6 Departmental Select Committees |
189. House of Commons Departmental Select Committees
are appointed under Standing Order No. 152 to scrutinise the expenditure,
administration and policy of particular Government Departments.
Unlike 'subject' committees in some other EU countries, they
do not routinely examine legislation; nor are they obliged under
Standing Orders to look at EU documents or developments, though
we have the power formally to request an Opinion from a Select
Committee on an EU document under our Standing Order No. 143(11).
The Liaison Committee recently reported on Select committee
effectiveness, resources and powers, welcoming our inquiry
and strengthening the Committees' relevant core task, which now
reads to "scrutinise policy developments at the European
level and EU legislative proposals". In the context of the
transposition of EU Directives, new Core Task 5"To
assist the House in its consideration of bills and statutory instruments"is
also, clearly, relevant.
190. Much of the evidence we received emphasised
the importance of Departmental Select Committee involvement in
scrutinising EU policy because of their knowledge of the wider
subject and ability to conduct inquiries. Many other EU national
parliaments have 'mainstreamed' EU matters wholly or partly to
their 'subject' or 'sectoral' Committees (see the comparative
systems Annex to this Report), as have the Scottish Parliament,
Northern Ireland Assembly and the National Assembly for Wales.
Dr Auel told us that in some of those systems subject committees
have become "very involved" in EU issues and that in
Finland, for example "in the committees of commerce or environment
EU issues take up 60% to 70% of committee time".
191. We heard (and know from our own experience)
that the approach of Commons Departmental Select Committees to
scrutinising European issues varies greatly. This is not surprisingfor
a start, the subject matter covered by some Committees is much
more influenced by EU policy than others. There is good practice;
the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee was mentioned
to us as a positive example during oral evidence
and was also the only select committee to submit written evidence
in its own right.
The Justice Committee produced an excellent Report on complex
data protection proposals following our request for an Opinion,
and the Transport Committee conducted a follow-up Report on Flight
Time Limitations within a short timescale.
The Energy and Climate Change Committee responded quickly to
an Opinion request, and in the light of its comments we recommended
a Commission Communication for debate in European Committee.
192. Others, in the words of one Select Committee
Chair, recognise that there is a "need to do more".
The memorandum from Dr Julie Smith and Dr Ariella Huff concluded
that "while some DSCs have been effective at systematically
incorporating the European dimension into their broader scrutiny,
others have proven largely unable and/or unwilling to do so."
Members of the European Conservatives and Reformists Group of
the European Parliament stated "We work on many proposals
of great economic importance to the UK where a more detailed response
from one of the Commons Select Committees would be welcome. At
the moment, we rely entirely on the House of Lords to provide
this detailed examination."
The Fresh Start Project commented that DSCs could be "more
and the Liberal Democrat Parliamentary Party Committee on International
Affairs noted the ad hoc nature of current Departmental Select
193. The Minister for Europe said:
I know this Committee has the power to refer particular
issues to departmental Select Committees, and sometimes there
is a reluctance there to take up the baton, and I think the departmental
Select Committees do need to take more seriously their strategic
responsibility for an overview of both the formulation and implementation
of EU-level policy.
194. He added later:
What I am seeking, whatever institutional form this
takes, is something of a cultural change in the House to regard
European business as mainstream however we do European business.
In those circumstances, we would need to look again at the Standing
Orders of the House to reinforce that the European aspect of a
Select Committee's responsibilities is something that is core.
195. The Rt Hon Sir Alan Beith MP, Chair of the
Liaison Committee and of the Justice Committee, urged us not to
"discount" what was already being done by Select Committees.
He observed that there was an "additional barrier" to
explaining that "unless you have been able to establish that
something that is doing the rounds in the Commission is going
somewhere then you risk taking up a lot of Committee time on things
that will not be productive in the end."
He also noted that "each Chairman is juggling a very considerable
Nonetheless, even after taking all these factors into account,
he concluded that "there is a great deal more that can and
should be done."
LIAISON BETWEEN THE EUROPEAN SCRUTINY
COMMITTEE AND DEPARTMENTAL SELECT COMMITTEES
196. There are currently systems of informal
and formal liaison between the European Scrutiny Committee and
Departmental Select Committees. After each Scrutiny Committee
meeting the staff of other Committees are notified of the outcome,
and relevant briefing material is made available to them. Departmental
Select Committee Chairs are also notified of debate recommendations
to European Committee, so that their Committees can nominate members.
197. The formal power is that given under Standing
Order No. 143(11) to the European Scrutiny Committee, "to
seek from any committee specified in paragraph (12) of this order
an opinion on any European Union document, and to require a reply
to such a request within such time as it may specify." This
power was originally introduced in 1998 and represents an unusually
strong power for one select committee to possess. When it was
introduced the Modernisation Committee stated that it should be
used "sparingly in the first instance".
198. We requested 12 Opinions in Session 2010-12,
two in Session 2012-13 (in several other cases Committees announced
inquiries into specific measures at the same time as our scrutiny,
rendering a formal Opinion unnecessary); and five to date in Session
2013-14. The format of the responses has varied. Some have been
in the form of letters from the Chair of the relevant Committee.
Two Opinions requested of the International Development Committee
fell within an inquiry which it was already conducting. The International
Development Committee wrote to us outlining its findings subsequent
to producing a Report. Two, from the Justice and Transport Committees,
were in the form of Reports based on a series of evidence sessions
and written evidence submissions, as we have already noted.
199. The Liaison Committee memorandum suggested
that there was scope for more use of Opinions, though it added
the caveat that "the right of individual Committees to determine
their work programmes" should be respected,
and one of the Chairs giving evidence to us expressed some concerns
about the volume of extra work which would be involved if many
Opinions were requested.
As we have already noted, given the potential significance of
White Papers and Green Papers at the earlier stages of the policy
process, we are considering referring these to DSCs for Opinion
more frequently, and have noted the Liaison Committee's view that
there is scope for more Opinions to be issued.
200. We set out some of the evidence we received
about engagement at the initial stages of policy development earlier
in this Report. We heard from the Rt Hon Sir Alan Beith MP that
the Liaison Committee had been in discussions with the Minister
for Europe on how to improve the flow of 'upstream' information
on EU policies to Westminster.
When we first took evidence from the Minister for Europe he confirmed
We are also considering across Government a proposal
that the more senior officials in UKRep and other posts offer
oral off-the-record briefings to parliamentary Committees, including
the European Scrutiny Committee. That is something that will have
to be agreed on a cross-Government basis, because this would involve
some officials who are parented to departments other than the
Foreign Office, but that I think is indicative of the approach
we want to see for greater engagement.
201. Links between UKRep and the NPO are already
being further developed following discussions between the Minister
for Europe and the Liaison Committee and we hope that this, coupled
with our earlier recommendation to widen access to the material
which the NPO produces, will improve upstream engagement of Committees.
Dr Julie Smith emphasised the importance of utilising information
received from the NPO and its links with UKRep to influence EU
policy at an early stage.
As the written evidence from the Liaison Committee noted, gaining
access to the expertise of UKRep in Westminster could further
enhance a Committee's ability to engage at a sufficiently early
stage in the EU policy formation process.
In his evidence to us Sir Jon Cunliffe said that UKRep would
be "very happy" to assist Committees in informal briefings,
however he added a caveat stating "the policy on these issues
is not owned by UKRep".
202. Following these discussions what looked
to be a promising initiative has not progressed as fast as had
been hoped. The Minister for Europe told us:
We made it clear, in our discussions with the scrutiny
coordinators across Whitehall, that we think this is a sensible
approach, but it is ultimately for the Ministers in each Department
to decide, case by case, whether they will agree to a request
from the Committee or take the initiative and offer this ... I
encourage my colleagues to do that, but I cannot order them.
203. This is the subject of ongoing discussions
between the Liaison Committee and the Minister for Europe. In
our view, a solution must be found in line with parliamentary
accountability, and which will enable Departmental Select Committees
to pursue their policy analysis, while we retain our sifting role.
204. We recognise that much
of the strength of Departmental Select Committees comes from their
autonomy and the independence they have to set their agenda.
We are aware that our colleagues on Departmental Select Committees
already have busy work programmes and it is also right to acknowledge
that for some Committees EU matters may prove divisive. For all
these reasons there appears to be no appetite for full mainstreaming
of EU legislative scrutiny to Departmental Select Committees,
but in our view the current situation is not sustainable. It is
15 years since our predecessor Committee wrote to the Modernisation
Committee concluding that "There has been wide agreement
that DSCs 'should do more about Europe', but in practice nothing
much has happened." The fact that the debate still has a
similar tone, given all that has happened in the EU over those
15 years, is disappointing.
205. We have already concluded
that we should retain our sifting, overarching remit: we provide
a crucially-important mechanism for the House to focus on the
most important proposals on the basis of a judgement made by elected
politicians, with expert support. But it is clear to us that without
broader analysis conducted across the Departmental Select Committee
system the scrutiny process is incomplete. As Dr Julie Smith
put it "you need to find a way of making select committees
feel there is a reason for looking at Europe": the question
is, how can this be done in a way which is effective, but also
manageable at individual Departmental Select Committee level?
We therefore seek to propose changes which introduce more coherence
across the House, building on significant recent activity at official
level, for example by the re-establishment of the network of Departmental
Select Committee staff 'contact points' and regular meetings between
these staff and those of the European Scrutiny Committee and the
A GREATER SENSE OF COHERENCE AND
PRIORITISATION COMMISSION WORK PROGRAMME
206. We believe that more use could be made of
the Commission Work Programme. Dr Katrin Auel noted that it had
been used as a cue to set priorities in the Netherlands, which
we also heard when we visited the Tweede Kamer.
The Tweede Kamer produces an annual document, EU Scrutiny,
which contains a list of the proposals from the Work Programme
which have been prioritised by Standing Committees. The final
list is discussed by the Standing Committee on European Affairs
and then approved by the plenary. A COSAC questionnaire conducted
in 2011 revealed that seven Parliaments/Chambers used the published
Work Programme to define priorities for scrutiny.
207. Other witnesses, for example the Minister
for Europe, the
Liberal Democrat PPC on International Affairs,
Gisela Stuart MP,
and Andrea Leadsom MP,
all raised the potential advantages of working in a more strategic
way, and the written evidence from the FCO commented that an early
debate on the Work Programme could "help identify areas of
policy concern for both Parliament and Government"
though Sir Jon Cunliffe noted some of the Work Programme's limitations
as a document, particularly the general terms in which it is drafted,
acknowledging that "it is a pretty difficult document to
wrestle with. Much of it is aspiration rather than concrete plan
... but we have that document, which suggests areas of action
where the Commission intends to bring forward proposals."
208. Professor Simon Hix noted that the election
of a new President of the Commission might change the nature of
I can imagine that if there are rival candidates
for the Commission Presidency next spring and a Commission President
is then chosen through this mechanism, the Commission President
will feel that he or she has a much clearer mandate. I then think
you will see the work programme take on a different characteristic
... If that is the case, then I think the work programme could
be much more useful as a tool for national parliaments and governments
and the European Parliament to hold the Commission to account
on the types of promises of the things it wants to deliver.
209. We recommend that the
House, through the European Scrutiny Committee and Departmental
Select Committees, produces a document along the lines of the
Netherlands model. All Departmental Select Committees would be
expected to set out which of the proposals in the Programme they
will aim to scrutinise, forming the basis for a debate which takes
place in the House at the beginning of the Work Programme period.
Should a Departmental Select Committee indicate to us that it
saw a document as particularly worthy of debate, we would take
account of that. We as a Committee would also continue to review
the Work Programme. The Government would then use this information
as a basis for making commitments to hold debates on particular
documents, following discussions with this Committee (and without
prejudice to our right to refer documents for debate). The Work
Programme for the coming year is usually published in the autumn
and comes into effect in January, so the timeframe for doing this
would typically be November and December. We would publish a Report
for debate on the floor of the House setting out our priorities
and those of the Departmental Select Committees.
210. At the very least this would introduce a
sense of common purpose, and progress from the current situation
where, as the Rt Hon Keith Vaz MP, Chair of the Home Affairs Committee,
said, that the "worst thing is everybody doing things separately".
It would also link to the concept of upstream scrutiny which has
already been considered in this Report and has been the subject
of correspondence since 2011 between the FCO and the Liaison Committee.
It could provide an appropriate 'nudge' to Departmental Select
Committees at the beginning of the year to at least consider which
European proposals might be the most significant in their area,
and how work on these could fit into their other activity. But
on its own this is unlikely to be sufficient.
211. The Liaison Committee memorandum stated:
We believe there may be merit in adopting the Scottish
Parliament Committee model of appointing a Member to act as a
Rapporteur to monitor developments in the European Union in their
212. The Rt Hon Sir Alan Beith MP, in his oral
evidence, stated that in his view:
as far as rapporteurs are concerned, Committees do
need the freedom to experiment and develop tools that work for
them; that has certainly been the approach of the Liaison Committee:
to recommend ideas without saying, 'This is the way every Committee
has got to do it.' It may depend also on the personalities you
have on the Committee. If you have got somebody who is prepared
to take on a more continuous responsibility for Europe-related
issues, primarily to alert other Members as appropriate, then
Committees should feel free to take that step.
213. Several of the Members we took evidence
from, including Chris Heaton-Harris and Richard Bacon
were in favour of the Reporter proposal. We also heard from members
of the Scottish Parliament at an informal video-conference meeting
that, on balance, it had worked well there; an evaluation of the
role at the end of the pilot period concluded:
There remain different views as to whether there
is benefit in retaining the EU Reporter role as presently defined.
On balance, it is considered that there is merit in retaining
the role of EU Reporter, clearly defining the role and responsibilities,
which are far greater than the weekly scrutiny of EU documents.
The role of the EU Reporter is to act as 'champion' for EU matters
within the committee. This will involve promoting the European
dimension in the work of the committee, taking the lead on EU
early engagement and in developing relationships with the European
Commission and European Parliament, leading the committee's EU
scrutiny work, promoting and speaking to European issues, highlighting
the European dimension within policy debates and acting as a conduit
between the committee and the European Committee of the Scottish
Parliament. It is recommended that the role should be reviewed
after an agreed period (e.g. 12 months).
214. David T C Davies MP, Chair of the Welsh
Affairs Committee, expressed concerns about Reporters in general,
describing this as "opening up a bit of a Pandora's box".
Dr Ariella Huff noted that it might not be a particularly popular
position, and "a very difficult sell";
Dr Julie Smith commented that "It might not be my first choice
... but we are not in a perfect world and it would at least mean
there would be some European expertise developed in each of the
Responses to these questions on our survey were finely balanced.
215. The idea of Committee Reporters (or Rapporteurs)
is not a panacea. It is also not a new ideathe Modernisation
Committee recommended that select committees "experiment"
with appointing one of their members as a Rapporteur on a specific
task over 10 years ago,
and our predecessor Committee developed that idea to suggest that
Departmental Select Committees "or at least those in subject
areas with much EU legislation" considered appointing a European
Rapporteur to "keep a watching brief on developments in the
EU, and whom we could consult and pass information to."
We note that the Liaison Committee looks favourably on the idea,
but as a voluntary step.
216. We take the view that,
Committee autonomy notwithstanding, it is clear that the existing
approach to EU scrutiny within Departmental Select Committees
needs improvement. We see engagement with the Work Programme as
a way of setting priorities, and in order for this to work during
the year it also requires ongoing engagement at Member level.
We therefore recommend that the requirement to appoint a European
Reporter on each Departmental Select Committee should be written
into Standing Orders. This could
be reviewed after the system has operated for two years.
217. If this is agreed to, we
note that a number of practical questions remain to be resolved
through discussion in the Liaison Committee: How would Reporters
be chosen by Departmental Select Committees? Could there be more
than one per Committee? Would there need to be some kind of co-ordination
across the House of which political party they were from? What
resources, if any, would they need to do their job effectively?
What precisely should their role be? Could Members seeking election
for membership of Select Committees within their parties, for
example, publicise that they would seek to take on this role?
Should Reporters be required to sit on European Committees?
218. We think that the combination
of European Reporters, and a more systematic approach to the Commission
Work Programme, could mark a significant shift in the way the
House as a whole approaches EU business. We hope that the Liaison
Committee will take these recommendations forward.
182 Liaison Committee, Second Report of Session 2012-13,
HC 697, Table 2 Back
Q 140 Back
See Q 140 [Dr Smith]. Back
Ev w26 Back
Justice Committee, Third Report of Session 2012-13, The Committee's
Opinion on the EU Data Protection framework proposals, HC
Transport Committee, Sixth Report of Session 2013-14, Flight
time limitations: follow-up, HC 641 Back
Eighth Report of Session 2013-14, HC 83-viii, Chapter 2 Back
Q 151 [Rt Hon Keith Vaz MP] Back
Ev w10, para 5 Back
Ev w3, para 9 Back
Ev w1, para 1(g) Back
Ev w19, Annex 1, para 1 Back
Q 1 Back
Q 12 Back
Q 152 Back
Q 150 Back
Q 150 Back
Q 159 Back
Q 152 Back
Modernisation Committee, Seventh Report of Session 1997-98, HC
791, para 35 Back
Ev w24, para 6 Back
See Qq 163-4 [David T C Davies MP]. Back
Q 150 Back
Q 29 Back
Q 119 Back
Ev w24, para 7 Back
Q 417 Back
Q 533 Back
The reference in para 204 is to Modernisation Committee, Seventh
Report of Session 1997-98, Memorandum by the Select Committee
on European Legislation, HC 791, Appendix 1, para 78 and the reference
in para 205 is to Q 143. Back
Q 122 Back
COSAC, Fifteenth Bi-annual Report: Developments in EU procedures
and practices relevant to parliamentary scrutiny, May 2011,
para 4.1.2 Back
Q 41 Back
Ev w20, para 6(c) Back
Q 254 Back
Q 289 Back
Ev w7, para 14 Back
Q 414 Back
Q 460 Back
Q 151 Back
Ev w25 Back
Ev w24, para 11 Back
Q 176 Back
Q 309 Back
EU scrutiny, Evaluation of pilot report, para 37, http://archive.scottish.parliament.uk/s3/committees/europe/reports-11/EU_scrutiny.pdf Back
Q 165 Back
Q 141 Back
Q 144 Back
Modernisation Committee, First Report of Session 2001-02, Select
Committees, HC 224, para 34 Back
European Scrutiny Committee, Thirtieth Report of Session 2001-02,
European Scrutiny in the Commons, HC 152-xxx, para 87 Back