Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Lord Myners does not exactly answer the question

As news, "Minister does not exactly answer the question" ranks somewhere around dog bites man and gardener digs soil in surprise. However, there was another example of this egregious non-activity in the House of Lords yesterday.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch asked HMG:
whether Article 122.2 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union can be used to require them to provide financial assistance to another member state which is "threatened with severe difficulties caused by exceptional circumstances beyond its control".
Hmmm, said Lord Myners on behalf of HMG, maybe yes or maybe no.
Any request for financial support in accordance with Article 122.2 would need to satisfy the specific criteria set out in the treaty and would be
considered on its individual merits by the ECOFIN Council, where it would be
voted on by qualified majority.
Qualified majority means that no country can block it and all countries will be liable.

Lord Pearson then followed up:
My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that reply. I hope that he will forgive me if I say that illegality under the treaties has never bothered the Eurocrats. Will he give a clear guarantee that the United Kingdom will not, willingly or unwillingly, contribute to any out bail-out of the member states, including the proposed European monetary fund? Will he also confirm whether any such initiative would require a treaty change or whether it could be done by majority voting?
Lord Myners moved on to another Article in the Treaty and, to be fair to the noble Minister, there is a slight contradiction between Articles 122 and 125. That is why we should like to know what HMG intends to do, though one cannot help suspecting that they do not really know themselves.
I do not propose to comment on market speculation about the possibility of a European monetary fund. This is being discussed by the eurozone nations, but the UK is not part of those discussions. However, Article 125 of the treaty is very clear in stating:

"The Union shall not be liable for or assume the commitments of ... governments ... A Member State shall not be liable for or assume the commitments of governments ... of another Member State".
The rest of the short debate was of some interest, not least Lord Dykes's attempt to move the discussion on to the subject of Nigel Farage's behaviour in the European Parliament and his censure (shock, horror) by another MEP. All one can say is that Lord Dykes's verbose contribution did not go down very well with the House.

Lord Myners was accused of equivocation by Lord Stoddart of Swindon and replied with more equivocation. Lord Anderson of Swansea expressed his sorrow that the Conservatives have not said anything positive about the European Union and Lord Tebbit acquitted the Minister of equivocation:
My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that I acquit him of equivocation? Can he confirm that in his earlier answers he made a statement that would cause us to believe that, should any costs fall on the British taxpayer in respect of the bail-out of Greece, he would forthwith resign?
It would appear, however, that Lord Tebbit was premature in his assumptions as Lord Myners made it clear with yet more equivocation:
We are talking about European Union support and I have been very clear in my response about that; I have been very clear in my response about what the treaty says.
We can assume, therefore, that if the British taxpayer ends up bailing out Greece or any other member of the PIIGS, neither Lord Myners nor any other Minister will see fit to resign. Another dog bites man story.

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