European Union (Amendment) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 8:45 pm on 19th May 2008.

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Photo of Lord Owen Lord Owen Crossbench 8:45 pm, 19th May 2008

I quite agree. And because it is timetabled it is less onerous to ask the Government to accept that it should be primary legislation. I accept that it is certainly weaker. But it could be argued that they have now controlled the process to some extent and there do not have to be guillotines. Far from weakening my case, I think it strengthens it.

I wonder what the Liberal Democrats' position will be on this. As I understand it, when this matter came to a vote in the other place, Liberal MPs voted in favour of it being in primary legislation. The little debate that we had earlier today was one thing—I did not bother to vote; I vote so rarely that I am not going to vote on trivial matters—but this is another. The arguments used in that debate, about questions of judgment, cannot be used in this one. This is a substantive and important debate. I am very pleased to see the leader of the Liberal Democrats in his place, because he played an important part in the drafting of the letter of the Prime Minister in 1977. He will remember the importance that was attached to the power we gave Parliament to curb any increase in powers in the European Parliament.

Having made the case for at least occasionally using the full parliamentary brake of legislation, we must ask whether the passerelle clauses represent something substantial. That is the issue that we have to discuss. There is no question—no one seems to have denied it; indeed it has been used as the Government's reason for giving a single vote in both Houses on this issue—but that you could in some circumstances, as it would require unanimity, move to a vote for qualified majority voting in foreign policy. Imagine a situation where, seven years on, no one political party has an outright majority in the other place and we have, say, a Labour-Liberal Democrat coalition. The issue of moving to a qualified majority vote comes up in the European Council and the Prime Minister of the day—I will not say which political party he comes from—comes back, having made a decision in the middle of the night, to go along with the majority and have qualified majority voting. Do people understand that in that circumstance, the only check is going to be a single vote in the Houses of Parliament? I would argue that it is a fundamentally important decision, the decision above all which would influence whether integration was fully achieved or the rather ambivalent European organisation we have at the moment remained.