European Single Currency
§ 19. Mr. Touhig
To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer if he will make a statement on the criteria for joining the European single currency. 
§ Mr. Kenneth Clarke
The Maastricht convergence criteria are fully consistent with the Government's economic policy of achieving permanently low inflation and sound public finances. An assessment of which countries meet the conditions for joining the single currency on 1 January 1999 will be made by the Council of Ministers in early 1998. At present, there are considerable uncertainties surrounding this and other issues relating to the single currency.
We cannot properly assess whether to join economic and monetary union until we know the key facts, including when it will begin, who will take part, and how strictly the economic criteria governing membership will be applied. This demonstrates the value of preserving our opt-out. It allows us to influence the negotiations to help ensure that the single currency proceeds only on a sustainable basis and that the UK's interests are protected, but it also allows us to reach our own decision at an appropriate time.