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EU: Law-making Process

Volume 798: debated on Monday 1 July 2019


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to promote national awareness of the European Union law-making process, in particular the roles and powers of (1) the European Commission, (2) COREPER, (3) the Council of Ministers, (4) the European Court of Justice, and (5) the European Parliament.

My Lords, the Government have no plans to promote national awareness of the EU legislative process. However, information regarding the EU law-making process is in the public domain. The GOV.UK website, the Parliament’s website and the EU Commission website are just some of the many sources that explain the role of the EU institutions in the legislative process.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that Answer to this Question, which I tabled because I cannot find anyone normal who has heard of COREPER and thus understands the process which destroys our democracy.

Would it not help the Government’s Brexit strategy if more people knew that only the unelected Commission can propose new laws, upon which national interests are then negotiated in the unelected Committee of Permanent Representatives, and which are then signed off in the Council, all behind closed doors, with nothing that this Parliament can do about it—

—and that the Commission then becomes the executive for all EU law, subject only to the Europhile Court of Justice in Luxembourg, against which there is no appeal?

Second question, my Lords: would it not also help if more people knew that we are nearly always outvoted in the Council, and that this process has made over 20,000 of our laws since 1972, or more than one a day?

I thank the noble Lord for his many follow-up questions. In relation to the first, I suppose that having heard of COREPER makes me abnormal, so I apologise; I see the Opposition agreeing with that. I am not sure what the noble Lord is saying here. If he is saying to us that UKIP now thinks it a good idea for us to spend public money on an exercise educating the public on EU legislative processes, I suggest that that would be an unusual position for UKIP to take.

My Lords, what is important about the European Parliament is that today is the last day of the old Parliament and tomorrow is the first day of the new one, and that the new Parliament has to give its consent to whatever withdrawal deal we agree to. What talks are Ministers having with the new make-up of the Parliament so that we have an agreement that will be acceptable to it?

We are constantly having discussions with old and new MEPs. Indeed, last week I was in Brussels talking to some of the old and newly elected Members of the European Parliament to put forward our position. Of course there is a bit of an interregnum while we have a leadership election but the noble Baroness is quite right to say that, when we have a withdrawal agreement to put to the new European Parliament, it will have to agree it—as will this Parliament.

My Lords, I declare an interest as a joint editor of a series of books on law-making in the European Union. I am quite prepared to allow the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, to read it. I know that Sir William Cash has read it, so perhaps he would like to. When and if we leave the European Union, will it not be all the more important for people interested in policy-making in Britain to understand the policy-making of the European Union, because outside it we shall still be influenced by decisions taken in Brussels and in other national capitals, and we need to know and understand those processes?

As someone who worked in the institutions for 15 years, I think it took me all those 15 years to understand them. I think it is important to understand how the EU legislative process works. I am delighted to hear that the noble Lord will allow the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, to read his books. Perhaps I can act as a bit of a matchmaker here and suggest that he might want to send him copies, so that he does not need to detain us by asking Questions about it.

My Lords, is my noble friend aware of the old saying in the Army that time spent on reconnaissance is rarely wasted? In other words, one ought to know what the other side is doing and to be aware of its decision-making processes. No doubt he will have followed closely—I hope he has—the various tractations between Switzerland and the European Union. They are engaged in almost permanent negotiations, as will be the case with us. Does he not therefore feel that a certain amount of knowledge about how the other side works and how it takes decisions would enable British public opinion to judge more easily the policies that the Government pursue?

I know that my noble friend also understands the working of the EU extremely well from his time in the European Commission. I have been following the discussions with Switzerland quite closely. I note that there is not yet an agreement, but we will want to see how that pans out and what implications, if any, it has for our negotiations.

My Lords, is the practical reality not that this Question comes a little late in the day—in fact, 40 years too late—and that if we had had a better understanding of all these issues at the start we would not be in the pickle we are in now?

There may be some truth in that, but if I had any criticisms of the EU system—and I have a lot of them—I might suggest that the unnecessary complexity would be one of the reasons why people voted to leave.

My Lords, would it not be a good idea in future to promote more understanding of how the European Economic Area works, because that is where we are highly likely to end up?

I will not comment on the last part of my noble friend’s statement, but of course I think that knowledge of the internal or single market, the European Economic Area and free trade agreements is always useful for Members of Parliament, as well as for members of the public.

My Lords, will the Minister confirm to the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, among others, that when there are votes in meetings of the Council of Ministers—most decisions are taken by consensus—in 95% of those votes Britain has won our position? That is an acknowledged and widely reported fact.

The interesting thing about the EU system is that there is some truth in what both noble Lords have said. There are rarely votes in the Council. In the General Affairs Council, on which I sit, there are hardly any votes but that is because compromises are arrived at. Countries accept that they will not get all that they want so, at the same time they can argue that they have been part of the winning side because some part of their position might have been incorporated into the final agreement. That, again, is one of the complexities of the system.

My Lords, I declare my interest as a long-term Member of the European Parliament, as my noble friend was. On this, the last day that the European Parliament is meeting, does he not acknowledge the work that has been done by United Kingdom representatives in the European Parliament over many years, much to the advantage of this country both in the attitudes taken towards this country and in the positive outcomes of many of the initiatives that we have been involved in?

I need to be careful how I answer this. To be serious, yes, I do acknowledge that. Over the years the UK has been well served by a lot of its Members of the European Parliament, many of whom are sitting in the Chamber now. They come from all political parties and have often worked collaboratively in advancing the UK interest. I know that my noble friend did, I did, and the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, and others will have done. You have to work across parties if you are to get any agreement on many of the legislative files, but often there is no political disagreement about them.