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Europe

Oral Answers to Questions — Solicitor-General – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 13th April 2000.

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Photo of Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Opposition Whip (Commons) 12:00 am, 13th April 2000

What areas of United Kingdom law have been affected by (a) accession to EU treaties by the United Kingdom and (b) decisions of the European Court in the last three years. [117753]

Photo of Professor Ross Cranston Professor Ross Cranston Solicitor General, Law Officers' Department

Each year the United Kingdom becomes bound by obligations under international agreements affecting almost every area of policy. These range from the environment to air traffic to patents.

The hon. Gentleman refers to the European Court. As he knows there are two. The European Court of Justice delivers judgments in all areas where there is a European Community law dimension. Again, the range is wide, covering competition law, employment law, environmental protection and state aids. As a member of the European Community, we are bound by the judgments of the court.

In addition, there is the European Court of Human Rights, which I have just mentioned. It affects all areas of United Kingdom law in which convention rights exist.

Photo of Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Opposition Whip (Commons)

I thank the Minister for that reply. Is it not true that, whenever the British Government agree to treaty changes handing over responsibility for whole chunks of policy—for example, the social policy aspect of the Amsterdam treaty—the democratic accountability of this Parliament is diminished and the independence of our judiciary is fettered? Would it not be better if such matters were dealt with by national Governments, whenever possible, instead of by unelected European institutions?

Photo of Professor Ross Cranston Professor Ross Cranston Solicitor General, Law Officers' Department

The hon. Gentleman's original question contained more misconceptions per square inch than I have seen for a while; the supplementary contained even more.

We are members of the European Community. The hon. Gentleman's Government were in office for 18 years; they signed treaties that resulted in the European Commission acquiring certain powers. I realise that certain hon. Members sitting near the hon. Gentleman are members of the café society—Conservatives Against a Federal Europe

Photo of Professor Ross Cranston Professor Ross Cranston Solicitor General, Law Officers' Department

I am reassured by that. However, the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) is a member of that society, and its members believe in getting out of Europe. I hope that the hon. Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown) will explain to his constituents how many jobs would be lost as a result of that policy.

Photo of Alan Whitehead Alan Whitehead Labour, Southampton, Test

Does my hon. and learned Friend consider that the European Court of Justice has any value to the United Kingdom, and if so, what is that value?

Photo of Professor Ross Cranston Professor Ross Cranston Solicitor General, Law Officers' Department

The ECJ enforces the treaty. That is important because it introduces the rule of law throughout Europe. Too often during the previous century, the rule of law has not been effective in some parts of Europe.

We value the work of the ECJ. For example, yesterday, I was before the court, arguing a case involving the cigarette advertising directive. If we are successful in that case, we shall quickly be able to introduce effective regulations to ban cigarette advertising. The resultant benefit to human health will be considerable.

There are problems with the European Court. For example, there are delays. However, the court has developed a plan for improvements in its procedures; we support such reforms.

Photo of Mr Nick Hawkins Mr Nick Hawkins Conservative, Surrey Heath

Does the Minister not realise that severe dangers are posed to our sovereignty by the moves in Brussels and Strasbourg to replace English law by the code Napoleon? Will he tell us whether the Government are prepared to stand against the plans for corpus juris? Does he acknowledge the huge concern caused by the fact that so much of vital interest to our citizens bypasses the UK and the House, and is being addressed with no democratic accountability at all?

Photo of Professor Ross Cranston Professor Ross Cranston Solicitor General, Law Officers' Department

I know that the hon. Gentleman is also a member of the café society—so that is where he is coming from—but he is scaremongering. On the corpus juris proposals, all that has happened is that an interim report has been produced—there is not even a final report. The important point about the report was that it addressed the serious problem of fraud in the community—against which measures must be taken. We have said that the best way to approach the problem would be for member states to act co-operatively. There is no scope for a public prosecutor; we have made it plain that we reject that idea. We have also made it clear that there is no scope for a European criminal code. As for the reference to the code Napoleon, that is cloud cuckoo land.