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Baroness Denton of Wakefield: My Lords, recently not only did the RUC battle for four hours to prevent a Catholic church from being burnt down but also a policeman was kicked to death for doing his duty and trying to separate participants on a march demonstration. Is this the climate in which we should contemplate the removal of support from the RUC? Is the Minister able to give the House an indication of the number of members of the RUC who have been injured in recent years compared with the number of those injured by plastic baton rounds?
Lord Dubs: My Lords, it is difficult to give absolutely precise figures but I shall do my best to inform the House. It is estimated that some 100 people may have been injured over the past three years by plastic baton rounds. Last year alone over 400 RUC officers were injured in dealing with disorders. In one week alone between 7th and 15th July 230 officers were injured, some seriously, in trying to maintain peace on the streets.
Lord Molloy: My Lords, will my noble friend consider seeking a worldwide ban on the use of this horrendous weapon? When one sees what has happened to human beings who have been hit by these bullets one wonders in what kind of world we live. In a way, it is even more terrible than the threat of any bomb. I should like my country to initiate a total world prohibition on the use of this particular bullet.
Lord Dubs: My Lords, I fear that if in the present situation in Northern Ireland the security services were not in certain circumstances able to use these weapons there might be more injuries both to members of the security services and to rioters. None of us likes this weapon, but in the circumstances it is less unpleasant than any alternative currently available. If there were a better alternative available the Government would very quickly adopt it.
Lord Elton: My Lords, does the noble Lord accept that, regrettable though the necessity of using these weapons may be, the intervention of the last noble Lord sounded more like a comment on landmines than plastic bullets? Does the noble Lord agree that this House should not accept that as a description of their effect?
Lord Dubs: My Lords, I said earlier that the training of the police was such that everything was done to minimise serious injury to those who might be hit by plastic baton rounds. That is the way in which they are intended to be used, and the police are well trained.
Lord Dubs: My Lords, only a few days ago there appeared in Hansard an Answer to a Parliamentary Written Question on this very subject. There have been some problems with plastic baton rounds which have not been up to the required standard. When the RUC spotted this in March of this year they immediately drew attention to the fact and the rounds were withdrawn in April--very quickly indeed. Although there were some defects in the plastic baton rounds which were used in the two years following 1994 there is no hard and fast evidence that they caused injury, or any injury greater than that which might have been caused by ordinary plastic baton rounds. Certainly, that point is still under investigation.
Lord Haskel: My Lords, I compliment the noble Lord on the topicality of his Question, which is on the front page of most of the newspapers this morning. My right honourable friend the Prime Minister has made it clear that it is unlikely that Britain will be in the first wave of membership of EMU. However, it is in everyone's interests, including ours, that EMU is built on a firm basis and that it succeeds. The stability pact is designed to promote sound public finances. The Government believe that sound public finances are necessary to provide a stable economic environment and the foundations for high and sustainable levels of growth and employment. The Government have set their economic policies on this course to achieve these objectives.
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his reply and for his recognition of the topicality of the Question--which is what it is supposed to be. I am sorry that the Minister who is in charge of these matters at the Treasury, the noble Lord, Lord Simon of Highbury, has once again not come to the Dispatch Box to deal with these matters. Can I take it from the Answer given by the noble Lord that next week in Amsterdam his right honourable friend the Prime Minister will not support his fellow socialist M. Jospin, the Prime Minister of France, who wants consideration of the stability pact deferred so that the French Government can study it? Further, will his right honourable friend not be supporting M. Jospin in his desire to place less emphasis on an independent central bank and more on elected politicians?
Lord Barnett: My Lords, recognising that the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, does not yet know for whom he speaks, does my noble friend accept that there is need for stability within a monetary union? Therefore, is it not necessary for any country that seeks to join to have clear and sustainable convergence, even if it means that France and Germany are not able to join an economic and monetary union?
Lord Haskel: My Lords, I agree entirely with my noble friend. What is essential for the success of EMU is genuine convergence among the economies taking part. Any decision about Britain joining must be determined by a hard-headed assessment of Britain's economic interests. We have set out five economic tests: looking at the likely impact of EMU on investment, financial services, business cycles, keeping the flexibility to respond to any problems that might arise, and, what is vital, the effect of EMU on employment.
Lord Taverne: My Lords, will the Minister advise the Government, in approaching the criteria under the Maastricht Treaty and the rules under the stability pact, not to lose sight of their essential purpose, for which they are only an aid, which is to ensure that only those who can sustain a low rate of inflation can be feasible members of monetary union? I hope that the Government will not be hung up on the strict letter of the criteria and will not lose sight of the wood for the trees?
Lord Haskel: My Lords, I can assure the noble Lord that we shall not lose sight of the wood for the trees. The full title of the pact is the stability and growth pact. Stability is only part of EMU. We are equally concerned about its other aspects: employment, growth and investment. When we are satisfied with the entire package we shall make our decision.
Lord Carter: My Lords, following the debate on Community railway strategy, my noble friend Lord Donoughue will, with the leave of the House, repeat in the form of a Statement an Answer to a PNQ in another place on the rejection of proposals to relax the ban on UK beef exports. I should like to take this opportunity to remind the House that the Companion indicates that discussion on a Statement should not exceed 20 minutes from the end of the Minister's initial reply to the Opposition spokesmen and that contributions to the discussion should be confined to brief comments and questions for clarification.