Select Committee on European Communities Report


D. CORRESPONDENCE ABOUT COMMITTEE REPORTS

69.  ENHANCING PARLIAMENTARY SCRUTINY OF THE THIRD PILLAR (6TH REPORT, SESSION 1997-98)

Letter from the Rt Hon Jack Straw MP, Secretary of State for the Home Department, and Supplementary Memorandum from the Home Office

  When I wrote to you on 17 November 1997[26] I set out the Government's response to 22 of the 29 conclusions contained in your Committee's report "Enhancing Parliamentary Scrutiny of the Third Pillar" (Session 1997-98, 6th report). I explained, however, that the other seven conclusions in the report had potential implications outside the Third Pillar, and thus needed to be considered in the light of the Government's general overhaul of the scrutiny process. I was therefore unable to respond at that time to the report's conclusions (iv) and (xii), relating to the criteria for the deposit of documents; (ix) to (xi), on the principle of a Parliamentary scrutiny reserve and a minimum period of scrutiny; (xvi), concerning reporting to Parliament on meetings of the JHA Council; and (xxi), about Parliamentary oversight of common position texts

  I am glad to say that the Government's overhaul of the scrutiny system is now complete, and you received from Margaret Beckett an advance copy of the Government's White Paper (Cmd 4095) in response to the report of the Select Committee on Modernisation of the House of Commons "The Scrutiny of European Business" (7th report Session 1997-98). I am therefore now in a position to dispose of the outstanding conclusions in your Committee's report. I enclose a Supplementary Memorandum for this purpose setting out the Government's response to the seven remaining conclusions to your Committee's report. You will be pleased to see that we have been able to respond positively to almost all of them.

27 November 1998

Supplementary Memorandum by the Home Office

  1.  The Memorandum submitted in November 1997 set out the Government's response to 22 of the 29 conclusions contained in the report of the House of Lords Select Committee on the European Communities "Enhancing Parliamentary Scrutiny of the Third Pillar". The remaining seven conclusions were not dealt with at that time as they raised issues which had implications beyond the Third Pillar, and which the Government proposed to address in the context of its wider consideration of the processes for scrutiny of European legislation. The Select Committee on Modernisation of the House of Commons has now publised its report "The Scrutiny of European Business" (7th report Session 1997-98), and in response the Government has published a White Paper "The Scrutiny of European Business" (Cmd 4095) setting out its proposals for implementing modifications to the system of Parliamentary scrutiny.

  2.  Against the background of the White Paper, and the House of Commons' debate on the amendments to the Standing Orders which took place on 17 November, this Supplementary Memorandum sets out the Government's response to the remaining seven conclusions of the European Communities Committee report. These are the conclusions numbered (iv), (ix) to (xii), (xvi) and (xxi).

 CRITERIA FOR THE DEPOSIT OF DOCUMENTS

  iv.  It would not be appropriate to adopt more formal guidelines for the deposit of Third Pillar documents. We note with approval the changes proposed by the House of Commons Select Committee on European Legislation to the House of Commons Standing Order No. 143.

  xii.  The basic principle should be that Third Pillar documents are depositable and the expectations for confidentiality and secrecy must be interpreted narrowly.

  3.  The Government welcomed the changes proposed by the House of Commons Select Committee on European Legislation to the House of Commons Standing Order No. 143, which were supported by the Modernisation Committee and adopted by the House of Commons on 17 November 1998. The amendments to the Standing Order clarify which Third Pillar documents should be deposited for scrutiny and establish the basic principle that such documents are depositable, subject to narrow exceptions in cases where there is a need to withhold documents on grounds of confidentiality. The Government expects such cases to be rare. In all such cases the Government will inform the Committees of all reasons for withholding information.

PRINCIPLE OF A PARLIAMENTARY SCRUTINY RESERVE AND A MINIMUM PERIOD FOR SCRUTINY

  ix.  We regard the imposition of a formal Parliamentary scrutiny reserve in relation to Third Pillar proposals as essential if Parliament is to play an effective role in scrutinising the Third Pillar.

  x.  We believe that granting Parliament a minimum period of time to scrutinise Third Pillar instruments is essential to permit effective Parliamentary scrutiny of the Third Pillar. The Amsterdam Treaty is unlikely to be ratified by all Member States for at least 18 months and we see no reason for delaying the introduction of a minimum scrutiny period in the interim.

  4.  The Government agrees that it is essential for Parliament to play an effective role in scrutinising the Third Pillar. The Government welcomes adoption by the House of Commons of the proposal of the Modernisation Committee to amend the Scrutiny Reserve Resolution so that it extends to the Third Pillar. The amended Resolution now prevents the Government from agreeing any Third Pillar proposal until scrutiny has been completed. The only exceptions to this rule would be those specified in the Resolution itself (ie the Minister considers that the proposal in question is confidential, routine, trivial, or the same as a proposal on which scrutiny has already been completed, or for other special reasons). The Resolution is held to apply equally to business considered by the European Communities Committee.

  5.  Once the Amsterdam Treaty enters into force, the Government will seek to ensure that the minimum notice period for the adoption of legislative proposals or proposals under Title VI of the TEU is effectively applied, both in the UK and the Council, as required by the Protocol on the Role of National Parliaments in the European Union. The Government is, however, not in a position to apply the notice period unilaterally in advance of the Treaty's entry into force, and its consultations as to the possibility of interim application have not so far borne fruit.

  xi.  We recommend that the Government should not agree to the adoption in the Council of a Third Pillar proposal which has been deposited in Parliament within a six week period preceding the date of the Council unless it has received confirmation from the relevant Parliamentary Committees that scrutiny of the document has been completed.

  6.  The amended Scrutiny Reserve Resolution now prevents Ministers from agreeing to adoption in the Council of any Third Pillar proposal on which scrutiny has not been completed, except in the special circumstances referred to above.

 REPORTING TO PARLIAMENT ON MEETINGS OF THE JHA COUNCIL

  xvi.  The Government should be obliged to provide Parliament with a detailed written report on the outcome of a Justice and Home Affairs Council meeting within two weeks after each meeting. Following receipt of the report, the Committee could decide whether or not to invite the relevant Minister or officials to attend a public meeting of the Committee to answer questions arising therefrom.

  7.  The Government welcomes this proposal and suggests that it might best be achieved by means of the proposal made by the Modernisation Committee, ie that the relevant Minister should send a detailed letter to the Chairmen of the Scrutiny Committees of both Houses of Parliament.

  8.  Ministers and officials would be pleased to attend a public meeting of the Committee to answer questions on the outcome of the Justice and Home Affairs Council, if invited by the Committee.

PARLIAMENTARY OVERSIGHT OF COMMON POSITION TEXTS

  xxi.  There must be Parliamentary oversight of common position texts.

  9.  The Government agrees with the Committee's conclusion and notes with approval that Joint Positions (Common Positions following the ratification of the Amsterdam Treaty) are included in the changes proposed by the House of Commons Select Committee on European Legislation to the House of Commons Standing Order No 143.

November 1998

Letter from Lord Tordoff, Chairman of the Committee, to the Rt Hon Jack Straw MP, Secretary of State for the Home Department

  Thank you for your letter of 27 November on the above subject, and for submitting a further EM.

  When Sub-Committee F and the Select Committee have had a chance to look at it in detail I will come back to you if necessary. My immediate reaction is that we have made some substantial progress on this issue and I am grateful for your help.

30 November 1998


26   Printed in Correspondence with Ministers, 11th Report, Session 1997-98, pp 90-94. Back


 
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