Reforming the European Scrutiny System in the House of Commons - European Scrutiny Committee Contents


The depth and pace of EU integration, now accelerating with demands for fiscal and political union and economic governance, has demonstrated the need for effective democratic parliamentary scrutiny and accountability of Government at Westminster— all of which affects the UK electorate. Since the UK joined the EEC, and the passing of the European Communities Act 1972, we and our predecessor Committees have been established under the Standing Orders of the House of Commons with the central task of prioritising EU proposals for scrutiny according to their political and legal importance.

This is the first major inquiry into the European scrutiny system in the House of Commons for eight years. We have examined each aspect of our current powers, and also scrutinised the effectiveness of the other components of the system: Departmental Select Committees, European Committees and debates on the floor of the House. We set out full conclusions in Chapter 9.

There is a need for essential reform to make the existing system more coherent and co-ordinated. Our sifting role is valued across the House. But there is more that we could do to look at the impact of new proposals on the electors of the United Kingdom, and our Standing Orders require an urgent update. The evidence we took showed how important it is to ensure that the policy expertise of Departmental Select Committees is applied to these complex questions; we propose that there should be a new requirement to appoint 'Reporters' to take the lead within Committees on EU issues, as well as a more co-ordinated approach to the Commission Work Programme.

We were told that the existing European Committee system should be scrapped; we do not agree. The system must be enhanced. The problems with European Committees as currently constituted arise from the fact that new Members are appointed for each document. We argue forcefully for a return to the permanent membership system, new powers and a change of name to reflect the Committees' core purpose: EU Document Debate Committees.

Given the vital primacy of the United Kingdom Parliament, we also examined how EU business is taken on the floor of the House, and the procedures which apply to it. We set out a series of recommendations about the way debates are scheduled and conducted and put the case for a new session of 'EU Questions'.

In Chapter 8 of the Report we review our own working practices and the visibility of the House's scrutiny of the EU in the media. It was disappointing that in the final stages of our inquiry we were thwarted in our efforts to hold two final key evidence sessions: one with the prospective Head of the UK Permanent Representation to the EU (UKRep), Ivan Rogers, and the second with the Chairman of the BBC Trust, Lord Patten of Barnes. In earlier evidence from the BBC, it was clear to us that serious questions need to be answered about how EU issues in general and scrutiny in particular are covered and explained, given the fundamental importance of this scrutiny to the workings of our parliamentary and legislative systems. We will take this forward over the coming months.

As important as all these recommendations are it is now time also to take more radical steps. Throughout this Report we allude to the fundamental role of national Parliaments - which has been emphasised in speeches this year by the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary and the Minister for Europe. It is time to translate this shared view into concrete proposals, and we do so in this Report. Not only do we recommend a strengthening of the scrutiny reserve, we conclude that now is the time to propose the introduction of a form of national veto over EU legislative proposals, and then to explore the mechanics of disapplication of parts of existing EU obligations, notwithstanding the European Communities Act 1972.

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Prepared 28 November 2013