HC Deb 29 November 1989 vol 162 cc710-2
14. Mr. Teddy Taylor

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will publish a table showing the areas of legislative decision making over which the European Economic Community has no competence following the implementing of the Single European Act and the European Court decisions which have clarified its scope of operation.

Mr. Maude

The treaty of Rome, as amended by the Single European Act, lays down the areas of activity for which there is Community competence. All other matters fall to member states.

Mr. Taylor

Would it not help if the Government published a table showing which laws we can still pass in this House in a democratic manner? Does it not worry him that so many laws affecting the people of Britain are made in Brussels, where direct democracy is a sick joke? In view of the rising tide of concern, at least on the Conservative Benches, about some of the recent activities of the EEC, will the Government agree at least not to close the door on the sensible proposal advanced by President Mitterrand and others that Britain should consider rejoining the European Free Trade Association so that we could trade freely without all the Socialist nonsense being applied by Brussels?

Mr. Maude

I do not think that that is really what was being suggested. In any event, I cannot go along with my hon. Friend's suggestion that that would be a suitable way for us to proceed. Our role should be to play a central part in the development of the European Community. We have become increasingly influential in the discussions that have taken place and in shaping the way in which the European Community develops, and our priority should be to work hard to ensure that that happens.

My hon. Friend suggested that we should provide a list of matters which still fall to domestic competence, but surely that is the wrong way round. The Single European Act and the treaty of Rome set out explicitly those matters in which member states agreed that there should be Community competence. Everything else remains for the domestic Governments of member states. We shall watch extremely closely to ensure that Community competence is not extended in a way that is not justified by the treaty. We shall challenge when appropriate in the European Court and argue our case as we have always done successfully in the past.

Dr. Godman

Does the Minister agree that the recent interim injunction issued by the president of the European Court of Justice that led to the Government amending the Merchant Shipping Act 1988 plainly demonstrates the power of the European Court and the Commission over national legislatures and national legislation? What steps are the Government taking to avoid a repetition of such a decision?

Mr. Maude

The hon. Gentleman will know that we argued strongly against that interim judgment—I stress that it is an interim judgment—but we believe in the rule of law and if a court adjudicates so as to require us to follow its direction, we shall do so. It seems slightly at odds with the hon. Gentleman's contention that the party that he supports is concerned that we should sign up to a social charter which would encourage the imposition on us by Brussels of matters which are properly for this Parliament to decide.

Mr. Colvin

I accept that the so-called Sinatra doctrine is the wrong strategy for east-west relations, but does my hon. Friend accept that it would form a very good basis for our attitude towards the social charter?

Mr. Maude

We take rather seriously a proposition espoused by other member states and by the president of the European Commission. I refer to the principle of subsidiarity, which says that member states should do what they can—[interruption.]

Dr. Godman

We cannot hear a word.

Mr. Maude

I will say it again for the hon. Gentleman's benefit. The European Community should carry out only those functions which cannot properly be carried out by member states. I wish that Opposition Members would follow the same practice.

Mr. Teddy Taylor

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I wish to give notice that, owing to the Minister's unsatisfactory reply, I propose to raise the matter on the Adjournment.

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