HL Deb 08 March 1995 vol 562 cc266-8

2.46 p.m.

Lord Clinton-Davis asked Her Majesty's Government:

What United Kingdom initiatives concerning the repatriation of powers from the European Union in connection with the Inter-Governmental Conference in 1996 have been canvassed with member states over the previous six months and what has been the result.

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, my right honourable friend the Prime Minister has set out the basis of our approach to the 1996 Inter-Governmental Conference on a number of occasions. We are now considering the details of our approach and will put forward a number of ideas to improve the efficiency and accountability of the European Union in support of British interests.

Lord Clinton-Davis

My Lords, will the noble Baroness indicate whether the reports are correct—apparently supported on 15th January by Mr. Portillo—that the Government seek to enable decisions of the European Court of Justice to be revoked or reviewed by the Council of Ministers on qualified majority voting? Is there any truth in that quite absurd suggestion? It seems completely to contradict the rules relating to the separation of powers.

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

No, my Lords, I do not think so.

Lord Clinton-Davis

My Lords, perhaps the Minister will indicate what her reply means. Is the suggestion being contemplated by the Government? That is what I ask.

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, it is much too early to predict what will be discussed at the IGC. We have not even finished our own internal discussions. Having been a member of a former government, the noble Lord knows full well that until we reach the end of the process I shall not say yea or nay. However, I gave him a clear hint in my first Answer.

Lord Bruce of Donington

My Lords, the Question was whether certain views had been canvassed with other member states and what responses were obtained. To the best of my recollection, the noble Baroness does not appear to have answered that part of the Question. If Ministers have not been involved in canvassing the views of others, can the Minister say whether they have been dealt with at the COREPER level with their own permanent representatives making the appropriate approaches, receiving responses and relaying them to Her Majesty's Government?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, any discussions at the present moment are necessarily tentative. But of course members of the Government—by that, I mean Ministers—are discussing the forthcoming Inter-Governmental Conference with European counterparts. But certainly I cannot comment on the discussions, which have been held in private; and no decisions have been arrived at. I shall be listening to the noble Lord in the debate this afternoon.

Lord Richard

My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware that her negative ambiguity in answering this Question is regarded by some of us on this side of the House as a very positive sign? May I take it that that is the way in which she would wish her Answer to be regarded?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, the noble Lord knows that I always like to be positive with him; but sometimes he causes me to be negative.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch

My Lords, I wonder whether my noble friend the Minister would care to take this opportunity to welcome the European Research Group's recent pamphlet A Europe of Nations, with a foreword by the Prime Minister, which certainly proposes substantial repatriation of powers to the nations of Europe, is supported by 80 centre-Right politicians from across Europe and which can be roughly described as coming from the centre of the Conservative Party?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, as my right honourable friend the Prime Minister stated in his foreword, it is a very good document for debate. Occasionally the authors behind the document may claim more authorship for it than it actually has.

Lord Mishcon

My Lords, will the Minister forgive me if I have become a little confused between the negatives and the positives? In those circumstances, can she positively say that, if any such suggestion were made in regard to the upsetting of the division of powers as was indicated by my noble friend Lord Clinton-Davis, it would be vigorously opposed in principle by the Government?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, the sort of balance of powers to which the noble Lord refers is indeed not so simple and straightforward. If I took a line now, it would be thrown at me for ever more. We are not at the end of our discussions on what will be debated and what will not. I shall take the careful path until we are ready to make a decision.

Lord Beloff

My Lords, will my noble friend agree that, as we have now had a Euro-debate, we could all go home?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, I am sure that some Members would be very willing to accept the noble Lord's offer; but I suspect that one or two others might not. We shall have a debate anyway.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

My Lords, will the noble Baroness agree that the European Court of Justice is more a political court than a court of law, manned by non-lawyers and people who are not skilled in the law? Will she therefore agree that the separation of powers does not really exist?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, first, on a point of information, the European Court of Justice—as I am sure our noble and learned friend Lord Slynn would indicate—is indeed manned by lawyers, not by non-lawyers. We need a strong court to enforce Community rules and obligations; the Community can only work if all member states are held to their obligations. The European Community needs an independent judiciary to adjudicate over disputes and to be the final interpreter of the treaties and the decisions that are adopted under them. Certainly some aspects of the court's jurisprudence may not be to everybody's liking. We are considering what proposals we might make to address the concerns positively in the 1996 IGC.