Written Ministerial Statement:
Enhancing Parliamentary Scrutiny of European
Minister of State for Europe (David Lidington): The
annual report on EU Justice and Home Affairs has provided a useful
point of reflection on current arrangements for Parliamentary
scrutiny over Justice and Home Affairs decisions. The Government
has come to the view that the current arrangements are not adequate
and the Parliament has too small a role.
I am therefore pleased to announce that the Government
has agreed an important package of measures to strengthen Parliamentary
scrutiny of EU business, including in the important area of Justice
and Home Affairs, to be elaborated and implemented in close consultation
with the Business Managers and the relevant Parliamentary Committees.
This Government is committed to upholding the right of Parliament
to hold the Government to account on EU issues and this package
will provide Parliament with further tools to enable it to do
this job effectively.
The Treaty of Lisbon provides for a five-year transitional
period after which the infringement powers of the European Commission
and the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) will
apply to all unamended police and criminal justice instruments
adopted under the pre-Lisbon 'third pillar' arrangements. The
transitional period began on 1 December 2009 and will end on 30
November 2014. The UK has until 31 May 2014 to choose whether
to accept the application of the Commission's infringement powers
and jurisdiction of the ECJ over this body of instruments or to
opt out of them entirely, in which case they will cease to apply
to the UK on 1 December 2014.
Parliament should have the right to give its view
on a decision of such importance. The Government therefore commits
to a vote in both Houses of Parliament before it makes a formal
decision on whether it wishes to opt-out. The Government will
conduct further consultations on the arrangements for this vote,
in particular with the European Scrutiny Committees, and the Commons
and Lords Home Affairs and Justice Select Committees and a further
announcement will be made in due course.
The Government is fully committed to rigorous Parliamentary
scrutiny of opt-in and Schengen opt-out decisions in relation
to new proposals from the Commission. The Government will continue
to honour the arrangements that are currently in place following
the undertakings of the then Government Minister, Baroness Ashton,
for enhanced Parliamentary scrutiny of JHA opt-in decisions. The
Government will also will undertake to extend scrutiny of opt-in
decisions with the following commitments.
Firstly, following the existing process of Parliamentary
scrutiny of all JHA measures under Title V of the Treaty on the
Functioning of the European Union (TFEU), the Government commits
to make a written statement to Parliament on each opt-in decision
to ensure that Parliament is fully informed of the Government's
decision and of the reasons why it believes its decision is in
the national interest. Where appropriate and necessary, this
statement may be made orally to Parliament.
Secondly, the Government urges the Committees to
take full advantage of their existing right to call a debate on
an amendable motion on any opt-in decision and expresses its willingness
to participate in these debates to ensure full transparency and
accountability of opt-in decisions.
Thirdly, in circumstances where there is particularly
strong Parliamentary interest in the Government's decision on
whether or not to opt in to such a measure, the Government expresses
its willingness to set aside Government time for a debate in both
Houses on the basis of a motion on the Government's recommended
approach on the opt-in. The precise details of these arrangements
to allow such debates and the circumstances in which Government
time would be set aside will be the subject of further consultation
with the European Scrutiny Committees, Business Managers and the
Commons and Lords Home Affairs and Justice Select Committees.
These discussions will also need to determine how arrangements
would operate during periods of parliamentary recess and dissolution
of Parliament. However, the Government believes that as a general
rule, it would be appropriate to do so in circumstances where
it proposes to opt in to a measure which would have a substantial
impact on the United Kingdom's criminal or civil law, our national
security, civil liberties or immigration policy. The Government
will also put in place analogous arrangements for parliamentary
scrutiny of decisions to opt-out of measures under the Schengen
As currently, the Government will not override the
scrutiny process unless an earlier opt-in decision is essential.
Where the Government considers an early opt-in to be necessary,
it will explain its reasons to Parliament through the statement
set out above. In these circumstances, it would usually be appropriate
for the statement to be made orally.
The Government is committed to strengthening its
engagement with Parliament on all European Union business as part
of our wider work to reduce the democratic deficit over EU matters.
It will review the arrangements for engagement on EU issues in
consultation with Parliament, and make a further announcement
in due course.
These measures will significantly strengthen Parliament's
oversight of EU Justice and Home Affairs matters and make the
Government more accountable for the decisions it makes in the
I have discussed the terms of this statement with
the Home Secretary and the Justice Secretary who agree with its