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Parliamentary Sovereignty

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:45 pm on 22nd January 1988.

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Photo of Mr Teddy Taylor Mr Teddy Taylor , Southend East 2:45 pm, 22nd January 1988

Indeed, I did. It was a measure taken by the British Parliament on levying our taxes. At that time I favoured a transfer from direct to indirect taxation. There is nothing strange about that. We were deciding. If I and other hon. Members had voted against that, it would not have happened. The crucial issue is that in this case we will not decide. The decision is made by the European Court of Justice and the result will have to be implemented by the British Parliament and Government, whether we like it or not. After 1992 I fear that, if tax harmonisation has not been agreed, the Commission could use the powers of the Single European Act to take the United Kingdom and other countries to court for not levying VAT on essentials. Time will tell.

Sovereignty has also slipped away on issues that affect the people more directly. Today I saw on the tapes—no doubt my hon. Friend the Member for Skipton and Ripon also noted it—that the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has made an appeal to the food industry to label its foods correctly and informatively so that consumers know what they are buying. Ever since 1972 we have had a British law on origin marking under which goods covered by the Trade Descriptions Act 1972 have been required to display a mark stating where they were made. The law, which is the basis on which goods are marked "Made in France … Japan … Germany … Italy" and so on, was unanimously agreed by Parliament as a means of giving more information to the consumer. It has helped me and millions of consumers in our purchasing choices.

Some time ago the Commission sent the Government a letter stating that it considered the law to be contrary to the treaty of Rome because it enabled British consumers to commit the crime of discriminating against goods produced in other parts of the EEC. The Government's legal advisers said that we could not win the case, so the Consumer Protection Act 1987 was passed providing for an order to be made in 1988 that will repeal the 1972 Act. The Government made it clear that they did not want to make that change and that it was against their policies to throw away a consumer safeguard. However, they were forced to do so simply because of a letter from a nonelected body.

The other day the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Corporate and Consumer Affairs stated that there would be a ban on the use of certain foams in furniture because they were a threat to children's lives. That statement received acclaim from all sides. However, the Minister then announced that the ban could not be implemented permanently without the approval of the Common Market Commission. So much for the sovereignty of a free Parliament. No doubt my hon. Friend the Member for Skipton and Ripon will stand up again and say that we agreed to this.