Examination of Witnesses (Questions 873
WEDNESDAY 17 MAY 2000
873. Good afternoon, Minister. Good afternoon
to your colleagues too. Our apologies for the late start. I hope
you are feeling better than you were?
(Ms Hewitt) Indeed, I am.
874. The knee has recovered?
(Ms Hewitt) That is very kind of you. My knee is much
recovered. I am very sorry I had to cancel at such short notice.
I thought, unrealistically, that I could just emerge from the
operation and come straight here but I did not wake up. Just as
well I did not drive.
875. We wondered if you caught the problem from
all the rushing around you seem to have been doing. We have been
following you around a number of quarters. I think it is worth
mentioning that where we have been following you, people there
have been full of praise for the work that you have been doing.
Whether the Committee will feel the same at the end of this session
I am not sure! We will wait and see how we go. You know our focus.
It is the European angle but we will, of necessity, go into a
whole range of other topics, which we will be picking up this
afternoon. I would like in starting, at least to ensure that we
focus on some European issues, and ask you: in the light of your
experience, what changes you would like to see in the Commissions's,
the Council's, and the European Parliament's operating arrangements
to foster better and speedier e-commerce policy development and
(Ms Hewitt) Thank you very much, my Lord. Getting
the institutional arrangements right in Europe does seem to me
extremely important. We are beginning to see the Commission and
the institutions generally able to make faster and better decisions.
The E-Commerce Directive, that went out through Parliament without
any amendments, is an example of that. We are seeing much closer
co-operation between the different Commissioners who have responsibilities
in that field and that is helpful. Of course, the broader reform
programme that Commissioner Kinnock is driving does change the
context of all of this. I still do not think that is enough. I
think the Commission needs to go on strengthening its internal
co-ordination mechanisms, but there is one institutional change
in particular that we would like to see, and that is to replace
the Internal Market Council, the Telecoms and the Industry Council
with a single Competitiveness Council. This is because we have
got decisions being dealt with, frankly, all over the place at
the moment. Now we got a little bit of the way. We took a step
forward at the General Affairs Council in April, where they proposed
a merger of various pairs of Councils, but it does not go towards
a single Competitiveness Council.
876. That is very helpful indeed. We will be
looking at that. We are going across to Brussels in a couple of
weeks' time and we will be following the issue through.
877. I think you have a division. Do you have
to go for it?
(Ms Hewitt) If you will forgive me, my Lord, I will
just go and register a vote.
878. Mr Allan, would you like to say a word
for us now?
(Mr Allan) Sure, if that would be convenient.
879. We will then turn back to you when the
Minister has concluded. I must say I do not envy the task which
you have taken on. It seems as if the number of targets which
you have to deliver increases as each week goes by. I am particularly
interested to see that you are supporting the Chief Secretary
of the Treasury and e-Minister in the cross-cutting review in
the 2000 Spending Review on the Knowledge Economy, which is going
to consider, amongst other things, the funding of the electronic