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Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, I would happily take a trip to the heart of Europe with the noble Lord. If he forwards me an accompanying air ticket, perhaps we can leave at the weekend to study these matters. The noble Lord is right. If we study unemployment, we see that most of our European partners have much higher levels than we do. We have an unemployment rate of about 8 per cent. In Germany it is 8.5 per cent. and in Spain, as I have pointed out on a number of occasions, 22 per cent. It is pleasing that some European countries are beginning to see that the steps we have taken to ensure that we do not price our workers out of international markets and do not impose unbearable social costs on industry are correct. That is why we have an opt-out from the social chapter; it also explains why we shall not impose a statutory minimum wage.
Lord Boardman: My Lords, might not the better course for dealing with the problems to which the noble Lord, Lord Bruce, refers be to ensure that our European colleagues adopt the policies of this country? I have in mind, as my noble friend said, our policies towards the social chapter and the minimum wage.
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, my noble friend is absolutely right. Indeed, we have been saying for some time that greater labour market flexibility is vitally important if we in the United Kingdom--and, indeed, the whole of Europe--are to compete in the modern world. I believe that an increasing number of people on the Continent are beginning to realise that the social chapter and all the things that go with it are a European employment tax.
Lord Richard: My Lords, will the Minister ponder on what seems to have been happening with the Conservative government in Germany and the Conservative administration in France over the past week or 10 days? It seems that they see the way forward
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, since our various reforms of trade union legislation, the institutional confrontations have not been present in this country. It is interesting that the reaction of trade unions in Germany to yesterday's package of proposals from the German Government was hardly enthusiastic. The Germans are beginning to realise that a reduction in social welfare contributions is vital if their economy is to improve and their unemployment rate to decrease. The hope is that the public spending share of GDP will be reduced from just over 50 per cent. to 46 per cent., a course of action which we have been pursuing for some years without the help of the Opposition whose desire for increased government spending seems to continue.
Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, when my noble friend says that the convergence criteria are necessary but not sufficient, will he go further and agree that they are unlikely to be met either? If that is so, will the Government use Article N of the treaty to prevent the other countries of Europe from signing up to the folly of monetary union?
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, such decisions are for those other countries to take. Of course, we have our opt-out provision which we negotiated. I must tell my noble friend that I am not very sure what the Opposition's view on the opt-out is. We have the negotiated opt-out and, as I have said continually from this Dispatch Box, we will decide such matters when the day of decision is right and we can take the decision with a full view of all the consequences. That means not just the convergence criteria, but also the impact that joining EMU might have on our economy and on employment. I believe that that is the right and responsible approach.
Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, does the Minister agree that the importance of getting the convergence criteria right implies that Her Majesty's Government need to play an active part in all such decisions and not be passive in defining the terms for monetary union? Does the Minister also agree that it would be unfortunate for our national interests if we were to give our partners the impression that we are always in the right and the others are in the wrong, as, sadly, Ministers occasionally do?
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, we believe that we should pursue British interests. If that means that we are alone, then so be it. The noble Lord's party can perhaps be characterised as one which believes that if we ever disagree with any of our European partners we must inevitably be in the wrong. On the noble Lord's substantive point, I can say that we are playing an active role in the work that is going on leading up to monetary union. However, the important point to note is that, because of the Prime Minister's
Lord Dixon-Smith: My Lords, does my noble friend the Minister agree that the flight of manufacturing capacity from Germany and the troubles in France at the end of last year are scarcely examples of successful economies that we would wish to emulate too directly?
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, my noble friend is right to draw attention to the problems that exist in both France and Germany. I have drawn attention to the unemployment problem which is actually far greater in France than in Germany. However, it is growing in Germany. It is most interesting that the German Government decided yesterday to privatise Lufthansa and to bring forward proposals to deregulate the electricity and gas industries. That suggests that they are beginning to learn from us.
Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, will the Minister remain with me at the heart of Britain? It will be far cheaper if he does. Does he agree with the article in the Financial Times today by the right honourable Douglas Hurd, the former Foreign Secretary, who says that by pushing the issue of economic and monetary union too far and too fast the Government may in fact derail the project and perhaps the European Union at the same time?
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, the noble Lord makes a serious and proper point that everyone in Europe should consider. If Europe pushes ahead with the project without all the problems being resolved and without the proper conditions, I believe that there is a danger; indeed, a wrong EMU would be far worse than no EMU at all. However, other governments will have to address such problems from the point of view of their countries. Thanks to the Prime Minister's opt-out, we will be able to consider our position. I believe that you can be at the heart of Europe without necessarily having to follow slavishly everything that the rest want.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Scottish Office (The Earl of Lindsay): My Lords, the Government fully support the development of protective equipment for the police in Scotland. The issue of such equipment is, however, the responsibility of chief constables.
The Earl of Lindsay: My Lords, my noble friend has raised two important points. The operational trials of CS incapacitant spray that he has heard about will in fact be started in England and Wales in March. The outcome of those trials will guide my right honourable friend the Secretary of State as to whether CS spray should be deployed in Scotland. If it should be, then it will be for the individual chief constables to judge where that will be necessary.
The recent knife amnesty in Strathclyde, to which my noble friend referred--called Operation Blade--was an outstanding success; indeed, 4,500 knives were surrendered. Moreover, there is evidence to show that there are now fewer knives on the streets. In fact, the attempted murder rate with knives fell by one-half during the operation. However, it should be pointed out that police officers will always have to face a degree of risk when going about their duties. Therefore, we shall continue to develop protective clothing. We shall also continue to supply officers with expandable batons and other such measures of protection.
Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove: My Lords, is the Minister aware that the Question tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, is most timely because this is becoming a very important issue not only in Scotland but in Great Britain as a whole? I believe that it is a wise decision on the part of Scottish chief constables to await the results of the English experiment.
However, people speak perhaps too loosely about the use of CS gas spray. I understand that it has a range of about 15 or 16 feet. Indeed, there are great dangers both to the police and, perhaps, to innocent passers-by--in particular to children and people with breathing problems. Moreover, I believe that exposure to the gas can be most serious for pregnant women. The Minister said that the use of protective clothing for the police was being studied. I understand that such clothing would cost somewhere in the region of £350 per officer and that that would amount to something like £9 million for the whole of Scotland. Can the Minister say whether that money would be available to local authorities to enable them to equip the police for the very difficult job that they have to do?
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