Orders of the Day — Economic and Monetary Union

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:28 pm on 30th April 1998.

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Photo of Michael Spicer Michael Spicer Conservative, West Worcestershire 6:28 pm, 30th April 1998

It would be nice to join in the ebb and flow of the debate, but given the scandalous shortage of time that we have for it, I shall confine myself to probing the Government on their exact position on entry to European monetary union. Apparently, the position as restated today is that they want to go in, subject to the economic tests, and subject, presumably, to the Maastricht criteria. However, their position looks increasingly incredible in both respects, and especially so after this debate.

Let me deal first with the Maastricht criteria by giving the House a flavour of what was said about them when the Chancellor of the Exchequer was questioned by the Select Committee on the Treasury. I shall—perhaps at random—pick out the questions that I asked the Chancellor. I asked:

When the question comes up at the Council of Ministers on 2 and 3 May as to who should be the members of the first wave of the single currency, will the British Government be taking a strict view or not of the Maastricht criteria on compliance? The Chancellor replied:

I think it is important that the Maastricht convergence criteria are looked at very carefully … As I say, I am not going to get in a position of prejudging individual countries or prejudging what might be decided. The discussion goes on for a column or so, and then I ask:

If they do not meet the criteria, will it be the position of the British Government … that there should be a veto on their accession? The Chancellor replied:

It is very important that we look very carefully at these convergence criteria and the reports. I continued:

I think it is extraordinary that you cannot give us a yes or no. He replied:

Let us wait and see the figures. And so it goes on for another column or so in this rather frustrating way.

The figures are now available, and we have heard a great deal about them during this debate. They show that Italy and Belgium are missing the criteria by 100 per cent. Contrary to what has been said, there are signs that Italy's deficit is rising rather than falling. Much has been said about falling within the criteria, but that deficit looks as if it is going the other way. The Maastricht criteria do not seem to matter much, at least to the Government.