HL Deb 15 July 1994 vol 556 cc2084-6

11.16 a.m.

Lord Bruce of Donington asked Her Majesty's Government:

What European legislation applicable to the United Kingdom has been revised or withdrawn in accordance with proposals made since 12th December 1992 on the basis of the European Council statement on subsidiarity.

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

My Lords, the Commission has revised or withdrawn most of the proposals identified in the Anglo-French subsidiarity list submitted last year and a number of those in a separate German list. Most importantly, the principle of subsidiarity is now being applied systematically to all new proposals.

Lord Bruce of Donington

My Lords, I am most grateful to the Minister for her reply. However, is she aware that my Question asked not about proposals but about legislation? Is the noble Baroness also aware that, at the conclusion of the Edinburgh conference in December 1992, the Commission itself set out a list of those matters which were already legislated for—or already enshrined in regulations, decisions or directives —and that it intended to update and, where they were obsolete, to withdraw them? My Question is directed to those matters and not towards proposals, although I am bound to say that on the basis of the recent determination about the importation of toys from China, which are permitted so long as they are human-like, some kind of confusion seems to have emerged.

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, perhaps I may refer the noble Lord, Lord Bruce, to the Commission's interim report to the European Council in which it dealt with future legislation on the one hand and recommended, more extensive recourse to White Papers and Green Papers to canvass the views of all the interests concerned"— I shall not continue with the long quote—while, on the other hand, it reviewed the situation as regards existing legislation and pending proposals. It showed that the Commission on 10th January 1994, following up the Edinburgh initiative and the Franco-British document, had formally notified a withdrawal of 10 proposals. It was then suggested that the Commission looked at others, but it has also started the complete exercise of recasting existing legislation on the Customs Union, the right of residence, Pharmaceuticals, competition, trade mechanisms, and so on. What is interesting about the Customs legislation is that 75 instruments have been replaced with just two regulations. If we can continue with that sort of progress, we shall be doing well.

Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone

My Lords, will my noble friend the Minister either confirm or correct my impression that, despite the need for both the Commission and the Council of Ministers to invigilate the legislation coming, proposed and existing, it is ultimately a matter for the European Court of Justice to police it? Is that not a most important function which ought to be closely inspected?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, my noble and learned friend is absolutely right but we want the court to have less to police. I believe that having now gone from 185 proposals in 1990 down to just 75 in 1993, and 25 new proposals for primary legislation in the first five months of this year, the court will have less to police and therefore will be more able to do the job as speedily as possible.

Lord Richard

My Lords, is the Minister aware that we on this side of the House think that the Prime Minister deserves congratulations on his diplomatic skills in having vetoed for the presidency of the Commission a Right-wing Benelux Prime Minister with federalist leanings who supports the social chapter and is backed by Chancellor Kohl, thereby preserving the presidency of the Commission for a Right-wing Benelux Prime Minister with federalist leanings who supports the social chapter and is also backed by Chancellor Kohl? Are we to expect any more diplomatic triumphs of this sort in future?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, the noble Lord's question, funny as he and his colleagues may think it is, has—not for the first time—absolutely nothing to do with the Question on the Order Paper. It is a pity that he does not have it within his heart to congratulate the Prime Minister on what he has done on subsidiarity, as his noble friend Lord Bruce of Donington has done.

Lord Monson

My Lords, does not the noble Baroness agree that the real test as to whether subsidiarity, so far as important matters are concerned, is genuine or a sham will be whether decisions about the quality of drinking water are returned to national parliaments? Does she not agree that unlike, for example, pollution of the seas and the skies, drinking water is a purely internal matter in every sense of the term, with no cross-border ramifications?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, I would say to the noble Lord, Lord Monson, that that seems a sensible suggestion to me.

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, now that we have returned to the original Question, may I ask my noble friend first of all to expand a little on the Anglo-French and German lists that she mentioned in her original Answer and to confirm or to deny that other lists are in the pipeline? Is it possible to publish the agreed list in the Official Report?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, I know that official level talks are going on about further co-operation and indeed perhaps other lists, but I do not think that we will get very far if every idea is published when some of it may not have any possibility of succeeding. However, I shall look into what my noble friend said because we want to get as many of the existing instruments reviewed, replaced or withdrawn wherever possible and make sure that proposals are kept to an absolute minimum in the future.

Lord Bruce of Donington

My Lords, with regard to the Question I put to the noble Baroness originally, is it not quite obvious that the Commission has done nothing at all to revise or to update the legislation which was referred to in the document issued by the European presidency at Edinburgh? Is it not equally clear that it is even making further regulations such as, for example, a European Union visa?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, I think the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, is not quite right here. I look at these matters with great care as he knows, and I see considerable progress being made:. Some of the issues that have already been dealt with —I described the customs union and others—are clear, but there are others which are interliaked with a lot of other legislation. That is one of the reasons why this is not happening quite as fast as either the noble Lord or I would like. However, I can assure your Lordships that we in the British Government will keep up the pressure on the European Commission. I believe we need to give credit where it is due and we should not dismiss the fact that a lot of work is going on in preparation for the Essen European Council and it will be at that council, as it was at Corfu, that we will see further progress being made. I refer the noble Lord to page two of the Corfu European Council conclusions which refer to this matter.