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Lord Renton: My Lords, it is a fundamental principle of our legislation that it should not be retrospective. In this case, however, I think that the Minister has put forward valid and strong reasons for allowing this to happen. Another factor he did not mention but which is relevant in my opinion is that the retrospectivity will be for a very short time. But, having said that, I hope that it will not be regarded as an easy precedent to be followed on other occasions.

Lord Goodhart: My Lords, I am happy with the Bill which closes what was an unintended lacuna in the Act of 1999. I am equally happy with the retrospective effect here which, as the noble Lord, Lord Renton,

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pointed out, is for a short time, if, indeed it can be described as retrospective at all because, of course, it is not in any event retrospective to an earlier date than 2nd April when the criminal defence service will come into operation. It has been announced well in advance of that. I am interested in the reason put forward for the amendments which imply that we might be into the pre-dissolution whirlwind as early as 9th March which, in turn, implies a possible election date earlier than 3rd May. However, I shall leave the Minister to give such comment on that as he thinks fit.

Lord Ackner: My Lords, I am delighted to observe that in one very small and limited aspect of access to justice the Government see virtues in the status quo.

Lord Kingsland: My Lords, I wholly endorse the observations made by my noble friend Lord Renton and the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart. In those circumstances I have nothing to add.

Lord Bach: My Lords, I am grateful to those noble Lords who have spoken, in particular to the noble Lord, Lord Renton, who spoke from his great experience. We certainly do not see this as an easy precedent. It would be quite wrong to do so. The noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, tempts me but I advise him not to read anything very much into what I had to say.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Bach moved Amendment No. 2:

    Page 1, line 15, at end insert--

("(2) Regulations under subsection (1) of section 13 (as amended above) may include provision treating them as having come into force at the same time as that subsection.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I have effectively spoken to Amendments Nos. 2 and 3. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 2 [Short title and commencement]:

Lord Bach moved Amendment No. 3:

    Page 1, line 18, leave out subsection (2).

On Question, amendment agreed to.

The Euro: EUC Report

3.15 p.m.

Lord Tomlinson rose to move, That this House takes note of the report of the European Union Committee, How is the euro working? (18th Report, Session 1999-2000, HL Paper 124).

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I say right at the outset that the report seeks to avoid at least two contentious issues concerning the euro. The first is whether or in what circumstances the United Kingdom should participate in economic and monetary union. Secondly, we decided not to permit ourselves the luxury of attempting to look into the future. We therefore forswore the use of the crystal ball as any sort of predictive tool.

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The genesis of the report is clear. On 1st May 1998 11 member states took the momentous decision to proceed to stage three of economic and monetary union. The report seeks to evaluate the degree to which the hopes and expectations of those participating member states have been met. The report also recognises that the Government's position is that,

    "in principle, a successful single currency within a single European market would be of benefit to Europe and to Britain.--[Official Report, Commons, 27/10/97; col. 583.]

My right honourable friend Gordon Brown continued at col. 584 of the Official Report,

    "if, in the end, the single currency is successful and the economic case is clear and unambiguous, the Government believe that Britain should be part of it".

The report, following on from the largely positive evaluation of the European Central Bank in June 1998, under the chairmanship of my noble friend Lord Barnett, is now produced as a contribution to the debate on whether, to use the Government's word, the single currency has so far been "successful". In this task we had the enormous benefit of our former clerk, Dr Elizabeth Hopkins, whose skill and dedication set standards that the House had no right to expect. We could not have completed our tasks fully without both her work and that of our specialist advisers, Professor John Driffill, who guided us skilfully through a minefield of complex economic analysis, and Mr Martin Christensen, who was specially helpful in his contribution to the provision of the comprehensive set of economic data in Appendix 3 of the report.

The work of your Lordships' committee is greatly enhanced by the ready, willing and informed assistance of our clerk and specialist advisers. Dr Hopkins decided to retire after the report. The whole committee and many beyond send their very best wishes for her future. We welcome Ms Anna Murphy, the new clerk, who knows that she has a hard act to follow and is already meeting the challenge. The committee would also wish me on its behalf warmly to thank Helen McMurdo for her invaluable contribution to the efficient work of the committee in producing this difficult report.

No report on the operation of the single currency can ever be definitive or final. On 1st January 1999, barely two years ago, the euro was introduced. On 1st January 2002, almost a year ahead, notes and coins will begin to circulate. Against that background the effects of the single currency cannot yet be disaggregated from other causes and events: the success of the single European market; the stability and growth pact and the concomitant economic disciplines that it forces upon member states; the general economic upturn in the euro-zone and what was cause and what was effect; and the information technology revolution. Those were all taking place at the same time as the introduction of the euro. It is almost impossible, therefore, to determine how successful the euro has been.

However, having said that, our inquiries show that it was fully appropriate and by no means too soon to take a considered, interim view on how the euro is

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working so far, especially in the experience of those countries which are already members of the euro-zone, the role of the European Central Bank and the development of the euro. Hardly surprisingly, the euro-zone governments which gave evidence to us stated that their expectations were certainly fulfilled and frequently exceeded; and that in their opinion the euro was a success.

The Governor of the Bank of England gave clear evidence; and while giving no view--nor was it sought--on whether sooner or later the United Kingdom should join the euro, Mr Eddie George judged that the euro was working well and that the euro was a success for those member states participating in it.

I contrast the clear view of the Governor of the Bank of England with the response of Her Majesty's Treasury. When one considers that it has had over two months to produce it, I find the response insulting to your Lordships' House and its Select Committee. The report's two pages purports to reply to our main conclusions by studiously ignoring them. My only hope is that Treasury officials have briefed my noble friend Lord McIntosh more fully than they have deemed it necessary to give us of their wisdom.

Page 7 of the report lists many of the points that the committee deemed it necessary to explore with witnesses. Was monetary policy achieving price stability? Could the European Central Bank formulate monetary policy with independence while being both transparent and accountable? Were member states adopting appropriate fiscal policies and maintaining budget discipline? Was the integration of financial markets proceeding smoothly and producing anticipated benefits such as lower interest rates, greater liquidity, lower transactional costs and the removal of exchange rate risk? Was the changeover to the euro proceeding smoothly? Was the single currency aiding the completion of the single market? Would the single currency enhance the ability of euro-zone countries to respond to economic crises?

Having pursued those questions when gathering evidence, we came to the view that considerable progress had been made in relation to most of the criteria but less in relation to others. We found evidence in abundance of the economic advantages. The single currency had reinforced the single market. Markets are increasingly transparent bringing competitive improvements to industry as well as to consumers. The introduction of the euro had led to a strengthening of the disciplines of the stability and growth pact on the one hand and the determination of member states to comply with them on the other. The evidence indicates that trade and investment have benefited from the introduction of the single currency.

With regard to financial institutions and markets, it was clear that within and beyond the euro-zone there has been benefit which more than compensates for any earnings loss from reduced foreign exchange transactions. The euro is now widely used for bond and stock issues. This benefits consumers from the liquidity of the instruments created and issuers by

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reducing the cost of raising money. Evidence we received suggested that the euro now ranks second to the dollar as an international investment, reserve and anchor currency with the potential to challenge the dollar's leading role.

We noted the potential--I emphasise "potential"--downside of the "one size fits all" monetary policy. It deprives participating member states and their central banks of adjusting their economies either by altering exchange rates or the introduction of differential interest rates. Euro-zone economic growth has meant that there has been no great pressure on individual member states to break the rules. There has been, therefore, no empirical evidence on how serious such a downturn could be in practice. But I believe that it is right and proper that I should draw the House's attention to the fact that the inability of countries in those circumstances to use exchange rates and interest rates throws burdens on the remaining tools. The scope of fiscal adjustment is already severely limited by the stability and growth pact. On structural change, we noted that some progress had been made but it was patchy and was not leading to sufficient productivity gains; and although there was some movement of flexibility in the labour markets it was not adequate as regards the long-term needs of the euro-zone.

The Select Committee considered Ireland as a possible special case. Fast economic growth and rapidly rising inflation gave rise to the need to consider Ireland separately. As a member of the euro-zone, Ireland cannot now respond by recourse to interest rate movement. However, all our Irish witnesses--from governmental, banking and non-governmental outside banking sectors--predicted that Ireland is likely to experience a soft landing. The committee limits its conclusion to the expression of hope that they are proved right.

I turn to the careful consideration we gave to the European Central Bank and the need for strong management, transparency and accountability in a form which does not prejudice its independence. I do not propose to go through all the arguments because they are made clear in the summary of conclusion on page 9. But on management we stated clearly that the evidence was that the European Central Bank had done pretty well so far. If anyone thinks that those are faint-hearted words, they were the words of the Governor of the Bank of England. When asked whether he was damning with faint praise he said very clearly to your Lordships' committee that he was a central banker and when he spoke of someone else's bank doing "pretty well", that should be regarded as high praise indeed.

On the question of transparency, the committee welcomes the fact that the European Central Bank has been more transparent than had been expected and is becoming more so. It is about to publish much of the data on which it bases its decisions.

On accountability, no one wanted the European Central Bank to be elected. The committee struggled for a definition of accountability. However, we went on to recognise the role of the European Parliament as

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the body to which the European Central Bank is formally accountable. We welcomed what we were told of the European Parliament's intention to strengthen that accountability.

We inevitably looked at some length--although I shall mention the issue only briefly--at the external value of the euro and its persistent fall since the currency's introduction. We noted with particular interest the persuasive argument of the Governor of the Bank of England that such a fall reflects a continuing net outflow of long-term capital from Europe to the United States. Once that flow ceases or is reversed, perhaps when relative asset prices have changed sufficiently, the influence of economic fundamentals will reassert itself and the rate of the euro against the dollar will rise. Since our report was printed there has been a 6 per cent increase in the value of the euro against sterling and a similar change in its relationship to the United States dollar.

The report is inevitably interim. It cannot be definitive. It properly did not address United Kingdom membership of the single currency. That is a question for the Government--a question that, in my strictly personal view, they should turn to sooner rather than later. However, it is important to have engaged in the study. We reached broadly favourable conclusions on the progress so far from the perspective of those in the euro-zone. I remain hopeful that, after an election, the Government will find a capacity to discuss European monetary policy and possibly even to formulate a view, however tentative, on a subject that will not go away, even if there is an attempt to insist on ignoring it.

This is an interim report on a subject to which the Select Committee will inevitably need to return. At the moment, I believe that it is an informed evaluation that I hope is of benefit to your Lordships' House. I beg to move.

Moved, That this House takes note of the report of the European Union Committee, How is the euro working? (18th Report, Session 1999-2000, HL Paper 124).--(Lord Tomlinson.)

3.33 p.m.

Lord Renton of Mount Harry: My Lords, it was a privilege for me to serve on Sub-Committee A of the European Union Select Committee, under the very able and competent chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Tomlinson, who has just spoken. I declare an interest as the chairman of a substantial investment trust that specialises in continental European shares. I strongly support the noble Lord's comments about the Treasury's disgraceful reply to our report. It contains just seven lines referring to us and our conclusions. The rest is a re-statement of well known government positions. I note that the minute is unsigned. I am not surprised. Any Treasury official would feel ashamed to put his name to such an inadequate minute.

Like the noble Lord, Lord Tomlinson, I was struck during our inquiry by the enthusiasm of our witnesses for progress so far in economic and monetary union and

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the single currency. Only one witness, representing the Irish interest, was seriously concerned. I shall deal with that in a moment. On the whole, our witnesses were more positive than I had expected about the success of the euro so far in promoting internal trade, encouraging inward investment, increasing competitiveness in the continental European market and ensuring transparency of prices from one end of the continent to the other.

Two clear drawbacks were identified, one of which the noble Lord, Lord Tomlinson, has just spoken about--whether "one size fits all" can be suitable for every market from Scandinavia to Greece and from Ireland to Germany. I notice that Mary Ann Sieghart in The Times last week dwelt at some length on the experience of Ireland. She pointed out that the Irish recovery had, if anything, been too rapid and was putting too much pressure on the Irish economy. Under those circumstances, Ireland should have raised its interest rates by considerably more than was permitted by the European Central Bank.

However, the fact is that in the past four or five years, Ireland has had the most astonishing recovery. It has changed from traditional industry to investment in and mastery of the IT industry with fantastic success. There are now advertisements seeking workers to fill skilled or semi-skilled jobs in Ireland. We should also remember that Ireland represents only 1 to 2 per cent of the European Union's GDP, so it is fair to say that it is de minimis for the European Central Bank. It would be very different if one of the big four--Italy, France, Germany or Spain--stepped out of line. That has not happened yet, so we do not know what the outcome would be.

The other difficulty, about which our report spoke rather less, is the fact that the European Central Bank does not have a single government directly behind it to add political weight and to lean on the media and politicians such as ourselves in support of its decisions when a bit of arm-twisting might be needed. To Alan Greenspan, chairman of the Federal Reserve in the United States, are now attributed all the qualities of Solomon when it comes to financial markets. I see that there has been a motion that his term of office should be increased by another 25 years, which would take him to the good age of 99. He would certainly accept that his work was substantially enhanced--and at times definitely helped--by support from Washington and President Clinton. It is interesting that one of the first interviews that the new President Bush gave was to Alan Greenspan.

There is no answer to this point. The European Central Bank is a very independent central bank--probably more independent than any of its predecessors in continental Europe, including the Bundesbank. President Duisenberg has been criticised at times. The noble Lord, Lord Tomlinson, was quite generous in his comments. One or two of our witnesses thought that if Greenspan had been president of the ECB rather than Duisenberg, the fall in the value of the euro would have been about half what it has been. Some have considered him weak and uncharismatic. He has been blamed both for putting up interest rates

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and for not putting them up. That may mean that, as time and the bank settle down, he and the ECB have not got it too wrong. In the present situation, the European Central Bank does not seem to be doing so badly after all.

The weakness of the euro, which we touched on in our report, was a blessing in disguise for continental manufacturers. I was amazed that the British media seemed always to misunderstand that. As we saw in the recent sad decision by Corus, it enabled French, German and Dutch manufacturers to recover lost ground in export markets at the expense of British manufacturers. The experience of the weak euro was almost exactly the same as ours. When we left the ERM in 1992, sterling lost around 20 per cent in value against the deutschmark. That was a boon to our manufacturers and led to some of the increasing industrial prosperity inherited by the current Labour Government when they took office in 1997.

Many people will hope that the euro does not now recover too much and that, for example, it does not go above parity to the dollar. But at present it must be considered exciting that the continental European gross domestic product is expected to rise at an average of between 2½ and 3½ per cent over the years immediately ahead. That figure is likely to be in excess of the American GDP rises and, therefore, it points to a general improvement in economic conditions on the continent.

As the noble Lord, Lord Tomlinson, said, at the end of our report we manacled ourselves with regard to talking about the future. In the last sentence of the report we said that we would look to the system, the bank and the currency to rise to the challenge of future opportunities and cope with problems as they occurred. However, I shall crave the indulgence of the House for a moment or two while I give a few personal thoughts about the future.

Last week I attended a conference organised by my noble friend Lord Skidelsky, as chairman of the Social Market Foundation, at which both Friedrich Merz, who is co-leader of the German Christian Democrat Union, and William Hague spoke. I was struck by the words of Friedrich Merz. He said that so far as concerned Europe, EMU--economic and monetary union--and the launching of the euro represented a crossing of the Rubicon and provided a common conceptual basis for tackling the future. He added that it formed a shared conceptual basis among the members of EMU for the shaping of economic and social reform. I believe that that is correct. Of course, there is still much to be done--notably the deregulation of labour markets, particularly in Germany, and the change of all the social security systems throughout continental Europe. However, the conceptual basis for doing that is now in place and the practical steps will surely follow.

At the same conference, an ex-colleague of mine, Tim Eggar, who is now chief executive of an oil company, said that he believed that people in this country completely under-estimated the importance of

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the single currency. I very much agree with that sentiment. I believe that next January, when European notes and coins are in circulation, it will come home to average European citizens just how important is the single currency. They will suddenly discover a far greater openness in competitive pricing throughout continental Europe and a decline in the cost of doing business. There will be a painful realisation for the 8 million Britons who take continental holidays every year that every time they go from and come back to this country they will still lose approximately 10 per cent of their money through the hands of Thomas Cook and others.

Britain has not yet crossed that Rubicon, and we all know the reasons why. However, in his interview in The Times today, I believe that the Foreign Secretary was quite wrong to talk so much of Britain's leading role in Europe. Of course, we are wise. I am told that the well prepared documents produced by our civil servants, with the exception of the Treasury memo to which we have already referred, are generally much better than documents produced by civil servants in any other country. We are particularly important in the defence field, and we shall strive for reform of the common agricultural policy.

But is ours a leading role? No. To refer to a "leading role" in this instance is like saying, "I am captain of the ship, but I am not going to look at the compass, nor touch the rudder". In my judgment, until we cross that Rubicon we are committing ourselves inevitably to a less and less important role in the European Union. Some people want that; I do not. Of course there are dangers ahead, as our report points out. When are there not dangers? However, I see economic and monetary union as increasingly successful and the euro as a currency that increasingly will have a role to play in national reserves.

After serving on Sub-Committee A, after taking part in producing the report and after many months of thinking, I conclude with the hope that the referendum will come soon. When it does, I hope and expect that the answer will be "yes".

3.45 p.m.

Lord Taverne: My Lords, first, I make my personal position clear. I undertook to speak in the debate on the assumption that it would finish by 6.30 p.m. That is the latest time at which I can leave in order to catch a train so that I may give a lecture in Brussels tomorrow.

As a non-member, I find the report extremely valuable and, indeed, enlightening. I want to talk about what it avoids; namely, how it affects our decision as to whether or not to join the euro. The report states that these are early days and, in effect, it says, "So far, so good". However, due to the weakness of the pound, it has not necessarily been good for the United Kingdom. Undoubtedly there are dangers which we could have avoided if we had joined earlier. Over the next few years we may well find that those dangers increase as the reality of being outside the euro-zone becomes more and more clear to foreign investors in this country.

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I want to say what is clear from the report. So far, the euro has had good effects. I shall not repeat what the noble Lord, Lord Tomlinson, said in his admirable speech. There has been increased competition and, as I believe the report points out, increased investment and restructuring of industry, perhaps on the scale which we saw when the Common Market was first founded, but in which we are not participating at present.

The report also mentions that the euro has helped to accelerate structural reform. That is a matter of great importance about which I want to say a little more. A fact which has not been much noticed in the British press, which still paints a picture of a sclerotic Europe, is that the extraordinary increase in the amount of part-time work has contributed to the drop in unemployment. The general view has prevailed that wage flexibility on the Continent is rather worse than it is in this country. In fact, one finds that some wages in east Germany are now 75 per cent of the level of those in west Germany. That degree of wage flexibility was brought about by the existence of the euro and is rather greater than that found inside the United Kingdom.

As a result of the euro, there has been considerable pressure to reform pensions in Europe. Some five years ago I wrote a pamphlet which pointed out the pension time bomb, the dangers which that involved and the size of the hidden liabilities. I have just finished writing another paper and the change has been quite remarkable. Pressure is now being exercised to raise the retirement age. Then, the retirement age was going down; now it is rising. Fundamental and enlightened reforms in such countries as Sweden have shown the way, providing incentives for longer working lives. To some extent, those reforms have been followed in other parts of the European Union. Indeed, participation rates have risen sharply. That will have a considerable effect on the hidden liabilities of which so many eurosceptics have been scared.

Of course there are dangers, and perhaps the report understates the problems which still exist with regard to the co-ordination of fiscal policy. I do not believe that a culture of co-ordination, which will become increasingly necessary, has yet developed in Europe among the euro-zone 12. To my mind, part of the reason for the huge investment in the United States and for the relative weakness of the euro is that the markets do not have the confidence which they should in the co-ordination of fiscal policy. A most interesting paper on that subject was written recently by two Frenchmen--Jacquet and Pisani-Ferry--and published by the Centre for European Reform. I believe it to be an extremely important paper and it addresses that problem.

I turn to the lessons for the United Kingdom. The first lesson that stands out in the report's minutes of evidence is the fact that all businesses in Europe are convinced of the euro's benefits. The views of M Trichet appear in paragraph 166 on page 48 of the report. He said that businessmen in Europe,

    "consider that their position has dramatically changed for the better. I have no memory of a single French, German or Belgian entrepreneur that I know that would give evidence to your

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    Committee and say: 'I think it is no good, we are going in the wrong direction'. They are all seeing the benefits of having that very, very large single market with a single currency".

Businesses in the UK, please take note. Some UK businesses are still saying, "That is all very well for European continental businesses, but we are different". That is the attitude that we adopted when the Common Market was first formed. It is the attitude that has always made this country late to join extremely successful developments on the Continent.

We should study what the report tells us about what I regard as the major difficulty in this regard, which has been referred to on many occasions outside the House and in this debate. That difficulty involves having one interest rate for so many countries. As the noble Lord, Lord Renton of Mount Harry, said in an extremely notable speech--I agreed with his every word--Ireland is an important case in point. It was interesting to note the article by Mary Ann Sieghart in The Times the other day. She is a talented writer for whom I have great respect, but on this occasion her article fell well below her best. Her article was full of mistakes and, economically, it was rather illiterate. Had she bothered to read the report, she would have found a very different story. I refer in particular to the witnesses for Ireland. It seems rather patronising to say, "They may think that they have done well out of the single currency, but we know much better".

The report mentions that in 1996 the Economic and Social Research Institute studied the economic implications for Ireland. It concluded that on balance the arguments were in favour. The minutes of evidence refer to an article in the Irish Times by Mr Terry Baker. He wrote:

    "the risks attached to EMU entry have diminished considerably since mid-1996 ... With hindsight, it appears that our 1996 assessment underestimated the advantages of initial entry".

We should study Ireland's current problems, including inflation. Yes, of course that country has inflation, but does that make the Irish regret entry? No, it does not. The Irish testimony makes it clear that if Ireland had remained outside monetary union, inflation would have been worse. Despite Irish inflation, goods in the shops in Ireland are cheaper than they would be in the United Kingdom.

Professor John Fitz Gerald stated, on page 78 of the minutes of evidence, that,

    "the Irish economy is too competitive ... wage rates have to rise".

One way in which a country that has a high rate of inflation and is expanding too fast inside monetary union can adjust is through a rise in prices. What did the evidence reveal about problems with house price inflation? It revealed that the problem would be worse outside monetary union. Professor Fitz Gerald's concluding words in the minutes of evidence were:

    "The consequences of getting things wrong are much less severe for the Irish economy within monetary union than they would have been outside it".

The problem that that country faces, in comparison with others, looks terrible. It had to slow down its rate of growth from 8 per cent, which it had maintained for some years, to a modest 5 per cent per annum.

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I regret, on behalf of the sceptics, that there is little comfort for them in this thorough report or its minutes of evidence. All members of the union are convinced that it was right for them to join. There is no reason why the United Kingdom should not prosper as other countries have done. The experience of those in the Union and all the arguments favour our membership.

3.55 p.m.

Lord Barnett: My Lords, I hope that I shall be forgiven for speaking in this debate although I am not now a member of the committee that produced the report. However, as a former chairman, I congratulate my successor, Lord Tomlinson, on chairing the committee and the committee on producing an excellent report.

My noble friend Lord Tomlinson referred to a successful single currency. I shall come to that later. The report is, understandably, purely factual: the committee wanted to produce a unanimous report. Having said that, I am not sure whether one or two of its members agreed, although the report was unanimous. They would have disagreed with one or two of the points made by my noble friend.

Perhaps I should declare an interest. My views are pretty well known--I am as strongly in favour of our joining the single currency as I have always been. I was glad to note that the noble Lord, Lord Renton of Mount Harry, concluded--not necessarily because of the committee's report--that he, too, hopes to see us become members of the European Union single currency zone.

Eurosceptics will be unhappy, regardless of the facts disclosed in the report. The euro might have been strong, weak, or going nowhere, but that would have made no difference whatever to Eurosceptics.

In principle, the Government have said yes, subject to five pretty meaningless tests. I raised the matter at Question Time. We are now aware of the Treasury's response. The noble Lord, Lord Renton, rightly described that, although I refrain from using his language. The report refers to the economic case for the UK's joining having to be clear and unambiguous.

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