Select Committee on European Scrutiny Thirtieth Report



PART 3: STRENGTHENING THE SCRUTINY SYSTEM

 

(1) Meetings in public

  1. We have considered whether we should meet in public when deliberating. This would be a radical step for the Commons, though the Scottish Parliament's European Committee already meets in public when deliberating. It would require a change in standing orders, since these currently allow select committees to admit members of the public only during the examination of witnesses.[23] Select committees have not hitherto met in public when deliberating because there would be little benefit in doing so and potentially much harm: their evidence is almost always taken in public, and the main purpose of their private meetings is to agree Reports which are subsequently published; admitting the public at that stage might make agreement harder and would certainly distract attention from the agreed Report. To some extent the same considerations apply to us: we too publish Reports in which we explain how we reached our conclusions. The difference in our case is that we are also making decisions about which documents should be debated, and it could therefore be argued that the public should be able to see more of the process by which those decisions are reached.
  2. The advantages of meeting in public when deliberating would be the greater visibility of the scrutiny process (assuming that it continued to attract attention once the novelty had worn off) and the symbolism of allowing public access in a new way. However, there would be a number of disadvantages:

  • Only about a quarter or a third of the documents we consider are discussed in Committee. If each document was discussed even for five minutes every weekly meeting would last more than three hours, and in practice no-one is likely to disagree that (taking examples from our 20th Report of this Session) major proposals on food hygiene should be debated and anti-dumping duties on ferro molybdenum from China should not be.[24] Those attending might therefore learn little that is not available from our published Reports.

  • Most of the proceedings would be meaningless to the public unless they received the written briefing, which would sometimes in consequence be less frank and less informative.

  • The whole exercise would be counter-productive unless the public understood what our role was, and in particular that clearance of a document does not imply approval of it.

  1. These are not necessarily reasons for rejecting the idea of deliberating in public, but they suggest that the value of doing so would be limited. 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.
  2.  

    (2) The operation of the scrutiny system

  3. The requirements of a scrutiny system in a national parliament are, in principle, simple: availability of relevant information, time to consider it before decisions are taken, a way of expressing views so that those making the decision can take them into account, and reporting back by those decision-makers so that they can be held to account.
  4. Considerable progress has been made over the years in ensuring that those requirements are met, but problems remain. In part, these result from the ways in which the EU itself operates: Council agendas are unpredictable, documents are often available only shortly before a decision is to be taken (especially when they result from last-minute negotiation), and the Council is too often willing to take items at short notice. The protocol to the Treaty of Amsterdam providing for a six-week period between a proposal being made available in all EU languages to the European Parliament and the Council and its being placed on a Council agenda for decision affects only the first stage in agreeing a proposal.[25] We often have to consider proposals without an official text. Furthermore, the UK is sometimes under pressure in Council to agree to a measure before it has cleared parliamentary scrutiny, and the more qualified majority voting there is the more often that pressure is likely to be effective. We will discuss these matters in our Report on Democracy and accountability in the EU and the role of national parliaments. However, not all the difficulties we encounter are attributable to the EU.
  5.  

     

    Delays in providing documents and information

  6. The great majority of EU documents and EMs on them reach us in time for scrutiny before decisions are made. We attribute this to the appointment in most Departments of a scrutiny co-ordinator,[26] and we would like to pay tribute to the scrutiny co-ordinators and others in Departments who have helped to bring about this situation. Some of the problems listed at great length by our predecessors in 1998, such as letters delayed through being sent to the wrong address or by second-class post,[27] are far rarer now. However, there continue to be cases where:

  • deposit of a document is delayed;[28]
  • submission of an EM is delayed;[29] or
  • information requested by us is delayed.[30]

In some cases these delays result in the scrutiny reserve being overriden. There are also cases where EMs are inadequate.[31]

  1. Delays in the depositing of documents appear to result largely (though not always)[32] from problems in Brussels rather than the UK. The time between a document originating and being deposited in Parliament is frequently more than a month and often two months or more,[33] though there are of course reasons why some time is needed, particularly for translation. We welcome the Cabinet Office's undertaking that it will press for the electronic transmission of documents,[34] which has been long awaited.[35]
  2. In a small minority of cases, delays in providing EMs hold up scrutiny for a considerable time. On two recent occasions the reason was that two Departments were arguing over whose responsibility it was[36] — behaviour which we regard as completely unacceptable; we look to the Cabinet Office to resolve such disputes at an early stage. Other reasons have included staff shortages,[37] which is also unacceptable.
  3. Late provision of information we have requested is another problem. Relatively straightforward information occasionally takes months to arrive, and on several recent occasions the scrutiny reserve resolution was overridden on a document which we had been unable to clear for that reason.[38] There are, of course, sometimes good reasons for delaying a reply, since this may depend on progress in negotiations, which may be stalled for years at a time. We have therefore, with the co-operation of the Cabinet Office and other Departments, initiated recently a system whereby Departments explain each month in respect of each outstanding request for information why that information has not yet been provided; the explanation is then included in the Committee's list of business remaining to be dealt with. We believe this will enable both Departments and us to monitor the situation more effectively.
  4. A more worrying problem, since it is far harder to monitor, is failure by Departments to deposit documents covered by our standing order and therefore which we ought to scrutinise. We do not believe this is common, but we do occasionally have to request that documents be deposited — for example a recent Commission Communication on agricultural issues relating to enlargement.[39] The only remedies here are continuing vigilance by us and by Departments and observance by Departments of the Cabinet Office guidance on what should be deposited.
  5. In numerous cases we have to carry out scrutiny on the basis of an unofficial text or an indication by a Department of what the text is expected to contain. This is sometimes unsatisfactory, but the way the EU operates currently makes it inevitable, and we are grateful to Departments for foreseeing problems over timescales and sending us EMs which enable us to comment before decisions are made.
  6. We understand that the Commission has recently agreed to deliver updated texts of proposals at an earlier stage to MEPs.[40] We look to the Government to ensure that this also results in the UK Parliament receiving, earlier, copies of revised texts.
  7.  

    Scrutiny reserve overrides

  8. There are several causes of breaches of the scrutiny reserve for 'special reasons':

  • last-minute negotiation;

  • the unpredictability of Council business, sometimes because of bad organisation of Council business, a wish to finalise a deal before it has a chance to unravel or a desire by the six-monthly Presidency to take credit for an agreement;

  • failure by UK Departments to take action quickly enough to ensure scrutiny clearance;

  • failure of Ministers to take the scrutiny reserve seriously.

  1. Sometimes a Minister argues that a scrutiny reserve override was in the UK's interests, because a proposal supported by the UK might otherwise have fallen, or agreement was being requested to a compromise sought by the UK;[41] also, with qualified majority voting, withholding the UK's agreement would not necessarily prevent other Member States proceeding.[42]
  2. However, in some cases we are not persuaded that a scrutiny breach was justifiable. We are particularly unsympathetic when the reason we have not cleared a document in time is that the Department has not provided information requested by us.[43] Also, we are sometimes sceptical about claims that the proposed legislation is needed urgently, as in the case of cosmetic products and animal testing.[44] On three recent occasions we have asked a Minister to appear before us following breaches of the scrutiny reserve resolution: a Home Office Minister following a number of breaches during 2001 (many resulting from failure to provide information requested), and two Trade and Industry Ministers — one following a breach in respect of a document we had recommended for debate with a specific observation that the Minister should not agree to it until the debate had taken place.[45] We give notice here that we will normally call a Minister to give evidence when we believe the scrutiny reserve resolution has been overridden without good cause.
  3. The Commission to Strengthen Parliament (under Lord Norton's chairmanship) suggested in 2000 that the scrutiny reserve should be incorporated in statute, and Martin Howe QC expressed a similar view to us.[46] Lord Norton told us that it would then be enforced through the courts, though he thought this would probably be unnecessary because Departments would not wish to be seen to be breaking the law.[47] The proposal is attractive as a way of giving greater force to the scrutiny reserve resolution, but we believe its inflexibility could act against the UK's interests, at least while there continues to be pressure in the Council to agree proposals without time for scrutiny. We would not wish the Courts to be involved in examining scrutiny reserve breaches and assessing Ministers' reasons for such breaches. It would of course be possible to devise a statutory system whereby this Committee (or if necessary its Chairman) could authorise such breaches when the reasons for them were compelling. However, while a statutory scrutiny reserve could prevent a UK Minister participating in a Council decision, qualified majority voting means that it would not necessarily prevent a decision being taken. Consequently, we do not favour a statutory scrutiny reserve, and we think it more important to concentrate on how the Council operates and how national scrutiny reserves are treated in the Council.
  4. We therefore envisage three ways of reducing the number of breaches of the scrutiny reserve resolution:

  • raising the status of national parliamentary scrutiny reserves in the Council and ensuring more time for scrutiny before decisions are taken there, as we will discuss elsewhere;[48]

  • reducing delays in the provision of documents and other information to us; and

  • holding Ministers to account by means of oral evidence when they agree to measures before clearance without reasonable justification.

  1. There is a particular risk of scrutiny reserve overrides in respect of legislative proposals subject to the 'co-decision' procedure, in which legislation passes through both the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament at the same time. We shall be making separate proposals on this in due course.
  2. We welcome the Cabinet Office European Secretariat's plan for 'a system for guiding potential problem documents through the scrutiny process under our close supervision'.[49]
  3.  

     

    The Commission's Annual Work Programme

  4. Examination of the Commission's Annual Work Programme offers an opportunity to consider possible legislative proposals at a much earlier stage, and perhaps also to influence the Commission's plans. The Programme, hitherto simply a list of measures without explanation, is undergoing reform, and much thought is being given in the EP and elsewhere to how it should be scrutinised.[50] We note that our Lords counterparts have recently taken evidence on the subject from the Commission and others.[51] We intend to make scrutiny of the Commission's Annual Work Programme an important part of our own programme. Other aspects of the Commission's work could be examined on an annual basis too. Also we are considering elsewhere what role national parliaments in general might have in respect of the Work Programme,[52] including a possible role in ensuring that measures are taken at EU level only when action at that level would be more effective than at national level.
  5.  

    Fridges

  6. Significant problems have arisen as regards the putting into effect of the EU Regulation on ozone-depleting substances, giving rise to the so-called 'fridge mountain'. We cleared that document on the basis of information received from the Government, including a Regulatory Impact Assessment and answers to our specific questions.[53] The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee is currently inquiring into the disposal of fridges, and we look forward to examining its Report to see whether there are lessons to be learnt as regards the scrutiny system.
  7.  

    (3) Pre- and post-Council scrutiny

  8. In 1996 our predecessors put forward the idea of weekly evidence sessions on Council meetings, examining what was planned for forthcoming Councils as well as the outcome of Councils. However, they delayed further consideration while awaiting the Procedure Committee's view on the option of dedicated statement days in European Standing Committees.[54] The Procedure Committee welcomed the proposals as a way of improving scrutiny and as performing 'an important symbolic role in raising the profile of the House's engagement in European business'. While it supported the idea of statements in European Standing Committees, it also pointed out practical difficulties and considered that such occasions should be 'rare'.[55] In 1998 our predecessors announced that they intended to operate a system of pre- and post-Council scrutiny 'on a limited and experimental basis'; they no longer favoured statement days in European Standing Committees, because these 'would pose problems of timing, and of summoning Committees quickly enough to avoid the proceedings being stale'; also, attendance might be poor.[56] The Modernisation Committee agreed that the European Scrutiny Committee should indeed, on an experimental basis, conduct pre- and post-Council scrutiny.[57]
  9. Useful changes were made in 1998 in the provision of written material, especially Council agendas and written parliamentary answers on the outcomes of meetings, but systematic pre- and post-Council scrutiny has remained an aspiration. There are clear difficulties in establishing a systematic approach:

  • the number of Council meetings (eight to ten a month) and therefore the time that would be required if all were to be covered, even if evidence sessions were confined either to pre-Council or post-Council scrutiny;

  • late finalisation of agendas, making it difficult to select important Councils in advance — the Council's rules require provisional agendas to be distributed 14 days before each meeting, but these are often amended at least once, and (at least for the Justice and Home Affairs Council) the list of 'A points' (for agreement without discussion) is often not available until the day before the meeting;[58]

  • the difficulty of securing the attendance of Ministers for a convenient time;

  • the risk of usurping the role of DSCs.

  1. In practice, we have continued to receive written answers on each Council meeting, but oral evidence has been largely confined to sessions following European Councils. These are of course the Councils for which scrutiny is generally greatest (in addition to our evidence, pre-Council sessions in the Foreign Affairs Committee, post-Council statements by the Prime Minister in the House, and post-Council sessions in the Lords committee). Reform of the Council could soon make scrutiny easier, or at least change what needs to be done, especially if the Council begins to meet in public when legislating. The creation of a Council formation with an effective co-ordinating role within the Council (unlike the present General Affairs Council) might also be helpful.[59]
  2. In the meantime, we have concentrated on improving the quality and usefulness of the written answers we receive on Council meetings. In particular, rather than simply asking about the outcome, we now ask what the Government's stance was on the issues discussed, including its voting record (though votes are rare). While we value a concise statement of the outcome, we emphasise that we expect Departments to tell us what role the UK played in Council meetings, so that the information adds to what is available in Council press releases.
  3.  

    (4) Debates

  4. As already indicated,[60] we regard the dialogue between ourselves and Ministers, and the effect of our Reports and the debates we recommend on Ministers and their Departments, as among the most important aspects of the scrutiny system. However, the scrutiny system would be more effective if its output (especially the Reports and debates) attracted greater attention, both inside and outside the House. Therefore in this section and the next we examine the ways in which the House debates important documents and other aspects of the EU and how greater media and public attention might be attracted.
  5. The underlying problem is that much (though not all) of the material to be dealt with is necessarily complex and unexciting, and Members in general and the media therefore do not regard it as a priority. Types of committee and the format of committee meetings can have only a limited influence on this problem, though it may well be possible to improve them, especially for those documents and proceedings which have wider interest. Also, as regards Members, we believe that many are unaware of their right to attend European Standing Committees, ask questions and move amendments.
  6. We seek answers to three main questions here:

  • what would encourage Members to attend and the media to cover proceedings on EU matters?

  • can the current European Standing Committee system be improved?

  • should there be other types of committee (and if so, for what categories of business and with what sort of membership) and other types of debate?

We are aware that this is well-trodden ground, but it is a long time since significant changes were made to the ways in which EU documents are debated. We believe that, as in other areas of the House's work, there is scope for introducing new procedures 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, as discussed below.[61]

 

European Standing Committees

  1. The procedures for European Standing Committees are in principle good ones, combining questions and debate, having a substantive and amendable motion and permitting any Member to attend. In practice attendance both of permanent Members and other Members is poor (especially as the figures for other Members always include a Minister and an Opposition spokesman) (Table 1), and there is little or no media or public attention, even for subjects which might be expected to be of some general interest. Sometimes it would be unrealistic to expect larger attendance for an important but technical subject, but we do not believe European Standing Committees have yet reached their full potential.
  2.  

    Table 1. Attendance at European Standing Committees

     

     

     

     

      1998-99

      1999-2000

      2000-01

      2001-02 (to

      15 May)

    No. of meetings

      15

      14

      14

      21

    Average attendance by Members appointed to each Committee (Chairmen excluded)

      9

      8

      7

      7

    Average attendance by other Members

      5

      6

      6

      5

    No. of other Members attending once or more

      44

      64

      59

      61

     

     

  3. The role of European Standing Committees, combining scrutiny (through questions) and debate, falls somewhere between that of a select committee and a normal standing committee, and we believe that in certain ways the balance in terms of procedure needs to shift towards that of select committees, with their less formal character and empasis on holding the executive to account. In particular:
      1. While European Standing Committees have the advantage that notice of questions is not required, Members are allowed to ask only one question at a time, without supplementaries. It is often possible for a Member to ask a follow-up question later, but this is a poor substitute for being able to pursue a question through supplementaries, as in a select committee. This is a matter of established practice rather than being specified in standing orders. We believe the style of questioning in European Standing Committees should be like that in select committees, with supplementaries permitted, and we ask the Chairman's Panel to consider making this change.
      2. Members attending European Standing Committees receive a considerable amount of paper, including our Reports, the EM and the EU document, but not necessarily anything from outside bodies (whether interested parties, expert bodies or pressure groups). Such bodies can of course send material to the permanent members, but not to other Members who might be planning to attend. We believe it would contribute to the quality of debate if means were established for making such material generally available, and plan to investigate ways of achieving this through the Committee's web-site.

  4. At present the entire range of government responsibilities is divided between just three European Standing Committees. Until 1998 there were only two, and the Procedure Committee observed in 1997 that 'Attending 15 meetings a year on an indigestible range of unconnected subjects is a rather less stimulating prospect than half a dozen meetings on a more limited range of issues'.[62] The increase from two to three was welcome, but did not really resolve that problem. For example, in the present session, European Standing Committee A has considered the Common Fisheries Policy, fishing quotas, the Sixth Environmental Action Programme, European transport policy and aircraft noise. European Standing Committee B has considered the Barcelona Process and assistance to Palestinian society, the Broad Economic Policy Guidelines, the EC Draft Budget, the European Arrest Warrant, the fight against fraud, the Equal Treatment Directive, and EU enlargement. More European Standing Committees might mean more Members serving on such committees unwillingly, but on the other hand each could have fewer members, they would sit less often and they could be more specialised. We note the Modernisation Committee's view that about fifty more Members are available to play a part in committee scrutiny.[63] The coverage of five European Standing Committees could be as in Table 2. We recommend that the number of European Standing Committees be increased to five.
  5.  

    Table 2. Departments which could be covered by five European Standing Committees

     

      Committee

      Department

        No. of debates in

      1999-

      2000

      2000-01

      2001-02

    (as recommended up to 1 May 2002)

      A

    DEFRA; Health

      4

      4

      11

      B

    DTLR

      0

      1

      5

      C

    DTI; Education and Skills; DCMS

      5

      5

      3

      D

    Home Office; Lord Chancellor's; FCO; DFID; Departments not otherwise covered

      2

      3

      6

      E

    HM Treasury; Work and Pensions

      3

      1

      5

    Note: Debates are assigned here to the Departments which now have responsibility for the subject areas.

     

  6. We also believe it would be beneficial if DSCs or their members were more involved in the work of the European Standing Committee covering their Department, though (as discussed below) we recognise the demands on their time. There are already good examples of DSC involvement. For example, in March 2001 members of the Trade and Industry Committee moved an amendment to a motion in European Standing Committee C on the block exemption for cars, and the amendment was carried.[64] Such involvement could be promoted in a number of ways:

  • An increase in the number of European Standing Committees so that each is more specialised, as recommended above;
  • More overlap between European Standing Committee and DSC membership;
  • A system of EU rapporteurs on DSCs, which we consider below;[65]
  • Greater care by the whips to avoid clashes between European Standing Committee meetings and meetings or visits of the relevant DSC.[66]

  1. At present the motion passed by the Committee has no practical effect: whether passed or not it does not clear the document from scrutiny (only a motion in the House can do that) and if the motion is amended and the Government dislikes the amended motion it can move a different motion in the House. It casts doubt on the value of serving on European Standing Committees if their decisions can simply be ignored, and undermines the credibility of the process. Here we are repeating the view of the Procedure Committee in 1991 that it makes 'a mockery of the scrutiny process and constitutes a waste of the Standing Committee's time and effort',[67] to which the Government's response was that 'the Motion on the Floor should stand in the name of the Government, in a form with which it can agree'.[68]
  2. There are two alternative ways in which the Committees' motions could be given greater importance:

  • by providing that the motion moved in the House must be the one agreed by the Committee, so that if the Government was unwilling to move it another Member would do so, possibly with some time allowed for debate;

  • by providing that if the Government moved a motion different from that agreed by the Committee (or if the Committee had not agreed a motion), a certain length of time would be allowed for debate in the House.

An analogy can be drawn with draft Regulatory Reform Orders, proceedings on which in the House are without debate if the Deregulation and Regulatory Reform Committee recommended approval without a division, but which include debate if the Committee recommended approval on a division or recommended that the Order be not approved.[69]

  1. The Procedure Committee in 1997 recommended the first of the two alternatives above, with an hour allowed for debate.[70] Our predecessors agreed in 1998.[71] However, in the absence of any view expressed by the Government, the Modernisation Committee in 1998 considered it 'clear that the present Government, like the previous Government, is unlikely to view such proposals with favour', and that reiterating it was 'unlikely to lead to constructive dialogue'.[72] We consider that, in the light of the Government's desire to improve the ways in which the House deals with European business, the issue should be reopened. We see no reason why the motion should necessarily be one the Government agrees with, since it has the option of moving an amendment. We prefer the first of the alternatives in paragraph 72 above, but would be happy with either. In either case, a brief explanatory statement[73] from a Minister and from another Member (who would usually have been the mover of the amendment in Committee) would be sufficient. We emphasise that occasions when this procedure was invoked would almost certainly be rare. We recommend that the motion moved in the House on an EU document should always be that agreed by the European Standing Committee, that if the Government does not wish to move it another Member should do so, and that in such circumstances a brief explanatory statement by the mover and a Minister should be permitted.
  2. In general the debates we recommend are held reasonably promptly, and there are sometimes good reasons for allowing a longer period to elapse before a debate. However, there are occasionally very long delays. For example, a debate we recommended on the Barcelona Process and assistance to Palestinian society on 28 February 2001 took place only on 28 January 2002, and we are still awaiting a debate recommended on 17 October 2001 on the EU Action Plan on Drugs.[74] We will keep this matter under review.
  3. One recent change in procedure has complicated the timing of European Standing Committee meetings. As a result of deferred divisions,[75] if a European Standing Committee meets and reports on a Tuesday, a motion can be put to the House on Wednesday, but the division may then be deferred until the following Wednesday. Given the speed necessary in dealing with EU legislation, the impact of such a long delay on the time available for a debate is unacceptable. Under the relevant temporary standing order, an individual item of business to which the deferred division procedure applies can be excluded from it only by a Minister moving a motion to that effect, and there could therefore be two divisions, which would significantly extend the length of the House's sitting. We recommend that the Modernisation Committee consider modifying the application of the deferred division rule to motions on EU documents.
  4.  

    Other types of debate on EU documents

  5. At present the only alternative to a debate in a European Standing Committee is one on the Floor of the House. When we recommend a debate on the Floor the Government does not always find time for it to take place there (Table 3). However, we are sometimes deterred from recommending a Floor debate at all by the fact that such debates, while having far greater prominence, last for only an hour and a half and there is no provision for questioning the Minister. We have therefore considered alternative arrangements for debating the more important EU documents.
  6.  

    Table 3. Debates recommended on the Floor of the House

     

     

      Session in which

      recommended

      Subject

      Where held

    2001-02

    Single European Sky

    Not yet debated

    European Arrest Warrant

    European Standing Committee

    2000-01

    Establishment of permanent ESDP bodies

    Floor

    General principles and requirements of food law

    Floor

    1999-2000

    Fisheries: total allowable catches and quotas 2000

    Floor

    Agricultural price proposals 2000-01

    Floor

    White Paper on environmental liability

    European Standing Committee

     

  7. One possibility is for us to be able to refer documents for debate in Westminster Hall. The advantages would be the greater prominence compared with a European Standing Committee and the greater time compared with the Floor of the House. Debates could take place during a three-hour sitting on Thursday afternoon, and the time could be divided, as in a European Standing Committee, between questions and debate. We would envisage using this opportunity sparingly, and under the temporary standing order relating to Westminster Hall it would be for the Chairman of Ways and Means to decide how often time there should be used in this way. If the motion was agreed to, the document would be cleared from scrutiny; if there was objection the motion would instead be moved without debate in the House.[76] It would need to be considered whether paragraph (10) of the temporary standing order (enabling six Members to prevent business from being taken in Westminster Hall) should apply. We recommend that provision be made for us to refer EU documents for debate in Westminster Hall.
  8. We have also considered more radical innovations. We plan soon to hold the first of a series of occasional meetings designed to enable the UK's parliamentary representatives on the Convention on the Future of Europe to report back to Members and Peers and for Members and Peers to express views to them. The intention is for a committee to be established which includes the members of this Committee and the Foreign Affairs Committee but which any Member of either House may attend. This could form a precedent for a new sort of committee, which would be convened jointly by us and one or more DSCs, could be attended by any other Member of this House, and could call and question witnesses in addition to the Minister. It could be called the European Grand Committee, though it would not necessarily be large and it would differ from the existing Grand Committees through its business being determined by the committees involved rather than by government motions in the House. The timing of meetings would be agreed between the committees and the Government.
  9. There would be no inherent advantage in using such a committee to take evidence on a document: we can already take evidence jointly with a DSC, and have done so,[77] but, as the Liaison Committee has recently emphasised, the larger the number of Members the more the ability of each member to play a full part is weakened.[78] The format would not necessarily be an advantage for debating documents, since any Member can already attend the committees which do this. However, it might be appropriate for documents of wide scope and considerable political interest, such as the recent White Paper on European Transport or the Commission's Annual Work Programme. In such cases the committee would debate a government motion, as in a European Standing Committee. A 'European Grand Committee' might also take other matters:

  • Pre and post-Council statements by Ministers. The advantage over ourselves or a DSC doing this alone would be the somewhat more prominent forum and the fact that a reasonable number of Members could be assembled without the whole of each Committee feeling obliged to attend. It might be appropriate for the Prime Minister to give evidence to such a committee before each European Council meeting.

  • General debates. These would not supersede the general EU debates on the Floor of the House but would instead be on areas where there is currently much EU activity (e.g. asylum and immigration) or which are of major political interest (e.g. the EU's role in globalisation) without being linked to specific documents; in other words they would be primarily political debates rather than debates on texts.

We recommend that provision be made for the European Scrutiny Committee and one or more DSCs to call meetings of a European Grand Committee.

  1. Changes in respect of Floor debates on EU documents might also be worthwhile. With the additional options recommended above they would probably be even fewer than at present, and they could therefore be made slightly longer (two or two and a half hours) and include time for questions to the Minister. We recommend that the Modernisation Committee consider the possibility of longer Floor debates on EU documents incorporating questions to the Minister.

 


23   Standing order No. 125. Back

24   ESC, 2001-02, HC 152-xx, paragraphs 2 and 23. Back

25   Treaty of Amsterdam 1997, Protocol on the role of national parliaments in the European Union (Cm 3780, pp. 89-90). Back

26   Including the overall co-ordination by the Cabinet Office European Secretariat. Back

27   HC 791, 1997-98, Annex G. Back

28   e.g. ESC, 1999-2000, HC 23-iv, paragraph 7; HC 23-vi, paragraphs 4 and 14; HC 23-viii, paragraph 17; HC 23-xiii, paragraph 12; HC 23-xix, paragraph 4; HC 23-xxii, paragraph 9; 2000-01, HC 28-iv, paragraph 2; HC 28-viii, paragraph 19; 2001-02, HC 152-iii, paragraph 6; HC 152-xii, paragraph 10; HC 152-xix, paragraph 14. Back

29   e.g. ESC, 1999-2000, HC 23-i, paragraph 5; HC 23-xi, paragraph 8; HC 23-xxvii, paragraphs 15 and 18; 2000-01, HC 28-v, paragraph 7; 2001-02, HC 152-iii, paragraph 8; HC 152-iv, paragraph 11; HC 152-vi, paragraph 7; HC 152-x, paragraphs 7 and 8; HC 152-xi, paragraph 3; HC 152-xv, paragraphs 4 and 6; HC 152-xx, paragraph 14. Back

30   e.g. ESC, 1999-2000, HC 23-ii, paragraph 6; HC 23-iv, paragraph 3; HC 23-vi, paragraphs 5 and 7; 2000-01, HC 28-ii, paragraph 8; HC 28-vii, paragraph 5; 2001-02, HC 152-i, paragraphs 23, 26, 29, 32 and 33; HC 152-ii, paragraphs 2 and 11; HC 152-vii, paragraph 14; HC 152-xii, paragraph 14; HC 152-xiv, paragraph 2; HC 152-xix, paragraph 15. Back

31   e.g. ESC, 1999-2000, HC 23-xvi, paragraph 2; 2001-02, HC 152-xxvii, paragraph 6. Back

32   ESC, 1999-2000, HC 23-iv, paragraph 7. Back

33   e.g. in our first five weekly Reports of the current Session, in 33 cases more than a month, and in 12 of those cases longer than two months (HC 152-i to iv and vi). Back

34   Q. 423. Back

35   HC 791, 1997-98, p. lx. Back

36   ESC, 2001-02, HC 152-vi, paragraph 7; HC 152-x, paragraph 8; HC 152-xi, paragraphs 7 and 8. Back

37   ESC, 2001-02, HC 152-xi, paragraph 6. Back

38   ESC, 2000-01, HC 28-ii, paragraph 8; HC 2001-02, HC 152-i, paragraphs 23, 26 and 32; HC 152-ii, paragraph 11. Back

39   ESC, 2001-02, HC 152-xx, paragraph 5.21. See also ESC, 1999-2000, HC 23-xiii, paragraph 3.30. Back

40   Q. 471. Back

41   ESC, 1999-2000, HC 23-xv, paragraph 6; HC 23-xxix, paragraph 22; 2000-01, HC 28-i, paragraph 16; HC 28-vii, paragraph 2; 2001-02, HC 152-ii, paragraph 9. Back

42   See ESC, 2001-02, HC 325, Q. 28 for the effect of UK opt-outs in justice and home affairs matters. Back

43   e.g. ESC, 2000-01, HC 28-ii, paragraph 8; 2001-02, HC 152-ii, paragraph 11; HC 152-xii, paragraph 6. Back

44   ESC, 2001-02, HC 152-xvi, paragraph 20. Back

45   See ESC, 2001-02, HC 325; ESC, 2001-02, HC 152-xvi; evidence taken by ESC on 15 May 2002 (not yet published; uncorrected version available on the Internet). Back

46   Commission to Strengthen Parliament, Strengthening Parliament, 2000, p.45: Ev 149; QQ. 453-6. Back

47   Q. 50. Back

48   In our Report on Democracy and accountability in the EU and the role of national parliaments. Back

49   Letter from Sir Stephen Wall to the Chairman of the Committee, 28 March 2002. Back

50   Draft report to the European Parliament's Constitutional Affairs Committee by Cecilia Malmström, on the European Commission's legislative and work programme, 8 February 2002. Back

51   Not yet published. Back

52   In our forthcoming Report on Democracy and accountability in the EU and the role of national parliamentsBack

53   Thirty-eighth Report from the Select Committee on European Legislation, 1997-98, HC 155-xxxviii, paragraph 8; ESC, 1998-99, HC 34-iv, paragraph 8. Back

54   HC 51-xxvii, 1995-96, paragraphs 267-70. Back

55   HC 77, 1996-97, paragraphs 76-7. Back

56   HC 791, 1997-98, pp. xxiii-xxiv. Back

57   Ibid., paragraph 16. Back

58   Official Report, 15 January 2002, c. 134W. Back

59   See our forthcoming Report on Democracy and accountability in the EU and the role of national parliaments. Back

60   Paragraphs 12 and 21 above. Back

61   Paragraphs 80 and 88-90. Back

62   HC 77, 1996-97, paragraph 33. Back

63   First Report from the Select Committee on Modernisation of the House of Commons, 2001-02, HC 224, Select committees, paragraph 47. Back

64   Official Report, European Standing Committee C, 7 March 2001, cc. 18-19, 26. For the moving of an amendment tabled by members of the Transport, Local Government and the Regions Committee, see Official Report, European Standing Committee A, 13 March 2002, c.17. Back

65   Paragraph 87 below. Back

66   e.g. the meeting of European Standing Committee A on 13 March on the White Paper on European Transport took place when the Transport Sub-Committee was away on a visit. Back

67   Quoted in HC 51, 1995-96, paragraph 198. Back

68   Quoted in HC 140, 1996-97, paragraph 12. Back

69   Standing order No. 18  Back

70   HC 77, 1996-97, paragraph 22-3. Back

71   HC 791, 1997-98, pp. xxvi-xxvii. Back

72   Ibid., paragraph 29. Back

73   cf. Standing order Nos. 23(1), 63 (3). Back

74   ESC, 2000-01, HC 28-vii, paragraphs 1, 4; Official Report, European Standing Committee B, 23 January 2002; ESC, 2001-02, HC 152-ii, paragraph 4. Back

75   See HC 275, 2001-02, Standing orders of the House of Commons, pp. 155-6. Back

76   No divisions can take place in Westminster Hall. Back

77   See ESC, 2000-01, HC 93, Minutes of Evidence of 20 December 2000 relating to market access for least-developed countries and the sugar regime. Back

78   Second Report from the Liaison Committee, 2001-02, HC 692, Select committees: modernisation proposals, paragraph 35. Back

 
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