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Government prevaricates

Posted by Helen Friday, December 15, 2006

That headline comes into the dog bites man, gardener digs soil, supermodel takes drugs category. Well, of course it prevaricates. What else are governments for? All of that is true but I wish to direct our readers’ attention to one particular episode in the House of Lords on Tuesday.

Viscount Falkland, a Lib-Dem but an hereditary peer (and yes, I believe, he is the descendant of that Viscount Falkland), asked the following Starred Question:

Whether they [Her Majesty’s Government] accept Commissioner Verheugen’s estimate that European Union regulation is costing €600 billion per annum to European Union member states’ economies.

Um, said HMG in the shape of Lord Bassam of Brighton. We do our calculations differently and, in the best traditions of this government, leave out various important isues such as the administrative cost on financial services, which just happen to be among the most important parts of this country’s economy.

My Lords, this figure is one of a number of recent estimates of the total administrative costs of EU and national legislation, but it is not used by the Government. The Government estimate that the total administrative burden on business, charities and the voluntary sector in England derived from EU legislation is approximately £6.3 billion, or €9.2 billion, per annum. This estimate excludes the costs of EU administrative burdens on financial services, which are not available in this format.
So far so good, though, of course it is not quite far enough.

Then we had all the other Europhiles chirruping away. Lots of talk about benefits of the Single Market and the need to find jobs and prosperity for all in it (a task that seems to be consistently beyond the members of that market). Lord Dykes, for instance, wanted to know after some complicated mental gymnastics:
How much, for example, are some of the European Union direct costs one-off reflections of the finalisation of the complex single market stages? Does he further agree that our official estimates confirm that the cost of our membership is about £50 per head whereas the benefits in investment and other things are £300?

As Lord Dykes ought to know but probably does not, those benefits, if they exist, do not depend on our membership of the Single Market, let alone the European Union. Also, those costs have a negative effect that reaches beyond simple amounts of money. How much more would we get by way of investment and other things if that regulatory structure was not there?

Lord Pearson or Rannoch referred back to Switzerland:

My Lords, by way of underlining Commissioner Verheugen’s point, are Her Majesty's Government aware that the Swiss federal Government have recently estimated that if Switzerland were to join the European Union, it would cost her nine times more—some 5 billion Swiss francs per annum—than her present free trade and other bilateral arrangements with Brussels? Surely, that picture must be the same for EU members, including the United Kingdom.
To which Lord Bassam replied irrelevantly:
My Lords, I cannot believe that if we were to withdraw from the European Union, British business would want to go back to a system whereby some 60 million Customs clearance documents were needed every year to ensure that we could export our goods and services to the EU. Does the noble Lord really want to go back to such a system?
But why should we go back to anything? Why do we assume (well, OK, why do those strange beings, called politicians assume) that there are only two alternatives in the world: a system that existed thirty odd years ago and has long ago disappeared in most parts of the world or the European Union with its every more harmonized and obstructive regulations?