My Lords, while there is not time for the usual courtesies, I must begin by thanking my predecessor as chair, the noble Lord, Lord Boswell of Aynho, for his long service to the committee and his excellent and hugely informative opening speech; it was a fitting swan-song.
I shall focus only on the institutional structure for the future EU relationship, and in particular its parliamentary dimension. Our relationship with the EU—its 27 member states and 450 million citizens—will be complex, and a relationship of such complexity will need structure. Within that structure, the parliamentary dimension will be vital: to support dialogue, to build relationships and to promote transparency.
There are many precedents on which we could draw in designing such a body: for instance, the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly or the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly. There are also precedents on the EU side. Indeed, the EU’s March draft agreement included a clause setting up a parliamentary partnership assembly, made up of representatives of this Parliament and the European Parliament. While I do not agree with every word of the EU’s proposal, I welcome it as starting point.
When questioned by my committee on
“engagement, discussion and dialogue between parliamentarians is always a good thing”,
but insisted that it was not for the Government to
“prescribe exactly how Parliament chooses to operate.”
The Government have placed the onus on Parliament to respond to the EU’s initiative. I understand the constitutional propriety of that position, but how, given the large Commons majority, is Parliament to act unless the Government take the lead?
As chair of your Lordships’ committee charged with considering EU matters, I believe very strongly that we need to establish a structured interparliamentary dialogue as part of the future relationship. Indeed, the committee supports that. My question to the Minister is: how exactly do the Government expect Parliament to signal its support for an interparliamentary body? Will a report from my committee be sufficient? Or a joint enterprise with the Committee on the Future Relationship with the European Union in the House of Commons? I am happy to do whatever it takes to try to break this logjam and I ask the Minister for his help.