Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

I notice that the noble Lord, Lord Maclennan, was quoting great legal authorities giving views in one direction, but there are views in another. Mr Neil O’Brien has pointed out that the Government have traditionally resisted the conferral of a legal personality on the Union. The Minister tried to explain why, but there are some big gaps. It was not only traditionally resisted; the Prime Minister said that the Government were not having it and that the idea of EU legal personality would not be accepted and had been stopped. Of course, in the end, it had not been stopped.

If the whole parliamentary system is going to work properly within the European Union context, we need to know the reasons when there is any change of gear. That seems to be missing, even from some of the reports submitted to your Lordships’ House and the other place. Is it not our role to ask why? Is ours not to reason why? Listening to this debate—

Lord Roper: If the noble Lord looks at the paragraph which quotes Mr Neil O’Brien and makes precisely that point, he will see that we then asked the Minister for Europe why the Government had changed their mind. In paragraph 2.49 the Minister gave us exactly the reply to the point made by Mr O’Brien. It is important to see that the committee followed up the point which the noble Lord is raising, and we believe that we got a satisfactory reply from the Government.

Lord Howell of Guildford: The Minister gave the noble Lord and other members of the committee a counter-assertion, which was that, “It is all okay now because we think JHA and CFSP are protected”.

12 May 2008 : Column 821

That is not a grown-up or fully mature argument to present to the Houses of Parliament. There are deeper and more important reasons, which I would like to hear. We are not going to hear about them now, I realise. All I ask of the Government at the end of this short debate, and I shall probably ask it at the end of others, is please do not tell us that nothing has changed when it clearly has. In the excellent EU report, the last, quite long, sentence of paragraph 2.58 begins:

I will not read it all out, but it points out that it will apply to the EU and the areas currently covered by the Second and Third Pillars. That may have nothing to do with competence. It may not change even the underlying pattern of behaviour—although who is to know, when the whole process is step by step, over the years, and one thing grows from another—but it is a change. So please do not tell us that nothing has changed when it has. In the same way, over the whole constitution and the word-for-word translation of it, please do not tell us that something has changed when it has not. If we follow those two precepts, we will get on a lot quicker with processing this Bill. I have finished, but I think the noble Lord wants to speak.

Lord Maclennan of Rogart: I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. No one was asserting that nothing had changed. We were asserting—and the committee asserted—that there was de facto legal personality in respect of matters that did not fall within the European Community treaty. The change that has taken place is from de facto to de jure. That is the only change of any import. We are not being as fundamentalist as is implied by the final statement of the noble Lord.

Lord Howell of Guildford: I said as much in my opening remarks, although I live in a world where de facto may be what we face but de jure still matters. What is the law and what is going to be the law still matters in this country, as far as I know. We do not live in a totally relativist world where all legal absolutes can be cast aside in favour of the immediate de facto situation. Having said all that, as I was about to say before the noble Lord stood up, in light of this frankly rather unsatisfactory but interesting exchange, I believe that we should return to these matters and not let them rest. For the moment, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 26A not moved.]

The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Baroness Gibson of Market Rasen): We come to Amendment No. 27, to be moved by the noble Lord, Lord Willoughby de Broke.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch moved Amendment No. 27:

“(i) Article 1, paragraph 58, inserting a new Article 49A TEU, relating to withdrawal from the Union; and(ii) ”

12 May 2008 : Column 822

The noble Lord said: It is the fluffy end of the lollipop—Lord Pearson of Rannoch. My noble friends and I tabled this amendment to cancel the new arrangements in the treaty for a country to withdraw from the European Union. Our reason for doing so is that the new procedure appears to make it more difficult to leave the EU than at present.

Noble Lords: Oh!

Lord Pearson of Rannoch: I am glad that I amuse the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, and his colleagues.

To us this new clause in the Lisbon treaty is not the democratic and helpful advance claimed by Europhiles generally. At the moment all that is necessary to leave the European Union is for Parliament—the House of Commons and your Lordships' House—to repeal the European Communities Act 1972, thus also repealing all the subsequent treaties which have been passed since as amendments to it. That is simple and highly desirable. I should be grateful to know if the noble Baroness the Leader of the House disagrees with that analysis. If we want to get out now, all we do is repeal the 1972 Act and we are out. But if we are forced to follow the arrangements set out in Lisbon, we have to go through a rigmarole lasting up to two years and we would be able to leave only on conditions agreed with the Council whose meetings about our withdrawal we would not have been able to attend. I call that much less satisfactory and much less convenient, and that is why we want to remove it.

I have only one question for the noble Baroness the Leader of the House: if we ratify Lisbon, just how binding will the new arrangements be? I appreciate that we like respecting our treaty obligations and all that, but surely if Parliament decided that the UK should leave all it would still have to do is what it has to do now, which is to repeal the 1972 Act. Since the Government have agreed in these proceedings that one Parliament cannot bind its successors—and I ask the noble Baroness to reconfirm that briefly and clearly—surely a simple cancellation of the 1972 Act, and subsequent and depending Acts, would do the trick and set us free. What is the new position? I beg to move.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: There is clearly no pleasing some Eurosceptic Members of your Lordships' House. It was for many years a staple in the Eurosceptic documents I used to read from time to time as a painful duty that there was no mechanism provided for leaving the European Union. We all understood that one could leave it and that there was no way of stopping a sovereign state from doing so, but to clarify this some thought it would be a good idea to put this explicitly into the text. Having been presented with a gift horse, the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, as always, has looked in great detail at the back of its mouth and discovered a number of teeth with which he is not at all satisfied.

We are on the fourth day in Committee on this Bill and we need to make progress. The characteristic search of our Eurosceptic colleagues for some statement

12 May 2008 : Column 823

or document which suggests malign intent or even conspiratorial purpose sometimes stretches the indulgence of the Committee.

Following the previous Committee day I searched Google for the Farnborough agreement 2000. When I entered “Farnborough agreement 2000”, the top three most-cited responses were: an agreement between the Ministry of Defence and Farnborough aerodrome; an agreement with Farnborough local authority on environmental management; and an agreement which the Farnborough football club had made with a Canterbury company for the distribution of a newly designed football shirt. The Farnborough agreement between defence ministries has not enormously grabbed the public’s attention, which perhaps makes it a little less than the issue of central importance which the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, suggests it is.

We recognise that Mr Prodi has been a gift to our Eurosceptic colleagues, partly because he has such an unfortunately loose manner of expressing himself. He is not one of the most talented of European leaders. We also recognise that unnamed officials quoted by the Daily Telegraph—or an unnamed French official quoted by Le Figaro, as the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, was suggesting the other day—are not always the most reliable, particularly when we cannot discover who they were or whether they even existed.

This claim to uncover a secret understanding behind the false consensus of normal political discourse, which we keep hearing again and again on different amendments, seems a little—

Lord Pearson of Rannoch: If the noble Lord wishes to accelerate our proceedings, would it not be more reasonable to confine defence matters to our defence debates and perhaps bring this up on Report?

4.30 pm

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: If I may finish my point, I am attempting to accelerate. I was merely complimenting the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, on his familiarity with the neoconservative approaches of the United States in which the followers of Leo Strauss claim to have a secret knowledge that is much clearer than the understanding of the masses. Last time round, the noble Lords, Lord Blackwell and Lord Pearson of Rannoch, insisted that they knew better than the former Secretary-General of NATO what the European members of NATO felt—although I was happy to see, just as we reached 11 o’clock, that the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, admitted his underlying hostility to France and Germany. If I understood what he was saying and what the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, was saying, they are not anti-European, they just do not like these wily continentals.

Lord Lamont of Lerwick: Will the noble Lord bear in mind what the Leader of the House said about impugning integrity? If, as we accept, it is thought out of order and inappropriate to say that a committee has too many members with pro-European opinions, surely the tone of the noble Lord’s comments also is inappropriate.

12 May 2008 : Column 824

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: I refer the noble Lord to col. 551 of the Committee’s last sitting on the Bill.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: I take grave exception to the noble Lord’s attitude to those who might have a different point of view from his own. People such as myself—and I meet a lot of people like myself—do not disagree with these “wily continentals”. Our view probably is that the really wily people are the Liberal Democrats.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: I certainly do not wish to prolong this. I simply make a brief call for a larger grouping of the amendments that we have to consider in the next three days. I note that my Conservative colleagues have been extremely generous in grouping amendments. UKIP members have been a good deal less generous. We had on our last Committee day a constructive debate on the defence dimension of this treaty. I hope that later today we will get on to a constructive debate on the justice and home affairs dimension of the treaty. It is towards that which I insist the Committee should be moving.

Lord Willoughby de Broke: My name is added to this amendment, to which I shall speak briefly. I do not think that the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, said a single word about the amendment—he went off slagging off Eurosceptics and talking about conspiracy theories that people may or may not have. Perhaps I may draw his attention back to the amendment, which concerns the withdrawal provisions in the treaty. Speaking for UKIP, as my noble friend Lord Pearson did, I can say that we are at one with the Government on this. I say that because, a few years ago, the former Foreign Office Minister, the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Scotland, stated our position exactly. In January 2000, she said:

That is the UKIP position, and I am very happy that it is the Government’s position as well; or it was the Government’s position. One of the first things that we should negotiate is to tell our ex-fellow members that we are no longer sending them a cheque from the British taxpayer of £14 billion a year.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: Since my name is added to the amendment, I must say a few words in support of it. The reason why I support it is that the treaty appears to put a constraint on our ability to withdraw by repealing the European Communities Act 1972 as and when we wish to, without any constraint by the European Union and its institutions. I would like to have the assurance that once Parliament has repealed the European Communities Act 1972, that is the end of it. There may be further negotiations with the EU, but they would be on our terms and not on its terms.

12 May 2008 : Column 825

Lord Hannay of Chiswick: I will just say a brief word on this really rather astonishing debate, without seeking to impugn anyone’s character. I find the amendment mischievous, because the European Union is in fact doing what I think noble Lords opposite wished it to do, which is to systematise the possibility for a member state to leave if it wished and decided so to do. The doctrine that the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, is adumbrating is the doctrine of unilateralism in regard to international obligations. You enter into them when you feel like it, you tear them up when you feel like it and you tell everyone else to go to hell when you feel like it. I do not happen to think that is a very good way of running international affairs, whether in the European Union or anywhere else, and I hope that the amendment will be withdrawn, because it is totally mischievous.

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: I was smiling to myself when the noble Lord, Lord Willoughby de Broke, said “slagging off”, because I used the word “impugn” when I was trying to think of a posh word for slagging off. That is what I came up with, with the help of my noble friend Lord Bach. I apologise for smiling when that was said. I love the idea of the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, being the fluffy end of the debate.

I will try to be brief, because I think that everything that needs to be said has been said. The first time that we have the opportunity to consider as a group of 27 states the possibility that a member state might wish to leave is through the Lisbon treaty. It is right and proper that rules to enable people to leave should be properly considered in the treaty and delivered appropriately. The noble Lord, Lord Stoddard, is not completely right in saying that repealing the 1972 Act is all that has to happen. That is true for domestic law but, as a consequence of being part of the European Union, we have entered into treaty agreements of many different kinds from which we would also have to withdraw. We would have to do so in a way that did not detrimentally affect our national interests. We need to consider that.

The decision to leave the European Union is for the member state and the member state alone. It is its decision to do so. There is no question of seeking permission to withdraw, which noble Lords might have been concerned about. It is simply about notifying that the member state has decided to withdraw. The European Council would provide guidelines for withdrawal, and the Union would negotiate an agreement with the withdrawing member state because, as noble Lords will be aware, there are issues to be resolved beyond treaties, such as what happens about arrangements for Members of the European Parliament from nation states, for officials in the Union institutions from the withdrawing member states and so on. There are people who would need to be considered in that process. Making sure that was done properly and in an orderly fashion is important.

There may be financial implications, as noble Lords have said, of not contributing to the European Union. Equally, there might be financial considerations of other kinds. It is important to have a mechanism that could ensure smooth withdrawal. Noble Lords

12 May 2008 : Column 826

can be reassured that the decision would be for the member state. In our case, the repealing of the 1972 Act would be the domestic way in which we would do it, but there would be much more to do. This sets out a process to make that happen as smoothly as possible. I hope that we would never leave the European Union, but—as I hope noble Lords will agree—if a member state chose to leave, this is a very good way of making sure that it happened properly.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch: It might be, or it might not be—I think that the noble Baroness has just said that it would be for the elected Government of the day to decide. I am grateful for the rest of her reply—it is very helpful to have that on the record. In the 15th minute of this debate, which I think is near to setting a record in our proceedings, I feel that I should say to the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, who entered into a debate about defence, that in our most recent proceedings, I merely queried the present status of the Farnborough agreement. I named the countries involved, I named some of the provisions and I asked what its present status was—no more than that. It is not a fairy tale—the noble Lord even found it on Google.

I say to the Liberal Democrats, who have not tabled any amendments, that their lengthy interventions are prolonging our proceedings and are slightly naughty. I trust that they will do better in future and I beg leave to withdraw this amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 28 had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.]

Lord Howell of Guildford moved Amendment No. 28A:

“(i) Article 2, paragraph 12, inserted Title I, relating to categories and areas of Union competence; and(ii) ”

The noble Lord said: When I heard that we should have to look at things line by line, I did not intend that we should spend too much time examining whether or not we should leave the European Union. That is of no interest to us, and I would advise my Liberal Democrat friends to leave the matter alone if they want to get on with business.

We want to look at the very hard and important issues that arise in the context of membership of the European Union. We turn now to what might be called, in the words of the treaty-makers, the horizontal issue of competences—that is, the defining of the division of powers between member states and the central EU authorities. I hope that, in discussing this horizontal issue, we do not drift into all the specific areas of new competences, which are listed fully in the treaty and in other documents, because we are going to debate some of those competences later on. That would be unnecessary duplication. Nevertheless, the competences issue is sitting there in the middle of the treaty, and it is an area where the UK Government used to be deeply worried—and rightly so—about creeping competences and the extension of the areas

12 May 2008 : Column 827

of competence. There they all are, on page 53 of the treaty—Article 2B for exclusive competences and Article 2C for shared competences, which are substantially extended. They were all in the constitution document and are replicated in this one. They are intended to clarify, but do they?

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page