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United Kingdom–European Union Parliamentary Partnership Assembly

Volume 813: debated on Monday 12 July 2021


Asked by

To ask the Leader of the House when she expects a motion to be brought before the House of Lords to establish and constitute the United Kingdom–European Union Parliamentary Partnership Assembly.

My Lords, it is a matter for Parliament to consider the potential shape of the parliamentary partnership assembly, within the framework set out in the UK-EU trade and co-operation agreement. I understand that informal discussions involving Members of both Houses are ongoing.

The partnership assembly is an important organisation: it will be able to get information from and make recommendations to the Partnership Council, which is where the EU and our Government will take decisions—so it is clearly of importance to this House. Could the Minister assure us that he will do everything possible to make sure that it is set up before the Recess so that we can choose our representatives to it and it can get going? Will he also do everything that he can to facilitate a report back to this Chamber from the parliamentary assembly, once it is set up?

My Lords, the Government are wholeheartedly in favour of dialogue between Parliament and the European Parliament, but, as the noble Baroness knows, the primary impetus from the UK side for establishing a parliamentary partnership assembly needs to come from both Houses of Parliament, which is why Members of both Houses are working on a proposal. Reporting back to the House by the PPA, once it is established, is something that the PPA itself will need to decide upon in due course.

My Lords, the treaty itself specifies that these arrangements should be set up—this is a responsibility for Government and not to be offloaded on to Parliament. Are the Government not encouraging the Leader of this House and the Leader of the House of Commons, for example, to immediately engage with the European Parliament so that we have a proper operation up and running by the time we return in the autumn? The Government cannot entirely dodge responsibility and shove it on to parliamentary procedures; it is in a treaty signed by the Prime Minister.

My Lords, as the noble Lord has said, the UK-EU trade and co-operation agreement—the TCA—makes explicit provision for a parliamentary partnership assembly, but on a permissive basis. It is implicit in the wording that this must be for the two Parliaments to establish. However, I can tell the noble Lord that, at the very first Partnership Council meeting, both the UK Government and the EU encouraged the establishment of the parliamentary partnership assembly. At a government level, we look forward to seeing the final proposals from both Parliaments and to providing support to the process where we can.

My Lords, in its April resolution on the trade and co-operation agreement, the European Parliament said that it wanted the parliamentary partnership assembly not only to monitor the full implementation of the agreement but also to make recommendations for improved co-operation. This Parliament currently has a serious scrutiny deficit with regard to the Government’s Brexit activities under the TCA and the withdrawal agreement. Why is the European Parliament often condemned in some quarters as somehow undemocratic, when it would have much greater democratic powers and aspirations than our own?

My Lords, I do not accept what the noble Baroness has said about the transparency that we seek to bring about. We are enthusiastic about the setting up of the parliamentary partnership assembly, as I have said. We hope that the plans progress quickly. In this House, we have my noble friend Lord Frost, who regularly answers questions about the discussions and negotiations that are currently proceeding. It is not in any way our desire to have a process that lacks transparency.

My Lords, until the parliamentary partnership assembly is established, what other channel of communication exists to inform our Parliaments, in the UK and the European Parliament, of the decisions and recommendations of the Partnership Council? Are there any means by which recommendations can be made to the Partnership Council—because we all know how long transitional periods can last?

My Lords, it is open to my noble friend and indeed any Member of this House to table a Parliamentary Question or a debate on a related subject, so I hope that my noble friend will feel able to elicit information that she needs from Ministers in that way.

I know first-hand of the warmth that the European Parliament feels towards the parliamentary partnership assembly. In his capacity both as Deputy Leader of the House and deputy leader of his party, could the Minister return that warmth? Does he agree that there should be a strong interparliamentary dimension as part of a successful mix in our new relationship with the European Union?

My Lords, I thank the noble Earl for his work on behalf of the House in his capacity as chair of your Lordships’ European Affairs Select Committee. He makes a very good point, and one thinks of other parliamentary assemblies that are perhaps analogous in some respects, such as the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, the NATO Parliamentary Assembly and that of the OSCE, although their respective functions are of course different and distinct.

My Lords, I hope that I am mistaken in detecting a lack of enthusiasm on the Minister’s part, uncharacteristic of him as that is. Does he agree that, in addition to the bodies that he mentioned, the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly might represent a good working model for the proposal of an EU parliamentary partnership assembly? Does he agree that it has the following characteristics: it has both Houses, it has all nations and regions and it is resourced by the UK Parliament? Could we make some progress on this, please?

My Lords, the noble Lord may be aware that, in the intercameral discussions, the interests of your Lordships’ House are being represented by the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull. I feel sure that he will have heard the recommendations of the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, in this debate.

My Lords, when I was an extremely junior Lords Minister in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office during the coalition, I was struck by the number of my Conservative colleagues who had no personal contacts, even with conservative Members of other Parliaments across the European Union. On a number of occasions, I was also struck by requests from Conservative Ministers asking me to make informal contact with Ministers in other Governments because I knew them through the European liberal network. Do the Government recognise that informal cross-Parliament and cross-party contact in the very intricate relationship that we will have with the European Union as an outside country would be extremely useful for us as a Parliament and for his Government as a Government?

My Lords, yes, indeed, and that is why there is explicit provision in the trade and co-operation agreement for the setting up of a PPA. We were and remain enthusiastic for the kind of dialogue that the noble Lord is so keen on.

My Lords, I am delighted to hear that my noble friend is keen to set up this body, and I understand that the EU Parliament itself is ready. Surely, it is very important that this Parliament get on with building mutually beneficial relationships in order to discuss important programmes such as Horizon, Euratom and others, and issues that are relevant to both EU and UK citizens. Does he agree that important ideas can be killed off by inaction?

I agree with my noble friend’s last remark, but I can assure her that there is no inaction in this instance. I understand that a letter addressed jointly to the Speaker of the House of Commons and the Lord Speaker was received last month from the President of the European Parliament, David Maria Sassoli, confirming the recent decision of the Conference of Presidents to establish the standing inter-parliamentary delegation of the European Parliament, so the process is moving forwards at the European end as well.