Motion to Agree
Asylum: EUC Report
Lord Roper (Liberal Democrat)
My Lords, when your Lordships' House considers reports of the European Union Committee, it is almost invariably on a Motion in the name of the chairman of the sub-committee which compiled the report, and the terms of the Motion are that the House should take note of the report. The noble Lord, Lord Jopling, will shortly be elaborating on the reasons why the sub-committee which he chairs took the view-a view endorsed by the Select Committee-that the Government should opt in to the two directives in question. First, however, let me explain why this Motion is in my name, and why it invites your Lordships not to take note, but to agree.
Provisions on visas, asylum, immigration and other policies related to the free movement of workers were introduced into the Treaty establishing the European Community by the treaty of Amsterdam, which was signed on
"it wishes to take part in the adoption and application",
of the proposed measure. This is the United Kingdom opt-in. What is sometimes referred to as an opt-out is simply a decision by the Government not to opt in, and requires no action by the United Kingdom.
While the terms of the proposed legislation are important in every case, the Government's decision on whether or not to opt in is of at least equal importance, since without an opt-in, the legislation, whatever its terms, will not apply in this country. Yet until recently there has been no procedure for Parliament to consider and give its view on what that decision should be-let alone a procedure for doing this speedily, so that the Government can be aware of Parliament's view before the three months have elapsed.
The matter came to a head with the signature of the treaty of Lisbon. Provisions on police and judicial co-operation in criminal matters were previously in Title VI of the Treaty on European Union-the so-called third pillar-and thus required unanimity. There was therefore no way in which the United Kingdom could be bound by such legislation against its will, and no need for an opt-in on such legislation. But under the Lisbon treaty the first and third pillars are merged, and the protocol giving the United Kingdom an opt-in has therefore been extended to cover this category of legislation as well.
When the European Union (Amendment) Bill was before the House, both the European Union Committee and the Committee on the Constitution-whose chairman, the noble Lord, Lord Goodlad, I see is in his place-sought to obtain from the then Leader of the House, the noble Baroness, Lady Ashton of Upholland, a procedure for allowing the House to give its view on whether the Government should opt in to any particular proposal for legislation before the time for doing so had expired. In April 2008, my predecessor, the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, set up a small sub-committee of the European Union Select Committee to consider such a procedure. The Select Committee took evidence from the noble Baroness, Lady Ashton, in May 2008. The upshot of these discussions was that, on
Two of these undertakings are of particular importance. First, the Government undertook to take into account any opinions of the committee on whether the United Kingdom should opt in. This is qualified by the words,
"Provided that any such views are forthcoming within 8 weeks of publication",
even though there are still five weeks of the three-month period to run. But, thus far, the Government have not suggested that they would ignore any views made known after eight weeks. It would be helpful if the Minister could confirm that the Government will take account of the committee's views whenever they are forthcoming, although I concede that this may not be possible if they are received very close to the end of the three-month period.
The second undertaking given by the noble Baroness was that where the committee concluded that the question of whether or not to opt in to a measure should be debated, this should be on a Motion that is amendable and the Government would make time for the debate.
The two undertakings amount to a substantial extension of Parliament's powers to hold the Government to account on European matters. They took effect when the treaty of Lisbon came into force on
All the committee's substantive reports make recommendations for the Government to take particular courses of action. This however is the first of a category of report where the Government will have to decide within a matter of days whether to accept the recommendations and where the application of important legislation in the United Kingdom will depend on their decision. Without going into the substance of the report-which the noble Lord, Lord Jopling, will be dealing with in a moment or two-its recommendation are, in paragraph 17, that the Government should opt in to the proposed second-phase qualification directive; in paragraph 22, that the Government should opt in to the proposal for a revised Asylum Procedures Directive; and in paragraph 24, that the report should be debated, which is what we are about to do.
The Procedure Committee will shortly be considering whether any particular rules should apply to the debates on such Motions but, for the present, I hope that this Motion will allow a full debate on all the points raised in the report. I beg to move.