HL Deb 29 June 1989 vol 509 cc860-73

4.27 p.m.

The Lord Privy Seal (Lord Belstead)

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat a Statement made in another place by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister about the meeting of the European Council in Madrid. The Statement is as follows:

"With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a Statement about the meeting of the European Council in Madrid on 26th and 27th June, which I attended with my right honourable and learned friend the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary. The full conclusions of the Council have been placed in the Library of the House.

"Economic and monetary matters were the main item on the Council's agenda. Agreement was reached on four points. First, the objective of progressive realisation of economic and monetary union was reaffirmed. This objective was first set in 1972, before Britain joined the Community, and has subsequently been reaffirmed on numberous occasions, including in the Single European Act passed by this House. But no definition of it was agreed in Madrid.

"Second, the report of the Delors Committee, which sets out an approach to economic and monetary union by stages, was accepted as a basis for further work—but not the only basis. It will be possible to bring in other ideas and other approaches.

"Third, the Council agreed that the measures necessary to achieve the first stage of progressive realisation of economic and monetary union will be implemented from 1st July 1990. These include: completion of the single market; abolition of all foreign exchange controls; a free market in financial services; and strengthening of the Community's competition policy by reducing state aids. They are all matters for which the United Kingdom has campaigned strongly and where we are well ahead of the great majority of our European partners. No decisions were reached on what would follow this first stage, and stages 2 and 3 of the Delors Report were not endorsed. Indeed, several delegations—not only the United Kingdom—made clear that they had substantial difficulties with them.

"Fourth, it was agreed to carry out the preparatory work for the organisation of an eventual intergovernmental conference to lay down subsequent stages. But such a conference would meet only after implementation of the first stage has begun and when there has been full and adequate preparation. Its decisions would have to be reached by unanimity and would require ratification by this House.

"In short, Mr. Speaker, we made as much progress as can be made at this stage while leaving longer term issues for futher discussion by finance Ministers and central bank governors over the months and years ahead. We have ensured that there is nothing automatic about the move to subsequent stages.

"Very difficult issues remain to be resolved. As my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer has made clear, stages 2 and 3 of the Delors Report would involve a massive transfer of sovereignty which I do not believe would be acceptable to this House. They would also in practice mean the creation of a federal Europe. The Government support the objective of closer monetary co-operation but will work for solutions which leave crucial economic decisions in our own hands.

"Although Britain's membership of the exchange rate mechanism of the European monetary system was not an issue at this Council, I reaffirmed our intention to join the ERM. But we must first get our inflation down; and we shall look for satisfactory implementation of other aspects of the first phase of the Delors Report, including free movement of capital and abolition of foreign exchange control.

"The Council also discussed what is called the social dimension. On this the United Kingdom's record is, of course, very good and I took with me to Madrid our own document setting out our substantial achievements in this field. We have also ratified the Council of Europe's social charter, unlike some of our Community colleagues. The council's conclusions on this subject recognise that the highest priority is to create the conditions for more jobs. The Government do not believe that the Community's proposed social charter would help achieve this aim. Indeed, we believe that imposing exta burdens on industry would make the Community less competitive. That is the main reason why my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Employment was unable to accept the conclusions of the June Social Affairs Council. I confirmed that refusal in Madrid.

"But the conclusions of the European Council did bring out a very important point, raised by many governments during the discussion: that national legislation and voluntary agreements have a legitimate role in achieving the Community's social dimension, and not everything has to be the subject of directives from the European Community. We shall be putting this view very strongly in the further discussions which will take place.

"Mr. Speaker, I will summarise very briefly the outcome of the Council's discussions on the other main issues.

"The Council reaffirmed the priority task of completing the single market with the emphasis on the areas of particular importance for the United Kingdom: financial services, technical standards, transport and public purchasing. The Council's discussions demonstrated that there will not be a withholding tax on savings—a proposal which the United Kingdom has consistently opposed. The Council welcomed the progress being made in the fight against fraud in relation to the Community budget. The Council showed there is wide acceptance of our need 1:o keep checks at frontiers against drugs, terrorism and criminals, while making free movement of ordinary law-abiding citizens a greater reality.

"In political co-operation, the heads of state and government expressed their utter condemnation of what has happened in China and agreed a series of measures which match those the United Kingdom is already taking. The Council also expressed its understanding for the anxiety which has been caused in Hong Kong by the atrocious happenings in China.

"Mr. Speaker, in conclusion I would like to congratulate the Spanish Government on their presidency of the European Community over the past six months, in particular for the progress made on the single market, with over 60 directives agreed. I also congratulate the Spanish Prime Minister, Sr. Gonzalez, on bringing a difficult European Council to a successful conclusion.

"I believe that the main outcome of the Council—agreement to implement a first phase of economic and monetary union—is very much in the interests of British industry and the City of London while fully protecting the powers of this House. Far from being isolated, as some have claimed, the United Kingdom was able to play an important role in bringing the Council to these sensible and practical conclusions.

"It is in the same spirit of determination to strengthen co-operation with other members of the European Community, while arguing always for cutting constraints on enterprise and free competition and leaving to member states those decisions which properly belong to them, that we shall approach the undoubtedly difficult discussions of the Community's future which lie ahead."

My Lords, that concludes the text of my right honourable friend's Statement.

4.35 p.m.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, we are grateful to the noble Lord the Leader of the House for repeating the Statement, which we shall need time to study in greater detail. We must welcome the Prime Minister's much more conciliatory attitude at the Madrid summit. As we have read, commentators observed that she gave considerable ground and that she was less aggressive compared with previous meetings. The Times reported yesterday that she had made considerable concessions. We must study all these matters. However, it all indicates that a different mood appeared to animate the right honourable lady who was persuaded to be more constructive. We must scrutinise the Statement to see if that is true.

Noble Lords will recall that there were debates in this House on 3rd May and 7th June during which the main issues of the Statement were dealt with at length. At that time there was a good deal of confusion as to the Prime Minister's views on both the Delors proposals and the social charter. That was bad for the Government and bad for Britain because we seemed to be approaching historic events with an apparently indecisive leader and a divided government.

Against that background perhaps the noble Lord will clarify certain points in the Statement. First, the Prime Minister agreed that Britain will join the EMS. The Statement lists a number of measures which are to be taken and notes that the first stage will begin on 1st July 1990. Does that mean that Britain will by then be a full member of the system? Or does that depend on our inflation rate? If our rate is higher than that of the other members, could that mean a possible delay of several years until the rate comes down to the average of the Community? That is certainly not clarified in the Statement; it is however a matter of the utmost significance.

Again, the Statement states clearly that there is little hope for progress on stages 2 and 3 of the Delors Report and that several countries had difficulty with them. The implication is that the right honourable lady had a number of allies at the conference who agreed with her. Can the noble Lord say how many governments shared the views of the Prime Minister?

The Statement then refers to "a massive transfer of sovereignty" and "the creation of a federal Europe" as a consequence of stages 2 and 3. Does the noble Lord agree that in practice this means that we cannot expect any progress beyond stage I in the foreseeable future? We on this side of the House accept that any concrete steps towards stages 2 and 3 should await the full implementation of stage I but we feel that further explanation is necesssry to support the arguments about sovereignty and federation.

Furthermore, does the Statement as it stands mean that the creation of a central bank will now be postponed until the first stage is completed? Or is it possible that a majority of our partners could proceed with the establishment of a central European bank in Frankfurt and Paris? That is a matter of central importance to this country. The establishment of a central bank in Frankfurt and Paris, if it happens, would be a most damaging blow. There are historic reasons why a central bank for Europe should be established in London if one is to be established at all.

We are very concerned about the Government's attitude to the social charter, which is contrary to the views of the other 11 member states. Can the noble Lord confirm that the charter's provisions will now be incorporated into directives that will be subject to majority approval in the Council of Ministers?

Finally, we welcome wholeheartedly the statements made in Madrid on China and Hong Kong and on progress in the fight against fraud. Later we shall want to know the details of the progress that has been made; so far we are given to understand that fraud is increasing in the Community in a frightening way.

The final achievements mentioned in the Statement are matters which we should like to welcome. They demonstrate that the Community can, with goodwill and a spirit of co-operation, prove itself to be an outward looking and progressive force in international relations. However, by and large, despite its length, the Satement is still vague on the major issues. We shall need to debate it fully in due course.

Baroness Seear

My Lords, we should like also to thank the noble Lord the Leader of the House for repeating the Statement and to raise one or two issues with him.

We are of course glad that the summit went off without any undue explosion and that we emerged at least not evidently in a second tier, as many people had feared would be the result. To that extent we congratulate the Government that the result is at least less bad than many people had anticipated. There are a number of points that we should like to raise although I agree with the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition that this matter needs a full debate and cannot be adequately dealt with on a Statement of this kind.

We on these Benches attach very great importance to the further stages. There is real anxiety that the Government wish to go only as far as stage 1 and to use delaying tactics in relation to the development of stages 2 and 3 which are required if the movement towards a genuine European union is to take place. On page 6 it is said that there will be an intergovernmental conference to lay down the subsequent stages. Can the noble Lord tell us how soon that is likely to take place? Is it a delaying tactic or is it intended that we shall move with all speed to considering having this intergovernmental conference which will thrash out such difficulties as there are and will make it clear whether the Government intend to go further or merely to attempt to obtain the immediate short-term benefits of the single market.

We are interested in the claim, so often repeated, of the threat to sovereignty in this country and that we must maintain economic matters in our own hands. Will the noble Lord the Leader of the House agree that whenever the German Bank changes the German base rate it sends a shudder through the City of London? That being so, to what extent can it be said that we retain full economic control in our own hands? Is it not better to recognise that sovereignty in these matters has to be pooled—indeed has already been pooled—and that it would be in our interests to have institutions within which we can handle these matters rather than having to react ad hoc as we do at present?

On the matter of joining the exchange rate mechanism, I suppose it can be said that this brings us a minimal step forward towards the fulfilment of joining the exchange rate mechanism which we have been told ad nauseam will take place when the time is ripe. The excuse for not doing so is that we need to bring down inflation. There are a great many people—including, I believe, the noble Lord's colleague, the Chancellor of the Exchequer—who believe that inflation would be lower had we been in the exchange rate mechanism. I am interested and encouraged incidentally to hear the Leader of the Opposition share our views on this matter. I had understood that Mr. Neil Kinnock had been of the view—shared by Mrs. Thatcher—that in fact we should wait until inflation comes down.

On the question of the social dimension, we should like to stress the importance of exploring this with a determination to participate. It seems to us crystal clear that one cannot have an effective development on the economic side unless one is prepared to accompany it with appropriate developments on the social side and that such distinction is entirely artificial. We need surely to explore fully what social measures are needed if the economic measures are to be fully effective and not to meet the resistance which economic measures without accompanying social measures are bound to give us.

Finally, we are glad that the summit condemned what had been going on in China and sympathised with the position of people in Hong Kong. However, was there not a wonderful opportunity in Madrid, but one apparently lost, to ask that our partners in Europe should consider the future of the people in Hong Kong and to consider on a Community basis what kind of guarantees could be given to the threatened people of that territory?

4.45 p.m.

Lord Belstead

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, and the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, for their responses to the Statement of my right honourable friend. The noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, appeared to be concerned that she had made considerable concessions at this European summit which he felt would reflect adversely on her. It was a great step forward to have a European Council which took practical first steps on economic and monetary union—a progressive realisation towards which has been an objective of both the noble Lord's party and mine over the past 15 years or so—but sensibly went no further without proper study, which is a matter that has been agreed by all. It was something for which my right honourable friend the Prime Minister worked very hard. To be able to fix job creation as the very top priority of the social dimension was a second great step forward and something for which my right honourable friend again worked very hard. If one looks at the foreign press as well as our own, one sees reports of a constructive and positive approach by my right honourable friend at this important Council.

The noble Lord asked me questions about economic and monetary union. The Community's commitment to progressive realisation of EMU, as I have said, dates from our accession, repeatedly re-affirmed by Labour Governments in the 1970s and repeated in the preamble to the Single European Act which this House approved. However, the point is that at Madrid there was not agreement to the Delors prescription other than for stage 1.

The noble Lord asked me to clarify my right honourable friend's Statement about joining the exchange rate mechanism. He asked in particular whether the level of inflation of this country could act almost as a permanent brake. In judging the right time for sterling to join ERM, we shall be looking primarily at progress against United Kingdom inflation and, on completion of the Community single market, in particular at the abolition of exchange controls by our major Community partners. The timing is a matter for Her Majesty's Government alone. However, I must underline that my right honourable friend's Statement at Madrid was received very positively indeed.

The noble Lord asked whether there were many governments sharing my right honourable friend's wish that there should be no automaticity between moving from stage 1 to stages 2 and 3. There were indeed several governments who shared my right honourable friend's concerns on those matters. The noble Lord was concerned that some of the member states might go it alone with regard to the creation of a central bank. There was much talk before the Council of some member states going ahead on closer monetary co-operation without the United Kingdom. However, the results of this Council showed no tendency for other member states to go it alone in that way. On the contrary, every effort was made at this Council to achieve unanimity. Conclusions were reached unanimously. The results therefore demonstrate that the predictions of imminent break-up were quite premature. One important matter from this Council is the wide areas of agreement on the conclusions that were reached.

Finally, the noble Lord said to me that the social charter was important. He asked whether what had happened meant that it was now the basis for a stream of Community directives. The answer is no. The social charter was not endorsed. It was sent off for further study. The importance of what is called subsidiarity—namely, the desirability of member states doing alone what it is right for member states to do alone—and the highest priority being given to job creation under the social dimension of the Community are the matters which come out of this Council.

I hesitate to cross swords with the noble Baroness, because I am afraid that she knows a great deal more about these things than I do. But I was surprised when very early in her rejoinders she said that stage 3 of Delors is required. I do not know whether she has observed that stage 3 refers to absolutely rigid exchange rates. That for the moment is something about which there is no agreement to proceed to. The caution reached unanimously by those attending the Council is very desirable.

The noble Baroness asked me when the inter-governmental conference would be convened. The outcome of Madrid ensures that there will not be an inter-governmental conference in the near future. The conclusions state that it can begin only after implementation of the first stage of Delors has begun in July 1990 and when there has been full and adequate preparation. I believe that that answers the questions put to me.

Baroness Stedman

My Lords, from this Bench we should like to offer our thanks to the noble Lord the Leader of the House for repeating the Statement. One of our national papers described the result as neither a fiasco nor a triumph. But we welcome the much more flexible approach of the Prime Minister and we support the decision to accept the first stage of the Delors Report as a basis for further work. We believe that it is right to take more time to consider the further stages of the report in order to bring in other ideas and other approaches. We believe that it is right to use this time for a very full investigation and consideration of all the aspects of the Delors proposals but not as a delaying tactic to prevent Great Britain from playing its proper role in Europe.

We congratulate the Prime Minister on listening to the advice of her Chancellor of the Exchequer and Foreign Secretary. We welcome the ratification of the social charter by Her Majesty's Government and also the proposal for the inter-governmental conference, after the necessary detailed preparation work has been done. We too have found it helpful. to have the comments on the wider issues mentioned in the Statement and, like the other noble Lords who have spoken, we feel that the subject is wide enough and serious enough to warrant a full debate in your Lordships' House.

Lord Belstead

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, but I should make just one point. Her Majesty's Government did not ratify the social charter, as my right honourable friend's Statement makes clear. The Statement says that the main reason why the Secretary of State for Employment was unable to accept the conclusions of the June Social Affairs Council was that we believed that extra burdens on industry, which are inherent in the social charter, would make the Community less competitive and the refusal was confirmed in Madrid.

What was agreed about the social dimension in Madrid was that there are certain things which can be done better by member states—the jargon is subsidiarity—and are thus better left to member states, and other things which are better done by the Community as a whole which are better left to the Community as a whole. The top priority for the social dimension is the creation of jobs. It is right to bear in mind that during the mid-1980s the United Kingdom created more jobs in this country than all the other Community countries put together.

Viscount Eccles

My Lords, I am strongly in favour of joining the EMS, but we ought to congratulate the Prime Minister on providing time and space to discuss the two further stages, because what the world wants now is not a European currency and a European central bank but a world bank. We want the dollar and the yen where we can have a reserve currency again. The European currency would not be anchored to anything. I hope that what we shall do with our European allies now is to work with the Americans, the Japanese and others to establish a world currency and, if you like, a world bank. Trade is not now continental. It has become global. There is a great difference today from what existed 25 years ago when I was very keen on this European unity. I think now that it is not enough.

Lord Belstead

My Lords, I was most interested in the intervention of my noble friend on that point. He congratulates my right honourable friend on the caution over moving so that there is no automaticity between stage 1 and the other stages of the Delors Report. But then he put his individualistic and most interesting construction on how he sees the way forward. In rejoinder I hope that he will feel that the United Kingdom has not only been wise at this Council but is also being quite adventurous in the way in which we have led the way in the abolition of exchange controls, in the way in which we have issued ecu-dominated United Kingdom Treasury bills and in the way in which we are pressing hard for the liberalisation of financial services.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that if future government action and policies match the rhetoric of this Statement, many of us on this side will be quite happy? If the Prime Minister really believes that stages 2 and 3 involve a massive transfer of sovereignty, leading eventually to a federal Europe, and will oppose that kind of move, she will have a lot of support from all sides of the House and indeed throughout the country.

On the other hand, if the actions do not match the rhetoric, as over the Single European Act, many of us will be very disappointed indeed and will oppose any government actions further to subsume this country into a federal Europe. The noble Lord will know what I mean about the Single European Act. Indeed he will know that my noble friend Lord Bruce of Donington and myself warned the Government and the Prime Minister what would happen if that Act were passed. Nevertheless the Prime Minister forced the Bill through the House of Commons on a guillotine and it subsequently passed into this House. Can the noble Lord give me the assurance that the Prime Minister will stand by what she has said in this Statement and lift the vision of this country to a Europe which embraces not just 12 European states but the whole of Europe in a co-operating body of sovereign nations working towards their own good and the good of the world?

Perhaps I may just ask one further question in relation to the social charter. The noble Lord will understand that this country was under attack often from countries very much smaller than ourselves which perhaps are not quite as developed as we are. Did the Prime Minister ascertain from those countries whether they have implemented the European social charter, which has existed since 1960 and which in large measure has been put into operation by various governments in this country? Did she put that to the other countries? Did she also say that worker participation should be organic and that it simply is not good enough to put workers on boards of large organisations when people on the shopfloor still have no say? Those are the kind of things that the ordinary British people want to hear.

5 p.m.

Lord Belstead

My Lords, first I should like to assure the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, that I know that anything my right honourable friend the Prime Minister said she would intend to stand by. But I ought to make clear in reply to the noble Lord what are the next steps on economic and monetary union. Very briefly they are these.

The European Council asked the competent bodies—that is, the Council of Finance Ministers, the General Affairs Council, the Commission, the Committee of Central Bank Governors and the Monetary Committee—to adopt the provisions necessary for the launch of the first stage of Delors on 1st July 1990, and then to carry out preparatory work for the organisation of an intergovernmental conference to lay down subsequent stages, that conference to meet once the first stage had begun and to be preceded by full and adequate preparation. That is the next step on the progressive realisation of economic and monetary union. I do not think I want to pick up the other points which the noble Lord put to me. I was interested to hear what he said.

The Earl of Onslow

My Lords, can my noble friend please help me on this? If we go into EMS with completely free exchange rates throughout Europe, either interest rates will get very much sharply apart in each different country, and, consequently, people will be borrowing, say, deutschemarks at 4 per cent., buying sterling and lending that sterling on at 8 per cent. and making a happy little amount of money while the exchange rates keep together; or, alternatively, if the level of interest rates is kept too low to keep the pound down, what will happen surely, is that the internal money supply will increase very sharply and, consequently, inflation will grow from it.

Lord Belstead

My Lords, if I may say so, my noble friend's question is hypothetical and I hope things would never happen in that particular way. It is precisely for the sort of reasons that my noble friend puts, but for other reasons as well, that we have made a statement which my right honourable friend made at the Council which was cautious, but which was meant to be positive and was received positively.

Lord Monson

My Lords, on behalf of all those throughout Europe—not just in this country—who value national independence, diversity and self-determination, will the noble Lord the Leader of the House thank his right honourable friend the Prime Minsiter and congratulate her on the success of her Peninsular Campaign to resist the ambitions of those who seek to impose uniformity, bureaucracy and central control upon Europe?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for the way in which he has received this particular Statement, Nonetheless, I draw the attention of the House to what I said just now to the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart. Serious work was undertaken at Madrid, next steps were agreed and I have outlined what those next steps are.

Lord Kennet

My Lords, the noble Lord has rightly reminded the House of the long period of years over which successive British governments have adopted economic and monetary union as the final objective and this present Statement reaffirms that long-term objective yet again. Of course, it was in the Single European Act and in everything else. Nevertheless the Statement—I am coming to the question—goes on later to say: The Government support the objective of closer monetary co-operation but will work for solutions which leave crucial economic decisions in our own hands. That was the Prime Minister's language.

For the moment can the Government clarify this? To state both those things implies the judgment that settling our national exchange rate is not a crucial economic decision. I think myself that that is a perfectly sustainable judgment. But one would have to realise that there might be an apparent contradiction between adopting EMU as a long-term goal and saying that we are going for solutions which insist on keeping crucial economic judgments in our own hands.

If the noble Lord could say something to the House which indicates that the Government are aware of the possible misinterpretation there, and could confirm that the Government's view is that the exchange rate is not a crucial economic decision, that would do much to clarify the Government's attitude to the whole matter.

Lord Belstead

My Lords, I think the noble Lord's reference is to the view of Her Majesty's Government on the wishes of the Delors Committee, so far as stages 2 and 3 were concerned, not to the statement which my right honourable friend made so far as the exchange rate mechanism was concerned. I think it would be tedious if I went over the ground as to why the Government were highly cautious about stages 2 and 3 and reached a unanimous agreement that there should be no automaticity between stages 1 and 2.

But put in very brief shorthand, we believe there is a lack of democratic accountability so far as stages 2 and 3 of Delors are concerned. We believe that the treatment of fiscal policy under stages 2 and 3 of Delors means that there would be binding rules for member-States' budgetary policies, which would be essential is supporting monetary union, and that would go far farther than normal even in federations. We also believe that there were certain aspects of regional policy which we would not be able to support under Delors 2 and 3. I think it was to that area that those words were referring.

Lord Bruce of Donington

My Lords, will the noble Lord clarify the point a little further than he did when dealing with the question put to him by the noble Lord, Lord Kennet? The earlier part of the Statement reads quite unequivocally that there was agreement—and that presumably means the agreement of Her Majesty's Government as well—on the objective of progressive realisation of economic and monetary union, which the Statement says was reaffirmed. But a little later, when the Prime Minister is describing what she actually supports, the Statement reads: The Government support the objective of closer monetary co-operation"— —I ask your Lordships to note the words; not "union" but "monetary co-operation"— but will work for solutions which leave crucial economic decisions in our own hands"— not "economic union", but "economic decisions in our own hands." I should be glad if the noble Lord could explain the apparent difference that exists in two parts of the Statement.

As my noble friend Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos said, we shall have to examine the Statement in far greater detail and, almost like an insurance policy, we shall have to look at the small print. But in the meantime, and on the assumption that further government statements may be made during the course of the next few weeks on this very vital matter, will the Government take steps to ensure that they speak with one voice and that we shall not have, as we have had over the last three months, the Governor of the Bank of England contradicting the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Chancellor of the Exchequer contradicting himself and the Prime Minister, and the Prime Minister contradicting them both? Can we have some assurance that the statements we get from the Government on further developments will reflect a united Government and a single opinion?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, I think we are starting to go over the ground again. I assure the noble Lord, Lord Bruce, that there is no difficulty about the aim of progressive realisation towards economic and monetary union which has been, under both governments, the objective of the United Kingdom since we joined the Community.

However, the point is that at Madrid there was no automaticity, as it is called, no automatic movement from stage one of Delors to stages 2 and 3 and that was unanimously agreed, and I believe quite rightly, if I may say so on behalf of my right honourable friend.

The noble Lord finally asks me what the Government mean by economic co-operation. We mean that other member states have now started to do some of the things which we have already done; for example, the abolition of exchange controls.

Lord Peston

My Lords, I hope that the noble Lord will forgive my intervention because I know that this has gone on for a little longer than perhaps some noble Lords may wish, but it is a very important matter. His right honourable friend the Prime Minister used the words: progressive realisation of full economic and monetary union to which we are committed". Perhaps I may ask him to convey to his right honourable friend that many of us believe that once we are committed to that, which we are, then it is inevitable that our national sovereignty will decline somewhat. I also ask him to convey to his right honourable friend the Prime Minister that anybody who has studied this subject believes that something akin to the Delors Report must be the basis of eventual monetary union. There is no other way to do that.

Lord Belstead

My Lords, I hesitate to cross swords with the noble Lord because in personal terms he is an expert and I am not. However, I believe that it is very important that I should say on behalf of Her Majesty's Government that when I say that we are committed to progressive realisation of economic and monetary union, exactly what form that is to take is to be the subject of further study by the council, the Commission, the Committee of Central Bank Governors and the monetary committee. There is no automaticity —and I repeat no automaticity—between Delors stage 1 and other stages.

Lord Ezra

My Lords—

Lord Denham

My Lords, we have now been 37 minutes on this Statement. The House has agreed by its own rules that it should be limited to 20 minutes. Of course, it is a very important Statement but we are now getting into a debate. I believe that we should move on to other business.

Lord Ezra

My Lords, many of us wish to speak on this subject. I shall not ask the question which I was going to ask and which I have tried to ask for the last half-hour. However, I ask the Leader of the House whether we can have an early debate on this subject so that we can express our opinions on this important matter.

Lord Belstead

My Lords, that would have to be pursued through the usual channels.