HL Deb 08 February 1973 vol 338 cc1139-45

3.20 p.m.


My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what directives have been adopted by the European Economic Community Council of Ministers in the last seven weeks on low voltage electrical equipment; agricultural and forestry tractors; dangerous preparations; cables, chains and hooks; non-automatic weighing instruments; length measurements; analysis of textile fibre ternary mixtures; and the biodegradibility of detergents; and what views have been expressed and what action is to be taken by the United Kingdom Government on these Directives.


My Lords, may I apologise for the length of this Answer, but it is intended to be helpful. All the topics mentioned by the noble Lord are covered by twelve directives. These were approved by the Council of Ministers at their meeting in Brussels on December 19, 1972. As the list is rather long, I will, with permission, arrange for it to be published in the OFFICIAL REPORT. Her Majesty's Government were consulted while these directives were still in draft and concurred in them. In some of them amendments were made to meet us. When the Directives have been fully implemented they will remove technical barriers over a wide area of trade within the Community.

These twelve directives will be formally adopted as soon as they have been translated into all the official languages of the Community, and will then be published in the Official Journal. Copies will be placed in the Library. For the most part, these Directives will come into force 18 months after their date of publication—that is to say, in the second half of 1974. However, in some cases it has been agreed that the date of application in the United Kingdom will be delayed for further periods. Directives of this type do not apply directly within the countries of the Community, but are addressed to the member States, who are responsible for taking such action as may be required to implement them within their territories. The Government are still studying what action, if any, will need to be taken to implement each of them.

In most cases the directives merely oblige the member States not to put obstacles in the way of the sale of goods which conform to the specifications laid down. Such legislative action as is needed can probably be taken by subordinate legislation within the ambit of existing law. To meet some of the requirements administrative action by the Government will suffice. An important example will be to nominate British testing and certifying organisations. Where British made products covered by the directives are certified to conform with the requirements laid down, they will have to be accepted by the other member States of the Community without further testing.

Following is the List referred to in Lord Drumalbyn's Answer:


  1. 1. Electrical equipment designed for use within certain voltage limits.
  2. 2. Non-automatic weighing machines.
  3. 3. Measures of length.
  4. 4. Analasis of ternary textile mixtures.
  5. 1141
  6. 5. Classification, packaging and labelling of dangerous substances.
  7. 6. Classification, packaging and labelling of dangerous preparations (solvents).
  8. 7. Certification and marking of wire ropes, chains and hooks.
  9. 8. Agricultural tractors—type approval.
  10. 9. Agricultural tractors—maximum design speed and load platforms.
  11. 10. Agricultural tractors—certain elements and characteristics.
  12. 11. Detergents.
  13. 12. Biodegradability of anionic surface-active agents.

The above directives come into force 18 months after they are formally adopted except that for the following items the period is extended for the United Kingdom as follows:

Item 2, 5 years.

Items 5 and 6, 3 years.


My Lords, I am genuinely grateful to the noble Lord for that information, but is he aware that I was not concerned so much with the merits of the individual directives as with the mechanics involved here? I feel it is important that we should know what is happening. Do I understand the noble Lord aright when he says that there have not been as yet any conversations or discussions with the trading interests involved and that there will be no opportunity for amending the directives, now that they have been adopted by the Council of Ministers? Is there any mechanism at all within the United Kingdom Parliament for considering these directives before they are adopted by the Council?


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for what he has said. With regard to the discussion with the trade interests concerned, these interests were fully consulted and were glad to have these directives. As to amendment now, I do not think the noble Lord quite understood what I said in my Answer. These proposals were amended before they were approved, and in some cases the amendments were made to meet points that we had raised. They cannot be amended now, except in the sense that they have to be adjusted as between the different official languages so that they mean exactly the same in all the languages. So far as consideration in this House is concerned, now that they have reached the stage of approval, the next thing is for them to be formally adopted by the Council. When that has been done it will be possible to consider them in this House. The noble Lord will be aware of course that the Select Committee was only set up on December 20, which was the day after these directives were approved, and therefore there was no possibility of using whatever procedures the Select Committee may recommend in order to deal with these particular directives.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord whether he is aware that many of us appreciate very much the co-operation and kindness that we received from our delegation to the Community prior to our accession. May I also ask the noble Lord, in the matter of mechanics, since the subjects which are embodied in this Question and which will be in other directives which may follow are always preceded by draft directives, whether he is satisfied that adequate publicity is given to submissions which may be made by our own representatives before those draft directives are transmitted from the Commission to the Council of Ministers?


My Lords, I think we have to divide this particular case from future cases. As I have said, in this particular case the relevant interests were consulted—and I am grateful to the noble Lord for the tribute which he has paid to our representatives in Brussels. In so far as was possible, amendments were made to the proposals to meet the very points that were put up by the business interests. As I have said, when the whole process is complete these directives will be published in the Official Journal, and copies will be in the Library. For the future, we shall know of any proposals and the manner of their publication to Parliament is exactly what the Select Committee is considering.


My Lords, can the noble Lord say, following that statement, whether these directives are not yet available in the Official Journal, at any rate in English, to this Parliament?


My Lords, that is the position. I believe that they were originally agreed in French and that they have subsequently to be translated into the several official languages. The noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, shakes his head, but he will remember that there were at this time special circumstances in the European Community which made the handling of these directives rather difficult from the staff point of view.


My Lords, clearly we shall have to read rather more carefully what the noble Lord has said. But is he aware that he appears to be departing a little from Article 100 of the Treaty of Rome when he says that amendments can be made to these directives before they are approved? Is it not a fact that they have already been adopted by the Council of Ministers; that if there are amendments, they were made entirely within the ambit of the Commission itself, and that by the time they get to any Parliamentary processes, if at all, it will not be possible to amend them.


My Lords, I am trying to make clear a special position as opposed to the general position. The special position in this case was that the discussion took place and the drafting was done in one language only. It has to be seen whether what was done in that language represented a real agreement by all the parties concerned. It may be that some minor language adjustments will be needed to represent the consensus that was arrived at.


My Lords, would the noble Lord not agree that, leaving aside the question whether the language in which they were drafted was English or Esperanto, the fundamental principle of the corporate State has been adhered to; that is to say, the special interests have been consulted and they have been given an opportunity to amend, but the general public will not be consulted: they can take it or leave it, and nobody can do anything about it?


My Lords, again I must say to the noble Lord, with respect, that this was a situation which arose before we actually joined the E.E.C. Now that we have joined the E.E.C. we have to see how the proposals can receive publicity and the public can know about them before they are adopted by the Council of Ministers.


My Lords, can the noble Lord say, if these Directives are formally adopted by the Commission and referred to the United Kingdom Government, and the United Kingdom Government for some reason—probably a valid reason—refuse to implement them, what kind of penalties are likely to be imposed? Will there be fines, or is there danger of Ministers being sent to prison? Can we be enlightened on this matter?


My Lords, Article 189 of the Treaty says that directives are binding as to the result to be achieved upon each Member State to which they are directed, but that they shall leave to the national authorities the choice of form or methods of implementation. But each of the national authorities is obliged of course to carry out its obligations, and there is no reason to suppose that this country will not do so.


My Lords, in view of the answer he has given to me, might I ask the noble Lord whether he recalls the assurances so frequently furnished to your Lordships' House by his noble Leader when we were debating these matters, that Parliament would—I use the language used by the noble Earl—retain control over matters of this sort? How does the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, reconcile what he has just said with the statement made by his noble friend?


My Lords, the Government do retain control, and the duty of the Government, when notified of these Directives, is where necessary to transform them into suitable legislation for this country.


My Lords, may I say that those Parties who send delegates to the European Parliament can always submit Amendments to draft proposals at any time until the Directives are passed by the Council of Ministers?


My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for that intervention but, with great respect. I was really being asked about the mechanics, and I did not really like to term this subject "mechanics".


My Lords, the noble Lord refers to Article 189 relating to the form and methods by which Amendments may be enforced. Are Her Majesty's Government going to make a Statement as to the forms and methods to be used here in order to enforce directives?


My Lords, I think that when the noble Lord has had time to study the Answer I have given he will see that that matter is included in the Answer. The Government will have to study these matters as soon as they are notified after formal adoption by the Council.


My Lords, I apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, I think the House recognises that he and I have rather different views on our entry into the European Community; but I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, and the House as a whole, will agree that from the point of view of our Parliamentary procedures we have probably had sufficient debate on this important topic, more especially since a Select Committee, under the chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Maybray-King, is looking into this particular area. I would therefore suggest to your Lordships that we should now move on, at 3.32½ p.m. to our next Question.