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The country which is the member of the European Union is the United Kingdom; as far as I know, Scotland, Northern Ireland, Wales and England are not members of the European Union. This is a technical point, which leads to my question. It is clear that this Bill does not meet the requirements for EMU independence of a central bank. What is interesting, although academic--and I do not use the word "academic" in the pejorative sense ever but in the sense meaning important--is whether there is anything in the various treaties that we have signed that will oblige us to call our central bank the central bank of the member country, namely the United Kingdom. I do not know whether my noble friend has an answer to that. Do we have an obligation to give it the national title, or in theory could it be called the "Bank of England", even though England is not a member of the European Union? I look forward to the answer to that question.
Baroness Carnegy of Lour: I would like to support this amendment. I too have the problem of the Law Society of Scotland explaining a number of points which seem similarly technical to me. What the noble Lord, Lord Peston, has just said is absolutely right--whether we will be in or not, it would be right that the bank should be called that which describes the country of which it is the central bank. That makes sense.
There is perhaps also a political point--with a very small "p"--which is that people in Scotland had not noticed until comparatively lately that there is anomaly in calling the Bank of England the Bank of England. They probably did not realise the extent to which it had to do with them until it began to set interest rates. Since that has happened there has been quite a lot of comment that it is rather an odd thing that the bank setting the interest rates for all of us should be called the Bank of England, which in a way is understandable.
With this matter, as with so many others, points which have been taken for granted with the United Kingdom will be highlighted as devolution happens. That is because of the discussion on reserved powers. People will see a distinction between the powers that are reserved and the powers that are devolved, and doubtless there will be a good deal of argument about that. So far it is not very great and the facts are emerging in the other place as reserved powers are discussed, but it will become an issue. Perhaps it is a bit unwise not to make a change. I can quite see that it will be a great shame for a great many people, because the Bank of England is known very lovingly as "Auntie" and everyone will wonder whether Auntie is the same with a changed name; and I hope the Government will take this point.
Lord Barnett: I share the noble Baroness's love of Scotland, in a different sense. It has adopted my name for some strange reason that I have never quite understood. The Barnett formula now seems to make the headlines in newspapers all over Scotland, or so I hear, although I do not read them too often.
I deal first with the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish. He is smiling now, as he smiles when he moves amendments, for the very obvious reason that he is enjoying himself, and quite right too because he is no longer in government. He is going to be in opposition for a long time; he might as well enjoy it. May I add one or two questions to those of my noble friend Lord Peston? I share his view about joining as early as possible, although he did not quite put it in that way.
I should like to ask my noble friend whether it is government policy that we should join a single currency and, therefore, the European Central Bank, as early as possible. I am sure that is government policy, although my own definition of it might be somewhat different, not necessarily from that of the Chancellor, but from that of the Prime Minister. I would be glad if my noble friend would confirm that as government policy. He need not wait for notes, he will know the answer.
I hope he will also confirm that this Bill will need to be overtaken by the event of our joining and becoming part of the European Central Bank, because there are matters within the Bill--and, I hope, some others that we would propose putting in it--that would not be compatible with our membership. I should like him to confirm that when he says he is not accepting the amendment of the noble Lord, as I assume he will. I myself, however, would have no objection whatever to it being called the "Bank of the United Kingdom". I have no problem with that amendment personally and make that clear, although I gather it cannot be pressed to a vote today, which was never the intention of the noble Lord who I see smiling. Incidentally, the Select Committee, which I have the honour to chair and of which the noble Lord, Lord Boardman is a member, went to Frankfurt last week and is going to Bonn tomorrow. We have looked at the European Central Bank in some depth and as far as I know, there is nothing in there concerning what the different national central banks should be called.
I would imagine that those who set up the European Central Bank could not give a damn what the national banks were called! At the end of the day--and indeed I put this question last week, in Frankfurt--I am not sure what the role of the national central banks will be. They will not have much of a role but they will remain in existence. Again, perhaps my noble friend will confirm that. I assume there will remain national central banks, whether they be called "of England" or "of the UK", even when we have a European Central Bank. For the moment, I will simply ask my main question to my noble friend, that I assume this Bill will fall once we join a European Central Bank.
Lord Boardman: I must say that I find convincing the arguments of my noble friend but, frankly, I am worried about them. First, if EMU, to which the noble Lord, Lord Barnett, referred, should come about--and there are grave reservations over it--there will need to be so many changes that the name of what we call our central bank will be a minor issue. Secondly, we should not forget what the Bank of England really means.
Lord Montague of Oxford: One can quite understand that people outside England are hoping there might be a different title. However, I am mindful of the tremendous reputation throughout the world that the Bank of England already possesses, as well as the confusion that might come about. We know that we are to have a Central Bank for Europe; I do not think we shall talk about the "Central Bank of the United Kingdom". We shall probably go in for shorthand, and call it simply the "Central Bank", and we shall not know which we are talking about!
When I am in America, I am often asked to explain how it is we always refer to Queen Elizabeth of England. I have no doubt that provides irritation in some places, but we do not seek to amend it. I suggest that we stay with this great reputation we already hold and do nothing to harm that.
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: It is always nice to start off the Committee stage with a wide-ranging debate and it is particularly nice when, from time to time, it grazes on the margins of the subject matter of the Bill, as this debate has. For that I am very grateful. The noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, is still on an emotional and psychological high after having achieved 50 per cent. victories with his huge majority in this House. If he thinks that is good statistically, then I leave him happy in that thought and I do not seek to challenge it.
I shall deal with the serious matters that have been raised before I go on to talk about the name of the Bank. The serious matters are, of course, that there are no matters within the Bill which are to be devolved. As the noble Lord recognised, they are all reserved to Westminster. There is no likelihood of any concordat between the Scottish parliament and the Westminster Parliament on any of the matters covered by the Bill. The Bill is concerned with one currency and a single set of financial markets. Although I recognise that all legislation going through Parliament now has to be consistent eventually with devolution, and I have been grappling with that problem on the National Lottery Bill concurrently with this Bill, no such question arises on the Bill itself.
In answer to my noble friend Lord Peston, we can call the Bank what we like as far as the European Union is concerned. We can call it the Bank of Brobdingnag, and they would not be worried about it. The European Monetary Institute has given its opinion on the contents of the Bill, and has not seen fit to make any comment on the name of the Bank.
My noble friend Lord Barnett seeks to tempt me into a restatement of government policy which would be more precise about the timing of our joining of EMU, but I shall not succumb to that temptation. As he knows
My noble friend Lord Barnett also asked me to reassure him that the Bill will not fall when we eventually join EMU--those were his words. I can confirm that it will require amendment, but the basic provisions of the Bill will not be changed as a result. It will require substantial amendment. It is not designed to conform to the Maastricht criteria, which we shall consider with later amendments. Of course the Bank of England will remain in existence. It has many roles other than that which is concerned with European monetary union, and, again, we are free to debate those as we go through the Bill.
As to the issue of the name itself, I was glad to hear from the noble Lord, Lord Boardman, the true voice of conservatism. I am slightly worried about the headlong rush of the Hague opposition into new conservative, new iconoclasm. They are perfectly willing to throw away 304 years of distinguished history. The noble Lord, Lord Mackay, gave us a little bit of history himself about the Bank of England, which was very welcome. But the Bank has a reputation after 300 years, and to make a change of this kind, which is neither strictly necessary nor, as everybody agrees, particularly important, would not be of any great value. If we were going to do so, surely we should do it in anticipation of EMU. Should we not call it the "Central Bank of some offshore regions of the European Union", which would have the great advantage of having the acronym CENSOR, which I commend to the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish? If it ain't broke, don't fix it--let us leave it alone.
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