Clause 24 - References to Community instruments

Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 1:15 pm on 9 March 2006.

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Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald Shadow Secretary of State (Justice), Shadow Secretary of State 1:30, 9 March 2006

We are on to a different area—changes to the way in which legislation from the Europe Union is dealt with in this place.

Clause 24, if one reads the notes, is a provision that when a Community instrument—a directive or regulation—is mentioned in a Bill, it should not be necessary to recite all the various amendments that have been made to it over the years. That is thought to be a straightforward improvement to the way in which legislation is drafted. However, I am worried about the wording. If the EU makes a directive or a regulation and then we in the UK pass a Bill, in which the EU legislation is referred to, to give it effect, but then the instrument is changed, the courts in this country would be forced, by that change, to treat the new instrument as though it were the one referred to in the Bill. In other words, are we creating an automatic change to our law every time the EU changes its provisions? That seems to go beyond the description in the notes.

I should be grateful if the Minister would confirm that the situation is as described in the notes, and that there will be no automatic change in the law in this country, every time the Community changes its law, without reference back to the House.

Photo of David Heath David Heath Shadow Leader of the House of Commons, Shadow Spokesperson (Cabinet Office)

I concur entirely with the point made by the hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire—it is important that we understand the context.

As we move to this part of the Bill, may I have permission, Sir Nicholas, to ask the Minister a more general question? Clearly, there is an interrelationship between the changes that the Minister is introducing, in terms of the way in which European legislation is translated into British—I should say English—law, and the way in which the House scrutinises those matters in order to ensure that Parliament has proper control over what is enacted, either directly or indirectly.

We have been waiting a long time to hear substantial plans from the Leader of the House for improved European scrutiny. We are told constantly that they will arise soon, but “soon” never actually arrives. Will the Minister tell us what discussions his Department has had with the Leader of the House, because those two things are clearly linked? The legislative process cannot be treated in isolation from the process of European scrutiny, or vice versa. I hope that the Minister will confirm that there is joined-up government in that area and that there has been debate between the two, and I hope that he can give us an indication of whether any conclusions have been reached that ought to be brought before the House at the appropriate moment.

Photo of Nicholas Winterton Nicholas Winterton Conservative, Macclesfield

Before I call the next speaker, I think that the last point made by the hon. Gentleman is slightly wide of this legislation. Although I am happy for the Minister to make a passing reference to it, I hope that his response will not take too long.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

I hope that when the Minister responds to our introductory debate on part 3, he will enlighten us about where we stand in relation to what has been described as a period of reflection following the rejection in a referendum by two member states of the European constitution. We are in the extraordinary position that the European Union Bill, which had its First Reading on 24 May 2005, has not been withdrawn.

Photo of Nicholas Winterton Nicholas Winterton Conservative, Macclesfield

Order. I always enjoy the hon. Gentleman’s contributions. If he refers only briefly—very briefly—to the matter, I shall allow him to continue, but he is rather wide of the subject.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

I will be very brief. The point is that the provisions of clause 24 are almost identical to provisions in the European Union Bill. The long title of that Bill is:

“To make provision in connection with the Treaty signed at Rome on 29th October 2004 establishing a Constitution for Europe; and to require a referendum to be held about it.”

Those matters are no longer part of the Government’s agenda. Notwithstanding that, provisions in the European Union Bill are to be found in part 3 of the Bill before us.

As I understand it, the purpose of the equivalent provisions in the European Union Bill was to streamline the way in which European legislation was brought before the House—in light of the confirmation of the treaty. As the treaty has not been confirmed, and as we are still in a period of reflection—it continues under the present Austrian presidency and expires at the end of it—can the Minister explain why we seem to be jumping the gun? Part 3 is legislating for purposes that, in May 2005, were expressly being made to facilitate the implementation of the European constitution. The constitution is not being implemented, so why is it still necessary to include those provisions in this Bill?

Photo of Andrew Love Andrew Love Labour, Edmonton

Can the Minister tell us when the referendum will be? It is the only question that he has not yet been asked.

Photo of Nicholas Winterton Nicholas Winterton Conservative, Macclesfield

Order. The hon. Member for Christchurch ultimately and accurately clarified that the point he was making was closely associated with the Bill. I call Mr. Murphy.

Photo of Jim Murphy Jim Murphy Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Cabinet Office)

Thank you, Sir Nicholas—and I congratulate the hon. Member for Christchurch on being able to do so.

I shall try to remain in order as I respond to the points raised. The hon. Member for Somerton and Frome asked earlier how we scrutinise EU legislation. All I can say is that I sat on European Standing Committee A, European Standing Committee B and European Standing Committee C for more than two years. On average, those Committees met once a week. They were pretty lonely gatherings—none the less enjoyable, of course.

The hon. Gentleman asked how the scrutiny of EU business could be enhanced. It is important that all who consider themselves to have a positive view of our relationship with Europe should grapple with that question. We need to heighten the level of interest in the scrutiny of European legislation through those Committees and their successors. That is something that should be dealt with across parties. I am not acting as a politician today, Sir Nicholas, nor should I be under your stricture to answer the point. The hon. Gentleman says that all parties are seeking more effective ways to scrutinise and to engage in the European debate and how it interrelates with Parliament.

The other points made about the provisions of clause 24 do not relate to the constitutional treaty. The hon. Member for Christchurch was right to say that in paragraph 8, the explanatory notes say that the provisions were and would remain included in the European Union Bill that would have provided for a referendum on the EU constitutional treaty. Notwithstanding the fact that that Bill has been   postponed until a date yet to be determined, the new clause will enable us more effectively to implement technically the provisions already made in Europe.

I shall give an example of that. I shall not bore the Committee; we have only until 4 pm, so I will not read out all of this one statutory instrument. However, the Producer Responsibility Obligations (Packaging Waste) Regulations 2005 define the waste directive as

“Council Directive 75/442/EEC on waste as amended by—” and then lists a series of directives. The clause seeks to ensure that we do not have to go through that ineffective way of technically implementing decisions agreed in Europe. That way is cumbersome, but that is not the most important thing.

Photo of David Howarth David Howarth Shadow Minister, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister

I believe that the Minister is answering the question put to him by two hon. Members about whether the new clause would effect changes to Community instruments that took place after the Act in question came into force. As there will be, I hope, a long period of reflection after Committee and before Report, I suggest to the Minister that he and his officials try to clarify the clause slightly by inserting something like, “at the time of the passing of that Act” after the word “has” in the second line. That would make it absolutely clear that what was being considered was what had happened before that Act came into being and had nothing whatever to do with what might happen after that point.

Photo of Jim Murphy Jim Murphy Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Cabinet Office)

The hon. Gentleman makes a sensible suggestion in a sensible way, and I shall reflect with officials on whether that would be a necessary and effective thing to do. A second clause 24 would not automatically change our law every time that a Community instrument was updated. That is not the effect of the clause. I shall reflect on the hon. Gentleman’s point, because of his experience and the way that he made it.

As I mentioned to the hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire, the amendments are extraordinarily complicated and technical. They are about how we implement decisions that have already been taken. They do not in any way affect, influence or take a view of those decisions, but simply implement them in a more coherent way.

There is already one explanatory memorandum, but it may be helpful to offer an additional technical one, not only for Committee members but for other Members of the House who may not have paid close attention to some of the details of part 3. In that way, before Report, hon. Members on both sides of the House—those on this Committee and those who have not had the good fortune to be invited to serve on it—will be able to make their own observations about the technical aspects of clause 3. That would certainly be worth doing.

I shall bring my comments to a conclusion. Clause 24 will not make any changes to policies made in Europe and will not change what can be legislated for in Europe. It will not lead to more regulation from Europe; it simply provides that a reference in UK legislation to a Community instrument such as an EC   directive or regulation will have effect as a reference to that instrument, as amended, at the date on which the UK legislation is passed. I hope that that reassures hon. Members, who have asked entirely reasonable questions.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 24 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Nicholas Winterton Nicholas Winterton Conservative, Macclesfield

Perhaps it would be appropriate for me to remind Committee members that our proceedings have to come to an end at 4 o’clock. I hope that that fact will be borne in mind, because we still have a number of other clauses, amendments and new clauses to deal with.