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European Communities (Amendment) Bill

12.30 p.m.

Read a third time.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch moved Amendment No. 1:

After Clause 1, insert the following new clause--

Report on subsidiarity provisions

(". No later than one year after the passing of this Act, and at annual intervals thereafter, a Minister of the Crown shall lay before both Houses of Parliament a report containing details of the application in the United Kingdom and in the European Union of the Protocol to the Treaty establishing the European Community on the application of the principles of subsidiarity and proportionality.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, when we debated the deceptive subject of subsidiarity in Committee, I tried to show that it is one of the fundamental frauds of the Euroland adventure--one of the fundamental frauds brought about by the Treaty of Rome. That debate took place on 28th April at cols. 170 to 191 of the Official Report. We have inevitably touched on it at other stages of our debates, because subsidiarity lies close to the heart of the disagreement between those of us who see the Treaty of Rome as well intentioned but potentially disastrous for the whole of Europe, and those of your Lordships who see it as a glorious enterprise which will bring everlasting peace and prosperity to our much loved continent.

Your Lordships will recall that subsidiarity was introduced into the treaty largely at the instigation of the then Conservative government in the Maastricht amendments of 1993--it was then Article 3b. We were

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assured that it would be our shield and defence against further erosion of our sovereignty. I have no doubt that most of the civil servants and Ministers who gave that assurance were in good faith, but not perhaps quite all of them. The trouble was that one did not have to be a great constitutional lawyer to see that the wording of the new clause was Delphic to say the least, and open to exactly the opposite interpretation, confirming the Community as all powerful in the areas covered by the treaty. The result was that all the main political parties in this country were keen to extol the clause's virtues because they all took the position that they did not want to see the United Kingdom absorbed into a European superstate. The governments of most of the other signatories at Maastricht, on the other hand--who, alas, are determined to create that superstate--were free to interpret the clause as conducive to that,

    "ever closer union of the peoples of Europe"

which is required by the Treaty of Rome in Article A.

If there ever was any doubt about the meaning of the original subsidiarity clause at Maastricht--some of us did not think that there was--that doubt has been clearly removed at Amsterdam by the protocol which is the object of this amendment. I refer to Protocol 30. Any Delphic ambiguity has been firmly decided in favour of the interpretation put upon the clause by the majority of European nations who wish to create the very superstate which both the Conservative and Labour Parties say they wish to avoid. The Liberal Social Democrats will forgive me if, as usual, I have not quite grasped where they stand on this one, but I am sure that is my fault.

That is why this amendment is so important. It will not of itself do anything to stop the Euroland juggernaut from lumbering down its fateful path, but it will at least allow the British Parliament once a year to consider that progress in detail. I can but hope that the British people will thus become more aware of the true nature of the juggernaut, and that perhaps they may come to see that they should stand aside and let it continue without us.

I should of course justify the interpretation I have put on this matter. I am afraid there is no other way of doing it than to quote once again the relevant parts of the original Maastricht subsidiarity clause, and then from the new Amsterdam protocol, which clarifies it.

It is at this point that I urge noble Lords in the Chamber, and any noble Lord who might have struggled thus far in his reading of Hansard, not to switch off. The word "subsidiarity" itself is one of those Eurospeak words which alone is capable of switching most normal people off the entire debate about Euroland. But the devil is in the detail. When we cannot be bothered to examine the detail, the bureaucracy advances effortlessly against our democracy. So here goes, again, Article 3b of the Maastricht Treaty:

    "In areas which do not fall within its exclusive competence, the Community shall take action, in accordance with the principle of subsidiarity, only if and in so far as the objectives of the proposed action cannot be ... achieved by the Member States and can therefore, by reason of the scale or effects of the proposed action, be better achieved by the Community".

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The only way to understand the intended meaning of this clause is to concentrate fiercely on the first 10 words, and then to indulge in only a few seconds of lateral thinking. Those 10 words are,

    "In areas which do not fall within its exclusive competence".

Perhaps it helps to paraphrase the clause into more normal language. It would read something like this,

    "In areas which the Community does not want to control the nation states can do their own thing".

The point to grasp and never relinquish about this clause is that it is the Community which decides the areas which fall under its own control, not an individual state such as the United Kingdom. It is the Community which decides whether some proposed action is justified by its pan-European or international nature. That is why in our debates in 1993 some of us said that the clause did not afford the protection for which the Conservative government hoped. Indeed the Labour opposition agreed. And so it has proved. My right honourable friend Mr. John Major, then Prime Minister, surely was in good faith when he hoped that some 25 per cent. of existing Euroland legislation would have been repealed under this new clause, but not one single item has been so repealed. We are told that the clause has prevented the Community from producing perhaps a dozen or so regulations which would otherwise have been enacted to our detriment, but we are not given examples. Anyway, the point is that the Community could have gone ahead with those regulations if it had wanted to, because in all those areas of our national life where we have not retained the veto, the Community alone decides when it takes control.

It has to be said again that we have abandoned the veto in huge areas of our national life which are therefore now controlled by the Community. They include all of our commerce and industry, our environment, the workings of the common agricultural and fisheries policies and many other areas, including "European culture", which we now see flooding into our schools and universities as flagrant pro-Euroland propaganda.

So we now come to this new protocol agreed at Amsterdam, all of which underlines and confirms the interpretation I have given of the original clause. Paragraphs 2 and 3 of the protocol are perhaps the most important. I apologise to your Lordships for the Eurospeak. Paragraph (2) states,

    "The application of the principles of subsidiarity and proportionality shall respect the general provisions and objectives of the Treaty, particularly as regards the maintaining in full of the acquis communautaire and the institutional balance; it shall not affect the principles developed by the Court of Justice regarding the relationship between national and Community law, and it should take into account Article 6(4) of the Treaty on European Union, according to which 'the Union shall provide itself with the means necessary to attain its objectives and carry through its policies'".

So that paragraph in the new protocol confirms that subsidiarity can do nothing to withstand the other provisions of the treaty. It is powerless to diminish the acquis communautaire which, as your Lordships will recall, is the law which decrees that once the Community has acquired a power, it never gives it up. Then paragraph 2 goes further, and ordains that whatever subsidiarity may mean, it is subservient to

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Article 6(4) of the Treaty on European Union, the catch-all article which gives the Community the power to do what it wants to achieve its aims.

Paragraph 3 then rubs all this in by starting as follows:

    "The principle of subsidiarity does not call into question the powers conferred on the European Community by the Treaty, as interpreted by the Court of Justice",

which I would have thought was the final coup de grace.

I shall not weary your Lordships with the other paragraphs of the protocol. There is nothing in them which goes against what I am saying; in fact, they all confirm the dismal picture. The Community is left in charge of all the decision-making and all the bogus half-protections which are sewn into this protocol.

So I fear I must take issue with the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, when he said in Committee:

    "the changes between Maastricht and Amsterdam do not weaken the position. ... We have not gone backwards".--[Official Report, 28/4/98; col. 185.]

The only way in which the noble Lord could be correct is if one accepts that the original Clause 3b was so weak as to be entirely useless, as many of us said it was. But if one held out any hopes for the original clause, this protocol must dash them completely.

We have indeed gone backwards, and the Community has gone forwards, as it always does. So I very much hope that your Lordships will support this amendment, which will afford Parliament the chance of monitoring the progress of this sorry tale in the years to come. It will thus give the British people an opportunity to discover the nature of the enterprise to which their political leaders have so foolishly committed them. And, when they come to understand it, their wish to leave it will become irresistible. I beg to move.

12.45 p.m.

Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, I deeply regret my inability to explain the position of the Liberal Democrat Benches to the noble Lord. It is not for lack of trying; however, I must apologise for what is obviously a muddled presentation. I shall continue to try to persuade the noble Lord. I shall therefore take the opportunity in a few moments to explain exactly where we stand in relation to this amendment.

Among the Prime Ministers with whom we have been blessed in recent years, there was a very great difference between the characteristics of the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher of Finchley, and her successor, Mr. John Major. The noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher, often declared victory while the war was still raging. Mr. John Major frequently failed to declare a victory when he had actually achieved one. The issue of subsidiarity is a perfect example. There is almost no area in which the Community and the Commission have moved further to meet the precise objections raised on subsidiarity by the honourable gentleman as Prime Minister when he represented this country at Maastricht. I must therefore tell the House that I find this amendment extraordinarily strange, perhaps even perverse. Let me give noble Lords a few published

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facts--and I shall stick entirely to published facts--which I believe indicate how misconceived the amendment is.

The noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, referred to some of the sections of the protocol attached to the Amsterdam Treaty--and it is the Amsterdam Treaty that we are discussing today, not the Maastricht Treaty. The Amsterdam Treaty in fact moved on from the Maastricht Treaty, not least in the area of subsidiarity. Perhaps I may quote one or two of the statements in that protocol.

Paragraph (5) states:

    "For Community action to be justified, both aspects of the subsidiarity principle shall be met: the objectives of the proposed action cannot be sufficiently achieved by Member States' action in the framework of their national constitutional system and can therefore be better achieved by action on the part of the Community".

Again, paragraph (1) states:

    "In exercising the powers conferred on it, each institution shall ensure that the principle of subsidiarity is complied with".

The noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, and those who think as he does, will doubtless say that those are merely words, and that they are meaningless. They are not meaningless. They have indeed already been given a very clear meaning. Let me adduce a few examples.

First and foremost, in the case of all new legislation reasons must now be given as to why that legislation is being put forward. Those reasons must indicate why the legislation is necessary to meet Community objectives, and must place that necessity clearly within the terms of the treaties--all of which have gone through ratification procedures either according to the parliamentary structures that we favour in this country, or in some cases, including in this country, through a referendum. In other words, at each stage of these treaties, the views of the people have been taken on them. The treaties must therefore be borne in mind all the time, and legislation that is not within that test will fall.

Next, the test must include that objectives cannot be met by member states' national action. If they can be met by national action, then the legislation does not pass the test of subsidiarity. The Commission has clearly indicated that it now strongly favours directives over regulations, because directives allow each member state to choose its own means of accomplishing the objectives that have been agreed at the Council of Ministers or the European Council. So directives are becoming the chosen method of legislating within the Community, instead of more heavy-handed regulation, whereby the Commission itself is directly responsible for the outcome.

Next, the Commission has accepted the requirement for wide consultation. It now issues many more Green Papers than White Papers on matters of significance--as many as 13 last year. I would dare to say that it is increasingly becoming a Commission which tries very hard indeed to consult widely before bringing forward any serious legislation. I can speak about this matter at first hand, having on a number of occasions been directly involved in consultation with non-governmental organisations, in particular the platform of European

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non-governmental organisations on a scale which is in this country virtually unprecedented. The same is true of consultation with the so-called social partners, the trade unions and the employers.

Another fact makes the amendment, to use an old-fashioned term, otiose, or to put it more crudely, straightforwardly perverse. The Commission has now in every single year since 1994 produced a report, which is available in the Library for anybody who cares to read it, giving, unlike the claim by the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, precise details of legislation that has been withdrawn, legislation that is going ahead, and the reasons for it.

Perhaps I may give the House a few important figures. In 1990, 61 proposals for legislation were put forward by the Commission. In 1995, a year after Maastricht was fully ratified, 25 proposals were put forward. In 1997, seven were put forward, of which only three fell outside the exclusive competence of the Community. So only three raised the issue of subsidiarity in any form. A fall in the number from 61 in 1990 to three in 1997 is, I suggest, a very substantial achievement. I am surprised that those who are critical in this debate do not take credit for that achievement.

I have a slight argument with the Minister, the noble Baroness, Lady Symons. In answer to a Written Answer on 26th March 1998 raised by the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, she stated:

    "Each year the Commission withdraws a number of proposals. There is no specific list of those withdrawn on grounds of subsidiarity".--[Official Report, 26/3/98; col. WA 255.]

There is at least a list. In 1995, 61 such proposals were withdrawn; in 1996, 48 such proposals were withdrawn; in 1997, the latest year, 30 such proposals were withdrawn. I imagine the reason that the noble Baroness did not give the exact details was that some were withdrawn on grounds of proportionality, some on grounds of subsidiarity, and some on both grounds. But the figure is far higher than that mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, and far more examples were clearly stated.

If any noble Lords wish to see them, I have before me the three reports for 1995, 1996 and 1997, giving full details of proposals withdrawn and proposals that remained after subsidiarity tests had been met. Nobody could sensibly call for yet another report when this report is readily available, and when UK representatives sit on the committee responsible for it. This is an area in which there has been a profound impact by the United Kingdom on the behaviour and practices of the Commission, which I believe to be wholly good. Noble Lords on the Liberal Democrat Benches deeply believe in subsidiarity and consider that it should be made to work. The noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, may be unaware that the Liberal Democrats have fought for devolution of power from Europe to the member states and from member states to the regions for many years; but I am only too happy to enlighten the noble Lord.

This is an area in which there have been huge advances. We have the right to take some credit. The previous government have the right to take some credit

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and it is sad that they are not willing to do so for reasons caught up with a dogmatic desire to present Europe as she is not rather than as she is and is becoming.

There remains a problem area. It lies, as much as anywhere, with member states. According to reports on subsidiarity, 25 per cent. of existing agreed, ratified and approved legislation has not yet been implemented. That is a serious difficulty for law-abiding member states. It is high time that countries implemented the legislation, greatly cut down as it is. I say with a note of mild irony that in 1997 no less than 670 technical regulations were put forward by member states, many of them almost certainly unnecessary, while there were three items of legislation proposed by the Commission. Perhaps we should look elsewhere for the areas about which we should complain, take some credit for what has happened and indicate that the amendment is neither necessary nor borne out on the basis of the facts I have presented to the House.

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