Treaty on European Union

Part of Orders of the Day — European Communities (Amendment) Bill – in the House of Commons at 8:30 pm on 4th March 1993.

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Photo of Alan Simpson Alan Simpson , Nottingham South 8:30 pm, 4th March 1993

It is only fair to say that, if there was a misunderstanding or a misinterpretation, the senior official was pretty consistent about ensuring that we misinterpeted the point. He was pressed on the point several times, and he repeated his comments—much to the consternation of a number of Conservative Members who were part of the delegation. I simply make that point.

My next point is a cautionary one for Opposition Members who are enthusiasts for the treaty. The official's qualification was that, if the financial resources were not there, within the remit defined by the central bank, it did not matter what social policy framework there was, because money would not be produced out of thin air by Governments who had no legal right to direct the bank to release the necessary resources. I suspect that there is not much comfort for any hon. Member in that point.

The officials then took us through the role of the Commission in terms of the regulatory framework. This is precisely the point that was made earlier. The Commission clearly has its own agenda for a rolling regulatory framework. It was described in positive terms in many ways, and I could understand that. We were told that the Commission had a bureaucracy that was very different from the bureaucracy that we encounter in the House of Commons. It is: it is more open and more accessible. The whole delegation was able to get answers far more forthright than those that we get in the House.

The officials also said that they employed bright people to come up with bright ideas, and that those bright people then drafted bright regulations to implement them. We were told that those people's zeal sometimes made them act in ways about which more senior officials might not feel entirely happy.

They cited the example of a set of proposals for European regulations on zoos. The zeal was such that the proposals had come to the point of requiring the owners of zoos to specify which routes out of the zoo they thought the animals would take in the event of a break-out. The proposal was described in the Commission as being about whether the animals would shop at Sainsbury or Tesco.

The real question is not whether the Commission should stop employing bright and zealous people, but the extent to which they are held accountable to a democratic process.