HC Deb 28 October 1992 vol 212 cc1009-10
17. Mr. Gill

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what definition of the word subsidiarity he uses in the context of the Maastricht treaty.

Mr. Hurd

The treaty states that the Community should take action only if and in so far as the objectives of the proposed action cannot be sufficiently achieved by member states Nor should any action by the Community go beyond what is necessary to achieve the objectives of the treaty.

Mr. Gill

I am grateful for that answer. I first asked for a definition of subsidiarity in this House in April 1990 when it was just a mote in someone's eye. Why two and a half years later, has that question still not been satisfactorily answered? How can the Government come back to the House with the Maastricht treaty, which relies so much on the definition of subsidiarity, when the definition is still unclear? Is it not great arrogance on the part of the Government to bring back the treaty before that matter has been finally resolved?

Mr. Hurd

My hon. Friend may well be a pioneer in asking that question—if so, I congratulate him—but he must have had a similar answer over and over again. The answer is the one in the treaty and I answered detailed questions about it the other day in the Scrutiny Committee. I am not sure whether I satisfied all hon. Members—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."] but we had a good discussion on the matter. What is new since my hon. Friend started to ask the question—indeed, new in the past few months—is that the Commission, the Council of Ministers and, I hope, the European Parliament, to which I spoke yesterday, are all setting in hand measures to apply the principle from now on. If my hon. Friend looks at the way in which Community legislation is now being prepared by the Commission, at the sharp drop in the number of proposals, at the proposals made by the President of the Commission to change the way in which the Commission looks at these matters, and at the Government's decision to put an explanation of subsidiarity into every explanatory memorandum that we send to the Scrutiny Committee, he will see that the principle is beginning to work. it will be a long time before I can convince him—I readily understand that—but it is beginning to happen.

Mr. Ieuan Wyn Jones

The Foreign Secretary will be aware that to the Government subsidiarity means that decisions are taken at two levels—at European level and at the level of this Parliament—whereas to the Germans it means decision taking at three levels—European level, German level and Lander level. Whose definition is the right one?

Mr. Hurd

That point was discussed and cleared up at Birmingham. The Birmingham declaration clearly states that the arrangements within each member state are for each member state to decide.

Mr. Lester

Would it not be helpful to my right hon. Friend if the many colleagues who ask questions of great complexity about subsidiarity, the various regulations and so on would simply say what they genuinely are—anti-European—and that whatever answer they get they will remain so?

Mr. Hurd

There are different concepts of Europe. My worry about the people who are basically opposed to our membership of the Community is that they close their eyes to what is actually happening and to the way in which the Community is beginning, albeit slowly, to move in the direction that we have advocated. They close their eyes to that because of their conviction that everything coming out of the Community has to be treated in a sour and hostile way.

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