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Lord Simon of Highbury: There are no plans to standardise regimes worldwide on these topics, whether in association with the multilateral agreement on investment or otherwise. Some aspects of these subjects are under separate discussion in other multilateral fora.
Lord Simon of Highbury: I refer the noble Lord to my noble friend the Minister for Trade's reply on 4 November, Official Report, WA 279. The multilateral agreement on investment will be consistent with World Trade Organisation agreements; all seek to liberalise markets.
Lord Simon of Highbury: The Trade Descriptions Act 1968 makes it an offence for a trader to apply false or misleading statements to products. It is for local authority trading standards departments to decide whether to prosecute under the Act in a given case. I am aware that there are different views as to when the new millennium should be celebrated. However, given that the year 2000 is the year in which most people intend to celebrate, it would seem highly improbable that trading standards officers would consider prosecution appropriate in the circumstances described in the noble Lord's Question.
Lord Simon of Highbury: Exports from a member state to a third country are part of the common commercial policy within the exclusive competence of the Community under Article 113 of the EC treaty, subject only to Article 223 of the treaty. This means that the Council of Ministers may make a regulation by a qualified majority of its members to prohibit a member state from exporting goods of a particular type; but the council cannot prohibit a member state from exporting military goods if the member state considers the export to be necessary for the protection of the essential interests of its security.
The Commission is also empowered by Council Directives 89/662/EEC and 90/425/EEC (which are concerned with veterinary and zootechnical checks in intra-Community trade) to adopt any measures which may be necessary to safeguard the health of humans and/or animals. The Commission purported to act under this power in March 1996 when imposing a ban on the export of UK beef and bovine products to other member states and third countries, in response to the BSE crisis. The UK Government have challenged the ban in the European Court of Justice, arguing, in relation to third countries, that the ban exceeds the limits of the power delegated to the Commission by the Council. The advocate-general concluded in September this year that the third country element of the ban is necessary to prevent the spread of BSE and effect its eradication, and therefore the Commission had the necessary power. The court's judgment is expected in the New Year.
Lord Simon of Highbury: My department has received several representations from the Banking Insurance and Finance Union about the bank's decisions to derecognise it for collective bargaining purposes and to declare redundancies. The representations have not specifically referred to compliance with EU directives or ILO conventions. The bank is subject to employment law in the normal way, and there are remedies under the law if employees consider that the bank has failed to comply with its statutory or contractual obligations. The Government intend to publish a White Paper on fairness at work, and principally union recognition, in the first part of next year.
Lord Simon of Highbury: It is unlawful for an employer to discriminate against a woman in employment matters on the basis that she is pregnant. Successive governments have accepted that statutory maternity rights and sex discrimination legislation contribute to competitiveness by helping to ensure that the benefits of women's skills, training and expertise are not lost to the economy when they raise a family.
To qualify for statutory maternity pay (SMP) from her employer, a woman must have completed 26 weeks' work for that employer ending with the 15th week before her expected week of birth. She will therefore have worked for the employer before becoming pregnant. Any employer paying SMP is reimbursed 92 per cent. of the cost of SMP through deductions from national insurance contributions. Small firms may recover 100 per cent. of SMP paid plus 6.5 per cent. in additional compensation. We recognise that some individual employers may incur costs in holding a job open for a woman who is having a baby, and we aim to ensure that these costs are minimised, but we consider that they are outweighed by the benefits.
Lord Simon of Highbury: The department sends to the parliamentary scrutiny committees copies of all common positions. These do not differ materially from political agreements. The department also sends proposals and amending modifications put forward by the European Commission. The department will ensure that, in future, all parliamentary answers reporting the outcomes of internal market councils give voting particulars. At the 27 November Council, these were as follows:
KAROLUS: unanimous political agreement.
Legal protection of biotechnology political agreement by QM, with the Netherlands voting against, and Belgium and Italy abstaining.
Amendment of Directive 83/189/EC to extend its provisions for regulatory transparency to information society services: agreement by QM on a common position, with Germany and the Netherlands abstaining, and Belgium opposing.
Supplementary supervision of insurance undertakings in an insurance group: political agreement by QM, with Germany opposing.
In vitro diagnostic medical devices: unanimous agreement by QM on a common position.
Amendment of Directive 95/2/EC on food additives: agreement by QM on a common position, with Germany, Austria and Denmark voting against and Belgium abstaining.
Coffee extracts and chicory extracts: unanimous agreement.
Whether they will ensure that manufacturing of equipment needed to develop renewable sources of energy will be located in or near regions which are suffering, or will suffer, from a reduced demand for fossil fuel; and
Whether they accept the estimates of the recent European Commission Green Paper (COM 12109/96) on Energy for the Future--Renewable Sources of Energy that 1,250,000 jobs with annual exports of some £10 billion per annum will be created when alternatives to fossil fuel are introduced; and what plans they have to ensure that the United Kingdom will take advantage of these employment opportunities, particularly in the mining areas.
Lord Simon of Highbury: The Government are undertaking a new and strong drive to develop renewable energy sources in line with our manifesto commitment. UK industry is well placed to exploit the growing market over the next decade and to take its share of employment opportunities.
The European Commission has now published its White Paper on Energy for the Future: Renewable Sources of Energy, which makes similar claims to the earlier Green Paper. We shall be studying the White Paper over the coming months but we agree with the view expressed in the White Paper that net employment figures in the renewable energy sector are difficult to predict and calculate. It is also difficult to obtain accurate figures for current levels of exports, so the estimate of £10 billion of annual exports across the EC as a whole at some point in the future is difficult to verify.
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