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Car Pricing

14. Mr. John M. Taylor (Solihull): If he will make a statement on the pricing of cars in the UK and the rest of the EU. [105762]

The Minister for Energy and Competitiveness in Europe (Mrs. Helen Liddell): The European Commission publishes a six-monthly comparison of pre-tax prices across the European Community. The most recent one covered prices at 1 May 1999; the UK was the most expensive market for 62 of the 75 models covered. Publication of the survey of prices taken on 1 November 1999 is expected shortly.

The Competition Commission is currently investigating the supply of new cars in the UK; its report is due on 31 January. I have no doubt that the commission is looking at car prices as part of its investigation.

Mr. Taylor: Has the Minister stopped to think of the enhanced foreign car penetration of the west midlands car market that will be brought about by the damage to local component manufacturers through the collapse of TransTec?

Mrs. Liddell: My hon. Friend the Minister for Small Business and E-Commerce has already referred to matters connected to TransTec. However, I am sure that many people in the hon. Gentleman's constituency and throughout other areas that are dependent on the car industry will be interested to know how the Government are taking action to ensure that there will be a viable car industry in the future--hence our involvement with Rover BMW. We are trying to ensure that consumers have access to cars at prices that do not disadvantage them. At the same time, we are also ensuring that all the benefits from the single market in the EU are available to every UK consumer.

Mr. Richard Burden (Birmingham, Northfield): My right hon. Friend may forgive me if I return to the question asked by the hon. Member for Solihull

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(Mr. Taylor). Does she agree that while genuine concern about differential pricing across Europe continues, when the commission's report--which we await with interest--becomes available, it is important that it be considered quickly and that decisions be made promptly? The worst thing for consumers and the motor industry would be inordinate delay.

Mrs. Liddell: My hon. Friend makes a considered point on a subject of considerable interest--compared with the shallow attempt by the hon. Member for Solihull to use his question to suit the Tory Whips. We take speed of response very much into account and recognise the importance of the car industry in terms not just of primary manufacture but of components.

Business Competitiveness

16. Mr. Geraint Davies (Croydon, Central): What recent discussions he has had with other EU member states about improving the competitiveness of business. [105765]

The Minister for Energy and Competitiveness in Europe (Mrs. Helen Liddell): My ministerial colleagues and I have held regular discussions with our opposite numbers on a wide range of issues related to competitiveness, in bilateral meetings with member states and European Council meetings. We will intensify those contacts as we approach the Lisbon special European summit in March. That will be a significant summit for the United Kingdom because the issues are close to the heart of this Government as regards promoting a knowledge-driven economy, economic reform and ensuring that the advantages of the single market are enjoyed by all citizens of the European Union.

Mr. Davies: Manufacturing output in Britain is rising at its fastest rate since 1995, with particular success in computers, telephones, pharmaceuticals, chemicals and engineering--despite the level of sterling. In her discussions with our EU partners, will my right hon. Friend make it clear that the reason for our outstanding success is not just efficiency, added value and productivity, but a system of financial stability--as opposed to the boom-bust of the past--that gives certainty to the investment and export growth that is materialising?

Mrs. Liddell: My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. In my discussions with industrialists, they frequently mention the advantages of a sound and stable economy based on a prudent fiscal framework and on engaging with the European Union to secure the advantages of the markets that are so important to British manufacturing industry. Opposition Members who scaremonger about our membership of the European Union do no service to our manufacturing industry--which makes the point that our exports to non-European Union countries are as nothing compared with exports to our fellow member states.

Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate): Does the Minister agree that it is difficult for businesses to be competitive if they

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have their assets seized by the countries in which they have invested--particularly when those investments are protected by the GATT? Will the right hon. Lady instruct her officials to liaise with those from other European Union countries and EU institutions to ensure that the Department takes the fullest possible action to protect British investments--such as Wena Hotels Ltd, which had its assets seized in Egypt nearly 10 years ago?

Mrs. Liddell: One of the great benefits of membership of the European Union is that where domestic companies encounter significant difficulties, member states can act together. My officials, as part of the step change in relationships with other member states, are able to raise difficult issues and seek a resolution. I will take on board the hon. Gentleman's point. If he wishes to communicate with me further, I will be happy to respond.


17. Mr. Mark Todd (South Derbyshire): If he will place obligations on telecommunications providers to increase the availability of broadband technologies in rural areas. [105766]

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The Minister for Small Business and E-Commerce (Ms Patricia Hewitt): We want everyone to have access to affordable modern communications services. The market for broadband services is in the early stages of development and it would not be appropriate at this point to impose new service obligations.

Mr. Todd: A critical foundation for diversification will be access to broadband technologies in the development of IT-based and media-based industry activity. The availability of such technologies for those purposes and for leisure is crucially important. Does the Minister share the view that the position must be kept under careful review?

Ms Hewitt: I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. We are taking immediate steps to auction third- generation mobile telephony spectrum, and Oftel has agreed with BT on a timetable to open up the local loop to competition, both of which will make a real difference to broadband access throughout the country. Finally, the Government are investing in ICT centres throughout disadvantaged parts of the country, including many rural communities.

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Business of the House

12.30 pm

Sir George Young (North-West Hampshire): Could I ask the Leader of the House to give us the business for next week?

The President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mrs. Margaret Beckett): The business for next week will be as follows:

Monday 31 January--Second Reading of the Utilities Bill.

Tuesday 1 February--Conclusion of remaining stages of the Financial Services and Markets Bill.

Wednesday 2 February--Opposition Day [4th Allotted Day]. Until about 7 o'clock, there will be a debate on immigration and asylum followed by a debate entitled "The Two Britains: the run down of Northern Cities and over-building in the South". Both debates will arise on Opposition motions.

Thursday 3 February--Motions on the Police Grant Reports (England and Wales).

Motions on Local Government (Finance) Reports.

Friday 4 February--Private Members' Bills.

The provisional business for the following week will be as follows:

Monday 7 February--Motions on Social Security Orders.

Tuesday 8 February--Second Reading of the Armed Forces (Discipline) Bill. [Lords].

Wednesday 9 February--Second Reading of the Postal Services Bill.

Thursday 10 February--Second Reading of the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Bill.

Friday 11 February--Private Members' Bills.

The House will also wish to know that on Wednesday 9 February there will be a debate on an unnumbered explanatory memorandum submitted by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office on 30 November 1999, relating to common strategy on Ukraine, in European Standing Committee B. Also on Wednesday 9 February there will be a debate on European Document No: 10948/99, "State Aid to the Coal Industry" in European Standing Committee C. Details of the relevant documents will be given in the Official Report.

[Wednesday 9 February 2000:

European Standing Committee B--Relevant European Union document: Unnumbered explanatory memorandum submitted by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office on 30 November 1999, Common Strategy on Ukraine; Relevant European Scrutiny Committee Report: HC 23-iv, (1999-2000).

European Standing Committee C--Relevant European Union document: 10948/99, State aid to the Coal Industry; Relevant European Scrutiny Committee Report: HC 34-xxx (1998-99).]

I should like to inform the House of business to be taken in Westminster Hall for the next four Thursdays when the House is sitting.

Thursday 3 February--Debate on children's social services.

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Thursday 10 February--Debate on the Fifth Report from the Agriculture Committee Session 1998-1999 on Badgers and Bovine Tuberculosis.

Thursday 17 February--Debate on UK engagement in Africa.

Thursday 2 March--Debate on the Twentieth Report from the Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Committee on town and country parks.

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