Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that marginally encouraging reply when one considers that some 2.5 million European jobs depend in some way on these imports, perhaps 0.5 million of which are in the United Kingdom. Can the Minister confirm that the Council of Ministers had agreed with its advisory committee that these duties should not have been reimposed and that under EC law that should have been the end of the matter? Can he also confirm that even though no new circumstances had arisen, the Commission agreed to reimpose the duties last month but only after intense and improper pressure from M. Chirac?
Lord Simon of Highbury: My Lords, it is not correct to say that the Commission has no legal right to impose a provisional duty. That has been the position since anti-dumping legislation was first implemented in the European Community in 1968. The Commission has a right to impose provisional duties. The UK agreed to that on accession to the Community in 1973 and when the relevant Council regulation was revised in 1979, 1988, 1994 and 1996. The issue is that these are
The Earl of Onslow: My Lords, is it not the case that there are 5,000 French jobs involved in this matter which is why the French are particularly keen that the duties should be imposed? However, there are many more jobs which are adversely affected by those duties. Is it not true that the rest of Europe has caved in to the French position? I have no complaint about the French. They are only batting on their own wicket. But should we not try to play some decent cricket or even la boule instead of allowing the parlez-vous to get away with it?
Lord Simon of Highbury: My Lords, we could debate the numbers. The noble Earl refers to 5,000 French jobs. The noble Lord, Lord Pearson, says that there are 2.5 million jobs at risk. That means that there is even more gearing than the noble Earl thinks. This is a provisional position. Investigations are taking place. There will be a very good reason to turn over the provisional duties so that they are not made definitive if a majority of the Ministers believe that the French are behaving improperly. Let us wait until October, until the investigations are over. If it is improper, as the noble Earl suggests, the decision will be turned over.
Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, is my noble friend aware that unlike the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, I do have a quarrel with the French because they are not behaving in what is termed in polite circles a communautaire manner? I sincerely hope that my noble friend will take that into account. If it is shown that the European Commission has acted outwith its powers, will my noble friend promise me that the British Government, if nobody else, will take the Commission to court to clarify the position and to safeguard the many jobs, including British jobs, which are involved?
Lord Simon of Highbury: My Lords, I have made it clear already that this is not an illegal imposition of duties. The Commission is acting within its right to impose provisional duties if it has grounds to believe that pricing is illegal. I agree that if the French are found to be in a minority when the matter is put to the Council of Ministers in October, as it is obliged to be after the six months provisional duties period has run out, the decision will be turned over and not become definitive. I should say that on our unofficial current count, five countries are supporting the provisional duties.
Lord Razzall: My Lords, does the Minister agree that there is a danger that this sort of Question descends into Europhobia and that we should have a more serious look at the importance to the British textile industry of the issues raised? Does the Minister agree, first, that our textile industry is dependent on the added value of finished goods? It is extremely important therefore that the textile industry has a worldwide free market in greycloth, and that is the policy which the British Government have so far pursued. More particularly, will the Minister agree that there is a serious danger in this
Lord Simon of Highbury: My Lords, I can confirm to the noble Lord that we quite agree that value added on this imported material is extremely important to the British industry. We have that in mind in continuously expressing our opinion that this is an improper imposition. In October, when we come to vote, we shall say the same thing and hope to have a majority. We quite agree that our industry is very good at adding value.
Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, although the Minister is correct about the imposition of these duties, which would provisionally be for six months, does he accept that the problem here is their improper re-imposition for another six months?
Lord Ewing of Kirkford: My Lords, will the noble Lord the Chairman of Committees accept my thanks for that reply? Is it not surprising that we are now moving rapidly towards a situation where there will be one media representative for each elected Member of the other House? Indeed, no other democratic institution in the free world has such a coverage as prevails here.
In relation to the number of passes held by the BBC, does the noble Lord recall that in the 1960s and the early 1970s, before either this House or the other place was televised, David Holmes and Hardiman Scott, assisted from time to time by none other than Angela Rippon, were able to report the proceedings in both Houses with great expertise? In view of the noble Lord's own excellent experience in the media, can he explain why on earth the BBC needs 125 people to cover the proceedings in both Houses of Parliament when we seldom, if ever, see any of them at this end of the Palace?
The Chairman of Committees: My Lords, with reference to the noble Lord's middle question, I do indeed recall those days. That is certainly so for the 1960s but less so for the 1970s in the case of the BBC. Perhaps I should declare an interest in that I worked for the BBC during the 1950s and the 1960s. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Ewing, is right about the numbers who managed to report the proceedings then. However, we are now in a different situation. Whether we are moving to the situation that the noble Lord described, as regards the proportion of media representatives to the number of elected Members in another place, I do not know.
Indeed, comparisons are awkward. I do not know what is a proper number of media representatives. All I can say is that this number seems to be needed. Perhaps I should, therefore, draw upon Mozart's riposte to his royal critic when the latter said that he had used too many notes. Mozart replied:
The BBC does need quite a number of representatives. It should not be forgotten that, apart from its coverage of Parliament, which it is required by its Charter to provide on a daily basis--and we try to facilitate the BBC as far as we can--noble Lords will also be aware of the BBC's role in covering special events, such as the State Opening of Parliament, Addresses to Members of both Houses by foreign and Commonwealth leaders, and other such matters.
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