HC Deb 16 March 2000 vol 346 cc501-2
29. Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York)

What discussions he has held with the European Commission on matters relating to European Community law. [113401]

The Solicitor-General

I have held no discussions with the European Commission on matters relating to European Community law. However, Government Departments have regular discussions with the Commission on such matters, and I am aware of those discussions. In particular cases, I am asked for legal advice in relation to them. I have also been involved in litigation before the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg.

Miss McIntosh

I thank the Solicitor-General for that reply. In the context of the intergovernmental conference negotiations, can he give the House an undertaking that criminal law will not form part of the competence of the EU and will remain the jurisdiction and preserve of the national legal systems of England, Wales and Scotland?

The Solicitor-General

Criminal law falls within the competence of member states and will continue to do so. There is scope for co-operation between prosecuting agencies and we have said that we will further that. However, in relation to the wider issue, criminal law remains—as far as we are concerned—a matter for individual states.

Mr. John Burnett (Torridge and West Devon)

Does the Solicitor-General have discussions with the European Commission on matters such as legal procedure? Does he believe that cases such as the European Commission v. France, on the ban on British beef, take far too long to resolve? Does he believe that any damages from such proceedings should accrue to those who have suffered—in that case, the hard-pressed British farmer?

The Solicitor-General

There is a case for the procedure of the European Court of Justice to be more flexible and, at present, there is a considerable backlog. On the particular issue of beef, the approach of my right hon. and hon. Friends in the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food was right, and I would have thought that the hon. Gentleman would know from experience that it is better to try to effect a non-legal solution than a legal solution. However, the non-legal solution failed, so the Commission began proceedings. We believe that it has a watertight case because freedom of movement is a fundamental aspect of the treaty, and in that sphere member states have no competence because the European Union has taken measures that pre-empt that competence. I assure the hon. Gentleman that my right hon. and hon. Friends acted impeccably in the matter.

Mr. Nick Hawkins (Surrey Heath)

Does the Solicitor-General recognise that his answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Vale of York (Miss McIntosh), in which he said that he had no such meetings or discussions, will be greeted with astonishment well beyond the House? Does he recognise that that is indicative of the supine attitude that the Government have adopted to every pronouncement of Mr. Prodi, Commissioner Kinnock and their ilk? If the Government will not stand up for British sovereignty in beating off the attempt to impose Napoleonic law and corpus iuris, the Opposition must do it, and we shall wish to put pressure on the Commission. I hope that the Solicitor-General will recognise that we will continue to press him and his colleagues and ensure that they are encouraged to fight for Britain.

The Solicitor-General

I am sure that the European Commission will be quaking in its boots after that. I have set out the position clearly. Discussions continue day to day, but they are the responsibility of the policy departments to which we provide legal advice.