European Union Committee: Report on 2013-14 (EUC Report) — Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 7:06 pm on 24th July 2014.

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Photo of Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lords Spokesperson (Cabinet Office), Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip) 7:06 pm, 24th July 2014

We all understand that that is part of the problem and the pressure, and we are doing our utmost to look at that as well. I also take the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, that effective scrutiny necessitates the earliest possible engagement with developing areas of policy, looking at work programmes and strategic views.

I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Boswell, feels that the Government’s scrutiny performance has improved somewhat in the last year. It is one of those things on which we all have to maintain the pressure. Civil servants are always very busy and Ministers always have too many things in their in-tray, but we have to keep up the pressure on all that.

The noble Lord, Lord Bach, asked whether the Government’s evidence on the abuse of free movement rights could be shared with the House. Much of that is in the free movement of persons paper that was published on Tuesday. Having been very closely involved in negotiations over that paper, I might say that the evidence is not always entirely clear; that is part of the problem in discussing questions of free movement of persons and labour and the abuse of free movement rights. That is partly because we do not have exit controls in this country and partly because we do not collect all the central evidence. For example, I questioned at one stage an academic study that suggested that there were 40,000 British citizens receiving benefits in other states in the EU. That is an academic estimate, but nobody is entirely sure whether that is an exact figure. So there are many problems in addressing that very complicated issue.

The noble Earl, Lord Caithness, asked whether the UK had been diffident in its approach to the financial transaction tax. The Government have been very closely engaged with this issue since publication and, indeed, took a case to the European Court of Justice on that issue to raise the question of how far it would be appropriate for the European Union to move on that subject. We remain actively engaged.

The noble Lord, Lord Tugendhat, talked about the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. That will be a central but extremely difficult issue for the coming year; we know that there will be lobbies not just in France and elsewhere but in this country that will want to raise negative issues about TTIP. That is something that we will clearly have to follow.

May I say, as spokesperson for the Cabinet Office and therefore dealing with a lot of data sharing issues, that I would welcome the European Union Committee looking further at aspects of the digital single market as well as data sharing and data protection? Some months ago, I asked for a briefing within Whitehall on the digital single market and officials from five different departments came to brief me, demonstrating just how complicated an issue it is. After all, this is all one issue in a complex, multi-levelled set of issues for government that is driven by the speed of technological change. I am constantly struck by how much faster technology is taking us down the road to online, cross-border transactions than we previously understood. The digital single market is a major priority in the Government’s drive for EU reform and it is part of the extension of the single market to services, as services and manufacturing intertwine and overlap. It will be a difficult issue also in TTIP, as data regulation, the cloud and the role of the US service providers hit the issue of data protection.

I am conscious of the time. I hope that I have answered most of the issues, but I see that there are one or two questions still to come.