Letter from the Chairman of the European
Scrutiny Committee (Mr Jimmy Hood MP), to the Secretary of State
at the Home Office (Mr David Blunkett MP)
JUSTICE AND HOME AFFAIRS COUNCIL: 28 /29
At its meeting today, the Committee considered
the two letters relating to this Council written by the then Minister
of State at the Home Office (Mrs Barbara Roche): one to the Leader
of the House, explaining the decision to override the parliamentary
scrutiny reserve on a number of proposals and texts; the other
to the Committee Chairman reporting the outcome of the two-day
meeting. A number of issues arise from these letters. We hope
that, by raising them with you at the start of the parliamentary
session, we can avoid having to address similar issues in the
future. We therefore ask that you, or a ministerial colleague,
attend our meeting on Wednesday 17 October at 10.45am so that
we can discuss the matters outlined below.
The Cabinet Office guidance on parliamentary
scrutiny of EU documents during a general election period states
that ministerial agreement to items that have yet to complete
scrutiny "should be infrequent". Taken together, the
then Minister's letters reveal that the Government overrode the
reserve on five documents which the previous Committee had not
cleared, and virtually did so (by announcing a short postponement
or reaching "provisional agreement") on nine others.
We are disturbed that so many uncleared documents were treated
in this way.
Of these documents, we have particular concerns
the Directive on mutual recognition
of decisions on the expulsion of third-country nationals
the Directive defining the facilitation
of unauthorised entry, movement and residence
the Council framework decision on
the strengthening of the penal framework to prevent the facilitation
of unauthorised entry and residence
the Directive supplementing the provisions
of Article 26 of the Convention implementing the Schengen Agreement
of 14 June 1985.
These all deal with sensitive and complex matters
on which the previous Committee (and its sister Committee in the
House of Lords) had raised a number of substantive questions which
were unanswered by the time that Parliament was dissolved. It
is disappointing that the previous Ministers were content to override
the scrutiny reserve on controversial documents of this kind.
(It is noteworthy that the European Parliament rejected the last
three in the list virtually unanimously.) We do not find the then
Minister's invocation of an "important legal consideration"
under Article 3 of the Protocol on the position of the United
Kingdom and Ireland at all persuasive as a justification.
In addition, we are disturbed that the agreements
between Europol and Interpol, Europol and Norway and Europol and
Iceland are shortly to be adopted, if they have not already been
so. The previous Committee had not cleared these documents because
the assessment of the Joint Supervisory Body on the adequacy of
data protection was not available. The then Minister makes no
reference to this aspect of the agreements in her letter, citing
merely the need for faster progress. In relation to these documents,
we ask for information about whether they have now been adopted,
and for copies of the JSB's opinions.
One reason for the fact that several of the
documents on the JHA Council agenda had not completed scrutiny
in the House of Commons is the delay the previous Committee experienced
in receiving answers to its questions. In relation to the Draft
Council Resolution on exchange of DNA analysis results ( agreed
as an "A" point at the Council), for example, the previous
Committee was still waiting for a reply from the then Minister
to questions raised on 7 February. Questions on the Europol agreements
and on the four documents listed above had been outstanding since
March. We understand that your Department used to have a target
of responding to questions within three weeks. We suggest that
it is essential for some such target to be re-established if you
are to avoid having to override the scrutiny reserve because your
officials have failed to prepare responses in a timely fashion.
Finally, we refer you to the use of the term
"provisional agreement" in the then Minister's letter
about the outcome of the Council. This confusing term appears
to have allowed Ministers to signal agreement to three complex
and substantial proposals while "maintaining" the scrutiny
reserve. We seek your assurance that you and your colleagues will
not use such vague terms in the future. If the nature of the agreement
reached in Council on an uncleared document is such that there
is no realistic possibility of provisions being renegotiated following
representations from the Committee, it would be more transparent
simply to state that the scrutiny reserve has been overridden.
We would, of course, expect such situations to be rare, and satisfactory
explanations to be provided.
I look forward to hearing from you on these
matters. I hope their resolution will form the basis for the smooth
operation of the scrutiny process in relation to JHA documents
during the new session.
I am copying this letter to Lord Brabazon and
Tom Mohan in the House of Lords, and to Les Saunders of the Cabinet
18 July 2001