European Union (Amendment) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 8:30 pm on 19th May 2008.

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Photo of Lord Roper Lord Roper Liberal Democrat 8:30 pm, 19th May 2008

I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Howell—this group of amendments is extremely important. The European Union Committee has considered these matters and in the absence of its chairman—the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell—has asked me to say that it did report on them in paragraphs 315 and 316. It is rather important to look at the position of your Lordships' House as far as the present situation is concerned alongside the situation at an earlier stage and in the legislation which was prepared to be put forward for the constitutional treaty. On that occasion the powers of the House of Lords were extremely limited. When the Prime Minister returned from the discussions on this treaty, he initially suggested that it would be for only the House of Commons to agree or not agree the use of a passerelle. It was only following questioning within your Lordships' committee that the Minister, Mr Murphy, responded. When the Bill appeared for the first time, the House of Lords was given an equivalent power in this matter. Therefore, I think that the first thing to say is that there is a significant increase in the position of the House of Lords as far as this is concerned, compared with earlier proposals.

The second thing that your Lordships need to consider is that any proposal to use the passerelle procedure to carry a small alteration to the treaty would be by means of a European Union instrument, which would necessarily have to go through the scrutiny process of your Lordships' European Union Committee. I cannot say what the committee would do in those circumstances, but it is not implausible that it would wish to have an inquiry into any attempt to change the provisions of the treaty, and would wish to make a report to this House. The idea that the parliamentary procedure that would occur if the passerelle were to be used would be that of a normal statutory instrument, which under a convention goes through this House without opposition, is something of an exaggeration.

I would be grateful if the Minister, in replying to this debate, would let the Committee know how the Government see the role of the two Houses in their consideration of orders to implement the use of a passerelle. I do not believe that the normal conventions on the application of statutory instruments would apply. Before we come to make a decision on this amendment and before we have to face the challenge posed by the noble Lord, Lord Howell, about whether we accept some of the things that our colleagues have said in the House of Commons, I would like to discover how the Government envisage that such an instrument would be considered in this House.