HL Deb 18 January 1994 vol 551 cc455-7

3.10 p.m.

Lord Bruce of Donington asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they will publish the proposals to which the Foreign Secretary referred in a signed feature in the Sunday Times of 2nd January 1994, where he stated that "last month the Commission proposed cuts affecting some 25 per cent. of existing EC legislation"; and what is their view of those proposals.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Chalker of Wallasey)

My Lords, the proposed cuts were referred to in the Commission's subsidiarity report to the Brussels European Council in December 1993. A copy of the report has been made available to the House and can also be obtained through HMSO. We welcome the Commission's proposals.

Lord Bruce of Donington

My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware that I hold a copy of that report in my hand, and have read it? Is she further aware that this particular document contains the greatest amount of waffle on the subject—to use the Prime Minister's term—that has ever been inflicted on the Community; and that there are no specific proposals whatever contained in it, merely a mass of generalities which are mainly useless?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, I would never expect the noble Lord to come to this Chamber without an EC report somewhere about his person. I must say that, like many noble Lords, I find some documents that emanate from Brussels exceedingly wordy. Wordy they may be, but the point is that by going through the legislation the 25 per cent. figure which is found on page 8 of the Commission's report shows that some legislation will be repealed completely; some will be replaced by a smaller number of simpler measures. If we are to pursue what was a success for the United Kingdom, then we must make sure, together with our partners, that subsidiarity works—the EC not acting in some areas and acting as lightly as possible where there is a case for EC legislation. The report reflects both cases, and I hope that we shall continue to have the same success as we have already had with the first 16 out of 24 items on the Anglo-French list.

Lord Tugendhat

My Lords, will my noble friend agree that while every effort must be made to encourage the Commission down the road of this Question, the best thing that could be done to reduce the volume of legislation in the Community would be to persuade the governments of member states—that even sometimes includes our own—not to press for legislation in areas where it is not absolutely necessary?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, I entirely agree with my noble friend, who has great experience in these matters. I believe that there are many areas which we shall be able to reduce in terms of directives and simplify in terms of others. I can assure the House that the Government intend to see that that is done.

Lord Richard

My Lords, can the Minister confirm two points? First, are the Government satisfied that the Commission is taking this exercise seriously? Secondly, will she confirm that in the Government's view the Commission's efforts so far deserve commendation rather than condemnation?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, I certainly commend the Commission for the work that has been done so far. But I have learnt in this House never to be satisfied with anything. That lays one open immediately to the accusation that one is perhaps being self-satisfied about the matter. Therefore we shall make sure that we continue to monitor and to find new areas where the subsidiarity rule must apply which just might not have been discovered in Brussels.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil

My Lords, is my noble friend aware how pleased I was to hear her answer to my noble friend Lord Tugendhat? Is she further aware that if she could possibly communicate some of the sentiments contained in that answer to a number of her noble friends with a view to some legislative economy here, it would be very welcome indeed?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, my noble friend puts the case very well. But given that a number of my noble friends are with me in the Chamber today, I am sure that they will note what my other noble friend has just said.

Lord Bruce of Donington

My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware that, although she quoted from the Commission's document to the extent of agreeing that it contained the phrase "25 per cent. of existing EC legislation", she herself did not offer any opinion as to whether that observation was correct? Is she satisfied that on the basis of this document the Commission's existing proposals will affect some 25 per cent. of the existing legislation? Is she further aware that as long ago as 24th September 1992 the Prime Minister himself promised to give specific examples of where legislation would be repealed in the light of subsidiarity? There emerged at Copenhagen some seven proposals. How many have emerged in specific terms in the document to which she has referred?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, the document does not go through the specific cases, but I am sure that the noble Lord is already aware that a fisheries directive has been amended on subsidiarity grounds—perhaps not as much as we would like, but it has nevertheless been amended. We have had a check done on the 25 per cent. estimate from the Commission and find it accurate. That has been done not by looking at the numbers of legislative Acts but by counting the number of pages of legislation, so that we are sure that we are reducing legislation as a whole, as my noble friend Lord Peyton requested just now.