§ 6.40 p.m.
§ Lord Harrison rose to ask Her Majesty's Government what they are doing to promote Northern Ireland's welfare within the European Union now that the Republic of Ireland has adopted euro coins and notes.
The noble Lord said: My Lords, the euro has landed and has landed successfully. Nowhere in the United Kingdom will its arrival be more influential than in Northern Ireland, sharing, as it does, a euro-land border with the Republic. It is time to wake up to that reality and to assess the obvious and the less obvious implications of the euro's success on the welfare of the people of Northern Ireland.
In making that assessment I am grateful to those noble Lords who will contribute to the debate tonight. The depth of their experience of Northern Ireland is as oceans to my puddle of knowledge. I hope that they will forgive me if I intrude this debate into your Lordships' House when the peace process has yet to be fully secured. But the world moves on and I believe that this is too important a debate to leave idling on a vacant plot.
I am also grateful to the noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House for consenting to reply to the debate. He will know that last week's NOP poll showed the Principality voting in favour of accepting the euro and that Holyhead in his own beloved north Wales is prepared for the euro, just as in the past it has traded in the punt. Why is that? It is because, as the local Daily Post has put it,
The consumer must be served".
It is just so with Northern Ireland.
Northern Ireland has the opportunity to lead the United Kingdom in showing Britain the way by promoting, through adopting the euro, the restoration of the common currency that existed in the British Isles for some 50 years in the past century. Indeed, 1444 Northern Ireland, by adopting the euro de facto if not de jure, can remind Britain that one of the not unimportant reasons for the United Kingdom going in is to offer solidarity to Ireland in its own bold embrace of the euro. Good neighbours, I remind your Lordships, make good friends.
But even as we debate, the acceptance of the euro is gathering apace. The Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce reports that seven out of 10 of its 4,000 members favour entry, manufacturing industry, hard hit by an overvalued pound, being even more enthusiastic than the service sector. Retail industry in border towns is showing the way by facilitating a dual currency economy more intense than the punt/pound exchange which preceded it. In Newry, at the new shopping centre of The Quays, euros are now available directly from cash machines. As Declan McChesney of the local chamber of commerce and trade puts it,
We will use the euro to facilitate the growth of shopping in Newry",
a town only one hour's drive from half the population of the island of Ireland.
The changeover from punt to euro acceptability has also been enlisted to help Newry's bid to achieve city status in the Queen's Golden Jubilee Year. In passing. I remind some English eurosceptics that notes in Northern Ireland and Scotland have never borne the Queen's head—so often touted as a sine qua non of a nation's sovereignty. Kevin Murdoch of Newry Building Supplies Limited, with a staff of 95 and a turnover of £17 million, declared that his firm will accept euros or lose business.
In Londonderry, managing director Luke Hasson of the 165 year-old family owned department store, Austin and Co, declared that his firm is moving with the times and that the euro will be good for Northern Ireland business because,
The new single currency will now deliver price transparency on both sides of the border".
Even in Belfast, stores such as Eason's will accept euro coins and notes where formerly punt coins were refused. The euro, with its hinterland of a single market of 300 million people and growing, betokens more than a simple foreign currency replacement for the punt which previously served just 1 per cent of that population in the Republic.
Northern Ireland is admirably placed to reach into the deep pockets of that ever expanding single European market. Other businesses and industries are now mobilising to catch the swelling tide of that commerce. Sir Reg Empey, as Northern Ireland tourism Minister, notes that two-thirds of inbound tourists will hail from euro-land. Rightly, he is encouraging a joint marketing of the tourist attractions of Ireland north and south. When cash rich American tourists return to Europe this summer on multi-destination tours of euro-land, an excursion to a euro-compliant Northern Ireland will be attractive and possible and thus will bring jobs and prosperity to the north.
Or take the small tourist village of Belleek, the most westerly point of the United Kingdom, where Mr Michael McGrath hires out holiday cottages to continental tour operators. For the past two years his tariffs have been expressed in euros.
Even the electricity in the cottages is priced in euros
declares this forward looking entrepreneur.
Tourism is a crucial industry for Northern Ireland and one where the euro will be a determining factor. So, too, with farming. Douglas Rowe, President of the Ulster Farmers' Union, bemoans the current strength of sterling which has had such a negative effect on farm incomes. As well as sucking food imports into Northern Ireland, agri-food exports are less competitive in the broader trading zone of the 300 million people in euro-land, Mr Rowe asserts. He notes also that farm support payments, set in euros, significantly reduce when converted to the blighted, Blighty pound. And, as with any other business, uncertainty in these matters is an inhibitor of sensible planning, investment and development. Small businesses, and not just those in the agri-food sector, are particularly vulnerable. But it is heartening to hear the positive response of David Shaw, Northern Ireland deputy president of the normally eurosceptical Federation of Small Businesses. Shaw suggests that the euro has opened up a new trade route for Northern Ireland. In the future, goods and services will be brought in via the south and not through Britain because,
of the eurozone's greater price transparency".
The banking and financial products industries are, of course, in the front line of euroseep. Incidentally, I reject the pejorative phrase "eurocreep". Apart from the fact that it rhymes with Uriah Heep, I consider myself a euro warrior, not a eurocreep. No wonder, then, that the Ulster Bank has held over 100 seminars helping customers to familiarise themselves with the new currency. It is anxious, if not unctuous, for the new business that is available. Indeed, this is hardheaded business speaking, not the academic reflections of an end of Business debate in the House of Lords on a cold Tuesday evening in January.
If ever further proof were needed of the effectiveness and reality of the new currency, let me now turn to a life of crime. Cross-border smugglers dealing in everything from petrol, cigarettes and sheep, are fully euro happy. Drug runners and money lenders are euro conversant. The new 500 euro note is undoubtedly a useful bill of exchange for money launderers. Those crimes will not come out in the wash unless we take active steps to combat the single European market of crime and criminals as it manifests itself at Ireland's cross-border point. One further thought on things nefarious. If the euro is good enough for the wicked, then, in my teenage children's parlance of superlatives, it ought to be "wicked" enough for the rest of us!
On 4th December last year, the Northern Ireland Assembly debated the euro for the first time, on the motion of requesting government help to acclimatise Northern Ireland to its de facto dual currency status. 1446 That was, of course, an interim proposal, for the real ambition must be for the United Kingdom to enter EMU, as is stated government policy, provided that the five economic tests are met. Northern Ireland is a sixth economic test, and the Government must not offload responsibility for the current state of play by referring all matters to the Northern Ireland Assembly. The Assembly is plainly looking to Her Majesty's Government for a lead and guidance on this national—indeed, supranational—issue.
How will Her Majesty's Government respond to Northern Ireland's peculiar position as euro border country? How will the Government strengthen the fight against euro-related crime? How will they invigorate the fight for jobs, business and prosperity in businesses as diverse as retail, farming, tourism and finance, which will be increasingly subject to euro-seep? How will the Government further help the excellent Northern Ireland Euro Preparations Forum in its pivotal role of awakening business and citizens to the fact of the euro? And how will they help the Northern Ireland Assembly in its task of improving the daily lives of its citizens as a result of the onset of the euro? Will Ulsterbus, for example, give change in euros on both sides of the border? Will students from Northern Ireland on foreign study courses be able to collect their grants in euros? And how will Her Majesty's Government promote Northern Ireland as a euro-friendly location for inward foreign direct investment?
In closing, I turn to Northern Ireland's engagement with the EU and the European Commission. Northern Ireland has in effect been an Objective 1 area for a number of years. How will money from Brussels, such as the £500 million that is now being released under the "Peace II" programme, be handled? Will Northern Ireland lose out because we are out of the euro zone?
Do the Government believe that the coming of the currency will benefit the peace process? When I was an MEP, I used to observe with hope my fellow parliamentary colleagues, Messrs Hume, Nicholson and Paisley, together approach Presidents Delors and Santer when it came to fighting for money and help from Brussels for Northern Ireland. Is it too much to hope that, in the words of David, a market-stall jeweller in Newry, who was quoted recently in the Observer,
the euro will make people think in a manner which is practical, not sectarian in nature"?
Is it too much to hope that the coming of the euro may be linked with the coming of peace? Can the different traditions on the island of Ireland find a common home in our diverse and diversifying European Union, which is now advancing with a single currency?
§ 6.53 p.m.
§ Lord Laird
My Lords, I would like to pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, for initiating this debate in your Lordships' House today. I was most interested in what the noble Lord had to say.
I should declare a kind of interest in this subject because I am the president of the Northern Ireland European Movement—future developments in 1447 Europe being a subject in which I have been interested for some time. As a member of a small, in global terms, people who see themselves under pressure on all sides, I welcome the potential change of focus and reassurance offered in a new Europe.
As an Ulster Unionist living on the island of Ireland, the experience can be like that of living in a row of houses where every other resident wants you evicted and will use all means to do so. The Irish Minister of Foreign Affairs, Brian Cowen, wants to "hollow out all Britishness" from Northern Ireland, and that can only include me and my family. Such fascist talk would not be allowed if Europe was the Europe of the regions, celebrating and valuing all its peoples and their cultures.
The idea of the euro is nothing new. When euro-land celebrated the issue of its first notes and coins, did anyone raise a glass to Richard Whately, the Church of Ireland Archbishop of Dublin, who proposed the establishment of a uniform currency in Europe exactly 150 years ago? The archbishop proposed that the design of the coins should have no indication of nationality which might awaken national jealousies. That even meant dropping the image of Queen Victoria—a bold idea in the mid-19th century.
For the record, Richard Whately was born in London in 1787, was a former professor of political economy at Oxford and was Archbishop of Dublin from 1831 until 1863, which was not an easy period in Irish history—not that there are any easy periods in Irish history.
As has already been pointed out, Northern Ireland differs from any other part of the United Kingdom with regard to the euro because of its land border with euro-land. There can be no doubt that special measures are required for the Province. To put things simply, until 31st December 2001, we had a minor currency on our doorstep; from 1st January 2002, we have a major global currency on that doorstep. Previously, tourists and business visitors travelling from, say, Dublin to Belfast would want to change their currency to sterling. I suggest that they may now not be so keen to move from that major currency to sterling; they would expect to be able to continue to use their euros.
It is my understanding from all that I have read and heard that the changeover in coinage and notes has had little, if any, negative effect on the border regions of Northern Ireland. In most areas, retail businesses are operating in both currencies. I reflect the words of the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, who paid tribute to the entrepreneurs and businessmen of Northern Ireland; to them, like all true businessmen, business is business and politics is politics, and they do not necessarily—if ever—intertwine.
Business people are well versed in the meaning of the changeover. Here I feel that it would be only fair to pay tribute to the Northern Ireland Euro Preparations Forum for the way in which it has prepared, without taking sides, the ground for the euro. The forum—a small group of businessmen supported by a unit in the Northern Ireland Civil Service—has run a campaign 1448 of seminars and media information throughout the Province that has received much praise. I again noted the words of the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, when he talked about the work of organisations such as Ulster Bank and the CBI. I join him in his tributes.
Without doubt the biggest area in which help for Northern Ireland is required is the ensuring of a fair allocation of funding, especially in view of the possible inclusion of new states. The second is to ensure that every support and help is given to industry to expand and invest. American investors, for example, will look with renewed interest at investing in the Republic because of its location now in a larger economy instead of Northern Ireland. Those issues have to be examined and a counter-balance given.
Continued and enhanced methods of promoting Northern Ireland are vital. The key issue for me is the enhancing of representation at the heart of Europe. The office in Brussels that looks after Northern Ireland's interests must be supported in all respects. It is my view that that is the vital element of welfare that Northern Ireland requires in this challenging period.
§ 6.59 p.m.
§ Lord Molyneaux of Killead
My Lards, I. too, am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, for providing us with an opportunity to reassure our good citizens in Northern Ireland and thus enabling them to cope with what I regard as rather limited challenges.
An element of society for which I do not have authority to speak are the money launderers in both the North and the South. But the Irish Times provides a staple diet of financial scandals and tribunals. I am told that on day one when the euro came to Dublin a steady stream of handcarts conveyed obsolete punts to banks where, unfortunately, awkward questions were asked about where so many punts had been for all those years. No doubt the Irish Times will in due course provide pages of answers courtesy of the relevant tiresome tax authorities. The tax authorities are very tiresome so far as concerns launderers.
My assessment of the impact of the Irish Republic joining the euro is that, although there may be temporary minor problems, they will prove to be no greater than the hiccups which occurred when the Irish punt came into being. Then, we had two currencies working quite happily within one geographical unit and that was not seen as much of an obstacle.
Agriculture is the victim of some uncertainty, but that appears to arise from, and be caused by, delays in making payments where the decision-making is far too cumbersome. Those disadvantages require attention. I say without any bitter criticism of the department of agriculture and its convoluted name throughout the United Kingdom that there are times when it could take rather more, and speedier, notice of Northern Ireland's special problems, in particular in the drawing down of certain payments where an inexplicable delay appears to occur.
The tobacco industry in Northern Ireland is vulnerable, but for an entirely different reason. Concern arises not from the euro or exchange rates 1449 but, rather, from taxation rates and from the Government's current tax policy, which has fuelled the demand for non-UK duty-paid cigarettes. Such cigarettes already account for around one-third of the market. The fear is that any further increase in that taxation will raise the demand for, and the attraction to, non-UK duty-paid cigarettes with disastrous effects on United Kingdom manufacturers.
It would be churlish to ignore the Chancellor's recent decision to move away from above-inflation tax increases. It is hoped that that will not be a one-off step in one Budget but a move which will be continued over a period of years—this is not a quick-fix issue—otherwise, the percentage of smuggled cigarettes will increase from the horrifying figure of 16.5 billion in 2000–01, representing a staggering 21 per cent of the market.
Therefore, it is a great mistake to imagine that Irish entry into the euro-zone will transform trading conditions in any particular commodity. I am not dismissing the minor problems arising from the introduction of the euro in the other end of the island, but I believe that we can—one may say this facetiously—depend on the ingenuity of the Irish to nullify any and all resulting inconveniences. They are very good at that.
§ 7.4 p.m.
§ Lord Monson
My Lords, I was not intending to speak this evening but am prompted to do so by one or two remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Harrison. The noble Lord complained about the strength of sterling. However, perhaps I may point out to him that over the past two or three years sterling has not risen against the US dollar, the Canadian dollar, the Swiss franc, the Swedish krona, the Australian dollar or the New Zealand dollar; indeed, it has weakened against some of those currencies and, specifically, against the American dollar. The international community has had grave doubts about the euro—not in relation to the changeover as such but the long or medium-term viability of economic and monetary union with a single interest rate fitting all countries with widely differing economies.
The noble Lord then went on to talk about the problems faced by traders in the border areas and of how they will have to adapt to the euro in order to survive. Of course, I take his point that some are adapting, and good luck to them; I hope that they profit from it. But American tourists who cross the border at Niagara Falls to the Canadian side must change their US dollars into Canadian dollars, unless things have changed in the four or five years since I was last there. French people who go to Geneva to shop—it is usually the other way round; the French economy is much larger than the Swiss one—must change their French francs into Swiss francs.
Therefore, there is nothing new about the problems faced by traders in Newry or anywhere else in the North. It may be to their advantage to take euros but it is not the end of the world. People who live in border 1450 areas elsewhere are quite used to changing money. Frankly, I believe that the noble Lord is exaggerating somewhat when he says that it will he an absolute necessity for everyone in Northern Ireland to take the euro.
§ 7.6 p.m.
§ Lord Smith of Clifton
My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, on initiating this timely debate. I shall echo many of his arguments.
Because Northern Ireland has, as the noble Lord said, the UK's only land border with the euro-zone, it is likely to feel the impact of the euro rather more keenly than Great Britain. In one sense, of course, because of its geographical proximity to the Irish Republic, Northern Ireland has been used to intensive trans-border commerce and the concomitant currency exchange for three-quarters of a century.
As is common in all border areas between nation states, the Irish boundary reveals a sharp and immediate appreciation on the part of consumers of the effects of currency fluctuations on the relative prices of goods. The Irish punt and the pound sterling originally had the same parity until the Irish Republic, on joining the European Community, decided to stop pegging the punt to the pound. Since then, punt and pound, suitably and swiftly adjusted to reflect whatever the prevailing parities the finance markets determined between the two currencies, have long been virtually interchangeable. And so it has continued ever since the Irish Republic joined the euro.
We should rejoice in the good news that Northern Ireland is well placed to be the leading region in the UK in terms of adopting and adapting to the new euro coins and notes and participating fully in the euro-zone whenever the UK decides formally to enter.
As other noble Lords have remarked, the preparation both for living alongside the euro and, later, for belonging to the euro-zone has been quite well undertaken, particularly in Northern Ireland. Not least, as I said, that derives as much from its experiences of living with a floating punt over the past 20 years. Ireland's full participation in the euro should also give Northern Ireland a competitive advantage if that is widely recognised and the opportunity afforded fully seized; that is to say, it can piggy-back on the Irish Republic's enthusiastic and extensive participation in the commercial life of the European Union. It was that, as much as anything else, that promoted the emergence of the "Tiger" economy.
When it joined the European Union, Ireland determined to throw off its old stereotype of a rural, conservative and rather nationalist community with more than a touch of theocracy in its system of government. One might say that it substituted the de Valera approach for the value-added one. Its embrace of Europe was wholehearted and without qualification, so that now it has become a modern liberal democracy with an economy based more on technology than agriculture. It is also a country that more than pulls its weight in peace-keeping operations throughout the troubled parts of this world.
1451 Northern Ireland should be encouraged to follow that example. Of course, there are voices to be heard that are replete with nostalgic expressions for the emblems, flags and insignia of yesteryear. In recent years they have seized on the defence of the pound sterling and have been against the UK adopting the euro. Whatever the case for Euroscepticism, this must be the weakest. Northern Ireland, both because of its geographical position and its unfortunate history, has more to gain economically and politically than any other part of the United Kingdom in becoming an integral part of Europe, including membership of the euro. Most sensible people in Northern Ireland realise that, especially the business sector, as mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, and echoed by another noble Lord. That has been in the forefront of all these debates. All sections of the community know how much Northern Ireland has benefited from having Objective 1 status in the European Union, and having the added bonus of the Peace Dividend moneys from Brussels. Even Ian Paisley knows that: in his role as an MEP, as mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, he quite properly sought to maximise the amount of European money that Northern Ireland receives, even though for domestic consumption he adopts a strident anti-European stance. Whatever the short-term political gains that he achieves from this, this incoherent and inconsistent posturing serves the longer-term economic and the wider political interests of Northern Ireland very badly indeed.
Her Majesty's Government would best promote those interests by taking a very much more positive lead in advocating the case that, on balance, the sooner the UK joins the euro the better for all concerned. The continuous incantation of the mantra of the Chancellor's five principles increasingly lacks credibility as a reason for further prevarication and procrastination. Were he free to do so, I am sure that the noble and learned Lord the Minister would agree with my main contention that the future of Northern Ireland's welfare within the European Union would be for the UK as a whole to decide to join the euro-zone within the next few months.
§ 7.11 p.m.
§ Lord Glentoran
My Lords, I begin by thanking the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, for giving us the opportunity to pursue this most interesting debate, which. I suspect, could continue for a long time in other circumstances. As noble Lords know, I have lived in Northern Ireland for most of the latter part of my life. I worked as a chief executive of a subsidiary to a multinational plc for 25 of those years, and was pretty familiar with dealing in a variety of currencies from around the world, as well as being used to conducting business both north and south of the border.
As other noble Lords have said, people in the whole of Ireland are accustomed to dealing in multi-currencies. Ever since Dublin left the sterling standard and the punt was created we have had two currencies in the island: the punt and the pound. During my time in business the exchange rate has fluctuated 1452 enormously—probably in the total of my lifetime from minus 20 to plus 20, or something in that region, with a 40 per cent variance over the years. But no one fusses about that. You can go to any shop almost anywhere in either country and pay with sterling or with punt and receive the right change with account being made of the currency differentials. So we are completely used to trading and living in the retail world, and in the tourist world, with a variety of currencies.
The dollar is not a stranger in the Province, or in Ireland. As is well known, many of our kinsmen live in the United States or in Canada. They return home at least once a year, and also send money home. Therefore, we could argue that we are used to dealing with three currencies.
I have read some of the same newspaper cuttings mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, but I put a slightly different emphasis on them. According to my information there is really no great disturbance, or problem, with the prospect of having two currencies.
However, it is worth noting that the location of a nation's economic base, as well as the nature of its economic neighbours, are both important and relevant. The six counties of Ulster have the huge benefit of being part of the United Kingdom, which, arguably, is the second most powerful economic nation in the world. They will not want to give that up for a currency that has, frankly, failed so far; indeed, one that has not shown any great value or benefit.
Why are we nervous about this development? First, 80 per cent of the exports from Northern Ireland go outside the euro-zone. Secondly, Ireland made a very hit-and-miss decision to join the euro in a hurry. At that time, I believe that they made what was probably for them the right decision, but one that was taken at the wrong time. The Irish had to reduce their interest rates by 2 to 3 per cent in order to join the euro when their economy was—and still is—seriously overheating. That took away their ability to manage the overheating and the in-built inflation. We do not know what will happen at the end of this period. However, if they come down with what I believe is known as a "bumpy landing", it will be uncomfortable for Northern Ireland, and perhaps for others. But they did themselves some good because they negotiated a very good deal with the Germans. They came in with a very good punt/mark parity.
But so much for that part of the equation. There are other matters that impact on the situation. There are exchange rate repercussions. Our exchange rate is tied to sterling, which means that we have quite a significant difference in exchange rates between Europe and the United Kingdom; indeed, that is well understood and well known. But what will that mean to a small economy like that of Northern Ireland? It is not all bad news. Certainly retailing will be squeezed, and there will also be a surge of certain types of imports, but there will also be a significant increase—there has been and it continues—in property speculation, as well as money coming in and going out from the South.
1453 I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, referred to money coming in in wheelbarrows. With a strong currency, there is an opportunity to go and have fun in a cheaper country. People are investing in the Republic. As the world goes on, I am sure that those investments will both grow and improve. Therefore, in the personal sector, you could say that there is an opportunity for a windfall. There is a well-known saying, "Earn in a strong currency, and spend in a weak currency".
There is yet another factor that is, perhaps, more important and more effective than anything else. I am not arguing for a special case for Northern Ireland, but we do have taxation problems that have been imposed upon us. We have significantly higher taxes on tobacco products, and that is exacerbated by the exchange rate differences. We have significantly increased taxes on fuel and on heavy goods vehicles. When added to the exchange rate difference, that has a very negative effect.
There is one further tax that has just come on board, so to speak; namely, the aggregate tax. This is a 10 per cent tax on all aggregates extracted and used in Northern Ireland. This is a serious problem because the granite base and much of the aggregate base is found in the border areas. It means that "Bloggs" across the road has a considerable advantage over his competitors in the North because he is not paying his aggregate tax. It is not only the stone, it is also the products into which the stone is placed. I have in mind black top for the roads, concrete blocks, and so on. We have a serious problem in that respect, and one that is impacting quite badly. It is made a great deal worse because Customs and Excise are simply not equipped to manage the smuggling that is taking place. Technically, if the law were adhered to, everyone coming across the border with aggregates of any sort would be made to pay the taxes. But we all know what happens. The only time that we have ever managed to shut the border, with great help from the Irish Republic, was during the time of the foot and mouth outbreak. They could not keep the terrorists from travelling backwards and forwards, but for a while, thank goodness, they kept the sheep and the cattle from travelling backwards and forwards.
At this stage, dealing with the problem is not realistic, unless Her Majesty's Government are prepared to get together with the Republic and put much more effort and more resources into Customs and Excise to manage smuggling. Smuggling leads to crime. Most smuggling is well organised by gangs of paramilitaries and criminals, so there are many financial and trading difficulties, but that is in no way related to the fact that we no longer handle punts but euros.
§ 7.20 p.m.
§ The Lord Privy Seal (Lord Williams of Mostyn)
My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Harrison for initiating this debate. It is particularly topical to me because I had the great benefit and pleasure of being in 1454 Northern Ireland on Thursday, Friday and Saturday of last week. I should like to thank the noble Lords, Lord Molyneaux, Lord Rogan and Lord Laird—the latter was good enough to introduce a number of his colleagues—for the extremely informed and civilised conversation we had on problems of all sorts.
In the past I have had the benefit of talking to local politicians, such as Sir Reg Empey, and more recently, thanks to the courtesy of the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, the Speaker of the Assembly, to a disparate group including business people, such as Dr Diljit Rana, who was originally from the Punjab, but who now thrives in business and in life, contributing to the community by serving, I believe, as a justice of the peace.
I hope that on these occasions we regard ourselves as colleagues in a common endeavour. This evening we are in danger of agreeing with each other. That must mean something: perhaps gloomily that we are all getting too used to each other, but I am sure it means something more positive.
The noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, was right to say that Northern Ireland has a resourceful population which is able to adapt and to benefit. I hope that the success—I know he was referring to success in the context of business—will show itself in the wider political dimension.
As the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, said, and as other noble Lords have echoed, Northern Ireland has a land border with the euro-zone, a characteristic that I believe in the rest of the European Union is shared only by Sweden and Denmark. As noble Lords have said, for a long time Northern Ireland has been familiar with informal arrangements for trading in dual currencies. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, said that Northern Ireland has been used to dealing with more than dual currencies if one takes into account the dollar.
I believe that it will be said that since the euro is a major currency, there will be more demand for its acceptance than there was for the punt. That may be so, but as noble Lords have said, in the past Northern Ireland, its business people and its economy have been able to make opportunities out of divergences and I am sure that they will continue to do so in the future.
It is fair to say that in general Europe has been a good friend to Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland received over £930 million from EU Objective 1. Even in the time that I have known Northern Ireland—only 10 years—that has transformed the Laganside area of Belfast, has upgraded the Belfast to Dublin rail link and has set up an electricity interconnector with Scotland.
There is the further allocation of £575 million for a transitional Objective 1 programme for the period 2000 to 2006. In the context of the population of Northern Ireland, those are not insignificant sums. Northern Ireland has received £73 million under the Community initiatives funding, and further substantial funding to which your Lordships have referred under initiatives Peace 1 and Peace 2. The European Union has also contributed some 1455 £29 million to the International Fund for Ireland, which supports developments on both sides of the border.
We need to bear in mind that the devolved Assembly has an important role to play. I believe that we should all bend our backs to support that Assembly, to which the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, paid such tribute last evening. Foreign policy is a matter for the United Kingdom Government under the terms of the Northern Ireland Act, but the Executive has a significant role to play. I believe that that will develop. The noble Lord, Lord Laird, was good enough to commend the work of the Northern Ireland Euro Preparation Forum. The Executive in Northern Ireland has been heavily involved in preparing and helping local businesses in that endeavour.
I also believe that the Executive has done extremely well—I refer to the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran. Its lobbying was critical in the early granting of foot and mouth disease-free status to Northern Ireland. Even in its short life, it has had significant successes, rather more than the Jeremiahs would pretend. It is absolutely essential that I underline the commitment of Her Majesty's Government to the Northern Ireland Executive and to the developing role that it will play in the European context.
I turn to some particular points. The noble Lord, Lord Harrison, was right to talk about the problems of organised crime, also referred to by the noble Lords, Lord Molyneaux and Lord Glentoran. The task force, chaired by my colleague, Jane Kennedy, the Minister with responsibility for security, is having notable successes, particularly in the context of cigarette smuggling where recently there have been significant, notable seizures.
The noble Lord, Lord Harrison, spoke about prosecutors. I entirely agree with what he said. Whenever prosecutors on a pan-European basis get together, they agree that borders are not a barrier to organised crime; they offer an opportunity. Therefore, we must ready ourselves for joint actions on prosecutions, whether in the Northern Ireland context, the Republic of Ireland context, the wider United Kingdom context, or increasingly in the general European context.
1456 Of course, the director of public prosecutions in Northern Ireland—an admirable public servant with whom I worked closely for two years—has a statutory relationship with the Attorney-General in the United Kingdom and therefore co-operation is already available. In the context of what the noble Lord, Lord Laird, said about culture, it is heartening that the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages makes specific reference not only to the Irish language, but also to the Ulster Scots language on which he gave me a concentrated seminar. I was grateful for that because I have a personal interest in the survival and the continuing prosperity of the Welsh language in Wales.
The noble Lord, Lord Laird, scored a notable first. He referred to an historical incident 150 years ago, which is only a second or two away in terms of Irish matters. He referred to an historical incident and drew benefit and optimism from it. We do not often hear of such matters.
The noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, distressed me because I used to be a practising member of the Bar. I am a member of the Bar of England and Wales, Northern Ireland and the Republic. When he spoke of the plethora of tribunals offering gainful and profitable employment to lawyers, I sighed and wished I were back at the Bar again. There appear to be more tribunals in the Republic of Ireland than there are days of the week. I know that this is a private occasion and that this will go no further, so I can tell your Lordships that I suggested that if the number of tribunals ever declined in the Republic they should set up a tribunal on tribunals. I intend that as a modest joke, but it was seized upon with acclamation and applause by all the barristers in Dublin.
This short discussion demonstrates three points: one, the resilience that has admirably demonstrated itself over the past years; two, the capacity for adaptation, change, reform and improvement that has been shown in Northern Ireland; and three, that, as the noble Lord, Lord Smith, pointed out, the coming of the euro will prove itself to be a significant opportunity for Northern Ireland. Even in this brief time I believe that it is showing signs of success. I repeat my personal gratitude for the content and tone of all the speeches that we have heard this evening, and to the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, for offering us this opportunity.
§ House adjourned at half-past seven o'clock.