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

9  Conclusion

278.  We noted at the beginning of this Report that our influence must be focused on the UK Government. This is the key purpose of scrutiny; reflecting the primacy of the UK Parliament. As we pointed out in the introduction, the context of the Prime Minister's Bloomberg speech is highly relevant, in particular the 'fourth principle'—"It is national parliaments, which are, and will remain, the true source of real democratic legitimacy and accountability in the EU". The collective influence of national parliaments in the light of the Lisbon Treaty, for example through the Reasoned Opinion process, must also be considered to be part of the scrutiny process.

279.  There are two reasons why a system of Parliamentary scrutiny of EU proposals was first established in 1972. First, by joining the EU the UK agreed to be legally bound by directly effective EU legislation; such legislation became automatically binding on UK citizens without the rigorous scrutiny which accompanies the enactment of a Bill. This was a very significant shift away from full Parliamentary scrutiny of legislation which is, in effect, the same as national legislation but without Acts of Parliament—and, because of Qualified Majority Voting, does not necessarily originate in Government policy. Secondly, if not directly effective, EU obligations were to be implemented by secondary legislation by virtue of section 2(2) of the European Communities Act 1972. Parliamentary scrutiny of secondary legislation implementing EU obligations is limited in scope—it cannot question the policy being implemented, but simply whether it has been done so correctly. Hence the pre-eminent importance of Parliamentary scrutiny of EU documents: it is the only means Parliament has of influencing EU policy before it becomes binding legislation. The reforms we recommend in this Report should be viewed in that light.

280.  Our conclusions and recommendations are set out in full in the following section of this Report. They represent an agenda for radical reform of the scrutiny system. On the primacy question, we make a set of recommendations to improve the way in which debates are scheduled and conducted, but also conclude that there must be a strengthening of the scrutiny reserve to reflect the reality of decision-making in Coreper and by Qualified Majority Voting. We ask that more use is made of Supplementary Explanatory Memoranda to re-impose the scrutiny reserve when documents change during negotiations. More fundamentally, we see no reason why the idea of a national veto should not be urgently developed and decided, given the emerging discussions about collective 'red cards'.

281.  The Modernisation Committee's 2005 Report on the scrutiny of European business was not debated by the House until three years after its publication, which was completely unacceptable. In the context of the current tone of debate at EU level, the moves towards deeper EU integration highlighted in successive Commission publications and the prospect of an EU in/out referendum in or before 2017 there is evidently an urgent need for the House and its Committees to address our conclusions and recommendations.

282.  We ask the Government to ensure that it responds to our Report within the customary two-month deadline, and the Procedure Committee and the Liaison Committee to consider those recommendations relevant to them, alongside the Government's response, so that this matter is brought to the floor of the House no later than Easter 2014.

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© Parliamentary copyright 2013
Prepared 28 November 2013