countries, but the appeal for assistance for those inside Syria is only 20% funded, and many non-governmental organisations argue that, compared with the appeal for refugees outside the country, the allocation for those in Syria is much less in proportion to the scale of the need. Will the Foreign Secretary set out the steps being taken to address this situation? Given the recent reports of French and Turkish thinking on this issue, what assessment have the British Government made of the viability of buffer zones within Syria to protect fleeing civilians, and will he make clear the Government’s position on this, given that apparently no agreement was reached on it at last week’s UN Security Council meeting?

Alongside steps to relieve the immediate crisis, we share the Government’s view that work must be done to improve Syria’s prospects, but given that Syria has now descended into full-blown civil war it is vital that the Government act with real care in their engagement with the Syrian opposition. I note that the Foreign Secretary told the House this afternoon that “All the support we provide will be carefully targeted, co-ordinated with like-minded countries, consistent with our laws and values, and based on rigorous analysis and risk assessment”. In the light of this commitment, what assurances can he give on the identity, ideology and tactics of the rebel groups to which the UK Government are now providing direct support, and what specific safeguards are in place to ensure that this support is not being channelled to jihadist forces operating within the Syrian opposition on the ground?

I turn briefly to the efforts of the UN. I regret that it took so many months and lives for many finally to acknowledge that the Annan plan had failed—something that many of us warned was in prospect some months ago. In the light of this failure to reach an agreement on next steps at last week’s UN Security Council meeting, what is the Foreign Secretary’s assessment of the likelihood of either Russia or China changing course and supporting a UN resolution—even one enforcing sanctions on Syria or signing up to a global arms embargo? Of course, we welcome the work he set out on documenting human rights abuses but, in the light of the suspension of the UN monitoring mission, has the level of information getting out of Syria increased or decreased since the suspension of the UN mission?

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The Foreign Secretary concluded his remarks by stating: “we have not ruled out any options as this crisis deepens.” However, does he accept, and will he confirm, that there is today not the agreed legal basis, the regional support or, indeed, the public appetite for British ground forces to be deployed in Syria? It is imperative, therefore, that the Government focus their important efforts in the weeks ahead on unifying the international community’s response, uniting a fractured opposition behind a credible plan for inclusive political transition and addressing the continued and growing humanitarian need of the millions suffering in Syria today. If that is the focus of the Government’s work in the weeks ahead, they will continue to have the Opposition’s support.

Mr Hague: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. Indeed, what he said in summing up at the end of his question is what I have been putting to the House, so we have a unity of approach across the House. In the absence of the international agreement and unity to mandate and require the implementation of the Annan plan or something very similar to it, we are setting out to continue to work on unifying the international community, to help to unite and assist the opposition in various ways and to address the humanitarian crisis. That is exactly our approach.

I agree with what the right hon. Gentleman said about the deployment of British ground forces, which is not something I have heard anybody advocate in this country. However, it is also true that we do not know how the situation will develop over the coming months. It is likely to deteriorate sharply even from its current position, given the diplomatic outlook and given that a peaceful transition is becoming harder to achieve, not easier, as the fighting goes on and intensifies. Therefore, it would be wrong to rule out options, but clearly we are proceeding with care and caution in everything that we do.

The right hon. Gentleman is right that the pace of the conflict has quickened. More than a quarter of the people who have died in Syria probably have died since the last time we discussed it in this House. That shows how terrible the events of recent weeks have been. He is right that that reflects not only the appalling brutality of the Assad regime, but a failure by the international community. That is due to only a small part of the international community. The UN General Assembly passed a motion on the subject, with which we were very happy, by 133 to 12 on 3 August. However, two of those 12 wield a veto in the 15-member UN Security Council, and have done so on three occasions. I said in my remarks at the Security Council last Thursday that the Security Council has failed, so I absolutely agree with the right hon. Gentleman’s analysis. This is a failure of the responsibilities of the United Nations Security Council. We should be very blunt about that.

However, I have to inform the House that the prospects for a change in the Russian position are not strong at the moment. As I said, the Prime Minister and I both met President Putin when he came for the Olympics in early August. The Prime Minister discussed the Syrian situation with the President. From all the conversations that we have had with him and with Russian officials and Ministers, I think that the Russian position is likely to change only when the situation on the ground changes further to a substantial degree. Therefore, we have to

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make a success of all the other actions that we are taking, in the absence of the international agreement that we have sought.

On those topics, the right hon. Gentleman asked about the shortfall, which is serious, particularly as the crisis is getting rapidly worse in terms of IDPs and refugees. That is something that we have called on the international community to address. The United Kingdom is setting a strong example, as I have set out. The Department for International Development is doing a great job in the work with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and in supplying the necessary funds, and we will continue to encourage other countries to do so. Indeed, that will be a major topic for us at the UN General Assembly ministerial week, which I and the Prime Minister will attend later this month in New York.

The right hon. Gentleman asked about buffer zones. We are sceptical in the current situation about buffer zones inside Syria. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees at our Security Council meeting on Thursday said:

“all human beings have the right to seek and enjoy asylum in another state. This is a right that must not be jeopardized, for instance through the establishment of so-called ‘safe havens’ or other similar arrangements. Bitter experience has shown that it is rarely possible to provide effective protection and security in such areas.”

We must weigh those remarks heavily.

I pay tribute, however, to the people and Governments of Turkey, Iraq, Lebanon and Jordan for their generosity and hospitality. Many of the people who are fleeing Syria are initially going to camps, but in many cases they are then going to live in people’s homes, particularly in Jordan and Lebanon. We should bear in mind, as we provide the generous assistance that we are putting forward, that the people of those countries are also making an important contribution at a personal level. I paid tribute to them at the Security Council meeting last week as well.

The right hon. Gentleman rightly asked about support for the opposition. Of course, this is an area in which we have to proceed with care, but I believe that the necessity of providing support for people in such a desperate situation outweighs the risks involved in doing so. There are risks attached, however. We know a lot about the various Syrian opposition movements—they vary greatly—and our knowledge of them is improving all the time. Our representative to them, John Wilkes, is working hard and knows them well. I therefore believe that it is possible, subject to the legal constraints and the legal advice that we always have to take on this issue, to channel the kind of assistance that I am talking about—communications equipment, water purification kits, protective clothing—to certain groups without the items falling into the wrong hands. In any case, we are not talking about anything that could cause lethal harm to anyone else, so we have that failsafe, if you like, on the assistance that we are providing. I will keep Parliament updated regularly on how that assistance is being provided and, as far as possible, on how it is being used.

The situation is deteriorating further, and it does represent a failure by the international community, but we in this House can be confident that the United Kingdom is doing its utmost to help the millions of people caught up in this tragic conflict.

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Richard Ottaway (Croydon South) (Con): I thank the Foreign Secretary for his statement, and I share his frustration with the United Nations; this calls into question the influence of the Security Council as far as this matter is concerned. I am disappointed that he is sceptical about a buffer zone. That was a proposal put forward by the Turkish Government and it must be taken seriously. Is his scepticism based on a conclusion that he would be unable to garner political support for the proposal, or would there be a military problem that would render it unenforceable?

Mr Hague: My hon. Friend is right about the United Nations on this subject, although I should stress that, although I have very bluntly said that the United Nations Security Council is failing in this matter, that does not mean that it is failing across a whole range of others. In recent months, the Security Council has been doing its job very well in respect of issues involving Somalia and Yemen, for example, but on this subject it is blocked and failing in its responsibilities.

My hon. Friend said that a proposal for a buffer zone had been made by the Government of Turkey. These ideas are floated from time to time by that Government, but Turkey is welcoming refugees. It is of course concerned about the numbers coming in, but it is not suggesting any change to that approach at the moment. We know from bitter experience that we can advocate safe havens or safe areas only if we are absolutely confident that we will be able to protect the people in those areas and the people travelling to them. That would in turn require not only huge military force but the readiness to use that force. The international will to do that and the decision to do that are clearly not there.

Tony Lloyd (Manchester Central) (Lab): The Foreign Secretary is absolutely right to take credit for the constructive role of his own Department and the Department for International Development, and to draw attention to the lamentable failure of Moscow and Beijing to look to their responsibilities. He also mentioned the position of Lebanon, which is the most likely of all Syria’s neighbouring countries to see an extension of the conflict igniting within its borders. Is the international community sufficiently apprised of how dangerous that situation is, and of how intractable a return to civil war would be if that were to happen in Lebanon?

Mr Hague: I hope so, and I hope that we are helping to increase the recognition of the importance and fragility of Lebanon in these issues. I mentioned briefly in my statement that we are using conflict pool funding to increase the support we give the Lebanese armed forces. We are also working closely with the Government of Lebanon in understanding the whole situation and in highlighting their difficulties to the international community. I am glad to say that under the French presidency of the Security Council and the meeting we had last week, the Lebanese Government were invited to the Security Council and were able to put the very serious situation in their country directly to the Security Council. That has helped to highlight the international difficulties. We will encourage other countries to give Lebanon practical assistance of various kinds and to follow suit in respect of the refugees entering Lebanon.

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Martin Horwood (Cheltenham) (LD): Despite the bleak news it contained, may I welcome the Foreign Secretary’s statement and, in particular, the news of the significant humanitarian aid that the Government are bringing to the Syrian people? Mr Brahimi may have described his mission as “nearly impossible”, but he does have very strong contacts within the Arab League. In his conversations with the Foreign Secretary, did he tell him of any plans that Arab League members have for them to put pressure on Russia and China to lift their disgraceful vetoes, which are effectively preventing any international action against this doomed but murderous regime?

Mr Hague: Mr Brahimi is a very wise man. I pay tribute to the work of Kofi Annan, but I also welcome Mr Brahimi to this difficult post. He has set expectations as low as possible, which is a wise thing to do, particularly given the situation, but that does not mean he will be lacking in energy or ideas as to what to do. He will be working closely with the Arab League, as well as being the representative of the UN Secretary-General. The Arab League countries have indeed been putting pressure on Russia and China, but so far it has not worked. A large part of the world has been putting that pressure on, including many African nations, too. A majority of the UN member states have attended one or other of the meetings of the Friends of Syria, so the trend of international opinion is very clear, but that effort to change the minds of Moscow and Beijing has not yet been successful.

Mike Gapes (Ilford South) (Lab/Co-op): Twenty years ago, the Foreign Secretary was a member of a Government who initiated no-fly zones in northern and southern Iraq without explicit UN Security Council resolutions. Is it not time, even if President Obama is not interested, that this country, France, Turkey and other European NATO countries seriously considered what we can do to stop this growing humanitarian and political disaster?

Mr Hague: Clearly, we are doing a great deal, as I have set out, to address what the hon. Gentleman rightly describes as a growing humanitarian disaster. I have been careful not to rule out any option. He is putting forward a particular option, but I have to say that such an option would be practicable only with the full support of the United States of America. It is not something to advocate in the way that he did of, “Whatever President Obama thinks”; the air defences of Syria are an entirely different matter from those of Iraq 20 years ago. It is very important to bear that in mind when advocating that particular option.

Mr John Baron (Basildon and Billericay) (Con): The west’s track record on protecting minorities in interventions of this sort has not always been good. What work is being done to ensure that the minorities in Syria, including the Christians and the Alawites, will be afforded the same protection as they have received under Assad should he fall?

Mr Hague: My hon. Friend makes a very important point, and this is a crucial part of our work with the opposition; it has certainly been a part of all the meetings I have had with different opposition groups from Syria. We stress, of course, that for their own success and

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support within Syria they need to represent the full range of not only political views, but ethnic origin and religious belief in Syria. It is very important that they do that. We are continuing to work with the opposition to help them present a united front and work together in a completely united way. The different opposition groups, including the Syrian National Council, have made many important and helpful statements about respect for all minorities in Syria, but we will not let up in reminding them that that requires practical action as well as strong statements.

Luciana Berger (Liverpool, Wavertree) (Lab/Co-op): What will the Foreign Secretary do specifically to put pressure on China and Russia to support a UN resolution enforcing sanctions on Syria and to sign up to a global arms embargo?

Mr Hague: We do not ever stop in our efforts on that point. Of course, we have done everything we possibly can to try to persuade them over the past few months, including my visit to Moscow at the end of May, the discussions I had with both the Russian and Chinese Foreign Ministers when we met in Geneva at the end of June and the meetings that the Prime Minister had in August. There is no let up in the efforts by the United Kingdom, France and the United States—and indeed many Arab countries—to try to persuade them. We will continue to do that. This subject will be a focus of discussion, as I have mentioned, at the UN General Assembly ministerial week later in September. Again, we will directly address the question face-to-face with the Russians and Chinese during that week. I imagine, without prejudging the Prime Minister’s speech to the General Assembly, that there is a high likelihood that the subject will feature in that speech. I have to be—[Interruption.] Yes, I might have something to do with writing it as well, but the Prime Minister will have views about what he is going to say. I have to be realistic and I am trying to be as frank as possible with the House and I have seen no sign that Russia will change its position without a further substantial change in the circumstances on the ground.

Rehman Chishti (Gillingham and Rainham) (Con): Does the Foreign Secretary agree with some observers that the new UN envoy to Syria, Mr Brahimi, must have strong, real support from the United Nations Security Council or he will fail, like his predecessor?

Mr Hague: Yes, I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. When I met Mr Brahimi in New York last week I encouraged him to be clear when he needs the support of the Security Council and to be ready to demand that support at crucial moments. I hope he will heed that advice.

Mr Jack Straw (Blackburn) (Lab): Like my right hon. Friend the Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire South (Mr Alexander), I commend the Foreign Secretary, his colleagues and his Department for their work. May I press him on Russia? We all understand what equities Russia has had in the Assad regime, but what explanation does he offer for why Russia has a belief that its strategic advantage lies in continuing to back the Assad regime while it is falling apart, notwithstanding that it might continue for a little while?

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Mr Hague: There are several factors at work. One, of course, is that there is some regret in Russian Government circles that Russia abstained on the Security Council resolution that authorised the use of all necessary measures to protect the population of Libya. That is reflected in its approach to any subsequent parallel situation, even though in this case neither we nor anyone else has advocated a military intervention of the sort that we mounted in Libya. Russia is very reluctant to allow any resolution that it sees as leading to any such thing, despite all the reassurances we have given both directly and at the Security Council.

On the right hon. Gentleman’s point about Russia’s assessment of its strategic interests, it is also possible that it has a different analysis of what is likely to happen in Syria. Our analysis, which I expressed in the statement and which is common in western nations, is that the Assad regime is doomed and that having spilt so much blood and presided over such a catastrophe it is not possible for such a regime to recover its authority or for Syria to return to any stable position while it continues in power. On that point, the Russian analysis might be different and that will lead Russia to a different policy position.

Several hon. Members rose

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dawn Primarolo): Order. A large number of Members want to contribute. I ask that contributions now be brief—one question, and clipped answers would be excellent, thank you Foreign Secretary.

Daniel Kawczynski (Shrewsbury and Atcham) (Con): China did not veto resolutions on intervention in Libya. Have the Foreign Secretary’s Chinese counterparts explained to him what is the difference between Syria and Libya such that they are now obstructing us in the Security Council on the matter of Syria?

Mr Hague: That is a difficult explanation; certainly, they have tried to explain. They support a great deal of what we say, and the analysis and what should be done and the need for a peaceful transition in Syria, but they stop just short of supporting a chapter 7 resolution that would embody that in a UN resolution. I think the reasons are similar to the ones that I just gave to the right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr Straw) about Russia.

Hywel Williams (Arfon) (PC): What can the Foreign Secretary tell the House about worrying reports today of clashes between the Turkish army and Kurdish forces on or near the Syrian border? Does he agree that, whatever happens in Syria, this does not constitute political cover for the Turkish Government to attack over their border or further to oppress the Kurdish people?

Mr Hague: I absolutely agree that this does not provide political cover for that, and I have not heard any suggestion from the Foreign Minister of Turkey that it would do so. I am concerned about a series of clashes on the Turkish border involving serious loss of life, including among the Turkish armed forces, in a number of recent incidents. I have expressed our

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condolences to Turkey on those incidents, and this underlines the need to tackle the situation in all the ways that I have described.

Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (The Cotswolds) (Con): While I thank my right hon. Friend for all the actions he is taking, last week I met a coalition of most of the major American friends of Syria groups, which make the point that, at the current rate of attrition of 300 deaths a day, in the next 10 weeks—to the American presidential election—there could be another 10,000 people killed. They also make the point that, each day, people face Assad’s helicopter gunships and tanks. They are frustrated with the help that they are getting from the international community. What further can the international community do to prevent these dreadful atrocities?

Mr Hague: My hon. Friend is sadly right on the arithmetic, but the policy of the United States on the issue is identical to the one that I have been expressing as the policy of the United Kingdom, and that is a generally common feature across American politics as the United States comes to its presidential election. I have no information that there would be a sharp change in that policy should there be a change of Administration, so we have to continue to do the things that I have set out to keep up the pressure for international unity and action, and in the absence of those, in the five different ways that I have set out, to deliver ever increasing help, including to the Syrian opposition groups, to people caught up in the conflict.

Richard Burden (Birmingham, Northfield) (Lab): I welcome what the Foreign Secretary has said about the generosity of ordinary people, particularly in Jordan, Lebanon and elsewhere, quite apart from what Governments might be doing in taking in Syrian refugees. The United Kingdom has stepped up to the plate in the support that we are giving to the refugee relief effort. He says he is making representations to other countries to meet and to make up the shortfall. What response is he getting and what further pressure can we apply to other countries to step up to the plate as well?

Mr Hague: We cannot force other countries to do so. We can highlight the good example that we have set; that is one of the reasons that I went to the Security Council in New York last week. We can work through the European Union to increase aid, although the use of EU funds is at a good level. However, many nations in the EU have not made large bilateral donations. I will take that up with my EU colleagues, all of whom I will see at the end of this week, but we shall be active through our embassies all over the world, and very active in the forthcoming General Assembly, when we will be able to address all the nations of the world.

Kwasi Kwarteng (Spelthorne) (Con): With regard to regional players, what efforts is my right hon. Friend making, alongside his colleagues in the Department, to engage such organisations as the Arab League, as well as wider players such as Kurdistan and others that share borders with Syria, to reach some sort of resolution?

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Mr Hague: We work closely with the Arab League, which has done a good job and has passed its own sanctions or measures on Syria. Of course, we want to make sure that those are more uniformly implemented, so we will continue to discuss that with it. I visited Jordan at the beginning of the recess, and I will very shortly visit a wide range of other countries in the region to encourage the sort of co-ordination that my hon. Friend describes.

Keith Vaz (Leicester East) (Lab): I welcome the steps taken by the Foreign Secretary and the International Development Secretary. Will the Foreign Secretary give the House an update on the level of assets of the Assad regime that have been seized in London? I know that this is a terrible crisis, but will he also keep his eye on the ball as regards Yemen, because the situation there is still at crisis level?

Mr Hague: Yes, we certainly keep our eyes on Yemen. Indeed, the Minister of State, Department for International Development, my right hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Melton (Mr Duncan), is currently on his way to the latest meeting of the Friends of Yemen in Riyadh, at which the Friends of Yemen will encourage relevant donations to help with the situation in Yemen.

We have taken all the action necessary under the asset-freezing decisions of the European Union in relation to 155 individuals and 55 entities. I am not sure that it is possible to quantify that in pounds, but if it is, I will write to the right hon. gentleman.

Dr Julian Lewis (New Forest East) (Con): I know it is not an immediate priority, but has my right hon. Friend raised with the Syrian opposition the issue of the future of any chemical weapons stocks currently held by the Assad regime that might fall into the hands of the opposition?

Mr Hague: Yes, we have raised the very important issue of weapons stocks held by the Assad regime. I also raised it at the Security Council last week, and asked the UN Secretary-General to ensure that what is called the investigation mechanism is ready to be deployed if we have any reports of such chemical weapons being used or moved. Of course, a very strong warning has been sent by the United States and this country to the Assad regime about any possible use of chemical weapons. We have discussed the issue with the opposition as well.

Mrs Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside) (Lab/Co-op): What are the Foreign Secretary’s immediate concerns regarding the deployment of Syria’s chemical weapons? What does he think is likely to happen in the current situation?

Mr Hague: Well, there are only isolated and anecdotal reports of the use of such weapons—nothing that is verified on any substantial scale. Some of the refugees whom I met in Jordan in July referred to the use of poisonous weapons against them, but it has not been possible to verify that, and they meant that in the sense of small arms at a local level—not that that would be acceptable in any way. We do not have any evidence of the use of chemical weapons. Our hope and expectation is that they will not be used, but if they were to be used,

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it would be an extremely serious matter, and it might change some of the international calculations about this crisis.

John Glen (Salisbury) (Con): I should like to ask the Foreign Secretary about the non-lethal practical assistance being provided to protect unarmed opposition groups. What level of confidence does he have that we have the intelligence and infrastructure to monitor where that money is spent and ends up, so that my constituents can have some assurance that the money is not being wasted, and that our investment is in the right side of this war?

Mr Hague: We do have a good deal of information about how such equipment is used. I cannot say to my hon. Friend or to the House exactly how all such information will be arrived at, but we have information about how the equipment that we have provided so far is used, and are able to check on it in various ways, and will be able to do so, in various ways, in future. I can give him a considerable level of reassurance about that, but there is some risk; that is why we are supplying only non-lethal practical assistance in the first place. As I say, in such a desperate situation, the benefits and the need to supply such equipment outweigh whatever risks are attached to it.

Mr Denis MacShane (Rotherham) (Lab): Does the Foreign Secretary agree that one of the stabilising factors after the break-up of the Soviet empire and then the break-up of Yugoslavia was, paradoxically, the emergence of rather small states where people could live in harmony with each other, rather than being spatchcocked together? Instead of trying to preserve Syrian unity, might there be some case for two or three nations and states in Syria, none of them with the absolute power or military authority to oppress the others?

Mr Hague: That, ultimately, would be for the Syrian people, not for us, to decide. Whether or not that is something that they will want as an option in the future I do not know, but I doubt it, since I find the majority of the opposition groups from Syria strongly committed to the unity and territorial integrity of Syria. In any case, there are downsides. Although I accept much of what the right hon. Gentleman says about small nations, it is also true that when small nations are made out of a large nation, that can create a great deal of chaos, movement and sectarian conflict, so there are dangers in that as well.

David Rutley (Macclesfield) (Con): I thank my right hon. Friend for the hard work that he is doing to oppose the atrocities of the Assad regime. Can he tell the House what progress is being made by international aid organisations in securing greater access to civilians at risk, particularly in Damascus, and what steps the Government are taking to support these important activities?

Mr Hague: My hon. Friend puts his finger exactly on a very difficult problem. There is some access; a good deal of aid does get into Syria. In particular, there are some areas of Syria where the regime has very little control on the ground, so much of the aid that I spoke about in my statement is getting through to people in Syria, but of course there are places where it is

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phenomenally difficult. The regime does not allow humanitarian access. That is another example of what a brutal and appalling regime it is. One of the things for which there was a general call at the Security Council last week was unimpeded access for aid and for humanitarian agencies to all parts of Syria.

Diana Johnson (Kingston upon Hull North) (Lab): I was pleased to hear the Foreign Secretary talk about additional humanitarian assistance being made available, particularly the £1 million to Jordan to help with refugees, focused on victims of sexual violence. Is that proving to be a big problem? What is its extent, and how will that money be allocated?

Mr Hague: It is a big problem. It has been a depressingly tragic and horrible problem in a series of recent conflicts around the world. It has, of course, been a problem through many periods of history, but we know much more about it today. Rape as a weapon of war is certainly used in the conflict in Syria. One can hear about that first hand from the refugees whom I have met in Jordan, and no doubt in other countries as well. Raising the awareness of this and dealing with the impunity that has existed for too long in this area will be a major foreign affairs theme of our G8 presidency in 2013, so it is something that we are already working on and feel passionately about in the case of the refugees fleeing Syria now.

Bob Stewart (Beckenham) (Con): I totally understand and accept my right hon. Friend’s assessment that the Assad regime is doomed. At some stage there will probably be anarchy in Syria. In such circumstances the international community will demand action, and that action will be humanitarian. From bitter experience may I suggest that humanitarian action without protection for the people going in would be rather silly? May I suggest to my right hon. Friend that any action that we contemplate should include a military element—not necessarily a British element, I hope, but international decent, good, well-trained forces to look after the people who are trying to save lives in Syria?

Mr Hague: There is an important point in my hon. Friend’s question: we could be dealing at some stage with the complete collapse of the Syrian state, a situation of anarchy and the breakdown of all order—there are many anarchic attributes to what is happening now—even in areas that have been less affected, and even in Damascus itself. That is why it is important that we do not to rule out any options for the future. If we come to that point, we must bear in mind his wise advice on this point.

Jeremy Corbyn (Islington North) (Lab): May I ask the Foreign Secretary to be more specific about the situation facing Palestinian and Kurdish people? There are reports that Palestinian refugees have been prevented from staying for any extended period in either Lebanon or Jordan. In answer to an earlier question he made the point that the Kurdish people are under attack within Turkey by Turkish forces and within Syria itself by some of the opposition groups. Is he confident that the opposition groups in Syria respect minorities and their rights?

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Mr Hague: One of the important aspects of bringing the opposition groups together is uniting in one co-ordinating body the Kurdish elements of the opposition with the rest so that the point the hon. Gentleman makes is well understood and accepted by opposition forces in Syria, and we are of course encouraging that. There have been additional problems for some Palestinian refugees, on top of the tragic situation. We always make the point to neighbouring countries that Palestinian and Kurdish refugees have the same rights as all other refugees have to seek safety and asylum in neighbouring countries.

Neil Carmichael (Stroud) (Con): The Foreign Secretary quite rightly mentioned five areas of work for himself and his colleagues. The first and the fifth are obviously mutually dependent and revolve around the condition and quality of the opposition, so I would like to probe how those links between the opposition and the outside will be developed in the immediate future.

Mr Hague: They are being developed all the time. There was a constructive meeting last week in Cairo of opposition groups, which we hope will be built on, and the UK special representative to the opposition is working with them on an hourly basis and giving good advice. We are working in that respect with countries such as Turkey, France and the United States and, importantly, with Arab countries, and we will continue to do so. I always stress to Syrian opposition groups that when a country such as ours faces an existential crisis, such as the last world war, across all parties we come together and sink all differences for the duration of the crisis. Syria is in an existential crisis and that is exactly what they need to do.

Mr William Bain (Glasgow North East) (Lab): Following the horrific airstrikes by the Assad regime, an estimated 180,000 refugees have fled across the border into Jordanian refugee camps. What representations will the Foreign Secretary make to his international counterparts to ensure that the estimated $700 million funding shortfall is met and a humanitarian disaster avoided?

Mr Hague: I hope that I have covered that in answer to previous questions. I made the very strongest possible representations at the Security Council last week, in bilateral meetings and in the Security Council itself. We will be doing this over the coming weeks through our embassies around the world and with our European

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Union partners—I will meet them all at the end of this week—and of course the Prime Minister and I will pursue this with all the nations of the world at the UN General Assembly later this month.

David Morris (Morecambe and Lunesdale) (Con): I should like to commend my right hon. Friend for the measures he has taken to make progress on this matter. A protest group called Together We Can – For Syria in my constituency has been writing repeatedly to the Foreign Office. I would like him to clarify what changes on the ground Russia would like to see before getting further involved?

Mr Hague: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his remarks. It is my view that there would have to be changes on the ground for Russia to change its position. Russia itself has not spelt out such conditions or criteria. At the meeting in Geneva at the end of June Russia signed up to an agreed transition in Syria and the creation of a transitional Government, as we all did, in the hope that that would make any other measures unnecessary, but now we have to make sure that such a transitional Government is actually created. Russia has not spelled that out; I am simply giving the House my analysis.

Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): The Foreign Secretary is absolutely right to highlight the Russian Government’s disgraceful role in the barbarism we have seen in Syria, or at least in preventing the international community coming to a single mind on it, but will he clarify whether the statement made by his hon. Friend the Member for Esher and Walton (Mr Raab) yesterday in a national newspaper—that the British Government have written to the Russian Government to tell them that the 60 officials involved in the death of Sergei Magnitsky or the corruption he unveiled will not be welcome in this country—is accurate?

Mr Hague: I think that if I gave much of an answer to that I would be going very wide of the subject of the statement, and I do not want to incur your wrath, Mr Speaker, but I can say that there has been no change in our immigration policy. No doubt my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will be able to comment on that in due course.

Mr Speaker: I am grateful to the Foreign Secretary and to colleagues.

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West Coast Main Line

Application for emergency debate (Standing Order No. 24)

5.56 pm

Tim Farron (Westmorland and Lonsdale) (LD): I rise to propose that the House should debate the specific and important matter of the awarding of the west coast main line franchise to FirstGroup.

I propose that the House should debate this matter in order to seek full and proper scrutiny of the decision. I hold no brief to stand for Virgin Trains—indeed, I have had many occasion to stand on a Virgin train—and I hold no brief against FirstGroup, but over the past three weeks, as I have been doing my summer surgery tour across the towns and villages of my constituency, the west coast main line franchise has been comfortably the most common subject raised by residents. Local people are deeply concerned about not only the decision itself, but the process, the lack of debate and the timing.

There are now 165,000 signatures on the e-petition, Members from all parties are raising concerns, Select Committees are asking questions and there is a clear sense among the wider public that an extremely significant decision that affects them has been made without them having a say, and made during the summer recess when Members have no opportunity to express their views or interrogate the process and outcome. We might have expected a decision of this nature and scale, and one that will affect so many people across the UK, to be announced during parliamentary time to ensure that MPs and peers have the opportunity to debate the issue and scrutinise both the bidding process and the decision, but that did not happen. Instead, the announcement was made in the middle of the summer recess, allowing

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the House no opportunity to debate it. Today’s announcement that the awarding of the franchise has been suspended due to the judicial review gives us time to have that debate with greater possession of the facts on all sides.

It is especially important that we have this debate because the franchise is the first to be awarded under the new longer franchise system. Over the next three to four years almost every other franchise in the country will be re-let, so it is more important than ever that this decision, the biggest and first, is properly scrutinised and, in particular, that we take our time to get the risk evaluation right. It is the risk evaluation part of the process that understandably causes the greatest concern because the available evidence shows that the risk evaluation process has been flawed in the past. On two occasions the process has led to the collapse of the east coast main line franchise and to First Great Western terminating its franchise agreement early to avoid failing to meet the terms of its bid. A collapse in the west coast main line bid because it was undeliverable would be economically catastrophic, given current conditions in this country, and a huge blow to all of us in Cumbria and the rest of the north-west of England. For those reasons, Mr Speaker, I ask that you grant us a debate on this most topical and strategically important matter.

Mr Speaker: The hon. Gentleman asks leave to propose a debate on a specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration—namely, the award of the west coast main line franchise to FirstGroup.

I have listened carefully to the hon. Gentleman’s application. In this case, I have concluded that, although undoubtedly important, the matter raised does not meet the criteria for debate under Standing Order No. 24. I expect that the hon. Gentleman will pursue the issue by other means.

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European Union (Approval of Treaty Amendment Decision) Bill [Lords]

Second Reading

6 pm

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr William Hague): I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

As the House will know, the reason for the treaty change that the Bill approves is the crisis in the eurozone. That crisis was predictable and, in fact, predicted by some present in the House. The existence of monetary union without fiscal or economic union has led to severe economic strains in a number of eurozone countries and permitted the build-up of excessive debts by some members to an unsustainable level.

I have always opposed Britain’s membership of the euro, as Opposition Members will no doubt recall, not only because of the single currency’s flawed design, but because of the limitations that it would impose on our national democracy. I think that there is now near-national consensus that we are better off with our own currency; I say “near” because the Leader of the Opposition has said that Britain could join the euro if he were Prime Minister for long enough—a pretty good reason for not allowing him to become Prime Minister at all.

None the less, there are solid majorities in every national Parliament in the eurozone that wish to retain their membership of the single currency and see it restored to stability. They have their reasons for that, and we should respect them. Obviously, it is also crucially in our interests for the eurozone crisis to be resolved. As the—

Mr William Cash (Stone) (Con): Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr Hague: It is a little early, even for my hon. Friend. In a few paragraphs, I will of course give way to him—probably more than once, I should imagine.

The Governor of the Bank of England has said that the crisis is casting a black cloud of uncertainty over our economy. Eurozone countries could take a number of measures to bring about a resolution, and the decision about which are the right ones is for them. One measure that has been decided is the European stability mechanism, a permanent financial assistance mechanism established by the eurozone for the eurozone, to help eurozone countries that get into difficulties. The amendment to article 136 of the treaty on the functioning of the European Union confirms the ability of the eurozone countries to do that. The simple purpose of the Bill is to approve that decision.

Mr Cash rose—

Mr Hague: I shall now give way to my hon. Friend.

Mr Cash: I am most grateful to the Foreign Secretary. Why in his own judgment and opinion is he prepared to invoke the exemption arrangements, the effect of which is to say that the matter does not really affect United Kingdom businesses, as was set out in the explanatory notes to the European Union Act 2011? Plainly, the implosion in Europe does affect us, and this failed attempt to put a sticking plaster on an increasingly impossible situation is simply making the position worse.

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Mr Hague: Clearly, the economic crisis in the eurozone—“implosion”, as my hon. Friend terms it—affects us enormously, but so do many other things in the world such as the deficit of the United States and the economic policies of China. What we are dealing with is the approval of one change to article 136—a change that concerns eurozone countries and gives certainty to the creation of a treaty purely for those countries. It has an additional benefit for the United Kingdom, to which I shall come in the course of my speech.

I do not pretend for a moment that the ratification of the decision or the establishment of the ESM alone will solve the eurozone crisis. As the present situation shows, many other things are needed for that solution. For the long term, sustainable public finances and globally competitive economies in all the eurozone’s member states are needed. Those tasks are vital not just for eurozone countries to succeed but for the United Kingdom as well, and are at the heart of this Government’s programme.

Kelvin Hopkins (Luton North) (Lab): I thank the Foreign Secretary for giving way. He has talked about resolving the eurozone crisis, but the measure will just pour good money after bad. Will not the ultimate resolution of the eurozone crisis come only when certain countries are allowed to leave the eurozone, recreate their own currencies and expand their economies again?

Mr Hague: Different solutions can be advocated and the hon. Gentleman is advocating what he thinks would help as a solution. However, the point that he and I have to bear in mind is that those countries—their national Parliaments and democratically elected Governments—wish to stay in the eurozone. That position is different from the one that he and I have always taken on the United Kingdom, but that is their wish. Therefore in practice we are dealing with that situation. We want those countries to succeed in stabilising the eurozone.

Let us take the worst-case scenario—the hon. Gentleman’s assumption that the measure would pour good money after bad. What we are ensuring is that money from the United Kingdom taxpayer is not going after other money, good or bad, giving assistance to eurozone countries. The Bill provides solely for the parliamentary approval of an amendment to article 136 of the treaty on the functioning of the European Union, which makes it clear that the eurozone member states may, by means of a separate intergovernmental agreement, establish a financial assistance mechanism—the European stability mechanism, or ESM—without acting in contravention of their obligations as member states of the EU.

As the House will know, this is not the first time that this treaty amendment has been considered and approved by Parliament. Before the Prime Minister agreed to the treaty amendment decision in March last year, a motion in favour of the draft decision was passed by both Houses under the provisions of the previous legislation—the European Union (Amendment) Act 2008. Before our Act of last year, that was all the parliamentary scrutiny and control required for the Government to agree to a change in the EU treaties under the simplified revision procedure.

In our view, those provisions were grossly inadequate, so at that time my right hon. Friend the Minister for Europe committed us to bringing the decision before

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the House again under the more stringent parliamentary scrutiny of what was then the European Union Bill. Indeed, we introduced an amendment to that Bill, now section 5(6), to enable the treaty change to be subject to the Bill’s provisions once it entered into force. That Bill has become the European Union Act 2011 and any use of the simplified revision procedure now requires an Act of Parliament for ratification. That is why this Bill is being presented to the House.

Having gained the approval of Parliament in March last year, the Prime Minister formally agreed to the decision at the following European Council. The decision must now be ratified by all 27 member states before the amendment to article 136 can enter into force. Eighteen member states have now done so. The target date for entry into force, as set out in the European Council decision, is 1 January 2013.

The scrutiny process under the European Union Act 2011 began in October last year, just under two months after its relevant provisions came into force, when I laid a statement before Parliament, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr Cash) has referred, under the provisions of section 5 of the 2011 Act. I set out in that statement why the decision does not trigger the requirements for a referendum set down in the European Union Act 2011.

The proposed amendment to article 136 applies only to member states whose currency is the euro. Consequently, it does not transfer further competence or power to the EU from the UK. The opinion set out in the statement was open to judicial review, but in the intervening 11 months no one has sought to challenge it in the courts. To ensure timely ratification of the decision, which is strongly in our country’s interests for reasons that I will now come to, the Bill was introduced in the Lords, where it was passed without amendment. Should the Commons now grant its approval, the Government intend to ratify the treaty amendment by the end of this year.

Mr Bernard Jenkin (Harwich and North Essex) (Con): Is this really such a big change in the scrutiny of how these things are done? Since we joined the European Union, has there ever been an amendment to the European treaty that did not require an Act of Parliament?

Mr Hague: Without the Act that we passed, the change that we are debating would not have required an Act of Parliament. Therefore anything similar achieved under a simplified revision procedure would also fall into that category.

Mark Reckless (Rochester and Strood) (Con): Surely my hon. Friend the Member for Harwich and North Essex (Mr Jenkin) was saying that throughout the history of the European Union every treaty amendment has required an Act of this House, so what we are doing today is no different from what has been done in the past.

Mr Hague: Yes, but in the past we did not always have the simplified revision procedure and the provisions of the Lisbon treaty that most Government Members—or rather most of us in the Conservative part of the coalition—opposed when the legislation was passing through this House. Even without this change in scrutiny, there would now be far greater scope for treaty changes without the passage of an Act of Parliament.

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Mr Denis MacShane (Rotherham) (Lab) rose

Mr Hague: For entertainment value, I give way to the right hon. Gentleman.

Mr MacShane: The Foreign Secretary’s two colleagues have made important points. This treaty requires ratification by the Parliaments of the eurozone and it is going through that parliamentary ratification. The notion that it could simply have been nodded through as a statutory instrument is silly. It is quite an important treaty, and this Parliament is right to be adopting it tonight; other Parliaments are doing likewise.

Mr Hague: Yes, other Parliaments are doing that in their own various ways. My point is that the reason this requires the full examination and passing of a Bill is the passage through this House of the European Union Act 2011, which the right hon. Gentleman probably opposed if he voted on it. A much briefer procedure was required under the European Union (Amendment) Act 2008, which he supported. Parliamentary scrutiny has been enhanced by the recent change, and I am merely establishing that point. [Interruption.] Labour Members are reminding me that they did not vote against the EU Act 2011—although they were probably unable to vote for it. Having taken so many positions on the holding of a referendum, they decided not to have a position at all.

As the House will remember, the background to the ESM is that in response to the first Greek crisis, the previous Government, in their very last days, agreed to the establishment of two emergency instruments to respond to financial crises. The first is the European financial stability facility, an emergency facility established intergovernmentally by euro area member states. It has been used to provide loans to euro area member states in financial difficulty. The UK is not a member of that facility and has no exposure to financial assistance provided by it. The EFSF will operate alongside the ESM up until its wind-down by the end of June next year. The second is the European financial stabilisation mechanism, or EFSM. This allows the Council to agree by qualified majority a Commission proposal to provide assistance using money raised on the financial markets, backed by the EU budget. It has been used for assistance to Portugal and the Republic of Ireland, for which we also contributed a bilateral loan.

In the new Government, we have never thought that that was a satisfactory state of affairs. It was a questionable use of article 122 of the treaty on the functioning of the European Union. An inability to access the markets because of the unsustainability of public finances is not a natural disaster, and it is hard to argue that it is an exceptional occurrence beyond a country’s control, and those were meant to be the criteria for the use of article 122. When qualified majority voting was introduced into the provision under the Nice treaty, we warned the then Government of the risk, and that warning was dismissed. The amendment to article 136 gave us the opportunity to deal with the problem, and we took that opportunity. Britain is not in the euro, we are not going to join the euro, and we should have no liability for bailing out eurozone countries.

On coming to office, therefore, the Government found established a mechanism which enabled the Council of Ministers to decide by qualified majority voting to

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allow the European Commission to raise funds on the capital markets guaranteed by the headroom in the EU budget—about €60 billion—for loans to eurozone countries. We must grant that thus far this has not cost the British taxpayer a penny. The money is borrowed from the markets by the European Commission against the headroom in the EU budget. It must be granted that these are only contingent liabilities that would be called on only if Portugal or the Republic of Ireland defaulted on their loan obligations. However, it is still not right that a country outside the euro should be obliged to assume contingent liabilities for matters that are clearly the responsibility of countries that are in the euro. That is why this Government were determined to bring the situation to an end, and we have succeeded in our goal. That is a good example of this Government repairing the damage caused by the last one.

Mr David Nuttall (Bury North) (Con): I am extremely grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving way, because we have come to the crux of the matter. Will he please confirm that if the Bill goes through and reaches the statute book, this country will have no further liability whatsoever under the European financial stabilisation mechanism and will not be called on to contribute any further?

Mr Hague: That is what has been agreed. I am going to examine, in what my hon. Friend or other hon. Members might find painstaking detail—[Interruption.] Actually, I can see that some of my hon. Friends will not find it painstaking. I will go through this in detail to give full, frank and maximum assurance to my hon. Friend and others.

Not only does the new mechanism, the ESM, which is limited to eurozone countries, supersede the EFSM; crucially, the decision that the Bill approves and which is being ratified by all other EU countries reflects in its recitals, or preamble, an agreement that article 122

“will no longer be needed for such purposes”,

The Heads of State or Government have therefore agreed that it should not be used for such purposes. Therefore, when this decision is ratified, our liability for future euro area financial assistance programmes under the EU budget will be removed. That is a great gain for British taxpayers and, because it fetters the use of article 122, a shift of a power from the European Union to the United Kingdom.

Mark Reckless: Will the Foreign Secretary give way?

Mr Hague: No, I am going to explain quite a bit of this, and then I will give way to my hon. Friend again.

The House will want to know how our contingent liability under the EFSM is being brought to an end and—this was the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Bury North (Mr Nuttall)—how sure a protection we have against any future use. First, when eurozone member states agreed to bring forward the introduction of the ESM at the ECOFIN meeting on 23 January this year, the Chancellor won agreement from his fellow Finance Ministers that the EFSM would not make any new commitment as soon as the ESM comes into force, which we expect to happen this autumn

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when the German ratification process is complete. That is an important political agreement. Secondly, there is the decision that we are approving in the Bill and which all our European partners have agreed to ratify by the end of this year. The fourth recital to the decision reflects the agreement reached in the European Council to close off the future use of the EFSM or any such mechanism under paragraph (2) of article 122. As I have said, we expect every country to have ratified the decision by the end of this year.

Those present who are cynical about the ways of the European Union—and there are such people here; in many respects I share a lot of their cynicism—may ask what would happen if, notwithstanding the decision, the Commission made a proposal to reactivate the EFSM or something like it. First, that would be a breach of a political agreement unanimously reached in the European Council, recorded in the Council conclusions, and reflected in the preamble to a decision unanimously agreed at the European Council and soon, we expect, to be ratified unanimously by all EU countries under their respective constitutional requirements. If, despite all that—this is an extreme hypothesis—the Commission made such a proposal and somehow received a qualified majority, the British Government would of course challenge any such measure before the European Court of Justice, citing the agreement of all EU member states in the European Council and the fourth recital to the decision in support of the argument that any such measure would be in breach of the clear intention of all EU member states and that article 122 would no longer be needed and should not be used for this purpose. Those would be very strong arguments indeed. That is the protection that we have secured against any future obligation to participate in bail-outs, and it is a good one.

Mark Reckless: Is there not a fundamental inconsistency in the Foreign Secretary’s position? On the one hand, he says that ratifying the European Council decision of 25 March 2011, which amends article 136, will affect only member states in the eurozone and not the UK, and that he therefore does not need a referendum. He then goes on to say, “Ah, look at recital (4) within the decision. That will mean that the mechanism cannot be used to impose costs on the United Kingdom in future.” That is surely a fundamental inconsistency.

Mr Hague: No, it is not. The decision relates to a treaty being created for the eurozone countries. In conjunction with that and at the same time, as is reflected in the fourth recital, the Prime Minister secured agreement at the December 2010 European Council that article 122 would not be used. That is absolutely clear. If my hon. Friend wants to argue that we should have a referendum on our not being liable for eurozone bail-outs any more, he can do so, but I will not agree. That is not the kind of thing that we had in mind when we passed the European Union Act 2011; nor would it do any good to the good name of referendums.

Mr Jenkin: My right hon. Friend is in something of a Catch-22, which he is skilfully trying to obscure from us. If the article basis for the May 2010 mechanism was illegal or questionable, why do we need this legislation to get out of it and why did we not challenge it? If it was not illegal, why is it necessary to amend the treaty to

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legalise a different mechanism? The very fact that the European Commission and the other member states have agreed to the treaty amendment, which effectively does away with the no bail-out clause that was so central to the passage of the Maastricht treaty, means that they admit implicitly that the original mechanism had an illegal treaty base.

Mr Hague: I do not agree with my hon. Friend. The reason we do not challenge that and want to proceed with the process is that we have secured something very important in parallel with it that is potentially enormously beneficial to this country and its taxpayers.

Mr Jenkin: Which is what?

Mr Hague: I can go over that again. It is that article 122 will no longer be used for eurozone bail-outs. It may be my hon. Friend who faces a Catch-22 here, because he just cannot bear the idea that a Bill that says “European something” on it might be good for the country. This Bill is good for the country. Even those of us, like him and me, who are very sceptical about many aspects of the European Union have to admit that securing an agreement that means that we are no longer liable for eurozone bail-outs and that does not harm the country in any other way is, in the words of our noble Friend Lord Flight in the other place, a “no-brainer” to support. That is why I hope that the House will support the Bill.

Mark Reckless: Will the Foreign Secretary give way?

Mr Hague: No, I will not give way any further. [Interruption.] The right hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr MacShane) will never see me go native on European subjects.

The ESM is being set up under an intergovernmental treaty that was signed on 2 February by the eurozone member states. That treaty is now being ratified by those 17 member states. It will come into force as soon as euro area member states representing 90% of the capital commitments to the fund have ratified the intergovernmental treaty.

The treaty amendment that Parliament is being asked to approve in the Bill does not establish the ESM. Our clear view—this is part of the answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Harwich and North Essex (Mr Jenkin)—is that the treaty amendment is not legally required to set up the ESM. Eurozone member states, in particular Germany, want the legal certainty that the amendment provides, partly because of article 125, which is the no bail-out provision that he talked about. The UK, of course, will not ratify the ESM treaty because it has not signed up to the intergovernmental agreement, is not part of the eurozone and is not going to be part of the eurozone. The intensification of the crisis led eurozone member states to agree to bring forward the introduction of the ESM to this year. Their position has not changed the timing of the ratification.

Members may also be aware that a legal challenge to the validity of the decision amending article 136 is currently being considered by the European Court of Justice. The Irish Supreme Court is seeking a ruling on whether it is valid, whether the ESM treaty is compatible

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with EU law, and whether eurozone member states can establish the ESM before the article 136 decision enters into force.

We are wholly satisfied that the decision is valid from a legal perspective, but it is absolutely right that the Irish Supreme Court seeks the ruling of the European Court of Justice, particularly because Ireland is a member of the eurozone and a signatory to the ESM treaty. We do not expect the ECJ to find against the decision in any way, but should it find the decision invalid or the ESM incompatible with EU law, there would need to be a new ratification process. A failure to approve the decision would, naturally, have an unfortunate effect on our trading partners in the eurozone by undermining certainty about the legal validity of their firewall, and it would leave unratified the decision, the importance of whose recitals to us I have explained. That would be unfortunate from our point of view.

Mark Reckless: Will the Foreign Secretary give way?

Mr Hague: No, I have given way several times to my hon. Friend.

The case for the Bill is straightforward. It means the end of any new contingent liability under the EFSM, and the end of any such future bail-out contingent liability.

Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (The Cotswolds) (Con): Will my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary give way?

Mr Hague: No, I am concluding my speech.

The UK will no longer be exposed to any future programmes of financial assistance for the eurozone through the EU budget. The Bill will help our friends and neighbours in the eurozone, whom we wish to see prosper, in their search for financial stability in their currency area. This House has already agreed, under previous provisions, to the Prime Minister signing the treaty amendment. I hope that its merits mean that it will be approved again under the new and vastly more rigorous provisions that we have put in place. I commend the Second Reading of the Bill to the House.

6.26 pm

Mr Douglas Alexander (Paisley and Renfrewshire South) (Lab): As the Foreign Secretary has set out, the context for this debate is the continuing crisis in the eurozone: the troika has yet to decide whether Greece has met its bail-out commitments; Spain appears to be on the brink of making a formal request for assistance; forecasters predict that the Netherlands, Slovakia, Slovenia and Belgium will all miss the European Union deficit target next year; and there are serious doubts about whether Ireland and Portugal will be able to comply fully, with certainty, with the existing terms of their EU bail-out programmes. The need for decisive action by the eurozone is beyond doubt, and we believe that it is overwhelmingly in the British national interest that such action is taken.

Today’s debate, as we have already heard, relates specifically to the content of the European Union (Approval of Treaty Amendment Decision) Bill. As the Foreign Secretary has set out, member states agreed, following a meeting of the European Council in March 2011, to the

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amendment of article 136 of the treaty on the functioning of the European Union, specifically to enable the creation of a permanent eurozone-only bail-out fund, the European stability mechanism.

We should recognise this as a major institutional development for the EU. It sets up an International Monetary Fund-type body for the eurozone on a permanent basis, replacing the separate intergovernmental European financial stability facility, which was agreed when the Greek emergency first broke. As this is a treaty within the EU-27 framework, any amendments or changes must be approved by the established procedures for treaty ratification in each and every member state, even though the ESM will apply only to those member states that are members of the euro. It is, therefore, unlike the fiscal compact, which, despite the Prime Minister’s so-called veto last December, Britain was unable to block, and over which this Parliament has had no say.

Indeed, the fiscal compact negotiated outside the EU framework by 25 members of the EU, without Britain or the Czech Republic in the room, establishes a completely new principle in European treaty ratification. It will enter into force when it is ratified by 12 of the 17 eurozone member states—a principle that, in our view, could work to Britain’s disadvantage in other contexts, and which is a direct consequence of not being in the room when such decisions are reached. The Bill, however, will lead to enabling legislation giving parliamentary approval to the European Council decision to establish a permanent eurozone-only bail-out fund.

Let me make clear the Labour party’s position on the Bill. We are legislating today not on the substance of the ESM, but only on the enabling treaty change to allow it to be set up. Labour recognises the need for that enabling measure, so we will support the Bill. A more stable eurozone is important for the UK’s long-term growth and prosperity. Indeed, as the eurozone accounts for more than 40% of our external trade, prospects for business investment and export growth depend on it.

Mr Cash: On the claimed virtues of the single market, does the shadow Foreign Secretary accept that we have in fact run up the most monumental deficit with the other 26 member states of the EU, to an extent that it is now damaging our economy and thereby preventing this country from achieving growth?

Mr Alexander: I can assure the hon. Gentleman that if I were to draw up a list of what is damaging the economy of the United Kingdom at the moment, many items would stand above a recognition that the single market has provided British businesses with European markets constituting 500 million consumers. It would be perverse logic to suggest, at a time when we are struggling to secure growth in the British economy, that it would be to the advantage of British exporters or British businesses more generally to shrink the UK’s home single market from 500 million consumers to just 60 million.

A mechanism with sufficient firepower to restructure and recapitalise weak banks, and to bail out Governments who can temporarily no longer access the bond markets to finance their borrowing and debt, is a necessary part of bringing stability back to the eurozone, and a permanent

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bail-out fund is one key part of making that happen. However, the burden of responsibility for delivering that growth and prosperity must be taken by eurozone members themselves. In the establishment of the ESM, the European Council is making it clear that ultimate responsibility for ensuring the overall stability of the euro area rests with eurozone members. It will be a fund by the eurozone for the eurozone. That is clearly in the UK’s national interest, and we will not vote against a Bill that will allow the ESM to be established.

Mr Jenkin: Why, then, was the previous Government’s parting act to agree that the UK should be liable under the stability mechanism that they approved?

Mr Alexander: The hon. Gentleman is right to recognise the timing of that in the final days of our time in office, but the other significant event that was happening then was the real prospect of the eurozone collapsing completely. He might welcome that, but the Opposition certainly would not. That was why the Chancellor of the Exchequer of the outgoing Government made genuine efforts to consult the potential incoming Finance Minister, who is now the Chancellor of the Exchequer. That matter is discussed in the explanatory memorandum on European Union legislation dated 15 July, in which the then Economic Secretary to the Treasury, now the Transport Secretary, stated:

“The Government regrets that the Scrutiny Committees did not have time to consider this document before it was agreed at Council. It should be noted that whilst agreement on behalf of the UK was given by the previous administration, cross-party consensus had been gained.”

If the hon. Gentleman is concerned that the outgoing Chancellor reached the wrong decision, he might like to put that point directly to the current Chancellor.

Let me be absolutely clear that our support for the Bill does not equate to unqualified confidence in the ESM or in the current package of eurozone policies of which it forms but one part. We have concerns about both the restrictive terms of the fiscal compact that eurozone members have negotiated to establish the ESM and the manner in which it is currently envisaged that the ESM will be operationalised. The Opposition are certainly under no illusion that the ESM in itself will resolve the eurozone crisis. Much more will be required to do so than is included in this two-clause enabling Bill. The establishment of the ESM represents but one part of a broader package of measures and reforms that members of the euro must adopt to deliver stability successfully and bring greater prosperity to the eurozone in future.

Mr MacShane: I am following my right hon. Friend’s speech with considerable interest and agreement, but should we not change the tone slightly? We hear, “The eurozone must adopt this”, “They’re at fault”, “The pound zone is perfect.” I am going to Poland tomorrow for a big eastern European economic conference, and there is not the same patronising indifference to the eurozone there. There is not a view that the zloty zone is perfect. We are all in this together, and the trouble with the Government’s approach is that it sells the public the lie that there is a thing called the eurozone out there, but it is a far-away economic region of which we know not very much and in which we are not very interested.

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Mr Alexander: I hope I can give my right hon. Friend the assurances that he seeks. The Opposition are far from indifferent about the future of the eurozone, not least for the reason that I have already explained—many British jobs and exports rely on the eurozone coming through the current crisis. His point highlights one of the delusions that is apparent among at least a few Members, which is that if Britain were to leave the European Union, the concerns that currently afflict the eurozone would somehow become remote from the interests of British jobs and workers. The eurozone will continue to be of absolutely fundamental interest to British manufacturers, exporters and jobs. The Prime Minister arrived at a recent summit lecturing the Germans and left being shouted at by the French, and that certainly does not seem to me to be how to secure the type of agreement that I sense lies behind my right hon. Friend’s question, which we want to see in the best interests of stability in the eurozone.

Kelvin Hopkins: Is it not the case that countries such as Poland and Britain have the great advantage that they can choose a parity for their currency that is appropriate to their own economies, rather than being forced to adopt a wholly inappropriate parity through the eurozone like Greece, Ireland and a number of other countries? Does my right hon. Friend agree that if Britain had joined the euro with the parity that existed at that time, we would now have a wrecked economy?

Mr Alexander: It is hardly a revelation that I strongly supported the five economic tests back in the years immediately following 1997, whether in relation to the convergence criteria or more broadly. In that sense, the Opposition’s position has not changed. It was an intriguing interpretation of history by the Foreign Secretary to attribute to his own conduct out of office so much credit for what the Labour Government did in office in keeping Britain outside the euro. However, he is right to recognise that there is broad consensus, which extends even to the hon. Member for Cheltenham (Martin Horwood), that there is no immediate prospect of British entry to the euro, for some of the reasons that my hon. Friend describes.

Let me be clear about some of the Opposition’s specific concerns, in a spirit of genuine concern about and mutual interest in the eurozone. First, we believe that the eurozone firewall needs to be bigger in scale and more flexible in operation than the ESM alone currently allows. Although the ESM is a key part of that broader firewall, an effective European Central Bank should also be used to enhance, and contribute to the establishment of, an effective firewall. Since the House last debated the matter, the ECB has announced its intention to begin buying bonds if member states comply with the relevant conditions regarding the management of their fiscal budgets. That is a welcome development, and we look forward to the ECB president Mario Draghi’s announcement this Thursday of how that new programme will work. The ECB must now deliver on its promise if it is to function properly as a lender of last resort and provide the necessary firepower to support the eurozone economies effectively under bond market pressure.

Mr Cash: Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

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Mr Alexander: I am keen to make a little progress, but I will endeavour to give way to the hon. Gentleman in due course.

Secondly, stability in the banking system is vital, and where that requires action it should take place swiftly and with urgency. That is why we welcome the recent announcements about the ESM, which represent steps towards recapitalising weak eurozone banks. If responsibility for recapitalising national banks rests with national Governments, the problems of countries such as Spain risk getting worse, because state support for the banks will further worsen those countries’ fiscal outlook. We therefore agree that within the eurozone it makes sense for the ESM to be able to play a leading role in bank restructuring and recapitalisation. Although there is agreement in principle about that, it is vital that the eurozone begins taking action on it more urgently than it has to date. We cannot afford to wait for full agreement on a banking union before the process of recapitalising Europe’s banks begins. It needs to take place over the coming months.

The failure of eurozone members to accept fully the logic of a single currency must be addressed, and alongside a banking union some form of debt mutualisation may have to be considered. Simply put, creditor countries must be willing to shore up debtor countries in the short term if they are to guarantee their own stability in the long run. That may be a bitter pill for countries such as Germany to swallow, but it is the only cure for the eurozone as a whole.

Mr Cash: On the role of the ECB, Mr Draghi and the proposals on bail-outs, does the right hon. Gentleman agree with the president of the Bundesbank, Mr Weidmann, or with Angela Merkel?

Mr Alexander: I would not wish to intrude on the constitutional differences between the Chancellor of Germany and the governor of the Bundesbank. President Draghi bears a heavy burden of responsibility on Thursday to add detail to the terms of the guarantees that he was judged to have offered on the basis of his rhetoric at the previous press conference in the summer.

There is clearly a divide between those who, despite the economic facts, remain wedded throughout Europe to an austerity-only approach and those who recognise the need for a growth-led recovery alongside genuine efforts at medium-term deficit reduction. It is regrettable that our Government appear to be firmly on the wrong side of the divide. However, I welcome the fact that, at the last EU summit, a useful but modest growth package was agreed, although I regret that the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom remained bound to the last to the old Merkozy-style approach.

As part of the new focus on growth across Europe, we support a significant increase in the capital of the European Investment Bank and the concept of infrastructure bonds to finance major capital investment projects. The European Union must also learn to use existing resources better without spending more. A genuine plan for growth must start with reform of the EU’s 2014-20 budget, which, at more than €1 trillion, has the potential to make a real impact on the European economy’s recovery by spending less on agriculture,

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more on infrastructure, small business growth and research and development, and better using the money currently spent through existing EU structural funds.

Alongside those targeted measures to stimulate growth, the Government should call for the completion of the single market and the digital and energy markets. Completely removing existing obstacles could translate into a 7% increase in incomes per head in the UK, according to the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. Further integration could therefore provide a genuine and much-needed boost to growth.

Mark Reckless: The shadow Foreign Secretary is giving us a tour of the European horizon, but may I pull him back to the Council’s decision, which we are asked to ratify tonight? Does he consider that decision to include the recitals?

Mr Alexander: As a former Minister for Europe—and the current Minister for Europe is sitting on the Front Bench opposite—I can say that there is a Council legal service, which can advise about the standing and authority of the recitals. If I recollect correctly, recitals have been judged in previous legal cases to have persuasive effect, and would certainly inform any subsequent legal judgment about Ministers’ intentions in the Council meeting at the time. I therefore think that it was appropriate for the Foreign Secretary to rehearse in some detail the terms of the recital to inform the House about the basis on which the Council reached the decision at the meeting. Perhaps I would add to the Foreign Secretary’s earlier comments that the other great strength of the proposal is the explicit nature of the understanding that the problem is for the eurozone and must be addressed by eurozone members. I have been candid in recognising that, in the teeth of the crisis, in the final days of the Labour Government, decisions were made that reflected the urgency of the moment. One reason why it is in Britain’s interest to support the amendment to the treaty is the facilitation of the eurozone countries’ assumption of the responsibility that we have long argued that they should accept for the currency’s continuing structural problems.

Let me turn to an issue that the Foreign Secretary raised only briefly, in passing. I anticipate that other colleagues will also raise it. It is fair to recognise that the eurozone crisis is now having an impact on the British economy. However, it is wholly wrong to claim, as the Government are trying to do in several different forums, that the current double-dip recession in the UK is the result of the ongoing eurozone crisis. That is an excuse, not an explanation.

First, for most of early 2012 and 2011, exports, including to the eurozone, were keeping the UK out of recession. Secondly, the UK recovery stopped in late 2010, well before the eurozone crisis had fully taken hold. Thirdly, of all the G20 countries, only Italy is in recession as well as the UK, and although the eurozone as a whole is now contracting, it is has not seen three successive quarters of negative growth as, alas, we have witnessed in the UK under the current Government. Although the crisis in the eurozone poses serious risks to the UK economy, the Government’s failed economic strategy has rendered our economy more vulnerable and more exposed to these risks than we needed to be.

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The establishment of the ESM is therefore a necessary, if partial, response to the problems afflicting the eurozone. The risks still confronting the eurozone are real and immediate. Ratifying the treaty amendment that allows for the ESM’s establishment must not be seen as an excuse for inaction on the other vital areas where the eurozone is still required to act, or, indeed, on the change of course that is now needed here in the UK.

Amendment of the treaty is not only in the eurozone’s interest, but in that of the UK. For that reason, we support the Bill.

6.45 pm

Mr William Cash (Stone) (Con): The Bill is living proof of the Alice in Wonderland Euro-fantasy that permeates every nook and cranny of the failed European project.

Decisions, which were taken as long ago as 25 March 2011, when we last debated the issue—shortly afterwards, several of us voted against the proposals on a deferred Division—cannot and do not work. It is as simple as that. There is simply not the money to go round, as I said when I had the opportunity of cross-examining the Prime Minister at the Liaison Committee well over a year ago.

It may be very fine to provide a quack remedy to make the Euro-integrationists feel that something is being done, but the proposal, which Mr Van Rompuy and the European Council described as

“ensuring the stability of the euro area”

is as effective as taking a dose of snake oil to hold off the consequences of an economic earthquake.

A Harris opinion poll this week on whether the measures will deal with the debt crisis in the eurozone showed that only 15% in the United Kingdom were confident that they would have any effect. That applied to only 25% in France, 33% in Italy, 20% in Spain and 24% in Germany. That is the most recent opinion poll on the effect of the proposals in the eyes of the voters, not the Governments, élite or establishment in each of those countries, let alone many others.

Of course, we all know that Germany holds the key to the eurozone. As I said in interventions on the Foreign Secretary and the shadow Foreign Secretary, Jens Weidmann, the increasingly realistic and sceptical president of the Bundesbank, stated only a few days ago that, as I have often said, intervening in the bond market is effectively breaking the no bail-out rule, which was set up under Maastricht—I foretold that it would not work—and prohibits the ECB from financing Governments and states. He said that if the Governments of the eurozone become dependent on the power of the ECB, they will never do anything for themselves, that it would be like pouring money into a black hole and that it

“can become addictive like a drug”.

The use of article 122, which the Foreign Secretary attempted to argue around—somewhat disingenuously, I say with respect—breaks the law. The European Scrutiny Committee said that, to all intents and purposes, its use was illegal—not that it was not needed, but that it was illegal. It is there for dealing with natural disasters and earthquakes, not economic problems.

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Martin Horwood (Cheltenham) (LD): The hon. Gentleman is making his usual case that the use of article 122 was illegal. That may be his view, but it was clearly being used for the European financial stabilisation mechanism and therefore posed a liability for this country. Surely he must welcome a Bill mechanism that allows a treaty that reduces our liability. The new ESM will not include Britain, and we will not have that same liability. As a good Europhobe, he should support the Bill.

Mr Cash: As a Euro-realist, I am glad we will no longer be liable under the European financial stabilisation mechanism, but that does not exonerate the arrangements that were made by the then Labour Chancellor of the Exchequer, and by the current Chancellor, not to mention the Business, Innovation and Skills Secretary. In May 2010, as the former Chancellor makes clear in his book, they were all involved in endorsing the decision on the transitional arrangements between the outgoing Government and the current one. The illegality is shared by all members of the previous and current Governments.

Mark Reckless: My hon. Friend ascribes responsibility to a number of politicians, but what about the role of Sir Jon Cunliffe, our permanent representative in Brussels at that time? He had a key role in the matter, and since that time has been promoted.

Mr Cash: My hon. Friend and others have pursued that relentlessly and still have no real answers. The truth of the matter is that a number of things were done at or around that time that many people now rather regret—let us put it that way. The fact that the EFSM is now described as “not needed” is disingenuous because people know perfectly well that it was illegal. That is not just my opinion—I make this comment to the hon. Member for Cheltenham (Martin Horwood)—but the one reached by members of the European Scrutiny Committee as a whole in the light of what we heard.

The Minister for Europe (Mr David Lidington): May I make a plea to my hon. Friend and to my hon. Friend the Member for Rochester and Strood (Mark Reckless)? It is one thing to criticise Ministers or Government policy on the European Union, but will they please not direct criticism directly at named officials, who serve Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrat Ministers loyally and to the best of their ability in the impartial tradition of the British civil service?

Mr Cash: I am delighted that my right hon. Friend makes that point and I endorse it as a general principle, but instances occur periodically that require a certain amount of investigation and analysis. I did not entirely endorse the remarks made by my hon. Friend the Member for Rochester and Strood (Mark Reckless) in as many words, but I agree with him—and with others—that, at the time in question, decisions were taken that people now regret. I am glad that we have moved on from article 122 to the present European stability mechanism.

Mr Douglas Alexander rose

Mr Cash: I would rather get on with my speech than continue to dwell on the outrageous decision taken, but I will certainly give way to the shadow Foreign Secretary.

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Mr Alexander: First, may I identify myself with both the spirit and substance of the remarks offered by the Minister for Europe? Secondly, before the hon. Gentleman proceeds with his speech, does he accept that, notwithstanding his demand for continued investigations, one of his colleagues has perhaps fallen into error in suggesting that the named individual was the permanent representative in Brussels at that time? I think, in fact, that his predecessor was in post at the time when the decisions that are being discussed were reached.

Mr Cash: I cannot possibly comment, as they say, on that particular point because I am not aware of all the circumstances. Although mistakes were made, the point regarding the ESM is far more important. I accept that the EFSM is now in the past, but it was an unfortunate incident and all parties involved were culpable of allowing it to be endorsed as a proposal—it remained effective for far too long, with obligations on the United Kingdom and its taxpayers.

Mark Reckless: The individual concerned was a senior official in the Treasury at the time—I was referring to his current position. The Europe Minister and the shadow Foreign Secretary have supported what their senior officials in a number of positions say, but if the House had had the chance to scrutinise the individual concerned, and if either the European Scrutiny Committee or the Foreign Affairs Committee had been able to determine his appointment, we might be in a different position.

Mr Cash: We have probably gone through that in as much detail as is required or necessary on this occasion. My point is that it is not the case, as the Foreign Secretary and the papers to which he is religiously sticking state, that article 122 arrangements for the EFSM are no longer needed. That is not only disingenuous, but verging on something much worse. It is not just a question of them not being needed, but I will leave it at that for the time being.

The real question is on the problems that will emerge in practice from the continuous stream of payments and bailouts, putting heads in the sand and the complete abnegation of reality. It is clear—the most recent edition of The Economist indicates as much—that the euro will turn into a soft currency with high inflation. The general secretary of the CSU, the Bavarian party that makes up part of the coalition in Germany, accuses the European Central Bank—this is a far worse accusation than any regarding the EFSM—of becoming

“the currency forger of Europe”.

There are profound reasons for that accusation, which is made by one of the most senior members of the German coalition. I could spend a fair amount of time going through technical and legal points on the European Act 2011, the exemption conditions and the opinion of the Foreign Secretary, but the issue is much more serious than treading through the maze of legalities created by the Act. This is about the substance of the manner in which the European Union functions and fails.

I shall come to the attitudes of German voters later, but it is important that people throughout Europe recall, as Germans do, what happened in the 1930s and subsequently. The economy’s implosion and high inflation—evidence that the economy was completely out of kilter with reality—ultimately led to disaster and

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the emergence of Hitler from the Weimar republic. Those things are brought to mind by the CSU general secretary’s accusation that the ECB is becoming

“the currency forger of Europe”

to provide the scale of bailouts contemplated under the Bill and the treaty. Massively high inflation is caused by printing money when a country does not have it on the basis of how it runs its economy. No wonder only 24% of more than 1,000 German voters polled had confidence in the short-termism that such measures represent.

Angela Merkel is certainly bidding for a new European treaty—it has not been received with enthusiasm, but the treaty issue has not gone away. In December, there is a fair chance that she will come back for a new treaty that will effectively create yet another step towards political union. We know perfectly well—it is no longer taboo, although I have been saying it for the best part of 25 years and it is now reality—that Germany is now moving further and further towards political union, which it will largely dominate, although more and more Germans are against the bail-outs, even to the point at which, as The Economist suggested last week, Mr Weidmann is now seen increasingly as Angela Merkel’s Thomas à Becket, having been one of her most loyal supporters. This is a very serious matter, but the shadow Foreign Secretary simply does not see it. I asked him whether he agrees with Angela Merkel or with Mr Weidmann because that is what is at the heart of this Bill.

The worst of it is that in fact it is not going to work anyway. Mrs Angela Merkel knows that Mr Weidmann is right on economics, but she has her own agenda of political union as the centrepiece for the destiny of Germany, as she has repeatedly argued. It is not just Germany. Spain is rapidly following Greece over the euro cliff, with Italy not far behind, not to mention the continuing problems in Portugal, Ireland, Cyprus and a stack of other countries. It is even now becoming a problem in respect of the individual provinces in Spain—Catalonia, Valencia, Murcia and other regions are lining up while Spain dives into a double-dip recession. There simply is not the money to pay for the catastrophe that the European economic system has created.

Mr Michael McCann (East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow) (Lab): Does the hon. Gentleman not think it odd that we should lecture the eurozone about double-dip recessions when we are in one ourselves, created by the Government whom he purports to support?

Mr Cash: That is a very nice little intervention, because the reason we are in a double-dip recession—in so far as we are—is, first, the massive deficit that the hon. Gentleman’s Government left us with. Secondly, for reasons that I will explain, it is because of the massive deficit—as I said to both the Foreign Secretary and the shadow Foreign Secretary—that the European Union has with us. We are in such incredible deficit with the other 26 member states that it will be impossible for us to gain out of the 50% of our trade with them the growth that is needed to enable us to come out of recession and grow our economy.

I was disappointed, to say the least, that the problems with the eurozone were not even touched on in the exchanges between the Chancellor of the Exchequer

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and Andrew Marr yesterday, when everybody knows that the failure of the UK economy is partly because of the deficit we inherited, but also because we cannot grow with a bankrupt European Union, with the exception of Germany. Indeed, half of our deficit with the other 26 member states is our deficit with Germany alone. So we have to be conscious that this is a real problem that needs to be resolved, and this Bill will do almost nothing except damage our economy.

Greece is currently in the throes of an EU-IMF economic investigation. One can almost hear the words of endorsement from the EU and the IMF before they have reported. I will be very surprised if they do not try to find some way to muddle through. As with the Bill and, I am afraid to say, the Government’s policy on Europe, real EU reform is off the agenda, as is a referendum.

Martin Horwood: The hon. Gentleman is very free in his criticism of the IMF—

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans): Order. The hon. Gentleman is not only in danger of crossing the Floor, but is turning his back to the House. Please will he address the House?

Martin Horwood: I beg your pardon, Mr Deputy Speaker. I will try to do better.

The hon. Gentleman is free with his criticism of the IMF and the EU and everyone else, but may I ask him a basic economic question? If not this, what? Does he advocate the chaotic disintegration of the eurozone? Does he ask the Germans not to seek guarantees for the finance they are providing for other European economies? Does he suggest that there should be no legal framework behind the necessary steps to tackle structural deficits in the eurozone countries? I can think of nothing that would more surely damn the whole European economy, including ours, than a chaotic disintegration of the eurozone.

Mr Cash: Again, I am grateful for the intervention because back in the 1990s during the passage of the Maastricht treaty—and I say this without any sense of self-satisfaction—I predicted that this is where we would end up. Massively high unemployment, riots in the streets, the rise of the far right and the implosion of the European economic system were all predicted in the Maastricht treaty debates. It is there in black and white. It is no good now saying that because those of us who took that position and made those predictions then were right that, somehow or other, we should say, “Well, that is just the past. Let us not worry about the present.” We are looking towards the future and we need to have an association of nation states based on the principle of consent by the voters, who have already expressed their views in repeated opinion polls and are denied referendums.

Mr James Clappison (Hertsmere) (Con): Does my hon. Friend recall that almost exactly the same lines of argument and descriptions were applied back in 1990 to the same prophecies about the UK exit from the exchange rate mechanism?