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Baroness Ludford: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. He has just referred to self-appointed bodies. I imagine that he does not mean that the Commission is self appointed. If he is citing the example of the appointment of the president of the European Central Bank, is it not fair to assume that the Commission wanted one person to be appointed for eight years and that it was national governments who were responsible for splitting that term? It is rather unfair to blame the Commission for the problems over the appointment of the president of the European Central Bank.
Lord Bruce of Donington: My Lords, owing to a personal affliction, I did not hear the majority of what the noble Baroness said. On the assumption that she wished to draw attention to the incongruity of a Member of the House of Lords who is not democratically elected referring to these problems, I would immediately agree with her. But that still does not diminish one's right to speak upon it.
Perhaps I may mention the organisations that are at the moment responsible to no one but themselves. They are, first, the administrators of the European Social Fund, established under Article 147 of the treaty. Then there are the members of the European Court of Justice, who are chosen from persons whose independence is beyond doubt. They are responsible to no one but themselves. Then there are the members of the Court of
That is not always so. I can well recall an incident of four years ago when a member of the Court of Auditors felt it necessary to retire because he found that the Court of Auditors was under pressure from the Commission to alter a report which it proposed to submit.
There is also the Economic and Social Committee in Europe, which once again is responsible to no one and consists of representatives of various categories of economic and social activity. It is not bound by any mandatory instructions. All it is required to do is to consult with the Commission. Then there is the Committee of the Regions and the European Investment Bank. There is also the European Central Bank, on which I will not touch further at the moment.
There is a whole series of organisations. The European Monetary Institute, which will soon cease to exist, will have its functions taken over by the ECB. There are all these bodies which are accountable to no one. As I understand it--I may have to cite as an authority, although I hesitate to do so, the honourable Member for Hartlepool, Mr. Mandelson--something will have to be done. I am at one with him on that and I trust that those remarks, coming from the quarter that they did, will receive more general support.
The fact of the matter is that legislation, or proposed legislation, is a monopoly of the Commission, which is appointed by accord. Later amendments will deal with the president and members of the Commission. At the moment the Commission is responsible for all proposals. The Council of Ministers cannot act save on a proposal. Now there are proposals and there are proposals. Normally speaking, under the kind of leisurely society which is probably more conducive to a calm appraisal of a country's real problems, we used to have just about the amount of legislation with which we could cope in terms of its interpretation and in terms of its enforcement. Now we are bombarded with a whole series of proposals upon which explanatory memoranda have to be drawn up by the departments concerned in this country and in other countries. This has reached a point where the legislative machines in practically all the countries comprising the European Union are becoming so clogged that those politicians individually responsible for presenting legislation to their parliaments are unable to consider the proposals put forward by the European Commission.
It is of course the oldest dodge in the world. If you want to confuse your Ministers, you make quite sure that the volume of proposals you lay before them is such that they cannot physically deal with it. That state has already been reached in the United Kingdom and has probably echoes in other fields that are more topical at the moment.
Lord Willoughby de Broke: My Lords, I rise to speak briefly in support of the amendment, to which I have put my name. The arguments have been put very clearly and I do not propose to cover the same ground. What is plain is that some of the provisions of the Amsterdam Treaty as they now stand are in direct conflict with the constitutional tradition of our own--for example, that no parliament may bind its successor. Any treaty which contains words such as "irrevocable" or "irreversible" is sowing dragon's teeth for the future.
Although I was unable to be in the Chamber for the Committee stage of the Bill, I read the Hansard reports carefully. I was struck by how often Ministers answering in the debates would try to persuade themselves and the House that the treaty as it stands would not mean that any future British government would have to take action contrary to their own interests or with which they disagreed. For example, one has only to look at the articles dealing with common foreign and security policies. One example is Article 14.2 which reads:
Is it not conceivable that a member state may disagree with that common position? We need look no further back than the Falklands war to find differences between the position of the United Kingdom and of other members of the Union at that time. More recently, there was the Gulf war. There was a chasm between our position and that of some of our partners in the European Union. I remind noble Lords that Belgium's contribution was to refuse to sell us ammunition for the guns it had previously sold us.
All this goes to show that the idea of the European Union that one size fits all is simply unrealistic and will not work. I support this amendment because it will ensure that final decisions which affect us and our interests will always be taken at Westminster and not in Brussels. Whichever way one looks at the treaties on European Union, whether it is the Single European Act, the Maastricht Treaty or the Amsterdam Treaty, the traffic is all one way. We are gradually but inexorably ceding powers away from Westminster to Brussels.
When the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart of Swindon, introduced this amendment I believe he said--if I did not mishear him--that this was a contentious amendment. But I do not see how it can possibly be construed as contentious.
Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, I said quite the reverse. I said that noble Lords will be used to my moving only contentious amendments but that this amendment was uncontentious and that I believed that everyone could support it without any problem at all.
Lord Willoughby de Broke: My Lords, I am glad to hear that. This amendment is uncontentious and I apologise for mishearing what the noble Lord said. All it does is to enshrine in the Bill the unassailable fact of the supremacy of Parliament and to ensure that empty declarations relating to "irreversible" and "irrevocable" will be treated as the nonsense they are.
I do not believe that this or any government should be able to fetter their successors. I cannot believe that they would wish to do so. Therefore, I hope that the Government will be able to accept this modest and uncontentious amendment.
Lord Grenfell: My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, can he tell us whether he is aware of the fact that the basic voting rule on common foreign and security policy is by unanimity? Where there are disagreements there has been introduced through the treaty the device of constructive abstention. Is the noble Lord aware of that?
Lord Willoughby de Broke: My Lords, I am indeed aware of that. But it does not alter the fact that in the past our position has been very different from that of some of our fellow members of the European Union.
Lord Moynihan: My Lords, I wish to say a few words on this new clause covering the subject of the sovereignty of Parliament and the constitutional principle that one Parliament cannot bind its successor.
As noble Lords are well aware, and as has been made clear during the exchanges we have had so far this afternoon, the notion of sovereignty, both political and legal, is one of the most complex and emotive of constitutional concepts. Given the unusual nature of our constitution, which is uncodified and which has evolved over a thousand years from Magna Carta to the Maastricht Treaty, this is particularly true within the context of our relationship with the European Union.
It is for that reason that I specifically wish to speak to this new clause. I want to clarify the Opposition's assessment of the effect that our membership of the European Union has had on the Diceyan tradition of parliamentary sovereignty, particularly since the legal relationship between the member states and the European Union is not simply one of conventional, international law between sovereign entities but instead it is unique in its supranational quality and its effect on the domestic law of those member states.
As noble Lords are well aware, it is our tradition that legal sovereignty rests with Parliament and that political sovereignty rests with the electorate. That means that every time we co-operate with Europe and sovereignty is affected, as in the Single European Act, the Maastricht process and now in the Amsterdam Treaty, it is incumbent on the government of the day to ensure that it is fully in the interests of the people of this country to do so. That is the point I wish to focus on because I believe it is particularly important since decisions taken in Europe are different in kind from those we take nationally.
The composition of national parliaments changes; national governments change and with them national policies. But in the European Union such changes do not take place every four to five years, giving the member states a chance to reconsider. Treaty change is permanent. If one member state changes its mind it cannot simply reverse policy; it needs the agreement of all other member states. Therefore, the issue of our sovereignty and decisions to transfer or share it within the European Union is one which rightly pierces to the very heart of the process of legislative scrutiny in which we have been engaged over the past few months. It is an issue which raises fundamental questions about the vision of Europe that the Government have for the future; about where the limits of European integration lie and where they should lie; and about the correct balance of powers between European institutions and nation states.
During the progress of this Bill it has sometimes seemed that in the Government's responses to our questions on this very issue they have managed to obfuscate their vision for the future of Europe rather than to clarify it. The progress of this Bill has demonstrated again that in your Lordships' House, across all political hues, voices can be heard championing their vision of the future of the European Union. This Bill has in particular raised questions concerning our constitutional principle that Parliament cannot bind its successors.
I wish to ask specifically about Article K.7 of the Amsterdam Treaty. That article explicitly involves the European Court of Justice in the home affairs pillar by giving it a degree of jurisdiction therein which has raised concerns about the continued supremacy of this key constitutional principle. At the very least this article encroaches on the intergovernmental structure agreed at Maastricht whereby the question of the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice was to be left open. At the most it may have implications for the fundamental constitutional principle which the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, has raised in introducing this new clause.
So can the Minister clarify whether a declaration, annexed to the treaty and giving notice to the other 14 member states of the UK's intention not to incorporate this article into law, was required before signing the treaty? If so, did the Government make such a declaration? Can the Minister confirm that, if such a declaration was not made and the Government adhered to their clearly stated commitment not to incorporate Article K.7 into UK law, that means that in the UK the
The issue of Article K.7 clearly illustrates that the provisions of the Amsterdam Treaty underlying this Bill have constitutional implications for this country. Any Bill which affects our constitution, the very guardian of our democracy, requires constructive, measured and adequate scrutiny in both Houses of Parliament.
That brings me to my second point. We have repeatedly heard from the Government that this measure is a modest treaty; an unexciting treaty; a treaty that is not radical; a workmanlike, pragmatic treaty; a compromise treaty; or in the favourite phrase of the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, a "consolidating treaty". The implication is clear: such a constitutionally timid treaty does not merit the forensic scrutiny to which it has been subjected. Indeed, the Bill's constitutional implications have been minimised so as to render it almost invisible by the Government. In our efforts to raise the profile of these issues during the Committee stage of the Bill, on occasions we have been accused of paranoia, demonology and fantastic constructions. Yet we have sought to explore the implications of the transfer of powers contained in the treaty. Such scrutiny is not paranoia; it is our essential duty, for every time that we co-operate with Europe and transfer or share sovereignty we must ensure that it is in the best interests of this country.
In this treaty there is an increase in the powers of European institutions at the expense of nation states. We do not say that such an increase is ideologically wrong, but we on these Benches strongly believe that each increase in the power of the European institutions, which necessarily involves a diminution of the powers of the nation state, must be judged against the key litmus test of the benefit that accrues to Britain. To be blunt, does such a transfer bring a quantifiable benefit to this country or represent an ever-finer shaving, chiselling, and gradual erosion of the powers of our national institutions? The Government plainly do not appreciate the point of this litmus test; or why would they seek to limit the scrutiny of this Bill as they did in another place?
It is tempting to take the view that this Bill cannot contain anything of very much import since one of the greatest sins of the Treaty of Amsterdam was its glaring omission of all those European Union problems which the IGC was intended to tackle and which the treaty left unresolved. It turned a blind eye to enlargement, quota-hopping and reform of the European Court of Justice. The sheer scale of its omissions does not justify relegating the treaty to the status of some kind of post-Maastricht MoT, overshadowed by the towering themes of the single market and economic and monetary union which underpinned the two previous European treaties, for this Bill (which incorporates into British law the treaty agreed at Amsterdam) has clear constitutional magnitude. That was why our procedure required it to be debated on the Floor of both another place and this House. One would expect disagreements over its constitutional magnitude and comparisons with the fundamental constitutional implications of the Treaty of
The Bill makes important changes to our relationship with the European Union. Those changes cannot easily be undone because the Bill gives effect to a major international treaty which cannot be set aside by a subsequent parliament but which provides for the transfer of substantial powers from the Parliament of the UK to sources of powers and authorities outside this kingdom. It provides for an extension of QMV and therefore the surrender of our veto. It will give more power to the European Parliament. It also includes the social chapter and a new employment chapter which will impose new regulations upon British people. It neuters any substance in the concept of subsidiarity. It also makes new arrangements for border controls and moves us closer to an integrated foreign and security policy. It changes the law on subsidiarity and gives more power to the President of the Commission.
These among others are important measures that need to be considered in the context of this new clause. They go to the very heart of the sovereignty of our institutions. Nor am I compelled by the Government's arguments on institutional change in this context. The changes made to the institutional arrangements of the Union are not merely technical, minor amendments but significant changes in the nature and powers of key European institutions.
I still fail to understand why the Government agreed to give more powers to the President of the Commission, which is a subject to which we shall return in a later amendment. Why should the President have the power to veto Commissioners recommended by member states? Why should all Commissioners now be required to work under the President's political guidance? These and many more points on institutional change demonstrate the constitutional significance of the Bill.
Yet in another place the Government ruthlessly moved to guillotine this Bill after only 12 hours in Committee. The remaining Committee, Report and Third Reading proceedings were crammed into just two days, thereby ensuring that a Bill with constitutional implications and involving potentially momentous decisions on QMV, the co-decision procedure, institutional change, flexibility, the free movement of people, discrimination, proportionality and subsidiarity, proceeded without full and proper debate. Parliament has not been given adequate opportunity to consider in detail the vitally important issue of sovereignty both here and in another place.
It is upon the management of the consideration of this Bill--it has been played down as a minor, amending, technical change to the existing treaties--that I have focused in the few words that I have uttered. That is why the new clause moved by the noble Lord and his colleagues is vitally important and that is why it is right and proper that this House should give it due consideration.
Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, I owe the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, an apology. I indicated to him that I probably would not intervene in this debate. I shall do so only briefly, largely in the light of what he said. Perhaps just a couple of sentences should be added to the debate.
First, the Treaty of Amsterdam is a relatively modest treaty and a certain amount of it flows fairly directly from the implications of the Single European Act of long ago. I take one example. Because our citizens will be free to move around to seek work in other countries of the European Union, such matters as racial discrimination will no longer be issues for only one country but for all member states. That is just one obvious example. There are many other similar examples.
When one passes legislation, one must always consider that the consequences may be very far-reaching. It is quite clear that the consequences of the Single European Act--I make no criticism of the previous government for the passing of that Act--have been much greater than perhaps was imagined at the time. Like a stone falling into a pond, the repercussions continue today.
Secondly, so far we have looked almost entirely at just one side of the equation and not the other. Whether we like it or not, we live in a world in which the problems have moved on and have ceased to be contained within the borders of a single nation state. I give one or two examples of the way in which these problems have moved on which have absolutely no bearing on the European Union but a very close bearing on the sovereignty of the British Parliament. One example goes right back to the establishment of NATO in 1949. When in 1963 the then Prime Minister, Mr. Macmillan, accepted the deal under which this country received Polaris on strict conditions about the way in which it was used, we qualified our sovereignty in one essential respect; namely, national defence. From that day to this, at no time has the United Kingdom been free to use nuclear weapons supplied under agreement with the United States entirely according to its own sovereign wishes; for example, we could not have used nuclear weapons in the Falklands without the full agreement of the United States. I think that most of us know that.
A second example arose in the 1980s under the previous administration. That administration accepted the removal of controls over the movement of capital, as did many other advanced industrial countries including the United States. That had a tremendous consequence for our parliamentary sovereignty. It is true that today certain fiscal policies cannot possibly be pursued because the international bond markets respond in ways which make those policies too expensive to continue. That has grossly affected the ability of any British Government to do exactly what they please. The French Government, too, discovered that when, between 1981 and 1983, they attempted to buck the opinion of international markets. I do not say that that is either a good or bad thing; it is simply a very harsh fact of the world in which we live.
A third and final example is the nature of some of the challenges that confront us today, ranging from organised crime to environmental challenges with regard to the pollution of seas, lakes and rivers. These matters cannot be handled by one nation alone; they require an international response. In some cases, they involve agreements that go beyond individual sovereignty to the pooling of sovereignty. I do not want to detain the House, but one could give very many more examples.
I have a great deal of sympathy with those who say that we should fully examine this Bill. I have no objection whatever to sitting here for many hours while that examination takes place. I respect noble Lords' persistence on the matter. That is what parliaments are for. Having said that, I think we have underplayed seriously the nature of the world into which we are moving.
I give one final example; the impact of information technology. Although we might like to control information on the internet that is virtually impossible--even with regard to information which many of us regard as highly dangerous in terms of encouraging criminal activity. I simply ask that we address that and accept that we will therefore have to move in directions that are new and constitutionally different from the ones in which we have moved in the past.
Within the scope of those challenges, I believe that time and again the Treaty of Amsterdam leans over backwards to accept the rights of member states. We have heard the example from the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, of the common, foreign and security policy. We will be discussing that matter on a later amendment. If you read the whole of that section very carefully, every possible attempt is made to allow countries which do not wish to participate to stand aside and not to be involved. But it is not unreasonable to say that they should not actively seek to obstruct the action of other countries.
It is of vast importance that we retain democratic accountability. That is a central task for this Parliament and the parliaments of other democracies in Europe. In my view the crucial element of democratic accountability lies in ensuring that there is full parliamentary scrutiny of European legislation. We will come to that later in this debate; but I believe it to be absolutely central and crucial. Attempting to talk about parliamentary sovereignty, which is essentially theoretical, without noticing the problems which must be addressed, is not a helpful way of addressing the dilemmas that confront the Government.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean): My Lords, perhaps I may begin by saying that I have more sympathy with the argument that the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, put forward than with the argument that the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, put forward in relation to the impact of this treaty.
In the Government's view this is a relatively modest treaty or, as my noble friend Lord Whitty described it--the noble Lord acknowledged this description--it is a "consolidating" treaty. Nonetheless, it is a consolidating treaty which has made some extremely useful progress in some areas, notably on human rights, employment, equality, the social chapter, and parliamentary scrutiny. I accept that not all of the measures that the Government regard as "useful progress" may be regarded as such by others. Nonetheless, I do not think that we are dealing with anything more extraordinary here than a treaty which is essentially one of consolidation.
In your Lordships' House we enjoyed considerable scrutiny of the treaty after Second Reading: five Committee days, two now on Report and no doubt there will be a substantial commitment of time on Third Reading. So I hope that noble Lords will feel that in your Lordships' House we have given this a considerable amount of time and scrutiny.
This amendment, in the Government's view, is both unnecessary and undesirable. It is undesirable because if the new clause proposed in this amendment were to be inserted in the Bill, that would create doubts about other Acts of Parliament and other Bills. Similar clauses would have to be inserted into all Bills, especially those designed to enable the United Kingdom to comply with international treaties. That would clearly be unacceptable.
Nothing in the Amsterdam Treaty or in this Bill alters the right of this Parliament to amend or repeal any existing Act of Parliament. Nothing affects the ultimate ability of the United Kingdom to withdraw from the European Union, hypothetical and undesirable as that would be. But the amendment is also unnecessary because it merely restates the constitutional principle that no parliament can bind its successors.
The general position has already been explained, in Committee on 12th March, but I should like to restate it here. In our constitutional law, Parliament may amend or repeal any existing Act of Parliament. In that respect, this Bill is no different from any other. Of course, if a future parliament were to repeal the European Communities Act, that would put the UK in breach of its Community treaty obligations and the Government would have to negotiate the term of its departure from the European Union--something that this Government have no wish to contemplate.
Naturally, such negotiations would be extremely complicated. The United Kingdom has been a member for 25 years and UK and EU law are intricately interlocked. So although this Parliament ultimately retains the ability to repeal the 1972 Act and withdraw from the European Union, it would be by means of detailed and protracted negotiation. It is not a proposition to which I should like to give any currency in this House or elsewhere.
As regards the sovereignty of Parliament, the position is clear. Successive governments and parliaments have agreed that it is in the UK's best interests to work together with our partners within the Community framework. But should a future parliament decide that that was no longer appropriate and that we should no
Let us not beat about the bush. The amendment goes to the heart of the differences which have been aired in Britain and the European Union during our debates on this Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, went to the heart of the matter when he said that in his view the real villain of the piece was the 1985 Single European Act. As the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, and indeed the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, and others have said on various occasions, what they really object to is our very membership of the Union. That is what this amendment is really about.
I respect the sincerity of the views held by those who support this amendment, but I disagree with them most profoundly. Withdrawal is not something which the present Government even begin to contemplate. On the contrary, the Government believe that our membership of the European Union is central to UK interests. This treaty is perhaps, as I have said, not as far reaching as the Single European Act--and certainly not as far reaching as the Maastricht Treaty--but it touches on the real concerns of ordinary people in areas like employment, the environment and the fight against crime. It contains many improvements of the kind that the Government declared they would seek in their pre-election manifesto. It provides the basis for a successful enlargement process. The Government believe that it is a treaty which is good for Britain and good for Europe.
The noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, argued about Article K.7 which he said could affect the sovereignty of this Parliament by giving the European Court of Justice jurisdiction to overrule national legislation. I believe that is wrong. The argument is based on a misunderstanding of Article K.7(6) There is no question that the article could be used to strike down legislation passed by Westminster. The references in Article K.7(6), which are often quoted, to the Court's jurisdiction over "framework decisions" or "decisions" do not refer to the decisions made by this Parliament. They refer back to the instruments which may be adopted by the Council under Article K.(6)(2)(b) and (c) respectively. As noble Lords will know, these are new types of instruments available to the Council under the Amsterdam Treaty specifically for co-operation in the field of police and judicial co-operation in criminal matters.
Article K.7(6) only allows the court jurisdiction over decisions of the Council and only in the field of police and judicial co-operation. That jurisdiction does not extend to measures taken by member states to give effect to their national law or resulting obligations. This article can have no effect on the sovereignty of this Parliament. It does not give the court the ability to override legislation by Westminster. On the specific point which the noble Lord made, Article K.7 will not be incorporated into UK domestic law.
The noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, spoke eloquently in favour of democracy. It is a sentiment which the Government fully share. But his attitude exactly defines the difficulty which he and those who agree with him have in this respect. One way in which democracy in the EU manifests itself is through the European Parliament. However, I have heard little from the noble Lord in support of extending the powers of the European Parliament so that it can be an effective watchdog on the Commission or even on the Council. Indeed, the European Parliament is in the process of delivering its view on the appointment of Mr. Duisenberg as president of the European Central Bank.
Much of what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Willoughby de Broke, can be regarded only as an attack not on the Treaty of Amsterdam but on the whole framework of this country's membership of the European Union. This is not a framework which the Labour Government invented after 1st May. The basic tenets of our membership of the European Community were drawn up in 1972 by the then Conservative government.
I turn to some of the issues which run through the whole of our discussions on the treaty in relation to parliamentary scrutiny and accountability to Parliament. That represents much of what has worried noble Lords who have addressed this amendment and much of what has worried noble Lords who dealt with amendments in Committee.
The Government are committed to a European Union that is more open and democratic. We want a Union whose activities are transparent and whose decisions are subject to proper public and parliamentary scrutiny, as the noble Lord, Lord Bruce, suggested. We made proposals in the IGC last year and our presidency this year will help to achieve more open decision-making; better public access to documents; closer oversight by the European Parliament of legislative decisions that are subject to majority vote in the Council; and there will be introduced in the treaty a legally-binding minimum period for national parliaments to scrutinise legislative proposals.
The measures involving national parliaments are the most important. We believe national parliaments remain the primary source of democratic legitimacy in the EU. I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, agreed with that in Committee. We will therefore take action nationally to reinforce progress at the EU level.
The Government have recently made proposals to strengthen the scrutiny of European business by this Parliament. They will build on the very extensive arrangements already in place. Your Lordships are familiar with the formal parliamentary scrutiny process. Each year about a thousand pieces of draft legislation and other EU business are examined by the committee of the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, and its counterparts in another place. Their recommendations lead to several dozen debates and many high quality reports. I pay tribute to their work.
In this House and another place there are regular debates on European Union business. Ministers from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and other departments regularly give evidence on EU matters to Select Committees, including that of the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff.
We make particular efforts to facilitate parliamentary discussion of business before the European Council. Before each meeting, the Foreign Secretary provides a memorandum and gives oral evidence to the Foreign Affairs Committee in another place. That is followed by a debate on the Floor. After the European Council has met an oral report is made to each House. A Foreign and Commonwealth Office Minister gives oral evidence about the meeting to the committee of the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff. We provide other information on a more frequent basis. As the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, pointed out in Committee, each month we announce by Written Answer the agendas for future meetings of the Council of Ministers and a forecast of other main events over the next six months. Every meeting of the Council of Ministers is followed by a written report to Parliament.
These channels of information are supplemented by the regular occasions to question Ministers and raise subjects for debate. Taken together, these represent a considerable commitment to keeping Parliament informed, and facilitating parliamentary scrutiny, of developments in the European Union. By tradition, these arrangements are laid down in convention and standing orders or resolutions. We believe this flexible approach remains more appropriate than primary legislation.
We are, however, committed to building on these arrangements, as part of our efforts to strengthen the scrutiny system and to reinforce the role of national parliaments in the EU. The President of the Council has published a memorandum setting out our proposals. The memorandum takes up several proposals made by the noble Lord's committee and other Select Committees. It has been sent to the Modernisation Committee in another place, as well as other interested Select Committees whose views on its contents we would welcome.
Our proposals include giving Parliament a strengthened, formal role in scrutiny of second and third pillar business. Detailed arrangements must reflect the specific character of the pillars. In the second pillar, for example, the nature of business means that confidentiality is vital and decisions are often needed at short notice. This may require explanatory memoranda to be submitted after adoption of a proposal.
We should remember the strengths as well as the deficiencies in the scrutiny system. The 1996 report by the European Legislation Committee in another place noted that it "compares extremely well with others", and that the vast bulk of scrutiny cases are handled satisfactorily. The proposals I have described will build on and improve the existing system. They will add to the wider arrangements in place to report to Parliament and ensure proper scrutiny of European business.
I hope that the explanation I have given answers the specific points raised on sovereignty in your Lordships' House and has put them into the wider context of the scrutiny which we hope will be available through this treaty to your Lordships and to our colleagues in another place.
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