Our Working Methods
Our Committee was set up in 1974 after a thorough
analysis by a specially appointed Committee of the House into
what parliamentary scrutiny of European legislation would be required
when Britain joined the European Community. That Committee was
chaired by Lord Maybray-King.
Maybray-King started from the principle that, as a consequence
of the United Kingdom's membership of the European Community,
the United Kingdom Parliament would give to Ministers acting in
Council the ability to make law binding on the United Kingdom
and its citizens. The fact that EC membership has involved the
transfer of a measure of national sovereignty has lain at the
heart of European scrutiny by this House for nearly thirty years.
Maybray-King said "the purpose of Parliamentary
scrutiny is to influence United Kingdom Ministers prior to discussions
in the Council on Community proposals in which they take final
form; and to examine ministerial actions in their Community legislative
function on decisions reached in the Council on draft proposals.
Parliamentary scrutiny is also a means-
- To give public opinions and interests affected
sufficient opportunity for expression;
- To inform United Kingdom members of the European
Parliament of the views of their colleagues in the national Parliament
before the Council consults the European Parliament; and
- To obtain information about technical and political
evolution of the Community, for parliamentary comment and debate."
Role of the Committee
Our Committee is the successor to the European Communities
Committee, first established in 1974, the year after the United
Kingdom joined the Community. The Committee's title was changed
in December 1999 to reflect the changes agreed in the Treaties
of Maastricht and Amsterdam.
The House of Lords, as part of the national parliament,
performs a valuable service for the United Kingdom in scrutinising
and reporting on proposed European legislation.
Remit and Organisation of the Committee
The Committee is appointed at the beginning of every
parliamentary session. Its terms of reference are:
"To consider European Union documents and other
matters relating to the European Union."
The Committee is chaired by a salaried Officer of
the House (the Principal Deputy Chairman of Committees). It has
19 members, each of whom (other than the Chairman) serves on one
or more of the subject-area sub-committees through which the Committee
conducts its investigations. Other members of the House are also
co-opted to the sub-committees, so that a total of around 70 Members
are actively involved in the work of the Committee or sub-committees.
The Sub-Committees are:
Economic and Financial Affairs, Trade and External
Energy, Industry and Transport (B)
Common Foreign and Security Policy (C)
Environment, Agriculture, Public Health and Consumer
Law and Institutions (E)
Social Affairs, Education and Home Affairs (F)
Additional sub-committees may be set up ad hoc
to examine specific proposals.
How the Sub-Committees Work
The sub-committees meet regularly when the House
of Lords is in session to conduct inquiries based either on the
scrutiny of EU documents or into subjects chosen by the sub-committees
from within their field of activity. The sub-committees are assisted
by clerks, and by consultant specialist advisers appointed for
their expert knowledge of the subject under inquiry. The sub-committees
operate in the same way as other select committees of the House
of Lords and the House of Commons. They invite written and oral
evidence from government departments, Community institutions and
other interested bodies and individuals, in order to consider
a wide range of points of view before reaching conclusions. Draft
reports setting out conclusions and recommendations are then prepared
and agreed by the sub-committees, and approved by the Select Committee
before they are published.
About half the reports published are subsequently
debated in the House. The Government has undertaken to reply to
all reports, whether debated or not, within two months of publication.
Scrutiny of the Three Pillars of the European
The Treaty of Maastricht, which came into effect
in 1993, set up the European Union comprising three "pillars":
1. The European Community and its legislation.
2. A Common Foreign and Security Policy.
3. Justice and Home Affairs.
Scrutiny of the first pillar was the committee's
main activity from 1974 to 1993.
The second and third "pillars" are based
on inter-governmental co-operation. Instruments adopted under
these two inter-governmental pillars, where they are legally binding,
are binding under international law and not as Community law.
From 1993 to 1998, the Committee scrutinised "Pillar"
documents on an informal basis. Following a review of procedures
in the House of Commons, the arrangements for scrutiny of the
pillars were formalised in November 1998. Since that date arrangements
for the deposit of "pillar" documents have been formalised
and a scrutiny reserve (see below) has applied to proposals under
the inter-governmental pillars.
The Committee has always adopted the same procedure
for scrutiny of inter-governmental pillar documents as that for
Community legislation. This procedure is described in more detail
in the following paragraph.
How the Scrutiny System Works
The Committee considers a wide range of documents
under all three pillars. They include not only proposals for legislation
under the first pillar and proposals for binding legal instruments
under the second and third pillars, but also discussion documents
such as white and green papers.
These documents are deposited in the United Kingdom
Parliament by the Government. Over 1000 documents are deposited
each year, along with an explanatory memorandum, signed by a Government
Minister. This sets out the legal, financial and policy implications
of every document, and the procedure and timetable for its consideration
and adoption. Many of the documents are routine or of comparatively
minor importance (for example, minor adjustments to existing policies);
in any case the number of documents is too great for the Committee
to give detailed consideration to them all.
The Chairman of the Committee therefore conducts
a "sift". The Chairman considers all the explanatory
memoranda, sifts the more significant documents from the less
important ones, and decides which should be referred to the sub-committees
for further examination. About a quarter of the documents deposited
are referred to the sub-committees.
Each sub-committee then examines the documents referred
to it. A sub-committee will usually simply take note of many of
them, choosing a few each year on which to conduct a substantial
enquiry and make a report.
The Committee may sometimes set out its views in
a letter to the appropriate Government Minister if its views can
be expressed succinctly without the need for extensive evidence
(for example, by reference to an earlier report) or where Council
decision on a proposal is likely to be reached quickly. The Committee's
correspondence with ministers is published at regular intervals
in a report to the House.
Since establishment the Committee has scrutinised
and reported on a wide range of issues which affect people's everyday
lives and the longer-term future of both the United Kingdom and
The Select Committee, in addition to considering
draft reports prepared by the sub-committees, also hears regular
sessions of evidence from Foreign Office ministers, particularly
following each European Council. The Committee plays an active
role in the Conference of European Affairs Committees of National
The Scrutiny Reserve Resolution
The scrutiny system originally rested on an undertaking
given by the Government that they will not, except in special
circumstances, agree to any proposal in the Council until it has
been cleared by the Committee. This has now been formalised in
a Resolution of the House of Lords agreed on 6 December 1999.
This "scrutiny reserve" gives the House an opportunity
to influence the position which the Government adopts on the proposal
in negotiation with other Member States of the Community. The
text is as follows:
(1) No Minister of the Crown should give agreement
in the Council to any proposal for European Community legislation
or for a common strategy, joint action or common position under
Title V or a common position, framework decision, decision or
convention under Title VI of the Treaty on European Union-
(a) which is still subject to scrutiny (that
is, on which the European Union Committee has not completed its
(b) on which the European Union Committee has made
a report to the House for debate, but on which the debate has
not yet taken place.
(2) In this Resolution, any reference to agreement
to a proposal includes -
(a) agreement to a programme, plan or recommendation
for European Community legislation;
(b) political agreement;
(c) in the case of a proposal on which the Council
acts in accordance with the procedure referred to in Article 251
of the Treaty establishing the European Community (co-decision),
agreement to a common position, to an act in the form of a common
position incorporating amendments proposed by the European Parliament,
and to a joint text; and
(d)in the case of a proposal on which the Council
acts in accordance with the procedure referred to in Article 252
of the Treaty establishing the European Community (co-operation),
agreement to a common position.
(3) The Minister concerned may, however, give agreement
to a proposal which is still subject to scrutiny or which is awaiting
debate in the House -
(a) if he considers that it is confidential,
routine or trivial or is substantially the same as a proposal
on which scrutiny has been completed;
(b) if the European Union Committee has indicated
that agreement need not be withheld pending completion of scrutiny
or the holding of the debate.
(4) The Minister concerned may also give agreement
to a proposal which is still subject to scrutiny or awaiting debate
in the House if he decides that for special reasons agreement
should be given; but he should explain his reasons -
(a) in every such case, to the European Union
Committee at the first opportunity after reaching his decision;
(b) in the case of a proposal awaiting debate in
the House, to the House at the opening of the debate on the Committee's
(5) In relation to any proposal which requires adoption
by unanimity, abstention shall, for the purposes of paragraph
(4), be treated as giving agreement.
44 See n. 10 above. Back