European Union (Amendment) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 8:00 pm on 19th May 2008.

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Photo of Lord Hunt of Wirral Lord Hunt of Wirral Conservative 8:00 pm, 19th May 2008

bviously in this discussion between the noble Lords, Lord Wallace and Lord Stoddart, terminology is very important. It is important to me, too. My noble friend Lord Tugendhat reminded us how it all started, and in some ways his words are a caution to us all. When we joined the Common Market, as it was then called, there were three treaties: the European Coal and Steel Community treaty signed in 1951; the European Atomic Energy Community treaty, usually known as EURATOM; and the European Economic Community treaty, usually abbreviated to the EEC, set up by the Treaty of Rome in 1957. Collectively those treaties form what were known as the European Communities.

I am grateful to the Minister for explaining why he opposed this amendment. He did so because he said that we would be led into an exhausting procedure. He said it in such a tired way that there was a wave of sympathy, mainly because he is such a hard-working Minister. I then asked myself, what am I proposing that will exhaust him? It is merely that instead of putting the onus on those who wish to question something by putting down a Prayer to cause a debate, identical procedure would be followed in drawing up the changes that they be subject to affirmative resolution. I cannot see that that would cause the Minister a substantial period of exhaustion. Given his good track record in these matters, I do not think that it presents him with any problem at all.

We come back to whether our Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee is right in saying that this will be a strictly technical area. I would not have moved this amendment if I could agree with that 100 per cent and accept it as fact. I think that we are dealing with what could be a highly complicated area. The large number of changes that will be made as we move from one terminology to the other could have unintended consequences, which is why I proposed this amendment—and, presumably, is why the whole of the Liberal Democrat Party voted for an identical amendment in the other place. I am not aware of any Liberal Democrat in the other place who supported the Government. They all voted for this amendment—and I agree with them. However, what I do not agree with is the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, accusing me of playing games. He said that he was not interested in playing games with the Opposition. I tell him that this is not a game: it is a serious issue. It is all about parliamentary accountability. On many occasions, I have supported his noble friends who have proposed identical amendments on moving from the negative to the affirmative resolution procedure, and I will do so again. However, I do not regard it as a game. I regard it as serious parliamentary politics; holding the Government to account.

I know that the noble Lord is only following what the noble Lord, Lord McNally, said the other day when he accused me of setting elephant traps. Well, I have news for him. This is not so much an elephant trap as a mousetrap. I am in the presence of the noble Lord, Lord Willoughby de Broke, who owns St Martin's Theatre, where "The Mousetrap" is the longest running show in town. So far as concerns this amendment, I will tell you whodunit—they done it! The Liberal Democrats did it in another place—they supported it and voted for it. I reckon that they are in danger of becoming the longest running farce in Westminster. We shall now see what they do and judge them accordingly. I wish to test the opinion of the House.