Select Committee on European Union Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 873 - 879)




  873. Good afternoon, Minister. Good afternoon to your colleagues too. Our apologies for the late start. I hope you are feeling better than you were?

  (Ms Hewitt) Indeed, I am.

  874. The knee has recovered?
  (Ms Hewitt) That is very kind of you. My knee is much recovered. I am very sorry I had to cancel at such short notice. I thought, unrealistically, that I could just emerge from the operation and come straight here but I did not wake up. Just as well I did not drive.

  875. We wondered if you caught the problem from all the rushing around you seem to have been doing. We have been following you around a number of quarters. I think it is worth mentioning that where we have been following you, people there have been full of praise for the work that you have been doing. Whether the Committee will feel the same at the end of this session I am not sure! We will wait and see how we go. You know our focus. It is the European angle but we will, of necessity, go into a whole range of other topics, which we will be picking up this afternoon. I would like in starting, at least to ensure that we focus on some European issues, and ask you: in the light of your experience, what changes you would like to see in the Commissions's, the Council's, and the European Parliament's operating arrangements to foster better and speedier e-commerce policy development and co-ordination?
  (Ms Hewitt) Thank you very much, my Lord. Getting the institutional arrangements right in Europe does seem to me extremely important. We are beginning to see the Commission and the institutions generally able to make faster and better decisions. The E-Commerce Directive, that went out through Parliament without any amendments, is an example of that. We are seeing much closer co-operation between the different Commissioners who have responsibilities in that field and that is helpful. Of course, the broader reform programme that Commissioner Kinnock is driving does change the context of all of this. I still do not think that is enough. I think the Commission needs to go on strengthening its internal co-ordination mechanisms, but there is one institutional change in particular that we would like to see, and that is to replace the Internal Market Council, the Telecoms and the Industry Council with a single Competitiveness Council. This is because we have got decisions being dealt with, frankly, all over the place at the moment. Now we got a little bit of the way. We took a step forward at the General Affairs Council in April, where they proposed a merger of various pairs of Councils, but it does not go towards a single Competitiveness Council.

  876. That is very helpful indeed. We will be looking at that. We are going across to Brussels in a couple of weeks' time and we will be following the issue through.

  877. I think you have a division. Do you have to go for it?
  (Ms Hewitt) If you will forgive me, my Lord, I will just go and register a vote.

  878. Mr Allan, would you like to say a word for us now?
  (Mr Allan) Sure, if that would be convenient.

  879. We will then turn back to you when the Minister has concluded. I must say I do not envy the task which you have taken on. It seems as if the number of targets which you have to deliver increases as each week goes by. I am particularly interested to see that you are supporting the Chief Secretary of the Treasury and e-Minister in the cross-cutting review in the 2000 Spending Review on the Knowledge Economy, which is going to consider, amongst other things, the funding of the electronic government.

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