Select Committee on Procedure Minutes of Evidence


Letter from Mr Jimmy Hood, MP, Chairman of the European Scrutiny Committee to the Chairman of the Procedure Committee

  Thank you for your letter asking for my assessment of the extent of possible co-operation between the European Scrutiny Committee and the devolved legislatures.

  I am sure that the Committee would be very willing to co-operate with the devolved legislatures in their scrutiny of European legislation, and I have been giving some thought to the practical assistance that we could give.

  I am well aware that a comprehensive system of scrutinising individual pieces of European legislation, such as the House of Commons system, is very costly in time and resources. To enable us to consider some 900 documents a year and report on them in time to influence UK Ministers before decisions are taken in Council, this Committee has the largest staff of any Select Committee in the House. It would clearly be very difficult for the devolved assemblies to commit enough resources to replicate this system. I assume, therefore, that they will wish to be able to identify quickly the documents that are of major interest to them so that they can concentrate on these.

  When we consider European documents, a number of sources of information are available to us: as well as the document itself, we have an Explanatory Memorandum (EM) from the lead UK Department, a written brief from the Committee staff and the oral advice from the staff at the meeting. It would clearly be helpful for the devolved legislatures to receive copies of the EMs at the same time that they are provided to Parliament; together with any EMs outlining local interests which the devolved administrations may produce. However, it would be difficult to conduct a rapid sift on the basis of these documents alone.

  As described in the Memorandum by the Clerk of the House, the Committee staff provide four different types of written briefing. We find this briefing invaluable in deciding whether or not a document is of legal or political importance, and I think that access to this material would probably by the most useful source of information which we could provide to the devolved legislatures.

  However, in accordance with the practice of Select Committees, and so that our staff be entirely frank with us, the briefs are prepared for us on an "in confidence" basis. Before sharing the briefing material, we would need to be assured that it would be protected. This is especially important in view of the formal requirements for public access to some deliberative functions of the devolved legislatures.

  On the practicalities of sharing material, it may be possible to provide remote access to the briefing materials as they are produced. In addition, the new European Scrutiny Database is a major development in our work, and remote access to our part of the system—as well as to the more generally available part under the control of the House of Commons Library—might also be provided. I would be happy to give further suggestions on how the briefing material might be shared if the Procedure Committee wished.

  I would welcome the opportunity to take into account the conclusions of the devolved legislatures when reporting on documents to this House. Obviously, the feasibility of this will depend on the speed of response by the devolved legislatures: the primary duty of this Committee must be to report to the House in time for any debate to be held, and before decisions are taken in the Council of Ministers. This may sometimes mean that we cannot postpone final consideration of a document until we have received an indication of the views of the devolved assemblies. However, I am sure that my Committee will be as flexible as possible. I very much hope that it will be possible to develop a synergy between Westminster and devolved legislatures through co-operation of this type.

14 April 1999

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