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Lord Swinfen: I thank the Minister for that response. That is the first time that I have ever heard a Minister in this Chamber, or reported elsewhere, saying that we can withdraw from the EC should we wish to do so, even though it may take some negotiation. That is a comfort to some of us.
Lord Whitty: I hope it is not much of a comfort because the negotiations would be extraordinarily difficult. It is certainly not an option I would wish to give any currency to in this Chamber or elsewhere.
Briefly, my noble friend Lord Stoddart referred to Amendment No. 31, which calls on the Government to provide a report on the operation of flexibility to both Houses of Parliament. I do not need to go into detail. There is already a substantial degree of reportage on these areas to Parliament, but it is the intention of the Government, as set out in another place by my right honourable friend the President of the Council, to improve the scrutiny of all European legislation under these provisions and under others, and in particular to give a greater and more formal role in scrutiny in relation to the second and third pillars.
Lord Bruce of Donington: Will the noble Lord clarify the position constitutionally? The noble Lord will recall that I put to him that it was in our present constitution, as generally understood and interpreted so far by lawyers, that no Parliament can bind its successors. Therefore, if the next government decided to reverse anything that had been done by the previous government, they would have the right to do so constitutionally because under our constitution a preceding government cannot bind.
As I understand the noble Lord, he assented to the general proposition, with the important qualification that we could always negotiate our way out and that that might take some considerable time. That still does not address the constitutional problem because, under those terms, those with whom we would negotiate might decline any further negotiation and might decline to move in any direction whatever. I ask the noble Lord a
Lord Whitty: The straight answer to that is "yes" and no treaty that has been passed since we ran the referendum in 1975 to assess whether or not we would leave the European Community has changed the situation. If the decision had gone the other way in the 1970s, we would have been able to withdraw. The status has not been changed by any subsequent treaty. I remain of the opinion that we are bound by treaty law to negotiate our way out of it, but there is no way in which that ultimate right has been changed.
Lord Whitty: In the light of the time and because I believe that I have dealt with most of the points raised, I ask my noble friend to withdraw his amendment, despite the illuminating debate that we have had. If there are any other points, I will write to him.
Lord Shore of Stepney: I am grateful to my noble friend for his reply. As I said at the beginning, I regret that we could not have begun this interesting and important debate at an earlier stage. But, in view of the lateness of the hour, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
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