European Union Bill completes report stage

16 June 2011

The European Union Bill completed its report stage – further consideration of amendments to the Bill – on Wednesday 15 June. The House of Lords voted in favour of two amendments that will insert new clauses into the Bill defeating the Government twice

The third reading – where final amendments can be made – will take place on Thursday 23 June.

Lord Mackay of Clashfern moved Amendment 33, to leave out clause 18 and insert the new clause ‘Status of EU law dependent on continuing statutory basis’. Moving the amendment Lord Mackay explained it was a ‘declaratory measure’ that sought to ‘make it plain’ that EU law in the UK did not derive from Treaties alone: ‘It is useful to make clear that in our country the law of the European Union is here by virtue of the sovereignty of our Parliament in enacting the 1972 [European Communities] Act,’ he said. ‘To water it down or make it ambiguous by referring to "an Act" is unfortunate.’ Seeking to test the opinion of the House, Lord Mackay explained: ‘I suggest that the European Community treaty of itself would not be meaningful in our statutes until it was given effect by the 1972 Act; and when the 1972 Act ceases to operate, that goes along with it.’

The House of Lords agreed to Amendment 33 by 242 votes to 209, defeating the Government by 33 votes.

The House of Lords also agreed to an amendment which would introduce a new clause on the duration of Part 1: Restrictions on Treaties and Decisions Relating to EU and Schedule 1: Treaty provisions where amendment removing need for unanimity, consensus or common accord would trigger a referendum.

Amendment 35, moved by Lord Kerr of Kinlochard, introduces a sunset clause. This means that Part 1 and Schedule 1 would expire on the dissolution of the Parliament in which the Bill becomes law and would require an affirmative order, approval by vote in the both Lords and the Commons, to come back into effect in subsequent Parliaments – the ‘Hemingway amendment because the sun also rises,’ Lord Kerr quipped in moving the amendment.

Lord Kerr said he accepted that debate on the amendment was ‘a bit academic’ since the provisions of the Bill would not come into effect until the next Parliament; however, it was an issue to revisit after the next general election. ‘Regular reassessments of the costs and benefits of the position that we have put ourselves in would be appropriate. That is the national interest case for the amendment. It is the softest conceivable sunset clause, because the subsequent sunrise is so simple to effect. It is appropriate because the Bill is constitutionally innovative, affecting the sovereignty of Parliament in at least two rather serious ways. It would permit regular reassessment of whether rigidity is working or whether the national interest would be better served by avoiding self-exclusion from key debates and future developments,’ he explained.

Amendment 35 was agreed to by 209 votes to 203 – a defeat for the Government by six votes. 

Day two

The House of Lords voted in favour of an amendment that would reduce the number of mandatory referendums on European Union decisions, narrowly defeating the Government, during the second day of report stage on the European Union Bill on Monday 13 June. An amendment that sought to introduce a separate referendum on adopting the euro was defeated by one vote.

Amendment 14, moved by Lord Hannay of Chiswick, sought to reduce the number of policy areas that would be subject to a referendum. Lord Hannay explained: ‘It is a bit sad that we should be heading off in the direction of plebiscitary democracy-a-go-go instead of thinking about how to make our parliamentary institutions work more effectively. That is why one of the most important points made by the proponents of the amendments is the fact that you need primary legislation for every single change in the Bill. That is really important. It is the way to make parliamentary scrutiny more effective and that is what is needed – not a dash towards plebiscites.’ It was ‘a move in the wrong direction,’ he said.

The House of Lords agreed to Amendment 14 by 213 votes to 209, defeating the Government by four votes.

Amendments 15 to 21, also moved by Lord Hannay were agreed to without voting.

The House of Lords voted against Amendment 22, moved by Lord Kerr of Kinlochard, which sought to introduce a new clause that would require a referendum to be held before the UK could adopt the euro as its currency. The amendment was defeated by 188 votes to 187.

Day one

On Wednesday 8 June, the House of Lords agreed to an amendment which would set a threshold for voter turnout in referendums to ratify treaty changes and define the role of the Government in ratifying treaty changes when that threshold is not met – narrowly defeating the Government.

Lord Williamson of Horton moved Amendment 5, which would set a turnout threshold of 40% of the electorate to ratify treaty changes by referendum and would determine the process for ratifying treaty changes when fewer than 40% of the electorate votes. Moving the amendment, Lord Williamson explained: ‘This amendment would bring back a role for Parliament in those cases, and only in those cases, where the British public had demonstrated their lack of interest by a very low turnout in a referendum.’

The House of Lords voted to agree to Amendment 5 by 221 votes to 216 votes – a defeat for the Government by five votes.

The House of Lords voted against Amendment 5A, moved by Lord Liddle, which sought to allow referendums not be held in accordance with a process set out in a consequential amendment (Amendment 5B). Moving the amendment, Lord Liddle explained: ‘If you are seriously committed to Britain's participation in the European Union, you want a British Government to be able to respond flexibly to events and to be a good partner to our partners in the Union. We cannot completely tie our hands in advance when we do not know the future-as the example of the European stability mechanism shows.’ The amendment was defeated by 208 votes to 158.

Members of the Lords also agreed without voting to Amendment 2, moved by Lord Howell of Guildford; Amendment 4, moved by Lord Wallace of Saltaire; Amendment 7, also moved by Lord Howell; Amendment 8, moved by Lord Williamson of Horton.

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 provides for the parliamentary approval of the Transitional Protocol on MEPs agreed at an Inter-Governmental Conference held on 23 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 Bill also provides for a clause that affirms that EU law takes effect in the UK only because Parliament wills that it should; this confirms the principle that Parliament is sovereign.

The European Union Bill, which began its passage through Parliament in the Commons, completed its committee stage in the House of Lords on 25 May.

Report stage in the Chamber gives all Members of the Lords further opportunity to consider all amendments (proposals for change) to a Bill.

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