|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
Mr. Stephen O'Brien: As the Minister is rightly placing a lot of reliance on the legal provisions, on behalf of my hon. Friend and myself, I repeat my request that the legal advice should be placed in the Library. Clearly, as so much of the Government's argument turns on that advice, it would be exceptionally helpful for us to have it.
Mr. Hutton: I am happy to write to both hon. Gentlemen setting out the details of the legal argument that we have received, rather than depositing the legal opinion in the Library, as we do not usually do that. I know that the argument has rattled around today about whether the Bill is within or without the European Union legal requirements. We have clear legal advice, not only to my Department, but to the then Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, that the proposed legislation would take us outwith those requirements.
The Bill proposes that the present origin labelling requirement be replaced with more extensive labelling rules that would make country of origin labelling compulsory in all cases. Clause 1 would extend that requirement to apply to any ingredient that forms more than 25 per cent. by weight of a food. The country of origin, as well as the country of processing or packing, would be required to be given equal prominence, and food produced to less demanding production standards than those applicable in England would need to be appropriately identified. That, in summary, is the hon. Gentleman's proposal today.
I believe that the measures introduced by the Bill on origin labelling of all food are in clear conflict with our Community obligations under directive 2000/13/EC and amount to measures having equivalent effect to a quantitative restriction on trade in breach of article 28 of the treaty.
The measures are also in conflict with article 10 of the treaty, which requires every member state to take all appropriate measures, whether general or particular, to ensure fulfilment of the treaty obligations and legislation made under the treaty, and to abstain from any measure which could jeopardise the attainment of the objectives of the treaty. By virtue of section 2(1) of the European Communities Act 1972, the provisions of the EC treaty take precedence over incompatible domestic legislation.
For all those reasons, if the Bill were to proceed, it would be unenforceable. It would be subject to successful legal challenge by the European Commission, member states, manufacturers, importers and exporters. It is likely that the UK Government would be liable to pay substantial damages to affected interests. There is an unfortunate precedent for that, and I am afraid that I have to remind Conservative Members of the Merchant Shipping Act 1988. The Government found themselves in that situation and the taxpayer had to fund compensation for those basic and fundamental mistakes when the true extent of the treaty requirements was realised.
Although the Government share the Bill's objectives, we recognise our responsibility to uphold the law as it underpins the European single market. We take that responsibility seriously, as I am sure hon. Members do. Although we agree with the Bill's broad intention to improve labelling, its proposal for unilateral action in England in breach of EU law cannot be countenanced.
Mr. Stephen O'Brien: Just in case the Minister does not reach his peroration, will he give an idea of how quickly our requirements can be achieved in Europe if the route outlined in the Bill cannot be followed?
Mr. Hutton: I thought I had reached my peroration. I can place in the Library a copy of the detailed proposals that have been sent to the European Commission outlining how the Government want to improve the origin labelling requirements that we believe are not strong enough. I am not master of the timetable, but we are pursuing the proposals with vigour in the European Commission because we are not satisfied with the extent of consumer protection and how it supports consumer choice. If the hon. Gentleman and other hon. Members want to see details of the proposals, I shall make them available to the House. Although I cannot be specific about the outcome in terms of changes to EU legislation, we are up for this challenge and going at it as quickly as possible.
The advantage of acting at EU level is explicit. EU rules exist for good reasons. European laws avoid inconsistency and therefore consumer confusion. They ensure that consumers are provided with clear consistent information on labels about the foods that they find on shop shelves, wherever those foods come from. They also promote free trade, which benefits producers and manufacturers as well as consumers, and prevent other countries from applying national rules that might block our exports. It would not be a good idea to chuck out those benefits in haste because of a concern about the adequacy of food labelling requirements. We have much to lose if we take the advice of the hon. Member for Brentwood and Ongar.
Moreover, it is necessary for proposed national measures to be notified and justified to the Commission and other member states in advance, and that simply has not happened. Such notification is required under the terms of the food labelling directive and technical standards directive 98/34/EC. The Commission and other members states then scrutinise national provisions to see whether they impede the free movement of goods in the single market. The process is likely to result at the very least in the inclusion of a mutual recognition clause allowing imports that do not comply.
Revising the Bill's proposed measures to confine its application to home producethe only way in which it would sustain or survive a legal challengewould result in the loss of most of the benefits that the hon. Gentleman seeks to secure for British consumers, as well as unfairly placing a cost burden on our food processing and manufacturing industries alone.
The European Court of Justice has ruled on national origin labelling provisions in case C32/90, the EC Commission v. Italythe so-called Italian pasta case. Italian national legislation required manufacturers of extruded pasta productsI am not quite sure what those areto state on the label the date of manufacture and the place of origin or provenance of the product. The European Court of Justice
Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East): I am delighted to have secured this debate on policing in Hampshire. As is my custom in Adjournment debates, I have given the Minister a rough idea of the points that I intend to make. They are not partisanindeed, the only party political references that I shall make are at the beginning.
It was a question of looking for every avenue that allowed us to apply pressure to these peopleto show them we meant business and that their anti-social behaviour would not be tolerated."
Around 30 people were arrested in the first week and nearly 100 vehicles found to have defects.
It led to a great many prosecutions and many people's benefits being stopped where they were found to be cheating."
They drank, shouted and screamed, and threw things about. Several times vandals damaged his fence.
When the pensioner told them to go away and stop disturbing him and his wife, he was met by a volley of abuse . . . The final straw came when the fence was burned down for a second time. Three weeks later Mr. Gale hanged himself at home".
Let me move the debate into the context of my New Forest, East constituency, 80 per cent. of whose population live in the town of Totton or in the villages along the waterside. I have here a note written as an open letter to unknown parents by a waterside pensioner who lives in Hythe. She asks them:
I do not accept that the police cannot do more. There is a tendency towards centralisation. There is a tendency to see loutish behaviour as a relatively low priority, and to be reactive rather than proactive. That means that the trouble occurs before the police are seen, instead of visible policing deterring the troublemakers in the first place. The police cannot be on beat patrol everywhere all the time, but that does not mean that they should not be on beat patrol somewhere some of the time.
I accept that there cannot be much incentive for undermanned police units to take action against low-level community crime if the end result of all the preparatory paperwork that they have to undertake is an ineffective court punishment, laid down by people who have little direct experience of the misery caused to ordinary folk. If that were not enough, the judicial framework has so been twisted in recent years that if a policeman or teacher is accused of using even the most limited physical chastisement on a misbehaving child the result is likely to be suspension, prosecution and professional ruin.
I know that the chief constable of Hampshire, Paul Kernaghan, is fighting hard to improve recruitment by stressing the inadequacy of the outer London allowance of £1,000 granted after the abolition of the rent allowance. House prices in Hampshire are high. My right hon. Friend the Member for NorthWest Hampshire (Sir G. Young) has endorsed that view, pointing out that policemen are drawn either to London with full housing allowances or to areas such as the south-west where housing costs are lower than in Hampshire.
I repeat that this is a cross-party issue. My near neighbour, the hon. Member for Eastleigh (Mr. Chidgey), does not dissent from my view that there is serious concern in the community about the adequacy of grass-roots policing. My hon. Friend the Member for Fareham (Mr. Hoban) tells me that only two policemen are responsible for 50,000 residents at night in the western half of the town. My hon. Friend the Member for New Forest, West (Mr. Swayne) adds that police numbers in
In 1996 and 1997, it cost only £840 a year to police the event. In 1998, the figure jumped to £1,536. In 2000, a further increase to £1,920 put a stop to the additional donations made to the police funds. This year, a massive £3,574 is being extracted. The rally organisers have been told to expect that ratchet to continue to tighten until the horrendous total of £12,000 a year is eventually required. That would remove between a third and a half of the money that is raised for charity by that event.
I am unhappy that such events are, frankly, being over-policed, at a price that the organisers cannot afford, when constituents who are genuinely in fear for their safety are not getting the community policing service that they are entitled to expect. I hope that the Minister sympathises with what I have said, and that he can say something positive to reassure my long-suffering constituents.