Yesterday Lord Pearson asked HMG
whether they will exercise their right to opt out of the police and justice provisions of the Lisbon treaty after 2014.You might think that this was a nice easy question to answer; you would be wrong. This is what HMG in the person of Lord McNally said:
My Lords, the Government are considering carefully the many different factors and implications involved in this decision, which does not have to be taken until 31 May 2014.Oh goody. And in the meantime? Lord Pearson's supplementary question is worth quoting in full:
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for that Answer, which does not quite give the full picture. The Government can opt out of all the 90 or so laws now and, if they want to, opt in to any of them individually thereafter.The Minister was not happy but was not unhappy enough to give a straight answer either:
Does the noble Lord remember the Prime Minister saying:
"We will want to prevent EU judges gaining steadily greater control over our criminal justice system by negotiating an arrangement which would protect it. That will mean limiting the European Court of Justice's jurisdiction over criminal law"?
First, will the Government support that promise in any vote on this matter-in the House of Commons and in your Lordships' House-which, as the noble Lord knows, has been promised down the other end? Secondly, are not the Government faced here with a straight dilemma: is it to be the wishes of the British people or is it to be appeasement?
The answer to the last question is the former. The length and complexity of the noble Lord's supplementary questions indicate why the Government are sensibly taking great care to study and consult on these matters, particularly with the committees of both this House and another place, and as he rightly said, my right honourable friend David Lidington has made it clear in a Statement to the House that when the decision is to be made on these matters, there will be a full debate and vote in both Houses of Parliament."Appeasement" is a word that always excites people. Governments, who have behaved far worse than Chamberlain's, whose only sin was to try to prevent a ghastly and destructive war as long as possible, rear up indignantly at the thought of such an accusation being levelled at them.
It also caught the attention of Politics.co.uk, which gave a very fair write-up, giving Lord Pearson an opportunity of explaining what he meant by his question and the opprobrious word. As the article points out:
Lord Pearson of Rannoch's concerns centre on provisions of the Lisbon treaty relating to policing and justice powers.Parliament has been promised a chance of greater scrutiny of European legislation though not the right to reject it.
Britain can choose to opt out of the measures wholesale without requiring unanimity from the EU's 27 member states. It can then decide to opt back in on individual measures as the government sees fit.
"It's a fork in the road, this one," Lord Pearson told politics.co.uk.
"It's a very clear choice - between what the British people want and appeasement of Brussels by the political class."
Ministers have promised a vote in both Houses of parliament on the issue when the government has decided on its stance.The debate that followed Lord Pearson's Starred Question makes it clear that while we are always going to have the usual suspects demanding that the government play an important part in strengthening the EU or making sure that the EU did the right things or just show itself to be "sensible" in its dealings with the EU, ever more peers are questioning HMG's behaviour after all those fine promises.
But it remains unclear whether that vote will be whipped, or if the government will view votes as binding.
"The government is not resisting anything in Brussels. It's gone along with the financial supervision of the City of London and all our financial services, by an organisation which hasn't had its own accounts signed off by its internal auditors for 16 years," Lord Pearson added.
"This is an opportunity to get some of it back under the existing treaties without having to negotiate. That's why this one's so beautiful."