Select Committee on Liaison First Report



Report by Mr Jimmy Hood, Chairman of the Committee

  1. The Committee's main roles are:

  -  on behalf of the House, to examine a wide range of European Community documents, including proposals for legislation, Commission Communications and Green and White Papers, draft Council Recommendations and Resolutions, and Reports from the Court of Auditors;

  -  to assess the legal and/or political importance of these documents, and to decide which should have further consideration, either in European Standing Committee or on the Floor of the House;

  -  in its weekly Scrutiny Reports, to provide information and analysis for the House and the public on all documents of legal and/or political importance; and

  -  to monitor the operation of the European Scrutiny system and the discharge of the Government's obligations to the House.

  2. A statistical summary of the Committee's Scrutiny work during the 1992-97 Parliament is set out separately. The Committee's work is carried out almost exclusively on the basis of European Community documents, Explanatory Memoranda and other written evidence, not oral evidence, because of the volume of work, the range of subject matter and the need to report quickly on most proposals.

  3. The Committee considers a Scrutiny Report each week when the House is sitting, except when undertaking a visit. It makes two Presidency visits a year, holding meetings with representatives of Parliament and Government in those countries which are about to assume the six-monthly Presidency of the European Union. It visits Brussels each year for meetings with the Commission, the European Parliament and the United Kingdom Permanent Representation to the EU. It has also been to the European Court of Justice and the European Court of Auditors in Luxembourg on two occasions during the Parliament. The Committee regularly meets representatives from other European Parliaments and Governments at Westminster; for example, it held eight such meetings in 1996. It also takes regular oral evidence on developments in the Communities.

  4. Alongside its regular Scrutiny work, the Committee has been engaged in a long term inquiry into the preparations for and the proceedings of the Inter-Governmental Conference. It has produced three Reports on the subject: one in 1994-95[66], and two in 1995-96.[67] The Committee addressed a series of institutional and procedural issues in these Reports on the basis of its experience in carrying out Scrutiny of European Community documents.

  5. One recommendation in particular has gained much wider currency. In its Twenty-fourth Report of 1994-95, the Committee recommended that there should be a minimum period of notice of four weeks for legislation to be considered in the Council, in order to allow National Parliaments sufficient time for Scrutiny. This recommendation was restated in the Twenty-eighth Report of 1995-96. The United Kingdom Government has supported this proposal and has tabled a Treaty amendment at the IGC to provide for its adoption. In addition, at its meeting in Dublin in October 1996, the Conference of European Affairs Committees (COSAC), representing all European Affairs committees in the EU, gave its unanimous support.

  6. The Committee's Twenty-eighth Report of 1995-96 also provided an analysis of the working of the Scrutiny process in the House and made recommendations for its improvement. This was in part the Committee's contribution to the Procedure Committee's inquiry into the conduct of European business, but it also addressed other matters relating to Scrutiny. In particular, the Committee announced that in future the presumption would be that it would not clear documents for which it had no official text, the unavailability of texts being a continuing and increasing problem. On the future of the Scrutiny process, the Committee recommended that documents produced under the Inter-Governmental pillars[68] of the Treaty should be subject to Scrutiny in the same way as those produced under the Community Pillar.

  7. The Committee established a sub-committee in 1993-94 to investigate issues relating to road safety.[69] The inquiry was triggered by disagreements between the Government and the European Community on who has the power to legislate for seat belts in buses and coaches, particularly those used for school transport, and took place against the background of a number of serious accidents involving coaches, buses and minibuses. The Report assessed the competence of the Community to act, and the extent to which Member States can implement their own policies to secure road safety measures.

  8. From the beginning of the 1996-97 Session, all of the Committee's Reports have been posted in full on the Internet on their day of publication.[70] It is the first Committee of the House to have its Reports electronically published in this way.

66  Twenty-fourth Report: The 1996 Inter-Governmental Conference: The Agenda; Democracy and Efficiency; The Role of National Parliaments; HC 239-I (1994-95). Back

67  Twenty-seventh Report: The Scrutiny of European Business, HC 51-xxvii (1995-96); and Twenty-eighth Report: The Role of National Parliaments in the European Union, HC 51-xxviii (1995-96). Back

68  Common Foreign and Security Policy, and Justice and Home Affairs. Back

69  Twentieth Report: The United Kingdom and the Community: Who makes the Law on Road Safety?, HC 70-xx (1994-95). Back

70  Available via the House of Commons home page at Back

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© Parliamentary copyright 1997
Prepared 13 March 1997