HC Deb 23 July 1998 vol 316 c1256
12. Mr. Dale Campbell-Savours (Workington)

What estimate he has made of the annual costs to the United Kingdom general public of exchange costs related to European currencies. [50498]

The Chief Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Alistair Darling)

Any estimate of annual exchange costs related to European currencies would be subject to wide margins of error. It would need to take account of the transaction costs incurred by business and individuals each time currencies are exchanged and the associated costs to business of exchange rate uncertainty.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

Why should the British holidaymaker in Europe spend billions of pounds annually filling the pockets of European money changers, when at the stroke of a pen—entry into the single European currency—those costs would disappear overnight? Is that not a powerful argument for early entry into the European single currency?

Mr. Darling

My right hon. Friend the Chancellor made the Government's position on the single currency absolutely clear. If we meet the five economic tests, we believe that, in principle, the single currency would be good for this country. In the past six months of our presidency, we have done everything that we can to ensure that it is launched successfully. I understand my hon. Friend's point, but I think he would agree that the important thing is to ensure that this country prepares so that it is in a position to make a genuine and real decision whether to join such a currency at the appropriate time.

Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood)

Surely the costs of conversion of currencies are as nothing to the costs to our people of having to endure inappropriate levels of interest or quantities of money in circulation, imposed by an alien bank over which they have no democratic control.

Mr. Darling

The hon. Gentleman illustrates the problems of the Conservative party when he describes the European Union as alien. No doubt he was greatly encouraged the other night when the shadow Chancellor moved his party's position from not joining a single currency for at least 10 years to not being able to envisage ever joining it at all. That is how out of touch Conservative Members are. They must realise that we are part of Europe. More than 50 per cent. of our trade is within Europe, and we believe that, if it is in our economic interest to join a single currency, that should be equated with the national interest.

The hon. Gentleman graphically illustrates the difference between his party and the Government, who will always act in the national economic interest, which is why most people believe that we will best serve our country's interests in Europe.