European Union Bill committee stage: day eight

25 May 2011

The European Union Bill completed its committee stage, detailed examination, in the House of Lords on Wednesday 25 May. Members of the House of Lords discussed an amendment which sought to introduce a ‘sunset’ clause affecting Part 1 and Schedule 1 of the Bill

Part 1 of the Bill concerns restrictions on treaties and decisions relating to EU and Schedule 1 lists Treaty provisions where amendment removing need for unanimity, consensus or common accord would trigger a referendum.

Moving Amendment 61, Lord Taverne, explained the purpose of his ‘probing’ amendment was ‘to review the overall effects of the Bill’.

The amendment was withdrawn.

Clause 22 was agreed to without voting.

Report stage – further line by line examination of the Bill – is scheduled for 8 June.

Day seven

As well as discussing a number of amendments, Members of the Lords debated whether clauses 7, 8, 9 and 10 should stand as parts of the Bill on Monday 23 May.

During committee stage the House must actively agree that each clause and schedule stands as part of the Bill.

Moving the debate on Clause 7: Decisions requiring approval by Act, Lord Kerr of Kinlochard explained his aim was to seek clarification of the phrase ‘A Minister of the Crown may not vote in favour of or otherwise support a decision to which this subsection applies’ rather than oppose the clause.

Speaking to the same issue, Baroness Williams of Crosby said: ‘The phrase “or otherwise support” appears again and again. It is important that we are all completely clear about what it means.’ As a former Minister of the Crown, she explained she was concerned that the form of words meant that in discussions in the European Council a Minster could not support a view that they believed to be in the interests of the UK because ‘he or she is expressing that support before a draft decision has been approved by Parliament. A Minister of the Crown – this is even odder – is unable to express support in the whole run-up to that draft decision being taken. It is not even clear whether he or she can speak in Parliament's discussions on the draft decision. Certainly, the wording does not suggest that. You could have the very odd situation of a Minister whose Government think that what he is trying to do is right, and who himself believes that what he is trying to do is in the national interest, not being able to speak out and say so.’

Responding on behalf of the Government, Lord Howell of Guildford, confirmed he would take away and look at all the references in the legislation to the words ‘or otherwise support’.

Clauses 7, 8, 9 and 10 were agreed to without voting. The House of Lords also agreed to clauses 11 to 21 without voting.

Committee stage continues on 25 May when further amendments will be discussed.

Day six

Members of the Lords continued to discuss amendments to Clause 6, which concerns EU Treaty decisions that would require both an Act of Parliament to be passed and a majority vote in a referendum of the British people to come into effect in the UK on Tuesday 17 May. 

Day five

Amendment 39A to Clause 6, moved by Lord Liddle was discussed on Monday 16 May. The amendment was withdrawn. Amendments 38B to 40A were not moved.

Day four

Amendments concerning the process for assessing whether an agreement in a treaty would transfer powers from the UK to the EU were discussed on Monday 9 May.

Day three

Proposals for further amendments to Clause 4: Cases where the Treaty on European Union (TEU) or Article 48(6) decision attracts a referendum, were discussed on Tuesday 3 May.

The Simplified Revision Procedure set down in Article 48(6) TEU allows the European Council to amend provisions on EU policies and internal actions as set out without using the formal treaty change procedure.

Amendment 20A to Clause 4, moved by Lord Stoddart of Swindon, sought to require the holding of a referendum on the accession of a new Member State to the European Union.

Amendment 23ZB, moved by Lord Waddington, sought to require referendums on the codification of the practice of existing competences. Lord Waddington said this meant the shifting of practices and agreements from a non-binding intergovernmental basis to a treaty basis: ‘Clause 4(4)(a) would allow the conversion of a non-binding practice into binding and irreversible community law. The Bill is saying that when that happens, there is no need for a referendum.’ Lord Waddington said he would ‘not press the amendment to a vote’, but hoped that select committees would ‘in future be alert to the possibility of new law being made under the guise of codification, and report accordingly.’

Amendment 23C, moved by Lord Liddle, sought to introduce provisions to strengthen the Union's capacity to deal with the effects of climate change and energy issues. Moving the amendment, Lord Liddle said, ‘The commitment of the EU to put itself at the forefront of the battle to tackle climate change has been striking. At the same time, at the Copenhagen summit the EU found itself largely bypassed.’ There was ‘a desire for Europe to be stronger on these issues’ and it was possible that ‘treaty proposals or amendments to the treaty under Article 48(6) to address these weaknesses’ could be devised, he said.

All of the amendments debated were withdrawn.

Further information

The European Union Bill aims to alter the UK procedures for agreeing to or ratifying certain EU decisions and Treaty changes.

The Bill also provides for the parliamentary approval of the Transitional Protocol on MEPs agreed at an Inter-Governmental Conference held on 23rd June 2010. This means the additional UK MEP provided for in the current EU Treaty can take up his or her seat before the next European Parliament elections in 2014.

It also makes arrangements for the election of the extra UK MEP.

The European Union Bill completed its stages in the House of Commons on 10 March.

Detailed line by line examination of the separate parts (clauses and schedules) of the Bill takes place during committee stage.

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