HL Deb 06 June 1991 vol 529 cc737-9

3.8 p.m.

Lord Ezra asked Her Majesty's Government:

What is their policy towards the European Commission's latest proposal whereby Britain would be asked to agree to a treaty on European monetary union without being committed in advance to the implementation of a single European currency.

The Lord Privy Seal (Lord Waddington)

My Lords, as my right honourable friend the Chancellor said in another place on 24th January, we cannot accept any changes to the Treaty of Rome that would bind us to move to a single currency or a single monetary policy without a separate decision by the United Kingdom Government and Parliament. The suggestion made at the informal ECOFIN on 12th May is a step in the right direction. But there remain many issues to be discussed in the Economic and Monetary Union IGC before a final agreement can be reached.

Lord Ezra

My Lords, I recognise that it is early for the Government to make a final decision about what their attitude might be towards a treaty on economic and monetary union. However, does the noble Lord not agree that the proposition that has been put forward presents an attractive compromise? Does it not enable the Government on the one hand to demonstrate clearly that they want to remain active in Community matters while on the other hand not being committed, at this stage at any rate, to some objectives about which they have doubts?

Lord Waddington

My Lords, I should make clear that I know of no specific proposition that has been put forward. What has been referred to is a statement to the effect that the United Kingdom would not be forced to move to a single currency. Clearly, if that was said, it is a step in the right direction, but it is not clear what the author of the statement had in mind in terms of any amendments to the treaty.

Lord Bruce of Donington

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that a vital question of principle is involved upon which it is not honest for the Government to equivocate? Will the noble Lord confirm that the attitude of the Government falls fairly and squarely within the views expressed by the Prime Minister when he was a member of the Cabinet headed by the right honourable lady, the Member for Finchley? Any such compromise skates over vital issues of political accountability and is quite simply the wrong way for the future development of Europe. Will the noble Lord say whether or not the Government are in agreement with the ultimate move to the EMU, irrespective of whether it involves the single currency?

Lord Waddington

My Lords, there has been no equivocation whatever. We have made it absolutely clear that we could not accept the imposition of a single currency. However, we shall, of course, continue to negotiate constructively and hope to find a way forward acceptable to Parliament and to our European partners. A move to a single currency must in any event be some years away at the earliest. It would be for a future government and Parliament to decide whether to move to stage three.

Lord Jenkins of Hillhead

My Lords, when the noble Lord says that the Government's position is that they could not accept the imposition of a single currency, should the stress be laid upon "imposition" or upon "single currency"?

Lord Waddington

My Lords, our position has been made absolutely plain. The United Kingdom is not obliged to accept the imposition of a single currency and we will not do so. However, we will continue to negotiate constructively. There are many issues, including the contents of stage two, which need to be resolved before the question of a single currency needs even to be addressed.

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, since it is now becoming increasingly apparent that the other 11 members of the European Community are intent on proceeding towards a single currency, does the response of the noble Lord the Leader of the House to earlier questions mean that the British Government will not sign a treaty for a single currency when it is produced in the relatively near future?

Lord Waddington

My Lords, I have answered the question quite clearly. We shall continue to negotiate constructively. Questions of a veto or of not signing any treaty, before we have even seen the terms of any amendments which might be agreed, are quite unnecessary.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

My Lords, does the Leader of the House agree that the Government and Parliament should be wary of any compromise proposal which comes from the napoleonesque M. Delors? Does he agree that such compromise would eventually lead to the monetary and economic sovereignty of this country being undermined? Finally, does he agree that Mr. Ridley at the Bruges Group yesterday set out what the future policy of the Government should be? Will the noble Lord follow that policy?

Lord Waddington

My Lords, I have already made clear that no proposals which can be described as a compromise on the lines suggested by the noble Lord have been put forward. We are talking about a statement reported in the press and attributed to M. Delors to the effect that the United Kingdom would not he forced to move to a single currency. That is all.

Lord Peston

My Lords, the noble Lord the Leader of the House keeps saying that he has made everything clear; therefore I know that it is my fault that I cannot understand what he says. Essentially, he is being asked: does one favour a move to a single currency? I can tell him clearly that I do favour a move to a single currency. I have no difficulty on that. This is a matter that concerns the whole country: in my view, it is not political, it is national. What some of us are trying to find out is where the Government stand. To use the noble Lord's word, the Government ought to have a "clear" view. Do they favour a move to a single currency or not? It has nothing to do with its imposition. We are trying to find out whether they favour it.

Lord Waddington

My Lords, I thought that we had made our position absolutely plain when we put forward our proposals for a hard ecu. We were making plain that we believe that it is far better to move from a common currency to a currency that is widely accepted by more and more partners in the Community than to go for a single currency, just like that.

Lord Peston

My Lords, I do not wish to pursue this matter. I thought that the hard ecu was completely dead; I did not think that we were going back to that. May I take it that the answer is that the Government do not favour a move to a single currency? Can the noble Lord the Leader of the House at least say that? It would be enormously helpful, although disastrous to the City of London, to know.

Lord Waddington

My Lords, the noble Lord is quite wrong if he believes that the hard ecu is dead. The Spanish and German governments have recently talked in terms of a harder ecu.

Lord Ezra

My Lords, the noble Lord referred to the hard ecu proposition. Could it be regarded as a step towards a single currency or as an alternative to a single currency?

Lord Waddington

My Lords, the British Government have always made plain that over a period of time a common currency could eventually become a single currency.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, will the noble Lord beat in mind that the opinions expressed from the Front Bench of this side of the House are not always indicative of party policy?