Select Committee on European Union First Report


General conclusions

160. National parliamentary scrutiny of EU legislation has a clear constitutional purpose and to that end entails (paragraphs 12-13):

161. Our inquiries can be of value both on legislative proposals and on early discussion documents but we endorse the near unanimous view of our witnesses that we should aim to work at the earliest possible stage in the policy making cycle (paragraphs 29-30).

162. Contributing to a climate of opinion forming is a key way in which we can have an impact, by analysing issues and presenting a range of evidence combined with our own conclusions on it (paragraph 140).

163. For the scrutiny reserve to be working "properly", it is first necessary for the Committee not to maintain the reserve unnecessarily: to do so would weaken the Government's negotiating position and devalue the reserve. But it is also essential that the Government does not override it without good cause (paragraph 63).

164. A mandatory scrutiny system would not work under UK circumstances (paragraph 70).

Recommendations addressed to the government

165. The Government should always draw to the Committee's attention any matters under discussion or consideration by the Commission which might merit detailed scrutiny when a proposal comes forward. Such an early warning system would greatly assist us (paragraph 31).

166. It continues to be essential that the right documents are deposited by the Government in good time (paragraph 63).

167. Subject to final agreement with the Commons (which has made a similar proposal), the following categories of document need no longer be deposited for scrutiny, although we would wish to see the same arrangements made to keep us informed as are proposed by the House of Commons (paragraphs 51-54):

  1) Community positions on rules of procedure for various Councils and Committees, including those established under Association Agreements;

  2) Proposals to extend Common Positions imposing sanctions (without making substantive changes) in pursuance of UN Security Council resolutions;

  3) Proposals for making minor changes to lists of people or organisations subject to restrictive provisions in existing measures;

  4) Draft Council decisions relating to decisions already made in Association Councils or Committees;

  5) Reappointment of members to EU organisations;

  6) Proposals for legislation concerning the administration of community tariff quotas.

168. We support the consolidation of all transfers of appropriations into a single report (paragraph 50).

169. The Government should submit an EM on the Commission's Overview document of the Preliminary Draft Budget at the earliest possible opportunity, preferably by the middle of May. The Government should also quickly update the Committee by Ministerial letter after the various stages of the annual Budget cycle rather than waiting to draft an EM once they have received the official translated texts (paragraphs 80, 82).

170. We find it disappointing that Ministers might be prepared to agree laws in Council without having determined how they are to be implemented in the UK. We therefore recommend that the Government's proposals to implement a particular piece of legislation be set out in more detail in the initial EM. The fullest possible explanation needs to be given on the implementation of EU legislation on matters concerned with Justice and Home Affairs (paragraph 47).

171. More generally, the EM should as a matter of course state whether primary or secondary legislation is envisaged and if the latter under which power. An indication should be given of the factors which lay behind the decision. Furthermore, where the powers in section 2(2) of the European Communities Act 1972 are intended to be used, the Government should indicate whether the affirmative or negative procedure is envisaged and the reasons why (paragraph 47).

172. EMs should give fuller information on the devolution implications of a proposal; on any proposed creation or extension of the powers of a comitology committee; and a fuller account of the policy implications for the UK. There should also be a section on any potential human rights issues and the Government should consider whether the Minister signing the EM should make a statement of compatibility with the Human Rights Act 1998, as happens with primary legislation (paragraph 48).

173. All EMs - which are the Minister's evidence to Parliament - should be signed. Those categories of document currently subject to an unsigned EM should instead be accompanied by a short form EM, as at present, but with a signature (paragraph 49).

174. We would welcome proposals from our Government to ensure better provision of information on matters subject to the co-decision procedure at its various stages (paragraph 35).

175. There should be a review, co-ordinated by the Cabinet Office and taking place say every six months, of those cases when the scrutiny reserve has been overridden and giving reasons why. This information should be reported to Parliament (paragraph 76).

176. The Government should review the importance of EU subsidiary legislation, and what its significance is in practice. The Government should inform the Committee on a regular basis of any significant proposals (paragraph 90).

177. Where a proposal is moving quickly through the legislative cycle we will more regularly ask government officials to be available at short notice to assist the Committee in matters of explanation and elucidation (paragraph 42).

178. We will expect responses from Ministers within ten working days to letters sent by our chairman on behalf of the Committee and its Sub-Committees and we will where necessary follow up delays by way of Questions for Written Answer (paragraph 146).

179. Our reports should receive a Government response within six weeks of publication (paragraph 150).

Recommendations addressed to the convention on which the government should respond

180. Greater openness in the Council will facilitate faster scrutiny by national parliaments. Abolishing the six monthly cycle of presidencies could help too by avoiding the "end of term" rush to decision, provided that other artificial deadlines are not built in (paragraph 41).

181. The Convention should consider a revision of the co-decision procedure to allow a greater opportunity for national parliamentary scrutiny. When conciliation is triggered, the relevant documents (from the Commission, Parliament and the Council) should be issued publicly and submitted to national parliaments which would have four weeks to consider them before the Conciliation Committee can meet (paragraph 35).

182. The Convention should consider whether the European Parliament's procedures could be strengthened by setting up an equivalent of our committees which scrutinise (or will scrutinise) Statutory Instruments; by strengthening the work of their existing committees in scrutinising comitology legislation; and by giving consideration to a procedure analogous to our negative and affirmative resolution procedure (paragraph 91).

183. Scrutiny of the impact of legislation would be greatly enhanced if the European Parliament was obliged to produce a cost analysis of the effect of its own proposed amendments to EU law and we call on those responsible for Treaty amendment to ensure that such a procedure is introduced (paragraph 95).

Recommendations addressed to the house on which the government should respond

184. To maintain effective parliamentary scrutiny of EU legislation, our Committee, acting on a recommendation from one of our Sub-Committees, should have the right to require that the Government secure a positive resolution from the House as a whole in order to lift a scrutiny reserve being maintained by our Committee because of significant outstanding policy concerns. We do not envisage this power being exercised other than exceptionally (paragraphs 71-2).

185. In those cases where a Minister overrides a reserve the Minister should come to Parliament and give an explanation by way of Ministerial Statement (paragraph 74).

186. The Scrutiny Reserve Resolution needs to be amended to take account of all forms of agreement, including provisional agreements, in the Council (paragraph 75).

187. Scrutiny of secondary legislation implementing EU legislation is weak and needs to be strengthened. In addition to the work already undertaken by the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee in scrutinising the delegation of powers, the scrutiny of delegated legislation implementing EU law should be a key task of the House's proposed new committee on Statutory Instruments. We will do all we can to assist the new committee, including making Sub-Committee Chairmen available to give evidence where necessary (paragraphs 96-97).

188. Subject to the availability of a sufficient number of Members with the relevant expertise, we see a prima facie case for increasing the number of our sub-committees (even if that means smaller Sub-Committees or Members serving on more than one Sub-Committee). We do not wish to see a change to the rotation rule but would welcome a wider pool of names coming forward (paragraphs 104-105).

189. We will propose to the Liaison Committee a plan for restructuring our Sub-Committees' work. This will be based on a practical assessment of the requirements for scrutiny in different policy areas. We note that our Sub-Committee structure would need to be expanded to nine to match more closely the formations of the Council of Ministers. Such an arrangement would, however, not cover the areas of Law and Institutions currently covered by Sub-Committee E which we would not wish to lose. In the meantime, Sub-Committee C will take on External Affairs (currently with A) and international development (paragraph 106).

190. The House should hold a general debate on European affairs within one month of every European Council (paragraph 109).

191. Our reports should be debated within eight weeks of publication although on occasion a longer or shorter timeframe may be required (paragraph 150).

192. We urge better planning of our debates, and more advance notice. The lack of a clear timetable announced in advance hampers the Government at the negotiating table: not knowing when the scrutiny reserve will be lifted by debate is a disadvantage for UK Ministers in the Council (paragraph 151).

193. The opportunities provided by the new pattern of sittings (and by the greater use of Grand Committees on bills) should be explored and exploited to ensure better time for our debates (paragraph 153).

194. The House should review the current Wednesday debates: does having two balloted debates rather than just one really make the best use of prime time? Consideration should be given to a regular time-limited slot for our debates on Thursday mornings (paragraph 153).


195. We are pleased to note the suggestion from the Leader of the House that vigorous and powerful revision and scrutiny require the House to "will the means" over the coming months. We expect the House to deliver the resources required to fulfil this commitment (paragraph 135).

196. We will consider further what support we can offer to, and expect from, the valuable National Parliament Office in Brussels, currently staffed by the House of Commons (paragraph 135).

197. The House should equip a Committee Room for video-conferencing by Lords Committees (paragraph 111).

Recommendations we will implement

198. We have begun to scrutinise the Commission's Annual Work Programme. We will consider further the suggestion for national parliamentary scrutiny of the Council's strategic agenda (paragraph 30).

199. We will enhance our scrutiny of the EC Budget by concentrating our efforts at an early stage in the budgetary cycle. Sub-Committee A will continue to consider in detail any changes to the overarching legal framework within which the annual Budget is set. Sub-Committee A will therefore take oral evidence from the Government on an annual basis before the first reading of the Budget in the Budget Council and thereafter we will publish a short report. The major spending decisions will also remain a focus of rigorous scrutiny for all of our Sub-Committees. The Sub-Committees will continue to scrutinise in detail proposals for legislation that have budgetary implications and will follow closely negotiations on such proposals at Council meetings (paragraphs 78, 80).

200. We continue to monitor the work of the Convention on the Future of Europe, and the output of its Working Groups. We propose to examine in a separate report proposals on the role of national parliaments and on subsidiarity emerging from the Convention. The Convention's conclusions on subsidiarity may lead to new tasks for national parliaments. We are willing to take on additional work in these and other areas (paragraphs 4, 40, 85, 106).

201. We reinforce the importance of the sift process, which we consider works well provided that proper EMs are deposited. A Sub-Committee is not precluded from examining a document cleared on the sift. We will examine the criteria used for sifting documents at the later stages of the legislative cycle (paragraphs 35, 57-59).

202. We will ensure that every report takes into account an analysis of the cost impact assessments, based on scrutiny of figures from the Government and the Commission when they are available and giving a clear statement when they are not. This will, however, require us to commission additional advice, as it is not work we ourselves could undertake without detracting from our existing scrutiny (paragraph 95).

203. We will examine most keenly any proposal to delegate power under the comitology procedure (paragraph 89).

204. We will hold more regular scrutiny with Ministers on the general issues coming before Council. In particular, Sub-Committee C will in future invite Ministerial evidence on the outcome of every General Affairs Council. We will make greater use of techniques such as videoconferencing to get round some of the practical problems of hearing busy witnesses (paragraph 111).

205. Questioning of witnesses must be based on the best possible use of information and make the best use of the time we spend with them. Where necessary, at least the relevant Government officials need to be examined during scrutiny of individual legislative items, even if these are not the subject of a full inquiry. Sub-Committees need to limit the amount of time spent on oral evidence and cross-examining witnesses, to ensure that adequate time is made available for other work (paragraphs 110,112).

206. We will seek to devote the necessary time and resources to following up our previous work. This could take the form of periodic reviews of our recommendations before proposals are implemented (paragraph 86).

207. The suggestion for general review of European legislation is not one we can usefully undertake, without a major disruption of our scrutiny work (paragraph 86).

208. The integration of substantive policy into European scrutiny is a strength of our Sub-Committee system, which must be maintained (paragraph 102).

209. While European scrutiny is enhanced by the involvement of those with a range of policy specialism and expertise, we are not complacent about the expertise of our Members. Many members of the House have been appointed because of their expertise in particular areas but that expertise needs to be kept up to date. We accordingly consider that it is of positive benefit to those conducting scrutiny of specific legislative items that they have also conducted in depth inquiries into general policy (paragraphs 102-3, 113).

210. We believe that our Sub-Committees, which examine sectoral policy issues in the European context, provide a model for a national parliament wishing to scrutinise European legislation in depth and on the basis of genuine expertise. There is, in our view, a weakness in any system which confines "European scrutiny" to a small group of specialists. There is a danger that scrutiny is conducted in a purely mechanistic way with Members not having the time to do more than draw attention to matters which they think are important (paragraph 103).

211. In order to ensure that the Sub-Committees continue to operate in the most effective way possible, they will continue to take into account cross-cutting scrutiny undertaken by the Select Committee. This will in turn help the Select Committee to inform the planning of the work by the Sub-Committees (paragraph 114).

212. We are confident that the revised the sitting times of the House will not adversely affect our scrutiny (paragraph 115).

213. We will consider further the opportunities for greater openness in our meetings (paragraph 116).

214. On balance the arguments advanced do not persuade us of the need for a joint European scrutiny committee of the Lords and Commons. The different scrutiny systems in the two Houses complement each other and should continue (paragraphs 123, 127).

215. We nevertheless make recommendations for more joint working and warmly welcome Jimmy Hood's commitment to collaboration and working together. We will take up with the Commons Committee the question whether the balance of work between the two Committees is appropriate. We will also examine ways by which we can use and build on their scrutiny work in conducting our own. We will, in particular, consider with the Commons the case for a joint meeting after each European Council to allow the two Committees to exchange views on the future planning of work on the basis of the agenda set by the European Council. We will also consider practical means for joint dissemination of our views, where they coincide, to increase our impact (paragraphs 123, 128-9).

216. The question whether MEPs should have further rights of access to our Parliament is not one that we are qualified to address. This would be a matter for the House itself. We undertake to ensure that relevant UK MEPs have the opportunity to give evidence to our inquiries, and that the outputs of our work are communicated directly to them (paragraph 132).

217. We are happy to share our experience with any other parallel national parliamentary body among the current Member States or the incoming countries. We will take evidence from a number of national parliaments (including bicameral parliaments) whose scrutiny systems are well developed, to see what we can learn from their work (paragraph 133).

218. We urge all our members to make more use of unstarred questions, Question Time (and the new topical questions) to raise matters of concern on the floor (paragraph 154).


219. We endorse the practice whereby all our letters are signed by the Chairman of the Select Committee, regardless of which Sub-Committee has been considering the issue. This provides a single focus for our work (paragraph 108).

220. We work on the assumption that letters, once sent, are presumed to be public and can therefore be released to the press and interested parties (paragraph 146).

221. We will ensure quicker and more regular publication of significant correspondence (using the internet) in addition to the twice-yearly published volume (paragraph 146).

222. We will make more use of letters to follow up scrutiny issues raised by proposals which come forward after a major inquiry (paragraph 146).

223. We will increase efforts to foster a culture of respect for scrutiny in Whitehall, including the holding of regular sessions of evidence from senior civil servants responsible for European policy (paragraph 146).

224. We propose that regular digests of significant scrutiny by correspondence be made freely and publicly available (paragraph 147).

225. Our reports should be presented to have the most impact. There is no necessary correlation between the shortness of a report and its focus. Internal improvements to the layout and presentation of reports are underway. We have nevertheless considered how in practice a focused and readable report can actually be produced. To this end we will aim to ensure that all our substantive reports accord with standards set out in this report (paragraphs 142, 145).

226. We will produce an annual report from the Committee, giving an account of our activity, drawing attention to any problems in the scrutiny process and outlining key emerging issues in a short and punchy document produced in time for the debate on the Queen's Speech (paragraph 155).

227. We will look at administrative questions such as finding ways to improve the availability and accessibility of our work by means that Members of the House actually notice, namely through their party whips, the Crossbench notices and the Forthcoming Business document (paragraph 156).

228. We will discuss further the public provision of information including via the redesigned website ( (paragraph 158).

229. We will consider with the Information Officer for Select Committees how publicity and information provisions on our work may be enhanced. In addition we would wish to see copies of our reports made as freely and easily available as possible by the House (paragraph 159).


230. This report raises many issues requiring further work to implement recommendations over the coming year. We will review and follow up the responses given to our recommendations. We will ensure that we continue to scrutinise the work of the Convention and relevant developments arising in that forum. In the meantime we make this Report to the House for debate.

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