European Union (Amendment) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 9:15 pm on 19th May 2008.

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Photo of Lord Tomlinson Lord Tomlinson Labour 9:15 pm, 19th May 2008

I was not going to intervene in this debate, but I do so briefly, partly to defend my noble friend the Leader of the House from the rather unfair treatment that she received at the hands of the noble Lord, Lord Owen. The noble Lord's speech was very interesting and I certainly enjoyed some of the reminiscences that it brought to mind, but it was dealing in totally different circumstances. The noble Lord should remember, as I occasionally have to, that it is 29 years since he was my boss in the Foreign Office and that in European terms a lot has changed—and changed dramatically—since I was pleased to serve under him in that Labour Government.

When we look at today's proposals, we are dealing with nine different circumstances in which a passerelle is proposed as a possibility. Without going into every one of the safeguards in each of those nine circumstances, let us at least understand that the primary safeguard in every single case is the requirement of unanimity to the process of change that is being proposed. In most cases there are other locks on the process in addition to the requirement of unanimity. That is not the sort of circumstance that I remember the noble Lord, Lord Owen, went through. Take, for example, fisheries policy, where I know—and I had great sympathy for him—there were times when he had to sit through the night in smoke-filled rooms to get an agreement.

However, that is not the process of decision-making that is now the major challenge to the European Union. It is the sheer fact of having a community of far greater membership with the prospect of more to come, and at least having the opportunity for the overwhelming majority to be able to reach a mechanistic sort of agreement to stop any eccentric member state holding the rest to ransom on something they all want.

I think that the current proposals are eminently sensible. I tend to agree with the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, that they will be used relatively rarely, if at all, as their existence precludes the possibility of one state holding everybody else to ransom. In those circumstances I am totally content with the Bill as it stands. I hope to hear from my noble friend the Leader of the House that she shares my state of contentment.