§ Mr. Boswell
To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Science what action the Government propose to take in the light of the European Council's decision by majority vote to adopt a second phase of the COMETT program on the basis of article 128 of the European Community Treaty alone.
As reported by my right hon. Friend, the Minister of State for Employment in his statement to the 207W House on 22 December 1988 at columns 468–79, the second phase of the community action programme in education and training for technology was agreed by a majority vote at the Labour and Social Affairs Council on 16 December 1988, with a budget of £130 million over the five years 1 January 1990 to 31 December 1994.
COMETT is a potentially useful programme, but the Government consider that the legal base on which the second phase was adopted to be inadequate. The original COMETT programme was adopted on the basis of article 128 and article 235 of the Treaty of Rome. Article 235 requires unanimity for the adoption of a decision while article 128 requires a simple majority only. COMETT II was brought forward for decision on the basis of article 128 alone. In the Government's view, and that of a number of other member states, article 128 alone cannot properly be used as a basis for a decision including detailed implementing measures for spending programmes over several years. The United Kingdom was unable to secure a more appropriate legal base and therefore had to vote against the proposal. It is now preparing to institute formal proceedings against the Council in the European Court of Justice to have the decision annulled. The United Kingdom will, however, stand ready to discuss the adoption of a second phase of the COMETT programme on an appropriate legal base.
Preparation for the implementation of the decision will continue while the case is before the court. Pending the decision of the court, the United Kingdom will co-operate fully with the Commission in the implementation of the programme.