European Union (Amendment) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 9:30 pm on 19th May 2008.

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Photo of Lord Neill of Bladen Lord Neill of Bladen Crossbench 9:30 pm, 19th May 2008

I had not intended to speak to this amendment. We have heard some significant speeches from people with wide experience who have actually sat in various committee rooms into the middle of the night. I have had none of that experience; I am simply a Cross-Bencher who knows a little about what the man in the street thinks about the Lisbon treaty and his state of knowledge on its ramifications. Someone said that the passerelle will never be used. We have to proceed on the footing that it may be used, and if so, it will be because of some important piece of business that cannot be transacted within the Union unless the passerelle bridge is crossed. It will be something significant, so I start not from a position of some fantasy that will never happen. It will one day and when it does it will matter.

I come back to what people know. The noble Lord, Lord Williamson, says that he will not use the term "passerelle"; it is good enough for him to talk about a footbridge or a narrow footbridge. Our discussion this evening would be totally unintelligible in almost any room, pub or meeting. No one would have the faintest idea that there was to be a mechanism for increasing the scope of the treaty by this method—even by unanimity. They would think that Lisbon is a done deal and that that is where we are and, if they took enough trouble, they would find out what was in the treaty. This is a route to an extension of that and, as I have suggested, when it is used it will be very important. It is entirely speculative and one could say that there is no basis for this, but I wonder what role the man or woman in the street would want Parliament in Westminster to have if and when that power is used to cross this bridge. Would they want an approval by a single vote one evening in the Commons and another in the Lords, or, as it is something important, would they prefer that it was dealt with by a more rigorous procedure where the matter could be fully debated? That procedure is by Act of Parliament. To me, the obvious answer would be, "We want the best procedure available". The noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, was right to draw attention to the fact that Parliament will have a new role to play—it is an absurdity—for two and a half months. This cannot possibly work if we have issues on subsidiarity, to mention just one example, arising in that time.

If Parliament is going to take a stand and live up to the role that it will be given, why do we not start now? Why do we not insist on a better class of procedure for looking at the invocation of the passerelle? If I have understood correctly the answer of the noble Lord, Lord Roper, to the question that I put earlier, there is nothing on this issue in the report of our impact assessment committee, admirable though it is. I do not think committee members focused—or were asked to focus—on whether this matter of approval in Parliament would be dealt with by an Act of Parliament or by a simple resolution. I do not think that they addressed that; they cannot deal with everything. We are on our own. This Chamber has not had that guidance. We have heard the view of a committee in the House of Commons. I urge noble Lords to adopt the amendment that has been moved.