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Insurance Firms: Conduct Of Business Within Eec

Volume 413: debated on Monday 13 October 1980

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My Lords, I beg leave to ask the first Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what steps they propose to take at both COREPER and Council level in order to ensure that, in conformity with the provisions of Title III, Chapter 3 of the treaty establishing the European Economic Community, British insurance companies and firms may conduct their non-life insurance business in free competition within the territories of the eight other member states.

My Lords, I would sympathise with the impatience which is implied in the noble Lord's Question. Since the report of the European Parliament in 1977 on the draft insurance services directive, its consideration in a Council working group has been detailed and technical, and regrettably very slow. The Committee of Permanent Representatives is, however, now considering a report from the working group on the major issues which are still outstanding, and our representatives are doing all that they can to make progress to a very satisfactory solution.

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that a portion of his reply contains a considerable degree of reassurance? However, is he also aware that one way or another this matter has been under discussion in the European Community for the past seven years? Is the noble Lord further aware that it was subject to deliberate obstruction in the European Parliament on the part of two member states for at least three years? Will he give the House an assurance that, when it comes to the provisions of Article 59 of the treaty, Her Majesty's Government will pursue the facilities that should be granted to British insurance companies, in accordance with this particular article, with the same rigorous determination as the French pursue the provisions relating to the Common Agricultural Policy?

My Lords, the House will be grateful for the noble Lord's vigorous follow-up to this Question. I note that the noble Lord and myself discussed this very article on 25th June in the course of an earlier exchange, when the noble Lord used vigorous language. Indeed Her Majesty's Government have every intention of pursuing this matter to a satisfactory and, dare I say it?, vigorous conclusion.

The Government are aware that there has been a problem—I would not necessarily say of obstruction, either voluntarily or involuntarily—involving at least two members of the Community, but we hope that there is to be a very swift and efficacious solution to this. I think that from his specialised knowledge the noble Lord will know that these matters may take a reasonable time, but we are of the opinion that this question will be resolved in a matter of months, as opposed to years.