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House of Lords

Wednesday, 7th June 1995.

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

Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of Oxford.

European Legislation and British Interests

Lord Pearson of Rannoch asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether, in the light of the exchanges involving the Earl Howe and Lord Peyton of Yeovil on 4th May (HL Deb., col. 1481), they agree that European legislation poses serious threats to a wide range of British interests including London buses, lettuce growers and fishermen; and that those threats cannot reasonably be described as "myths".

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Chalker of Wallasey): My Lords, we do not share the view that every legislative proposal originating from Brussels threatens British interests. Action at Community level has created the single market, which is of huge benefit to both British businesses and consumers.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that reply. Does she agree that British interests, who may at least feel that damaging legislation from Brussels threatens them, have little choice but to rely on the Government to support them in their negotiations with the Commission? If she does agree, does she appreciate that those interests may be altogether more honest and less polite when talking to those of us who did not support the Single European Act and the Maastricht Treaty than they are when talking to the Government, who did support those Acts and who therefore bear heavy responsibility for the damaging legislation in question?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: My Lords, I can tell my noble friend without any fear of contradiction that if those in business have a point to make, as they often do, and they do not put that point directly to government, they have nobody to blame but themselves if the resulting measure is not to their liking.

The point is this. Brussels is not out to destroy British institutions or practices. Many of its proposals reflect a desire to open markets and encourage free trade. If the proposals from Brussels affect British interests, then we will take them up. But it is in nobody's interest for business to say one thing to government and something else to people who would undo the benefit that we have had from the European Union.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, will the Minister suggest to the Leader of the House that a special committee be established in which such questions, about square lettuces and round buses, can be raised by those who want to make a nuisance of themselves without imposing on the rest of the House?

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Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: My Lords, the noble Lord puts forward a very interesting idea. I hope that he is offering himself as chairman of such a committee.

Lord Bruce of Donington: My Lords, in view of the fact that the noble Baroness has used this occasion to emphasise twice what she describes as the benefits to European industry, and indeed to Britain, will she consider at some time, if necessary at leisure, the necessity for producing a White Paper or a detailed description for the benefit of the public as to precisely what the benefits are that she has so emphasised this afternoon?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: My Lords, I would have thought that some of the benefits are known to those who read unbiased reports of what is going on. Membership of the European Union has made Britain a magnet for inward investment. Since 1979, more than 635,000 well-paid jobs have come to the UK because of the investment that we have gained; that includes more than a quarter of a million jobs in the past five years alone. Britain attracts one-third of all inward investment that comes into the European Union: 43 per cent. from the US; 41 per cent. of Japanese investment; and 50 per cent. of Korean. That investment would not have come to this country if we were outside the European Union. There is a lot more like that. I am quite certain that we shall find a way to publish it to the noble Lord's liking.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil: My Lords, is my noble friend aware how deeply I regret that anything I said may have led my noble friend who asked this Question to conclude that I lacked sympathy with the problems of fishermen, lettuce growers or London buses?

I sought in my supplementary question to raise the point as to whether my noble friend, in asking such persistently negative questions, might not achieve the very reverse of the result that he wants; namely, to reduce our influence to put these matters to rights. Will my noble friend comment on the fact that it seems rather odd persistently to leave out the benefits to British industry?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: My Lords, I certainly agree with my noble friend Lord Peyton in that I find it lacking in balance to leave out the benefits. In every society or organisation that one joins, one has a responsibility to make sure that it goes in the right direction. Based on a recent CBI survey I can tell my noble friend that, interestingly, only 2 per cent. of members interviewed believed that Britain would be better off outside the European Union.

The noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, seems to have forgotten that the single market was a British initiative. It is that single market that has so greatly expanded the opportunities for British firms. Again, a recent CBI survey showed that 71 per cent. of firms were enjoying greater trading opportunities with Europe due to the single market. More trade means more jobs, and that is why we want it.

Lord Richard: My Lords, will the Minister accept that we should like to congratulate her upon the robust common sense of her Answer and the forthright language

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in which she expressed it? May I assure her that, if the Government continue speaking in that vein, they will receive the support of the Opposition?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: My Lords, I am delighted to respond to the noble Lord and say that I shall always speak as I find and that is the truth.

Lord Harmar-Nicholls: My Lords, is my noble friend aware that the benefits that she has just outlined are gratifying to most people who have the interests of this country at heart? But is she certain that, in attributing the list that she gave to the fact that we are members of the European Union, she is not overstating the case? Does she not feel that the fact that we have a common language and are not connected with the social conditions which add to costs are also reasons for the list that she outlined to us in her Answer?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: My Lords, I was talking about the attraction of investment into Britain. Britain takes 41 per cent. of all Japanese investment into the European Union and 50 per cent. of the Korean investment. We do not have a common language with them. I do not believe that I am overstating the case. I came into politics from industry. I still keep links with industry to keep myself informed about what industry is thinking. I challenge my noble friend to find business people who would contradict the fact that 71 per cent. of firms say that they are enjoying greater trading opportunities with Europe owing to the single market.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, was the noble Baroness as surprised as I was to hear from the Liberal Benches a statement that people who ask questions in Parliament are a nuisance? Will she accept that I believe that that is what Parliament is all about; namely, we come to Parliament and ask questions? Is she aware that it is not a myth that at the present time the European Parliament, and indeed the European Commission, want to introduce qualified majority voting into defence and foreign affairs? Is she further aware that many of them now believe, and say, that what they want is a country called Europe? Is that the Government's policy?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: My Lords, I was going to say something rather nice about the noble Lord. He has an absolute right to ask questions, but the fact that he sometimes bases those questions on information that is a long way from the facts obviously worries people who want a debate on the facts. There is no way in which the Government will have a country other than Britain. There is no such country as Europe. There will not be such a country as Europe. Let me also say that we have made clear many times that Britain will not accept moves to abolish the national veto. I know that the noble Lord is concerned about that and I can give him comfort.

The Lord Privy Seal (Viscount Cranborne): My Lords, as always, I am in the hands of the House; but we have three more Questions on the Order Paper.

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Road Traffic Restrictions: Slow Vehicles

2.47 p.m.

Lord Dixon-Smith asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether a highway authority may ban certain vehicles from travelling on roads at particular hours of the day on the basis of the speeds at which they can travel.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Transport (Viscount Goschen): Yes, my Lords. The Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984 empowers traffic authorities to make orders regulating the use that any particular class of traffic may make of any road.

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