European Union (Amendment) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 7:30 pm on 19th May 2008.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Lord Brittan of Spennithorne Lord Brittan of Spennithorne Conservative 7:30 pm, 19th May 2008

Although I respect the thinking behind the comments of my noble friend Lady Noakes, I do not agree with the amendment proposed. I am familiar with the line of cases to which she refers, which have impinged on the tax base. However, I think that she does less than justice to the European Court of Justice in failing to observe that the reason for that encroachment is to achieve an important European objective that we share—that is, the freedom of establishment and the freedom of movement of goods, persons and corporations across the European Union. Whether that balance is right or wrong can be argued about, but it is not just a wilful tax grab that is taking place; it has been an attempt to protect an important part of the European single market. Noble Lords may think that it goes too far or not far enough, but that is the motivation behind it, and to fail to refer to that seems to me to verge on the misleading.

Whether that is right or wrong, the relevant point is not whether that intrusion into the British tax base is sensible or desirable; it is whether the treaty of Lisbon does anything to further that process or could be distorted so to do. Nothing that has been said so far leads me to believe that anything in the treaty that we are currently debating could conceivably have that effect. If that effect arises as a result of the Court decisions, the Court decisions are based on other premises and not this treaty—because the treaty has not come into existence. I see nothing in the treaty that would enable the Court to go further in the direction that my noble friend deplores. For that reason, this proposal is at best otiose and at worst misleading.