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National Parliaments (EUC Report) — Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 8:55 pm on 15th December 2014.

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Photo of Lord Boswell of Aynho Lord Boswell of Aynho Chair, European Union Committee, Principal Deputy Chairman of Committees 8:55 pm, 15th December 2014

My Lords, this has indeed been a full and excellent debate, and I am grateful to noble Lords’ for both their personal generosity to me and for their contributions which, without exception, would repay further reflection and study. I am also grateful to the Minister for his response, which was characteristically thoughtful. I was encouraged by two points. The first was at the end of his remarks, when he in a sense acknowledged that all was not quite well with the Cabinet Office or the Home Office. I might say in parenthesis that that is not always confined to those two departments, and I would be grateful if he would take an active interest in making sure that that practice improves. The second point was that a number of us, either explicitly or implicitly, had expressed concern about the status of national parliaments vis-à-vis the European Parliament. It is very good to get from a Minister on the record in this place that they both have a democratic legitimacy and a role to play. That is a very good start.

I do not want to speak at length but just to pick out brief points from the discussion. In how I cast my remarks, I was anxious that we should open our eyes to the situation in Europe. By “we” I mean not only ourselves as a national parliament chamber here but the European institutions as well. It is incumbent on us all to avoid being baffled or bamboozled by technical complexity. That is inevitable in an institution of 28 member states dealing with some complex and often outward-looking technical issues. However, we need to look at the real situation that is going on. In terms of the references that have been made to relevance to the real world, I would report to the House that the most interesting conversation that I have had in the past year was with a young lawyer in Athens representing the Green Syriza opposition, who was entirely balanced in comment but whose eloquence and sense of anger and resentment was powerful—and you take that kind of thing home.

That leads me to my second point, which is the business of co-operation between national parliaments. Almost all of us who are elected—although we are not in this Chamber—or who in any case have a sense of democratic or legislative responsibility, should naturally want to work together. That could be in a whole variety of flexible configurations, sometimes between the usual suspects—the larger countries—and sometimes in geographic, regional groupings, interest rate groupings, maritime states and states large and small. There are plenty of configurations in which that can be done. It does not require treaty change to bring it about; it is a matter of just learning the habit of co-operation, as we say in our report.

My final point is that we need to change gear in relation to the European debate. Whether people come to this from a Eurosceptic viewpoint or from a more positive viewpoint, as I think that most of us do in this House, it must be in everybody’s interests to have a serious debate. Some of the concerns, and some of the reasons why I have been critical of the Government, have been that I fear some of the motivation in these debates has been driven by an element of fear or even cynicism, hoping that some of the problems would go away, rather than a readiness to move, as we will have to in the forthcoming and unfolding political context, into constructive and positive engagement with the issues. That must surely be in the interests of all of us and the citizens who we claim and have a duty to represent.

The hour is late and I will not test your Lordships’ patience longer by prolonging my remarks. This is a very serious issue, on which we need to move from words to action. In that spirit, I beg to move.

Motion agreed.