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Viscount Ullswater: My Lords, is the Minister aware that the major supply of current electricity to the grid comes from the nuclear industry, which is more than coal and more than gas? If the Government are not prepared to subsidise the coal industry any further, what plans do they have to secure the same diversity of supply in the next century instead of relying entirely on the gas-fired power stations?

Lord Haskel: My Lords, I do not think that the noble Viscount is quite right in saying that the major source of supply is nuclear. Under the Government's fossil fuel levy scheme a levy helps pay for research into renewable energy which seeks ways of increasing the supply of electricity from wind power, hydro-electric power and other kinds of renewable energy.

Lord Dormand of Easington: My Lords, in his reply my noble friend made two important points about security of supply and price. Is he aware it is estimated that there are 500 years' supply of coal still left in this country? As regards price, will he comment on, and if necessary disagree with, the coal industry's prices of 1.7p per kilowatt hour for coal, 3.2p for gas and up to 5p for nuclear? If those figures are correct, there is a strong economic case for coal.

Lord Haskel: My Lords, there certainly is a strong economic case for coal but equally the Government are committed to reducing emissions and that matter must also be taken into consideration in the calculation. Regarding the price of electricity, I am sure that the noble Lord is correct; but this matter has to be left to the market. The regulator is obliged to ensure that the regional electricity suppliers purchase electricity at an economic cost. The regulator is independent. This is not a matter in which the Government should intervene.

EMU: Referendum Proposals

3.12 p.m.

Lord Taverne asked Her Majesty's Government:

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Williams of Mostyn): My Lords, my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer will make a Statement in another place when their Recess is over.

Noble Lords: Oh!

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, it would be quite inappropriate for your Lordships to think that I had laid any stress on the word "their". The Statement will set out the Government's position on the single currency and United Kingdom membership in 1999.

Lord Taverne: My Lords, have the Government really thought through the referendum issue? Are they aware that there will seldom be a more favourable time

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to secure a commitment in principle to Britain joining a monetary union than when the Government are popular and the Opposition are divided? As someone who wishes the Government well, are they aware that the Prime Minister is in real danger of following the path of his predecessor, who started with warm words about Europe, creating great expectations and then, through a failure to face hard choices--the Prime Minister's own words--and a failure of vision and leadership, Britain was left on the sidelines where it has no influence to help to decide issues which will affect this country in a wide and important sense?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, the noble Lord spoke of a conjunction of circumstances, with the Government being popular and the Opposition divided. Of course that is a conjunction of circumstances which I expect to continue for many years. What the Prime Minister said in the clearest of terms--I am able to remind your Lordships of it--on 17th March was,

    "If the issue does arise in the next Parliament--and we say if--there is a triple lock in place: first the Cabinet must agree"--

Noble Lords: Oh!

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I hope that I am not intruding into private grief on the Opposition Benches. The Prime Minister continued,

    "second, Parliament must give its backing; most of all, the people must have the final say in a referendum".
That is the Government's policy.

Lord Bruce of Donington: My Lords--

Lord Barnett: My Lords--

The Lord Privy Seal (Lord Richard): My Lords, this is not a position in which I wish to find myself. We have five minutes. I assume that there is room for both my noble friends. Perhaps in the interests of solidarity one will go first.

Lord Bruce of Donington: My Lords, irrespective of the terms of the referendum and of the date on which it might or might not be held, will the noble Lord give the House an assurance that Her Majesty's Government will make representations to the European Commission to stop broadcasting misleading and tendentious propaganda on this subject coming down on one side only, bearing in mind in particular that the British taxpayer out of the Consolidated Fund is paying 12.5 per cent. of the Commission's extensive expenditure in this entirely unauthorised field?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, in this difficult area one always wants to avoid being misleading and in particular to avoid being tendentious. I am sure that the Government will have well in mind the necessity for the British public to be fully informed of diverse views--which I believe there to be--upon this important question for our country's future.

Lord Barnett: My Lords, recognising the difficulty that my noble friend will have in answering this

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question, I ask him to convey a message from me to our right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer to tell him that it would be appalling--if the reports are accurate--if he had it in mind to rule out all options of entering a single currency in this Parliament, which would inevitably mean that we would not be able to enter until after a referendum in 2002, 2003 or 2004. In those circumstances, given that our right honourable friend the Prime Minister wants to be a leader in Europe, does he recognise--this is my message to the Chancellor--that it would be impossible to achieve that and to have any influence whatever if he ruled out for all time in this Parliament the opportunity to join a single currency?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, as the Home Office Minister in your Lordships' House I am well accustomed to taking messages to my superiors. I am happy to tell the noble Lord, Lord Barnett, that I shall, of course, transmit his well intentioned message to my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. As to any possible suggestion that the influence of Britain in Europe is declining, I utterly and entirely repudiate it. Quite the opposite is true. If one travels on any kind of ministerial business in Europe, one finds that quite the opposite is true. Our colleagues in Europe look to the present Government as a beacon, to coin a phrase.

Lord Jenkins of Hillhead: My Lords, will the noble Lord accept on behalf of the Government that, if the Government are to maintain their command over events which they have hitherto shown on the whole, it is highly desirable that on this central issue they adopt a clear-cut and bold policy and, if necessary, a policy involving some risk, rather than fall into the position--which was the hallmark of the previous government's European policy--of being puffed by every breath of wind?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I recognise the contradistinction which the noble Lord points to with his enormous expertise in these matters. There is no prospect of this Government--united as we are on these important questions--falling into the habits of the former government. I entirely accept that such habits did this country's interests infinite harm and the present Prime Minister and the present Chancellor have the responsibility to try to put that right.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord on being recruited to the Treasury team when it comes to the European currency. I suggest to his colleagues that his safer pair of hands might be better than those of the Chancellor, especially over the past few weeks.

Will the Minister make it clear--are the present Government as committed as the previous government were to giving the British people the fundamental choice as to whether or not they wish to enter a single currency? Is that still the policy of the Government?

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Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, it is my fault, for not reading the briefing out clearly enough. This is what the Prime Minister said on 17th March:

    "If the issue does arise in the next Parliament--and we say if--there is a triple lock in place: first the Cabinet must agree; second, Parliament must give its backing; most of all, the people must have the final say in a referendum".
I hope I have made that plain.

Business of the House:Standing Order 38

3.20 p.m.

Lord Richard: My Lords, I beg to move the first Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.

Moved, That Standing Order 38 (Arrangement of the Order Paper) be dispensed with on Monday next to enable the Motion standing in the name of the Lord Privy Seal to be taken before the Third Reading of the Firearms (Amendment) Bill.--(Lord Richard.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

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