HC Deb 22 January 1980 vol 977 cc361-93 10.50 pm
The Attorney-General (Sir Michael Havers)

I beg to move, That this House takes note of Council Documents Nos. R/2075/78 and 4679/79 on reorganisation of the Court of Justice, and considers that any enlargement of the Court should take place only if a genuine need for it is clearly established. In these two documents the President of the Court of Justice makes proposals for the enlargement and reorganisation of the Court to cope with its increasing work load. Before I outline those proposals, it may be helpful if I give a brief description of the structure and work of the Court as it is at present constituted.

The Court consists of nine judges. Although the treaties impose no nationality requirement, in practice there is one judge from each member State. The nine judges are assisted by four advocates-general, who rank equally with the judges. Again, the treaties impose no nationality requirement, but by a tacit understanding there is one from each of the four large member States—the United Kingdom, France, Germany and Italy.

The functions of the advocates-general are very different from those of the judges. I shall attempt to describe them, because an understanding of their functions is central to the Court's proposals, and we have no equivalent officer in our judicial system.

The duty of the advocate-general is, acting impartially, to make reasoned submissions in open court on cases brought before the Court of Justice to assist the Court in its interpretation and application of Community law. He does this after the parties have completed their written and oral submissions, so that, while he may be influenced by those submissions, it is not possible for the parties to comment on the submissions of the advocate-general. He does not retire with the judges to defend his submissions before them, as the advocate-general does in the French legal system, and the Court is entirely free to accept or reject his conclusions, or to reach the same conclusions by a different line of reasoning. This occurs in a substantial number of cases.

The nature of the cases with which the Court has to deal varies widely. Of first importance are cases brought by the Commission against a member State, or by one member State against another, alleging a failure to fulfil an obligation under the treaties. Conversely, a member State may ask the Court to declare that a regulation, directive or decision of the Council or the Commission is illegal, and individuals and companies have the same right in the case of instruments which are of particular interest to them. These cases are all direct actions, in which the Court determines the dispute finally as between the parties—assuming, of course, that the parties comply with the Court's judgment, which, as we know, is not always the case.

A second category of case—by far the largest—is where the Court is asked by a national court of a member State to rule on the validity or interpretation of a provision of the treaties or of secondary legislation made under them. Cases of this type vary greatly in importance, depending on the principle of Community law that is being interpreted.

Last in order of importance, and well down the list, come disputes between the Communities and their officials and staff. These cases are plainly of importance to those concerned, but to us they are important only because a substantial proportion of the time of those eminent judges is occupied in determining disputes which, for example, in this country, would be heard by an industrial tribunal.

With this rather lengthy introduction—I apologise to the House for it—I can now turn to the two documents that we are considering.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (West Lothian)

Some of us who have had experience of the European Assembly were under the impression—it may be a wrong impression—that it was absurd that the European Court of Justice should spend so much time on what we would regard as comparatively trivial disputes which have no business to go to the Court and should be handled by some other authority. Am I wrong about that matter?

The Attorney-General

With respect, the hon. Gentleman, with whom I agree quite often, is absolutely right about this. During the course of my speech I intend to refer to the need to take away from the Court itself, by putting them down to chambers, or to divisions, or in some other way, matters with which it should not be the duty of the senior judges of the European Court of Justice to deal. I should like to hear the views of the House about it. Looking at the figures over the last year, it is incredible to see how much time is taken in dealing with what we call staff cases.

Mr. Dalyell

T hat is right.

The Attorney-General

I warn the House that the figure that I am about to give must be taken with a pinch of salt, because there was an attempt to group cases, but there were 1,163 staff cases out of a total for the whole of the European Court of 1,322. Such cases in this country would never get to the High Court they would be dealt with by an industrial tribunal. They might get to the employment appeal tribunal on appeal, but there would be only a few of them, and they would be simply on points of law.

Mr. Ivan Lawrence (Burton)

Will my right hon. and learned Friend tell us a little about these staff cases? What does he mean by a staff case, and how trivial is it?

The Attorney-General

A staff case is any dispute by those employed by the Commission with their employer, the Commission. They all end up, unfortunately, as having to be dealt with not by the European Court sitting in plenary session but by one of the chambers (or divisions of the European Court. As I indicated, we have to take this with a large pinch of salt, because about 600 cases were grouped together, but 1,163 out of 1,322 cases in 1979 were staff cases.

It is ridiculous that highly qualified senior judges, nominated from the member States, should even in chambers or in divisions—whichever phrase one likes to use—have to spend so much time on matters which in this country would get to our High Court only on appeal on a point of law.

The first document, No. R/2075/78, is a memorandum that the President of the Court sent to the President of the Council in July 1978. In it it was proposed that, to cope with the Court's increasing work load, there should be an immediate increase in the number of judges from 9 to 12, and in the number of advocates-general from four to six. The President also urged that a second legal secretary should be appointed to assist each of the judges and advocates-general, who already had one legal secretary to assist them. In the longer term, the President proposed that from 1984—the date when we might have the three new members of the Community—there should be 17 judges and eight or nine advocates-general. This was justified on the ground that by then Greece, Portugal and Spain would all have acceded to the Communities and that the Court would have assumed additional jurisdictions, such as, for example, the interpretation of the Community patent convention. In passing—I shall give the House greater detail if asked—I think it is not right to expect that that convention will cause a great deal of further work.

These proposals were discussed at a Council of Ministers of Justice in October 1978. The member States were willing to agree to the appointment of a second legal secretary, phased over the following year, but no member State agreed to an increase in the number either of judges or of advocates-general. Instead, the Court was invited to put forward proposals for the amendment of its rules of procedure which would enable more cases to be heard by divisions of the Court—these are called chambers but I think that the translation is not accurate—rather than by the full Court.

The Court's further proposals are contained in the second document, No. 4679/79. Hon. Members will have seen that in this document the Court repeats its previous requests for additional judges and advocates-general and also makes detailed proposals for the amendment of its rules, some of which are concerned with the allocation of a greater number of cases to chambers of the Court, and others of which deal with a number of miscellaneous matters where amendment was desirable. The reason that I do not like the word "chambers" is that in this country to hear something in chambers means hearing it in private. This is an English translation of a French term that would be more accurately described as "divisions" as it is heard in public.

A working party of experts from the member States was set up to examine these proposals and at the same time to examine proposals that this country had put forward to improve certain aspects of the functioning of the Court. That will be found as an annex to the explanatory memorandum to document 4679/79. Between March and June of last year, the expert working party examined the Court's proposals and our own and agreed on suitable amendments to the rules of procedure, which, among other things, would allow a much greater proportion of cases to be heard by a division of the Court.

Under article 188 of the EEC treaty, and parallel provisions of the other two treaties, the Court adopts its own rules of procedure but subject to the prior approval of the Council. The Court was naturally anxious that its amended rules of procedure should be in force by the beginning of the following judicial year—in October of last year.

I took the view that the Select Committee, when it recommended these documents for debate as raising questions of legal and political importance, had in mind the proposals for the enlargement and reorganisation of the Court rather than the amendments to the rules of procedure. I did not feel that the United Kingdom would be justified in withholding its approval of the amendments to the rules and I accordingly agreed to our giving our approval and I so informed the House in a written answer on 26 July. I am glad to have this opportunity of apologising to the House for having agreed to this comparatively minor matter after it had been referred by the Select Committee for debate. I wrote to the Chairman, but the Chairman of the Select Committee was appointed so late that, although I could inform him of what we wished to do, it was not possible to get a final decision in time.

Mr. Dalyell

Although I was a Member of the Scrutiny Committee, I have no right to speak on behalf of my colleagues. However, difficulties tend to arise from time to time. Has the Attorney-General reflected on how these necessarily complicated matters—the Select Committee and the Scurity Committee—should be dealt with?

The Attorney-General

Because there has been a change of Government we have a new Committee, which took an unconscionable time in electing a Chairman. I hope that I have not criticised the Committee too seriously.

Mr. Dalyell

Appointing a Chairman.

The Attorney-General

I am sorry, I meant to say that the Committee took a long time to appoint a Chairman. I wanted to consult the Chairman about that matter and that was done openly and frankly. However, if we had missed the boat in Brussels in June or July it would not have been possible in October to have brought in the new procedure. The new procedure was designed to increase the number of cases heard by the European Court in its divisions.

Since one of the reasons for appointing greater staff was the backlog, and since the appointing of divisions and increasing the work that the divisions can do would have reduced that backlog, I thought it right to do it As far as possible, I consulted the Chairman, but inevitably a delay arose after the change of Administration, between the appointment of the Scrutiny Committee, the Select Committee, and the appointment of the Chairman. There simply was not time to deal with this matter.

Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South)

I am also a member of the Scrutiny Committee. Speaking from memory, I think that there was no delay concerning the appointment of the Chairman of that Committee—my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Mr. Silverman). Will the Attorney-General refresh our memory and tell us whether there was not an undertaking by the Leader of the House that if a member of the Government concerned gave assent prior to a debate the Government would announce it to the House at the earliest opportunity? Will he confirm that, and will he also confirm that the comment that he has just made is the first announcement to the House? Does he also agree that it was not made at the first opportunity? Has it been done before?

The Attorney-General

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will forgive me if I do not get the facts completely accurate, as I am speaking from memory. It was agreed that if the Government of the day were unable to have a debate it would be announced to the House at the earliest opportunity. I did that by a written answer on 26 July 1979, which is reported at column 353 of the Official Report. I set out at some length why that had happended and why I felt that I had to take that action. I hope that the hon. Genleman will accept that that was the first opportunity.

I am not criticising the Committee for not appointing its Chairman, but because of the change of Administration there was a delay. I thought that it was a pressing matter. I took the view, I hope rightly, that what the Scrutiny Committee was concerned about was the increase in staff of judges and advocates-general, but that any measure that would increase the speed of turnover of cases without a pound or a Eurodollar more being spent would not be of concern to the Committee if I approved it. That is what happened.

Mr. Douglas Jay (Battersea, North)

Can the right hon. and learned Gentleman also assure the House that he and, indeed, this Government are not departing from the general undertaking adhered to by all previous Governments since we joined the Community that when the Scrutiny Committee has recommended a particular instrument for debate the Government will not allow a fait accompli to occur in Brussels before that debate?

The Attorney-General

I have no hesitation in reaffirming that undertaking.

In the discussions that I had with the Chairman of the Committee, there simply was not time, as I understand it, to get it done. I took the view—I may be wrong—that the principal matter that was concerning the Scrutiny Committee was the appointment of further judges, as asked for by the Court, and further advocates-general. Unfortunately, in the documents coming from the Court of Justice, the two were indistinguishable. There were the further appointments and also the matters concerning the reorganisation of procedure, which did not involve any expenditure. If I had missed that chance in July—because it had to be decided in Brussels by a certain date—we would have missed a whole year in which I hoped, if we got the measure through, we might reduce the backlog. That is why I did it. On any major issue, I certainly would not override any recommendation from the Scrutiny Committee.

Mr. Peter Archer (Warley, West)

As yet another member of the Scrutiny Committee, I am not implying any criticism of the way that the right hon. and learned Gentleman dealt with the matter, but some of us who are perhaps less assiduous than we should be sometimes miss an occasional written answer. Can he confirm that he drew the attention of the Chairman to the written answer?

The Attorney-General

I cannot say that, but there were a number of telephone calls and a letter to the Chairman of the right hon. and learned Member's Committee in which I explained the urgency. For reasons that he explained, it simply was not possible to get the approval in that limited way in the time available.

I had to take a gamble. I felt that it was a right thing to do. We were not dealing with the principal objections or problems that the Scrutiny Committee saw. The European Court now has three divisions, of three judges out of the nine who are already operating under the new procedure, and I hope that that will reduce the backlog.

If I may return to the proposals for the enlargement of the Court, the Court is not well equipped as a fact-finding body, and that is particularly acutely felt in cases between the Communities and their staff. Discussions have been under way for some time, aimed at setting up a first instance tribunal, from which appeals would lie to the Court only on questions of law. We view that as a very necessary development, but take the view that, unfortunately, it requires a minor amendment to the treaties, with all the delay that that involves.

On other matters, such as appeals from decisions of the Commission in competition cases, the Court has proposed the setting up of a first instance tribunal, but only if the full enlargement that it has requested takes place. That is a development that may be desirable in theory, but, for reasons that I shall explain, it is so unlikely in the foreseeable future that I do not think that I need detain the House further with it.

Returning to the proposals for enlargement, the position at present is somewhat complex. The Court maintains in full the requests that it has made in the documents before the House today, but asserts that there is a particular need for the creation of one more advocate-general post, which would bring the total to five. The Court asserts that now that it functions for the most part in three chambers it can get through a good deal more work, and could get through more still if it were not that in every case there is a requirement for the reasoned submissions of an advocate-general.

Lack of one additional advocate-general is producing something of a bottleneck, according to the Court. This Government are as anxious as anyone that the Court should continue to function smoothly and expeditiously. On the other hand, we have until now opposed the creation of a new advocate-general post. Let me explain why.

It is not just a question of one more officer of the Court. With his two legal secretaries and three additional supporting staff, one extra advocate-general represents an additional annual salary and wages bill of £200,000. That is not a small sum, but if we were convinced that it was necessary expenditure we would reluctantly agree to it. However, at present we remain unconvinced. Each advocate-general has been given a second legal secretary, and, although he must personally remain responsible for the submission that he makes, the additional assistance should considerably increase the number of cases that he can deal with.

Secondly, if there has been a backlog—and I think we must accept that there has—during the latter half of last year, the unfortunate illness of one of the advocates-general for a greater part of this period must have contributed to it. There is power under the treaties to increase the number of advocates-general, but no power to decrease it, and we believe that a permanent increase is not the way to meet a temporary deficiency.

Thirdly, if it is possible to set up a tribunal for staff cases in the near future, taking them away from the European Court, this will also alleviate the work of the Court.

I shall not assume any dogmatic position. One must approach this situation in a flexible manner, and if the need for an additional advocate-general should be established beyond question we shall give our agreement. In any event, the situa- tion will need to be reviewed at the beginning of next year, when Greece enters the EEC, and then again two years after that with the accession of Spain and Portugal.

We will, if necessary, agree to one additional advocate-general, but we are by no means persuaded that increases in the complement of the Court are the right approach to the problems of the mounting work load. The difficulties are likely to recur unless the load itself is lightened.

Mr. David Mellor (Putney)

I am a little confused about two matters relating to work load. The Attorney-General has quoted from figures for the 1979 work load for the Court. Am I right in thinking that, once one subtracts the number of staff cases, there were fewer new cases passed to the Court in 1979, compared with the figures quoted in the document for 1977 and 1978?

Also, I understand that the crucial point governing whether the Court must sit in plenary session is whether it is an institution of the Community or a member Government associated with the action. Can my right hon. Friend give us a breakdown of the number of cases that are not staff, and which must, under the rules, go to the full Court rather than be dealt with in chambers?

The Attorney-General

The rules have been changed, because of my approval last autumn. My hon. Friend is perfectly right. If one deducts the number of staff cases in 1979, the figure was substantially below that for 1978, and about on a par with 1977. In fact, the other highest year was 1973, when again we had a block of staff cases which all went in together.

What is proposed, and is now in effect, as a result of the approval of all the member States last summer, is that the three divisions can sit simultaneously. Inevitably that has increased the turnover as we want.

Mr. Ron Leighton (Newham, North-East)

Am I right in thinking that each of these new creatures will cost us £200,000 and that most of their time will be taken up with pettifoging affairs of staff overtime that would be dealt with by lower tribunals in this country when there are important edicts of which Governments like the French take no notice? What are their holidays? How many hours a week do they work?

The Attorney-General

I am sorry that I cannot give the holidays. I have appeared before the Court. It consists of distinguished and highly qualified judges from the nine member States. There is no doubt that they work extremely hard, as do the four advocates-general, who have a tremendous load. The staff cases, which make up so much of the work, are dealt with in a division or chamber, but that is still an intolerable and impossible load on the Court.

I shall give the House some comparative figures of the amount of work compared with that in our courts. What has to be done is not so much to increase the number of judges or the number of advocates-general. The answer is to be more sensible about the work they do. They should deal with important points of law instead of trivial points of industrial relations or some of the other points referred to them. We are getting quite a long way following the decision that we approved last summer, which means that all three divisions, when sitting, have been able since October to deal with what we could call minor cases though of great importance to the parties. The more important cases, particularly those involving the member States, are reserved for the plenary court and the five-judge divisions.

We are seeking to increase the throughput of the Court so that they are not forced to sit as seven or nine. As a lawyer, I can tell hon. Members that it is ridiculous to have a court of nine or even seven, especially when the court has to give one judgment. The court cannot give seven or nine judgments. It is not like the House of Lords, which can give a three-to-two verdict; it is one judgment. I often wonder, looking at the cases, how one judgment is produced when nine judges are sitting. I consider that five judges are enough in any tribunal.

We will agree, if necessary, to an additional advocate-general, but we are by no means persuaded that it is necessary to increase the number of judges. We have somehow to reduce the load of work of the Court. A further appointment may, in the short term, provide a speedy remedy. In the longer term, there may well be a case for more critical examination of the functions performed by the Court in general and the advocates-general in particular. On the Court's own initiative, an increase in the number of judges has been avoided, for the present at least, by introducing more flexible arrangements in the creation of divisions of the Court.

Not much can be done without the long drawn out and complex processes of treaty amendment. I have not ruled out, perhaps one day, that a more searching examination should be undertaken, which might find that the task currently undertaken by the advocates-general can be reduced or eliminated altogether. Her Majesty's Government at home are committed to reducing public expenditure wherever possible. It seems unfortunate that the principal reaction to an increase in the work load of the European Court should be a request for further judges and advocates-general.

It may surprise the House to hear that the cost of running the Court is considerable. It is well in excess of half the combined cost of the High Court and the Court of Appeal administering civil justice in England. The number of judges in the High Court and the Court of Appeal, including the President of the Family Division, the Master of the Rolls and the Lord Chief Justice, is 96.

Mr. Leighton

Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman agree that there seems to be even more over manning there than in the British Steel Corporation?

The Attorney-General

I shall not be drawn into that subject, but we have our backlogs too, and the cost of the European Court's nine judges and four advocates-general and their staff is more than half the cost of 96 judges here.

Mr. Archer

In fairness, will the right hon. and learned Gentleman say how much of the cost of the European Court represents the cost of translation, which is a major item in the budget?

The Attorney-General

There are problems about translation. In one case the papers in English going before a French advocate-general totalled 2,000 pages. It appeared that it would take the whole of the translation staff of the Court two years to deal with that one case. Fortunately, someone thought of replacing the French advocate-general with an English advocate-general, and that solved the problem.

Advocates-general and judges are treated equally. Each has two legal secretaries and a back-up staff and it seems that the cost is, by comparison with this country, a very great deal.

Mr. Dalyell

Given that the translators need some legal expertise, since otherwise they will make mistakes between chambers and divisions, how many are legally qualified people who are just very good at translating Danish into Greek, and the rest?

The Attorney-General

May I write to the hon. Gentleman? I have no idea of the answer to that question.

Mr. Lawrence

I hope that my right hon. and learned Friend will not mind my further intervention on the question of cost. The explanatory memorandum says that the Court's proposals do not contain any indication of the increase in staff that would result from an enlargement of the Court or of any costings.

My right hon. and learned Friend has told us how much an extra advocate-general would cost, but he said that the proposals will increase the number of judges from nine to 12 and possibly to 17 by 1984 and will increase the number of advocates-general from four to six to probably eight or nine. What is his estimate of the increased cost of those proposals, including the cost of staff? It sounds as though it may make a significant contribution to the £1,000 million that we are hoping to get back from the EEC.

The Attorney-General

I have made inquiries about that matter, because I thought that someone might question it. One of the freaks of the situation is that there must be an odd number of judges, even though there are unlikely to be 15 or 17 sitting together in a plenary session. When it was intended that Norway should be the tenth member of the Community it was agreed that there should be 11 judges. If we increase the number by one, to 10, we shall have to increase to 11 in order to provide an odd number.

The figures of costs for judges and advocates-general are identical, at about £200,000 each. I suggested to my advisers that an increase to 17 judges—virtually a 100 per cent. increase—and from four to six advocates-general would not mean a doubling of the cost, because we already have a building for them. I was told that we would have to provide another building, as there is not enough room in the existing building.

If the figure of 17, which I regard as wildly extravagant, were accepted we would just about double our present expenditure, which, at £12½ million, is more than half the cost of the High Court and the Court of Appeal. We may get on the slippery slope of 17 judges, six advocates-general and £25 million a year when I believe that we should increase the Court's efficiency and take away cases on which it should not have to waste its time. That should be our approach.

It seems that the other member States are very much agreed with us on that. I therefore ask the House to say that we should not agree to an enlargement of the Court unless a genuine need has been established for us to accept.

Mr. Douglas Hogg (Grantham)

Will my right hon. and learned Friend clarify one point? It is obviously desirable that the staff cases be withdrawn from the Court. How likely is it that they will be so withdrawn, when can we reasonably hope for them to be withdrawn, and will it be necessary to rewrite the treaty to permit that to happen?

The Attorney-General

That is a matter that I ought to know. I apologise to my hon. Friend. I think that it means amending the treaty. As he will know, that is a slow business. However, I think that we shall have to do it. It seems quite insane that these highly qualified and very expensive gentlemen should have to spend their time on matters that could be handled by the equivalent of an industrial tribunal. We should leave them to deal with the points of law that arise out of those cases, but they should not have to deal with the ordinary day-to-day detail.

11.27 pm
Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe)

We are very grateful to the Attorney-General for his detailed explanation of the way in which the Court works. In a sense he has spelt out a lot of the problems that we in this House have about the Court. It is very different from the institutions that we are used to. It has the right not just to look at legislation but to tell member States and their legislatures not just that their existing legislation is not acceptable, but that they should change it. The average Briton is not used to that concept.

It is most important that we should be aware of the political implications. When we entered the Community, one of the depressing aspects for many of us was that all of the ramifications of the institutions were not really discussed in adeuate detail by the House of Commons at the time. One of the points that one noticed as a Member of the European Assembly was that the way in which the treaty is drawn means that there are a number of provisions which can be used by the various instiutions gradually to change various important policies, almost by the back door.

For example, article 100 is used by the Commission very frequently to deal with politically sensitive subjects. I am concerned that this particular European Court is growing like Topsy at tremendous speed. The right hon. and learned Gentleman said that it is depressing that these judges should be looking at staff cases. One of the depressing aspects is that some of the staff cases that come before them would be ruled out very early in an industrial tribunal in this country because they would be regarded as vexatious litigation.

It is depressing that there should be this entire panoply of a court with judges sitting and an advocate-general to give a detailed opinion on every one of these cases when, frankly they could be dealt with at great speed, much more efficiently, and in a far better way for the people who suffer from the staff problems. At present any staff case that is referred to the Court is drawn out over a long period, and that simply allows the situation to fester.

From all points of view, the policy that many in the Socialist group in the European Assembly have been pressing for over a number of years is to have a staff tribunal set up as quickly as possible.

I come on to the work of the Court. When, as a Member of the European Assembly, I examined the directives and regulations—particularly the latter, which have the force of law—I was depressed at the numbers of them that were flowing out of the Commission and the speed with which they were being disseminated. I endeavoured over a considerable period with astonishingly little success to get accurate figures of the numbers of regulations and directives in any one six-months period.

I have tried to ensure that we have from the Commission a plain statement of the timetable. The whole purpose of the European Court of Justice is to decide whether a member State, individual or organisation is contravening the treaties. That can be decided only after a directive is in operation. There is a waiting time to allow the nation States to put their legislation in order. There is another waiting time while the Commission examines the machinery before a matter can be referred to the Court. When an issue reaches the Court, there is a weird situation. A number of matters can be referred to the European Court and, because of the way in which cases are dealt with, evidence can be taken and commented on only in a two-months period, even when the point of law is important.

It is obvious that we must examine the whole machinery of the Court. It is not just a question of having a few more advocates-general and judges to make the work load easier. Why cannot the Commission and the European Court devolve some of their work to the courts and legal systems of the nation States? That is where the arguments belong. Our courts should be capable of dealing with disputes without difficulty. That view is held by many people, but so far we have been unable to persuade the Community.

The Attorney-General should ask a number of detailed questions. We have been given a figure relating to cost. However, when one makes appointments to the Community institutions one does not fill that post alone. The need for translators is doubled and the need for interpreters is increased. Much of the work is in French and there is a considerable need for interpreters and translators.

There is a need for a close look at the Court's habit of not publishing dissenting opinion. As a laywoman, I am depressed that a court of such importance, when handing down a decision, does not publish any dissenting opinion. The judges are required to sign a judgment as being that of the European Court and there is no opportunity to know what a dissenting judge feels about a decision. Since there is no appeal beyond the European Court, it is important that there should be a clear statement of the reason for reaching a decision.

Mr. Douglas Hogg

I recognise the value of dissenting judgments, but might they not lead to uncertainty in areas of law where it is important to have absolute certainty?

Mrs. Dunwoody

I have no legal training. I have always done my best to stay out of the hands of lawyers. My experience is that any brush with them is tiring, exhausting and extraordinarily expensive. Of course, I defer to the greater knowledge of the law expressed by the hon. Member for Grantham (Mr. Hogg). However, generally, when a court is adjudicating on an issue which is of concern to nine nations, I believe that the judgments must be clearly stated and that any dissenting judgment should be stated in a way which is available to the ordinary folk of the EEC.

Too much of the Court's work is in camera. I recall a marvelous occasion when my energetic and remarkable hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) succeeded in getting into the European Court of Justice and hearing a detailed case for some time before anybody realised that he was there. That was very useful, because he was listening to a case of considerable importance to his constituency. There should be more opportunity for people to listen to the Court's proceedings.

Mr. Dalyell

I am sorry to correct my hon. Friend, but it was in fact the European Commission on Human Rights. It is a long saga, with which I shall not bore the House.

Mrs. Dunwoody

I apologise to my hon. Friend. I thought that it was the Court of Justice.

The other point that the right hon. and learned Gentleman did not make was that the buildings in Luxembourg connected with the Court grow apace. Many of the hearings take place in buildings devoted to various related subjects. There is continual expansion. As one drives from Luxembourg airport to the Parliament buildings, it is sad to see continual changes in the beautiful woods, where new buildings are constantly being put up. Many of them are connected with the Court. I hope that the right hon. and learned Gentleman will bear that in mind when he talks to the Community about the cost. It is a question not merely of people but of accommodation.

I am very grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman for saying that he wants us to take note of the document but not to agree to the increase unless there is a "genuine need". I have one or two reservations about "genuine need". The right hon. and learned Gentleman's definition might not be the Opposition's. However, it seems clear that he does not intend to allow any more empire building without looking at it extremely closely.

If we consider changing the composition of the Court, I believe that in the final analysis we shall have to consider not only the procedures but the Court's overall effect on the people of this country. We should look not merely at how much it costs but at how effective it is. To create bad laws which cannot be administered brings the law into bad repute. There are one or two classic examples that seem to indicate that the Court is not capable of persuading people to observe its judgments.

Mr. Haugh Dykes (Harrow, East)

The hon. Lady has delivered her usual chauvinistic attack on the Community, this time on the Court of Justice, but is she not being a little unfair? Of all the Court's major pronouncements, at least in recent years, I believe that the number helping this country have very much exceeded any criticisms. Certainly the Court has made a number of important judgments against the other member States to the assistance of this country. I cite, for example, its decision on lamb entering France—we shall see what happens about that—the public supply contracts decision, and so on. Those are examples of the Court's helping this country.

Mrs. Dunwoody

With great respect to the hon. Gentleman, with whom I have been fighting for a number of years on precisely these grounds, he knows that the decision on lamb has not been carried out. He also knows that the decision on public contracts has cost the British Government and this country a fortune, while there are good grounds for believing that very few other members States are complying.

Mr. Dykes

In that case, if the hon. Lady would like to see the Court's judgments enforced, that means strengthening the Court, not weakening it.

Mrs. Dunwoody

As I have explained, I believe that we have a reasonably efficient legal system in this country, which has grown up over many hundreds of years, and it could take a great deal of the work off the back of the European Court and save the taxpayer a certain amount of money. I should have thought that the hon. Gentleman would agree.

Mr. Spearing

The Court's judgment relating to health regulations on milk imports could in the end destroy doorstep delivery in this country. Does not my hon. Friend think that that is an extra power, which it has by law, that we must consider very carefully?

Mrs. Dunwoody

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for reminding me of that. The Miniser of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has said more than once at the Dispatch Box that the advocate-general found for the British. In fact, that is not the case. There is real doubt in this instance, because if our health regulations are to be overridden on the ground that they discriminate on a European basis that will not be in the interests of the British consumer, of children or of those who believe firmly that we must maintain a high standard of health care.

Mr. Dykes


Mrs. Dunwoody

If the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, I shall not give way. We can continue our perpetual argument outside the Chamber. There are other hon. Members who wish to participate in the debate.

We have considerable reservations about the work of the European Court. We believe that it must be examined closely. The enlargement and the changes in procedure offer a good reason for examining closely what is happening. If Her Majesty's Government are prepared to say clearly that it is their intention to use the changes, which I believe must be supported by changes in the treaty, to propose radical changes in the way in which the Court works, they will have the support of the Opposition. If they do not, I foresee a rising tide of criticism of many of the long-drawn-out bureaucratic procedures. We shall want to discuss them again before we agree to any enlargement.

11.42 pm
Mr. David Mellor (Putney)

I welcome the way in which my hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General has dealt with the two Community documents. The documents advance two distinct lines of argument. The first document concerns the essential reforming of the procedures of the Court. The second concerns an application to increase the number of judges and advocates-general. The sad feature of the documents is that they do not recognise that the two factors do not go hand in hand. The enlargement of the Court and the number of advocates-general may be premature if the reforms of the way in which the Court conducts itself are carried through.

I suspect that the way in which the Court has sat has been based not on juridical considerations but on the prestige of the countries concerned. There can be no sound judicial reason why the Court should sit with a minimum of seven judges and a maximum of nine. Plainly the reason owes much more to the distrust by some member States of other member States' judges. I suspect that that is why the Court has persisted in sitting en bloc for so long.

The effect of the changes to which my right hon. and learned Friend gave sanction some months ago is to enable an increased number of cases to be dealt with in a much more logical and sensible way, with teams of three judges sitting together in such a way that three parallel cases may be heard at the same time. As I understand it, article 165 is so entrenched in Community law that it is not possible to alter the sitting of the full Court when a Community institution or member State is a party. Therefore, we shall not see the end of the Court sitting en bloc.

I do not have figures to hand of the number of cases that come before the Court that have a Community institution or a member State as a party, but the effect of the Court in sitting with three judges would be to increase the speed with which it dispatches its business. That must mean that the backlog that has accumulated would be eroded, unless there is compelling evidence that the volume of work passing through the Court will increase. It is clear from the answer that my right hon. and learned Friend gave to my intervention that there is no such evidence.

In the first appendix to document R/2075/78 we have the number of new cases introduced in 1977 and 1978, excluding staff cases. There were 164 in 1977 and 268 in 1978. The latter figure was inflated by 68—namely, the number of cases that were linked, that were on the same point and that could more properly be considered as one matter. The figures for 1979 appear to show that the number of new cases introduced into the Court in that year has reverted to the level of 1977.

If my right hon. and learned Friend is right that the effect of the new European convention will not add materially to the work load of the Court, we do not have a position in which the work load of the Court is growing. If I am right in thinking that only a small proportion of those new cases, pursuant to article 165, involve the necessity for the Court to sit en bloc, the effect of its sitting in groups of three will be radically to reduce the work load. That explodes the whole basis of the second line of argument advanced in the document that there is a real need for the Court to be increased in size.

Whether we are pro-European or anti-European, it is not one of the more endearing features of the Community that it creates so many extremely well-paid jobs. Whatever our ideological point of view, we are right to consider with scepticism proposals that will involve a tremendous increase in Community expenditure. The right approach for the House to adopt is the one that my right hon. and learned Friend has advanced—that the proposals for the changes in the manner that the Court conducts itself are plainly sensible and we give them a wholehearted welcome. Because they are so sensible, and because the manner in which the Court previously conducted itself was conducive to building up the pressure of work and not conducive to the speedy disposal of business, we must see how the new procedure is working before we contemplate any extension of the number of judges and advocates-general.

The second part of the document, the application for increase, is plainly premature. We are right to regard it with scepticism, and I hope that that will be the tenor of the debate.

11.47 pm
Mr. J. Enoch Powell (Down, South)

The House plainly has been relieved to learn that the Government do not intend to consent to the proposal for enlargement of the Court that is the major subject of the documents before the House. I assume that we may take it from that statement that, if in their view at some time circumstances change and they propose to give consent, the matter would, in some form, be brought back to the House, so that the case could be made just as the case has been made this evening in the contrary sense, I think to the satisfaction of the House.

It is pertinent, when the Community comes before us with a proposal to expand and increase the capacity of the Court, that we direct some attention to its functioning; and if the consideration of these documents has done nothing else it has produced the report of a Select Committee of another place which reviews the position of the European Court in the constitution of the EEC as a whole.

That report is salutary reading for anyone who is unaware that to adopt a written constitution—that is what the Treaty of Rome is—which will be applied and interpreted by a supreme court is destructive of and incompatible with parliamentary democracy, or even with the rule of law as we have hitherto understood it in this country. A few quotations from that authoritative report of another place bear that out. Some might have seemed startling if they had been published and available at earlier times when more profound decisions were being taken by the House.

Everyone accepts that it must be the function of the Court to adjudicate upon the application and interpretation of the treaty. That automatically brings with it—and here I quote— review legislation enacted by Member States, including Acts of the United Kingdom Parliament". Therefore, it is within the power of the Court, and necessarily so, to strike down an Act passed by this House, whether before or after our entry into the Community.

The matter by no means stops there. It is the development of the functions of the Court which is of particular importance and interest; for apart from the treaty itself there are further sources of Community law. The Court has deduced from the provisions of the Treaties certain general principles of law which it regards as underlying those provisions". So, the Court, in the style of all supreme courts—this is in the nature of the animal—proposes to make law—to philosophise and then to apply the consequences of its philosophy. For instance, the report continues, it"— that is, the Court— has deduced 'the general principle of equality' from the prohibition in the EEC Treaty on discrimination…Other principles are derived from national legal systems, such as the principles of 'proportionality' and the protection of 'legitimate expectations' which are derived from German law". I commend to the study of hon. Members appendix 2, in which illustrations of the application of principles of German law by the Community's Court are set out. I shall quote only one case, in which the Court held that failure to observe a general principle derived from national sources…would itself be treated as an infringement of the Treaty since the principle formed part of the Community legal order". In the view of our Supreme Court, therefore, it is within the competence of that Court to decide what is the nature of "the Community legal order" and to discover components of that legal order in the law of the various States.

There is yet another role, namely the development of the power of the Court to award damages for harm caused by legislative Acts which it is empowered to annul". That again is a power which the Court is in the course of evolving. I give one further example. It considers that the Community could be liable for legislative action if a 'sufficiently flagrant violation of a superior rule of law for the protection of the individual has occurred' ". Thus the Community's Court is setting itself up to define a superior rule of law and then to apply it not only to the lawmaking institution of the Community—the Council—but to the subordinate legislatures of the component States.

In the light of those evidences of the proceedings of the Court, it can hardly be thought that the report of another place exaggerated when it described the Court not only as having developed a distinctive role in the processes of Community law but as arguably making law as well". The principal point I want to make is that this is not accidental. It is not a special exorbitance on the part of this European Court which could be checked, and which arguably ought to be checked. It is in the very nature of the institution in which this country has temporarily involved itself that, where there is a written constitution, the interpretation of that constitution will lie with a court and not with any legislative or representative body. That court, in interpreting the treaty, like the Supreme Court of the United States in interpreting the constitution of the United States, will evolve its own principles of law, which will not be subject to any control or correction by the legislative bodies either of the Community or, still less, of this country.

It would be difficult to imagine any more drastic conflict with the rule of law as we know it in this country, where the representatives of the people, in Parliament assembled, have the power not merely to make the law and to unmake the law but to correct whatever they regard as wrong interpretations placed upon the existing law by the courts—where, in short, the representatives of the people in Parliament assembled are supreme.

That cannot be so in the Community; and I suppose there could be no more dramatic illustration or proof of the fundamental surrender—although one capable of being recalled—which this House has made by becoming part of the European Community. It was useful that we should be reminded of it, even though the nature of the proposition before us was of a more subordinate character.

11.55 pm
Mr. Douglas Hogg (Grantham)

I rise only to make three points. I begin by expressing my support for two of the points put forward by the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell). I entirely agree with him that if the time comes when it is desirable to increase the number of judges the matter should be brought back to the House. That was a valuable suggestion and I hope that my right hon. and learned Friend, who has charge of these matters, will bear it in mind.

The second area in which I support the right hon. Gentleman is this. The right hon. Gentleman criticised the Court because it makes law. He is right: it does make law. That is the essential characteristic of all courts whose principal duty is to interpret either treaty or statute. I do not find that offensive, but I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman made the point. It is essential that the House should beat in mind that the Court has a legislative role.

The only other point I should like to make is short. I congratulate my right hon. and learned Friend on his approach to this matter. I am sure that he is right when he says that these proposals should be treated with great scepticism. I entirely support what I think is the main thrust of his argument, that we should concentrate on reducing the work load of the Court and upon improving efficiency rather than on increasing the number of judges or personnel. That seems to me to be a wholly sensible approach, and I commend it to the House.

11.58 pm
Mr. Peter Archer (Warley, West)

I sought to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, because I think that I share with the Attorney-General the privilege of being among the few Members of the House who have appeared before the European Court. I begin by echoing the right hon. and learned Gentleman's tribute to the care which that Court addresses to the arguments presented to it and the unfailing courtesy which it always offers to advocates.

I should differ from the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell). One may agree or disagree with any or all of the provisions of the Treaty of Rome, but I see nothing surprising or shocking in the concept of an international tribunal which has power to tell the almighty nation State when it is infringing its international obligations. That will be more and more a factor of international life in the coming years.

Mr. Spearing

My right hon. and learned Friend is perfectly correct with regard to a treaty or an adjudication on truly international matters, but does he not agree that what he has just called international obligations are, in many EEC respects, matters of a close, domestic nature which hitherto would not have been given the appellation "international"?

Mr. Archer

It is true, as my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) has said, that in many respects these days what happens in one country may have a profound effect on the daily lives of people elsewhere. That is why we have international instruments for the protection of human rights, about which he cares deeply. My hon. Friend and I may disagree about a particular provision of the Treaty of Rome, but there does not appear to be anything shocking in having international obligations about what goes on in ordinary domestic life within a nation State.

The European Court of Justice is facing a problem which many other courts have faced from time to time: how to cope with present or potential arrears of work. If a court is unable to cope with that problem, it risks the general loss of confidence of those who litigate there and with it the loss of confidence of the public in the whole legal order. Justice delayed is frequently justice denied, and justice denied, either domestically or internationally, is an invitation to redress people's grievances outside the legal order. Therefore, the matters raised by the Court were proper to be raised.

There are four ways in which we might attempt to deal with that kind of problem. First, we may increase the capacity of the Court by providing that it may meet in two or more chambers or divisions, which may or may not entail an increase in the number of judges.

Secondly, we may seek to limit the jurisdiction of the Court—for example, by providing that other tribunals shall deal with some of what has hitherto been its work.

Thirdly, we may speed up the manner in which cases are dealt with. Of course, procedural innovations in this instance will help only if they reduce the amount of judge time that is spent on a case, because that is the limiting factor.

Fourthly, we may combine the second and third methods and have a kind of screening procedure to ensure that matters which are outside the jurisdiction of the Court or which are obviously nonstarters do not occupy a great deal of time.

We have to adopt at least one of those four suggestions. Of course, we do not necessarily have to adopt all four. However, I do not know of any method that does not fall within one or other of those categories.

The Court has made a number of suggestions in all those categories. First, it has proposed an amendment to article 9 of the rules of procedure so as to permit it to meet in what the Attorney-General has rightly termed divisions rather than chambers. That is already functioning. I hope that we shall welcome that suggestion. It is an innovation for the European Court of Justice; it is not an innovation for many other courts. The Court of Appeal does it regularly. The other place has two appellate committees. The French cour de cassationdoes it as a matter of course. The United States Supreme Court has rejected it as a solution because of the problem of unanimity. But perhaps unanimity can be bought at too high a price.

It does not shock me. I should not be shocked if the Court suggested an amendment to article 165 of the Treaty so that it would not be necessary for the full Court to hear even matter initiated by nation States or by Community institutions. It is not the only amendment to the Treaty that I would welcome, but there are problems about that and perhaps we shall not see it in the immediate future.

As for the second way of dealing with the problem, the Court suggested limiting its jurisdiction by providing that cases involving the hearing of evidence and the deciding of questions of fact should be dealt with by tribunals directed to a particular part of its work—specifically staff cases and, when the patents convention is implemented, patent cases. That seems the most sensible of all these suggestions.

I understand that there was a slight division of opinion in the Select Committee in another place, because there were those who said "Before we have new tribunals, why not try to change the Court's procedures so that, for example, it pays more attention to oral evidence?" I am not so sure that these are alternatives. There is no reason why, when the Court has to decide a question of fact, it should not give more priority to oral evidence. But that will not solve the problem of its work load. For that reason, I hope that we shall see some of these tribunals of first instance coming into existence.

Thirdly, the Court suggested some amendments to its procedure. One amendment that would save judicial time is by ensuring that pleadings should be complete with annexes as soon as they arrive, and that there should be sufficient copies of them to distribute within the Court. That is a very simple suggestion, and it would help very substantially.

There are one or two other procedural suggestions, where I am not sure that they would meet the problem. It does not seem to me to meet the problem of judicial man-hours to ensure that the file is completed at an early stage, and that there are only two months, for example, in which to file observations. We all know that a Government are a fairly unwieldy kind of body. The member State has to learn that the issue exists. It is to obtain the documents or copy documents that the Court will not release. It has to consult the various Departments concerned. It has to consider the observations of those Departments. Possibly it has to have a consultation with the Law Officers and to draft its observations. That one does not appeal to me, particularly as I do not feel that it deals with the problem in any way.

Obviously, it is better for everyone if the precise question is formulated as clearly as possible at an early stage, and for that reason I originally had some sympathy with the suggestion of the Court that not all the domestic courts of the national States should be empowered to submit questions to the Court. I think on reflection that I have altered my mind on that. It seems to me that it would be a great pity if there were two types of domestic law, that relating to the Community and another type, with one type being a matter which can be dealt with only by the superior courts. For that reason, I share the views of the Select Committee.

Finally, the Court proposed a screening process. There is always a danger with a screening process that the litigant feels that he has been turned away from the judgment seat without a full hearing. But it is done in many other courts. The Court of Appeal in this country, in relation to criminal appeals against sentence, does it as a matter of course. When this country accepted article 25 of the European Convention on Human Rights, it was said that the whole work of the Commission would break down beneath the weight of the chips on the shoulder of every screwball in creation. That that did not happen is due partly to the fact that it adopted a screening procedure. I hope that the Attorney-General will recommend that that should be done here.

We live in a world where increasingly activities in one country impinge upon others. Inevitably, that gives rise to disputes. Unless the world is prepared to accept a form of arbitration for its disputes, it will be condemned to a succession of cod wars, trade wars, and probably hotter wars. When international arbitration is ignored or where it is treated with contempt, as it was recently by France in the context that we all know, it does a grave disservice to the whole process of living together. The European Court of Justice is building up an important body of jurisprudence that will help us in that process. Anything that will assist it is to be welcomed.

12.8 am

Mr. Tam Dalyell (West Lothian)

I am a non-lawyer, but I have strong feelings on the issue of staff negotiations, because for four years, for my sins, I was a member of the budget committee and vice-chairman of the budget sub-committee of the European Assembly. The number of staff cases churned up in that organisation is, quite frankly, ludicrous. Many people in Luxembourg, in Brussels and in Strasbourg really love the idea of going to court and all the excitement of it. They absolutely wallow in it. It is a great pastime, and no wonder there were 1,163 cases, because they have given a great deal of pleasure to a great many people. I am not being unduly sarcastic about it, because this is a fact of life.

In these circumstances, what concrete proposals will the Government produce for some kind of tribunal, as has been suggested? It is absurd that many of these cases, which should go near an appeal court only on a point of law and for no other reason, should be dealt with by Lord Mackenzie Stuart and his colleagues. What, therefore, is to be done about it in the form of alternative proposals? I suspect that some of our partners in the Community would be just too thankful if this absurd position were to be changed.

Secondly, reference has been made to a case in which I was involved with the European Commission on Human Rights. I shall not go into the details of that case, although it applies equally to the European Court. There are a number of organisations in this country and abroad that think, possibly rightly, that they can get a great deal of publicity at home by taking something to the European Court.

In the case in which I was involved, a tremendous attack was made in the Court on Scottish teachers concerning the use of the belt. Great analogies were drawn about the Vietnam war, Nazi Germany and so on by an Irish lawyer. However, certain groups in Scotland concerned with civil liberties got the idea that they could make a heck of a lot of running in the press if they went to the European Commission on Human Rights and if they threatened to go to the European Court. There would be headlines everywhere. We must be careful not to allow the Court to be set up as a place where one goes to get publicity and further a cause that is national and not European.

I can give an example of a reduction to the absurd that involves no exaggeration. At that time I was asked several times to take housing matters concerning my local authority to the Court. A petition was made because the drains in Whit burn were unsatisfactory, and it was suggested that that matter should be raised at the European Court. How absurd can one get? That is a laughable instance, but courts can be abused. That is another reason for proceeding very carefully tonight.

Mr. Leighton

I think that the House will agree with the tenor of the Attorney-General's remarks. He seems to find the whole thing unpalatable, particularly the exorbitant cost involved. Will he give us an assurance that he, together with the Government, will not agree to an increase in the number of advocates-general before getting the agreement of the House?

12.12 am
The Attorney-General

I shall deal first with the points made by the hon. Member for Crewe (Mrs. Dunwoody). I am grateful to the House for the support given to the views that I have expressed. I wish to make clear what I have already said about the European Court. I support the speech of the right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West (Mr. Archer), who was Solicitor-General under the previous Labour Government.

We should not treat this as an attack on members of the Court. In many ways they have done a fine job under great pressure. The problems that they face are not of their own making, but they arise because of the treaties. I think we all agree that we should reduce the work load that they face. There are various ways of doing that. The hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) is absolutely right. We must somehow get rid of staff cases. I think that that could be done by a minor amendment to the treaty. However, I warn him that that still involves an amendment to the treaty which naturally involves the agreement of the other member States. I hope that we shall get that agreement, although I do not know what the indications are. It involves such clear common sense that I hope that they will all agree to the amendment. One must reserve to that Court serious points of law for it to decide, as we have done for industrial tribunals within our jurisdiction.

We must also remember that under article 177 of the treaty our court, if it is the ultimate court from which there is no further appeal—such as the House of Lords—and it is a point on interpretation of European law, is bound to refer it to the European Court. Lower courts may do so.

I take the view that it would be much better if matters were referred only by senior courts. It needs a wise decision about whether a matter should be sent to the European Court. I believe that there are occasions when magistrates courts are almost stampeded into doing so.

Secondly, the form of the question that is put to the European Court for its decision requires very careful drafting. Last year we had the first reference from the House of Lords to the European Court, and I am happy to tell the House that the European Court acceded to the argument that I put on behalf of Her Majesty's Government.

It is important that we should persuade, as far as possible, other courts to try to let matters be referred by an appeal court, and then that court can decide whether the matter needs referring. Otherwise, as has been said by a number of hon. Members, unnecessary, trivial cases will be referred.

The form of the question is most important. It should be one that provides for an accurate answer and accurate advice from the European Court.

Mr. Nicholas Baker (Dorset, North)

I should like to say how much I support my right hon. and learned Friend. I have one query on the document produced by the European Court. Quite apart from the proposal already made with regard to setting up an administrative tribunal for staff actions, which we have been discussing exhaustively this evening, the second paragraph on page 3 says that in the Court's opinion it will in the long term be advisable to create a Community Court of First Instance, for certain categories of actions brought by private persons. It does not say what kind of actions it is referring to. I do not know whether my right hon. and learned Friend can clarify that point. I would certainly be concerned at massive extension of the work of the Court of Justice.

The Attorney-General

The Lord Chancellor and I welcome every assistance that is offered on how we can reduce the work load of the Court. One of the things that we have to do is increase its fact-finding capabilities, which is one of the great difficulties of a court of that sort. The Court should be dealing with points of law upon facts that have been found or agreed by another tribunal.

The right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) and other hon. Members asked for an undertaking that I should bring back to this House any future proposals. As before, it may be that we are faced with an alternative or a number of alternatives on which we have to move quickly. Without giving any such undertaking, I believe that it is necessary, as far as is possible within the time scale, that the House should be consulted and given an opportunity to express its views.

Mrs. Dunwoody

With the greatest respect to the right hon. and learned Gentleman, we should like a rather firmer commitment than that. He chose previously to inform the House by way of a written answer, and he has explained why he did that. Frankly, however, that is not good enough in a matter of such magnitude. We would like a firmer commitment that such matters will be brought back to the Floor of the House.

The Attorney-General

I should like to give a firm commitment, but it is quite impossible always to do that, when we may almost be doing some horse dealing about what goes on. [HON. MEMBERS: "Come on".] In those circumstances, it would be necessary for me to reserve the position, although I should like very much to be able to bring such matters back to the House.

Mr. Leighton

Are we to understand that the law of the United Kingdom is now dealt with by horse dealing? Is that the way in which we are to be governed in future?

The Attorney-General

I have nothing further to add. I welcome the support that the House has given me tonight.

Mr. Dalyell

Before the Attorney-General sits down—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bryant Godman Irvine)

Order. The hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) has already addressed the House once.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That this House takes note of Council Documents Nos. R/2075/78 and 4679/79 on reorganisation of the Court of Justice, and considers that any enlargement of the Court should take place only if a genuine need for it is clearly established.

Back to