Lord Pearson of Rannoch: Noble Lords appear to be aware that in recent years I have regularly raised the balance, effectiveness and number of our European Union Select Committees before we agreed their appointment. For students of this important but perhaps refined subject, I last raised it on 16 May 2013 at col. 544 and on 12 June 2014 at col. 528.
As to balance, this proposed new committee appears to be just as Europhile as its predecessors. I do not pretend to know all their views, but of its 16 members I can detect only three who I would describe as mildly Eurosceptic and six who are among the most ardent Europhiles in your Lordships’ House. This is more important than usual in a year when we are approaching an EU referendum. Your Lordships’ other Select Committee reports are widely respected, and if our EU reports suffer from a Europhile slant, that will not be helpful to any fair outcome. I want to put the public on alert now, and I hope that I do not have to come back to this point too often in future.
I admit that the second part of my amendment, that our committees should be balanced between those who want to leave the EU and those who want to stay in, will not be easy to achieve. I put it down to underline what a Europhile place your Lordships’ House is when compared to public sentiment on this matter. In fact I can think of only perhaps a dozen of your Lordships who would be prepared to say publicly that we should leave the European Union whatever the outcome of the current negotiations. However, we should at least try to make our committees as balanced as we can, and at the moment we do not.
Our committees are there to hold the Government to account on the legislation that emerges from Brussels—that is what I am constantly told by noble Lords who favour the present arrangements. However, the trouble remains that that is all that these committees can do: they can only scrutinise, and the Government regularly ignore their findings.
I remind your Lordships of the scrutiny reserve, whereby successive Governments have promised not to sign up to any piece of legislation in Brussels if it is still being scrutinised by the Select Committee of either House of Parliament. Yet since July 2010, the Government have broken that promise 303 times in the Commons and 266 times in your Lordships’ House. Some 238 of those overrides were on measures being considered by both Houses. Each override means that a new EU law is being forced upon us without the consent of Parliament, because the EU juggernaut rolls on regardless. I hope the respected chairman of our EU Select Committee, the noble Lord, Lord Boswell, will not mind if I remind your Lordships of his disappointed interventions on that subject on 4 December 2014 at col. 1400 and on 17 December 2014 at col. 95. I do not know if he can reassure us now that, as a result, the scrutiny reserve is no longer broken. I fear that our EU Select Committees do not and cannot hold the Government to account in Brussels. Since 1996, up to last year, the Government themselves have objected to and forced to a vote in the Council of Ministers 55 new measures, and they lost the vote on every single one of them. I add that the situation is just as depressing in that democratic fig-leaf, the European Parliament. Of its 1,936 most-recent Motions, a majority of all UK MEPs voted against 576 of them, but 485 still passed—a failure rate of some 84%. So it does not seem that our Select Committee reports carry much weight there either. None of that should surprise us. The big idea behind the EU has always been that member states should be diminished in favour of the unelected bureaucracy, under the pretence that that would maintain peace in Europe, which was of course, in fact, always sustained by NATO, not Brussels—but that is still at the root of our powerlessness in the EU.
Finally, my amendment would reduce our EU committees from seven to three, freeing up four committees for other work. It is those other committees that are so widely and rightly respected by the public, which we as a House are uniquely qualified to deliver, and yet we are only being allowed three new ad hoc committees and have turned down requests from noble Lords for no fewer than 42. I refer your Lordships to HL Paper 127 from our Liaison Committee, which details all those 42 committees which we will now not have. I understand that we may be making progress on a committee on foreign affairs, which would be a step forward. However, noble Lords’ suggestions from within 21 other areas of our national life are not being adhered to—the House will not be given those committees and the British public will not have your Lordships’ wisdom upon them. I therefore propose that we have four fewer, somewhat pointless EU committees, and four more to draw on the vast array of your Lordships’ knowledge and experience. I beg to move.