HL Deb 15 November 2001 vol 628 cc673-5
Lord Pearson of Rannoch

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What is the basis for their statement that 3.5 million jobs depend on the United Kingdom's membership of the European Union.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, the European Union is Britain's foremost trading partner, accounting for more than half of our export trade. The estimate that over 3 million UK jobs are linked to our trade with the European Union is based on analysis of the employment income generated directly and indirectly in the production of exports to the European Union.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch

My Lords, linking trade and jobs to membership of the European Union is not the same as implying that if we left it those jobs would be lost. Is the noble Lord aware that recently the National Institute of Economic and Social Research, the Institute of Economic Affairs and the US International Trade Commission in Washington have all published detailed analyses which show that if we were to leave the European Union the effect on our economy and jobs would be negligible? Is the noble Lord further aware that in reaching this conclusion the IEA and the NIESR assumed that tariff barriers of between 6 and 9 per cent would be erected against us if we left? As the Economist opined as recently as 20th October, does the noble Lord not agree that if we left the EU with a free trade agreement—which we could certainly have—the benefits of leaving could be enormous?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for his fact-filled question. However, what I said was that these jobs are linked to our trade with the European Union. I did not say that if we were not members we would have no trade with the European Union. I am interested to hear what the noble Lord says about two entirely objective institutes and one which, I think that he will agree, is normally thought to have a particular point of view.

Lord Jones

My Lords, can my noble friend say how many of the jobs mentioned in the Question are manufacturing jobs? Can he further say what the Government are doing to promote and to defend the manufacturing base in Britain? Does he know of the anxiety that many of us feel with regard to the long-term future of the British steel industry—the seedcorn of British manufacturing?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, it is not possible from input and output statistics to calculate what proportion of those jobs are manufacturing jobs, but, as my noble friend knows, we are very concerned about the manufacturing industry in this country. We are determined to protect it as far as is possible. Our membership of the European Union is no deterrent to that.

Lord Waddington

My Lords, does the noble Lord agree that since 1990 the United States of America has increased its exports to Europe faster than we have increased ours? Does that not tend to show that perhaps what matters most is having a lean and strong economy rather than escaping all tariffs?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, I did not use the phrase "escaping all tariffs". I agree that it is enormously important to have a lean and strong economy. That has been the very successful thrust of the Chancellor's policies over the past four-and-a-half years.

Lord Oakeshott of Seagrove Bay

My Lords. does the Minister agree that nothing could be more obvious folly at a time when unemployment has already clearly started to rise than to put at risk the jobs of those who are involved in trading with our most important partners? Does he therefore accept that we on these Benches have no sympathy with the Question first asked. Does he further accept that it would help if the trumpet stopped blowing with an uncertain sound between the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Prime Minister and we started making the case for British membership of the euro?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, I am happy to have the support of the noble Lord. Lord Oakeshott, for our membership of the European Union. That support is widely held, not just among the Liberal Democratic Party and the Labour Party. I completely deny that the trumpet is sounding with an uncertain sound. The Chancellor and the Prime Minister have both said—it is true—that there is not an iota of difference between them on these matters.

Lord Monson

My Lords, does the Minister agree that in February of this year two distinguished European Commissioners, Mr Neil Kinnock and Herr Bolkestein, assured the "Today" programme that there would be no danger of reprisals if Britain were to leave the European Union?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, the Question is not about leaving the European Union. No one has suggested, as far as I know, that there would be any particular reprisal. The issue which is raised by the Question is of the economic benefit to this country from its membership of the European Union. That is what I have been answering questions about.

Lord Tomlinson

My Lords, does my noble friend recall that the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, had so much confidence in his rather eccentric view of the European Union that when it was challenged in the last Session of Parliament by an amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Plumb, he sought to withdraw his Bill rather than show confidence in putting it to a vote?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, I do not think that it is appropriate for me to intervene on matters between private Members of the House.

Lord Renton

My Lords, are not the Government thrilled that this trade has produced 3.5 million jobs without our joining the euro?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, I do not think I understand the noble Lord's question. In due course, if the conditions are right and we join the euro, I do not doubt that savings will be made which, in turn, will result in increased employment in this country.

Lord Dubs

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that, when Europe has enlarged following the accession of 10 or more countries, we shall see increased opportunities for British business and industry and an increase in the number of British jobs? Does he further agree that Europe is a positive force as regards providing jobs and improved employment prospects for our people?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, it is self-evident from the point of view of both economics and mathematics that if a market is increased from 375 million people to over 500 million people, substantial economic advantages will be made available.

Lord Saatchi

My Lords, why should anyone who really cares about unemployment want to merge their economy with countries where unemployment is twice as high?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, the advantages that we gain from links with other countries are, as I have said, self-evident. We would not be importing unemployment; rather, we would be contributing to the greater good of the greater number, to our advantage.

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