HL Deb 20 April 1995 vol 563 cc574-6

3.16 p.m.

Lord Blaker asked Her Majesty's Government:

What action they propose to take on the recent report of the British-German deregulation group set up by the Prime Minister and Chancellor Kohl to consider the need for measures for deregulation of business within the European Union.

The Minister of State, Department of Trade and Industry (Earl Ferrers)

My Lords, the Government welcome the report, in particular the recommendations for a specific leader on deregulation within the Commission; a deregulation checklist; and a permanent business voice in European policy-making. My right honourable friend the Prime Minister and Chancellor Kohl will be discussing the report at the forthcoming Anglo-German summit.

Lord Blaker

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that that report gives examples of the kind of mindless and unnecessary meddling by the Commission which puts up prices and destroys jobs and which does no good to the reputation of the European Union? Is my noble friend aware that the Government will have widespread support for any action that they can take to follow up that report? Does he also agree that the report makes clear how wise the Government were to secure at Maastricht an opt-out from the social chapter?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, as regards his last point, my noble friend is absolutely right. Opting out of the social chapter has resulted in us being far more economical in terms of labour costs than would have been the case if we had been a member of it. As regards the first part of his question, my noble friend is correct that we should not become involved with any kind of regulation which is not of importance. Perhaps I may paraphrase something that was said by somebody: "If it is not absolutely necessary to make law, it is absolutely necessary not to". That is what we hope will guide the Commission as well as ourselves.

Lord Renton

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that over many years many businesses ancillary to agriculture have suffered from regulations under the aegis of the CAP? Will the present effort to deregulate cover those businesses also?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, any form of deregulation that is undertaken whether by the United Kingdom or Europe will apply right across the board. In so far as regulations relating to the common agricultural policy may prove to be unnecessary, it would be in the interests of all if those regulations were to be removed.

Lord Bruce of Donington

My Lords, dealing with the noble Earl's point that we should not have regulations unless they are of real and substantial importance, is he aware of a proposal that was issued by the Commission on 14th March (COM (95)42 Final) which consists of a mass of gobbledegook advocating the establishment of a level playing field for direct investment worldwide, for which by its own explanatory memorandum the noble Earl's department, the DTI, indicated mild support? Will the noble Earl undertake personally to read that mass of meaningless material with a view to intervening appropriately in the Council of Ministers?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, I did not think that this Question would go by without some helpful intervention by the noble Lord. He has of course drawn attention to one specific document issued by the Commission. I am not familiar with that document, but if it is all that stupid, irrelevant, and full of gobbledegook, I cannot see much point in me reading it.

Lord Bruce of Donington

My Lords, with the permission of the House, perhaps I may reply. It was in order to be of assistance to Ministers in emancipating themselves from some of the stuff that is issued by their own officials.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, some of the stuff that is issued by my own officials, as the noble Lord puts it, is very useful and is not of an insignificant nature. I do not see that it should conflict necessarily with anything that the European Union suggests.

Baroness Strange

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that some of us are very worried by the rumour about not being able to eat square strawberries?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, I am not sure under what regulation that comes, but it is a very odd one. If my noble friend has any evidence of such a regulation, I shall certainly look into it. My guess is that it is completely wrong.

Lord Haskel

My Lords, is the Minister aware that we, too, on these Benches are in favour of removing unnecessary regulations from the statute book, especially when they are duplications, as turned out to be the case with nearly half the regulations recently removed by the Government? Is the Minister aware that among the main recommendations of the Anglo-German deregulation group are strong proposals to limit tobacco advertising? As those recommendations come from a group set up and supported by the Government are they the final argument which will persuade the Government to act now on tobacco advertising?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, the group to which the noble Lord refers is an expert group of independent members from all European Union member states whose chairman is Dr. Molitor. It will make its report to the Council of Ministers in June, and I hope that it will encourage deregulation. I do not propose to answer the specific point about tobacco advertising; that is something that we shall have to discover when the report is published.

Lord Elton

My Lords, is my noble friend aware of the constant manufacture of myths about Europe which frighten everyone and reach the press? When it is discovered that there is no truth in them, such as the one about straight bananas, the denial does not reach the press. So I hope that my noble friend will treat the concern of my noble friend Lady Strange with the suitable reserve that it deserves?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for that helpful question. The idea that there are straight bananas or square strawberries is absurd. I know of no such regulations. I agree that such interventions do not help our cause within Europe. I am just surprised that they did not come from the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington.

Baroness Rawlings

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that here is a fine example of the UK, with Germany, leading in an area which will be so helpful to business? I wonder what my noble friend will be doing in relation to the deregulation checklist and the 12 point action plan to get the other EU countries on board.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, the report which has been made has been sent to all Cabinet Ministers, all deregulation Ministers, British embassies in Europe, and other international posts and officials who are concerned with deregulation. It is also being distributed widely to business and other interested organisations in the UK, the European Union, and internationally, so that people are well aware of it. It is our intention and our desire to ensure that efforts will be made to see that the President of the Commission and other European Union heads of state give the findings of the report serious consideration. I hope that they will do so.

Lord Peston

My Lords, I do not want to delay matters, but one of the reasons why I did not join in the questioning originally was that I have never seen this report. The Minister has given us a long list of people who have been allowed to see it. Will he explain how the rest of us are supposed to take part in debates on these matters if no effort is ever made by his right honourable friend the Prime Minister or Chancellor Kohl so that those of us who are interested might get to see these reports? It is all very well Cabinet Ministers seeing them, what about the rest of us?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, I was asked what efforts the Government were making to ensure that these matters were taken note of, and I explained who is being sent copies of the report. If the noble Lord has not received a copy, I shall see that he gets one and that copies are put in the PPO for all noble Lords to see.

Viscount Cranborne

My Lords, I wonder whether we should get on. We have two more Questions.