European Union (Amendment) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:00 pm on 12th May 2008.

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Photo of Baroness Ashton of Upholland Baroness Ashton of Upholland President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Leader of the House of Lords and Lord President of the Council (Privy Council Office) 6:00 pm, 12th May 2008

I am extremely grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Wirral, for bringing together this group of amendments to enable us to have a broader debate although noble Lords have inevitably focused on the President Sarkozy issue, particularly as regards Customs, which I shall come to, and other issues. I shall try to deal with each of the amendments, albeit it somewhat briefly in some cases, so that they are dealt with by the Government Front Bench.

The noble Lord, Lord Brooke, always gives me the benefit of a classical education. I was not trying to suggest that he should be brief. I seem to have gained a reputation for insisting that noble Lords should be brief. The noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, nods, which suggests that I might be trying to beat noble Lords into submission. Heaven forfend. I was merely trying to ensure that I noticed everybody who wished to speak. I had not noticed the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, for which I apologise.

I shall deal with the amendments in order to ensure that I cover them all. Amendment No. 29A has two parts. The first relates to the confirmation that the Union has exclusive competence to establish competition rules. Noble Lords will know that this competence is not new; it simply confirms the current position. By definition, rules necessary for the operation of the internal market—an EU-wide market regulated at EU level—must be an exclusive competence of the EU. If rules necessary for the operation could be set aside, it is hard to see how it would function effectively. The reason there has not been a change in terms of the single market in this amending treaty is because we believe that the arrangements and the rules that are staying in force are appropriate and good and there is no need to tinker with them. We believe that our access to the single market makes the UK such an attractive destination for investment. With that access comes certain common rules that are necessary for the functioning of the single market. Competition rules are among the most fundamental of such essential rules. As noble Lords will know, that does not mean that the whole area of competition law is an exclusive competence. The UK can, and does, set additional competition rules for other purposes that do not obstruct the operation of the EU's rules.