Select Committee on European Scrutiny Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Letter from the Chairman of the European Scrutiny Committee (Mr Jimmy Hood MP), to the Secretary of State at the Home Office (Mr David Blunkett MP)


  At its meeting today, the Committee considered the two letters relating to this Council written by the then Minister of State at the Home Office (Mrs Barbara Roche): one to the Leader of the House, explaining the decision to override the parliamentary scrutiny reserve on a number of proposals and texts; the other to the Committee Chairman reporting the outcome of the two-day meeting. A number of issues arise from these letters. We hope that, by raising them with you at the start of the parliamentary session, we can avoid having to address similar issues in the future. We therefore ask that you, or a ministerial colleague, attend our meeting on Wednesday 17 October at 10.45am so that we can discuss the matters outlined below.

  The Cabinet Office guidance on parliamentary scrutiny of EU documents during a general election period states that ministerial agreement to items that have yet to complete scrutiny "should be infrequent". Taken together, the then Minister's letters reveal that the Government overrode the reserve on five documents which the previous Committee had not cleared, and virtually did so (by announcing a short postponement or reaching "provisional agreement") on nine others. We are disturbed that so many uncleared documents were treated in this way.

  Of these documents, we have particular concerns about four:

    —  the Directive on mutual recognition of decisions on the expulsion of third-country nationals

    —  the Directive defining the facilitation of unauthorised entry, movement and residence

    —  the Council framework decision on the strengthening of the penal framework to prevent the facilitation of unauthorised entry and residence

    —  the Directive supplementing the provisions of Article 26 of the Convention implementing the Schengen Agreement of 14 June 1985.

  These all deal with sensitive and complex matters on which the previous Committee (and its sister Committee in the House of Lords) had raised a number of substantive questions which were unanswered by the time that Parliament was dissolved. It is disappointing that the previous Ministers were content to override the scrutiny reserve on controversial documents of this kind. (It is noteworthy that the European Parliament rejected the last three in the list virtually unanimously.) We do not find the then Minister's invocation of an "important legal consideration" under Article 3 of the Protocol on the position of the United Kingdom and Ireland at all persuasive as a justification.

  In addition, we are disturbed that the agreements between Europol and Interpol, Europol and Norway and Europol and Iceland are shortly to be adopted, if they have not already been so. The previous Committee had not cleared these documents because the assessment of the Joint Supervisory Body on the adequacy of data protection was not available. The then Minister makes no reference to this aspect of the agreements in her letter, citing merely the need for faster progress. In relation to these documents, we ask for information about whether they have now been adopted, and for copies of the JSB's opinions.

  One reason for the fact that several of the documents on the JHA Council agenda had not completed scrutiny in the House of Commons is the delay the previous Committee experienced in receiving answers to its questions. In relation to the Draft Council Resolution on exchange of DNA analysis results ( agreed as an "A" point at the Council), for example, the previous Committee was still waiting for a reply from the then Minister to questions raised on 7 February. Questions on the Europol agreements and on the four documents listed above had been outstanding since March. We understand that your Department used to have a target of responding to questions within three weeks. We suggest that it is essential for some such target to be re-established if you are to avoid having to override the scrutiny reserve because your officials have failed to prepare responses in a timely fashion.

  Finally, we refer you to the use of the term "provisional agreement" in the then Minister's letter about the outcome of the Council. This confusing term appears to have allowed Ministers to signal agreement to three complex and substantial proposals while "maintaining" the scrutiny reserve. We seek your assurance that you and your colleagues will not use such vague terms in the future. If the nature of the agreement reached in Council on an uncleared document is such that there is no realistic possibility of provisions being renegotiated following representations from the Committee, it would be more transparent simply to state that the scrutiny reserve has been overridden. We would, of course, expect such situations to be rare, and satisfactory explanations to be provided.

  I look forward to hearing from you on these matters. I hope their resolution will form the basis for the smooth operation of the scrutiny process in relation to JHA documents during the new session.

  I am copying this letter to Lord Brabazon and Tom Mohan in the House of Lords, and to Les Saunders of the Cabinet Office.

18 July 2001

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