8 The visibility of scrutiny and the
247. One of the aspects of this inquiry which
is different to those of our predecessors in 1996 and 2002 is
the emphasis we have placed on the public face of the Committee's
work. This reflects wider concerns both about the lack of knowledge
about the scrutiny system, voiced for example by the Liberal Democrat
Parliamentary Party Committee who referred to it as "too
and about the level of public debate about EU matters in the UK,
with Dr Julie Smith, for example, describing the "depth of
ignorance rather than the depth of interest".
248. We therefore took evidence from the BBC;
ITV and Sky; and David Keighley of the organisation Newswatch.
We also spoke to journalists during our visit to Brussels. We
have drawn on the points made by witnesses throughout this Report
for example relating to the work of European Committees
and debates on the floor of the House. But as well as drawing
directly on this experience, we also questioned our witnesses
on how the media reports on the EU question, such as the definition
The role of the media
249. Whether and how the media tells the public
what this Committee does is a critical factor in whether we have
any public profile at all and whether the public is properly informed
as to the impact of EU legislation. For example, our recent Report
on the JHA Block opt-out
received virtually no attention or comment despite its vital importance.
As Dr Katrin Auel noted, media coverage is where most people get
their information from.
Gisela Stuart MP commented that there was a particular role for
better journalism relating to the EU across the media: "if
the journalists themselves do not understand it and I
would suggest quite a number of them do not then they
cannot distil a complex message in a way that is understandable,
which ought to be their trade."
John McAndrew, Associate Editor of Sky News, neatly made the point:
What we should do is give it due prominence when
there is a story in or around Europe that is going to affect the
lives of people who watch our television channel or consume our
output in other ways. If you take the horsemeat scandal, the
euro crisis, Cyprus, various EU summits of late where
we have been a heavy presence in Brussels we can explain
to people why these things are current, why they matter to them
and what the consequences might be for people in this country.
250. We had a particular set of questions for
the BBC, given its unique position as the publicly-funded, public
sector broadcaster and also as an organisation which has been
the subject of several independent reviews assessing its EU coverage.
David Keighley of Newswatch commented to us that "Most broadcasters
think that coverage of EU affairs is quite difficult ... I would
not say that the BBC is particularly worse or better than others
in that respect ... Lord Wilson drew attention to ... [the fact]
that the BBC has that special responsibility."
His written evidence expressed concerns that "Euroscepticism,
including the case for withdrawal, is supported by MPs and Peers
in both the Conservative and Labour parties, and by large sections
of the public, but has been disturbingly under-reported by the
later evidence stated:
In my view, it is clearly incumbent upon the BBC
to report such matters not only in the specialist Parliamentary
output but also on mainstream news and current affairs programmes.
That they do not shows a cultural assumption and editorial mind-set
that the EU is inevitably a good thing, which doesn't deserve
any detailed or critical scrutiny. Wilson was very precise in
what he expected the BBC to do. Eight years on, they stubbornly
refuse to implement his recommendations. 
251. The Wilson review referred to by David Keighley
was an independent review of the BBC's news coverage of the European
Union, which reported in January 2005.
The review was chaired by Lord Wilson of Dinton, the former Cabinet
Secretary, and found that "[I]n short ... the BBC's coverage
of EU news needs to be improved and to be made more demonstrably
A series of commitments and initiatives were made and taken by
the BBC in the light of the review, including the appointment
of a Europe Editor based in Brussels,
a renewed focus on training "to improve BBC journalists'
understanding of the complexities of Europe"
and new arrangements to "involve programme editors in regular
discussions about the BBC's coverage of Europe".
252. We questioned a group of witnesses from
the BBC about events since the Wilson Review. They stated that
the appointment of the Europe Editor was "The biggest single
thing, which made a real impact on air";
and added that there had also been significant improvements in
the training for journalists.
253. Following this evidence session we asked
the BBC a series of further questions in writing, on broadcasting
decisions, complexity and explanation, the Wilson Report and Prebble
Review and its Charter Obligations. These questions, and the
BBC's replies, are published in full as evidence on our website.
The BBC explained "a number of measures were implemented
in response to the Wilson report. A Europe editor was appointed.
New training resources were provided and all journalists were
required to take a course on reporting Europe. Coverage of European
issues is reviewed regularly at BBC News's Editorial Board. Coverage
of European issues was widened to look beyond the Westminster
prism and all output ensured a wide range of interviewees."
In a further letter the Controller of BBC Parliament refuted any
suggestion that the BBC thought Europe "too complicated"
for its viewers, concluding "we do not think that Europe
is either boring or too difficult."
254. Given these comments we also followed during
the course of our inquiry a separate "impartiality review
of the breadth of opinion reflected in BBC output" launched
by the BBC Trust in 2012. The review paid particular attention
to coverage of immigration, religion and ethics and the UK's relationship
to the EU and was conducted by former broadcasting executive Stuart
Prebble. We were particularly interested that the BBC was returning
to this issue, given the tone of the Wilson Report.
255. The Prebble review reported in July 2013.
It concluded that:
What this adds up to is that with a complex subject
in a complex world, as is the EU, the average viewer and listener
is unlikely to find as much breadth of opinion as is available
merely by watching and listening to the mainstream bulletins.
Even the Today programme, with its three hours of discussion time
available, cannot do justice to the full range of information
and opinion which deserves an airing. However, if the viewer and
listener is prepared to meet the BBC halfwayto do a bit
of diggingonly the very unreasonable would argue that the
BBC is not providing a suitable breadth of views and opinion on
the subject of Europe. It is there if you want to find it.
256. The BBC Trust generally welcomed the review's
conclusions and noted "Stuart Prebble's description of a
slowness in the past in accommodating opinion on immigration and
the EU which politicians were uncomfortable in voicing."
 It concluded
On Europe, the Trust notes that, in the snapshot
of programmes it examined, the content analysis indicated the
EU was more often treated as a problem in BBC content than otherwise
and that this applied both to 2007 and to 2012. In both years
much of the coverage could be characterised as relatively narrow
and procedural and there was little substantive information about
what the EU actually does and how much it actually costs. Interesting
and informing the public on the UK and the European Union is a
continuing challenge for the BBC. The Trust draws the Executive's
attention to the audience research which suggested that audiences
are aware they may have a referendum on the EU and expressed an
interest in reliable economic views, and to the European Commission's
submission to this review, which said the issue it thought needed
be addressed most vigorously was ensuring journalists had the
requisite knowledge and information. The Trust considers the EU
is an area where it may be particularly valuable for the BBC Executive
to consider Stuart Prebble's recommendation that finding new voices
become a routine part of the job in relevant roles within the
BBC ... and considers BBC management should feel encouraged in
its efforts to develop a range of new voices and opinions.
257. The Trust's response later builds on this
final point, stating that "The Trust believes that deciding
how much space to afford Westminster politicians is a particular
challenge for BBC News" and invited the Director of News
"to consider how BBC journalists can broaden both the range
of people who comment on stories and the range of stories itself."
258. Following publication of the Prebble Review,
which was itself commissioned by the BBC Trust, we invited Lord
Patten of Barnes, Chairman of the BBC Trust, to give oral evidence
to us. He twice declined our invitation, following which we resolved
unanimously that he "ought to appear" before us at the
end of November. Just before we agreed this Report, Lord Patten
wrote to us for a third time. He, again, refused to appear before
I have consulted my colleagues on the BBC Trust and
this letter reflects our collective and unanimous view. It is
incumbent upon the Trust under the terms of the Royal Charter
to stand up for the independence of the BBC and in particular
its editorial independence. We are bound to weigh this as of
paramount importance when viewed against a request to appear before
your Committee which we believe to be inappropriate. Accordingly,
I must decline your request.
As part of our role I and my colleagues appear quite
properly in front of the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee
and the Public Accounts Committee, and neither attempts to engage
with us - as you are proposing to do - on the editorial decisions
of the BBC. Since becoming BBC Trust Chairman in May 2011, I
myself have appeared before these two committees a total of six
times. In this context I should add that, notwithstanding the
implication of your letter, I have never sought to argue that
my membership of the House of Lords should be a bar to appearing
before Select Committees of the House of Commons.
We wonder if you have considered that the result
of you asserting your right to call me before your committee on
this issue is that BBC Trustees could in future be required to
appear before any select committee to discuss the coverage of
the BBC in its particular area of responsibility.
It is not therefore beyond the bounds of possibility
to conceive that in quite short order we could be expected to
answer to say the Home Affairs Committee on the BBC's coverage
of that area, or the Foreign Affairs Committee on international
stories. We can't believe that is what was intended when the
Royal Charter was drafted and we do not believe that it is consistent
with the ideal of an independent Trust protecting the BBC from
undue political interference.
We would also point out that the BBC has already
appeared in front of your Committee as part of this particular
inquiry, with evidence provided by Ric Bailey, Mary Hockaday and
Peter Knowles as senior Executives responsible for the areas under
review. We have also madeand now repeatan offer
of a briefing from the BBC Trust on our responsibilities for editorial
issues, including the handling of editorial complaints.
259. We conclude that given
the possibility of some form of EU referendumeither on
membership or following treaty changeover the next ten
years, the media, particularly (given its role) the BBC, needs
to ask itself difficult questions about how it deals with EU issues.
We are not convinced that the Prebble Review and the responses
from the BBC Executive and BBC Trust have sufficiently asked,
let alone answered, these questions. Some issues highlighted in
the review (such as apathy, which is described in the Prebble
review as "the main enemy") are not, in our view, best
addressed by measures such as the "cross-promotion of BBC
services"; something more profound and strategic is necessary.
We are disappointed, in this respect, that the section at the
back of the BBC Trust's response which lists the areas in which
an update is required from the BBC's Editorial Director in summer
2014 makes two specific references to religion and ethics but
no specific mention of EU coverage. It is unacceptable that we
have not had the opportunity to resolve these outstanding points
because the Chairman of the BBC Trust, which commissioned the
Prebble Report, has refused to appear before us for a public oral
260. We reject the assertion
in Lord Patten's letter that our invitation to him to give oral
evidence was "inappropriate". We fully respect the
editorial independence of the BBC. But that does not mean that
the BBC Trust is above Parliament, and should pick and choose
its interlocutors here.
261. The role of the BBC Trust, under the Charter,
as it applied to this inquiry, was to be our focus in this session.
We have already set out points on which we were seeking further
evidence from the BBC Trust, particularly in the light of the
Prebble Review (which was commissioned by the Trust). Supplementary
written evidence from the BBC quoted Lord Patten as stating, with
regard to the particular subjects to be covered by the Prebble
reviewreligion, Europe and immigrationthat "we've
been criticised in those areas and we think it's very important
to listen to that criticism, not necessarily because it's right
but because it reflects real and interesting concerns."
262. We publish our exchanges
of letters with Lord Patten alongside this Report. We do not
see why it is "inappropriate" to questionin publica
publicly-funded organisation on a review it has conducted, and
what it will be doing to follow up that review. The BBC Trust's
defensiveness on this point is deeply disappointing and the broad-brush
nature of the refusal will be of interest to all Select Committees.
We invite, as part of the follow-up to this inquiry, the BBC
(including the Chairman of the BBC Trust), to give oral evidence
in the spring of 2014, to set out what follow-up actions have
been taken in the light of the Prebble Review, and to take forward
the points raised in correspondence and in our supplementary questions,
on such key matters as broadcasting decisions, complexity and
explanation, the Prebble Review and Charter Obligations.
Reform of European Scrutiny Committee
263. We set out below a series of measures we
are taking to reform our working practices in the light of this
inquiry, and also set out important areas of activity which we
intend to continue and enhance. Some measures we have taken already,
for example publishing meeting summaries. We are pleased to note
that good feedback has been received from journalists and stakeholders
to our initiatives so far, and we hope that this will translate
into more and better reporting of European scrutiny in the House
of Commons, and a better understanding of our work among the public.
DOCUMENTS AND REPORTS
264. As well as reporting on individual documents,
we will continue to conduct a limited number of more detailed
inquiries into documents, groups of documents, or related issues,
as permitted in our Standing Orders. We will continue to strike
a balance between broad scrutiny and in-depth scrutiny, also taking
into account the fact that we have no wish to duplicate the policy
analysis conducted by Departmental Select Committees.
265. Several recommendations in this Report,
particularly those relating to document deposit, could increase
the workload associated with document scrutiny, and therefore
mean that our existing staff team would need to be expanded.
We will keep this under review.
ENGAGEMENT WITH THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT
266. Witnesses raised with us the importance
of engaging with the European Parliament. Such engagement does
already occur through the NPO and through regular tripartite meetings
of this Committee with colleagues in the House of Lords and United
Kingdom MEPs (indeed, the House of Commons is hosting the next
such meeting in December 2013), as well as engagement at sectoral
inter-parliamentary meetings and COSAC. The memorandum we received
from the European Conservatives and Reformists Group in the European
Parliament referred to such contacts as a way of upstreaming;
Gisela Stuart MP commented that there is currently "a kind
of dialogue where a major partner is missing".
The importance of engagement with MEPs was also emphasised by
Chris Heaton-Harris MP and Richard Bacon MP, 
Sir Jon Cunliffe
and the Rt Hon Sir Alan Beith MP.
267. We have previously noted the importance
we attach to upstream engagement, and we welcome greater engagement
between Members of the European Parliament and MPs, including
attendance at various events and meetings. However, it is also
right to note in the context of the discussions on democratic
legitimacy that there can be something of a tension between
the roles of the two institutions, and the sensible approach is
therefore to approach co-operation in a pragmatic and practical
way, which is what we encourage our colleagues on Departmental
Select Committees to do, particularly in relation to attendance
at sectoral inter-parliamentary meetings.
THE COMMITTEE'S INFORMAL MEETINGS
268. We will continue to take full advantage
of the opportunities given to us to discuss scrutiny issues with
colleagues in the House of Lords, across the UK and across Europe,
at the meetings of the EC-UK forum (the Chairs of the European
Affairs, or equivalent, Committees of the House of Commons and
House of Lords, the Northern Ireland Assembly, the Scottish Parliament
and the National Assembly for Wales), the tripartite (the Scrutiny
Committees of the House of Commons and the House of Lords and
UK MEPs) and COSAC.
269. Meeting in public was mentioned by some
witnesses as a way of increasing transparency, for example Chris
We remain of the opinion that the experience of sitting in public
to deliberate in 2008 was not a successful one, and we do not
recommend that it be repeated. Quite simply we think it right
to continue the normal select committee process of taking evidence
in public and deliberating in private. However, there is much
that can be done to communicate the Committee's work in a more
effective way. The fact that the Committee publishes weekly reports
on documents, putting its views on the record and in the public
domain, already contributes to transparency and, indeed, Dr Auel
rated the House of Commons system "quite highly, or very
highly, on the transparency of its proceedings in the Committee
and in European Committees."
270. Since the beginning of
the 2013-14 Session we have produced public meeting summaries,
which are usually on our website the day of or the day after the
meeting. These have been widely welcomed. We recognise that
more could be done to develop our communications and our websiteparticularly
by making it easier to navigateand we will be taking this
forward over the coming year. Until 2010 most Select Committees
(including the European Scrutiny Committee) produced an Annual
Report. This practice has now ceased, but it has become clear
during the course of this inquiry that so many of the issues we
consider recur over time that we should re-establish this practice
with effect from the end of the 2013-14 Session.
271. One option we discussed with witnesses was
the possibility of us holding a pre-appointment hearing with the
next head of UKRep. Even if conducted on an informal basis, giving
the opportunity to potential holders of this key post to explain
the approach they intended to take would in our view enhance the
scrutiny process. The then Head of UKRep, Sir Jon Cunliffe, told
us that this was "a question for Parliament and for the Government,
I work within the system that we have and I am sure Ministers
would be happy to answer on that."
272. Professor Simon Hix noted that other Ambassadors'
posts were not subject to such hearings but took the view:
From the Foreign Office's point of view, UKRep is
like the Ambassador to Washington, the Ambassador to Moscow and
the Ambassador to Beijing. Then there is the Ambassador in Brussels.
It is all part of the moving of chairs. I think UKRep is qualitatively
different, because UKRep is doing something different. UKRep
is negotiating legislation. It is doing something fundamentally
different. There is a reasonable argument to say that this is
a different process. This is a person who is a representative
of the British legislature in Brussels.
273. The Minister's response when we asked him
the question was as follows:
It is certainly a very important role, but the Permanent
Representative is an official who acts in line with policies that
have been agreed by Ministers. In that sense, he is in the same
position as the British Ambassador to Washington, Beijing or Berlin,
or our Permanent Representative at the United Nations. No, the
constitutional distinction that officials follow ministerial mandate,
and it is Ministers who are accountable to Parliament for their
officials, is the right one to maintain.
274. He continued that:
I do not want to hold out any real hope, this morning,
that the Government is likely to agree to the sort of pre-appointment
hearing that you have in mind.
275. Press reports appeared in early August 2013
that Ivan Rogers, then the Prime Minister's Adviser on European
and Global Issues, was shortly to be confirmed as the new Head
of UKRep. In the light of this development, the Chairman wrote
to the Prime Minister asking for the opportunity to hold an oral
evidence hearing with the prospective holder of this important
post. He confirmed that we would make our best efforts to make
time available for such a hearing in the first or second sitting
week in September.
276. We received a reply to our letter from the
Foreign Secretary on 3 September. While he sought to assure us
that he attached "the utmost importance to the accountability
of the Civil Service, including UKRep", he stated that he
did "not agree that diplomatic posts should be subject to
However, the reply did not directly address our point about the
quasi-legislative nature of the post, so in further correspondence
we asked the Foreign Secretary for a specific answer to this,
I agree this is certainly a very important role,
but the Permanent Representative is an official who acts in line
with policies that have been agreed by Ministers and does not
have quasi-legislative powers. The UK Permanent Representative
does not make rules and regulations, it is Ministers who agree
proposals and legislation at a Council of Ministers. The constitutional
distinction therefore that officials follow ministerial mandates,
and it is Ministers who are accountable to Parliament for their
officials, should be maintained.
277. We agree with the evidence
of Professor Simon Hix that the legislative nature of the UKRep
position makes it different in nature to other Ambassadorial appointments.
While we note the position of the Government, we believe that
prospective holders of this post should make themselves available
to give oral evidence to Committees of this House. We deeply
regret the fact that the Government did not permit this in the
case of the new Head of UKRep, and will take this forward through
the Liaison Committee.
253 Ev w19, para 5(f) Back
Q 118 Back
Twenty-first Report of Session 2013-14, The UK's block opt-out
of pre-Lisbon criminal law and policing measures, HC 683 Back
Q 148 Back
Q 274 Back
Q 360 Back
Q 325 Back
Ev w28, para 8 Back
Ev w36. See also the article by Roger Mosey, a senior former BBC
executive, in The Times, 8 November 2013, in which he commented
that "On the BBC's own admission, in recent years it did
not, with the virtue of hindsight, give enough space to anti-immigration
views or to EU-withdrawalists", and the book by Robin Aitken,
Can we trust the BBC? Back
BBC News Coverage of the European Union, Independent Panel Report,
January 2005 (available via the BBC Trust website) Back
BBC News Coverage of the European Union, Independent Panel Report,
January 2005 (available via the BBC Trust website), p 3 Back
Currently Gavin Hewitt, who has also published a book The Lost
Continent: Europe's darkest hour since World War II. Back
As respects the training of journalists, we note reports that
a charity called BBC Media Action is in receipt of £4.5 million
from the EU (see http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/10423013/BBC-faces-new-bias-row-over-charity-given-millions-by-EU.html) Back
BBC, The European Union - perceptions of the BBC's reporting:
management response: statement by the BBC Board of Governors Back
Q 226 Back
Q 229 Back
Ev w31 Back
Ev w36 [Peter Knowles] Back
BBC, A BBC Trust Review of the breadth of opinion reflected
in the BBC's output, July 2013, p 48 Back
As above, p 2 Back
As before, pp 9-10 Back
As before, p 11 Back
Ev w47. The references in para 259 are to p 12 and p 13 of the
Prebble Review. Back
Ev w2 Back
Q 245 Back
Q 312 Back
Q 421 Back
Q 154 Back
Q 307 Back
Q 116 Back
Q 406 Back
Q 475 Back
Q 534 Back
Q 537 Back
Ev w43 Back