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The Minister for Competition and Consumer Affairs (Dr. Kim Howells): The Department has regular discussions with industry sectors engaged in producer responsibility initiatives. In March, my hon. Friend the Minister for Small Business and E-Commerce attended a forum on producer responsibility, organised by the associate parliamentary sustainable waste group, at which she was able to listen to the views of industry representatives on a number of aspects of producer responsibility.
Dr. Whitehead: Is my hon. Friend encouraging industry to develop schemes in advance of the implementation of European Union directives on producer responsibility? Does he consider that electronics and electrical goods industries, particularly the car manufacturing and retail industry, will be able to respond positively and early to directives that may be in the pipeline?
Dr. Howells: I am well aware of the part that my hon. Friend has played in formulating a deposit system for white goods. He will know that EU directives on producer responsibility for electrical and electronic equipment and for vehicles are under development. We have been discussing the directives with the industries concerned. A number of manufacturers have already introduced voluntary schemes. For example, the mobile phone industry operates a take-back and recycling scheme through retailers and network operators, and a voluntary scheme for end-of-life vehicles has been in place since 1997. Those schemes demonstrate the commitment of companies to producer responsibility and will provide valuable experience for United Kingdom business when implementing the directives.
Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham): Does the hon. Gentleman agree with me that one producer responsibility that industry already admirably fulfils is to warn the Government of the serious danger of the massively damaging burden of regulation from which small companies, in particular, suffer? Does he agree that industry is right to urge a further cut in red tape, the introduction of sunset clauses, exemptions for small firms from the most damaging regulations and longer consultation and lead-in times for the introduction of new regulations? In short, does the hon. Gentleman agree that industry is behaving extremely responsibly in urging the abandonment of the Labour party manifesto and its replacement by the policies of the commonsense Conservative small business manifesto?
The Minister for Energy and Competitiveness in Europe (Mrs. Helen Liddell): At the initiative of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, British Trade International established the Government/private sector taskforce last June to promote and co-ordinate the United Kingdom's response to the reconstruction opportunities in
Mr. Casale: I thank the Minister for that reply. Will she join me in congratulating Racal, in my constituency, for winning the contract to install the new avionics system at Pristina airport and to make safe civilian flights into Kosovo? Does she agree that the outstanding role that Britain has played in the humanitarian relief effort in the reconstruction of Kosovo has placed the reputation of British companies in the region in very good stead? Will she further encourage British companies to support the work of the British Government and British non- governmental organisations in the region in providing humanitarian relief, thereby taking advantage of new trade and investment opportunities in the Balkans?
Mrs. Liddell: My hon. Friend makes a good point. I am happy to join him in congratulating Racal in his constituency. My right hon. Friend the Minister for Trade will be visiting Kosovo in the next few weeks. A key factor will be to ensure that, as we move from the emergency reconstruction of Kosovo into longer-term strategic recovery programmes, British industry will be able to contract for much of the employment. The British industrial sector is held in high regard in Kosovo because sound commercial business sense has been linked with a strong humanitarian agenda.
The Minister for Small Business and E-Commerce (Ms Patricia Hewitt): The Government have set up a new panel, chaired by the Minister for the Cabinet Office, to hold Ministers to account for their regulatory
Ms Perham: I thank my hon. Friend for that answer and welcome the measures that she is taking with other Departments to reduce red tape for small businesses. Is she aware that, between 1994 and 1996, the Conservative Government introduced 10,000 extra regulations, and that according to the recent OECD economic outlook, the UK has fewer regulations than other OECD countries? Does my hon. Friend agree that the Government, as well as supporting enterprise, are also delivering fairness at work for thousands of employees, including the national minimum wage, paid holidays and family-friendly policies?
Ms Hewitt: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The OECD confirmed in its latest benchmarking study that economic product market regulation in the United Kingdom is lower than in any other industrial country, including the United States of America. I entirely agree that it is essential to distinguish between administrative costs and red tape, and providing decent standards at work for employees. Conservative Members, as they have confirmed again today, opposed the introduction of the minimum wage, decent basic holidays for employees and the working families tax credit. They have also opposed measures to help parents balance work and family.
Mr. Michael Fallon (Sevenoaks): Has the Minister not read the report of her own taskforce, chaired by Lord Haskins, which concluded that entrepreneurs have been distracted from running or enlarging their businesses by the cumulative burden of taxation, employment, public protection and environmental legislation? Does she agree or disagree?
Ms Hewitt: We have asked the better regulation taskforce to help us continue to improve the situation and to continue reducing the burden of red tape upon business. I welcome the taskforce's report. We are studying its recommendations seriously and shall respond within 60 days.
Tuesday 16 May--Opposition Day [10th Allotted Day]. Until about 7 o'clock, there will be a debate entitled "UK Manufacturing and Enterprise" followed by a debate entitled "The Future of the Teaching Profession". Both debates will arise on Opposition motions.