HC Deb 03 April 1996 vol 275 cc381-3
12. Mr. Whittingdale

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what proposals he has for the reform of the European Court of Justice; and if he will make a statement. [22622]

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. David Davis)

We have set out proposals for changes to the European Court of Justice in "A Partnership of Nations". We will shortly publish a detailed memorandum.

Mr. Whittingdale

I welcome my hon. Friend's proposals as far as they go. While recognising that we need laws to govern the operation of the single market, does he accept that the European Court of Justice is a political body pursuing a federalist agenda? Will he consider introducing legislation such as that proposed by my hon. Friend the Member for Chingford (Mr. Duncan Smith) which is designed specifically to address that problem?

Mr. Davis

My hon. Friend puts his case very well and precisely. The problem relates not just to the European Court but to other European institutions that misuse or abuse treaty articles. The misuse of article 118A on the working time directive was supported recently by the Advocate General of the European Court. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister raised that issue at Turin with the leaders of the other European countries. My hon. Friend may be sure that issues around that nexus will form a central part of our negotiating objective. Alain Juppé, the French Prime Minister, raised the same issue a few weeks ago in a speech in France—so we are not the only ones taking an interest in it.

Mrs. Clwyd

Will the Minister confirm that he is seeking to curb the powers not only of the European Court of Justice but of the European Court of Human Rights, where the United Kingdom has been found guilty of 39 violations of human rights?

Madam Speaker

Order. The question refers to the European Court of Justice. Unless the hon. Lady can relate her question to that topic, I cannot allow her to pursue it. The hon. Lady might like to try again.

Mrs. Clwyd

Is it not simple embarrassment on the part of the British Government that drives them to seek to curb the powers of the courts, because they have been found guilty of violations on more occasions than almost any other country in the European Union? Will the Minister also admit that he is absolutely embarrassed among the European countries because of the United Kingdom position?

Mr. Davis

I will say two things to the hon. Lady. First, in respect of her assertion about the European Court of Justice, my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester, South and Maldon (Mr. Whittingdale) made the point very well. We support a strong European Court of Justice when it interprets and enforces the law and not when it manufactures the law. Secondly, in respect of her comments on human rights, this country has a record second to none on human rights and it is completely untrue to assert, as she did, that this country has lost more cases than any other.

Mr. Jessel

If the European Court of Justice has a built-in duty to promote European union so that it cannot concentrate exclusively on the application of justice within the rule of law, surely it is not, in the traditional sense, a real court of justice and cannot be respected as such.

Mr. Davis

It is our contention that the court is perfectly capable of concentrating on the law, interpreting the law and enforcing the law. It does not have to extend the law, and that is our major point.

Ms Quin

As the Government will need the support of the all the other countries if there is to be any radical change in the workings of the European Court of Justice, will the Minister list those countries that support the Government's aims?

Furthermore, on the working hours directive, is not the Government's case completely undermined by the report that they commissioned which showed a clear link between long working hours and threats to health and safety?

Mr. Davis

I will make two points on that matter. First, we have had no useful thought or input on the European Court of Justice from the Labour party. It has had not one constructive thought. Secondly, when working hours are related to safety—for lorry drivers and factory workers, for example—national legislation exists to protect British workers. That is why we have one of the best records in Europe for health and safety at work.

Mr. Robert G. Hughes

As part of my hon. Friend the Minister's positive and communautaire stance in all his European negotiations, will he seek to move closer to our friends in the Federal Republic of Germany? They seem to have the art of completely ignoring ECJ judgments and getting away with it.

Mr. Davis

In fact, they do not get away with it. The German Federal Republic loses a large number of European Court of Justice cases. That may make it think a little more about the operation of the court.

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