Select Committee on European Scrutiny Thirtieth Report



SUMMARY OF THE REPORT

 

 

[The Committee's proposals which depend on action by others are given in bold type below.]

 

Introduction

The Government has made developing the role of national parliaments one of its priorities in the Convention on the Future of Europe, because of their democratic legitimacy and therefore their potential for remedying the disconnection between citizens and the EU. That potential will only be achieved if national parliaments, including our own, themselves deal with EU matters in a way which 'connects' with citizens; hence our inquiry. (Paras. 1-3)

 

The European scrutiny system

The main purpose of the scrutiny system is to enable the House to influence directly the activities of UK Ministers in the EU's Council of Ministers and hold Ministers to account, but it may have much wider informal influence. (Para. 7)

Features of the system: document-based, with wide coverage; an Explanatory Memorandum on every document; the European Scrutiny Committee; sifting for importance rather than merits; importance of dialogue with Ministers; the scrutiny reserve resolution; debates; pre- and post-Council scrutiny; the National Parliament Office. (Paras. 8-17)

 

Aims and basic principles of the scrutiny system

Our new definition of the system's purpose is to ensure that Members are informed of EU proposals likely to affect the UK, to provide a source of information and analysis for the public, and to ensure that the House and the European Scrutiny Committee, and through them other organisations and individuals, have opportunities to make Ministers aware of their views on EU proposals, seek to influence Ministers and hold Ministers to account. (Para. 25)

The general principles of the scrutiny system are largely sound, including: a specialised committee rather than mainstreaming European matters among the departmental select committees (DSCs); concentrating on documents as opposed to Council meetings; determining the importance of documents rather than their merits; examining all documents rather than a selected few; and separate scrutiny systems in Commons and Lords. (Paras. 28-38)

 

Strengthening the scrutiny system

 

(1) Meetings in public

We wish to make as much information public as we can and to meet in public whenever possible, while maintaining the effectiveness of the Committee. We regard this as an important issue, but one which needs further examination. (Para. 41)

(2) Operation of the scrutiny system

The great majority of EU documents and Explanatory Memoranda (EMs) reach us in time, but there continue to be cases where deposit of documents, submission of an EM or provision of information requested by us is delayed. (Para. 44)

We will normally call a Minister to give evidence when we believe the scrutiny reserve resolution has been overridden without good cause. (Para. 53)

We do not favour a statutory scrutiny reserve. (Para. 54)

We intend to make scrutiny of the Commission's Annual Work Programme an important part of our own programme, and are considering elsewhere what role national parliaments in general might have in this respect. (Para. 58)

 

(3) Pre- and post-Council scrutiny

There are difficulties in establishing a systematic approach to pre- and post-Council scrutiny. We have concentrated on improving the quality and usefulness of the written answers we receive on Council meetings. (Paras. 61, 63)

 

(4) Debates

There is scope for introducing new procedures for debates on EU matters on an experimental basis. However, we also emphasise the importance of debates on the Floor of the House as a way of raising the profile of EU business. (Para. 66)

We do not believe European Standing Committees have yet reached their full potential. (Para. 67)

The style of questioning in European Standing Committees should be like that in select committees, with supplementaries permitted. (Para. 68)

It would contribute to the quality of debate if means were established for making material from outside bodies relevant to European Standing Committee meetings generally available, and we plan to investigate ways of achieving this through the Committee's website. (Para. 68)

The number of European Standing Committees should be increased to five. (Para. 69)

It would be beneficial if DSCs or their Members were more involved in the work of the European Standing Committee covering their Department. (Para. 70)

The motion moved in the House on an EU document should always be that agreed by the European Standing Committee; if the Government does not wish to move it another Member should do so; and in such circumstances a brief explanatory statement by the mover and a Minister should be permitted. (Para. 73)

The Modernisation Committee should consider modifying the application of the deferred division rule to motions on EU documents. (Para. 75)

Provision should be made for us to refer EU documents for debate in Westminster Hall. (Para. 77)

Provision should be made for the European Scrutiny Committee and one or more DSCs to call meetings of a European Grand Committee, which could consider certain EU documents of wide interest, take pre-and post-Council statements by Ministers and hold general debates. (Para. 79)

The Modernisation Committee should consider the possibility of longer Floor debates on EU documents, incorporating questions to the Minister. (Para. 80)

Increased attention by DSCs to developments in the EU would be particularly valuable because of their high profile. We are well aware of the difficulties facing DSCs in this respect, especially their limited time. (Paras. 81, 84)

We would wish to see DSCs examining Commission Green and White Papers. (Para. 86)

The common objectives for select committees to be established by the Liaison Committee should include consideration of the European Commission's Green and White Papers. (Para. 87)

It would be helpful if DSCs (or at least those in subject areas with much EU legislation) considered appointing a European rapporteur, who could keep a watching brief on developments in the EU and whom we could consult and pass information to. (Para. 87)

We would welcome more debates on the Floor of the House on specific EU matters, such as reform of the Common Agricultural Policy or EU transport policy, which are not tied to the detail of a legislative or other text. (Para. 89)

We are attracted by the possibility of an equivalent of the ten-minute procedure for EU documents. (Para. 90)

 

(5) Relationship between the scrutiny process and outside organisations and individuals

Public involvement in and knowledge of the Commons' European Scrutiny work is crucial if the Commons is to play the part the Government envisages for national parliaments in the EU. The two preconditions for that are that the House must have sufficient influence on UK Ministers' EU activities to make lobbying it worthwhile and that people must be able to find out easily what EU matters are being considered in the Commons. (Paras. 93-4)

We regard publication of our Reports on a greatly improved web-site as the main way in which we should be disseminating them. In particular we believe people need to be able to indicate their interests and receive automatic notification when a document relating to a particular subject (or Department) appears on our list of forthcoming business or in one of our Reports. (Paras. 95-6)

 

Other aspects of scrutiny

The Government should relax the confidentiality provision in the concordat sufficiently to be able to indicate in EMs whether discussions have taken place with the devolved institutions and, as far as possible, on what subjects. (Para. 106)

 

We are discussing the possibility of regular meetings with MEPs, perhaps every six months, related where possible to specific EU activity, such as the Commission's Annual Work Programme or a Presidency's priorities, and possibly involving representatives of DSCs. (Para. 107)

The National Parliament Office contributes significantly to the effectiveness of the scrutiny process. (Para. 109)

We propose that certain categories of documents which we rarely or never find to be of legal or political importance should simply be listed periodically rather than deposited. We would expect to receive regular lists of such documents and to be kept informed by Ministers' letters on any broader issues or general developments or trends in respect of Association Councils and Committees and anti-dumping, and we would reserve the right to require the deposit of any of these documents if we considered this necessary. (Para. 111)

We support the Leader of the House's proposal for a Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee and for debates on statutory instruments it recommends for debate. (Para. 113)

 


 
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