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Column 967the roads. His predecessor said that he would make strong representations on the matter, and I trust that they have borne fruit. Perhaps the Minister will confirm that later.
The objectives of the documents are desirable, although the means of achieving them are somewhat contentious, and that has taken up much of the debate. However, having signed and voted for the Single European Act, there is little we can do to unscramble some of these matters. The element of common sense should, perhaps, be applied here.
One of our problems is the need to strengthen the European Parliament. We receive many directives, like tablets of stone, from the Commission, which we are supposed to follow to the letter. If the European Parliament were stronger, it might have more impact on the Commission and be able to bring about some reforms in that respect. Mr. Cash rose--
Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North) : The hon. Gentleman seems to have stirred up a hornets' nest. Will he remind the House when it was explained to the House, how it was explained to the House and how clear it was to him at the time that the Single European Act meant that transport policy would be totally within the competence of the European Community and that it would be totally within the competence of the European Community on the basis of majority voting? I was here all the time and it never occurred to me.
Mr. Livsey : As I understand it, transport was one of the points incorporated in the treaty of Rome. That is now history. We are involved in a rather academic debate about it now. We are confronted this evening with documents that the Commission wishes to implement.
Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South) : The hon. Gentleman is perfectly correct in saying that the Single European Act did not particularly affect the issues we are discussing. However, is he aware that, neither under the Single European Act nor previously, would these matters have gone for a second round to the European Parliament after the initial opinion? Is he therefore advocating that they should do and that many other issues should do? In that case, what is he expected to be doing here?
Mr. Livsey : The hon. Gentleman must recognise that we are set on a path to greater European integration. That will undoubtedly take some time, and it is taking a long time already. Some Europeans believe that we are not moving fast enough and there are a variety of views in the House on the topic. However, we should get back to the documents.
The objective of reducing deaths on the roads of Europe is laudable. The figure for those injured--other hon. Members have mentioned a figure of 1.6 million--is enormous and the number of injuries in a single year on the roads of Europe equates with figures for the second world war. When 50,000 people a year die, it is equivalent to wiping out a town the size of Hereford or Merthyr Tydfil, for example, every year. It is a serious problem, and we should not sell ourselves short in wishing to improve matters. I know that the Government are attempting to improve matters. Britain's record on road safety and road deaths is extremely good, but that does not mean that there is no room for improvement in future. I would certainly support
Column 968measures to achieve improvement. Successive Governments have introduced measures to reduce the number of road deaths. We are somewhat ahead of other Community countries in that respect. We must consider each item on its merits. Stringent tyre tread depths have been implemented in Europe, and that will help road safety in this country. It is difficult to achieve the harmonisation of speeds, because there are different road conditions in this country. It is highly desirable to reduce the alcohol limit--50 ml per litre of blood is a controversial figure, but, none the less, it is a move in the right direction. To achieve adequate road safety, no driver should drink at all.
Many crocodile tears have been shed about Europe's powers, but, whether or not we like them, they exist. We must try to see the matter through in the best possible way.
We must examine road safety and related matters in greater detail. I refer in particular to speed, in relation to which it is more difficult to achieve harmonisation.
Mr. Bowen Wells (Hertford and Stortford) : Hon. Members are, or should be, dealing with a common-sense matter--the way to reduce deaths and injuries on our roads. The Commission should proceed in the time-honoured and traditional manner in which many European states have constitutionally proceeded, and that is to devolve this type of decision-making to national Governments, local governments and other authorities. These matters concern culture, tradition, and road conditions, which differ greatly in various parts of the Community.
I direct the Minister to the idea of subsidiarity when arguing these matters in the Council of Ministers. Europeans would understand such an argument. It is not offensive to greater European unity. It is a method by which we could proceed harmoniously to produce the road safety measures that we are discussing. Such measures would be understood by the people who use the roads in the Community and they would be enforced by the police. We will enforce such measures only if they are supported by ordinary people in the Community.
Mr. Cash : My hon. Friend invokes the principle of subsidiarity. That is based on the assumption that the Commission is the remotest degree interested in reducing its powers to the point at which it would leave such matters to member states. Does my hon. Friend agree that, if it is proposing to invoke a common transport policy as the basis upon which it would take up this matter and proceed with it as it is at the moment, there is not a cat in hell's chance that it would agree to the principle of subsidiarity?
Mr. Wells : My hon. Friend makes an extremely good point. The Commission is entrusted with the duty of taking all initiatives and making all proposals to the Council of Ministers. Our hon. Friend the Minister will attend the Council of Ministers, so it is to there that our arguments and ideas must be directed. We want to reject the proposed legislation on the three matters before the House. The Council must ensure that road safety is a
Column 969matter of subsidiarity. Although there is some dispute about the powers of the Commission, they might prevail in a court. Nevertheless, for the reason of common sense, the Commission should not proceed. The first matter relates to the amount of alcohol a driver can consume before committing an offence. In this country, the permitted level is 80 ml of alcohol per 1,000 ml. of blood, but in the remainder of the Community the level is 50 ml. The question is, what are the cultural traditions on the drinking of alcohol in the various Community countries? In Bavaria, for example, employers regularly supply workers in their factories with cold drinks--not Pepsi Cola or other soft, non-alcoholic drinks, but Bavarian lager. It is normal practice for them to drink lager throughout the day. In Britain, such a practice would probably induce a large number of people leaving work to drive while over the alcohol limit. That is just one example of how cultural traditions play an important part in the decision on the correct level under which people are permitted to drive. In other parts of the Community access to alcohol for young people is severely limited. If they took in as much as 50 ml it would be dangerous because they are not used to alcohol and their judgment and driving skills would be affected. Decisions on this matter should therefore relate to national traditions and be covered by national, not Community, legislation.
It has been argued that one should not drink and drive at all, but that is not the law of this country or that of most of Europe. The law allows people to drive below a certain level of alcohol in the blood. The decision on what alcohol limits should be set has nothing to do with competition between the various Community countries, and it is through the anchor of the competitive element that we should try to make Europe a common market.
If, by having different regulations, one Community country achieved an advantage over another, there should be a common European standard. However, alcohol content and back seat belts cannot be anchored to a competitive advantage for any country. There might be a slight argument of competitive advantage on the issue of speed limits. However, as speed limits on roads in any Community country will apply equally to any driver, from wherever he comes in the Community, they are in fact all on the same level. All drivers should check the speed limits applying to roads--whether 30, 60 or 70 mph--and they should remain continuously aware of them. Having the same speed limits throughout Europe--especially the ridiculous change from 30 to 31 mph--would make absolutely no difference to road safety. It would not save a single life or a single limb.
This is not just a matter of whether the Community has competence in this matter, it is simply a matter of common sense. I appeal to the European honoured tradition of subsidiarity--that a law should not be made at a higher level if it can be made at a lower level and thereby gain consent for that law and aid its enforcement. 11.24 pm
Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South) : The hon. Member for Hertford and Stortford (Mr. Wells) has put his finger on the important difference between scientific specification, particularly for vehicles, depth of tyre tread
Column 970or places for seat belts, which is a physical and clear matter which can be tested, and human conduct, social habits and custom. The two are different. One can be measured exactly and the other is local.
I agree with genuine co-operation on standards, particularly on safety matters, but in matters of human conduct, where compliance is subtle, deterrence is important. My hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Ms. Ruddock) illustrated that in her remarks on random breath testing.
We all know that compliance, deterrence, penalties, sentencing policy and the way in which police operate are sensitive matters even in different parts of our own land. Therefore, it is fundamental that we should leave this to a level where there will be the best practical result. The evidence given by the hon. Member for Eltham (Mr. Bottomley) to the Committee was strong in that respect. However, the evidence given to the Select Committee on competence was not reassuring. One of the Commission's witnesses appeared before the Committee and the Chairman asked :
"I am wondering if you could indicate to us, on your interpretation of the Treaty, what you would regard as being appropriate for a national government or parliament as legislation within the sphere of transport? As you have explained it, one would assume that there was none. Am I right in that?"
The reply was ambiguous and at question 44 the Chairman again said :
"As you have answered that, it would appear to us that as transport is clearly an economic activity, nothing would be excluded. I am not sure whether you would agree with that?"
Mr. Gosalbo-Bono replied :
"Legally speaking, according to the Treaty of Rome, every possible subject that will come in the field of transport--there will need again to be established a common transport policy--will fall inside the competence of the Community."
That was the view of the legal officer to the Commission's Director General of Transport. It is not necessarily that of the European Court, but that is clearly the case that the Commission would argue if it ever got there.
I would have hoped, along with the hon. Member for Hertford and Stortford, that common sense would intervene. Irrespective of whether it is a good thing or not, and even if it could be proved that it was within the competence of the treaty, surely any wise Government would not push legislation to the limits of its own constitution. Some Governments may do that. Some politicians, even some Prime Ministers, may do that. But whether that is wise is a different matter. I hope that Ministers will argue that, irrespective of whether there is competence--the Commission thinks that there is, but Ministers think not--it would be unwise to use it in this respect. That would be in accordance with good human nature and so would be more likely to yield the practical results that we all wish to see. 11.29 pm
Mr. Roger King (Birmingham, Northfield) : I listened with interest to right hon. and hon. Members in all parts of the House, and agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East (Mr. Taylor) in his criticism of the European Community inflicting ideas and legislation on this country. However, in respect of motor transport policy and of motor vehicle construction and usage, it may be to our advantage to arrive at a consensus throughout the Community, in establishing a legal framework within which all member states could operate. The opening of the
Column 971Channel tunnel and the broadening of Europe's motoring horizons will bring a far higher number of heavy goods vehicles on to our roads. Some commonality of speed limits, driving hours and usage would only be sensible.
We must ensure that the message goes from this House that the Commission's proposals are unacceptable as they stand. Annex 1 to the Committee's report shows the percentage distribution of blood alcohol concentration across a sample of 728 road accident fatalities. Thirty-five per cent. of fatalities occurred among drivers having an alcohol level of 0.09 per cent. in their bloodstream. That is a tiny limit, and one wonders whether the accidents could be blamed on other factors or were wholly attributable to the drivers concerned being in a highly inebriated condition. The same question arises in respect of the 29 per cent. of the sample having an alcohol concentration of 0.5 per cent.
The majority of accidents occur among drivers having an alcohol level of 0.8 per cent. and above. Our limit is 89 mg of alcohol per 100 ml of blood, and experience over many years shows that most fatalities occur among drivers with an alcohol concentration well in excess of that limit. We should try to ensure that the standard adopted throughout Europe is that which the majority of member states already apply.
Much greater controversy surrounds speed limits. British road conditions, widths, signposting and other variables make it difficult to apply to our motorways the limits that are imposed elsewhere in Europe, and the reverse is true in respect of German autobahns. British roads consisting of three lanes and a generous hard shoulder may be classified as motorways, whereas two-lane roads with narrow shoulders in Germany may be designated as autobahns. Nevertheless, it is probably safer driving fast on a British motorway than it is on an autostrada--even though the motorway has a higher speed limit. It would be difficult to establish a pan-European speed limit for motorways.
Nevertheless, a European scale of speed limits seems sensible as we move gradually towards a more integrated Europe. The 30 or 31 mph limit exemplifies the ludicrousness of some of the proposals : what we mean is that we will stick to 30 mph, and if the rest of Europe wants to do 31 mph who is going to argue? Surely it is not necessary to insist on a 30 mph limit if the rest of Europe can accept 31 mph, because of the difficulties involved in translating metric speeds into miles per hour.
The hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Ms. Ruddock) discussed proposals for heavy goods vehicles and coaches. The European requirement that coaches should be restricted to 62 mph on motorways is clearly ludicrous ; there is no evidence to suggest that that is much safer than our standard 70 mph limit. Coach travel--which many people have had an opportunity to sample as a result of the rail strike--has become more popular since deregulation, and there is no evidence that passengers travelling at 70 mph on the top deck of a Rapide coach are frightened out of their wits. On the contrary, drivers on the M1 passing Scottish Citylink coaches on their way to Glasgow in the late evening will see the passengers sound asleep, or perhaps watching a video, at speeds at and over 65 mph.
I am also appalled at the suggestion that expressway
vehicles--whatever they are--should be limited to 50 mph. We would certainly wish to contest such a restriction. I note from the requirements that coaches will be travelling
Column 972at, or very near, the same speed as heavy goods vehicles. The present speed limit for coaches makes a good deal of sense, and experience has suggested that coach travel is extremely safe. Perhaps the European Commission should have a look at our railways : some of the trains do not seem to hold the track nowadays, as we have seen recently. I doubt whether they will get round to it, however, as far too many environmental lobbies favour rail transport and are constantly seeking to place more restrictions on motor vehicles and travel.
We are lucky in this country : because of our attitude to coach travel we have built up a very popular system, which enables passengers to journey from one end to the other at an economic price. That is not possible in Europe, because coaches travelling at 50 or 60 mph cover ground so slowly that it is not an attractive form of transport. If we wish to retain the competitive nature of our transport--road versus rail versus air--we must ensure that all modes of travel are encouraged in the right way. I favour a limit of 75 mph for cars, with higher speeds for quieter motorways.
Let us consider the legislation carefully : we need to get matters exactly right.
Mr. Portillo : I welcome the generous remarks made by the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Ms. Ruddock) about my hon. Friend the Member for Eltham (Mr. Bottomley) : he put his heart into his efforts to improve road safety, and I believe that he has a good deal of achievement to his credit. I also welcome the many points that she made in agreement with the Government's position, as set out by me. I shall, however, study with great interest what she said about giving support for good ideas, whatever their source. My hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East (Mr. Taylor) responded quickly to that feature of her speech.
My hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East also asked me why I had not mentioned minibus driver licensing. The answer is that it is not included in the documents that we are discussing. I refer my hon. Friend to a written answer given by my hon. Friend the Member for Eltham on 21 July 1989, in which he said that he had made good progress in direct discussions with the Commission about minibuses. He thought that the Commission's proposals on the second driver licensing directive could be modified to allow ordinary car licence holders, including the deaf, to drive minibuses with up to 17 seats under wide-ranging circumstances, which are set out in the written answer. Obviously, at this stage, the modifications are only proposed, but the discussions have been highly encouraging. I thank my hon. Friend and other hon. Members for the support that they have given the Government, which has been instrumental in persuading Community officials that they should suggest such a compromise.
My hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East (Mr. Taylor) referred to speed limits. It is clear that the Commission has not thought sufficiently about the practical implications of harmonising speed limits or, in particular, the cost of harmonising speed limits or, in particular, the cost of conversion. We robustly pointed out the difficulties to the Commission. Opposition to harmonisation of speed limits among other member countries is so firm that so far no attempt has been made
Column 973to begin Council negotiations. Derogation does not arise because there is no community law on speed limits. It is clear that harmonisation will not be pressed, because, if it were, ludicrous consequences would result. I am happy to assure my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East that we would be prepared to go to the European Court if necessary, but a strong issue would have to be involved.
The hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) said that it is not sensible to try to legislate Europewide on local custom or human behaviour. I believe that we have used that argument in the past, but I am happy to endorse the hon. Gentleman's remarks.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hertford and Stortford (Mr. Wells) stressed subsidiarity, and I agree that we should press that important principle. We should like it to be applied in the United Kingdom as well as in the European Community. We depend on local authorities for much of the good work that is done.
The principle underlying our approach to road safety is that we should concentrate on measures on which we can be reasonably sure that our proposals will reduce casualties. Many questions have been asked about whether the Community has competence to deal with this matter. We doubt whether some of its proposals meet the test of having been proven to improve road safety--
It being one and a half hours after the commencement of proceedings on the motion, Madam Deputy Speaker-- put the Question, pursuant to Standing Order No. 14 (Exempted Business).
Question agreed to.
That this House takes note of European Community Documents Nos. 4303/89 on seat belts, 4252/89 on road safety, 9228/89 on maximum permitted alcohol concentration for vehicle drivers, and 4156/87 and 4305/89 on speed limits ; and endorses the Government's commitment to resist proposals in this area which are outside the field of Community competence, and not clearly related to the objectives of a common transport policy or of the internal market.
That this House takes note of European Community Document No. 5786/89 relating to freedom of movement for workers ; supports the broad objective of free movement for workers within the Single Market ; and endorses the Government's intention of seeking amendment of inappropriate provisions.
The Commission's proposals aim to amend the basic Community law on the free movement of workers which was established more than 20 years ago. We adopted the principle of free movement when we joined the Community and continue to support it as an essential element of the free market. The right of a national of any member state to take or seek work throughout the Community gives everyone a stake in the success of the free market.
The existing rules have provided that right for 20 years. They also require workers from other member states to be treated equally to nationals of the host state, and allow them to be accompanied by their immediate family dependants of any nationality. The Commission now proposes to amend and extend those rules. The proposals are at an early stage and we are seeking the views of the House before they come to be discussed in the Council of Ministers.
However, it is already clear that a number of member states, including ourselves, would have difficulty accepting all the proposals as they currently stand. The proposals are detailed and technical, but they also contain some general principles the effects of which are far from clear. It seems that in some respects they go beyond what is appropriate to the free movement of workers and that they raise some questions about Community competence on the admission of people who are not themselves nationals of member states.
Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North) : I hope that I am in order in harking back to the previous debate. The theme running through that debate was concerned with Community competence, and the Government said that what the Community was trying to do was not within its competence. My hon. Friend is saying that on the important matter that is now before the House, which touches the basis of statehood--immigration--he believes that the Community does not have competence.
I ask my hon. Friend the question that was asked in the previous debate. Supposing that the Community gains competence by the use of these measures, uses the European Court and uses the majority voting procedures that are available to it. What then will the Government do? The Government know well that the British people would regret, would resent and would be totally against the Community gaining competence over immigration measures. What would the Government do? We need to know the answer.
Column 975this is a wide-ranging proposed regulation, the Government take the view that in one respect at least the question of competence is not made out, and that relates to what is proposed as regards those members of a family who are non-EC nationals. The question of competence is whether the Community is competent to make regulations or directives about non-EC nationals. The Government take the view that the right way to approach the issue is to try to negotiate it in the usual way, and to make sure that the Community is confined so that it deals with matters of competence, because, as my hon. Friend knows--
Mr. Marlow rose --
Mr. Nicholls : --or he would not make the intervention that I suspect he is about to make--there is no way in which competence can be challenged before the event. One cannot go to the court and say, "Here is a measure which, if it were to be made, would be ultra vires." If, at the end of the day, the directive or regulation is made and it is alleged that it is ultra vires--because the Community was incompetent--that could be challenged before the court, but that is a long way down the road. Obviously, the correct procedure is to negotiate, and take the view of the House at an early stage, to make sure that the Community confines itself.
Mr. Marlow : As my hon. Friend looks at this issue--an individual issue--in prospect, that might be right. But we have had examples in the past where the Government fought Community competence and that competence was established, and measures which the Government did not like were passed. Once a directive or regulation is in, even if it is challenged, it is the law of the land until the court overthrows it. So one is saddled with Community legislation until the court overthrows it.
The court, as my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Mr. Cash) said in an earlier intervention, is a political court, biased towards Community competence. Time and again the Government have been defeated, and it is becoming an accelerating process ; the Government are more and more being defeated over Community competence. When will the Government do something about that? We are being rolled over and we do not like it.
Mr. Nicholls : I have been accused of many things, but never of rolling over my hon. Friend, and I would like to think that tonight will be no such occasion. My hon. Friend just made an interesting and telling intervention in which he set out again his views on qualified majority voting. He has his views on that and he expresses them with his usual moderation and eloquence. But with respect to him, that is not the point with which we are dealing tonight.
Whether or not my hon. Friend likes it, the Single European Act is a fact. It allows for qualified majority voting, a subject to which I shall return. It is not a question of a one-way street, and we acceded to the Single European Act because, candidly, we reckoned that there was something in it for us. To that extent, the Government are prepared to take the rough with the smooth. My hon. Friend wants to take the smooth with the smooth, and I am afraid that in an imperfect world that option is not available to him.
The Commission has looked carefully at the experience over the past 20 years and at relevant judgments of the
Column 976European Court of Justice, and it has proposed a number of detailed technical amendments to bring the regulation and directive up to date.
For example, the right to receive vocational training becomes a general right, not limited, as at present, to training in vocational schools. The right to equal treatment in housing is explicitly extended to cover housing finance. All this is welcome clarification, which we support.
We support, too, changes to simplify the granting of residence permits to people with the right to work.
Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Port Glasgow) : In paragraph 13 of an explanatory memorandum dated5 May, the former Minister of State, Department of Employment--the right hon. Member for Northavon (Mr. Cope)-- said :
"There is a widely shared concern that as drafted the proposals are much too uncertain in their effects and that in some areas they go beyond the reasonable scope of Article 49 ... into areas concerned with the freedom of movement of persons generally."
Given the comments of the hon. Member for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow) and this imprecision, do not these proposals conflict directly with section 14 of the Merchant Shipping Act 1988? It was designed specifically to exclude 95 Spanish fishing vessels from fishing in contravention of United Kingdom quotas. Do not these proposals confound not only the Merchant Shipping Act but the ruling of the other place in favour of the Government? Are we not seeing, once again, a diminution of parliamentary sovereignty and an increase in the power of the European Commission?
Mr. Nicholls : I hope that the hon. Gentleman will accept that, tempting though it may be, I shall not pass an opinion on whether the Merchant Shipping Act begs that interpretation. However, I agree wholeheartedly with the more important part of his remarks when he said that there was some imprecision in the language of the regulations. As I said in my opening remarks, we want to hear what the House has to say. I do not disguise the fact that the language is imprecise. Not only the United Kingdom but other member states want the legislation to be much tighter. You would probably restrain me, Madam Deputy Speaker, if I tried to use all the available time to make out a case against some of the imprecise language. We are considering this matter at an early stage so that we can ventilate our anxieties and highlight the possible advantages. We want to ensure at an early stage that we do whatever we can to tighten the language.
Mr. Teddy Taylor (Southend, East) : My hon. Friend has kindly said that he wants the views of the House, so will he say whether the Government believe that this proposal, which would give non-community nationals right of access to this country, is a matter for majority voting or for unanimity? It would help the House a great deal if my hon. Friend said that the Government believe that this is a matter for majority voting.
Mr. Nicholls : I have said in the main part of my speech and in responding to the interventions of my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow) that the question of competence comes into this. If the EC purports to deal with the rights that may attach to non-EC nationals, there is--to put it at its most neutral--an argument about competence. We are taking that argument
Column 977back to Europe. That is one factor that will come out of this debate, and I make no apology for saying that. After all, I raised this matter in the earlier part of my speech. I concede that the question of competence is directly relevant.
Mr. Nicholls : In case my hon. Friend attaches more importance to that than he might otherwise do, let me say that that is how it seems to us at this stage. It remains to be seen whether that remains the position in the light of events.
We and other member states have said that these proposals cannot be agreed as they stand without looking further at the effects that they might have and seeing whether they should be considered under that part of the treaty that deals with the free movement of workers. First, the current regulation gives the right of free movement to the worker's spouse and dependent children of parents. That is quite right, and clearly has a bearing on whether the worker will feel able to move to another member state. The Commission proposes to extend those rights to cover relatives who may or may not be dependent. This includes people who may not be nationals of member states. The Commission has not attempted to define the scope of the further family members concerned, other than that they are dependent on the worker or live under the same roof. We are concerned that this could include remote relations who have little to do with the worker. The worker's ability to move and take work is not influenced by whether he can take these family members with him. In our view, those people should not be covered by a Community instrument on rights of workers because their movement is not necessarily connected with that of the worker.
Giving the right to enter and move within the Community to more distant relatives or to ex-husbands and ex-wives would be difficult to control. It would make the job of deciding who had such rights very difficult and could lead to false claims to free movement rights from non-Community nationals. If such people are to be given the independent right to free movement, this should be in the context of general rights of residence, on which the Commission has other proposals, not in the context of free movement of workers. The Commission has other current proposals on rights of residence, but as they stand they would not deal with the rights of the remote relatives of workers whom I have mentioned. That is no reason why the issue should be dealt with in these proposals on the movement of workers.
The second difficulty is the proposed general principle that anything that happened in another member state should be treated as though it had happened in the state where someone is living, for the purpose of getting a tax or social advantage. That goes beyond the existing principle of equal treatment because United Kingdom citizens do not necessarily have the right to have anything that happened to them abroad taken into account to qualify for tax or other social advantages. Whether such experience is
Column 978counted will depend on what the rights in question are, which is not at all clear. Rather than agree to such a general principle without knowing the implications, we would want to examine exactly which rights and which circumstances it refers to, and ascertain whether they are acceptable on an individual basis. That might or might not be appropriate to this Community legislation.
Finally, the Commission proposals seem to imply that there would be a duty on the Governments of member states to take action to pursue any case of apparent infringement of the principle of free movement. Remedies for that already exist. Anyone who feels that he has been discriminated against can take action under the race relations legislation, or can use existing Community law which has direct application. Cases of such discrimination are extremely rare. Laying an extra duty on member states would seem to us unnecessary and over-bureaucratic.
We are keen to encourage full application of the principle of free movement --for example, by breaking down barriers caused by failure to recognise professional qualifications. Many of the Commission's proposals will be helpful, but unfortunately others seem to go beyond what is needed and cause problems because their implications are so uncertain and wide- ranging. We, and no doubt other member states, will be examining them closely to try to get them clarified and amended as necessary to ensure that the changes finally agreed will contribute to the process of completing the single market and not cause unnecessary difficulties and uncertainties.
I repeat that the Government are interested in hearing the views of the House on this matter. It is clear from the amendment that hon. Members share our concerns about the wide issues that the Commission intends to cover in this measure. The proposals are in the early stages of negotiation and we believe that the best way forward is to deal with the concerns that are highlighted by the amendment during the negotiation process and by identifying other member states that share our concerns. We can welcome in general, and do, the principle of updating rights for the free movement of workers in preparation for the single market, and therefore we cannot accept the amendment. I assure the House that the underlying sentence in the amendment is something with which we have a great deal of sympathy, but we believe that the way of taking forward the concerns expressed lies very much in negotiation.
Mr. Tony Lloyd (Stretford) : When the Minister replies to the debate, I hope that he will expand on his final comment. He said that he has a "great deal of sympathy" with "the underlying sentence in the amendment". The amendment is clear--