in the first session of the fifty-second parliament of the united kingdom of great britain and northern ireland commencing on the seventh day of may in the forty-sixth year of the reign of




NINTH VOLUME OF SESSION 1997--98 House of Lords

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Monday, 30th March 1998.

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

Prayers--Read by the Lord Bishop of Leicester.

Single Market: Business Opportunities

Lord Randall of St. Budeaux asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What steps they are taking to encourage British enterprises of all sizes to exploit more fully the new opportunities arising from the single European market.

Lord Haskel: My Lords, the Government are committed to ensuring that United Kingdom enterprises make the most of the opportunities offered by the single market. After all, eight of our top 10 markets are in the single market. To assist business, in the past few days my noble friend the Minister for Trade announced the launch of the Export Explorer service, offered through Business Links and trade associations in association with the DTI and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office commercial sections. This should assist businesses to export.

Lord Randall of St. Budeaux: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that piece of information. However, will my noble friend tell the House exactly how such visits associated with the Export Explorer service will help firms to export? Bearing in mind the complexities and difficulties of exporting, is he happy that the level of support and assistance that SMEs receive from the scheme will be sufficient to increase substantially exports from this country?

Lord Haskel: My Lords, the scheme seeks to give new exporters the opportunity to visit markets. Research

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undertaken after we came to power indicated that many companies were nervous of going abroad. The Export Explorer service offers a visit to one of the more accessible markets--Ireland, the Benelux countries or the Nordic markets--or a support visit to one of the key international trade fairs in Germany, France, Italy or Spain. The service is to be delivered mainly by Business Links or trade associations by means of support from an experienced exporter, a sector expert, a tailored market or sector report, and general help while overseas. I am convinced that this is of assistance to companies. Further means of assisting companies will be announced in the next few months.

Lord Marsh: My Lords, perhaps I may congratulate the Minister on an Answer which was so clear that he could not have done better if he had had prior notice of the Question. Are not the benefits which he outlined those which one would expect from any sophisticated regional trading bloc? Can the noble Lord give the House any indication why those wholly admirable objectives are achieved in, to give one example, NAFTA, with far, far less cost in terms of fraud and bureaucracy?

Lord Haskel: My Lords, I am not sure of the relevance of the last sentence. The cost is quite small. It is £90 per company for the service; and firms pay for their own travel and accommodation.

Lord Skelmersdale: My Lords, is the Minister aware that for the past five years there has been a single market in plants--in which I declare an interest. Is he aware that the export of plants has increased dramatically over that period? What use can the horticultural industry make of the measures he outlined?

Lord Haskel: My Lords, I am delighted to hear that there has been so much success in the plants industry. However, the measures are designed to help first time exporters to gain experience of the market: to encourage them to go to a market, to analyse it, if necessary to exhibit at an exhibition, and, generally, to get into the way of exporting.

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Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, is there not a severe danger in encouraging businessmen to visit the European Union at this time--since, if they do so, they will find that the major problem for their exports is, "3 deutschmarks 8 pfennigs to the pound"? What do the Government intend to do about that?

Lord Haskel: My Lords, the Government cannot do much about the exchange rate. What the Government can do is encourage companies to be more competitive. Price is not the only aspect of selling one's product. The Government encourage companies to be more competitive by improving their productivity, sales techniques and management, and by doing all the things that make up the mix of running a business.

Lord Bruce of Donington: My Lords, will the noble Lord give the House the Government's views on the necessity for removing a whole series of petty regulations that have been imposed by the Commission, via the bureaucrats of the United Kingdom, which have borne very heavily--and still bear heavily--on British business? When will the promise that was made by the former Prime Minister on returning from Maastricht--namely, to embark upon a scheme of mass deregulation of unnecessary rules imposed--be honoured by this Government?

Lord Haskel: My Lords, the DTI's Action Single Market unit exists to help UK businesses when they encounter trade barriers or other factors that inhibit trade. The Government are committed to reducing regulations, but where those regulations inhibit trade that department of the DTI is specially committed to doing that.

Viscount Montgomery of Alamein: My Lords, I recognise that English is the international language of business. However, will the noble Lord agree that it is extremely valuable for exporters to be able to speak the language of the country with which they wish to do business?

Lord Haskel: My Lords, I agree entirely with the noble Lord.

Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne: My Lords, will the noble Lord give the accent to the British computer industry, given the Prime Minister's recent announcement on millennium bug funding, and ensure that British experts are in the European Union doing their very best to help conquer the millennium bug, since English is the international computer language?

Lord Haskel: My Lords, the Government are certainly intending to do so. It formed part of the Prime Minister's statement. The computer industry is a global business. As the noble Baroness says, English is the international language of cyber trade. That is why it is so important.

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Baroness Miller of Hendon: My Lords, will the Minister confirm that it is the Government's intention that through the national minimum wage they will make British companies more competitive?

Lord Haskel: Yes, my Lords.

Breast Cancer Screening Programme

2.44 p.m.

Lord Sudeley asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will review without further delay their decision (Cm 3007) not to implement the recommendation in paragraph 96 of the House of Commons Health Committee's Third Report on Breast Cancer Services (Session 1994-95) that the upper age limit for inclusion in the call and recall system be extended to 69 to include those women most at risk.

The Minister of State, Department of Health (Baroness Jay of Paddington): My Lords, as the noble Lord will be aware, the report of the House of Commons Select Committee on Breast Cancer Services to which his question refers was received in 1995 by the previous administration.

This Government are firmly committed to providing a high-quality breast screening programme. Screening for women aged 65 and over is now available on request, and we are taking a range of steps to ensure that this service is widely publicised. I am glad to say that figures published last week show that the number of older women taking this up has risen from 39,000 in 1995 to 57,000 last year.

We are funding pilot schemes to evaluate the impact of extending the routine recall screening programme to include women aged 65 to 69. The first of these studies will be completed next year, and the others by the year after. The Government will base any changes to policy on the evidence emerging from the pilot studies. We must also ensure that any decision to extend the breast screening programme in this way does not jeopardise the existing programme.

Lord Sudeley: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply and I congratulate her, given that half of the 30,000 women suffering from breast cancer are over 65 and given the problem that arose under the previous administration: the two pilot schemes in the Wakefield and South Thames area were a stalling measure owing to the funding involved. Secondly, given that the Gallup poll for Age Concern showed that most women over 65 are unaware of the risks to which they are exposed, why have no government leaflets been published-- I congratulate the Minister if that is the case--to warn older women of the risks involved? Perhaps I may ask the Minister two or three questions. Is she aware that there is a higher detection rate for women suffering from cancer who are over 65? Secondly, is it not the case that

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the incidence of breast cancer increases with age? Is the Minister further aware that, in the case of older women, cancer is equally aggressive?

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