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Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I am sorry that the noble Lord does not like factual answers to his Questions. I should have thought it was obvious from the Answer I gave that the Government have always supported the European Central Bank in its primary objectives. We did so at the meetings at which the European Central Bank was set up. Our assessment is the factual one that it has been achieving that primary objective. He is asking me to speculate on matters which are not the responsibility of Her Majesty's Government. I am surprised that he should do so.
Lord Barnett: My Lords, perhaps I may revert to the Question on the Order Paper. Whatever the assessment of the Government on the work of the ECB, is it not irrelevant in the sense that, while we are outside the eurozone, there is nothing we can do about it? Would it not be better if the Government at least gave an indication of when we might expect a referendum to let the public decide?
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, in a Statement made by the Chancellor in October 1997, the Government made clear that the decision on whether or not to enter the euro is primarily an economic one and would be based on economic considerations. It is unlikely that there will be a stable resolution of those economic considerations during this Parliament.
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, the European Central Bank was set up with the agreement of the 11 European countries in the eurozone. There is a Council of Finance Ministers of those 11 countries. The relationship between the European Central Bank, the 11 Finance Ministers and their governments is well established.
Lord Marsh: My Lords, does the Minister agree that it is unfair to criticise the European Central Bank and that it deserves congratulation? Can he confirm that no other central bank in history has had to cope with 11 different governments, all with differing views, and with trying to keep one interest rate? Is it not amazing that the ECB has not done even worse than it has?
Lord Ezra: My Lords, the Minister mentioned the Finance Ministers in the 11 eurozone countries. What are the relations between those 11 Ministers and the Ministers of those countries which are within the European Union but not in the eurozone? There have been recent reports of differences of opinion. Are those reports correct?
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, the Ministers of the 11 countries in the eurozone have regularly met together since the euro was first established. The finance Ministers of the 15 countries in the European Union meet together in ECOFIN, as they have done since and before the euro was established. I am not aware of any general disagreements between them. If the noble Lord has a specific question in that regard, perhaps he will put it to me.
Lord Lamont of Lerwick: My Lords, does the Minister agree with Mr Prodi's statement in Denmark that it is not possible for a country to withdraw from the European single currency, or with his statement in the Spectator that it is possible for a country to withdraw from the single currency?
Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that there are constitutional issues involved in whether or not we enter the euro, as well as financial and economic ones? Also, can he say whether we are converging towards the five tests for entry or diverging from them?
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, we have always recognised that the joining of monetary policy in the European single currency is a pooling of sovereignty. That is clearly a constitutional issue. As to the changes in the adherence to the five economic conditions, the Government will make an assessment of that in due course. It is not appropriate to do so at the moment.
The Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Baroness Hayman): My Lords, we recognise that the strong pound and low prices have severely reduced sheep producers' incomes. However, since the early autumn prices have recovered substantially and are now 5 per cent above the level of 12 months ago. The more significant and sustained increase in returns depends on all elements of the food supply chain working together to respond effectively to consumer demand. The support system needs reform to reduce reliance on subsidy and to make the sector more market oriented. Our implementation of the rural development regulations will also help to strengthen marketing and collaborative approaches.
Lord Geraint: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that reply, but is she aware that it is estimated that farmers' incomes this year are dropping by £50 per week? Unless the Government lift the ban on sending our mutton carcasses to Europe within the next few months, we are in for a bad period in the autumn when sheep farmers will be selling their produce.
Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos: My Lords, I am interested in what my noble friend said, but is she aware that in Gwynedd and Anglesey, for example, the sheep industry is in considerable difficulties? In particular, the wool industry is in great difficulty at present. Can the Minister say how hard the Government are working to help that area to get out of those difficulties?
Baroness Hayman: My Lords, it is in recognition of the problems in the sheep industry that there has been support for that sector in each of the packages of aid announced by this Government, most recently in the £22 million agrimonetary compensation and the £60 million for the hill livestock compensation allowances, which support hill farmers, a great deal of which goes to those involved in sheep production.
I understand my noble friend's point in relation to the difficulties in the wool market. Prices there have recovered slightly compared with last year. The board's price indicator at mid-February stood at 70p per kilogram compared with 62p per kilogram in 1999. But my noble friend will be aware that wool is not an agricultural product. It is not supported through the CAP. The wool guarantee was terminated in 1993 and therefore the mechanisms to support the wool trade in times of difficulty, such as it is experiencing at the moment, are simply not there to implement.
Agricultural products are listed in Annexe 1 to the Treaty of Rome. Wool is not included in Annexe 1 to the Treaty of Rome, ergo it is not an agricultural product.
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