The EU Bill and Parliamentary Sovereignty - European Scrutiny Committee Contents

1  Introduction

1. Under the heading of 'Europe', the Coalition's programme for government said that it would "examine the case for a United Kingdom Sovereignty Bill to make it clear that the ultimate authority remains with Parliament." On 10 September the Minister for Europe wrote to the Committee announcing the Government's intention to introduce legislation to ensure that the British people and Parliament would have more say on proposals to transfer power and competence to the EU. On 6 October the Minister wrote again to say that the Bill would include a provision affirming the principle of Parliamentary sovereignty. The European Union Bill was presented to Parliament on 11 November 2010. We immediately announced our intention to conduct an inquiry and to produce a Report on the Bill's asserted Parliamentary sovereignty clause before the Bill's Second Reading. It is our intention to report on the Bill's Part 1 provisions, which require "referendum locks" for transfers of powers or competencies and primary legislation for passerelles, at a later date.

2. This is the first occasion on which we have conducted pre-legislative scrutiny. We were conscious of the need to receive submissions from EU and constitutional legal experts of differing views and to challenge them in public evidence sessions; we therefore asked the Government for sufficient time to be made available between First and Second Reading to allow that to happen. In response to that request, the Minister replied:

    "You ask that there should be sufficient time after introduction of the Bill for your Committee to consider and take evidence on the Bill and its provisions. In implementing the Government's commitment for a referendum lock, I am very much aware of the need for Parliament, and indeed our wider public, to have political and legal clarity on what this will and will not mean in practice. It is therefore important that your Committee should be able to consider properly the Bill and its provisions, and in order to assist in your consideration of the Bill, I should be pleased to appear before your Committee soon after First Reading."[1]

3. Given these encouraging words it is hard to see why, in a Parliamentary session which has until 2012 to run, we were given less than four weeks in which to take evidence and agree a Report. The Foreign Secretary declined our request that he, rather than the Minister for Europe, should give evidence. The Minister for Europe's evidence session is now to be held on the day before the Bill's Second Reading. It appears to us that the Government has abided by the letter but hardly the spirit of its commitment to allow the Committee properly to consider the Bill and its provisions.

4. The Committee received 14 written submissions and took evidence from five expert witnesses: Professor Paul Craig, Professor in English Law, St John's College, Oxford; Professor Trevor Hartley, Professor Emeritus of Law, London School of Economics; Professor Trevor Allan, Professor of Jurisprudence and Public Law, Pembroke College, Cambridge; Professor Adam Tomkins, Chair of Public Law, University of Glasgow; and Professor Anthony Bradley, Research Fellow, Institute of European and Comparative Law, University of Oxford. We are extremely grateful to all those who took the trouble, at very short notice, to produce written submissions and give oral evidence. Regrettably, shortage of time before Second Reading denied us the chance of hearing from the Minister for Europe before agreeing this Report. We have, however, a detailed letter from the Minister on clause 18 and the Government's Explanatory Notes on which we comment in our Conclusions.

5. Given the complexity of the subject matter which it addresses, this Report sets out in some detail the legal relationship between the United Kingdom and the European Union and the current debate on the scope of Parliamentary sovereignty, before evaluating the Parliamentary sovereignty clause in the light of the evidence received and coming to our conclusions.

6. European legislation has a profound impact on the daily lives of the voters and the people of the United Kingdom in virtually every sphere of activity. The quantitative impact is significant. According to the House of Commons Library note of 13 October, "The British Government estimated that around 50% of UK legislation with a significant economic impact originates from EU legislation." But as the note also indicates, the qualitative effect is deeper, particularly with EU Regulations which automatically become part of national law as soon as they are adopted in Brussels.

7. All this is reflected in the immense range and impact of the myriad and specific competences and powers derived from the Lisbon Treaty. These can be judged by the several pages of the table of contents to the Treaty covering such matters as external action, foreign and security policy, security and defence policy, citizenship, internal market, agriculture, fisheries, free movement, border checks, asylum and immigration, civil and criminal and police matters, justice and home affairs, transport, competition, tax, economic and monetary policy, employment and social policy, public health, consumer protection, industry, the environment, energy, commercial policy and financial provisions.

8. All of these are regulated within a framework of European Union law within the jurisdiction of the Court of Justice of the EU with implications for Parliamentary sovereignty. Recent vivid examples of the application of European Union law and jurisdiction include provisions relating to the City of London, European economic governance and the Irish bailout, to name but a few.

1   Letter from the Minister for Europe, 6 October 2010 (not printed). Back

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2010
Prepared 24 December 2010