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European Union Committee

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:14 pm on 13th November 2007.

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Photo of Lord Pearson of Rannoch Lord Pearson of Rannoch UKIP 3:14 pm, 13th November 2007

My Lords, it is some years since I have troubled your Lordships on the reappointment of the EU Select Committee. Given the vital role that we may be required to play this Session, when a vote in your Lordships' House may decide whether the British people are granted a referendum on the proposed constitutional reform treaty, I felt it worth putting this Motion on to the Order Paper today.

In his speech last Wednesday, the chairman of the Select Committee, the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, made it clear that he expects his committee to advise the House on the treaty's effect on the United Kingdom, paying particular attention to the Government's "red lines". That is fair enough, but when one looks at the proposed composition of the committee, I hope one can be forgiven for wondering whether that advice is likely to be as objective and impartial, or as in tune with public opinion, as your Lordships would like.

We often pride ourselves on being more in touch with public opinion than is the House of Commons. Indeed, we often are. This is of great value to us and to the nation, but some of your Lordships seem to be increasingly out of step with the mood of the people in one area; our relationship with the European Union. I shall not weary your Lordships with too many opinion polls, but these have been moving steadily in the direction of Euroscepticism for several years. Some of the most recent polls show that up to 40 per cent of the British people say that they would now vote to leave the European Union altogether; that some 80 per cent would vote to leave the European Union if that meant regaining control of our borders; and that 74 per cent favour leaving or forging a looser relationship with Brussels—in effect, continuing in collaboration and free trade with our friends in the EU while departing from the political and bureaucratic constraints of the treaties of Rome. Yet, so far as I know, only one of the 19 proposed Members of your Lordships' Select Committee favours the latter option—returning to free trade while leaving the treaties—and not one publicly espouses either of the other options. Of course I do not pretend to know what every proposed Member feels about the EU, but from what they have said in your Lordships' House it looks as though no fewer than 10 are strongly in favour of the project of European union, and I am afraid that that includes the chairman, who is held in such personal affection by all your Lordships, including me, if he does not mind.

Furthermore—this is an even sorer subject—it looks as though perhaps five Members of the proposed committee receive EU pensions. I refer your Lordships to our debate on 19 July, when I suggested that such pensions should be declared in our debates because they can be forfeited if the holder fails to uphold the interests of the European Union. Whatever one feels about that, I would have thought it particularly difficult for an EU pensioner to support a report to your Lordships' House that might lead to the British people rejecting the proposed new treaty.

The same picture applied to our EU sub-committees last year. They have of course not been reappointed, but I hope that what I am saying can be borne in mind when they are. This is particularly true for the Law and Institutions Sub-Committee, which will have a special effect on the advice that is eventually given to your Lordships.

Perhaps I may end on a more popular note. I hope that the new committee, however it is composed, and indeed the whole House, will do its utmost to persuade the Government to pay much greater respect to the scrutiny reserve. When I was on the Select Committee some 10 years ago and more, it was rare for the Government to break that undertaking to Parliament. Yet a Written Answer to me on 30 January this year reveals that, for 2004 and up to the first half of 2006, the Government broke the reserve 157 times in your Lordships' House and 180 in the Commons. That makes 337 laws, which went on the statute book when one or other of the Houses had not agreed that they should. Of course, I appreciate that the pace of EU law making has much increased since I was on the Select Committee—in fact, it has doubled since the French and Dutch rejection of the constitution. So one wonders why, in parenthesis, the Eurocrats need this controversial treaty at all.

But I stray from the subject on the Order Paper. I hope that the membership of this committee can be radically rearranged and that the scrutiny reserve will be respected in future. I beg to move.

Moved, as an amendment to the Motion, to leave out all the words after "that" and insert "this House invites the Committee of Selection to reconsider its proposed membership of the Select Committee on the European Union".—(Lord Pearson of Rannoch.)