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Ec Legislation: Repeals

Volume 553: debated on Monday 11 April 1994

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2.57 p.m.

How many previous European Community legislative acts have been repealed since the inclusion of the subsidiarity principle in the Maastricht Treaty.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office
(Baroness Chalker of Wallasey)

My Lords, no EC legislation has been repealed since the Maastricht Treaty entered into force last year. But the Commission's subsidiarity report to the European Council last December identified a range of directives for recasting, simplification and repeal. The Commission is now bringing forward formal proposals to implement the report.

My Lords, after all that we heard last summer about subsidiarity, is it not really rather disappointing that so far, if I understood the Minister aright, no regulation, directive or decision has been repealed? In view of this very meagre harvest, are the Government preparing a programme of possible future appeals to submit to the Council of Ministers?

My Lords, it is just three months since the Commission estimated that some 25 per cent. of all existing EC legislation could either be repealed completely or be replaced by a smaller number of simpler measures. There has been progress. The very fact is that only half the number of proposals now come forward from the Commission compared with four to five years ago. The Commission is dealing with the repeals, and the replacement of certain legislation by simpler measures where that is effective. The Commission will, of course, report again to the Essen Council in December this year under the German presidency.

My Lords, given that there is a deregulation Bill going through Parliament at the moment, to which your Lordships have not yet given an opinion, can my noble friend say whether it is the Government's intention that the repeal of the EC legislation will be done through the mechanism of that Bill or whether they have other plans in mind?

My Lords, it is my understanding that the repeal must be done on the basis of all 12 countries. The Bill itself would not be the Bill that repealed the legislation. I understand that a simple way of going forward will be found. That is why, by achieving agreement on 16 out of the 24 items on the Anglo-French list last year, we are able to start making progress without going through primary legislation in your Lordships' House.

My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware that in the Answer she gave to the House in December last the new proposals do not differ substantially from those contained in Annexe 2 to the Edinburgh Conference a year earlier in December 1992? Does she agree that in fact the only advance has been an advance in rhetoric rather than any concrete progress? Is she further aware that at the moment the Commission is simply promising to do exactly what it promised to do a year earlier in rather lusher terms than preceded the debate in your Lordships' House on the Maastricht Treaty?

My Lords, on this occasion the noble Lord is being a little unfair. The number of proposals being brought forward annually by the Commission continues to decline. The Commission has already withdrawn 150 old proposals that have been overtaken. It has identified in the report others which are to be withdrawn. In partnership with other member states, we are working to ensure that a great deal more progress is made by the end of this year than has happened so far. I agree with the noble Lord that we want to see progress as soon as possible. But we are dealing with the art of the possible and we cannot dictate when these things shall happen.

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that it is the obsession with the structures of the European Union rather than the practical operations of the business relationship that is leading to such doubts about our commitment to the Union?

My Lords, I have some sympathy with my noble friend, but I can assure him that the UK commitment to a sound partnership in Europe means that we, along with every other member state, are working to ensure that subsidiarity works. We do so because subsidiarity means doing only those things at European level that need to be done at that level and doing the rest at national level. There is nothing wrong with that and we shall go on working for it.

My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware that some of us are very disappointed that she cannot provide us with a list of repeals? The Commission has had enough time to do that. However, can she say how many new legislative acts have been imposed since the ratification of the Maastricht Treaty?

My Lords, I cannot answer the noble Lord's question off the back of my hand, but I shall write to him with an answer. This morning I again went through the Anglo-French list of 24 items. Given the complexity of each of them I am not surprised that there has not been as much progress as your Lordships would like. First, the Commission agreed to amend the notification of projects of interest to the Community in the petroleum, natural gas and electricity sectors. It goes on through some very complicated amendments that need to be made. There is a need to consult to make sure that the items are whittled down to the minimum possible, if they cannot be repealed altogether.

My Lords, can the Minister say whether the Government are satisfied that the Commission is taking the task seriously?

My Lords, I am never satisfied, as the noble Lord will know. I will not use that phrase. We are anxious that more progress should be made on the repeal of those items identified. There has been a change in staffing in regard to the manner of doing it. However, we shall work very hard with the German presidency to make sure that we achieve real progress in the coming eight months.

My Lords, in order that we may all get together to help my noble friend, would she be so kind as to publish what one might describe as the Government's "wish list" for legislative acts which might be repealed? Will she publish regularly instances in which the Commission has been obdurate in making progress in those areas?

My Lords, it is a very noble suggestion from my noble friend that he wants to help me. I should like to help him too. I shall look into his suggestion to see whether I can agree with it.

My Lords, does the Commission have an exclusive monopoly for proposing repeals as well as new legislation, or have national governments the right to make proposals direct to the Council of Ministers?

My Lords, the noble Lord may have heard me say that there was an Anglo-French list of 24 items and at the December council we obtained agreement that 16 of those 24 items would be repealed, simplified or dismissed altogether. Therefore, there is capacity for member states to put forward suggestions for repeals. That is what we shall continue to do.

My Lords, assuming from her earlier answers that my noble friend agrees that one of the criteria by which the usefulness or otherwise of subsidiarity should be judged is the number of legislative proposals which pour forth from Brussels every year, could I remind my noble friend—in seeking also to help in her answer to the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart of Swindon—of a Written Answer that she gave on 10th January this year to the effect that these legislative proposals for 1992 numbered no less than 73 and that in that Written Answer she thought that the legislative proposals for 1993 would number around 70? I wonder whether my noble friend is in a position to be more precise now. Does she agree that 70 would still be an extremely disturbing figure, especially for the year 1993, when the European Commission was presumably on its best behaviour in that regard in view of the debate which was taking place across Europe at the time?

My Lords, I am not sure that I could ever convince my noble friend that the European Commission was on its best behaviour. I do not think that he would believe it. I understand that the out-turn figure for 1993 was lower than that which we estimated in January. However, I shall let my noble friend have the figure.