HC Deb 17 January 1996 vol 269 cc733-4
12. Mrs. Gorman

To ask the President of the Board of Trade if he will make a statement on the implementation of EU directives by his Department. [7897]

Mr. Oppenheim

The Department carries out full consultation with industry during the negotiation and implementation of EC directives. National legislation implementing EC directives is scrutinised to ensure that there is no confusion between European and national laws, and that legislative requirements are as light as possible.

Mrs. Gorman

Does the Minister agree with the view expressed by Mr. Bryan Cassidy, a Member of the European Parliament who came to speak to a Back-Bench committee recently, that none of the European directives comes with penalties attached or requires the attachment of such penalties? Does he agree that much of the damage that such directives cause to industry is due to the fact that we do not treat them as the rest of Europe does—as examples of best practice that should not necessarily be implemented fully? Could not the Department set a shining example by refusing to gold-plate any of the 19 major directives that Mr. Cassidy warned us were in the pipeline, and that were recently announced by Mr. Santer?

Mr. Oppenheim

My hon. Friend has made some fair points. There is currently more awareness of the need to ensure that we do not gold-plate directives, and that responsibility is taken seriously. Eight directives are being reviewed, and my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster has a programme of visits to other European Union states to ensure that they realise how burdensome regulations can be, particularly for small businesses. Penalties are sometimes needed to ensure compliance with, in particular, health and safety regulations, which involve important considerations, but I have much sympathy with what my hon. Friend has said.

Mr. Pike

Does the Minister accept that, to date, Britain has done more gold-plating and adding on to European directives than any other European Union nation? The Government have done that to prevent the House from discussing the issues. Will the Minister go a little further than he did a few moments ago, and guarantee that that will not happen in future?

Mr. Oppenheim

There are so many self-serving fallacies in that that it is difficult to know where to begin. The hon. Gentleman's party accepted the social chapter, which would impose a further huge burden of expensive regulation on British business and would cost people their jobs. Moreover, surely the idea of the stakeholder economy is all about regulation. What is it if it is not regulation? Opposition Members have a cheek talking about a stakeholder economy; when they were in power we had a hamburger economy, because they had made mincemeat of British industry.

Mr. Budgen

I warmly congratulate the Government on their announcement last week in the other place that they would not endorse a European directive that prevents the use of the drug emtryl in game birds. Does that not reflect a fundamental change in the Government's attitude to European directives? Does it not demonstrate that such directives lack democratic validity, are not properly discussed and are not uniformly enforced, and that the general arguments about the importance of the rule of law do not apply to directives that are forced down the throats of the British people?

Mr. Oppenheim

I accept my hon. Friend's warm congratulations, and reciprocate them with the same warmth. However, his sporting credentials in regard to putting drugs down the necks of game birds are probably stronger than mine, and his comments might be more appropriately directed to my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.

We take non-compliance in other states very seriously. Any substantive complaints that my hon. Friend has should be made to the DTI's single market compliance unit, which will investigate them.

Dr. Howells

Is the Minister aware that, although this country might be prepared to implement European Union directives, other member states are less compliant? The draft directive on the opening up of the electricity market in Europe, for example, continues to be flouted by the French Government, and they deny British generators access to very profitable continental markets. What do the Government intend to do to ensure that our efficient and low-cost companies are given the opportunity to compete fairly with the likes of Electricité de France, subsidised as it is up to its nuclear eyeballs, and secure good futures for our power stations, coal mines and gasfields?

Mr. Oppenheim

It is a marvellous tribute to the rightward lurch of Labour that an Opposition Front-Bench spokesman is singing the praises of liberalisation and saying that the most efficient and cost-effective companies should have access to the market. If the hon. Gentleman is so against subsidies and regulations and so in favour of competition and liberalisation in France, why do the Opposition constantly oppose those things in Britain?