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European Union Committee

Volume 706: debated on Tuesday 9 December 2008

Membership Motion

Moved By

European Union Committee

That a Select Committee be appointed to consider European Union documents and other matters relating to the European Union.

That the expression “European Union documents” shall include the following documents:

(i) Any proposal under the Community Treaties for legislation by the Council or the Council acting jointly with the European Parliament;

(ii) Any document which is published for submission to the European Council, the Council or the European Central Bank;

(iii) Any proposal for a common strategy, a joint action or a common position under Title V (provisions on a common foreign and security policy) of the Treaty on European Union which is prepared for submission to the Council or to the European Council;

(iv) Any proposal for a common position, framework decision, decision or a convention under Title VI (provisions on police and judicial co-operation in criminal matters) of the Treaty on European Union which is prepared for submission to the Council;

(v) Any document (not falling within (ii), (iii) or (iv) above) which is published by one Union institution for or with a view to submission to another Union institution and which does not relate exclusively to consideration of any proposal for legislation;

(vi) Any other document relating to European Union matters deposited in the House by a Minister of the Crown.

That, as proposed by the Committee of Selection, the following Members be appointed to the Committee:

B Cohen of Pimlico, L Dykes, L Freeman, L Hannay of Chiswick, B Howarth of Breckland, L Jopling, L Kerr of Kinlochard, L Maclennan of Rogart, L Mance, L Paul, L Plumb, L Powell of Bayswater, L Richard, L Roper (Chairman), L Sewel, B Symons of Vernham Dean, L Teverson, L Trimble, L Wade of Chorlton;

That the Committee have power to appoint sub-committees and to refer to them any matters within its terms of reference; that the Committee have power to appoint the Chairmen of sub-committees, but that the sub-committees have power to appoint their own Chairmen for the purpose of particular inquiries; that the quorum of each sub-committee be two;

That the Committee have power to co-opt any Member to serve on a sub-committee;

That the Committee have power to appoint specialist advisers;

That the Committee and its sub-committees have power to adjourn from place to place;

That the Committee have leave to report from time to time;

That the reports of the Committee shall be printed, regardless of any adjournment of the House;

That the evidence taken by the Committee or its sub-committees in the last Session of Parliament be referred to the Committee or its sub-committees;

That the evidence taken by the Committee or its sub-committees shall, if the Committee so wishes, be published.

My Lords, while giving my strongest support to all the other committees and the excellent work that they do, I query the balance and usefulness of your Lordships’ European Union Committee and therefore its reappointment today. I regret that there is no Motion on the Order Paper to that effect, but the committee membership Motion was tabled overnight and there did not appear to be an opportunity to table one.

I objected to last year’s committee appointment because of its lack of balance. I could identify only one Eurosceptic on it, in the shape of my noble friend Lord Blackwell, who has now left the committee. Looking at this year’s proposed committee of 19 Peers, which we are now asked to approve, I can see eight of the most ardent Europhiles in your Lordships’ House, including the chairman, in the shape of the noble Lord, Lord Roper. I do not know enough about the other 11 to be certain, but I cannot recognise a single Eurosceptic among them.

That is worrying because it means that the committee will be very out of tune with the British people, whom your Lordships’ House is usually so good at representing. Our latest indication of the feelings of our people towards the EU came on 20 October in a referendum in Luton, which was run by ITV News under the chairmanship of Sir Trevor McDonald, no less. The result was a groundbreaking 54 per cent who now want to leave the European Union completely and 63 per cent who would have voted against the Lisbon treaty.

There are, I am afraid, two other reasons for querying the usefulness of this committee and its sub-committees. First, we have the continuing scandal of the Government having promised not to sign up to any new law in Brussels when it is still under scrutiny in the committee of either House of Parliament, but breaking that promise, or overriding the scrutiny reserve, no fewer than 180 times in the Lords and 157 times in the Commons between 2003 and June 2006. That is 337 new laws that have been passed into law in this country in breach of the wishes of Parliament. I have tabled a Written Question to find out what has happened since.

However, perhaps the main reason for querying the usefulness of this committee was revealed in a series of Written Answers in the previous Session to my noble friends Lord Tebbit and Lord Vinson. They asked how often a recommendation of either House’s Select Committee had been incorporated into EU legislation in Brussels. After much prevarication about disproportionate cost and so on, the Government could come up with only one example, on 10 March 2008, when they revealed that your Lordships’ committee’s,

“recommendations on a restricted scope and the country of origin principle were incorporated into the Audiovisual Media Services Directive (amending the Television Without Frontiers Directive)”.—[Official Report, 10/3/08; col. WA200.]

There may be other examples in which the views of your Lordships’ Select Committees have been accepted in Brussels, but I submit that they must be very few. I am therefore left wondering whether it is worth going on with it and its many sub-committees. I would have thought that the undoubted skills of the noble Lords who sit on those committees, and of the clerks who so bravely and magnificently support them, could be better employed examining other issues to the benefit of the people whom we are here to serve.

My Lords, I hope that we might keep proceedings reasonably short this afternoon, as there are a lot of speakers for the main debate, which the House is no doubt looking forward to.

I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, did not put down his Motion again this year. The timetabling of my Motion is, I think, exactly the same as it was last year. The Committee of Selection met yesterday. A Motion was tabled to agree the proposed membership of this committee and the Motion was put down on the Order Paper for today. However, I can give the noble Lord advance notice that, next year, the Motion will be tabled at more or less exactly the same time as it has been this year and as it was last year, the year before and the year before that, so there should be no surprise about it.

What has surprised me is this. During the year, I have been eagerly anticipating the noble Lord nominating either himself or a friend, if any, to sit on this committee because he complains about its membership. He says that very few of its members are Eurosceptics and that most are Europhiles. I would not dream of trying to categorise all the people whom we are putting on to this committee today. What is missing is his own amendment to put himself down for it. We have not seen such an amendment. Perhaps we can look forward to that next year.

My Lords, I know that the noble Lord wishes to keep this debate short, but I believe that the House is getting a little tired of the protestations of the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, year on year. What he said today suggests that there is a fault not with the Select Committee but with the House itself and that the Government are failing to take notice of what this House, working on the basis of the committee, puts forward. That is totally out of order—or, if it is not out of order, it is really rather insulting to this Chamber.

Of course, I went through all this when I sat on the seat on which the Chairman of Committees now sits. Time and again the House has to be reminded that the noble Lord has not put down recommendations of people who should go on the committee. I suspect that his calculations on how many people are Eurosceptics, Europhobes or whatever is totally misguided. The European Select Committee does a very good job on behalf of your Lordships. It does not put forward policy. It examines evidence from expert witnesses and produces its reports on that basis. They are then debated in your Lordships’ House. We should totally ignore what the noble Lord has said today.

My Lords, that last comment misses the point. We toil and strive, and some of us even weave no doubt, to modify much European legislation that is put, prior to enactment in Europe, before this House. The fact is that we have practically no effect. In other words, the scrutiny committees of both Houses, through which we are meant to exercise our democratic influence over Europe, simply do not work. There is a mega democratic deficit, which the House should recognise.

My Lords, is a problem arising here? I understand the objection, although I do not agree with it. But that is not the point. Is there a problem because you cannot have minority reports on these committees? I understand that the drill is that you cannot. If you could, there would be a way to meet the problem that has arisen. To be clear, I do not agree with the objection, but it is right that there should be consideration of those who take another view.

My Lords, I was surprised at the intervention made by the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, who is such a reasonable person. He said that we should disregard entirely the views of my noble friend Lord Pearson of Rannoch. I do not see why we should disregard those views at all. My noble friend may take views that are contrary to some of ours, but he is entirely entitled to hold those views and to disseminate them. When the Chairman of Committees said, “I think that we can dispose of this quite quickly and get over it quite quickly”, I thought that that was offensive. My noble friend has, in his view and that of many other people, a legitimate cause for grievance and he should be heard.

My Lords, I would usually agree with the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, but the point that I put to the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, was that we get this same debate every year and the noble Lord fails to put forward any alternative names. He is perfectly free, if that is his view, to put forward his own or anyone else’s name for this committee. Then the House would have to decide whom to choose. But that does not happen, which colours my judgment to some extent.

I can say to the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, that we do not normally have minority reports, but it is entirely possible to put amendments down to reports—even quite substantial amendments—which can be voted on and would appear in the report of that committee.

Motion agreed.