European Union (Amendment) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 7:45 pm on 19 May 2008.

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Photo of Lord Hunt of Wirral Lord Hunt of Wirral Conservative 7:45, 19 May 2008

Clause 3 deals with changes in terminology and the necessary and consequent alterations in both terminology and numbering in UK legislation that the treaty of Lisbon makes necessary. Amendment No. 131 is in my name and that of my noble friend Lord Howell of Guildford. It is about parliamentary accountability. How should the procedure be dealt with to ensure that Parliament scrutinises any necessary changes which come forward? Our concerns with Clause 3 centre on the legal confusion and unintended consequences that might result from hasty and unscrutinised amendments to UK laws.

It has become a general principle that if the Government wish to take Henry VIII powers to amend primary legislation by order, then we as a House look at that very seriously indeed and want to scrutinise it very closely. In this case the sensitivity of the legal ramifications of the changes surely make the case that there should at least be affirmative parliamentary approval.

The changes are consequent on the collapse of the three pillars into the overarching term "the European Union", the EU. The European Community will no longer have separate legal status; nor will the common foreign and security policy. Police and criminal justice co-operation will be handled separately. The Government have given various assurances about the efficacy of the CFSP exemption in Clause 2 and of the safeguards around the introduction of further police and judicial co-operation, about which many noble Lords have expressed deep concern. The differences of view expressed in the other place on the potential effects of these changes reinforce those concerns.

I do not want to go into all the ramifications of these changes. They were dealt with in extensive debate in the other place. I want to confine the debate about the amendment, if that is possible, to the procedural mechanics of how the changes should be effected.

Of course, the amendment in no way prevents necessary drafting changes being made. All it does is give an opportunity for Parliament to reassure itself that they are as innocuous as the Minister will no doubt claim. However, we need a little more than just assurances.

The amendment says that, under Clause 3(5), if there is to be an order under subsection (4), it shall be made by statutory instrument. Paragraph (c) says that it shall be subject to annulment—the negative resolution procedure. The amendment would insert a new paragraph (c) containing the words,

"may be made only if a draft of the order has been—

(i) laid before Parliament; and (ii) approved by a resolution of each House."

I followed the debate in the other place very carefully indeed. I saw that this was a major issue, as it is—and should be—in this House. References to the European Community are to be replaced with references to the European Union. On the face of it, that seems a simple process, until one looks at the context in which all these changes are to be made. Looking at the speeches of many Members of the other place, one is concerned about how wide-ranging these changes might become and about the wonderful law of unintended consequences. There is therefore a good case for Parliament to be involved in scrutinising the changes.

I was impressed by the speech in the other place of Jo Swinson, the Liberal Democrat Member for East Dunbartonshire, who not only said how strongly she agreed with the spirit of the amendment, but clearly stated that the Liberal Democrat party would support the amendment, because it is,

"in favour of proper scrutiny in the House".

She pointed out that all the amendment did was propose the sensible change of moving from the negative to the affirmative resolution procedure. She expressed herself well when she added that the amendment both proposes that we should keep:

"Ministers on their toes more and ensures proper scrutiny".

What a wonderful objective, which I wholly endorse. She added how much she welcomed the opportunity to join forces with the Opposition:

"I therefore welcome the perhaps rare opportunity to support an amendment tabled by the right hon. Member for Wells, as it would enable us to have greater power to scrutinise various aspects of the Bill". —[Hansard, Commons, 3/3/08; col. 1487.]

I say this because there is a rumour that the Liberal Democrats in this place have decided to support the Government not only on amendments with which they disagree, but on amendments with which they agree, with which their party agrees, and which their party moved in the other place. This is currently no more than a rumour, and we are about to put it to the test. I say, by way of warning to whoever is going to speak from the Liberal Democrat Benches, that such was the persuasive speech of Jo Swinson that it caused her party leader, Mr Clegg, accompanied by Dr Vincent Cable, Mr Edward Davey, Danny Alexander and Chris Huhne—the list is endless—to swarm into the Lobby with the Conservative Party in favour of the amendment. I therefore anticipate with profound optimism that we shall get support on the amendment.

It is important for parliamentary democracy that we should have proper scrutiny in this place. I therefore have much pleasure in begging to move.


neil scott
Posted on 20 May 2008 6:17 pm

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