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House of Lords

Wednesday, 30th November 1994.

The House met at half-past two of the clock: The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Prayers—Read by

the Lord Bishop of Newcastle.

Lord Cottesloe— Sat first in Parliament after the death of his father.

EC Directives: Implementation

Lord Peyton of Yeovil asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether it is their policy to encourage government departments to add to, improve and generally embellish directives emanating from Brussels.

The Earl of Arran: My Lords, the President of the Board of Trade last year commissioned an efficiency scrutiny into the implementation and enforcement of EC law in the United Kingdom. The efficiency scrutiny found little evidence that the United Kingdom deliberately over-implements directives emanating from Brussels.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil: My Lords, while I mildly agree with my noble friend's Answer, does he understand that there is considerable anxiety that government departments in this country, in pursuance of that well-known love of charity for which they are famous, unnecessarily add to the burdens which the Commission intended to impose both by directives and regulations?

The Earl of Arran: My Lords, of course I would be glad and, indeed, grateful for even half of such gratification from my noble friend. However, I have several points to make in response. First, EC law is very often implemented by means of existing national legislation. The efficiency scrutiny report revealed that existing UK legislation often has much wider scope and tougher penalties than that of other member states. All EC proposals which may impose a burden are subject to what is termed a "compliance cost assessment" at the earliest possible stage of the EC scrutiny process. But I can say that we are pressing for the Commission to improve its business impact assessment system in order to ensure that all proposals for EC legislation are effectively assessed and, more than that, justified before they are tabled.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, is the noble Earl aware that, although his noble friend may be "mildly" satisfied with the Answer given, there are many other people who will not be at all satisfied? Is the noble Earl also aware that some people believe that many good businesses have gone to the wall, including many abattoirs—indeed, I understand that 250 of them have done so—as a result of government embellishment

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of EC directives and over-embellishment by British officials? Will the noble Earl comment on that and also on the book by Mr. Booker and Mr. North entitled The Mad Officials?

The Earl of Arran: My Lords, the noble Lord may take that line, but I can certainly reassure him and say, again, that it is not our policy to over-embellish EC law; indeed, we are encouraging Community efforts to reduce EC directives. When implementing EC directives, it is certainly our policy to ensure that only the minimum necessary burdens are imposed upon businesses in this country.

Lord Harmar-Nicholls: My Lords, when my noble friend says that they do not over-embellish, is he really saying that, to some extent, they do embellish such directives? If one examines the meaning of words, that is the only message that I could get from my noble friend's official reply.

The Earl of Arran: My Lords, I thought that I had made it clear in my original reply that it is not our policy to over-embellish EC law.

Earl Russell: My Lords, can the Minister remember an Answer on Europe which did satisfy the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart of Swindon?

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: I cannot help that if the answers are bad!

The Earl of Arran: My Lords, I think I have to say that I cannot.

Lord Weatherill: My Lords, is there any truth in the rumour that while it is legal to order a pint of beer and a pint of cider it will no longer be legal to order a pint of shandy? Is there any truth in this directive?

The Earl of Arran: My Lords, it would be somewhat invidious to examine individually each of the over 230 directives which have come out of Europe since 1st January 1992; not only would it be invidious, it might be rather time consuming.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter: My Lords, can my noble friend say how one embellishes a directive?

The Earl of Arran: My Lords, I think we are going into semantics here. What I am really trying to say is that we are determined to ensure that, when implementing directives, businesses have the least necessary burdens imposed upon them.

Lord Bruce of Donington: My Lords, is the noble Earl aware that a perusal of the European Community's official journal reveals that there is no diminution in the flood of regulations emanating from Brussels? Will the noble Earl give the House an undertaking that the explanatory notes issued by ministries in regard to proposed legislation are actually read by the Ministers who sign them?

The Earl of Arran: My Lords, I believe that all Ministers read everything that is put in front of them before they put their signature at the bottom.

The Earl of Lauderdale: My Lords, will my noble friend return to his original Answer? He referred to

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over-embellishment; surely over-embellishment includes embellishment? The question is whether embellishment takes place.

The Earl of Arran: My Lords, as I said before, the whole point as regards embellishment is that we do not over-embellish EC law. We are saying that we try to impose the least possible restrictions upon businesses in the United Kingdom. I hope that what I have already said is clear.

Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, does not the Minister agree that to speak in terms of efficiency scrutiny in the context of this Government's policy is a massive contradiction in terms? When he refers to embellishment, is he aware that embellishment means a dressing up, a distortion, just as much as other things?

The Earl of Arran: My Lords, I was under a different impression. I thought that embellishment meant the beautification and the beautifying thereof.

Lord Shepherd: My Lords, I should like to put a useful suggestion, perhaps to the noble Lord the Leader of the House. I think there has been genuine anxiety about the way in which legislation that we bring forward through Parliament in response to directives or otherwise from another place seems to be more stringent than in the rest of the Community. Could we not consider sending the proposed legislation to one of our committees which could examine it before it is taken on the Floor of the House, and consider how other members of the Community have themselves implemented it to see whether there is at least a genuine playing field between the various countries in the way domestic legislation has been changed as a consequence of directives from the European Community?

The Earl of Arran: My Lords, again I go back to the point that I hoped I had made clear; that all EC proposals which may impose a burden are subjected to compliance cost assessment at the earliest possible stage in order to see that there is no unnecessary imposition. That is in the interest of all those whom it affects. Deregulation is an equally important matter, not only in this country. It is important to make quite sure that deregulation occurs in Europe as much as it does here and that it is clearly understood and embodied in policy thinking.

Lord Rippon of Hexham: My Lords, whatever the advantages or disadvantages of compliance cost assessment, the Government's attempts to produce a policy, or the meaning of embellishment, I hope the Minister clearly understands that on all sides of the House—I find myself with rather strange allies today—there are grave anxieties of the sort expressed by my noble friend Lord Peyton. Can we have a clear assurance

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that the Government will in no circumstances permit an imposition on the British people of something which is not required under a directive?

The Earl of Arran: My Lords, we have constantly this in mind; we are continually looking at it. The answer to my noble friend's question is yes.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil: My Lords, perhaps my noble friend will examine the arrangements for comparing the construction put upon regulations and directives by other countries with that carried out here.

The Earl of Arran: My Lords, I understand the point my noble friend is making.

NHS: Specialist Units

2.48 p.m.

Baroness Masham of Ilton asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether patients can be assured of receiving specialist treatment not available in local hospitals, and whether research will continue in the specialist units.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Baroness Cumberlege): Yes, my Lords, within the usual constraints.

Baroness Masham of Ilton: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. Is she aware that some health authorities are not sending patients on tertiary referral to a specialised unit when they consider that to be for research? How can clinical research for rare conditions progress if such units do not have patients to work on?

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