This is an innocent little amendment to start us off after the dinner break. Its purpose is to withdraw our regional funds and our economic and social funds. I put it down because I would like to test the present position of the Government on the regional policy for funding and I would like to test the Conservative Party on its latest position on repatriation of social and labour policy.
I start with a quotation from the present Prime Minister, Mr Gordon Brown, when he was the Chancellor of the Exchequer, as reported in the Times on
"When the economic and social, as well as democratic, arguments on structural funds now and for the future so clearly favour subsidiary in action, there is no better place to start than by bringing regional policy back to Britain".
That in the clearest possible terms is the present Prime Minister saying that he thought regional policy should be repatriated to the United Kingdom, with which I and my colleagues agree. The purpose of putting down the amendment is to discover whether the Government still agree with that.
This is a useful amendment because it is the whole of Article 2 of the new treaty, which is all about combating social exclusion, discrimination, promoting social justice and protection, equality between men and women, solidarity between generations, protection of the rights of the child, and so on. I could go on. I know that we are anxious to make progress so I will not go further. Clearly, it opens the way to invite the Conservative Party to say where it stands on one of the only two policies it has announced towards the European Union, were it to be so fortunate as to win the next election. One is that if this treaty goes through, it
"would not let the matter rest there".
I do not want to press the party on that.
Well, we will see. It depends on what it says. But under the strict terms of this amendment—I know that the Lord President is keen that we should stick to the amendments now as we wandered a bit before dinner—I ask the party whether it still wishes to repatriate social and labour policy after it wins the next election and how it proposes to do it. I fear that the length of this amendment will depend on the answers to those two questions—one to the Government and the other to my former noble friends. I beg to move.
I support my noble friend's amendment. I shall read out one or two quotations but I am sure that the Lord President will not mind because they are from a report of the European Union Select Committee on the future financing of the EU. That committee was chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Radice, who I am very pleased to see in his place. Among other things, the committee discussed cohesion and structural funds. It was a brief but very good report which stated in one of its conclusions:
"We believe that the proposals to continue funding regional development after 2006 are inconsistent with the principles of subsidiarity".
Neither was the committee at all supportive of the Commission's view that the latter was better placed than member states to run regional development funds. According to the committee, the member countries could run those themselves. I agree wholeheartedly with that. The report also states:
"We believe there is a strong case under the principle of subsidiarity for national governments to fund and manage their own regional policies".
That could hardly be clearer. This is a helpful amendment for the Government because it is the European Union Committee's own recommendation that regional policies and the cohesion fund should be funded by member states and that we should not pass lots of money over to Europe for this to be done through the Commission. That will give some comfort to the hard-pressed British taxpayer who resents giving money over to the Commission whose accounts have not been passed by its own Court of Auditors for the last 11, 12 or 13 years. I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Kinnock, is not present as he would correct me. I think the figure is 13 consecutive years. I see that the noble Lord, Lord Radice, wishes to intervene.
The noble Lord quoted accurately from our report. I am glad that he approved of it. However, it is a little more complicated than he suggested. We also said that EU cohesion funds should be spent in the poorer regions of the states that were joining then. We did not suggest cutting off the funds just like that. The noble Lord rightly said that there is a case for the principle of subsidiarity to operate in the richer states and for national Governments to fund and manage their own regional policies. But we then went on to say that there are tremendous gains to be made from enabling the new member states to catch up towards the average level of wealth in the Union. So it is a slightly more complicated argument than the noble Lord suggested.
I am grateful for that intervention. It may be more complicated, but the real issue is whether it should be up to the elected British Parliament, or Westminster, including the House of Lords, to decide how taxpayers' money is best spent, and not to hand it over to the European Commission to spend as it sees fit. I do not want to make a point of this but we know that it is misspent. Let us not say there is fraud but there are irregularities in the European Union accounts—let us put it that way—which is why its own Court of Auditors has not passed them for 13 years. Surely it is better for Parliament to decide how to spend British taxpayers' money on regional and cohesion funds than for it to be handed over to an organisation, the directors of which would probably have been imprisoned by now had it been a private company. Certainly they would have had their collar felt in one way or another. I strongly support the amendment, and I hope that it will find favour with the Government as it has the European Union Committee stamp of approval.
In response to the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, this is the first of a number of amendments which propose that after "excluding" a new clause, in effect, should be inserted. I was interested in the formulation proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, in challenging the Conservative Party to say what it would do about the Social Chapter, which strictly has nothing to do with the treaty. The same point arises in respect of like amendments: what would happen if such an amendment were agreed to?
They are all spoiling amendments in the sense that they are meant to wreck the Bill. If you purport to put new articles into the treaty at this stage, clearly that means that Britain is in a difficult position, and that is the intention of going back to say, "We do not accept the treaty in its present form". I ask whether a string of 20 or 30 debates that take this sort of form, although they are perfectly acceptable in terms of House of Lords procedure, do not all run up against the fundamental fallacy that such amendments could be compatible with us ratifying the treaty. It would be more straightforward if whoever is introducing this string of amendments were to say, "Our intention here is to make sure that Britain is in an impossible position in having the European treaty ratified".
I am grateful to the noble Lord; I will just answer that point. He is not quite right. Our purpose in moving the amendments is to make sure that we debate and put in front of the British public many of the wholly unacceptable aspects of our membership of the European Union, and this happens to be one of them. Nor is he entirely right to say that if we were to accept one of these very sensible amendments, which I think would be hugely popular with the British public, that that would be the end of the treaty; it would not be. They would simply have to convene another conference and agree it unanimously; it is as simple as that. If they do not, does not that confirm our opposition to the whole project and exercise and that the quicker we get out of it the better?
Why should we be subjected to a regional policy where billions of pounds come to us under the direction of the organisation in Brussels that fails to get its accounts audited for 13 years on the trot? We then have to accept what it spends money on—I am talking about regional policy now—and then we have to put in an equal amount to what it puts in. That is madness economically, it is damaging to the country and the quicker we stop it the better. That is the point of the amendment.
The noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, is confirming my contention that right through the next three hours, three days, three weeks or whatever it is, we will be dealing with amendments that could be looked at on their merits one by one, but the effect of any of them would be that we had to go back to renegotiate the treaty.
We really cannot have a sensible debate on the treaty if we take the view that any amendment that attempts to probe the meaning of particular phrases is out of order because we have to accept it all en bloc or not. Whatever the intention of any of the amendments may be, we should take the purpose of this debate as being to explore the meaning and impact of the treaty and whether it is something that the UK should be satisfied to sign up to.
On that basis, it seems to me that there are two interesting points in the amendment. First, there is the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, on the effectiveness of economic, social and territorial policy and the meaning of the word "solidarity". I agree that there are great failures in the way in which that policy currently works; there are many better ways of achieving the objective of helping the poor countries in the European Union develop.
The amendment exposes a broader point. If I understand the numbering, it refers to the consolidated treaty's Article 3—to which I referred in my Amendment No. 125, which we discussed before dinner—which sets out the objectives of the European Union. Following the response of the Lord President to that amendment, I am now confused and concerned about the status of these objectives in their totality, of which this is one element. Is the wording critical in terms of how the courts might interpret the objectives and how the competencies of the European Union might develop? Should we study them carefully or are they a meaningless preamble which we can disregard as simply the high-flown rhetoric of the European Union? The Lord President's earlier response suggested that the wording of the objectives may have a very real impact on the legal status of legislation in the European Union and the scope of what can be done in the UK.
The noble Lord, Lord Pearson, has picked out one particular aspect of the article, but we need to understand exactly the implications of all the objectives set out in it and the extent to which they may have an impact on the UK.
I think that my noble friend Lord Lea is too gentle on the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, in trying to have a rational debate with him. This is not a matter of rational debate—it is blind, naked prejudice. It shows through not only in the noble Lord's amendments but in his words. When he was having his exchange with my noble friend—I know that the noble Lord was addressing the House, but it began to appear rather like a dialogue—he said that his amendments are meant to expose the problems of our membership. I shall not challenge him;I shall be voting against all his amendments. The real challenge comes from the noble Lord, Lord Howell. Is that what he supports? He stood up at the beginning of the debate, brandishing his good, solid, pro-European credentials. By his own admission, the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, has put down a series of wrecking amendments. We should put him out of his misery and tell him that they will not be supported, and then we can make some progress.
I must respond to the point about prejudice. We are dealing not with prejudice but with reasoned opposition to the project of European union, of which we do not wish this country to remain a part. We believe that that is to the benefit of our country, our economy and our constitution.
I have tabled the amendments to expose just some—a very few—of the worst aspects of this project so that we may debate them and see whether the noble Lord and his Europhile friends are right in saying that they are part of this wonderful project of which we should be part. We are saying that they are not. Collectively, the amendments add up to saying that the quicker the country gets out of this, the better.
I hope that Members of the Committee will forgive me if I focus on the amendment before us. I oppose it on the rather simple ground that I believe that the cohesion funds of the European Union are a good thing. They have helped, and will continue to help, the development of the poorer regions and countries of the European Union. That will, in turn, make the single market more effective than it would otherwise be, which is in the interests of the British economy and British business. For that rather narrow reason, I oppose the amendment.
Before I sit down, I should perhaps declare an interest as a vice-chairman of Business for New Europe. I also declare an interest as receiving—and being proud to do so—a British Government pension. However, for the avoidance of doubt, as the lawyers say, I am not in receipt of a European pension.
Inspired by the very sagacious, although brief, contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Jay, perhaps the natural wisdom of the Liberal Democrat Benches on these European matters can be deployed tonight to provide miniature arbitration between the noble Lords, Lord Tomlinson and Lord Lea of Crondall. Although the noble Lord, Lord Lea, was not sufficiently severe on the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, for proposing this extraordinary amendment, none the less we would all defend the right of the noble Lords, Lord Pearson and Lord Willoughby de Broke, and others to say what they want in these debates when proposing amendments. That is the natural right of Members of both this House and the other place, so perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Tomlinson, was being a little too brutal. Normally he is not like that at all—he is a very gentle person. However, on this occasion the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, misused the opportunity by misquoting, as usual, but we were pleased to note that he challenged the Tories on their views.
The Tory views on the cohesion fund and the social fund and their future are rapidly approaching those of UKIP. Indeed, a whole series of amendments was tabled in the other place and adopted by the Tory Front-Bench spokesmen in this House. We are now at the beginning of the amendments that start "Page 1, line 12" and go on to refer to Article 1. This is not a Tory amendment; it is in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, so he cannot be accused of plagiarising anything from the other place. However, the long list of Conservative amendments referring to line 12 followed by the word "excluding"—the exclusion zone, one might say—are all, as we know, taken word for word from the amendments tabled not only by the Conservative Front Bench in the other place but by what a few years ago were the dastardly rebels on the Conservative Benches. I refer to the anti-Europeans Mr William Cash and Mr David Heathcoat-Amory, who I think are the two gentlemen responsible for 80 per cent of the contributions and amendments made in the Committee stage of the whole House in the other place.
It is a very sobering thought that the gap between the official approach of the Conservative Party on Europe and on individual detailed European policies and the approach of UKIP is rapidly narrowing to the width of a cigarette paper. It may not be quite there yet and there may be some small exceptions to some policies but in general the Official Conservative Opposition is now deeply rooted in profound hostility to the European Union in respect of the exciting new proposals in the modest Lisbon treaty, which is very far from being a constitution. We know that the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, referring to the replacement Article 2 and changing paragraph 4—unfortunately my spectacles are broken so I shall have to guess the words—wants the Government to move away from supporting in the European Union what the cohesion fund and social fund will do in the future.
Article 1 in the old text concerning the competencies of the Union and Article 2 concerning the objectives, the cohesion policy and the solidarity of policy are agreed policies of the sovereign member states of the European Union, and they have what I hope is the understandable enthusiasm of the British Government. Therefore, we on these Benches accept that those would be good things to keep. As one or two other speakers have already said, there is a natural role for the Commission in funding these policies at the margin in the member states. I think, in particular, of the 10 or 12 new member states but mostly I think of the eastern European states which need a lift-up to reach the average on incomes, wealth and output, as well as Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia.
Around 35 per cent of the total EU budget for 2007-13 is allocated to the structural and cohesion funds, some £7 billion of which has been reserved for projects in the United Kingdom. Therefore, tonight we note that the noble Lords, Lord Pearson and Lord Willoughby de Broke, with enthusiasm, wish to abolish that effort. Those funds would not be repatriated in the sense that the British Government would immediately pick up the tab—that certainly would not be the case—but there would be a loss of funds to the areas in the UK which need that assistance. The cohesion fund is available only for those member states with a gross national income per inhabitant of less than 50 per cent of the EU average.
We Liberal Democrats believe that a regional policy developed at the European level has a very important role to play at the margin. This is a modest amount of money in comparison with what the national member states all spend on economic rehabilitation and resuscitation of weaker areas and in ensuring that the EU remains competitive and attractive in today's globalised environment.
EU regional policy promotes convergence within the EU, which is necessary if Europe is to maximise its strength. That has always been a sacred principle. It is only reiterated in the Lisbon treaty and advanced by way of the objectives, albeit couched in fairly vague language. The reference to solidarity can mean a number of different things to different people, but in specific policy terms it means the ancient and respectable principle of redistribution to help poorer areas, poorer families and poorer villages and towns enshrined in the statutes of the EU as well as in those of the national member states. We repeat again and again to reassure our hesitant and nervous UKIP colleagues that the powers therein are conferred only by the will of the sovereign member states. There is no excessive use of power emanating from any other source whatever. That is why we support that policy with enthusiasm. Therefore, when the Minister replies on this very dubious, shaky and unnecessary amendment, we hope that she will also endorse the Government's enthusiasm for the same objective.
Perhaps I can get a word in now. I tried to intervene on the dispute that arose about the way in which we handle this debate and this Bill. We have to do it this way because every single treaty since the 1972 European treaty is simply an amendment of that treaty. We have to do it this way because it is not the treaty that is before us to be ratified. If the Government did it that way, it would be perfectly in order to try to alter the treaty. Because of the method used by the Government to get the treaty through, we have to do it this way, which I agree is a bit convoluted. That should not prevent us discussing every item in the treaty, including the one that we are now discussing, which is the social and cohesion aspect.
We were taken into the Common Market on the basis that we were joining a trading organisation. We now find that within that trading organisation, instead of competing with our competitors we have to subsidise them. That is what the European regionalisation policy means. Funds from this country, which could be used fully in this country, are instead used to subsidise other countries that may be thought to be poorer than ourselves.
Does the noble Lord accept that if gross national income or GDP increase in those regions that are lagging behind, that creates, as the noble Lord on the Cross Benches said, a much greater and more real single market, the product of which is increased demand for British goods? It is Britain—the United Kingdom—that benefits from the increase in the wealth of those regions that are being brought up through the cohesion funds.
If that were the case I would be happy, but unfortunately the deficit in trade in the past 35 years has been increasingly large. The deficit in our trade for the last period—2006—was no less than £38 billion a year. What we have been doing has not necessarily helped our trade balance, which is the important element in the profit and loss account when trading. I cannot accept the noble Lord's argument.
Charity begins at home—at least, I believe that it does. We have been talking about deprived areas in the European Union. There was a table in yesterday's Daily Express—
I read all the newspapers. That is why I have such a broad mind. In any event, the article was probably in other papers as well. It just so happens that this was handed to me today. It appears that in spite of all the largesse that we are supposed to be getting from the European Union there are areas in Britain that are very poor indeed.
For example, the table shows that in Merthyr Tydfil 20.7 per cent of the population draws benefits. In the Rhondda, where I was born, 17.1 per cent of people draw benefits. In Liverpool, the figure is 17.6 per cent. So that I can cover the United Kingdom, the figure in Glasgow is 17.1 per cent. There are many poor people around who could do with some of the money which in net terms we pay over to the European Union every year. This year the amount will be £4.5 billion and by 2011 it will be £6.5 billion in net terms.
Those of us who have some doubts about our membership of the European Union think that that money would be better spent in providing jobs and services to people in this country. I believe that it is better for nation states to handle their social and regional employment matters on a nation-state basis. We did it pretty successfully as the noble Lord, Lord Lea of Crondall, will know, because he was the deputy general secretary of the Trades Union Congress and he knows perfectly well that past Labour Governments have done their best to see to it that the regions are financed well from the national Exchequer. We could begin rebuilding our manufacturing industry—the TUC is very much in favour of that. We could use regional funds that are perhaps wasted elsewhere to build up our resources and industry in this country.
I shall not get involved in the substance of the amendment and shall not support it. I will keep my head down to allow the flak to fly from the hardline withdrawalists sitting behind me against the entrenched position of the Brussels apologists who seem to agree that everything that comes from there is perfect. It seems to have escaped the notice of some Members of the Committee that although many amendments on these issues may have been tabled in the other place they were not debated. Very few amendments were debated, and that is precisely the complaint of the newspapers and the public and, indeed, of Members of all parties, including the Government party. These matters were not debated. We were urged by the Prime Minister to look at them line by line. It is particularly sad on an issue such as this, which does not seem to have a direct connection with the proposals in the Lisbon treaty, although it has a direct connection with the evolution of the European Union. There is a lot of new thinking. Commissioner Hübner has said that there is a need to adjust this policy—she means the EU regional policy and the cohesion fund policy—to the entirely new conditions of global trading. Energy issues, energy security, climate change issues, the internal market, the demographic challenge and entirely new approaches to overseas development are now bearing in on the policies of the past, and I am sad to hear them being dogmatically defended—along with a lot of nonsense of the kind we have just heard from the noble Lord, Lord Dykes, about our position, which was quite misleading and incorrect—and to hear that kind of debate going on in your Lordships' House. We ought to be able to get hold of the new issues and realise that we need to have new thinking about them instead of doggedly defending the past. That is a great pity and very much to be regretted.
The other thing that shocked me a bit in the final 20 minutes of the debate was the attitudes of the noble Lord, Lord Lea, whose views I normally admire, and the noble Lord, Lord Tomlinson, whose views I enjoy but do not necessarily agree with, about the procedure. They seemed to be saying that they wanted to close the debate down. They know perfectly well that if we are going to look line by line at the treaty, we have to table amendments. I said at the beginning that we know that we cannot change the treaty; it is given to us and there is nothing we can do about it except that in due course there will be other treaties and these matters will be reopened because they will not be settled by this. There will be more vigorous debates and more successful negotiating under a Conservative Government in the future than there has been under this rather deplorable and now dying Labour Government. That will happen. That is certainly so. However, the idea that we should therefore not debate these matters at all when they have not been debated in the Commons is quite shocking, and I am sorry to hear those two, usually excellent, Lords suggesting such a proposition.
I shall return the compliment and say that, generally speaking, I admire the attitude of the noble Lord, Lord Howell, in debate, but I did not say, and nor did my noble friend Lord Tomlinson, that we did not think these matters were worth discussing. However, as this is the first of a string of amendments taking the form that, after "excluding", other words be put into or taken out of the treaty, the effect of such amendments should be pointed out at this stage. That is all that I said. I shall leave it there.
I appreciate that that was what the noble Lord thought he was saying, but I made exactly those points at Second Reading and at the beginning of Committee this afternoon. They are perfectly clear to everybody; we cannot amend the treaty. I thought it was clear to most people that if we are to examine this line by line in the interest of the public—the wider public who look on Parliament askance at the moment because we let so much through—the only procedure is by tabling amendments of this kind. There are amendments that can improve the Bill without changing the treaty, and we will hope to have some support from free-thinking Members from all parties for those. We shall see. These are ways of examining the treaty. They are perfectly accepted ways. They were explained very clearly at the beginning, and the fact that they were raised again by the noble Lords, Lord Tomlinson and Lord Lea, alarmed me a bit because it sounded as though they were gunning for us and were not in favour of full discussion of this treaty. I accept from what the noble Lord, Lord Lea, said that he did not mean that, but that is what it sounded like, and I felt I had to intervene to say that. These are the only comments I wish to make on this amendment, which we shall not support.
This is another interesting debate. I shall add my pennyworth to the issue of procedure. I am in the hands of your Lordships. We shall discuss whatever your Lordships wish. The only constraint we have is that we have, by mutual agreement, said that we should do this within six days, so my concern is twofold. First, we perhaps range far too wide on our discussions, and I hope we can do exactly what the noble Lord, Lord Howell, said and look at these issues in detail and in so doing confine ourselves to that. Secondly—this may refer to this amendment—there are some amendments where we could usefully have half a day's debate on the issue. They are not directly about the treaty, but they are not unimportant by any stretch of the imagination. A discussion about the whole way in which structural funds are used is worthy of a much bigger debate in your Lordships' House as well. I take nothing away from my desire to do that at 9.10 pm on the first day of Committee, but, from my perspective, we might have got more out of it.
I begin with the comments of my right honourable friend the Prime Minister, who was, when he made the comments, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and then relate that to where we are in structural policy. The article to which the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, referred was in 2003, in the Times, which I think he followed up by a television appearance. My right honourable friend was debating how best to deal with funds designed to support regional development in nation states that were not among the poorer members of the European Union. To put the issue in a nutshell: is it better for nation states to think more strategically by funds coming directly from the centre to regions?
Noble Lords will know that my right honourable friend is a great believer in devolving funding through the devolved Administrations and through the regional development agencies. That was the point that he was getting at: is it better for us to do it nationally and take control of that and prioritise it—while still being very much part of developing the structural funds of the European Union—but especially thinking of those nations which we are trying to raise up to a better standard of living, and to deal with some of the structural issues from which they were suffering? That debate has continued since 2003. Indeed, the Government have been in discussion about how we might do that.
"Using the same logic which argues for shifting the burden of financing the Common Agricultural Policy back towards the Member States, we believe there is a strong case under the principle of subsidiarity for national governments to fund and manage their own regional policy. There is no collective benefit of EU-funded income transfers between richer Member States—which could and should be funded nationally—whereas there are tremendous gains to be made from enabling the new Member States to catch up towards the average level of wealth in the Union".
We know that the Prime Minister—as he now is—has continued to develop that. The rules have been changed quite significantly for the funds for 2007-13. A much more strategic approach has been introduced with a much closer alignment between regional, national and EU priorities. We have moved in the direction that the Prime Minister, as long ago as 2003, suggested was right to approach this—for nation states to be more highly involved in determining development in their regions but still to support the structural funds.
It is probably worth saying something about our objectives for the cohesion policy for the next few years, as this is an area in which I know that noble Lords are interested. Noble Lords know the purpose of the cohesion policy and structural funds, which is to reduce economic disparities. I have as much information as noble Lords can stand about the benefits in each of the regions of the UK in the opportunities that have been provided through finance to provide jobs and opportunities, from jobs in industry to, for example, jobs in the Prince's Trust, which has been able to provide particular opportunities for young people. I will not go into the detail, but I am very happy to provide it for noble Lords because it is an interesting read.
Let us look at the objectives. The first is convergence, which helps the least developed member states and regions catch up more quickly with the EU average. We do that by trying to improve the conditions for growth and employment. The second objective is regional competitiveness and employment, to strengthen the competitiveness, employment and attractiveness of regions other than those that are the most disadvantaged. The third objective is European territorial co-operation, which strengthens cross-border, transnational and inter-regional co-operation. Those are very important. The noble Lord, Lord Blackwell, was worried about the notion of objectives, and perhaps about their status. He will know that they are not new; they exist in EU and EC treaties. I suppose that I would describe them as providing a kind of overview of the aims and tasks of the European Union. In the individual articles, one can see the details of the powers and the policies, but perhaps the objectives are part of the interpretation of what we seek to achieve and what we hope we can do as a consequence of some of the changes that have been made in this treaty.
There is no difference in terms of where the Government believed in 2003 that it was important to put their focus. They said, in effect, that where nation states could devolve their ability to support regional development in the broader sense to the devolved Administrations, they should do so. Equally, it is very important, as part of the European Union, to support member states. One has only to look at the support that has been given to some of the newer member states and the trade and development opportunities that have arisen for the UK. I think noble Lords would see that there is a huge economic benefit to this country as well as to those members of the EU.
I thank all noble Lords who have contributed to this debate. The noble Lord, Lord Jay, praised the cohesion funds. I confess at once that the aim of the amendment was not to get at cohesion funds but to get at regional funds, the Labour Party's attitude to them and to social and labour policy and the Conservative Party's attitude to that. However, I say to the noble Lords, Lord Jay, Lord Tomlinson and Lord Sewel, that the well known Europhile theory that giving lots of money to the poorer countries in the European Union is eventually good for the British economy is at least debatable, and debatable at much greater length than we have time for now. It does not ring true with many of us who have run international businesses in the real world and who tend to feel that much of this money should go to regions in the world that are poorer than the ones to which it actually goes, and that the United Kingdom would do far better to escape from the overregulation of the European Union and all that goes with it and to take its place in the world beyond the recipients of the cohesion funds—the world of China, India and so on.
As I say, the amendment is really aimed at the Labour Government's response to Mr Brown's suggestion that regional policy should be repatriated. I should say in response to the noble Baroness the Leader of the House that Mr Brown used the word "subsidiarity" in the quotation that I gave at the start of the debate on the amendment. All I can say is that we in the UK Independence Party thoroughly approve of Mr Brown's proposal that regional policy should be repatriated.
As to the Conservative Party, I think that we have taken on board its answer to the question that I put to it. I thought I knew what it was going to be, and I accept that it is, "We would rather not talk about it". That is fair enough, but one day it will have to.
Finally, the noble Lord, Lord Dykes, once again used the expression "sovereign member states". He said that this project—I trust that I have made it clear to the noble Lord, Lord Lea, and others that we object to it—is merely sovereign nation states getting together and deciding things. I do not want to prolong the debate—we will come back to it—but I ask how a nation can be sovereign if most of its national law is made beyond its reach and beyond the reach of its elected representatives. The continued use of "sovereign nation" to describe the United Kingdom perhaps does not reflect the reality of the position to which we have been unfortunately reduced by our membership of the European Union. Having said that—
Although the hour is late, I wish to say to the noble Lord that it would not be possible for 27 democracies to resolve upon a common course in respect of the treaty or of the policies that unfold week by week, day by day, unless they were able to exercise those decisions as sovereign democratic states. The collective or pooled sovereignty is what they have resolved upon to try to deal with issues that are beyond the will—the determination—of individual states, no matter how big or how strong or how small or how poor. That is the reality that they confront and how they choose to exercise their sovereignty.
I am most grateful to the noble Lord for that eloquent exposition of the problem. I must put it to him, in words used by my noble friend Lord Willoughby de Broke in our Maastricht debates, that sovereignty is like virginity: you either have it or you do not. As members of the European Union we do not have it. Our Governments—our Executives—take part in the process which the noble Lord has just extolled. But the people, beyond electing the Governments of the day every five years—this subject has not appeared in general elections for many years—are not involved. The sovereignty of the United Kingdom belongs to the people.
Is the noble Lord saying that he wants to replace determination by the Executive nationally and internationally with a series of regular plebiscites that consults directly with the determining will of the people? If he is, he is proposing a change much more revolutionary than anything contained in all the treaties of the European Union added together and multiplied by 1,000.
As a matter of fact, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Kinnock. If he had read the UK Independence Party's manifesto for the general election before last and for the last general election, and if he cares to read it for the next general election, he will see that that is precisely what we propose. We in the UK Independence Party think that our system of representative parliamentary democracy has broken down, which is why the people of this country are so fed up with the political classes so ably represented by the noble Lord and others on the Benches opposite.
Yes, we want that system; we want it to be revolutionary; and we want out of this project. That is the answer to the noble Lord. There is no doubt about it. I speak for the UK Independence Party and not, of course, for my erstwhile Conservative friends. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Would the noble Lord like us to get them for him?
By the time the noble Baroness comes back I will have finished. This amendment simply would remove the whole bogus concept of subsidiarity from the Treaties of Rome. As Members of the Committee will know, the concept of subsidiarity was introduced at Maastricht when the unfortunate John Major was Prime Minister of this country. Mr Major returned from the Maastricht negotiations saying that he had won "game, set and match". Included in that triumph, 25 per cent of all the regulations of the European Union were going to be repatriated.
I have another question for the Conservative Party, which was in charge at the time. How many regulations have been repealed under subsidiarity since this great negotiating triumph of Mr Major at Maastricht? I do not want to be told about how many new pieces of legislation might have come into force had it not been for subsidiarity, because it was a good influence on the legislators and they did not go along with it, I want to be told how many pieces of European legislation have actually been cancelled or repatriated. I can tell the noble Lord, Lord Howell, on the Front Bench that the answer is zero, but I would not mind if he said it.
To understand why the principle of subsidiarity in the Treaties of Rome was never really a starter, it is worth putting on the record once again the key paragraph in the concept. It goes as follows:
"In accordance with the principle of subsidiarity, in areas which do not fall within its exclusive competence, the Union shall act only if and insofar as the objectives of the intended action cannot be sufficiently achieved by the Member States"— either at central level or at the regional and local levels—
"but can rather, by reason of the scale or effects of the proposed action, be better achieved at Union level".
As usual I have to apologise for the Eurospeak, but it is worth concentrating on those words. The question that arises from the paragraph is this: who decides what is better dealt with at which local level? The answer to that is the EU.
In the treaty we are discussing at the moment, there is a new protocol on subsidiarity. If anyone wants to read a procedure for not making a decision or for making a decision—
I rise just to tell the noble Lord that his notes have arrived.
I am extremely grateful to the Government for producing my notes, but I am too far down the gangplank to go back to where I might have started had I remembered them after dinner.
The point is that in the new treaty there is a new protocol on the application of the principles of subsidiarity which results in disastrous decision-making. I have one serious question for the Leader of the House. In Article 4 it states that the Commission shall,
"forward its draft legislative Acts and amended drafts to national Parliaments at the same time as to the Union legislator".
In case noble Lords have not followed it, I think that the new Union legislator is the Council and the Parliament together. My question is this: how does COREPER come into that part of the decision? The permanent representatives committee cannot be found on the European Union website, it does not exist, and yet this is the body of permanent representatives from the nation states who meet in secret to consider proposals made in secret by the unelected Commission. Then, having done all the horse trading and swapped the fishing quotas for other things I do not care to mention, it puts the proposals to the Council of Ministers where unanimity is easily achieved. I ask therefore where COREPER comes into the process. In the end, these decisions are taken by the European Court of Justice. Article 8 of the new protocol makes it quite clear that it is our friend the ECJ, that engine of the Treaties of Rome, which makes the final decisions on whether something is subject to subsidiarity, whether it should be, should not have been, or is objected to by the national parliaments that are brought into this process in a completely meaningless fashion.
The last question is important because the noble Lord, Lord Owen, asked earlier about the limits of the powers of the European Court of Justice in this matter. I think I pointed out in that debate that they are without limit and that there is no appeal against a judgment of the European Court of Justice. In the matter of subsidiarity and poor Mr Major's negotiation of it at Maastricht, it is worth putting on the record the letter written by Mr Major to Mr Jacques Santer—at the time the lord high executioner, or rather the President of the Commission—after Mr Major had thought at the Maastricht negotiations that the United Kingdom had escaped the protocol on social policy and particularly the 48-hour working week.
This letter is subsidiarity and the Court of Justice in action and is worth putting on the record. I have it here. It was put in the Library on the day the Statement was made. I got it from the Library and photographed it and it was removed from the Library the next day. But it is a public document and I am not breaching any confidentiality by reading it out. It is dated
Article 118(a) of the treaty establishing the European Community.
My intention in agreeing to the protocol on social policy at Maastricht was to ensure that social legislation which placed unnecessary burdens on businesses and damaged competitiveness could not be imposed on the United Kingdom. The other heads of state and government also agreed that arrangement, without which there would have been no agreement at all at Maastricht".
"However, in its judgment today"— this is part of the answer to the noble Lord, Lord Owen—
"the European Court of Justice has ruled that the scope of Article 118(a) is much broader than the United Kingdom envisaged when the article was originally agreed as part of the Single European Act. This appears to mean that legislation which the United Kingdom had expected would be dealt with under the protocol can in fact be adopted under Article 118. That is contrary to the clear and express wishes of the United Kingdom Government and goes directly counter to the spirit of what we agreed at Maastricht. It is unacceptable and must be remedied.
The United Kingdom will therefore table amendments in the Intergovernmental Conference to restore the position to that which the United Kingdom Government intended following the Maastricht agreement. Those amendments will be aimed at both ensuring that Article 118(a) cannot in future be used in ways contrary to the United Kingdom's expectation and dealing with the specific problem of the working time directive. I attach the utmost importance to these amendments and I shall insist that they form part of the outcome of the Intergovernmental Conference. I do not see how new agreements can be reached if earlier agreements are being undermined. Meanwhile I urge the Commission to refrain from making proposals under Article 118(a) which properly belong to the other member states' agreement on social policy. I am sending copies of this letter to the heads of state or government of the European member states".
So that is the Court of Justice and subsidiarity in action.
Before he continues with his autobiography, does the noble Lord accept that the working time directive was always under the health and safety provisions in the old treaty and was never anything to do with the social chapter? John Major got himself into a difficulty and so that rather disingenuous letter is not worth the paper it is written on. That is the true story of that affair.
I was around at the time and I was sent to the European Social Council meetings to delay implementation. The noble Lord is right to say that it was introduced as a health and safety measure because that required a qualified majority vote, whereas if it was dealt with as an employment measure it required unanimity.
The noble Lord has been rather rude about John Major but he should give him a little credit because he secured not only the opt-out from the social chapter, which this Government gave away on their election in 1997, but he also secured an opt-out on the single currency. That is why we are not in the single currency. Given his views, the noble Lord ought to be a little more polite about the previous Prime Minister.
I will happily intervene to reflect upon the opt-out from the single currency. Witness the exchange rates at this moment: it is scarcely the puny invention that has been described elsewhere. The noble Lord may want to comment on that.
Is the noble Lord actually asserting that efforts to regulate the way work is conducted have no implications either for the operation of a market or for the achievement of satisfactory standards of health and safety that affect not only workers but the public with whom they work? I have in mind, for instance, transport. If that is what he is asserting, the noble Lord will have to take it up with the factory Acts, not with the European Union.
I was about to try to be nice to Mr Major. I simply say to my noble friend Lord Forsyth that I think Mr Major should have vetoed the whole social policy chapter and the project of the European currency.
I say to the noble Lord, Lord Kinnock, that if we were not in this project of European integration we would be able to decide all these matters for ourselves and not have to go along with, and be outvoted by, a large number of nations. We have much in common with those nations and can collaborate with them over many things, but we do not want to be in this unfortunate project of European union.
That takes me back to where I started: subsidiarity, and why it does not work. It is also an answer to the noble Lord, Lord Owen; it is as well to have it on the record. If he wants to know what the limits are of the European Court, the answer is that there are none. It has always advanced the project of European integration and it will continue to do so. The quicker we get out of the whole thing, the better. I beg to move.
More in sorrow than in anger, I come to this amendment. I am, frankly, surprised that the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, has chosen this subject to exclude from the coverage of the legislation that we are now looking at. When the noble Lord read out the extract from the text, I realised that under the rules of this House it is not considered correct to applaud, but I felt tempted to applaud that text. First, it seems to be highly valuable to the United Kingdom, and, secondly, it is an anti-centralisation measure. That is why I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, will not support the amendment, because it goes in the direction that he has favoured.
When we turn to the purpose of the subsidiarity clauses that exist now and are repeated here, and which were quoted, we should recall that they did not exist some years ago. When we entered the Community, they were not there. It was one of the faults of the Community that there was a centralising tendency. There was no recognition that a number of things could be better done at national level, and that the things that were to be done at Community or Union level were those that were better done for specific reasons at that level. That was an important step forward and one that in the United Kingdom we should welcome now, just as we welcomed it at the time.
Furthermore, it is not correct to interpret this part of the text as if it had no application to the work of the Council and the Commission. That is where it has application. This shows that where the Council takes decisions, it should bear in mind the principle of subsidiarity. The Commission also should do that in presenting proposals. It may well be that we are not satisfied that the Commission has always gone as far as it should go in respecting the principle of subsidiarity, but that is not a reason to attack the basic proposal that we are discussing now.
Yes, I think that is the case. I stress that, while we may not always be satisfied with the way in which the principle of subsidiarity is operated, it is none the less a very valuable principle which goes in our interest. The proposal on the table from the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, would delete the lot. It would delete not only the bit about the national parliaments but everything about subsidiarity. He explained that he would be quite happy to see subsidiarity go because he would like to see the whole thing go. We all know that the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch—if I may use a Scottish phrase—has the mulligrubs about the European Union. I am sure that Hansard will have the pleasure of recording that phrase for the first time. It means to grumble and grumble and grumble. It is a very useful phrase which our Scottish colleagues have used in the past and is very appropriate for the interventions—
The phrase "he has the mulligrubs" means that he continues to grumble and grumble and grumble, which in the case of the noble Lord is true. He does not like the European Union and he continues to grumble. He has applied that to a part of the treaty which is not appropriate for either a grumble or deletion; it is a part of the treaty which we should preserve. The amendment is not a neutral point, but an attack on something which is of value to us as a nation. So I reject the amendment and hope that we shall retain this part of the treaty without amendment.
I say more in sorrow than in anger to my noble friend the Leader of the House that if ever she sends our mutual noble friend Lady Farrington to recover the notes of the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, and subject us again to that tirade that we heard in consequence, my support for her leadership cannot be taken as guaranteed.
However, there were in what the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, said one or two nuggets that are worth pursuing. One of them was pursued very effectively by the noble Lord, Lord Williamson, and related to the positive nature of that letter which Mr John Major wrote. If one really wants to have a go at John Major, one should have a go at him for the Edinburgh summit, at which he was so lackadaisical that he allowed his signature to be appended to a decision which bound us legally to having 12 sessions of the European Parliament in Strasbourg at great expense to the taxpayer and at great detriment to the European Parliament's effectiveness.
However, I say that as an aside. I wanted to help the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, with his concern about the integrity of the European Court of Justice. Following the injunction from my noble friend the Leader of the House by quoting only from good House of Lords sources, I point out to him that paragraph 121 of the report of the Constitution Committee of your Lordships' House contains a clear quotation from Professor Alan Dashwood, who gave evidence to it. He said that he was,
"not aware of changes envisaged by the [Lisbon Treaty] that would significantly alter the existing relationship between UK courts and the European judicature, which has always been a model of cooperation and mutual respect".
I am sure that it pacifies the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, that that is the judgment of so distinguished a jurist as Professor Dashwood. I will not labour the point before the Committee; the noble Lord can read on himself in paragraphs 122, 123 and 124, which contain the conclusions of the Constitution Committee.
I start by seconding what the noble Lord, Lord Tomlinson, said about John Major and Strasbourg, as someone who is on the 7 am flight to Strasbourg tomorrow morning and is doing the shuttle twice this week. I must add to the criticisms of Tony Blair, who allowed the protocol to be enshrined in the treaty of Amsterdam in 1997. Unfortunately, we cannot vote on our own seat, which is disgraceful.
I also felt that the noble Baroness, Lady Farrington, who had our thanks for her mercy mission for the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, must have dropped the papers and jumbled them up before she delivered them to the noble Lord, because I was a bit confused as to why we went via social policy and all around the highways and byways in talking about subsidiarity. Like the noble Lord, Lord Williamson, I am completely mystified as to the motives of the movers of this amendment. I accept that the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, wants to be out of the EU altogether but, since he cannot achieve that this evening, I should have thought that the provisions on subsidiarity and the strengthening and reinforcement of those provisions in the treaty of Lisbon were right up his street. I, and I believe others on these Benches, would strongly welcome that reinforcement, and the associated strengthened role through the two protocols of national parliaments in monitoring respect for subsidiarity.
A principal objective of the Lisbon treaty is to strengthen the democratic element in the EU, which means enhancing the powers of the European Parliament and boosting the participation of national parliaments. The noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, referred to the demand from the British people that their laws should be decided by the people whom they have elected. That is absolutely right—but those laws are decided by national Ministers and directly elected MEPs. The increase in the role of national parliaments will strengthen that element. National parliaments will be sent draft legislation direct from Brussels and the Commission; it is not mediated or filtered through national Governments. That is important.
There is a role for national parliaments in ensuring compliance with subsidiarity, and especially a very strong role with regard to freedom, security, justice and home affairs—which happens to be my speciality. We have benefited a great deal on the Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs Committee in the European Parliament, from the increasing number of meetings that we have had with representatives of national parliaments, not least from this house. The noble Lord, Lord Wright of Richmond, is not here, but I pay tribute to him for the strong role that he took in that liaison and partnership function. We will have to do more of that.
The EU Committee's report on the impact of the treaty of Lisbon rightly makes the point that although eight weeks is better than the six weeks that is in the treaties at the moment for the response from national parliaments, it is still not an awfully long time. One of the needs will be for national parliaments to get their response in upstream, to get in early. A close relationship between Members of the European Parliament and their counterparts in national parliaments will be essential to doing that. That is particularly necessary with a tendency to First Reading deals. I was rapporteur on a First Reading deal last year and I am very conscious of the criticisms and the need for more transparency in First Reading agreements.
There will be every motive for us all to work together in interparliamentary co-operation among the national parliaments, and between them and the European Parliament, with a particularly strong role on things like monitoring and scrutiny of Europol, Eurojust and other functions in the justice and home affairs area.
The orange and yellow card arrangements strengthen the scrutiny function of national parliaments. Some wanted a red card. That was not achieved. But that is to confuse the roles of the national and the European Parliaments. It is a pity that the orange card only covers Commission proposals, which apparently is an oversight since member state proposals often need a great deal of scrutiny.
I end on a point made earlier by the noble Lord, Lord Howell. National parliaments will have to streamline and enhance their machinery to input both to the Brussels system and with national Governments. That is far from being achieved in this Parliament at Westminster.
I state instantly that I rise purely out of self-interest. I did not speak at Second Reading. I listened to two-thirds of the debate, and I have sat through the entire proceedings today without speaking. I realise that if I do not utter anything I shall not be allowed to be on the copy list of the billets-doux of the Lord President to the noble Lord, Lord Pearson. Consequently, I simply wish to establish my place in the queue.
I want to do one other thing. It is now more than 20 years since I gave up being the British Minister on the Budget Council—I served for four years in that position, which I greatly enjoyed. I wish to pay a considerable tribute to the work of COREPER, which, however mysterious it is to the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, is reasonably well known to everybody else. The Budget Council was incapable of making a decision until dawn. Had COREPER not reduced the size of the agenda before we arrived, we would not have made a decision until dawn the next day—and the quality of the decisions you make recedes as time goes on. On that basis I will sit down.
I was interested in what the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, and the noble Lord, Lord Williamson, said on increasing the power of national parliaments. It is simply not happening; it is just window dressing.
I draw the Chamber's attention to what the treaty says on national parliaments. It says:
"Where reasoned opinion on a draft legislative act's non-compliance with the principle of subsidiarity represent at least one third of all the votes allocated to national Parliaments in accordance with", various requirements; it continues,
"the draft must be reviewed".
That is fine. It goes on:
"may decide to maintain, amend or withdraw the draft".
Reasons must be given for that. So actually it is business as usual. They do not have to do anything about it at all. National Parliaments can say exactly what they want. We have to get one-third of all national parliaments to agree to do this. The Commission can then decide to maintain the proposal anyway. How does that possibly increase the power of national parliaments? The answer is that it does not, so I hope that we will not hear any more about subsidiarity increasing the power of national parliaments.
That bit was in the earlier Maastricht and Nice treaties. The new treaty says that under the ordinary legislative procedure—I will not read the whole thing, it is too boring—half of national Parliaments would have to get together. They can then put a reasoned objection to the Commission. Yet again the Commission may decide to maintain, amend or withdraw the draft.
Even assuming that you can get half the national parliaments to consider the proposal—a proposal that has already of course been signed up to by the relevant Government—there is absolutely zero chance of anything happening at all. There is no further power to national parliaments whatever.
I hope that whatever else comes out of this brief discussion on the amendment of my noble friend Lord Pearson, the measure cannot possibly be construed as giving more power to national parliaments. It simply is not the case. It is damaging to national parliaments and to the European Union—although I do not really mind it damaging the latter body—because it gives the impression of accountability without the reality of accountability. It is selling the pass doing this. Therefore, I strongly support the amendment of my noble friend.
"My words fly up, my thoughts remain below.Words without thoughts never to heaven go".
But the amendment gives us a chance to probe the meaning of "subsidiarity". As many noble Lords know, including the noble Lords, Lord Williamson and Lord Tomlinson, and the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, the problem is that this term arose in a completely different context to the one in which it is now used by the European Union. I know that it is said to date back to Aristotle and it has references in the works of Locke and John Stuart Mill but it really arises from the need of the Catholic Church to uphold its authority in a time of rising political tension, particularly in the late 19th century. The trouble is that we do not really know what it means. We have tried to define it many times—it means taking decisions at the lowest appropriate level. But even when definitions establish a presumption in favour of the national level of decision-making, they still leave scope for political and judicial argument about exactly where it fits. I hope that the Minister will assist us on this. As far as we are concerned, this yellow card, which sounds like a forceful sanction, has no referee to exercise it or to demonstrate it—as happened in tonight's match of Liverpool versus Chelsea. When I last heard, Liverpool was winning 1-0. But even when you have a referee to flag it up it has little effect. We need a red card.
Will the Lord President prove that wrong and reassure us?
I am grateful for the challenge that has been laid down. Unfortunately, I cannot think of any literary works to refer to. I offer sincere apologies to my noble friend Lord Tomlinson for my momentary lapse of generosity in getting the relevant papers for the noble Lord. It will not happen again.
I shall not prolong this as the hour is late and noble Lords wish to go. I shall of course ensure that the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, gets all the billets-doux. I normally note who is in the Chamber so we shall ensure that noble Lords get copies of all the relevant material. I am noted for giving people too much paper rather than too little.
The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, rightly gets to the heart of the matter—what is it that we are trying to describe in this principle. I did not know the background with regard to the Catholic Church. I was grateful for that information and I shall read up on the matter. Certainly it is not a word that trips lightly off the tongue in terms of explanation. The noble Lord is right; traditionally we have looked at it in the context of saying that you devolve down to the lowest possible level where decisions should rightly be made. I put it a different way in saying that the European Union should and must undertake only action which is better achieved at Union rather than national, regional or local level. That is where it can add value. If it cannot do that, it should not undertake that action. Because this principle needs to be probed, prodded, looked at, examined and questioned, it is important that the mechanisms exist for that.
Members of the Committee will know too that we have successfully invoked subsidiarity on a number of occasions; for example, in 2003 on taxation, where we argued that a Commission proposal to abolish the UK's VAT zero rates on food, children's clothes and so on was inconsistent with subsidiarity. In 2006, following a Commission report to determine what was needed next on labour law, the UK successfully argued that no new EU-level legislation was necessary.
As noble Lords have pointed out, in particular the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, we have now given national parliaments for the first time direct powers enforcing the principles of subsidiarity. We accept too that what will be important about that is how we make sure that they actually work. I referred earlier to my conversations with Catherine Day at the Commission the week before last. I know that she was very concerned to think about the broader dialogue that the Commission can have with national parliaments beyond the treaty; in other words to be able to engage quickly and to engage parliaments at the Green Paper stage of Commission thinking, which is something that they are obviously clearly interested in and involved with, and something that I very much encouraged them to do. As well as the formal mechanisms described of orange and yellow cards, having a dialogue that informs the Commission's policy-making process would be just as important, because those informal dialogues, in the sense that they are not formally in the treaty but are formal in terms of making sure that they take place, would be very important in so doing.
We have talked about the eight-week timetable, which is an improvement on what has been proposed before. During that time, nothing can be placed on the provisional Council agenda, so nothing can be prepared while that process is going on, which is an area that noble Lords will be concerned with. I agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, said about COREPER. When I was in Brussels 10 days ago, our permanent representative was hotfoot from several extremely long COREPER meetings, and that is certainly what I recall from being involved with the justice council.
It is worth bearing in mind, for those who are not familiar with the process, that if you are a Minister attending from 27 states, you fly in for the meetings. Noble Lords opposite will remember well that you are well briefed, but you have not had time to have the detailed discussion. The work that goes on in COREPER is completely invaluable. What will happen post the ratification of the treaty is that all proposals for legislation will go through COREPER. Noble Lords know the work that it does in preparing for the Council, together with the European Parliament, which is the legislator, as the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, mentioned. Article 240 of the TFEU sets out with minor changes what have been the long-standing provisions on the way in which COREPER works. As I said, I agree with those who paid tribute to it.
Again, we find ourselves very quickly into the role of the European Court of Justice. My noble friend Lord Radice said it very well when he said that the role of the European Court of Justice is to interpret the treaties. By definition, its role is described and proscribed by that; by the treaties that the member states agree. It is a creation of the treaties; it is not superior to the treaties. Its job is to interpret the legislation that is decided by the Council or, where co-decision applies, by the European Parliament as well.
Can the Minister deal with one point made by the noble Lord, which is about the role of the European Court particularly in respect of the working-time directive? It was brought forward as a health and safety measure, and the Government of the day appealed on the grounds that it was not a health and safety measure. I remember being told at the time that because the European Court had a duty to promote the acquis, that meant that there would be a move towards integration and towards furthering those powers and that therefore our chances of success were limited. Would she like to comment on that?
I cannot comment on the specifics of the working-time directive, because I do not have the details at my fingertips. The point about the promotion of the acquis, as I interpret it—which is the body of law—is that if you accept that the role of the European Court of Justice is to interpret what has been determined in the treaties, and that within that it has a role and responsibility that those member states operating together which agree what is to happen and agree the legislation—the treaties—then the European Court of Justice will play a role in interpreting the acquis.
The noble Lord used the word "promote". It is an interesting word—like subsidiarity, it has many meanings, depending on how one looks at it. But I am quite clear that the role of the European Court of Justice is to interpret and examine cases that are brought before it. As we can discuss at greater length when we debate the European Court of Justice, we have been successful in arguing our point when we bring cases before it. We bring those cases before the court so that it can look at the legislation and the interpretation thereof. In addition, we have four judges involved with the European Court of Justice—no member state has more.
I hope that I have answered sufficiently for one night—it is after 10, and I promised noble Lords that we would try not to run late. We have had a good first day but a slow one. The noble Lord, Lord Pearson, looks as if he is about to leap to his feet—to withdraw his amendment, I trust. It is great to see him enjoying himself so much.
I think it is normal for the mover of an amendment to reply at the end of the Minister's response, as quickly as possible. The noble Lord, Lord Williamson, and other Members of the Committee have extolled the value of subsidiarity but not one has answered my question about any single piece of European legislation being withdrawn as a result of subsidiarity. Those of us who have put our name to the amendment maintain our position that the thing is useless and should be taken out of the treaties.
We were not impressed—and neither, I was glad to see, was the noble Lord, Lord, Hunt—by the system of yellow and orange cards. We agree with the German constitutional court that all those footballing metaphors are ineffective and impractical.
I will ask and answer my next question, because we are in a hurry. Is there any possibility under subsidiarity and under the new protocol of the acquis communautaire being reversed by the Luxembourg Court of Justice? The answer is no. Nothing will be reversed—the ratchet will continue to grind towards the ever-closer union of the peoples of Europe, required by the treaties. We will continue to be cursed with legislation from Brussels about which the House of Commons and your Lordships' House can do nothing. I refer to the ladders directive, which means that you can no longer climb a ladder unless someone is holding the bottom—very good for our building trade. The food supplements directive, which is going through now, will control the amount of vitamins we can eat. Then there are the directives on the height of rocking horses in the nursery and on light bulbs—very important. These directives all come from Brussels—subsidiarity is nothing. Generally speaking, the nooks and crannies of our national private life, which we were assured at Maastricht would no longer continue to be invaded, will go on being invaded by the vibration directive and the 50-page directive on the manufacture of condoms. There is no hope for subsidiarity and no hope for this project. With those thoughts, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.