Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Renton: I am grateful to the noble Lord for his remarks. Perhaps I may also point out that justice delayed is justice denied.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: I am happy to add that to my very small collection of legal tags.

The third issue was national time limits on the implementation of directives. I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Lester of Herne Hill, referred to that. During the Intergovernmental Conference that was clarified in a manner reflecting the previous government's proposal by Advocate General Jacobs in the Denkavit case. The court has since confirmed that opinion in its judgment this year in the Fantask case. Therefore, the previous government's proposal has been rendered unnecessary by the ECJ's own case law.

The fourth aspect of Amendment No. 48 is the limitation of damages payable by member states. During the course of the IGC the European Court of Justice gave a series of judgments which established just such a rule, making the proposed treaty amendment unnecessary. These included the fishing case Factortame III, Brasserie du Pecheur and the British Telecom case in 1996. I hope that on reflection the noble Lord will accept that we did not let down his government. The Court itself had achieved the vast bulk of the improvements which they considered to be necessary.

I have a few outstanding points with which I have to deal. The first is the question of the legality of the acts of the Council in the third pillar. The Court's role in reviewing the legality of some acts of the Council, where an action is brought by a member state or the Commission in Article K.7(6) has given rise to much misunderstanding and controversy. The facts are simple. The Court's jurisdiction is limited to reviewing Council framework decisions and decisions which may be adopted by the Council. I say that as clearly as I can to the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan.

Many of the consequences that some Members of the Committee have seen as flowing from that are just not applicable. It is unlikely that article will give rise to a substantial number of cases before the ECJ. To the noble Earl, Lord Clanwilliam, I say that judgments are not

24 Mar 1998 : Column 1200

binding upon the UK courts, because Section 3 of the European Communities Act 1972 applies only to the jurisdiction of the Court under Community treaties. The UK will not accept that jurisdiction.

The final point I want to make is about the involvement of Parliament. The noble Baroness, Lady Williams, in particular, referred to that. It is worth emphasising the extent to which we are solicitous of the need in this country--this parliamentary democracy--to be concerned with Parliament. We are committed to keeping Parliament properly informed of and allowing adequate parliamentary debate on all EU business. By tradition, those arrangements for consultation and information are laid down in convention and the standing orders or resolutions of this House and another place.

We believe that that route, with the flexibility it provides, remains more appropriate than a binding commitment by Act of Parliament which many of the new clauses would entail. Extensive arrangements for parliamentary debate are already in place. They include regular debates on EU and wider foreign policy and defence policy issues; regular ministerial appearances before Select Committees; written and oral reports on Council and European Council meetings; and other opportunities to question Ministers and debate topical issues.

We are committed to building on those arrangements as part of our effort to strengthen national scrutiny arrangements and reinforce the role of national parliaments in the EU. As has been referred to, the President of the Council published a memorandum in January setting out our proposals which has been sent to the committee of this House under the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff. We await his views with anticipation. Our plans include giving Parliament a strengthened formal role in the scrutiny of third pillar business. I can confirm what the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, said about the Home Office memorandum.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch: Would the noble Lord also be good enough to confirm the British Government's continuing commitment to not agreeing any item in Brussels until the scrutiny reserve has been lifted by the Scrutiny Committees of both Houses of Parliament?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: I do not want to interfere with the procedures of the European Communities Committee. As the noble Lord knows, the committee conducts a sift of papers that come before it. I imagine that it makes a proper distinction--we have the noble Lord, Lord Boston of Faversham, with us--between what is important and what is unimportant.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch: That is not quite the point that I was putting. The problem has been I think in the past that items have not been arriving in time in national parliaments for the Scrutiny Committees concerned to do their job properly. I think that the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, has made that point in recent debates. My question was: does the British Government's assurance to Parliament still hold that

24 Mar 1998 : Column 1201

they, the British Government, will not agree anything in Brussels upon which the scrutiny reserve has not been lifted by the Scrutiny Committees in both Houses of Parliament, because with the new time facilities which we are being offered by the treaty we hope to have the time to scrutinise all those items properly? I am merely asking whether the Government's previous commitment in this regard still holds force.

Baroness Williams of Crosby: Before the noble Lord replies, perhaps I may add one other question. I appreciate that there may be circumstances in which it would be impossible to await completion of the scrutiny. However, will the Minister give an assurance that he will do his best to make certain that, wherever possible, texts are put before the appropriate committees so that they can scrutinise them before a decision is made in the Council?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: I can certainly give an unequivocal assurance to the noble Baroness. As regards the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, he is asking for a commitment which involves two parties: first, the Government and, secondly, the European Communities Committee. Certainly, as far as possible, we shall try to see to it that nothing is implemented until it has been decided by the European Communities Committee, but there may be exceptions.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch: I fear that that may be a watering down of the existing situation, in which case it would be quite serious.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: If it is a watering down, I shall write to the noble Lord on the point. It is not intended to be.

We propose to strengthen the arrangements for reporting to Parliament on Council meetings. We already report on such meetings orally and in writing. We propose more detailed reports in the form of letters to the Select Committee chairmen to ensure that Parliament is better informed.

These proposals, building on existing arrangements, will provide considerable opportunity for parliamentary debate on all European issues, as is witnessed, I believe, by the debate this afternoon.

Lord Bruce of Donington: Will my noble friend confirm that the Government will pay attention to the last report from the House of Commons Select Committee on European Legislation, to which I referred and which showed a very large number of communications still due from the Government, which are greatly in arrears? May we have the Minister's assurance that that list will be taken very seriously and that the items in arrears, in some cases for many years, can be disposed of without much further delay?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My noble friend can certainly have the assurance that we treat this matter very seriously indeed.

24 Mar 1998 : Column 1202

We have had a good debate and we have aired all the outstanding issues on the third pillar. If I have neglected any points raised by Members of the Committee, I apologise and I shall write to them. In the meantime, I hope that my noble friend will see fit to withdraw the amendment.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: This has certainly been a long, detailed and well-conducted debate. There have been 13 speakers, including the speech of my noble friend on the Front Bench. I should like to thank every one of the speakers because they have made all or most of the relevant points which should have been made during the debate.

Also, I thank my noble friend for giving so much time and effort to answering the points which were made. I feel quite sure that further questions will arise from his answers but we shall have to come to those on Report.

I really do not believe that the Committee would welcome my replying to the debate by going through all the speeches, remarking upon them all and giving my own views, not at this time of night. Therefore, I shall not do that. However, my noble friend Lord McIntosh said in reply to my noble friend Lord Shore that what we are concerned about is not simply what is in this treaty but what might come later; in other words, we were anticipating further changes but we fear what will come from this particular treaty.

I must tell my noble friend that experience has taught us to be wary of everything which goes on and of every new nuance which emerges from negotiations on matters concerning Europe. We know that the competence of the European Union has grown by a ratchet effect. Those of us who fought the referendum campaign in 1975 remember, for example, that the Government issued a document stating that they had renegotiated the treaty and that one of the most serious effects would have arisen from the desire of people to enter an economic and monetary union. They stated that that had been negotiated away because they believed that it would create difficult economic circumstances and unemployment. Now we know from bitter experience that that had not been negotiated away. We are seeing EMU being foisted on us, if I may put it that way, albeit 23 years later. That is the reason why we are concerned about what happens in respect of the treaties.

My final comment relates to xenophobia. It is important because my noble friend believes that xenophobia means hatred of foreigners. It does not mean only that; it means fear of foreigners, too. Are we to be prosecuted for being afraid of foreigners? Some people are still frightened of the Germans, and with good reason because they experienced some difficult moments between 1939 and 1945 which have remained with them. Perhaps they no longer apply; but, nevertheless, people can be in fear of other people and other countries without them doing anything criminal.

I urge the Committee to think about that. I believe that we must return to the issue on Report, and I believe that at this time of night it would be right for me to beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

24 Mar 1998 : Column 1203

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page