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Mr. Stephen O'Brien: It was after all the hon. Gentleman who introduced this line of argument, so it is proper that we seek to pursue it. As he interprets the article, how does that leave the position that has now been created by precedent in relation to France and beef imports, and the analysis that he is trying to project of the Bill?
Mr. Bryant: I would have to leave that to lawyers with greater capacity than I, but the Bill is at least in danger of falling foul of the EU legislation and at worst does not deal with the real problems that constituents face. It does not provide what is truly necessary, which is a fully European answer to the issues of food labelling.
Mr. Pickles: The hon. Gentleman is being most courteous and this is proving to be an interesting exchange. I note that he is retreating from his earlier position, and I am grateful for that. We know how the Bill will be affected by the article to which he has referred: it will be examined on two issues, covert protectionism and retaliation, and it is clean on both charges.
Mr. Bryant: I disagree. I do not know whether Conservative Members have a copy of the treaty, but I should be happy to lend them one. Article 28 says that any autonomous alteration or suspension of duties in the common customs tariff shall be decided by the Council acting by a qualified majority on the proposal from the Commission. That has regularly been interpreted as referring not only to specific changes to tariffs and duties but to anything that materially or directly affects the free movement of goods in the European Union. Article 226 says that the Commission has a right to challenge, and article 227 gives other member states the same right.
The hon. Gentleman's simple assertion that his Bill is clean does not mean that it is clean. I am not the only person who has contested this point; other hon. Members have done so. I oppose the Bill not only on that point but because I want a genuinely European solution to the problem of food labelling. The Bill would inevitably queer the pitch for any future proposals by the
The hon. Gentleman said earlier that points made by other hon. Members were sensible and could be dealt with in Committee, so they should vote for the Bill's Second Reading, but I want to do more than tinker with its clauses. My objection is more substantial; it strikes at the heart of the Bill. On behalf on Mr. Creamy, Welsh kettle chips and Welsh lamb, I want to see, a genuinely European solution to the problem of food labelling.
Mr. Pickles: I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman has chosen to spoil an otherwise absorbing speech by mocking those of his colleagues who made legitimate points. My point, which I want to make forcefully, is that if other European Union countries such as Germany and France are prepared to give a lead, why cannot we simply follow them? Why do we not do something for our farmers? Mr. Whippy and Welsh lamb would be better served by the Bill than by waiting for pan-European promises of legislation. We have heard those promises before, and they have not been fulfilled.
Mr. Bryant: I am slightly confused by what the hon. Gentleman is saying. He seems to be accusing me of demeaning the comments made by other hon. Members. I am not doing so. As I said, I have not been here for the whole debate, but I agree with many of the objections that I have heard. The hon. Gentlemans response to some of the objections made by my hon. Friends was that they could be dealt with in Committee, so they should vote to give the Bill a Second Reading. I do not disagree with those objections; I believe that they show that the Bill is fatally flawed and should be rejected.
Conservative Members have rejected entire Bills, as a matter of course, despite maintaining in public that they object only to elements of them. They have often voted against a programme motion as a means of objecting to a Bill. I am therefore arguing that the Bill is fundamentally flawed, so it should not make any progress after today.
I should correct the hon. Gentleman about Mr. Whippy. I do not know where Mr. Whippy is based, but it is certainly not in the Rhondda. Mr. Creamy has a virtual monopoly in my constituency; it is very fine ice cream, and I recommend it to the House. Perhaps we should make sure that Mr. Creamy's ice cream is available in the House.
Clause 4, which deals with packaging, is as flawed as clause 2. We are in danger of creating a situation that is unsustainable for those who produce foodstuffs in this country; it is also unsustainable for supermarkets and those who have to dispose of household waste. That may seem relatively minor, but I believe that it is significant. This country already finds it difficult to match the aspirations of other European countries on recycling. I shop in Tesco, where I buy tomatoes, bananas, potatoes and so on, all of which are packaged, as they have to state which country they come from. I have to dispose of all the packagingyet another little plastic tray, wrapped in yet another piece of printed cardboard. Invariably, I end up with more packaging than foodstuffs.
I know that the hon. Member for Brentwood and Ongar will deny this, but underlying the Bill is an anti-European sentiment[Interruption.] Opposition Members are mildly fulminating, but only recently the hon. Member for Brentwood and Ongar raised the matter of what the Germans and the French are doing. If we wait for Europe, he suggested, nothing will ever happen.
Mr. Pickles: My credentials on supporting matters relating to Europe are pretty good, as are those of the hon. Member for Harlow (Mr. Rammell), who is sponsoring the Bill. We want a Europe of equal partners where, perhaps, we take the lead; we do not want a Europe where we are the slowest member. The Europe of bureaucracy and sloth is not the modern Europe that most people in this country want.
Mr. Bryant: I know that sometimes hon. Members have to pretend to be shocked and surprised, but I am genuinely shocked and surprised by the hon. Gentleman's argument. Indeed we should have a less bureaucratic system in Europe, but he has introduced a Bill that is the height of bureaucracy. It is likely to make it far more difficult for producers in this country to sell their goods in the rest of Europe; it would create unnecessary bureaucracy. The hon. Gentleman compounded his error by trying to suggest that, as he has good European credentials, he could not possibly advocate anything other than a system of equal partners. If we are going to be equal partners, why should we introduce unequal legislation?
Mr. Pickles: Has the hon. Gentleman paid the slightest attention to this debate? He has been an assiduous attender, but does he understand that the French are right to introduce legislation on labelling? Does he understand that it is reasonable for the Germans, and for us, to introduce such legislation? I hope that the Bill will be a platform for pan-European legislation, which I believe would be a good thing. We have to start somewhere, however, and my Bill is a good start.
Mr. Bryant: If the hon. Gentleman really wanted this Bill or similar provisions to be the platform for pan-European legislation, he could have introduced them by means of Conservative Members of the European Parliament. There is now a perfectly decent method whereby the legislative process can be started in the European Parliament. However, the Bill's underlying tenor is precisely as I have suggested.
As I said, my main concern is to speak on behalf of United Kingdom consumers and as a Welsh patriot who wants Welsh products to be available both elsewhere in the United Kingdomso that it is a delight to walk into Sainsbury's in Islington and see Welsh products proudly displayed with a nice little Welsh dragonand beyond.
Mr. Bryant: The Bill will make no difference. Not only is it likely to fall at every legal hurdle it encounters, it does not explain how legislation introduced solely in the United Kingdom will affect the sale of Welsh dragons in Catalonia, Torino and other parts of Europe. I am trying to make that point. Those who think only about whether Welsh products will be sold only in the United Kingdom have small minds that need to be enlarged.