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European Union Powers (Repatriation)

Volume 579: debated on Tuesday 8 April 2014

4. What recent discussions he has had with his ministerial colleagues on repatriation of powers from the EU. (903578)

The Foreign Secretary and I regularly speak to our European counterparts about all aspects of EU reform, including the powers and competences of institutions.

Given that Lord Heseltine has now admitted that the Prime Minister’s approach to Europe is based on narrow party interest rather than the British national interest, will the Minister at last—this is the third time I have asked him at the Dispatch Box—tell us what his top policy priority is for repatriation from Europe and whether that would mean that the Government would then campaign to stay in the EU?

Our top policy priorities in European reform are to make the European Union more democratically accountable, more globally competitive and more flexible than it is today, that arrangements should be fair to eurozone members and non-members and to ensure that power can flow in both directions between Brussels and member states. I would have hoped that those were objectives that the Labour party would share, but it seems that I am to be disappointed.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that we should seek to repatriate control over social and employment legislation, which was handed over to Brussels by the previous Labour Government when they gave up our opt-out from the social chapter?

There are aspects of social and economic policy, such as the working time directive, the application of which have harmed the interests of the United Kingdom, and we do indeed need to seek changes to those policies where we think they make not just the United Kingdom, but the whole of Europe less competitive than we need to be.

No Foreign Office Ministers were present during yesterday’s debate on European matters, so will the Minister for Europe comment on the presidency text, which suggested that we would have to make a decision by June of this year as to what parts of the justice and home affairs opt-out we will opt into?

I read the comments in yesterday’s debate by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. As she told the House then, she is engaged, with my right hon. Friend the Justice Secretary, in negotiations with other member states and with the European Commission. Those talks are moving forward constructively. We hope for agreement at the earliest possible date, but there is no artificial deadline, save the one in the treaties, which is 1 December this year.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the repatriation of powers under the common fisheries policy has enabled important localisation of benefits for British fishermen, and will he condemn UKIP, which voted against the iniquitous practice of fish discards?

The ban on the obscene practice of discarding and the shift of fisheries management back to local and regional level is a real achievement for United Kingdom MEPs working with colleagues from other countries and with the European Commissioner concerned. It is disappointing if some UK MEPs felt that there were more important calls on their time than to defend British fishing interests in the way that our MEPs did.

The Prime Minister promised us all that EU treaty change would happen by 2017 and that a major repatriation of powers would follow. Given that the French, the Germans and the Italians now, have all confirmed that this is not their priority, could that be why the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis) thinks that the Prime Minister has made such a mess of winning back powers from the European Union?

Oh dear, dear, dear. I am heartened by the strong support in Denmark and the Netherlands for our ideas on strengthening the role of national Parliaments in the European Union, by the words in the German coalition agreement about the need for treaty changes in the future, and by the practical achievements in repatriation of powers, whether through fisheries or the arrangements for double voting on the single supervisory mechanism. What the British people are waiting to hear is whether the Opposition are prepared to trust the British people with the final decision on our membership of the European Union.