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Lord Bruce of Donington: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. Will he give me one instance in the course of any speech that I have made either in this place or outside where I have said that we want to get out of Europe? If he cannot do so, would he kindly withdraw his remark?
I do not think that this is a matter which really needs any long speeches or intricate analysis. In my view it is an impractical Bill and I certainly do not think that it will do any good whatever to our relations with the European Union.
Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, is he really not going to answer any of the analysis which has been offered so far, and which cannot be called intricate, or is he simply saying that he wants to be in the European Union however awful it is, and that is that, and he will not answer the criticisms of those of us who want to leave?
Lord Taverne: My Lords, I shall not debate the whole question of British membership of the European Union at this moment. It is going to be a long day anyway. I am concerned only to deal with the particular provisions of this Bill which in my view are quite impracticable.
Earl Attlee: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Willoughby de Broke for introducing his Bill this afternoon. His list of EU directives was certainly extensive but it is also perhaps a measure of the co-operation and scope of EU activity.
The noble Lord, Lord Taverne, said that he could not support the Bill. I can understand some of the reasons for not wanting to support the Bill. But then he also expressed interest and support for Clause 3. However, all noble Lords are aware of the interest of the noble Lord, Lord Taverne, in these matters and we are grateful for his analysis. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Taverne, with regard to the Conservative Party's attitude to the EU that we on these Benches have absolutely no interest at all in leaving the EU.
All three items of European business today cover similar issues of concern. Not surprisingly the list of speakers is also similar in all three cases. We have touched on the issue of tax harmonisation. In the next debate I intend to consider the withholding tax, although some noble Lords have touched on it already. It would be interesting to see an impact statement on the withholding tax and also a Section 1 report on the withholding tax, if it ever came into being.
I found the contribution of my noble friend Lord Pearson of Rannoch interesting and detailed. I have no information but I suspect that the directive he quotes from is based on the British standard for condoms. I can understand the EU's reluctance to quote a British standard in an EU directive, but it is a little hard to understand why the directive could not refer to an ISO standard, even if the ISO standard was derived from our own British standard.
On that point, I meet many ordinary people of all kinds and conditions outside this House. They often complain to me about new laws and regulations. These new laws and regulations often implement EU directives. By and large, they are desirable but I have to explain to these people that there is little I can do in Parliament because, as I have mentioned, all this legislation is implemented under the 1972 Act.
The noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, who sadly is not present at the moment, referred to the unstoppable flow of regulation, as he put it, and the effect on small businesses. One example that he mentioned was the threat to preserved steam engines. Some time ago we debated the hot surfaces directive in your Lordships' House, I believe, in the form of a Starred Question. This issue of new regulations for boilers and steam vessels will be of serious concern to many steam enthusiasts. However, I am not aware of any steam vessel failure with preserved steam equipment. The Minister will not have the answer available but will he write to me and tell me exactly what the Government's policy is with regard to steam boilers in preserved equipment?
One major concern about EU regulations is that government departments have a bad habit of "gold plating" EU regulations. I well recall the debates we had in the previous Parliament concerning new eyesight standards for drivers of commercial vehicles. The Minister at the time pleaded that he was only implementing EU directions. However, later the Minister found that he could water down the regulations. I am sure that an impact statement would have concentrated the Minister's mind at that time. I do not know what my noble friend plans to do with his Bill. It is, however, vital that Ministers consider the impact at least as carefully as whether the Bill complies with the ECHR.
Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, before my noble friend sits down, can he explain to the House how this country will be in Europe but not run by Europe when we remain bound by the Treaty of Rome? As he himself said--he may or may not be right as to whether this applies to Clause 3 of the Bill--most European legislation now comprises secondary regulations which do not even pass through national Parliaments. It is an expression which I know has been put about by the Conservative Party often recently, but how can we possibly not be run by Europe when we are bound by the Treaty of Rome, the Single European Act, the Maastricht Treaty and the Amsterdam Treaty? It is just not possible, is it?
The Minister of State, Cabinet Office (Lord Falconer of Thoroton): My Lords, I hope that noble Lords will forgive me for not participating in the internal debate of the Conservative Party as to whether or not the Conservative Party should support a policy of withdrawing altogether from the European Union. If I may, I shall restrict myself to the Bill spoken to this morning by the noble Lord, Lord Willoughby de Broke. In all sincerity I congratulate the noble Lord on his clear and helpful exposition both of the purpose of the Bill and its detail. I am afraid that the Government cannot support the Bill. I shall briefly explain why that is.
First of all, the Government believe that the existing arrangements provide sufficient information for the impact of Community legislation to be understood in advance of the passage of that legislation. As the noble Lord, Lord Willoughby de Broke, is aware, at present the Government prepare explanatory memoranda for Community legislation on a case-by-case basis. Significant impacts are identified in these documents, including significant financial impacts on business both large and small.
In addition, where the Government propose measures to implement Community legislation which is likely to have a significant impact, a regulatory impact assessment, including a small business litmus test, is prepared and published. As the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, pointed out, the Government have recently indicated that they intend to strengthen these arrangements so that in future it will clearly be the case that when regulations are introduced giving effect to European legislation there will be a clear regulatory impact assessment.
I entirely agree with the assessment of the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, that the right and practical approach is that both Houses of Parliament and the wider public should be made aware in advance of any impact of Community legislation on business and beyond before it is introduced. With the greatest of respect, what the Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Willoughby de Broke, proposes is frankly absurd in its scope. As I understand the position, what he envisages is that a report should be prepared each year by the relevant Secretary of State dealing with what the impact has been in the previous year of all Community legislation. That is not just the legislation that is passed in the course of that year, but, I assume, that which has been passed throughout the previous 26 years.
The noble Lord envisages that the Secretary of State would first of all consult a wide range of bodies: businesses, trade unions, companies providing financial services and, no doubt, lawyers and accountants of every kind. As I understand it, the noble Lord envisages that public meetings should be arranged throughout the country to enable people to discuss various regulations and their effect. I do not know whether he envisages
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, my noble friend Lord Stoddart says that that is called democracy. However, the picture I have of the Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Willoughby de Broke, is of public meetings being arranged for most of the year, throughout most of the country, at which regulations such as the Dairy Products Hygiene Regulations would be discussed. I agree with the noble Lords, Lord Bruce of Donington, and Lord Taverne, that this process would lead to most of the civil servants and most of the Government indulging in a huge consultation process, the effect of which would be to place a very much larger burden on both business and the Government than any regulations produced by the European Union.
We believe that we have sensible arrangements in place which permit a proper giving of information before legislation is passed. That is only right and proper. We believe that the proposals of the noble Lord, Lord Willoughby de Broke, are not thoroughly thought out; they would place much too heavy a burden on Ministers, civil servants and the people consulted. I do not believe that anyone looking at them would think that they are sensible proposals for the giving or obtaining of information. For those reasons we cannot support the Bill.
Perhaps I may deal with a number of the specific points that have been raised in the debate. The noble Lord, Lord Willoughby de Broke, asked me specifically--and very kindly he said he would restrict himself to one question--to what extent we consult with interested parties, in particular with business. The guidance on the regulatory impact assessments which apply to Community legislation requires departments to consult with interested parties, including with small firms and their representatives in particular. I hope that answers the noble Lord's specific question.
The noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, asked specific questions about the figures on water quality expenditure and related issues. Unfortunately I do not have those figures at my fingertips. Perhaps I may deal with the matter by way of writing to the noble Lord.
So far as concerns compliance information, the Commission publishes its reports annually, which include compliance and infraction information. The Government have not themselves examined compliance by other member states. However, a study prepared in 1994 considered compliance by other nations. I believe that it is available in the Library of the House.
The noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, referred to the volume of regulations coming from Europe. It is perhaps not without interest that the total number of Commission proposals at the end of 1998 was the lowest since 1990 at least. In the 12 months to the end of November 1998, the Commission presented only 34 proposals for new legislation.
It is perhaps worth mentioning that business and the UK Government have been actively supporting the pilot business test panel, which consults directly with business in participating member states on proposals for legislation. We hope that a successful pilot such as that will help give a broader picture of the effects of legislation.