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European Union (Approval of Treaty Amendment Decision) Bill [HL]

Volume 738: debated on Wednesday 4 July 2012

Third Reading

Moved by

I do not wish to detain the House but, on the point that I raised on Report, the Minister with his customary kindness and courtesy has written me a letter. As I understand it, on that point, there will be no obstacle. In some circumstances, when there might be a crisis in the eurozone, the procedures adopted will allow the Government to use the unanimous procedures for amendment, which were part of the Lisbon treaty, in the European Council and to bring the matter to this House to declare that the amendments regarding a transfer of power are not significant in relation to the UK, while simultaneously, saying that there would be a referendum in this country to deal with other wider measures.

My Lords, I say on behalf of the Opposition that it is very necessary that the Bill should pass. It is more necessary in the light of the deepening of the euro crisis and last week’s European Council meeting, at which the role of the ESM was strengthened in both its ability to recapitalise the banks directly, which is the key to restructuring the banking system, and its ability to buy bonds where countries that are complying with their obligations are under pressure. Therefore, this facilitating measure is very necessary.

My fear about the question of a referendum, which was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Owen, is that when the Bill goes to the other place, many Back-Benchers who do not share his political views may use the opportunity of the Bill to make the case for holding a referendum on British membership of the European Union very soon. From the Opposition’s perspective, at this moment, this is a complete distraction. It is no answer to the economic problems on which this country should be focusing and no substitute for an effective policy on the European Union.

Those who demand a referendum do not even know what they are asking for a referendum on. They say that they joined a Europe that was in favour of free trade, but even on that question they are not clear about whether they want to take Britain out of the EU, so that we would then face protectionist barriers, or whether we would then be in the European Economic Area, where we would be bound by the rules but would still contribute to the budget. This is a complete distraction because of confusion and we should not go down this road. We want effective action from the Government to protect Britain’s interests in the light of the necessary measures to strengthen the eurozone. However, at the moment, we do not see in Brussels a Government who are engaging with and getting inside the discussions; they want to be outside, which is a disaster for the UK national interest.

Does the Minister recall the Committee stage of the Bill, when we debated several amendments tabled by a diligent Back-Bencher? If he recalls that, and the time that was taken over very careful and correct scrutiny of the Bill, will he confirm that those amendments and many more could have been tabled on Report and at Third Reading? Will he draw to the attention of the Leader of the House that if he and the Government continue in the way that they are, there might not just be one awkward Back-Bencher on one Bill but many awkward Back-Benchers on many Bills?

My Lords, this is a vital measure but a very small and technical one. Throughout Second Reading, Committee and Report, the opposition Front Bench supported it, as did most people around the House. It is now important that it goes through to the House of Commons, where it should pass as speedily as possible, because the eurozone and the broader EU need to get on with solving the crisis.

My Lords, I am sorry to intrude further on the time of the House. I shall be brief. I took part in proceedings on the Bill, speaking at Second Reading, in Committee and on Report. The matters raised by the noble Lord, Lord Liddle, today go far beyond what is contained in the Bill. I should very much like to answer the points that he made but, in deference to the next Bill and the time of the House, I will not do so.

My Lords, I am rather in the same state of mind as the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, on these matters. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Liddle, for his first words confirming the support of Her Majesty’s Opposition for this Bill, although his later remarks, while interesting, seem to be spectacularly out of order; but never mind about that.

In his intervention, the noble Lord, Lord Owen, raised extremely important and wider issues, which I think all in this House would wish to discuss at the appropriate time. However, this Bill is simply concerned with approval to amend Article 136 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, and it would be inappropriate, perhaps even out of order, for me to stray into a debate on these matters now.

I would emphasise to the noble Lord, Lord Owen, that, as I think he knows, I would be very happy to discuss his ideas on the future of the European Union, the eurozone and the single market—as, if I may say so, set out in his recent book on this subject, which is full of very interesting ideas—and I hope that we will have the opportunity to do that. If he would like to put down a Question, it will be possible to answer in even more detail the specific points that he has raised today. I think that that is the best way forward. However, as there are no amendments to this Bill on Third Reading —although amendments were excellently advanced earlier with great precision by a certain Member of this House—there will be no further amendments. I beg to move that the Bill do now pass.

Bill passed and sent to the Commons.