Report (1st Day)

Part of European Union Bill – in the House of Lords at 6:45 pm on 8th June 2011.

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Photo of Baroness Falkner of Margravine Baroness Falkner of Margravine Liberal Democrat 6:45 pm, 8th June 2011

I say to noble Lords opposite that we on the Liberal Democrat Benches recognise that this amendment is intended to enhance scrutiny and to improve propositions that might be put forward by the Executive. We also accept the spirit of what noble Lords opposite are trying to do. For the record, I do not find, in the copy that I have just looked up, the elements of the coalition agreement to which the noble Lord, Lord Liddle, referred as endorsing this amendment. I would not want to tempt him to read out the entire section on Europe in the coalition agreement, as the hour is late.

I shall speak to the substantive elements of the amendment. We do not believe that it would be right to take such a dramatic step to remove from the Executive, the Government of the day, the decisions about what they will support or not and to give them to a committee of both Houses. We have had a long debate about Parliament and the importance of parliamentary scrutiny and so on. In Committee, we heard a lot of argumentation across the House regarding urgent situations and what would happen because decision-making was so late and would be so stymied. I find that the methodology proposed here would certainly add to the amount of time that would be taken to deal with measures if a Joint Committee had to rule on them. There would also be the issue of reintroducing some rather subjective concepts: urgency and national interest. We have had debates on those subjects; both are highly subjective. We are also conscious of the judicial review implications contained in the Bill.

Finally, the amendment seems to miss the underlying theme of the Bill, which is that the Executive make a call on a proposal, bring it to Parliament, Parliament agrees it and then the public are to ratify that decision through a referendum. As we have repeatedly heard from the ministerial Bench, the Bill is designed to reconnect the British public with these policy issues that emanate from the European Union. The public will be empowered, through the processes proposed here. To take that away and to give it to a Joint Committee of both Houses seems to me to entirely miss the point of the Bill. On that basis I suggest that it goes contra to where we had got. Before I conclude I give way to the noble Lord,