HL Deb 18 April 1988 vol 495 cc1203-5

Baroness Blatch asked Her Majesty's Government:

What targets they have for the level of awareness among businessmen about the opportunities presented by the completion of a single European market in 1992, and how they intend to ensure that their targets are met.

Lord Beaverbrook

My Lords, our aim is to ensure that by the end of this year over 90 per cent. of firms in this country are aware of the commitment to complete the single European market by the end of 1992. My right honourable friend the Prime Minister has today launched our "Europe Open for Business Campaign" with a national conference at Lancaster House. This will be followed by 20 regional conferences for firms in every part of the country, supported by a comprehensive information service.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that very encouraging reply. It would seem that since I first put down my Question it has been overtaken by events. However, I am reminded of the survey in The Times recently which displayed a most woeful ignorance of this matter. Perhaps I may ask the Minister whether he is confident that the target set—that 90 per cent. of businessmen would be aware of the commitment by the end of this year—can be met.

Lord Beaverbrook

My Lords, it is absolutely vital that British business plays its full part in the European Community, in particular after 1992. The DTI survey of companies showed an awareness level of only 16 per cent. when we announced our campaign last autumn. This has now risen to 25 per cent.; our target is over 90 per cent. That is the aim of the campaign that was launched today.

Lord Williams of Elvel

My Lords, is not the Secretary of State, the noble Lord, Lord Young of Graffham, even at this moment attending a press conference at Lancaster House to explain publicly the Government's programme for 1992? Why is he making that statement to the press and to some invited Members of Parliament instead of to the House where he could properly be cross-examined? What has happened that this House should be treated in such a cavalier manner?

Lord Beaverbrook

My Lords, the single European market has been discussed in your Lordships' House on many occasions. Questions have been answered both by my noble friend and myself on a number of occasions in the past few months. The important issue in the single market campaign is to make sure that British business is prepared to meet the increased competition after 1992.

Lord Campbell of Croy

My Lords, will the Government encourage British businessmen to give time to the work of determining the new common standards, especially in health and safety, to ensure that they are apposite and not contrived? Such standards have in the past been manipulated as non-tariff barriers to suit particular countries.

Lord Beaverbrook

My Lords, one of the main aims of the single market is to eliminate not only tariff barriers but also non-tariff barriers—so called invisible barriers. Many matters are under review as my noble friend will know. Eighty measures, plus another 70 not included in the White Paper, have been agreed by the Council of Ministers. They include a record 48 during the time of the UK Presidency.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, the Minister has said that the meeting being held in Lancaster House by the noble Lord, Lord Young of Graffham, is of vital importance—to use his words—to all British businessmen. Can he give the House an assurance that all businessmen are now in Lancaster House listening to the noble Lord? While that may be so, ought there not to be an opportunity for the British Parliament to be made aware of what the British Government intend to do on this vital issue?

Lord Beaverbrook

My Lords, I do not think that Lancaster House is large enough to house all British businessmen. However, it is a very important campaign. We are taking the single market very seriously. It is the Government's prime duty to make sure that awareness among British industry is as high, if not higher, than among any of our competitors in the EC.

Viscount St. Davids

My Lords, does the noble Lord agree that what is being said by the noble Lord, Lord Young, has been stated many times in this House and therefore does not need repeating here as a first event? I quite agree that many noble Lords have not heard this material. However, does he agree that this is material that needs driving into people's heads with a hammer? It appears that some people need a hammer for that.

Lord Beaverbrook

My Lords, clearly the awareness campaign has a very long way to go both inside and outside Parliament. But it is very important, as I said, that we make sure that the message is driven home.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that what needs to be driven home into the head of the noble Viscount is the fact that Parliament is important? Is he aware that his statement that this is a very important campaign should have been taken into account carefully by his noble friend the Secretary of State? Would it not have been more appropriate in the circumstances for the noble Lord, Lord Young of Graffham, to be here answering this important Question rather than talking to the press in Lancaster House?

Lord Beaverbrook

My Lords, the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition is better aware than I am that anyone on these Benches answers on behalf of the Government. The Secretary of State unfortunately has other calls on his time. I would be the last to wish to diminish in any way the importance of Parliament, and in particular of your Lordships' House. But it has all been said before in your Lordships' House. The conference at Lancaster House today is specifically targeted on the businessman who, after all, will have to compete in Europe to ensure that British business is at the forefront after 1992.

Lord Alport

My Lords, may I ask my noble friend whether the noble Lord, Lord Cockfield, the architect of the single market, will soon be back among us so that he will be able to explain the effects of the single market for this country?

Lord Beaverbrook

My Lords, perhaps the noble Lord would like to address that question to the noble Lord, Lord Cockfield.

Lord Dean of Beswick

My Lords, if a single market is achieved by 1992, will there be a levelling upwards for the workers in this country who in many instances have poorer wage rates and poorer working conditions than their compatriots in the Common Market?

Lord Beaverbrook

My Lords, the success of British industry will be vital for ensuring that the British worker can earn as much or more than his competitors. The only way to ensure an increasing standard of living for all the British workforce is to do better than the competition—not only in the European Community but in all our foreign markets.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that in 1986 our overall deficit on manufacturing trade with the EC was some £11 billion? Would he care to predict that after 1992 that deficit will reduce or increase?

Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone

My Lords, the noble Lord should put that Question down for 1992!

Lord Beaverbrook

My Lords, I could not possibly predict what may happen. Unless British business is made aware and is able to compete after 1992, it is possible that our deficit will rise. The whole point of the campaign launched this morning is to ensure that British business can do as well as possible.

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