Select Committee on European Scrutiny Twenty-Seventh Report





COM(02) 78

Commission Opinion pursuant to Article 251(2), third subparagraph, point (c), of the EC Treaty, on the European Parliament's amendments to the Council's common position regarding the Draft Directive on a common regulatory framework for electronic communications networks and services.

Legal base:

Article 95 EC; co-decision; qualified majority voting



Trade and Industry

Basis of consideration:

Minister's letter of 29 April 2002

Previous Committee Report:

HC 152-xxiii (2001-02), paragraph15 (10 April 2002)

Discussed in Council:

6-7 December 2001 Transport and Telecommunications Council

Committee's assessment:

Politically important

Committee's decision:

Cleared (decision reported on 10 April 2002), but evidence session with Minister arranged




  17.1  This Directive, known as "the Framework Directive", sets out the 'horizontal' provisions,[19] for the new telecoms regulatory package, of which this Directive and three others on which we report[20] form part. These provisions include the roles of National Regulatory Authorities (NRAs) and the procedures to be followed to ensure the consistent application of the new framework throughout the Community. We cleared the draft on 28 March 2001, before the Council reached a Common Position on it[21].

  17.2  On 13 February 2002 we considered a letter[22] from the Minister for E-Commerce and Competitiveness (Mr Douglas Alexander) in which he informed us of the outcome of negotiations between the Council and the European Parliament on key elements of the telecoms regulatory package. He said that a Second Reading Agreement had been reached shortly before Christmas 2001. No texts were available but, when they had been finalised, Explanatory Memoranda would be submitted on them "as normal".

  17.3  In an Explanatory Memorandum dated 19 March, the Minister told us that the Directive was adopted on 14 February 2002. He summarised the amendments to the Common Position that were agreed as part of the final deal and said that the Government fully supported the Agreement, believing that the final version represented a very good outcome for the UK. He gave some detailed reasons why this was the case.

  17.4  He made no reference to the fact that the "final deal" had not been submitted for scrutiny before adoption, but said that it was expected to come into force "imminently".

  17.5  The proposed Access, Authorisation and Universal Service Directives[23] also, according to the Minister, formed part of the same Second Reading Agreement. The comments we made on the Framework Directive applied equally to those Directives. We said that amended texts, following the European Parliament's Second Reading, have always been subject to scrutiny and a scrutiny reserve should have been placed on the proposals. The fact that there was a Second Reading Agreement on them in no way removed that obligation. We assumed that the Minister recognised this when he undertook, in his letter of 7 February 2002, to submit Explanatory Memoranda on the new texts when they had been finalised.

  17.6  We therefore asked the Minister to appear before us to explain the circumstances in which these important proposals were adopted without further parliamentary scrutiny after substantial changes had been made to the texts which we scrutinised earlier. An evidence session has been arranged for 15 May.

The Minister's letter

  17.7  In a letter dated 29 April, the Minister says that he has reviewed the case in some detail and believes that there are two ways in which the Government should have done better. Firstly, it could have informed the Scrutiny Committees sooner about the developments at the Council and in the European Parliament, following the Telecoms Council of 6 December. Secondly, so as to give the Committee the full story, his Department had waited for the Commission's response and this took longer than expected. It is clear, he says, that greater priority should have been given to keeping the Committees more up to date with the general state of play, even amidst fairly fluid negotiations.

  17.8  The Minister concludes by saying that he would be happy to discuss the wider issue of scrutiny in cases of co-decision, particularly at Second Reading, on 15 May.


  17.9  We thank the Minister for his letter. We look forward to a discussion of the issue of scrutiny during co-decision and hope that it will serve to dispel any confusion about Parliament's need to scrutinise any substantial changes made to legislative proposals before final adoption.


19   i.e. extending to the new regulatory framework as a whole. Back

20  (23263) 6298/02; (23283) 6300/02; and (23314) 6313/02; see paragraphs 18, 19 and 20 of this Report. Back

21  (21562 )10962/01; see HC 28-x (2000-01), paragraph 10 (28 March 2001). Back

22  (23027) 14838/01; see HC 152-xix (2001-02), paragraph 8 (13 February 2002). Back

23   See footnote 20. Back

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Prepared 13 May 2002