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House of Lords

Wednesday, 12th June 1996.

The House met at half-past two of the clock: The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Prayers--Read by the Lord Bishop of Worcester.

The Earl of Effingham--Sat first in Parliament after the death of his uncle.

EU: Harmonisation and Subsidiarity

Lord Renton asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they are aware that the obligation of member states of the European Union under the Treaty of Rome as amended to harmonise their laws is in conflict with the subsidiarity rule agreed at Maastricht; and whether they will propose at the forthcoming Inter-Governmental Conference that harmonisation should cease to be an obligation.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Chalker of Wallasey): My Lords, subsidiarity and proportionality are the key principles governing action by the European Community. They do not necessarily exclude harmonisation where this is clearly required, for instance to ensure the effective working of the single market. But they underpin the need for the Community to prefer mutual recognition to harmonisation wherever possible.

Lord Renton: My Lords, while I thank my noble friend for her reply, which is to an extent encouraging, is she aware that the Treaty of Rome as amended has created a chaotic and unworkable law-making process which is unsuitable for 15 nations with 11 languages and various legal systems? Does she also agree that if the enlarged Community is to succeed, as we should all wish it to do, we must have fewer and better laws, which means less harmonisation and more subsidiarity? Will the Government press for this at the IGC?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: My Lords, I have a great deal of sympathy with my noble friend. We have less regulation because we have less harmonisation. As to primary legislation, the number of proposals continues to fall: 61 in 1990, 48 in 1993, 38 in 1994 and an estimated 25 last year. This year, there are likely to be only 19 new principal legislative proposals. While I agree with my noble friend, I believe it is necessary to ensure that subsidiarity is at the forefront of the European Commission's mind and that of member states in deciding what needs to be done. We should do at Community level only what needs to be done at that level. Certainly, we should not let the Union interfere in everything that goes on. That is the very principle of subsidiarity.

Lord Bruce of Donington: My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware that under Article 100 of the original

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Treaty of Rome measures to achieve harmonisation had to be passed unanimously but that unfortunately the position was altered by the Single European Act 1986 and amendments to it? In particular, under Article 100A proposals for harmonisation were allowed on the basis that they were intended to further the single market. In so doing, it invoked Article 189C of the Treaty of Maastricht which introduced qualified majority voting. The original safeguards have been rendered totally invalid by virtue of the Single European Act and the Treaty of Maastricht, and the subsidiarity doctrine in relation to harmonisation is not worth the paper on which it is written.

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: My Lords, not for the first time I have to say that I disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington. I believe that harmonisation had its place in seeking the construction of the single market. We had to remove a multiplicity of national regulations for a single product; otherwise, we would never have achieved a single market. Although the noble Lord will not like my saying so, this country has benefited very greatly from the single market. We were the driving force behind it. The noble Lord can quote Articles 100A and 189C for as long as he likes. I can do similarly in response, but I will not do so for your Lordships' sake. While not everything that comes out of the treaty--formed at that time between 12 participating nations (now 15)--will be exactly to our liking, we are far better off. We would never have achieved the successful outcome in the GATT negotiations without the UK's liberal non-protectionist approach, which also underlay the single market and brought other European Union countries along with us in those negotiations.

Lord Harmar-Nicholls: My Lords, while my noble friend is very persuasive in explaining the Government's view on this matter, is she aware that there is a contradiction in terms in what she has said? If harmonisation is obligatory it makes a nonsense of subsidiarity as it was explained to us. That is the effect of the words as they stand. Can we try to do something about it at the forthcoming meeting?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: My Lords, I believe that my noble friend misunderstands. The legislation underpinning the single market, adopted under the harmonisation articles, is still operative and is sometimes required for new single market legislation following technological change. That does not mean that harmonisation is always required. In some areas, such as health, it is specifically excluded. That was why I said in my original Answer to my noble friend Lord Renton that we preferred mutual recognition to harmonisation wherever possible. That is what we work for.

Lord Richard: My Lords, perhaps I may start by welcoming the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, back to the House. It is the first time I have seen him here. I am sure that he is restored to his usual vigour, energy and determination. We are glad to see him back. May I also congratulate the Minister on her robust defence of the necessity for QMV in relation to the single market?

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I heard her say with regret that she found herself in disagreement with my noble friend Lord Bruce of Donington. I shall have to bear that disagreement with equanimity.

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: My Lords, perhaps I may say, first, on behalf of my noble friend Lord Ferrers, that the Opposition should note that he is back in fighting form; but he still wields a big stick, which is just down there. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Richard, for what he said. Of course there are some things which are necessary, but in previous years there have been too many unnecessary proposals from Brussels. We are working towards getting rid of those unnecessary proposals. On those occasions when the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, finds something unnecessary I can agree with him, but not today.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, is one of the main problems with Article 3B (the subsidiarity clause) not the fact that its meaning is unclear, and that our European competitors give it the opposite meaning to that which the Government put forward? Is it not true that those competitors see it as a means of advancing their federalist cause, whereas the Government pretend that it is the shield of our sovereignty?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: My Lords, we have always been clear, and so have most of our fellow member states in the EU, about what subsidiarity means. I do not believe that there is any doubt about that matter, which is why we are pressing hard further to entrench the principle of subsidiarity into the treaty in the IGC. We have the support of a large number of other member states. So I hope that my noble friend's problems will soon be put entirely to rest.

Lord Barnett: My Lords--

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords--

The Minister of State, Department of the Environment (Earl Ferrers): My Lords, my noble friend said that I had a big stick. That is perfectly true, but I have no intention of using it. If we were to take the noble Lord, Lord Barnett, and then the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, there would be time enough for both. Thereafter, I think it would probably be best if we were to move on.

Lord Barnett: My Lords, I am particularly pleased to see the noble Earl back, and I am obliged to him. Is the Minister aware that I very much agree with what she said to my noble friend Lord Bruce of Donington about the value of the single market? To refer to the Question on the Order Paper, given current circumstances, is there any chance of success for the Government in proposing anything, whether it be harmonisation, subsidiarity or anything else? Would it not be better if we proposed the reverse? We might then succeed.

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: My Lords, I would have thought better of the noble Lord, Lord Barnett--I nearly called him my noble friend--than to ask that

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question. He is well aware that there is a great deal at stake. That is why we have this period of non-co-operation in the European Community. We hope that it will soon be at an end. We are seeking a clear and staged process towards the complete lifting of the beef ban. We shall succeed in that--I hope before very long. Honesty is the one thing for which we can be thoroughly respected and for which we can never be criticised. That is why we play straight.

Noble Lords: Next Question!

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords--

Noble Lords: Order, order!

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, the Deputy Leader of the House did invite me to ask a supplementary question.

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