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Producer Responsibility

11. Dr. Alan Whitehead (Southampton, Test): If he will make a statement on his Department's discussions with industry on producer responsibility. [120515]

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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?

Dr. Howells: No, but I am thinking of putting in a claim for industrial deafness.

Kosovo (Regeneration)

12. Mr. Roger Casale (Wimbledon): What steps are being taken by his Department to assist British companies to participate in the regeneration of Kosovo. [120516]

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

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Kosovo. Arising out of that, a consortium of British companies, with financial support from the Government, was awarded the concession to manage Kosovo's power sector over the winter period. The United Kingdom was also awarded the contract for the first phase of upgrading Pristina airport. A website has been established to assist the British community and a BTI official has also been seconded to Kosovo.

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.

Burdens on Business

13. Ms Linda Perham (Ilford, North): What initiatives his Department is taking in conjunction with other Departments to reduce burdens on business. [120517]

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

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performance. David Irwin, the chief executive of the new Small Business Service, is a member of that panel, and the Small Business Service will be scrutinising all proposed regulations to assess their impact on small businesses and to ensure that all officials and Ministers concerned with regulation think small first.

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.

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Business of the House

12.30 pm

Sir George Young (North-West Hampshire): Will the Leader of the House give 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 15 May--Second Reading of the Fur Farming (Prohibition) Bill.

The Chairman of Ways and Means has named opposed private business for consideration at 7 o'clock.

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.

Motion on the Northern Ireland Arms Decommissioning Act 1997 (Amnesty Period) (No. 2) Order 2000.

Wednesday 17 May--Remaining stages of the Royal Parks (Trading) Bill.

The Chairman of Ways and Means has named opposed private business for consideration at 7 o'clock.

Thursday 18 May--Second Reading of the Care Standards Bill [Lords].

Friday 19 May--Private Members' Bills.

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

Monday 22 May--Remaining stages of the Nuclear Safeguards Bill [Lords].

Remaining stages of the Television Licences (Disclosure of Information) Bill.

Tuesday 23 May--Second Reading of the Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate Bill [Lords].

Remaining stages of the Sea Fishing Grants (Charges) Bill.

Wednesday 24 May--Opposition Day [11th Allotted Day]. There will be a debate on an Opposition motion. Subject to be announced.

Thursday 25 May--Consideration of Lords amendments which may be received.

Motion on the Whitsun recess Adjournment debate.

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