Select Committee on European Scrutiny Thirtieth Report



APPENDIX

 

Letter from Martin O'Neill MP to the Chairman of the Committee

 

Thank you for your letter inviting my views on the European Scrutiny Committee's inquiry into democracy and accountability in the EU and the role of national parliaments.

As your Committee is aware, the Trade and Industry Select Committee in the last Parliament was willing to co-operate in providing its views, formally or informally, on proposed legislation on a number of occasions. We would be happy in principle to continue this co-operation, not only because it enhances the formal process of scrutiny but also because it helps to spread awareness in the Commons of what is happening in the European arena.

There have been numerous suggestions that the Departmentally-related Select Committees should be more involved in scrutinising European legislation. The difficulties of doing this are not widely understood outside Westminster, comprising basically the problem of synchronising a Committee's timetable to the sometimes capricious legislative timetable of the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament, and the fact that Select Committees greatly prize their power to choose their own programme of activity.

However, although the scope for scrutinising draft legislation is limited by the timetabling difficulties, there is scope for looking at proposals at an earlier stage. In recent years, the Commission has been far more open in its planning of legislation, publishing Green or White Papers on many major initiatives. It usually allows a reasonable period of two or three months for responses, and it appears to take the consultation process seriously. It would therefore be possible for Departmental Select Committees to scrutinise these documents, and it is arguable that, because the legislative proposals are more malleable at this stage than after the publication of a draft instrument, the Committee's views might have more effect than later in the process.

It would facilitate democratic accountability if consultation was more systematic (some DGs appear to be more open than others) and if the Commission published and abided by clear rules about the minimum length of consultation periods.

Committees also have scope for 'adding value' at the other end of the process, by examining the way in which UK Departments are proposing to implement European legislation — as the Trade and Industry Select Committee is doing at the moment with the End of Life Vehicles Directive.

In both cases, the scrutiny would play to the strengths of the Departmental Select Committees, would complement the work of the European Scrutiny Committee, and would give additional information to Members taking part in any debate on the legislation. It would also help to increase awareness of EU activities amongst the wider public, and would act as a channel for informing the EU institutions of UK public opinion.

The Committee also wishes to build on its contacts with the equivalent Committees in other Member and applicant states and in the European Parliament. This sort of informal contact, focussing on specific topics of mutual interest, is both less problematic and more useful than more formal links: less problematic in that it does not require any changes to current rights of access to institutions and it imposes no artificial meeting requirements, and more useful in that discussions are far more fruitful when the participants are really engaged in the topic.

25 October 2001

 


 
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