Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Lord Pearson on the worthless EU Scrutiny Reserve

There was a good debate yesterday in Britain's House of Lords on the Government's ludicrous European Union Bill, linked here,which is worth reading in full.

One particular point of attack from Lord Pearson was on the scrutiny reserve as follows:

 Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, to come back to Amendments 16A and 16B, I oppose them because they make it possible for the Government of the day to avoid a referendum if they think that some new EU power grab, whatever it happens to be, is sufficiently urgent or if they think that it is in the national interest.

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I fear that the supporters of these amendments have not yet grasped the point that the British people do not want any more powers passed to Brussels, period, as the saying goes-full stop. In fact, a growing majority of the British people want all their powers back; they want to be a democracy again with the power to elect and dismiss those who make all their laws.
I am afraid that the amendments do not work in detail, either. Who is to decide the urgency of the decision or whether it is in the national interest? The octopus in Brussels of course, not the British Government or Parliament. To be certain of this, we have only to look at the way in which Brussels has treated both our Government and Parliament over many years. I refer of course to its constant indifference to our scrutiny reserve. I remind your Lordships for the record, and for those outside your Lordships' House who may not know, what the scrutiny reserve is. It is a promise made to Parliament-to the House of Commons and your Lordships' House-by Governments of all persuasions over many years that they will not sign up to any new law or initiative in Brussels if the Select Committee of either House is still considering it. If the Select Committees have finished looking at it or have agreed it, or if it has been debated in Parliament, the Government of the day are free to sign up in the Council of Ministers in Brussels to whatever initiative is concerned. That is the promise or scrutiny reserve.

A Written Answer to me from the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, on 7 February this year reveals that in the past five years alone the scrutiny reserve has been overridden-in other words, the Government's promise has been broken-no fewer than 267 times in the House of Commons and 248 times in your Lordships' House. That means that in the past five years more than 500 proposals from Brussels, which the Select Committee of either House thought sufficiently important to examine and to advise the Government on, became law anyway. The juggernaut rolled on regardless. It is worth adding that the situation does not appear to be improving, despite regular complaints from the Select Committees to the Government. In 2010, 151 overrides were notched up between the two Houses-79 in the House of Commons and 72 in your Lordships' House.

Another section, which followed shortly after is also worthy of note as follows:

Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, the noble Lord is trying to ameliorate an intolerable situation. It is a fact that the scrutiny reserve is a promise given by the Government of the day to Parliament that has been broken more than 500 times in the past five years. Therefore, it will not be the British Government who make the decisions covered by Amendment 16B, but Brussels-as it always has been. No British Government can therefore be trusted to decide on these issues, as set out in the amendments, because Brussels will simply go ahead, even if the British Government of the day could be trusted. If necessary, as the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, reminded us, the Commission will simply bring forward the EU's new powers under treaty clauses that were not designed for that purpose. However, that has never stopped the Commission, as I also pointed out in our Committee proceedings on 5 April at col. 1640.
In conclusion, and without wishing to go anywhere near making a Second Reading speech, a number of noble Lords today-the noble Lords, Lord Risby and Lord Hannay, among others-as well as the Minister in Committee and at Second Reading, lamented the disconnect, as they put it, between the British people and their Government and the European Union. I should like to put to the Minister a point that I have not yet put to him; I should be grateful if he would answer it either on this occasion or at some future point in our proceedings.

The reason for the disconnect between the British people and the European Union-and, indeed, the Finnish people and the European Union, and a growing number of people in France, Germany and elsewhere-is that the big idea that gave birth to the project of European integration, honourable though it was at the time after the last war, has, in fact, gone horribly wrong. I need hardly remind the Minister of what that big idea was. It was that the nation states, with their unreliable democracies, had been responsible for the carnage of two world wars and the long history of bloodshed in Europe. Those nation states, therefore,

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had to be emasculated and diluted into a new form of supranational government run by technocrats. That is where the Commission gets its monopoly to propose in secret all our European legislation. That is where COREPER comes in. That is why the Council votes in secret on what is becoming the majority of our law, if that is not the case already. Surely that is what has gone wrong. Until we address it, realise and confess that the whole project has failed-not just the currency, which has clearly failed-and get out of it as soon as possible, we are all barking up the wrong tree.



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