Wednesday was dominated by the Comprehensive Spending Review, but later in the day there was a significant event in the Lords in relation to the European Union. The Lisbon Treaty accords a role to national parliaments in the European law-making process – something they did not previously have – enabling them to refer proposed legislation back to the initiating institution if they believe that the proposal does not comply with the principle of subsidiarity.
The power itself is limited. It applies only to subsidiary and not to proportionality. Relatively few proposals are likely to fall foul of the former. As the European Union Committee of the House noted in its report, The Treaty of Lisbon: an impact assessment, it may well be that the procedures will seldom be invoked. When they are, all that happens under the so-called ‘yellow card’ procedure is that the proposal has to be reviewed by the initiating institution, which can maintain, amend or withdraw it.
Nonetheless, it is a capacity previously denied national parliaments, at least formally (they could and can always apply pressure through their governments), and on Wednesday evening the House agreed a motion moved by Lord Roper, Chairman of the EU Committee, stating that the proposed directive on conditions of entry and residence of third-country nationals for the purposes of seasonal employment ‘does not comply with the principle of subsidiarity’ and instructing the Clerk of the Parliaments to forward the opinion to the Presidents of the European Institutions.
Under the procedure, the House of Lords as one chamber of a bicameral legislature has one vote. If at least one-third of eligible votes are cast in this way, the proposal has to be reviewed. It now depends on the actions of other legislatures.
As I say, it is a limited power but it at least adds to a developing co-operation of national parliaments. I have always argued that building co-operation between like-minded national parliaments is an important step forward.