HC Deb 12 February 2004 vol 417 cc1570-1W
Mr. Spring

To ask the Leader of the House to what Treaty he referred to in his letter to Mr. Jonathan Evans MEP of 17 December 2003, in which he stated that the Treaty agreed at the European Council made clear that member states retain control of their natural resources; whether it remains the Government's position that Article III-157 (Section 10: Energy) of the draft Constitution for Europe is unnecessary as all aspects of energy policy are effectively covered elsewhere in the Treaty; whether the Government's concerns on the changing of boundaries of EU competence and the types of measure which will be subject to unanimity have been allayed; and if he will make a statement. [152330]

Mr. Hain

I have written to Jonathan Evans MEP to apologise for an error in my letter of 17 December 2003. No Treaty was agreed at the Inter-Governmental Conference. The Prime Minister did, however, make it clear that good progress had been made in relation to energy matters during negotiations.

An Energy Chapter will bring European competence on energy together in a single legal base. We support the proposal on the basis that it is more transparent than existing legislation. We have, however, consistently set out our concern that any uncertainty about the impact of the Energy Chapter could undermine investment in North sea oil and gas. With that in mind, we proposed a series of amendments to this part of the Treaty with the aim of ensuring that European member states would retain the right to control the exploitation of their natural resources. Maintaining unanimity in relation to tax proposals remains part of the Government's "red line".

We are confident that all our efforts, including work with other member states, will provide a sound basis for future negotiations.