European Union Committee: Report on 2013-14 (EUC Report) — Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 7:24 pm on 24th July 2014.

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Photo of Lord Boswell of Aynho Lord Boswell of Aynho Chair, European Union Committee, Principal Deputy Chairman of Committees 7:24 pm, 24th July 2014

My Lords, this has been an excellent debate and I am grateful to my noble friends and colleagues for their contributions and their very friendly personal remarks, which were much appreciated. I am also grateful to the Minister, as he has outed himself as a former chairman of our home affairs sub-committee. We already know where he comes from, but he reflected that in his thoughtful response.

I wish to pick up two points that the Minister made. The first one is in relation to yellow cards. I would not for a moment caricature his line of argument as saying that we ought to have yet another performance table on the number of yellow cards tendered by any particular chamber of the 41 across the European Union, although, of course, COSAC does keep a score of that. However, I can give him the news, if he was not previously aware of it, that we have gone a stage further this week, not formally by actually tendering but by indicating our readiness to tender a red card, in our sense of the word, in relation to what we feel is an inordinate breach of the subsidiarity principle regarding occupational pensions, as referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady O’Cathain. We will, if necessary, see the Commission in court on that matter. Machinery has been devised and there is a Memorandum of Understanding between the various parties but I think that the suit would probably be brought in the name of your Lordships’ House, if it was minded to do so. However, that is ongoing. Of course, the intention is to try to force a further discussion on the matter rather than to take it to court.

The Minister also mentioned the noble Lord, Lord Hill, as did the noble Lord, Lord Bach. Even as we speak, I am, as they say, warming up to sign a letter to the noble Lord, Lord Hill. It will be very much on the basis the Minister indicated. This is not a confirmation hearing—we are not seeking that—but it would be to establish, and then to develop, a continuing relationship. The only gloss I put on that—and it is not purely for the record—is that, of course, all Commissioners have a duty to the European Union and all Commissioners will be very welcome as and when they are available in London or via electronic means. We shall seek to tap into their expertise and interests, as we have done in the recent past with a somewhat uneven result, although in certain cases that was very helpful.

In relation to the comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Bach, on the question of freedom of movement, my weekend reading will comprise looking very carefully at that particular balance of competences review, the articulation of the evidence and the conclusions of that. As a committee, we have sought not to conduct a running commentary on the balance of competences but we look at the details when they are issued and we may well want to take further steps. I also say to the noble Lord, Lord Bach, that we did indeed hold a pre-Council session with the Minister for Europe, David Lidington. I should make it clear to the House that that was an on-the-record public evidence session, as is all our work unless it is specifically to the contrary. It will also have occurred to your Lordships that that took place at a very fraught moment in the Council’s deliberation. Nevertheless, we felt that it was a marked success and it is one that we would seek to repeat on a future occasion. That issue may surface again when the substantive debate takes place on our report on the national parliaments, which is where the recommendation was derived from.

I am very conscious of the lateness of the hour. I add only that we were given a tremendous structure 40 years ago. That has led to a building-up of experience but it does not lead to either complacency or stasis. We will continue to move forward and take new interest in the developing pattern of the European Union and its challenges and we will be ready to serve your Lordships’ House by looking into those when it is appropriate. I do not want to test your Lordships’ patience by prolonging my remarks further. In that spirit, I thank all those who have contributed to the debate.

Motion agreed.