Select Committee on European Communities Report


54.  PROPOSAL FOR A COUNCIL DECISION AND A COMMISSION COMMUNICATION ON THE SAFE USE OF THE INTERNET (13012/97)

Letter from Lord Tordoff, Chairman of the Committee, to Barbara Roche MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Small Firms, Trade and Industry, Department of Trade and Industry

  Sub-Committee F considered this document at their meeting on 4 March and have asked me to write to you about it. The Sub-Committee noted that this proposal rests on Article 130(3) of the EC Treaty; but that the objectives of the proposal do not appear to conform to the objectives of the Article.

  The Sub-Committee wishes to know whether your are satisfied with Article 130(3) as the legal base of this proposal. If so, they would be glad of a detailed explanation as to why you are so satisfied.

  The Sub-Committee has agreed to retain the document under scrutiny until your views on this subject are known.

11 March 1998

Letter from Mrs Barbara Roche, MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Small Firms, Trade and Industry to Lord Tordoff, Chairman of the Committee

  The proposal for a Council Decision adopting a multiannual Community action plan on promoting safe use of the Internet was the subject of explanatory memorandum 13012/97, submitted by the Department of Trade and Industry on 9 February 1998. Your Committee referred it to Sub-Committee F (Progress of Scrutiny, 27 February 1998, Session 97-98), who considered it on 4 March, and did not clear it. The House of Commons Select Committee on European Legislation considered it to be legally and politically important, and did not clear it (Report No 16, Session 97-98).

  In your letter to me of 11 March, you ask for further information the Commission's proposed legal base. I am now in a position to provide you with this information.

  The Commission's proposal made use of Article 130 as the legal base. This Article provides for actions aimed at ensuring that the conditions necessary for the competitiveness of the Community's industry exist.

  The Council working group asked the Council legal service for an opinion on whether Article 130 was an appropriate legal base for this Decision. The legal service has advised that Article 129a, which provides for actions aimed at the attainment of a high level of consumer protection, should be used instead, and that this change reflects the text of the Decision as it now stands, following discussion in the Council working group. (This would, of course, mean a change from the consultation procedure and unanimity, to co-decision with the European Parliament and qualified majority voting). In the light of the Council Legal Service's opinion, the Government is now happy with the proposed new legal base.

  I am also able to inform you about the progress of negotiations. The main changes made to the original proposal by the Council working group are:

    —  Clarifying Article 2, which sets out the objective of the Action Plan. It now reads "The Action Plan has the objective of promoting safe use of the Internet and of encouraging an environment favourable to the development of the Internet industry";

    —  Altering the Committee of Member States' representatives from an advisory to a regulatory format;

    —  Clarifying the role of the Committee in decisions on support actions;

    —  Provisional consensus to reduce the budget, from 30 million ecu to 25 million ecu (£20 million to £16.5 million at a rate of 1 ecu = £0.66);

    —  Adjusting the proportions of the budget allocated to the various action lines, reducing the amounts allocated to Action lines 3 and 4, and increasing the amounts allocated to lines 1 and 2;

    —  Emphasising that awareness-raising actions at a European level should be carried out on the basis of actions undertaken by Member States.

  In the light of these changes, the Government is happy with the proposed Decision, and the actions that it will support. The Decision is on the agenda of the 19 May Telecoms Council, and we hope that the Council will reach agreement then, subject to its consideration of any amendments that the European Parliament might propose when it delivers its opinion (provisionally expected in June).

  I hope this information, along with the explanatory memorandum already submitted, assists the Committee.

30 April 1998

Letter from Lord Tordoff, Chairman of the Committee, to Mrs Barbara Roche MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Small Firms, Trade and Industry, Department of Trade and Industry

  Thank you very much for your letter of 30 April giving me further information about the Commission's proposed legal base.

  It is very helpful to have this information. However, I understand that this Document had to be cleared quickly for a Council Meeting on 19 May. As Sub-Committee F, who had the Document under scrutiny, are not meeting again until 20 May, the Document had to be rushed to the Select Committee and has, in fact, now been cleared.

  Having said that, I would like to draw to your attention the fact that I first wrote to you on 11 March and I did not receive a reply for seven weeks. At no point did you give me to understand it was urgent until a telephone call was received last week asking us to clear the Document for this Council and, if possible, to be cleared for a meeting two days after the telephone call was received. It was impossible to clear the Document for the latter meeting, but we put emergency steps in hand here to clear it for the 19 May Council. This caused a great deal of extra work for the Committee Office and was extremely inconvenient for the Select Committee. I would be grateful if you could give us more notice in the future if you need a Document cleared by a certain date.

13 May 1998

Letter from Mrs Barbara Roche MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Small Firms, Trade and Industry, to Lord Tordoff, Chairman of the Committee

  The proposal for a Council Decision adopting a multiannual Community action plan on promoting safe use of the Internet was the subject of explanatory memorandum 13012/97, submitted by the Department of Trade and Industry on 9 February 1998. Your Committee referred it to Sub-Committee F (Progress of Scrutiny, 27 February 1998, Session 97-98), who considered it on 4 March, and did not clear it. You subsequently cleared it by letter. The House of Commons Select Committee on European Legislation considered it to be legally and politically important, and did not clear it (Report No 16, Session 97-98). They subsequently cleared it by letter.

  In response to my letter to you of 30 April, you cleared the document in your letter to me of 13 May, but pointed out that your Committee had not been given much time in which to do so. I am writing to give some explanation for this timing.

  My explanatory memorandum, submitted on 9 February 1998, made it clear that this document was likely to be discussed at the Telecoms Council on 19 May. You did not clear it and, in your letter to me of 11 March, asked for information on the Commission's proposed legal base. Although the Council Working Group had asked the Council Legal Service for an opinion on the validity of the proposed legal base, the Legal Service did not produce a written opinion until 5 May. Nonetheless, as soon as we had an indication of what the opinion would be, I wrote to both your Committee and the House of Commons Select Committee on European legislation, on 30 April. I confirmed in that letter that we would be seeking agreement to the proposal at the 19 May Council.

  I am sorry that the delay in receiving the opinion of the Council Legal Service meant that your Committee was put to inconvenience, but hope that this explanation is helpful. You may be interested to know that substantial progress was made at the 19 May Telecoms Council, and agreement on the Action Plan was reached in principle, pending the 1st reading opinion of the European Parliament. The Council agreed to change the legal base to Article 129a (consumer protection), and to reduce the budget slightly from 30 million ecu to 25 million ecu.

1 June 1998

Letter from Lord Tordoff, Chairman of the Committee, to Mrs Barbara Roche, MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Small Firms, Trade and Industry, Department of Trade and Industry

  Thank you very much for your letter of 1 June explaining the reasons for the delay in replying to my previous letter.

  Thank you also for keeping me informed about progress at the Telecoms Council on 19 May. It is very helpful to have this information.

9 June 1998


 
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