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Lord Renton: My Lords, I am glad that the noble Baroness paid tribute to what Mr. John Major and Mr. Douglas Hurd achieved in Maastricht by negotiating some important amendments to what had been proposed before the deliberations began. Perhaps the most important change was the introduction of the subsidiarity rule, Article 3b, to which reference has been made. I believe that my noble friend Lord Pearson of Rannoch is right to suggest that the outcome of the application of that rule should be reported to both Houses of Parliament from time to time. I was very surprised that the noble Baroness described the suggestion of reporting to both Houses of Parliament as "perverse". That is not correct.
Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for giving way. I must make it plain that I regard the amendment as perverse. I indicated that the report was already available to both Houses of Parliament. That is why I said I thought the amendment perverse.
Lord Renton: My Lords, with great respect to the noble Baroness, I suggest that the amendment is not perverse. Although reports are made, and can be obtained from the cellar below the Printed Paper Office, they are not reports to the Houses of Parliament; they are reports issued within the European Community for use by the Council of Ministers, and so on. That is not the same as reporting them to Members of both Houses of Parliament, which is what my noble friend Lord Pearson of Rannoch has so wisely and convincingly proposed.
One could make a long speech about this matter; I have been into it in some detail over the years. However, I shall add little to what my noble friend said. Great hopes were raised when the subsidiarity rule was introduced. But, alas, on 27th October 1992 officials of the Commission issued a paper 22 pages long which sought to explain how the principle of subsidiary should be applied. The confusion created by that paper was appalling. In the European Court of Justice the then British learned judge, Lord Muir MacKenzie, described it as "gobbledegook".
There have been great difficulties, confusion and sometimes opposition to the application of the excellent principle of subsidiarity. Until it is presented to us in a form which will give effect to what is proposed in the amendment, our Parliament will not be conscious of what has gone on.
I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, that the results have up to a point been encouraging. But they need to be more so. I do not want to go into detail on the disadvantageous process of harmonisation, but that is where the problem lies. It was all right for the original six countries which signed the Treaty of Rome. The word then used was "assimilation". When we entered, we insisted that that should be modified to "harmonisation". When we entered that was just about feasible; but, with 15 countries and 11 different languages and the prospect of a further seven countries and another half dozen languages, harmonisation is not only impossible but nonsensical. Senior lawyers of the Commission have done their best, but it is now impossible to achieve. If we lose sight of subsidiarity, which is a modification of harmonisation, we shall add to the confusion.
Lord Grenfell: My Lords, I entirely agree with the noble Lord, Lord Renton, that the situation in 1992 was very confused as far as subsidiarity was concerned. But the outstanding characteristic of this protocol is that it is set out in much plainer language. That is its real quality. I therefore find it rather strange that we should be spilling belated tears over what happened in 1992 when we now have a protocol which very adequately clarifies the situation with regard to subsidiarity and in fact largely improves it.
I draw attention, as I have done in previous debates, to the fact that the protocol provides stronger guarantees than anything a Conservative government were able to achieve. We must remember that when the Conservative Government negotiated the Maastricht Treaty, they had negotiated fully on the issue of commitment to the full maintenance of the acquis communautaire. It is a little late now to say that all that was a great mistake.
That is a major step forward. I am very surprised that the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, seems to regard it as being of no importance at all. To me it is the key to the improvement of the subsidiarity regulations. It will give us a great deal of comfort when we have to consider the situation in the future. I entirely agree that we should have reports on what has been achieved and on what is happening under the subsidiarity rule. They
Lord Tebbit: My Lords, I regretted slightly the tone of the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell. It is a little unfair to suggest that, merely because my noble friend Lord Pearson and I are Conservatives, we are in some way to blame for the Maastricht Treaty. His memory must be a little short to believe that. Had we been listened to, rather than others in our party, there would have been no such treaty.
Lord Grenfell: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. I do not blame the noble Lord for the Maastricht Treaty; I congratulate his government on having signed up to some sensible provisions.
Lord Tebbit: My Lords, the noble Lord makes matters worse by attempting to be funny. He should understand that in both parties there are those of us who disagreed with the Maastricht Treaty and those who took it through. Some of us at that time voted against it. I suspect that there are now a good many who did not but wish they had.
I was fascinated to hear the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, say that we had moved on from Maastricht, not least in subsidiarity. Moved on we certainly have. The noble Baroness displayed enormous enthusiasm for, and is obviously overwhelmed by, the idea that reasons must be given for the legislation that is proposed. I am old fashioned enough to think that that has always been a good idea. They may be perverse reasons, to use the noble Baroness's own words. They may be reasons with which one does not agree. But to suggest that we have made a step forward because reasons must now be given for legislation suggests that the noble Baroness is too easily satisfied on this front.
The noble Baroness reminded us that the principle of subsidiarity is that in future the rules, regulations and legislation should only come from Brussels in the event that the objectives cannot be accomplished by our own country. She was extremely keen on that. We were told how the Liberal Democrats had fought for the devolution of power. Did they fight for the devolution of power? They fought to ensure that only matters which could not be dealt with in our own country, which we were not competent to deal with ourselves, should go to Brussels. It is only a matter of a week or so ago that the noble Baroness was expressing her delight that in this treaty there are provisions for Europe to take over such matters as legislation on sex discrimination and discrimination on grounds of race or religion.
As I look around Europe and consider the record of most of our friends and partners on the Continent, I doubt whether their record on discrimination, on grounds of religion or of race, is such that we should regard ourselves as incompetent to manage these matters
It is extraordinary that the noble Baroness should look at it in that way. However, she may be helped out of the hole which she dug for herself and her opposition to this amendment by the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, when he replies to the debate. I am sure that he has a list which he will give to us of all those matters which, since the Treaty of Maastricht was enacted, have been handed back to the nation states. I am sure that there must be dozens of matters which, until the day of Maastricht and subsidiarity, were handled by Brussels, where Brussels had the powers and where those powers have now been renounced. I look forward to him giving us that list.
Indeed, I look forward to hearing from the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, what more is to come back to us. After all, there should be some trade-offs as we hand over foreign and defence policy progressively to Brussels? What will we get back? What powers will come back to us? What powers have already been given back to us since Maastricht? It is in the light of that reply that noble Lords might judge the amendment.
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