HC Deb 15 May 1996 vol 277 cc947-8
20. Mr. Steen

To ask the President of the Board of Trade what are the staff numbers and the annual budget of the single market compliance unit. [28377]

Mr. Oppenheim

The single market compliance unit was relaunched on 28 March as action single market. It now has three full-time, and three part-time, staff helping UK businesses tackle trade barriers and illegal state aids in other single market countries. Running costs allocated to the activity amount to about £100,000 for the current financial year and most of it is staff costs.

Mr. Steen

Is not the only way in which we can be sure that all European countries enforce directives, rules and regulations equally either to have cross-border enforcement, with our officials going over the border to other European countries to enforce rules and regulations and other European countries sending their officials here to do the same, or to have a massive European plain-clothes police force of bureaucrats in Brussels enforcing rules and regulations centrally? Surely the man and the dog in my hon. Friend's Department will not solve the problem.

Mr. Oppenheim

My hon. Friend's comments remind me of the joke about European hell and European heaven. If I remember correctly, in European heaven the English are the police and the Germans are the car mechanics—there are various other characters, but I shall not go through all of them—and in European hell the Germans are the police and the English are the cooks. I do not think that it would be feasible for United Kingdom inspectors to go overseas to inspect other countries.

However, we have the Commission. Although it does not always act as we want it to, it quite often does. Secondly, we ultimately have the right to appeal to the European Court. Indeed, we have taken the case of Air France to the European Court. We are also monitoring the conditions that the Commission has placed on Iberia subsidies. I do not think that we shall ever have such a thing as a perfect single market, but the European Community single market, which this country worked so hard to create, is significantly better than what we would have had otherwise. It is not perfect, but it addresses many of the problems.

Mr. Flynn

How can we use the single market compliance unit when we count all the jobs that come here from abroad but do not keep any record of the jobs that are syphoned out of Britain to European countries? Why did the highly successful, super-technology British company Inmos move from my constituency and relocate in a European country that has both the social chapter and the minimum wage?

Mr. Oppenheim

Largely because it was bought by a state-owned Italian-French company. If the hon. Gentleman is—[Interruption.] Will the hon. Gentleman contain his excitement for a moment? If he is arguing for nationalisation and state subsidies, he will find himself in opposition to Conservative Members and—apparently—to most of his hon. Friends, most of whom have, during this Question Time, criticised subsidies and said how successful the unsubsidised British steel and British shipbuilding industries have been in the private sector. I suggest that he has a word with some of his colleagues.

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