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Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, since the Question and the Minister's response so far seem to assume that there are indeed benefits to be had from our membership of the single market, will the noble Lord tell the House of any net benefits which we have derived from the single market--e-commerce included--which we could not have derived from within EFTA and the WTO?

Is the Minister aware that the latest government figures show that our trade with the EU is reducing and is in mounting deficit, whereas our trade with the rest of the world is increasing and continues in healthy surplus?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, I realise that the noble Lord would like to leave the EU, but perhaps

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I may assure him that the great mass of businesses are quite clear in this country that our economic prosperity depends on being part of the EU. That is where the great majority of our trade is, and the idea that we can leave and go and join NAFTA or any other body is a complete fairytale to most businesses which trade in the EU.

Lord Levene of Portsoken: My Lords, the City of London is concerned that if every electronic provider in Europe is made accountable to the individual laws of each country, the real benefit of an open and free market in Europe will be lost. Will the Minister therefore assure us that this new, critical and developing industry will not be smothered in that way at birth?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, I believe that there are two different issues here. One is the 1968 Brussels convention which deals with the question of jurisdiction. In this case, we are dealing with the question of private law between two people, one of whom is suing the trader for non-fulfilment.

Public regulation of e-commerce is controlled by the country in which the transaction takes place. Therefore, quite rightly, a seller needs to consider only the law of the country in which he operates.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, I have two questions for the Minister. First, would those regulations also cover people buying goods advertised on satellite television; for example, on Eurosport--to name a channel I was watching the other day? Secondly, will the Minister assure the House that the Government will not just look narrowly at the European aspect of the matter, because e-commerce will be world-wide and people will be able to buy goods from the United States of America? Will the Minister assure me that the Government will be looking at e-commerce around the world, and not only in terms of Europe?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, I am afraid that the issue of e-commerce regulations applying to Eurosport and so on is one which needs to be cleared up in the drafting of the regulation. I am sure that a lot of thought will be given to ensuring that our position is absolutely clear, so that there is no doubt about that particular point.

As far as concerns the question of “world-wide", one of the great advantages of the EU is that we have the mechanism to tackle those particular issues, which we do not have on a world-wide basis. That is one of the many benefits of which I am sure your Lordships are aware.

Lord Geddes: My Lords, with particular reference to e-commerce and small and medium-sized enterprises, will the noble Lord assure the House that national standards of one member state are fully recognised in all other member states of the EU?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, that is a similar question about where the jurisdiction lies.

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As I said, as regards e-commerce, the question of the public law aspects--a different consideration--is related to the country in which the seller lives.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, perhaps I may ask the Minister to be so good as to at least make an attempt to answer the question which I put to him. Is he aware that in the reply which he gave to me he made the classical error of saying that the majority of our trade is with the EU, whereas according to answers which I have received recently from his department, only some 45 per cent of our overseas trade is with the EU, and only 14 per cent of our trade in general--that is, our gross domestic product--lies with the EU? Would he care to agree that correction in his remarks?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, with regard to my earlier answer to the noble Lord, as the Leader of the Opposition said, “Make my day". Let us go on talking about the EU because it is extremely important that we continue to understand British industry's concern about this.

I turn now to the noble Lord's question. The answer is: yes, our trade with the EU constitutes slightly less than half our overall trade but, as your Lordships know, it still comprises the great bulk. As far as concerns benefits, I find it extraordinarily difficult to understand that Members on the other side of this House do not realise the benefit of free, open-trade markets. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Cockfield, has ably demonstrated that point to the Conservative Party in the past.

Lord Marsh: My Lords, the Minister has twice now referred to business being virtually unanimously, or overwhelmingly, in favour of closer trade connections with the EU. Is he not aware that in this country some of the great family companies, including famous food retailers, have whole families divided on this matter?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, food retailers are obviously a very special case in this particular situation. However, I believe it is important to make a distinction between trading companies which trade world-wide and retailers. A retailer's position is very different, as indeed is the position of those such as importers. But I believe that your Lordships will find that the great majority of trading companies, on which our exports depend, are totally convinced of the value of the EU.

Lord Gisborough: My Lords, how can the noble Lord talk about free trade when there is a ring fence around Europe?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, quite clearly we live in a world of trading blocs. The great move forward has been to create a free market within Europe. I hope that in due course that will spread further. At least it is a step in the right direction.

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Armed Forces: Internal Complaints Procedure

3.3 p.m.

The Earl of Carlisle asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether the Armed Forces redress of complaint system is currently operating satisfactorily.

Lord Burlison: My Lords, complaints from members of the Armed Forces are treated seriously and are dealt with fairly. Recognising the importance to the Armed Forces of an effective internal procedure for the redress of complaints, we have been reviewing the procedures and have identified some scope for administrative improvements.

The Earl of Carlisle: My Lords, I am very grateful to the Minister for that Answer, which is most promising. Recently there have been too many cases where a period lasting as long as two years and over has elapsed between redress and compensation, even when the redress has been upheld. Is that not damaging to the morale of the individual serviceman or woman, his or her family and the unit? Indeed, is it not damaging to the reputation of the Armed Forces as an employer? It also has bad effects on recruitment and retention. In view of the fact that the Government have said that they will not introduce into the Armed Forces rights of association, will they urgently review the redress of complaints system?

Lord Burlison: My Lords, I thank the noble Earl for his question and for his reference to morale in the Armed Forces. The present system deals with issues and complaints as low down as possible and as quickly as possible. Normally, complaints are settled by the chain of command, right up to the service board when that is necessary. Of course, the noble Earl is aware that the Armed Forces generally are not bound by employment legislation. At present, consideration is being given to the complaints and grievances procedures that exist within the Armed Forces generally. As far as concerns rights of association, it is Ministry of Defence policy not to have a union or a federation of services. My view is that that does not have a demoralising effect on morale of the Armed Forces.

Lord Burnham: My Lords, in how many cases is that procedure invoked annually, and how long does each case take to resolve?

Lord Burlison: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that question. I shall probably not be able to answer it specifically. However, I have looked at the figures concerned and I am, of course, prepared to write to the noble Lord. According to the latest available figures, there were about 180 cases. Of those, 57 were settled after a 12-month period. However, on occasions cases can be quite lengthy. The very fact that the procedures

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are being looked at indicates that efforts are being made to shorten and, it is hoped, expedite those procedures.

Lord Elton: My Lords, the noble Lord said that there had already been a review and recommendations for changes. Is the noble Lord able to tell us where we can find a description of that system, of the review and of the proposed changes that are to be made?


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