HC Deb 27 January 1997 vol 289 cc1-2
1. Mr. Wilkinson

To ask the Deputy Prime Minister what plans he has to visit the European Commission in Brussels during the current Parliament to discuss deregulation in business. [11110]

The Deputy Prime Minister (Mr. Michael Heseltine)

My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster has regular contacts with the Commission and our European partners to discuss deregulation. He is to be congratulated on the considerable progress that has been made. We will maintain pressure for regulatory reform in Europe over the coming months.

Mr. Wilkinson

Will my right hon. Friend make one of his visitations, preferably prearranged, to the European Commission to make the European Union understand that the idea mooted by the Advocate General that the acquired rights directive should not apply to service contracts would be gravely prejudicial to British interests as regards competitive tendering in local government and market testing in national government? That is an urgent matter which potentially affects the terms and conditions of employment of many thousands of people and many contractors in the United Kingdom.

The Deputy Prime Minister

All my visits are prearranged and tend to attract a great deal of attention. I can assure my hon. Friend that I am sympathetic to the idea that he has in mind. The timetable for the next few weeks may not allow for a high-profile visit to Brussels, but the Commission would undoubtedly welcome a visit and be immensely sympathetic to the message that I would deliver.

Mr. Caborn

Will the Deputy Prime Minister enlighten the House about the latest proposals from his Department's deregulation unit, which I think have been code-named sunset provisions? Can he confirm the reports that the latest idea from the unit, which was discussed in Cabinet this morning, according to the Financial Times, is to withdraw all regulations on companies after a period of five years, unless the Government take a clear decision to continue them? Will the Deputy Prime Minister inform the House whether that madcap idea has been discussed with the European Commission? According to the Financial Times this morning, the proposal was intended to appease small business. Will the Deputy Prime Minister harangue any that do not agree with him?

The Deputy Prime Minister

We all congratulate the Financial Times on reporting this morning conversations that have yet to take place. The Government have rigorously scrutinised all legislation and regulations to see how we can lighten the load on small businesses. We will continue to do that, but it is inconceivable that there would be an automatic sunset provision in all regulations introduced in the House.