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Ec (Internal Market)

Volume 129: debated on Wednesday 9 March 1988

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To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster what representations he has received regarding preparations for the realisation of the Economic Community internal market in 1992.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Corporate Affairs
(Mr. Francis Maude)

Since we announced our awareness campaign we have received an encouragingly large number of representations from all sectors of British business. All have warmly welcomed the high priority that the Government are giving to completing the single market in Europe and the steps that we are taking to make British business aware of the challenge.

Has the Minister not read the comments made by the director general of the Confederation of British Industry, Mr. Banham, to the effect that he thinks that the Government are not taking the negotiations on standards seriously and are not spending enough resources or time on the problem? Surely this requires a rather wider answer than the Minister has given today, or was given to me by the Minister of State on 2 March, when I was told that the interests of the CBI were not necessarily those of the British nation. It is in our interest to be able to respond properly to the new training environment in 1992.

With regard to the hon. Gentleman's specific point about standards, we hold the chair of no less than a quarter of all the standards committees in Brussels. It is important that we should take an active role in setting European standards, and we do that. I assure the hon. Gentleman that that is a very high priority for us, and we are doing a great deal more now than we have done in the past.

I am very glad to hear what my hon. Friend said about the importance of our preparing people and making them aware of what is involved between now and 1992 and the steps that we must take to take advantage of that, but does he agree that it is important that the EC should not distract us in any way by such time-wasting foolishness as trying to introduce a common European car number plate?

I note what my right hon. Friend has said. In asserting progress towards 1992, we must decide on priorities, and the kind of thing to which my right hon. Friend has referred is plainly not a high priority.

Will the Minister assure us that the Government will not permit VAT on newspapers and books?

That is plainly not a matter for me to comment on here and now. It is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer in due time. The hon. Gentleman is well aware of the remarks made by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister about our right to impose our own VAT rates on our own products.

Does my hon. Friend accept that it is good news that the awareness campaign is going well? Is he aware of the fantastic efforts being made by all the chambers of commerce and business organisations in other European countries to get their businesses off the ground and their noses in ahead of us? Does he believe that smaller businesses in this country realise the immense opportunities that will be available for them as well?

No, we do not believe that smaller businesses are fully aware of the opportunities, and that is why we are launching a major awareness campaign. That campaign has not actually started yet, but, because the issue is being discussed far more widely than before, awareness is steadily growing. The opportunities available to competitive British businesses for opening up Europe to the free exchange of goods and services are enormous. However, there is a threat for uncompetitive businesses because opportunities for competitive British businesses are also open to competitive businesses elsewhere.