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Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, my noble friend is right to remind the House that the Government have undertaken that when they have formed the view that it is appropriate to do so a decision will be taken on entry into the single currency. That decision will be taken first by the Government, then by Parliament, then by the people in a referendum. My noble friend is right to say that it must be a fully informed decision--and it will be.
Lord Hooson: My Lords, the Minister said that the Government will be guided by the economic advantages of entering or not entering the single currency. Is he referring to the short term or the long term, or both? Do the political advantages come into the equation at all?
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, of course the economic advantages must be the long-term economic advantages. There will be short-term advantages too, but those are not the primary considerations that we should have in mind for such a crucially important step.
Lord Marsh: My Lords, does the Minister agree that the performance of the euro since its launch has certainly not as yet produced anything on which to base a long-term definitive view? Will he, however, confess to any marginal disappointment with its performance in terms of both its stability and its strength against the
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I agree with the first part of the noble Lord's question. He is right to say that it would be quite wrong to draw conclusions about the stability of the euro and its success or otherwise over a period of scarcely more than three months. That leads me to disagree with the second part of his question.
Lord Renton: My Lords, bearing in mind that the Government have a duty to protect the economic interests of this country, can the noble Lord say how the Government can perform that duty if they lose their ability to control the value of our currency?
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, the noble Lord is looking a good way ahead. If we joined the European single currency, we should be participating in a larger and more widely held currency and presumably, therefore, in many ways a stronger currency. I think that the noble Lord is oversimplifying this when he says that we should lose control.
Viscount Bridgeman: My Lords, does the Minister not agree that the political consequences of entering the euro zone are at least as important as the economic consequences? Does he not agree that the Government owe it to the electorate to spell out in detail the political costs and benefits of joining?
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I have already said in earlier answers that the economic benefits are the most important consideration. They have to be clear and unambiguous. Subject to that, there is no constitutional bar to British membership. But the noble Viscount is right that the constitutional and political considerations are of great importance. Before any decision is taken, the Government will spell out all these issues. We want a genuine choice. A White Paper of the kind asked for by the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, is appropriate only when a decision one way or the other is imminent. At any other time, it would not be a genuine and realistic choice.
Lord Grenfell: My Lords, does the Minister not agree that the decision of the European Central Bank to reduce its interest rates by half a percentage point shows that it is not hell-bent on deflation, as so many Eurosceptics would have us believe, and that it takes very seriously the issue of growth? Is he prepared to give us an assurance that Her Majesty's Government will press in the Council for a speeding up of the reform of labour markets (which is necessary in many countries of Europe) so that there is a better assurance that there will be the kind of growth which is attractive to us in the longer term?
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean): My Lords, we urge all states to take action to counter the menace of piracy and armed robbery at sea and bring the perpetrators to justice. Last year we supported action by the United Nations General Assembly and the International Maritime Organisation; with EU colleagues we raised the matter at the Regional Forum of the Association of South East Asian Nations; and in countries where attacks affected British shipping we took bilateral action with the states concerned. International pressure is having an effect, but piracy remains a grave threat to crews, security of navigation and international trade.
Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that most helpful Answer, which shows that the Government are giving the matter high priority. Is she aware that there were no fewer than 467 incidents of violence to seafarers last year alone, resulting in 67 deaths and involving at least six British registered, British crewed or British flagged vessels? Is it not unfortunate that, in the light of this serious situation, our own shipowners have so far declined to allow for increased crewing in vulnerable areas of this kind in order to permit proper watch-keeping, and have also declined to introduce closed circuit television, which might well help to mitigate this tremendously difficult problem?
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, it is because the Government are aware of the statistics which my noble friend details to the House that we took the action last year which I described. This year we shall have to follow up that action in the United Nations. The recently issued M notice, which was a matter of consultation with both the seafarers' union, NUMAST, and the Chamber of Shipping, makes clear in paragraph 11 that:
Lord Moynihan: My Lords, as a birthday present to the noble Baroness, perhaps I may ask her a simple and helpful question, to which I am sure I shall receive a characteristically clear and unequivocal reply. Will the Government undertake to study carefully the co-operation between Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore, which together have succeeded in reducing the attacks in one of the world's worst affected areas, the Malacca Straits, from 32 in 1991 to none in 1997 as a result of co-ordinated patrols which it was agreed should begin there in 1992? When they have studied that excellent co-operation, will they encourage other high-risk areas to emulate it?
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, that was a very nice birthday present, although perhaps not quite as nice as some of the other presents I have received today. It happens to be a question on which I have been briefed.
The Government believe that regional co-operation is the most effective way to tackle the problem. We have encouraged this through European Union participation in the ASEAN Regional Forum. Co-operation between regional states is, in the view of the Government, an enormously important part of dealing with this difficulty.
Difficulties in co-ordination mean that attacks are sometimes not investigated and that criminals go free. The example which the noble Lord cites of the Malacca Straits is indeed one which the Government would like to see emulated in other parts of the world.
Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, perhaps we may add our congratulations, though perhaps in less elegant terms, to the noble Baroness. Can she say whether consideration has been given by Interpol to the use of alarm systems to enable a more precise identification of those ships which have been attacked and of the location of pirate groups which attack ships, particularly in the Malacca Straits but also elsewhere?
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for her good wishes. A number of issues have been tackled in the International Maritime Organisation discussions. As I indicated a moment ago, the Government are encouraging regional co-operation. The noble Baronesses raises a specific point about Interpol, on which I shall have to write to her. The Government, through the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions, last year sent out some 17,000 copies of the advice to seafarers in this country which goes into great detail on ways in which seafarers and shipowners can prepare for attacks which
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