European Union (Amendment) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 9:00 pm on 19th May 2008.

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Photo of Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lord Wallace of Saltaire Deputy Leader, House of Lords, Spokesperson in the Lords, Foreign & Commonwealth Affairs, Spokesperson in the Lords, Home Affairs 9:00 pm, 19th May 2008

This debate has ranged widely beyond the exact amendment: we have heard about parliamentary reform and the whole question of parliamentary scrutiny of the EU process as a whole. We are actually discussing important procedural changes, from unanimity to qualified voting on a number of specific issues within an EU of 27 which will in time become an EU of 30 or more. Although those are serious issues, we need to return to the amendment that we are discussing.

I say to the noble Lord, Lord Owen, that the public mood of disillusionment with politics is not a particularly British phenomenon. It is, as we saw with the French and Dutch referenda campaigns and as we are seeing now with the Irish referendum campaign, a general problem throughout Western Europe. It has until the recent presidential election campaign in the United States also been a major problem in the United States. The public have been switched off from participation, distrustful of parliaments and of the US Congress. It is one of the real constraints under which we all operate.

The contradiction is made more acute for all of us by the increasing necessity of international co- operation and international negotiation not only within the EU but within a range of other regional and global institutions and the necessity of making agreements by negotiation within those international institutions which national parliaments find it hard to catch hold of and which national publics do not wish to understand. That is the contradiction with which we are faced.

In terms of parliamentary scrutiny not only of the passerelle but of Community and EU legislation as a whole, if we are going to take an increasing role for national parliaments seriously, the Government will have to help us to play our role more effectively. I take one obvious example: the long Recess between the end of July and the beginning of October. It seems to me self-evident that once the Lisbon treaty is passed, EU committees must meet in early September and if necessary Parliament as a whole must return in early September to do our scrutiny role within the confines of moving necessary collaborative decisions further forward. I hope the Leader of the House will be able to say something about that. Parliamentary scrutiny takes place through the partnership between the two Houses and between the committees and the full Chambers of the two Houses, which is the most effective form of scrutiny.