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European Single Market

Volume 723: debated on Thursday 9 December 2010

Question

Tabled by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their response to the British Chamber of Commerce’s eight-point plan for the European single market.

My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend Lord Tomlinson and at his request, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in his name on the Order Paper

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, for asking the Question. I am sorry—we are all sorry, I am sure—that the noble Lord, Lord Tomlinson, is not well enough to be here today. We wish him better.

The Government welcome the publication of the British Chambers of Commerce, Eight Ways to Make the Single Market Work. This is a valuable contribution to the debate on the single market, and it identifies a number of matters that should be prioritised as part of the single market Act. The Government will submit a response to the Commission’s consultation on the Act in the new year.

I thank the Minister for that response and for her kind wishes to my noble friend Lord Tomlinson. While to complete the single market and to make it work better are a priority for the British Chambers of Commerce, and for the Government, does the Minister acknowledge that to do so will mean additional, not lower, contributions to the EU budget, including additional contributions from the British Government?

We are at too early a stage to be able to answer questions of finance in this way. In the single market we have at our disposal an unparalleled resource that can provide a framework within which entrepreneurs and businesses can thrive. Therefore we must focus ruthlessly on the relaunch of the single market and ensure that it operates at its full capacity. Then, I think, it will be worth every penny.

Has my noble friend seen the latest pamphlets from Business for New Europe—I declare an interest as a strong supporter—in which it repeatedly shows the huge return to this country from the increasing success of the European single market? It is based, incidentally, on the excellent European principle of qualified majority voting. Will the Minister ensure that the Government are well informed on these matters and repeat endlessly to the British public—in view of the attitude of the British press—that the returns from the single market for British exporters and so on are gigantic in comparison with any budget contributions?

My Lords, yes, it is right. We do an enormous amount of business in the European Union. It is very good for us and we want to make sure that it works even better. There are areas which we are not quite so happy about; we would like to see a freer market right across the European Union so that some of the barriers that stand in the way of our businesses are removed, as they should be for any other country in the European Union. It is supposed to be a free market, and the more freely we can move our goods around, the better.

My Lords, will the Minister, in all these discussions, concentrate on practical measures to develop trade and the market itself, and resist all measures to superimpose superstructural concepts on variously divergent economies that do not derive directly from the growth of those economies themselves? Does not the present plight of the euro show the folly of forcing upon divergent economies a similar form of currency that is at odds with the natural strength of the individual economies?

I think I will not comment on the euro today. The noble Lord is absolutely right; we must encourage wherever we can to make the market work as well as possible. To go back to the original Question, which, if I may remind your Lordships, was about our response to the British Chambers of Commerce eight-point plan for the European single market, there are things there that we would be very keen to support. We need to talk about creating effective digital single markets and all the other things like that that can make the market work better. We have enough problems at the moment, and anything positive that we can say is a good idea.

I am sorry that my noble friend does not want to talk about the euro today, because one reason why we have a very satisfactory export performance to the eurozone is that we are not in it. Sterling has depreciated against the euro, making life much easier for our exporters. Is she not very glad that we have not joined the eurozone?

The United Kingdom is not a member of the euro at the moment, and I see no time in future when we are likely to ask to join.

My Lords, given the divergent views on Europe in the coalition Government, does the Minister agree with the British Chambers of Commerce that Governments find it difficult to agree the harmonising measures that are essential to making the single market work? What harmonising measures will the Government support?

The coalition is working extremely well. There are certainly good points in the plan. Spreading the word is one recommendation in the report. We agree with that. SMEs having a level playing field? We agree with that. Proposals being SME-proofed so that the legals do not work against them? We agree with that. The liberalisation of services? Excellent. Moving architects backwards and forwards? We should be able to do that. Creating a digital single market? We want to do that. A single market in energy and freedom of movement there? We want that. Freezes on new laws that cost jobs? We will have to discuss that. Rebalancing the EU budgets towards growth? That is exactly what the report was about. It is an excellent report and we are very happy to support most of it.

My Lords, contrary to the impression conveyed by the noble Lord, Lord Reid, that the British Chambers of Commerce are asking for a vast extension in the budget, is my noble friend aware that the BCC’s memorandum to the House of Lords states precisely:

“The Post-2013 budget should be set at not more than 1% of GDP”?

I cannot see how that statement in the document is consistent with the impression conveyed by the noble Lord.

My Lords, I said that we agreed with most of the things in the document, but there are some on which we are still reflecting.