Select Committee on European Communities Report


B.  CASES WHERE EFFECTIVE SCRUTINY HAS NOT BEEN POSSIBLE

46.  WATER FRAMEWORK DIRECTIVE (12929/97)

Letter from Lord Tordoff, Chairman of the Committee, to Angela Eagle MP Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions

  Thank you very much for your explanatory memorandum on Document 12929/97 on the amended Proposal for a Council Directive establishing a Framework for Community action in the field of water policy.

  I notice that the text of the Document became available on 2 December 1997 and I am therefore puzzled as to why the explanatory memorandum from your Department was not available until 26 January 1998.I would be most grateful if you could provide the Committee with an explanation of the delay.

26 January 1998

Letter from Angela Eagle MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions, to Lord Tordoff, Chairman of the Committee

  Thank you for your letter of 26 January about the explanatory memorandum on Document 12929/97 on the amended Proposal for a Council Directive establishing a Framework for Community action in the field of water policy. You asked for an explanation of the delay between your receipt of the document and my submission of the explanatory memorandum.

  First let me say that I am sorry that any such delay occurred. The problem seems to have arisen due to a delay in the receipt of Commission documents and in the generation of the request for preparation of the EM within Government. In this case there was a serious delay in post arriving in my Department from Cabinet Office, which has been a persistent problem during December and January. Neither we nor Cabinet Office have been able to discover any explanation for these postal delays, but our Departments have been liaising on a daily basis since January to ensure that they do not result in business being overlooked.

  In this specific case the request for preparation of the EM was received by my officials with responsibility for the Directive on the last working day before the Christmas break so that in practice work began at the start of January. The Department sought to complete the EM as quickly as possible but, due to the potentially wide-ranging importance of the measures proposed, inter-Departmental discussion was necessary which added a few days to the process. The EM was signed on 20 January.

  We attach great importance to making sure that Parliament is kept fully informed of Commission proposals. As I indicated above, we are taking steps to make sure that there is no delay in communication within Government. However, these events have also been salutary in emphasising that, regardless of the formal procedures, departments should be ahead of the game so that any delays in communication which still occur do not have the effects that we have witnessed recently.

13 February 1999

Letter from Lord Tordoff, Chairman of the Committee, to Angela Eagle MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions

  Thank you for your letter of 13 February about the late receipt of the Explanatory Memorandum on document 12929/97. This does seem to have been a rather exceptional case and there is probably little more that needs to be said, at least on the matter of the delay, although I have noticed that your EM on document 6260/98 is dated one month after receipt of the Commission's document by UK REP. Once again advance warning would have been helpful!

  Sub-Committee C have now considered document 12929/97 and the earlier Supplementary EM on document 7531/97. They have cleared the former, but have decided to keep the latter under scrutiny, particularly in view of the recent arrival of your EM of 20 March on the Commission's further amendment (document 6260/98), so that they can give proper consideration to the draft Directive in its consolidated amended form and review the conclusions of the Community Water Policy Report of last November in the light of the amendments.

  I have to say that we find it somewhat unsatisfactory that the Scrutiny Committees have had to consider two sets of amendments to the draft Framework Directive emerging piecemeal without any clear advance indication from the Department that they were in the pipeline. To take document 12929/97 (which has significant implications for the scope of the Directive in relation to marine waters), the Department must surely have known that the Commission was contemplating amendments along these lines well in advance of their formal transmission to the Council on 26 November—little more than a week after the Select Committee approved the Report. It may be that the Commission's thinking was not sufficiently firm at the time your officials gave evidence to Sub-Committee C on 2 July; but after the summer recess, while the Sub-Committee was engaged on the final stages of drafting the Report, it would have been a courtesy to let us know of possible changes in order to give the Sub-Committee the opportunity to consider whether to put the Report on hold until the position was clarified.

  No doubt it was the fluid state of the proposals which led to the delay in the response to the Community Water Policy Report, now two months overdue. We note the comment in the latest EM that the Government will be replying "shortly", and are of course pleased to note that, at first sight, the latest amendments go a considerable way in meeting the concerns expressed in the Report about water "status". It would greatly assist the process of scrutiny of documents 12929/97 and 6260/98 if the response could deal comprehensively with the Committee's conclusions in the light of subsequent developments. It would also be helpful if pressure could be put on the Commission to produce a consolidated text. Once this, and the Government's response, have been received, the Sub-Committee will give further consideraiton to the documents.

27 March 1999


 
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