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EU: Legislation

Volume 743: debated on Monday 4 February 2013


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what derogations and opt-outs from European Union legislation they are seeking in negotiations with European Union partners.

My Lords, the Government always seek outcomes that are in the national interest when negotiating with other European Union member states. We work with a range of countries and our priorities include protecting the integrity of the single market and allowing fair competition for all members of the EU.

I thank the noble Baroness for that Answer. The Government are rightly very keen indeed on the single market, which is not just a free trade area but much more. The strong apparatus of support and protection that the single market affords to all member states means, effectively, that you have to stay in the EU as well. Is it not therefore important for the Government to avoid needless opt-outs of a chauvinistic or nationalistic nature?

My Lords, I am always impressed with the ever-increasing appetite for discussing Europe in this House. Many of these matters were raised in the debate that took place on Thursday of last week. Nobody in this House would argue that every time the United Kingdom goes to the European Union we should not always act in our national interest and make sure that we are continually putting a case forward that means that the European Union is improved but, within that, we also get a good deal.

My Lords, there has been much speculation about the Government wanting to withdraw from arrangements such as the European arrest warrant and other collaboration on criminal justice matters. What representations have been received by policing bodies about the wisdom of such a course of action and what representations have been received from victims’ organisations which may not get justice for the victims they represent?

I am not aware of what specific representation has been received in relation to that matter, but I will make sure that I write to the noble Lord and give him a full answer.

My Lords, I declare my interests as professor of surgery at UCL and a member of the General Medical Council. Despite assurances given at the time of its introduction that the imposition of the working-time regulation on junior doctors’ rotas would improve patient safety, we learnt last week from the president of the Royal College of Surgeons that the regulation has actually undermined the training of future generations of hospital consultants. Recently at least two coroners’ verdicts have cited the regulation as part of their narratives. What progress have Her Majesty’s Government made in the negotiations on this issue that were started in early 2011 by the then Health Secretary and the Business Secretary?

It is exactly because of specific issues such as this that we believe improvements can be made and that we can negotiate with Europe on a way forward that is in our best interests and works clearly in terms of, for example, our hospitals—the example given by the noble Lord. It is for that reason that the Prime Minister has laid out that certainly in the next Conservative manifesto there will be a clear provision for us to go to Europe, to negotiate and to get that better deal.

My Lords, further to the Question of my noble friend Lord Dykes, would it not be better if, instead of having a list of things that we want to opt out of, we start with a list of things that we want to opt into?

We should simply start with a single premise that we should work on what is in our national interest—whether that is opting in or opting out—but we must start that process, make sure that we fight hard for what is right for this country and make sure that, after having negotiated that outcome, we go to the people of this country and ask them to buy into it.

My Lords, there is an enthusiasm for this issue in the House and I share it. During the debate last week the Minister and several other noble Lords said that they did not believe that these uncertainties would have any impact on inward investment. Last week—I repeat the declaration of interest I made at that time—I saw for the first time in a “due diligence” questionnaire from a potential inward investor questions about mitigating risk as a result of this whole episode. Can the Minister, whether on behalf of the Prime Minister or in her own right, say just what the red lines and issues are so that inward investors at this stage know what they are dealing with and which kind of country they are coming to?

This is a very important relationship within the European Union. It is not the kind of thing that can be negotiated overnight. It is right, therefore, that the balance of competences review, which will take place between now and the end of 2014, starts to lay out and consult on those areas on which negotiations can be had. It is right that, if the Conservative Party were to win the next election, we would implement what we will put in our manifesto. We will go to Europe, negotiate and, thereafter, put that matter to the public of this country.

I understand what the noble Lord says about creating uncertainty. However, I am sure he will agree with me that the Europe debate is far and wide in this country. The concept that the British people are happy with the relationship that we have right now with the European Union is false. Therefore, any inward investor knows that this is a debate that is to be had in this country and, more than that, it is important that the people of this country buy into that relationship.

My Lords, has the time not come for Her Majesty’s Government to suggest to our European partners that we should all take back full national and monetary independence, that we should all help each other as appropriate and that Brussels should be closed down? If the Minister does not agree with me—I suppose that there is a chance that she may not—can she tell your Lordships what the European Union is now for? What useful things does it do which could not be done better and more cheaply by collaborating democratic governments?

I congratulate the noble Lord on being consistent and predictable. I am sure that he will get the answer that I always give him. There are great benefits of our membership of the European Union, both in terms of jobs in relation to inward investment and, of course, the strong collective voice which the European Union provides us in relation to free trade agreements, sanctions and international action.