Council of Ministers (United Kingdom Veto)

Oral Answers to Questions — Trade and Industry – in the House of Commons at 1:45 pm on 19th June 1996.

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Photo of Dr Jim Marshall Dr Jim Marshall , Leicester South 1:45 pm, 19th June 1996

To ask the President of the Board of Trade if he will list those European Union agreements relevant to UK industry that have been delayed as a consequence of the Government's decision of 21 May to use the UK veto at the Council of Ministers. [32110]

Photo of Mr Ian Lang Mr Ian Lang , Galloway and Upper Nithsdale

The principal measures relevant to industry where Ministers have withheld agreement following the Prime Minister's announcement on 21 May—[Interruption.]—concern legislative simplification and administrative co-operation, accounting standards [Interruption.]—an action programme for EU industry and certain agreements concerning trade relations with third countries.

Photo of Miss Betty Boothroyd Miss Betty Boothroyd Speaker of the House of Commons

Order. There is too much talking going on. I want to hear the hon. Gentleman's question.

Photo of Dr Jim Marshall Dr Jim Marshall , Leicester South

I know that you, Madam Speaker, could not hear the Secretary of State's response any more than I could, so I shall have to pretend that I did.

Photo of Miss Betty Boothroyd Miss Betty Boothroyd Speaker of the House of Commons

Indeed, I could not hear it either.

Photo of Dr Jim Marshall Dr Jim Marshall , Leicester South

When will the President and his fellow Cabinet members realise that the Government's position on Europe, far from progressing a solution to the beef crisis, is hindering a solution to it and harming Britain's competitive position? Will the right hon. Gentleman estimate the cost to British industry of the blanket veto that this country is currently exercising on EU business?

Photo of Mr Ian Lang Mr Ian Lang , Galloway and Upper Nithsdale

The hon. Gentleman may have his own opinions about the effect of the veto, but the Government took the view that it was necessary to bring to the attention of our partners in Europe the great importance that we attach to a solution to this problem, and the need to have in place a framework for lifting the ban, which was not scientifically justified and was imposed without being backed up by scientific evidence. The cost will be very low indeed if the ban is lifted soon and we can resume business as normal, but the cost to British industry if the ban remains in place will be considerable.

Photo of Sir John Cope Sir John Cope , Northavon

Before anyone gets too worked up about the backlog of EU business, will my right hon. Friend confirm that, the moment agreement is reached on beef, all outstanding matters can be quickly put through any available ministerial Council in 24 hours, as what is known in the jargon as an "A point"? What matters is reaching an agreement on beef. The veto has simply put beef back at the top of the European Community agenda, which is where it should be.

Photo of Mr Ian Lang Mr Ian Lang , Galloway and Upper Nithsdale

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right: once the matter is resolved, the United Kingdom will be as keen as any other participant in the European Union to make speedy progress on the other matters that are being held up.

Photo of Kim Howells Kim Howells , Pontypridd

Will the President of the Board of Trade say whether he will be attending the Council of Ministers a week from tomorrow to reverse the Government's previous policy on the Post Office? Will he be casting his vote behind the Commission's proposals to liberalise direct mail services and thus threaten the future of the Royal Mail by sneaking through, by qualified majority voting, a privatisation measure that the House rejected last time it was debated?

Photo of Mr Ian Lang Mr Ian Lang , Galloway and Upper Nithsdale

The Labour party seems to be in a muddle about its policies on competition and on the Post Office. No, I will not be at the Council myself.

Photo of Nigel Waterson Nigel Waterson , Eastbourne

Does my right hon. Friend agree with me that a significant section of British industry is represented by companies such as Anglo-Dutch Meats in my constituency, where some 350 jobs are under threat as a result of the wholly unlawful worldwide ban imposed by the European Union? Does he agree with me and with many of my constituents that until our European partners choose to approach this matter on the basis of science and not from political or commercial considerations, the British Government should continue to use their veto wherever they think appropriate?

Photo of Mr Ian Lang Mr Ian Lang , Galloway and Upper Nithsdale

My hon. Friend is right, and he emphasises the importance of having the matter resolved quickly. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has made clear precisely when and where our veto will be exercised. We hope that the matter will be resolved soon, that a framework will be in place for the lifting of the ban, and that business will return to normal.