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European Scrutiny Committee - Minutes of EvidenceHC 109-II

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Oral Evidence

Taken before the European Scrutiny Committee

on Wednesday 31 October 2012

Members present:

Mr William Cash (Chair)

Mr James Clappison

Michael Connarty

Julie Elliott

Nia Griffith

Kelvin Hopkins

Chris Kelly

Penny Mordaunt

Jacob ReesMogg

Henry Smith

________________

Examination of Witnesses

Witnesses: Rt Hon David Lidington MP, Minister for Europe, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Jill Morris, Additional Director, Europe, FCO, and Ivan Smyth, Legal Counsellor with Joint Responsibility for the EU and Wider Europe, FCO, gave evidence.

Q1 Chair: Minister, thank you very much indeed for coming on this rather important day, for a variety of reasons. As you know, the Committee itself has decided to hold this inquiry because we feel that the time has come to have a good look at European scrutiny, given the huge importance that it has for the conduct of Government and for the conduct of the affairs of the United Kingdom. We have invited written submissions on a range of matters, including: the purpose and background for the current scrutiny system; the sifting role and its place in the wider context of the House of Commons in relation to Select Committees, debates and questions on the Floor of the House and primary legislation; the mechanism that applies whereby the Committee refers documents to the European Committees; the expectations, understanding and coverage of the scrutiny process within and outside Westminster; potential changes to the current Standing Orders and the Scrutiny Reserve Resolution; and the current system of Government Explanatory Memoranda for depositing documents. Given that, my first question would be: if you had to choose a scrutiny system from elsewhere in the EU to import here, which would you choose and why, given the fact that we are trying to ask an English and not an Irish question as to where you start from? Our role is set by the House, but would the Government’s view be of this Committee being given a stronger mandating role along the lines of the Danish or Finnish models?

David Lidington: Chairman, before I start, I will just ask my officials to introduce themselves to the Committee, for the record.

Jill Morris: Thank you, Minister. I am Jill Morris. I am Additional Director Europe, within the Foreign Office.

Ivan Smyth: I am Ivan Smyth, Legal Counsellor in the EU and Wider Europe Team, FCO Legal Advisers.

David Lidington: Let me come, Chairman, to your question. Now, tempting though it is for me to make Coalition Government policy on the hoof in answer to a perfectly fair and direct question, I am sure, Chairman, you will understand that I am not going to do so, but I am not going to avoid your question. The first point I want to make is this: ultimately it is Parliament that owns the scrutiny process. Clearly, given the British constitutional system and where the Executive sits in the legislature, the Government does have a significant voice in determining Parliament’s view, but I would very much not want to give the impression that I am coming into this debate with a set view on behalf of the Government as to what Parliament ought to do and say. When I floated suggestions more than a year ago for Parliament to reexamine the question of how we do scrutiny, I very consciously sought to invite parliamentarians to come forward, and I think the Committee’s inquiry is a very important element in that process.

To come to your question about the different models, it seems to me that the fundamental choice that has to be made is whether in the United Kingdom we want to retain a system that is documentbased-and our version of that I think we would describe as a pretty strong documentbased system-or whether we want to move to a mandate system such as that practised in the Scandinavian countries. While I have not consulted Government colleagues about this, and so I am venturing something of a personal opinion, I think that there would be reluctance in Government to go as far as the Danish system that does introduce a degree of rigidity. If there were a consensus in Parliament to move towards a mandating system, clearly the Government would want to consider such a suggestion very seriously, but it would of course raise important related questions. For example, the mandate systems that apply in Sweden and Finland do, in part, rest upon the Minister being able to go in to discuss with the Committee in confidence the Government’s negotiating position in advance of a forthcoming Council meeting and obtain the Committee’s consent to quite a wideranging and reasonably flexible mandate, given that in most cases we are looking at trying to build qualified majorities in support of a particular proposal or a blocking minority to stop one being agreed, and the Committee respecting the confidentiality of those sessions. That would be a departure from the current system, where the Committee publishes its reports and makes them available to Parliament and the wider public; it would be making an important element of such a system confidential in the way that this is not. As I say, the Government would look at this seriously if there were a consensus in Parliament to that effect.

I think other possible reforms that I would welcome seeing examined would be making more extensive use of the expertise the departmental Select Committees already have. 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 EUlevel policy.

I think there is an issue that you may wish to discuss further, Chairman, to do with arrangements during recess, where we would all acknowledge there are some problems, particularly when it comes to justice and home affairs measures. I am very open to discussion of more early contact between officials and parliamentarians directly, as I say, on an informal basis so that parliamentarians are better informed of how Government policy and thinking in the EU institutions is developing. I would not oppose this Committee drawing more extensively on the Government’s Explanatory Memoranda in its published reports and providing greater transparency in that way. As I said before, Chairman, I think we need to review the EM system from time to time. I completely accept that sometimes there are errors that take place on the Government’s side and we do not deliver to the standard we need and ought to, but also there are questions about whether we are setting the right priorities. A great many of the documents that come to this Committee are not of huge political significance or controversy. Is there a way in which we can try to streamline the system so that more time is given, both by my officials in preparing Memoranda and by Committees in examining European documents, to those things that are genuinely politically important, and having a more streamlined process for the less significant things? I appreciate that involves a qualitative judgment. It is not easy to get that right, but again it seems it would be worth considering that, particularly given that the postLisbon processes are producing a significant increase in the number of European documents.

Q2 Michael Connarty: Welcome, Minister. As usual, you have extrapolated beyond the first question into the second question, which I was going to ask, but I would like you to be more specific in assessing the strengths and weaknesses of the current system. You have given some views about what might be moved around. What specific proposals do you have to offer the Committee? You are not necessarily offering them to the Government, so you are free to be as inventive as you wish, but could you base them on what your view is fundamentally of the purpose of scrutiny and then assess what we do now, strengths and weaknesses?

David Lidington: I think the strength of what the Committees do now is that they look in detail at the documented proposals coming out of the European institutions. Those are examined very carefully for questions of compliance with the treaties-for example, whether the right article has been cited. They are examined very carefully for any evidence of competence creep and whether the institutions are acting beyond their powers. I have noticed just in the last two years a greater concern being expressed about value for money-and this is coming from the Lords as well as the Commons Committee-when it comes to discussions about the budgets for particular policies or missions. That is something that I welcome.

The fact that there is a scrutiny reserve system I think is a strength. It does mean that sometimes we will vote against a measure because it has not cleared scrutiny in time for the Council. On other occasions, the fact that the scrutiny reserve has existed has meant that we have been able to persuade the Commission or the External Action Service to hold off bringing something to a Council meeting to allow proper time for the scrutiny process to take place. It does not always work, but it has happened on a number of occasions.

I think the weaknesses of our system are that, in particular, because it is documentbased it tends to be almost last minute, whereas my assessment is that European policy goes through this process of development over perhaps a couple of years. Initially, ideas are kicked around informally in the Commission and in the Brussels political network, and then you have a first draft proposal. That goes out for consultation, and then you start to get into the negotiations at official level in Brussels and between national capitals. The Committees tend only to come in at a later stage. You obviously get the earlier versions of the documents, but sometimes it is really only when you come to the crunch point for a decision at Council that the scrutiny process comes into play. Within Government, I have been trying to encourage my colleagues across Departments to put much more effort into what the jargon terms "upstream engagement", because I think we are more likely to get outcomes that suit the United Kingdom if our officials know what the Commission is gossiping about informally. We should be looking at the work programmes and White Papers and putting our thoughts in, instead of waiting, as I think we have too often done, until we get the first published draft, by which stage sometimes, unsurprisingly, it reflects what another country does anyway. It is much more difficult, of course, to change once a text has been published than if you are in there when the initial drafting is going on. I suppose I would like to see Parliament do something more of the same, and probably it has to be through the departmental Select Committees. I am assuming they take that role more seriously.

I also think there is a strong case for a review. As the Committee knows, the Government is about to start on this review of the current balance of competences. It will be a very, very wideranging audit of the United Kingdom’s relationship with the European Union. I would welcome the occasional review by Parliament of how a particular European measure has worked out in practice: where it has delivered what it promised, and where it has-as it has on occasions-come up with completely unexpected consequences that may have been damaging to us.

Q3 Mr Clappison: Welcome, Minister, and thank you for your helpfulness on these occasions and the thoughtfulness of your approach towards these matters. Can I urge upon you one item that seems to be missing from the Foreign Office’s analysis of the purpose of scrutiny? That is the timing of scrutiny. Do you agree that it is universally a good thing for scrutiny to take place before a law is agreed to?

David Lidington: Yes, I do.

Q4 Mr Clappison: Because I and another colleague of this Committee had the experience last week, not for the first time, where we found ourselves debating an important issue, a Directive about dangerous installations, after this Committee had exercised its Scrutiny Reserve. We found the Scrutiny Reserve overridden; the Directive had been agreed to in principle by our Civil Service representatives, and we found ourselves debating something after it had passed into law. There were some very interesting questions of detail that were raised and constituency issues that were raised by another member of this Committee-very important issues. The Minister gave very good answers, but none of it mattered at all because it had already been agreed to. That is a bit of a travesty, is it not, of parliamentary democracy, because we would not start to debate laws in this House affecting us domestically after the Government had introduced them? Governments do not introduce laws and say, "Here is a law; what do you think about it?" after they have brought them into force.

David Lidington: No, I completely agree.

Q5 Mr Clappison: It is not the first time it has happened.

David Lidington: No, I appreciate that. My view is that there ought to be arrangements that mean, so far as is humanly possible, a proper considered process of scrutiny can take place before there is final agreement or, if there is no agreement, a formal override takes place. I do not know the detail of this particular case; I will look into that and see exactly what happened. What does, of course, sometimes take place is that the Brussels process involves lengthy and complicated negotiations between Member States and the Commission, and then, suddenly, at a relatively short period before a Council meeting, a text is finally negotiated that commands sufficient agreement. At the end of the day, we can argue with the Presidency that they should not table a particular measure at Council even though it has been agreed, but we do not have the ultimate power to wrest the pen from their hands.

Q6 Mr Clappison: What you are saying is a very powerful critique of the European Union insofar as it has a relationship to parliamentary democracy, because the feeling that I was certainly left with after that Committee meeting and other similar meetings I have attended was that we are not even given the dignity of being called a rubber stamp. There are powerful civil service groups in the European Union and European Commission. Our Civil Service was talking to them over a period of years, Ministers coming and going. All the power is in the hands of Civil Servants to judge what they regarded as the national interest, and parliamentary democracy was the rubber stamp or less than the rubber stamp.

David Lidington: I do not think it is fair to say that it is simply a matter of Civil Servants. I cannot speak for what happened under previous Governments, but certainly under this Government the negotiating position for the United Kingdom has to be set at ministerial level by a write round or a discussion at the European Affairs Committee of Cabinet, with the responsible Minister having to make a proposal that his colleagues are prepared to endorse, which may well be amended in the course of that ministerial discussion. That then governs what officials are able to negotiate. That gives them their framework for negotiation, and if there are difficulties it comes back to the Ministers here.

Q7 Mr Clappison: Those submissions are agreed to by Ministers on the basis of advice from Civil Servants. As you have told us, this is a process that goes on over several years and delivers all the power into the hands of the Civil Servants as to what they judge to be the national interest.

David Lidington: No. Ministers retain all the powers that they have always had to override the advice of civil servants. It is quite right that we are advised by people who are experts in a particular field, but if you, as a Minister, simply decide to reject the option that your officials are urging on you, the officials will go away and do, ultimately, what the Minister tells them to do.

The real problem here is that the culture of European Union institutions gives insufficient weight to national Parliaments. There are two ways of addressing the problem Mr Clappison has identified, which are not mutually exclusive. One would be to shift towards more of a mandating system, so that after, or perhaps even before, the Cabinet Committee had agreed something, the Minister would come and discuss that proposed mandate with the Committee in closed session. That would be one way of doing it. I am not giving any Government commitment to such a system, but that would be a model that would address that problem. The other would be for the European Union institutions to arrange their business in such a way as to give greater weight to national Parliaments that are explicitly mentioned in the treaties as institutions that have a significant role to play. The Foreign Secretary, when he spoke on the future of Europe in Berlin last week, made a point of saying that he thought the democratic deficit in the EU could only be overcome if a much greater role was given to national Parliaments, because they, not the European Parliament, were the institutions that were closest to the people.

Q8 Kelvin Hopkins: Minister, would European Committees be more effective with a permanent membership, which would develop members’ familiarity with the subject matter and procedure and engender more commitment? Having been a member of permanent committees from 1997 to 2005 and sat on many ad hoc Committees since then, I have a view, which I have put many times on the Floor of the House and elsewhere, but would you favour a permanent membership system?

David Lidington: My views on this are coloured by the fact that I served on one of the permanent committees between 1992 and 1997. My own view is that permanent membership would be an improvement provided you genuinely had the commitment from those members appointed to it. As I understand it, the system was changed because the Government of the day, and I suppose it was the usual channels of the day, were finding it more and more difficult to get members from all parties who were willing to give that degree of commitment to permanent membership, whereas they found it easier to say to colleagues that they would be required for duty to a limited extent only. They could get people to turn up on that basis, but I think they found that attendance was slipping badly in the latter years of the permanent committee membership. So I think that there would need to be some evidence, to be honest, beyond members of this Committee, who are, by definition, going to be interested in EU matters, that there was an appetite to take permanent membership seriously for that to fly.

Q9 Kelvin Hopkins: There could be an overlap in membership between this Committee and those Committees; that is one possibility. But the reality now is that, because of the ad hoc arrangements, many Members come along and do not know what the procedure is and do not know really what they are doing. Some have an interest in making contributions, many do not. Many regard them as a duty, a chore, rather like, it is sad to say-I do not want to be disparaging of my colleagues-SI Committees, where people come along and sit there quietly while the Minister speaks and then go away. That is often the pattern. We have to deal with these things more seriously. Do you think that the current system needs some kind of reform?

David Lidington: Yes, I do, and I have tried to suggest a number of ways in which that might be done. But I think it has to have buyin from a very significant number of Members of Parliament across the House. If I sat down with the members of this Committee and just designed a system that we thought was perfect, if we did not have the practical support in terms of personal involvement and commitment from other Members of the House, it just would be a bit of a Potemkin exercise.

Q10 Nia Griffith: Welcome, Minister. Could I draw your attention to what has been going on in the National Assembly for Wales, where they have effectively mainstreamed European issues and have got rid of their European and External Affairs Committee and put the business into the ordinary committees they have. What would you see as the potential advantages and disadvantages of that?

David Lidington: The loss would be in it having a centre of expertise that the scrutiny Committees provide and probably less acute analysis of particularly the constitutional and legal significance of European Union documents. I think people who have served on European Scrutiny Committees-and indeed this applies also to Mr Hopkins’ question of people who served under the old system for several years on one of the Standing Committees-got to know the Brussels jargon. They could work out fairly promptly what were the politically significant issues that were at stake in a particular draft directive or regulation.

The big advantage of the system that the Welsh Assembly has adopted is that it would really force members to do what I believe they need to do, which is to think of European legislation as part of the United Kingdom’s lawmaking process, rather than something that was kept in an annexe that you only turn to when you absolutely have to. While some of the reports about the extent to which our legislation is determined by Brussels are exaggerated, there is no doubt that very significant laws affecting agriculture, industry and finance are derived from European law. It is right that more Members of Parliament should see scrutinising European law as part of their duty.

Q11 Nia Griffith: So in terms of our own departmental Select Committees, do you think they have the capacity and the potential to undertake this role? How might that work or not?

David Lidington: They would need probably to draw on perhaps a pool of experts who would have knowledge of European law and of how the institutions operate. I think they probably need a bit more than the support they have at present.

Q12 Nia Griffith: Given that essentially they work on the basis that they choose what items and issues they are going to scrutinise, what sorts of changes might be necessary to get some sort of consistency across the board?

David Lidington: Consistency of support?

Nia Griffith: To get some consistency across the board. A Committee can say, "We are not going to do anything." Another Committee might say, "Yes, we are really interested." We could not run it under the current system, could we?

David Lidington: There is no magic answer to this, because ultimately any Select Committee determines its own agenda. 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.

Q13 Michael Connarty: I had the good fortune to meet our colleagues from Wales at the last joint meeting of the committees in Belfast, and I think they certainly have made a very impressive structure that works for them. But what we have in here, of course, is the House of Lords, and its European SubCommittees are like Select Committees of the House of Lords, and they do all these inquiries. The idea of repeating that or trying to take that over in the departmental Select Committees of the Commons would clearly bring those two either into a situation where they would be duplicating each other or one would have to take precedence over the other. So we do have a Select Committee system in a way where subjects are looked at very intensively by the Lords, and I just wonder what the benefit would be in doing it at the departmental level here. I know that five of the last 12 reports of the EFRA Committee have been about European matters, but apart from that Committee I just wonder if we would not be setting up a situation where we would either have to supersede what the Lords does or duplicate it.

David Lidington: Some of us who supported Lords reform saw the role of the Lords in scrutinising European legislation as something that could be a particular area of expertise for a second chamber, but that particular item was moved off the immediate political agenda.

I do not think there is a need for duplication. There is more than enough European business to go around. It is a fair point Mr Connarty makes. I think it would need just pragmatic cooperation between the Chairs of the respective Committees for that to take place. I think it would be useful for Members of the House of Commons to be more aware of what the House of Lords produces in terms of its inquiries. The reports are of good quality, but the House of Commons’ Select Committees can produce good quality reports too. I was at a weekend conference in Istanbul very recently, and the Chairman of the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, Mr Ottaway, was also present, and I think he was delighted by the number of people from business and Turkish or other European think-tanks who were coming up to him asking for a copy of the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee report on Turkey, which was seen as a very authoritative piece of analysis. So I think the two can complement each other.

Q14 Nia Griffith: Obviously it can be very helpful to Government if a Select Committee does an inquiry and comes up with some facts and reports back on recommendations that very much strengthen the Government’s hand in negotiation. What would happen if a Select Committee were to come up with something that was perhaps very much in disagreement with Government policy? Would that be helpful?

David Lidington: It is not a challenge with which Governments are unfamiliar, whichever Government is in office, so I think Ministers would just have to take that in their stride.

Q15 Chair: Minister, I just quickly refer to the Liaison Committee, on which obviously I sit, and the fact that in a letter to our Committee that committee has suggested that there is merit in each Committee perhaps having a rapporteur to monitor developments, which seems to have quite a lot of merit in it. You get that continuity and each Select Committee would be able to turn to that person and say, "Is this something that we ought to be considering?" The other, of course, is the possibility, again mentioned in Liaison Committee suggestions, that under Standing Order 152, departmental Select Committees can appoint subcommittees, so they may choose to appoint one if they are particularly interested. I think that might help to bridge the issue. I will leave it at that for the moment, because I think we need to move on to the next question, but just as a matter of interest I notice that you take that on board.

David Lidington: Yes, constructive suggestions, I think.

Chair: Thank you very much. I now turn to business on the Floor of the House.

Q16 Julie Elliott: Mine is quite a straightforward question and it is: should this Committee be able to refer documents directly for debate on the Floor of the House?

David Lidington: The Committee has the power to recommend. I think a question arises: if the Committee has the right to insist on a floor debate, then whose time does it take? While I have not put this to colleagues in Government, I am pretty confident that the collective response would be that for this or any Committee there cannot be the untrammelled right to simply take Government time for a debate on the Floor of the House. Obviously, if we are looking at time on the floor that is the property of the Backbench Committee, it becomes an issue for them. I suppose I am finding a somewhat lengthy way of saying "no" in answer to the question.

Q17 Nia Griffith: We simply wanted to ask you, Minister, whether you think there should be a proper European Minister’s question time. In other words, questions to the European Minister, so we can single out the issues that really concern us with Europe, because we all know that FCO questions are dominated by the huge range of interests that there are.

David Lidington: I am tempted to say that is a matter above my pay grade, but I can see advantage and disadvantage to that. I thought it was striking at FCO oral questions yesterday that there was no question on the Order Paper at all about the European Union. Well, I correct myself: there were a couple, but they were very low down on the Order Paper and not reached. The only one that was reached was a question about the exploitation of hydrocarbon resources off Cyprus.

The problem with this idea is that it would only work on the basis of European Ministers plural, because, as the Committee knows, every Government Department has European responsibilities. While the holder of my office tries to keep an eye upon the most important dossiers where other Departments have the lead, inevitably you will not know all the detail of this.

Q18 Nia Griffith: That happens in other spheres, with respect, Minister. If you take the Minister for Women and Equalities, for example, you could simply say that every department should be likewise implementing policies that are appropriately respecting of equal rights and so forth. So, in a way, that is not really an excuse for getting out of it.

David Lidington: I am not usually seeking to duck out of parliamentary appearances, but I think it is more a question of ensuring that Parliament gets value out of any such question time. As a Foreign Office-based Minister, I would be able to answer questions about, for example, Banking Union at the moment, but I would not feel confident, without a great deal more briefing, of going through every particular financial services measure that is currently under live consideration within the institutions.

A different way perhaps to address this would be to revert to the experiment that was attempted under the last Government, but has been dropped, of having crosscutting sessions in Westminster Hall, where you had a selection of Ministers with overlapping areas of responsibility who were available to answer questions for about an hour from any Member who attended.

Q19 Henry Smith: Your written Ministerial Statements of 20 January 2011 set out a series of commitments to enhance scrutiny of EU justice and home affairs matters. So far, as you know, there have been two Lidington debates that have taken place, both in unsatisfactory circumstances. Do you accept that the Government has fallen short in some commitments set out in the written Ministerial Statements, and how do you propose that those should be addressed?

David Lidington: We have been having serious discussions about this, because there have been, as Mr Smith says, some problems over one or two of those debates. Let me be absolutely open with the Committee: we are in a Government where not only do positions have to be agreed interdepartmentally in the normal way but of course there is a coalition element to establishing a Government position. For reasons that the members of the Committee will understand, some justice and home affairs measures touch on quite delicate coalition sensitivities amongst both parties. In these particular cases, I think in April and in May of this year, the Government opt-in position was only established a couple of days before the debate was taking place-I know the Committee has argued that it needs to know at least a week in advance, and that is a perfectly fair request-and I think we need to do more internally within the Government to try to avoid this. I have had meetings at ministerial level with colleagues in both the Ministry of Justice and the Home Office, and our officials have also met on a trilateral basis to try to work out a way forward here. I do regard it as very important that we deliver and deliver effectively on the undertakings we gave last January.

Q20 Mr Clappison: These are optin measures to new European measures following the Treaty of Lisbon, which set the objective of Europeanising justice and home affairs and creating a European legal system, and brought it all within the formal framework of European treaty legislation. We have to decide what we are going to do about the existing measures that were agreed to before Lisbon-the 130 or so preLisbon matters. The Government recently, with great fanfare, announced that it was going to exercise its right to a block optout on those, but that there was going to be a vote in Parliament on this. At the same time, the Government also said that they would then consider whether to opt back in to these measures on an individual basis. Can I put the same point that Henry has just put to you on this? We need to know in advance, don’t we, what the Government is going to do on individual measures? Because people would feel a bit hoodwinked if the Government, after announcing with fanfare that it was going to exercise its opportunity to opt out, then opted back in to, say, a majority of the directives that it had opted out of.

David Lidington: What the Home Secretary said in her oral statement was that we are minded to exercise the right to a mass optout and then to negotiate, as we would be required to do, to seek to opt back in to a selection of those 130 or so measures. Of course, under the Treaty we do not have the right to opt out selectively. The only way that we can be selective would be to opt out en masse and then to seek the agreement of the Commission and other Member States to opt back in to a particular set of measures.

Now, the Chairman has written to the Home Secretary very recently asking a number of detailed questions. My understanding is that the Home Secretary intends to reply to the Chairman within the next couple of days, and I do not want to say anything that preempts her response. We have said all along-I said this during debates on what became the European Union Act 2011-that when the time came for this decision, there would have to be a parliamentary debate on the Floor of the House and the opportunity for Parliament to vote. We have also committed ourselves as a Government to consulting Parliament about the format and timing of that vote. So the invitation is there to this Committee, to the equivalent committee in the Lords and to the Justice and Home Affairs Select Committees to put to us your views as to how that parliamentary debate and vote or votes should be organised.

Q21 Jacob ReesMogg: On those things that are opted out of that the Government wishes to opt back in to, what will the scrutiny procedure be?

David Lidington: That is something I must leave to the Home Secretary to respond to in her response to the Chairman. I genuinely do not want to be difficult, but I think it would be wrong for me to preempt her as she is the Minister responsible for the greater number of these measures.

Chair: We are now moving to scrutiny overrides in common foreign and security policy.

Q22 Michael Connarty: Chairman, if you do not mind, could I just ask one small supplementary question to that last answer? Is the Minister saying that this matter has not been discussed with him or that he does not feel that he has the authority to speak to the Committee about the matter?

David Lidington: What I am saying is that there has been a letter from the Chairman to the Home Secretary, and it is for the Home Secretary to respond. The Home Secretary of course does consult other Departments on matters such as this that cut across different departmental responsibilities, but I think it is for her to reply to all the questions that the Chairman has raised and not for me to preempt that.

Q23 Jacob ReesMogg: Do you think it is possible, Minister, that the 2011 Act will apply to any of the opt-back-ins?

David Lidington: No, I do not, because the 2011 Act imposed a referendum lock upon future changes to the treaties, and what we are now talking about is the operation of certain articles of the Lisbon Treaty. There are some exceptions to that that Mr ReesMogg will be familiar with, but also in the 2011 Act are specific locks on a small number of justice and home affairs measures, including, in particular, the creation of a European public prosecutor.

Now, of course there is no preLisbon provision for a European public prosecutor. I am speculating somewhat, but I think the more likely proposition is that, since there is no such provision, we could not opt back in to such an arrangement. Rather there would have to be a new proposal or an amending proposal from the European Commission to create such an office, and then that would be a new postLisbon proposal, which would be caught by the 2011 Act.

Chair: I would like to move on now to scrutiny overrides and common and foreign security policy.

Q24 Michael Connarty: I am sure the Minister knows that the majority of scrutiny overrides arise from Common Foreign and Security Policy documents. For example, between July and December 2011, there were 52 overrides, 40 of which were from Foreign and Commonwealth Office instruments. The equivalent figure for January to June 2011 was 32 overrides and 28 from Foreign and Commonwealth Office instruments. This has been the subject of considerable debate in the last Committee and the last Government. Is there a risk that these overrides devalue the Scrutiny Reserve Resolution?

David Lidington: I hope not. I am speaking quite honestly when I say I always dislike it when advice comes to me with the override as the advice or even as an option. As I mentioned earlier, there have certainly been cases where I have gone back and told officials to tell Brussels that I was not prepared to override, because I thought the institutions had not given adequate time and there was not a demonstrable urgency about the measure. We continue to say to both the Commission and the EAS that they need to make documents available earlier, and they need to bear in mind that there is a proper scrutiny process and that it is just to allow adequate time for that.

But there are also some genuinely urgent decisions that need to be taken; let me just give two examples. The obvious one is sanctions measures, where once a package of sanctions has been agreed, it needs to be implemented as rapidly as possible, otherwise the people concerned take action, particularly in regard to moving their assets, so that the sanctions have much less impact. Secondly, there have been one or two occasions when there has been prolonged Brussels negotiation between countries about the renewal of a mandate for a CSDP mission and there has been a final deal that has been reached shortly before the expiry of the previous mandate. At that moment, I have to decide whether I take the risk that, by refusing to override, the current mandate expires and there is nothing to put in its place, and we are usually then dealing with some quite perilous parts of the world. Again, on at least one occasion I have refused to override because I felt that the EAS had not done a proper job, and they found an emergency measure to tide them over for a couple of weeks to let the Committee do its job. I think the Committee, in its turn, brought forward its discussion.

In terms of how we deal with this, there are two things. First of all, I think we have to get better in Government at telling the Committees about forthcoming decisions. I am trying to do this both by making officials available more regularly to talk informally about what is likely to come up over forthcoming months, letters from Ministers, particularly prerecess letters to explain the sort of Foreign Office business that might be coming up on the agenda during the recess. That also then gives the Committee an opportunity to flag up any areas of concern to us that we may not have taken into account.

The second point and the big problem is the recess. The blunt truth is the parliamentary timetable and the Brussels timetables do not always match up. We have formally asked Brussels whether they will disregard August, which is the biggest problem, and I am afraid we have had a clear answer, "No, sorry, we are not prepared to do that." Most of our overrides, if you look at the detail, do result from decisions being taken during recess, and I think more often than not it is a sanctions decision during recess as well. So it may be the Committee would want to explore whether there is some sort of arrangement for sifting or SubCommittee work during recess, because it has to be properly shared, I think, if we are going to get a solution.

Q25 Michael Connarty: I think we realise that the Minister does have an encyclopaedic knowledge of his brief. But these are really not matters of timetabling and holiday. This is about the fact that CFSP uses a very large number of nonlegislative decisions. We have flagged this up, as I say, in the last Parliament, in the last Government, in the last Committee. This is a process whereby the EU has not really thought that national Parliaments have any rights. That is why they use a nonlegislative procedure, and 68 overrides in the last year is a lot of overrides, and it is because of the way they proceed with CFSP business. The memorandum from Dr Ariella Huff and Dr Julie Smith of the University of Cambridge commented, "The current scrutiny system is particularly poorly equipped to scrutinise nonlegislative policy areas, such as the Common Foreign and Security Policy and the Common Security and Defence Policy." It has been suggested that there should be some other way of dealing with this. One, which I say I hope the Committee will continue to oppose, is a blanket waiver for these things. But what does the Minister think should be the way this is dealt with? All of the talk before is all very well, but if we do not have a system whereby nonlegislative policy areas have a process of scrutiny, we are always going to be told after the event what the Government has done and not asked what we think the Government should do.

David Lidington: I think there are two separate but related difficulties that we are facing here. One is over what I have just described: the difficulties concerned with recess and with sometimes some very fastmoving and urgent foreign policy changes, especially on sanctions or sometimes the expiry of mandates. But there is a broader question, I think, which Mr Connarty is alluding to, which is that quite a lot of decisions, with a lower case "d", by the EU about CFSP and CSDP are nonlegislative, and they are embodied in working documents and action plans rather than in formal Decisions, with a capital "D", by the Council, which are caught by the Scrutiny Reserve Resolution. I acknowledge that this is a problem, and it is not one that is capable either of being answered by simply saying, "Well, in that case, we need to make sure everything significant on CFSP and CSDP is authorised by a formal EU decision," because decisions are supposed to be for something that has legislative impact. With the concern about competence creep, I very much do not want us to be in the position where there is any risk of people thinking that we have conceded that a particular CFSP proposal might have legislative consequences when we do not think that those are justified. I am very willing to explore any way in which we can allow for proper debate and scrutiny of Foreign and Security Policy measures though.

Q26 Michael Connarty: I think, Minister, you have made my preamble for me; the reality is that, without discussion with national Parliaments, the strategies and action plans, which have massively farreaching implications and longterm results for both the resources committed by the EU and also the commitment of our own Government resources, have basically been removed from the scrutiny process. Given that national Parliaments have a fixed and acknowledged role in scrutinising the Common Foreign and Security Policy-and some of us would argue the Common Security and Defence Policy should have been held on to as tightly as well, but it was resisted by the last Government, and defence is somehow slipping away from national scrutiny, it would appear-should this scrutiny process not be restored, because it makes a mockery of the idea we have a named scrutiny right that there is no scrutiny ongoing.

David Lidington: I have no problem with the principle. Wherever an action plan or a strategy document has been agreed by one of those measures that is caught by the scrutiny process, like a Council decision or a Commission communication to the Council, we submit it to scrutiny. This year, we did that on the Enlargement Strategy-that was a communication from the Commission to the Council and the Parliament-on the joint communication from EAS and the Commission to the Council on the EU’s CounterTerrorism Action Plan for the Horn of Africa and Yemen; and the joint communication to the EP and the Council about Human Rights and Democracy at the Heart of EU External Action, which is shortened to the EU Human Rights Strategy.

The treaties do not define strategies and action plans. Those terms can be and are used both for the grand overviews and for quite routine working documents. So what we have done is consider them on an ad hoc basis, and where there has not been a clear reason not to deposit, we have sent them to the Committee, usually with a covering letter, because they are not formally caught by the Scrutiny Reserve Resolution. Now, what that does mean, of course, is in those circumstances the Committee does not have the power to refer it for a debate.

Q27 Michael Connarty: Minister, this is where we differ. The reality is there is supposed to be a role for national Parliaments. Other national Parliaments scrutinise these things, and as you have said, it is not a term that falls lightly from your lips, "ad hoc". You are not an ad hoc kind of person. You are a very precise kind of person, so some of the Government must find that ad hocery is a good way of avoiding scrutiny. Look at examples. Overarching strategy deposited for scrutiny includes, for example, the recent EU Caribbean Strategy, but not the Central Asia strategy. The Commission properly describes ENP Action Plans as "central". They are no longer deposited for prior scrutiny and, as I said before, a lot of European and UK taxpayers’ money is involved in these strategies, so it does not seem to be good enough to have an ad hoc policy. If we have a scrutiny role, and I think national Parliaments do have a scrutiny role, unless it is removed formally by this Government-which I have not noticed happening, because ad hocery seems to suit the Government-is it not better that all of these things are properly treated, and strategies and action plans with longterm impact on our citizens and our electorates come to this Committee for scrutiny?

David Lidington: I propose instead of "ad hoc" to say "on the merits" of each case. I am quite prepared to concede on Central Asia there were some slip-ups that meant we did not tell the Committee some of the details that needed to be told to this Committee, and I wrote to the Chairman in the summer to apologise for that. But the key thing was that what had originally been announced as a review leading to a new strategy for Central Asia was subsequently agreed by all Member States simply to be an updating of the existing strategy with the key elements of that strategy remaining in place. But if we look at, say, the Action Plan on Human Rights, that was not usually a depositable document, but it was included in the package with the mandate for the EUSR for Human Rights and the Human Rights Strategy, which were depositable documents. We added that one in so that the Committee had that additional opportunity. With the Action Plan for Jordan, which we did not deposit, we took that decision because that Action Plan had been agreed by being annexed to Council conclusions, and there is a clear Government policy that we do not deposit where it stems from Council conclusions.

There are two questions: what are the respective roles of this Committee and perhaps the Foreign Affairs Committee when it comes to examining this? Secondly, can we agree on some kind of qualitative test that means that we are sending to the Committee the stuff that is genuinely of political significance and not matters that are more routine working documents?

Q28 Michael Connarty: I will treat it as a glass half full rather than a glass half empty, but can I take from that that the idea that has been mooted-that there should be a general waiver for all of these and none of them should come-is now dead and the Minister will not bring it back as the policy of the Government? Are we going to talk and negotiate around the question of what is valid and necessary to be seen rather than just the idea that there would be a blanket waiver for all these documents?

David Lidington: I always want to find ways in which to ensure that significant European documents are properly scrutinised and, if necessary, debated in Parliament, so I will not give a categoric response on the point about the general waiver today. I will take that away and look at it in the light of Mr Connarty’s comments, but my intention would be to provide as much scope for proper consideration by Parliament as is possible.

Michael Connarty: Thank you.

Chair: Thank you very much. We are moving on to UKREP.

Q29 Kelvin Hopkins: Minister, is there scope to increase the democratic accountability of the work of UKREP? I have one or two additional thoughts after your preliminary answer.

David Lidington: Okay. Yes. UKREP is a unique Foreign Office post, but with officials from right across Whitehall. The Permanent Representative met the Chair of this Committee in late 2011 and Lord Boswell, Chair of the Lords Committee, this summer, and the intention is that those meetings should be conducted on a regular basis. As a matter of policy the FCO is encouraging all our ambassadors, including the Permanent Representative, to meet parliamentarians more frequently, whether those happen to be Committee members or members of allparty groups. We have had such briefings very recently with our ambassadors to both Paris and Madrid, and though the number of parliamentarians who attended was quite low, they were people who had a genuine interest in those particular countries.

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 crossGovernment 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.

Chair: We may need to look at the question of how the A and B points system operates, because it does give an enormous amount of power to UKREP. I am beginning to hear from some Ministers that, quite frankly, they find that they are upstaged already by decisions that have been taken. I heard of one only in the last couple of days, and the Minister said, "I went thinking that I was going to participate, but it had already been settled." It may be anecdotal, but I think we may need to look into that a bit more.

Kelvin Hopkins: You have made the point effectively that it is a very, very powerful position, very influential and there permanently. I met the former Chief Permanent Representative, and he had very definite views about the European Union. He was not the traditional sort of civil servant who you cannot pin down politically; you could with this particular Representative, I have to say. I have not cleared this with the Chairman, but it seems to me that it might be an idea to have a preappointment hearing with this Committee.

Chair: I think we may call Sir Jon Cunliffe to come and see us. I think that might be a good idea.

Q30 Chris Kelly: Minister, should the explanatory notes accompanying Bills and information accompanying Statutory Instruments include more detailed information specifying which provisions arise from European Union obligations, both to help members of the public who take an interest in these matters and, indeed, parliamentarians themselves?

David Lidington: That is a very interesting point. I just want to take a moment because I want to think this out. This is something that had not come up in my brief.

Q31 Chair: Can I help you, before you do? When I was on the Statutory Instruments Committee a long time ago, the 1980s, we did specify in the list of Statutory Instruments what derived from European legislation.

David Lidington: I am trying to think, Chairman, whether I can imagine any good reason not to give that information, and I struggle to find such reasons. It seems to me that there is no advantage to concealing the fact that something may be as a consequence of EU obligations, so we might as well make a virtue of it.

Q32 Chris Kelly: The only downside possibly is the use of a little bit more paper.

David Lidington: Yes, but we are all becoming paperless and going online these days, aren’t we?

Q33 Jacob ReesMogg: I am not sure about that, Minister. The next question you began to address very early on in your answers. It is the question of what happens after something has been introduced. So you have the Directive, and it is enforced; what scrutiny then is there on how things operate in fact, and what role should Parliament play in scrutinising things once Parliament has, essentially, finished with them and approved them?

David Lidington: In my view, there is far too little of such examination. What happens is that Government will keep an eye on implementation. Obviously there are Government procedures for the timing of implementation, which we have reviewed and changed as part of our effort to reduce regulatory burdens more generally, but once a measure has been put into effect, then as with purely domestic legislation, I think a lot depends upon the extent to which affected individuals and organisations make a fuss about the problems that it may be causing, so I think there is a greater role that Parliament could play.

My own view has been that this is something that, again, we might look to departmental Select Committees to do. It would seem to me no bad thing if, after a reasonable period of time, a parliamentary committee were to convene an inquiry and call evidence to examine how a particular measure derived from the European Union was working out in practice: had it worked as its authors had intended or were there some unexpected consequences from it?

Q34 Jacob ReesMogg: Do you think there is any value in routine sunset clauses so that issues have to be reconsidered and reapproved at some future date, or does that simply make life unbearably bureaucratic?

David Lidington: In the context of European legislation, we would have to be careful that, if we did adopt routine sunset clauses, we did not put ourselves at risk of infraction proceedings because we had allowed a gap between the expiry of one measure and the enactment of a successor. Subject to that, I have always had a leaning towards sunset clauses as quite a useful measure. Mr ReesMogg may be interested in what I recall from my doctoral researches many years ago-that in the 16th century, such sunset clauses in statutes were quite routine for a lot of legislation.

Chair: A very interesting observation, given the fact that you obviously studied this matter in the days when Parliament was struggling to obtain its democracy.

Q35 Mr Clappison: Minister, your memorandum suggests that options for streamlining existing processes from Explanatory Memoranda should be examined. Have you got any specific proposals for this and which classes of document this should apply to?

David Lidington: I think again this is a matter of trying to reach agreement on some kind of qualitative test, because I think it is very hard to find a legislative definition. Clearly, a directive or a regulation can be very farreaching in its impact or it can be mundane. What I would like to achieve would be some kind of triage system, where the Government and Parliament could agree to distinguish between matters that were important and those that were not, and the streamlining would apply to those of a more routine nature.

Q36 Mr Clappison: Given the number of staff across the Civil Service who have to make decisions on this, do you think there should be clear, simple rules that everybody can understand?

David Lidington: I think it is very important that we do that. We continue always to keep a close watch on the guidance that we are giving to officials. When mistakes are made in Government, we do make an effort to change that guidance if we think that will put it right. We have done that in response to the mess up over the EUSR on Central Asia earlier this year, where we have changed the guidance to officials as a consequence of that to try to avoid that problem happening again.

Q37 Mr Clappison: Your memorandum comments that Explanatory Memoranda are not available on Parliament’s website. Do you think that the current arrangement of publication on the Cabinet Office website works well?

David Lidington: We have had some problems with the Government website. I certainly believe they ought to be available on the Government website. What happened is that there were some problems when the Cabinet Office’s IT systems were changed earlier on this year, and with that we had the fact that the previous IT platform for the Explanatory Memoranda website was no longer supported, so no new EMs have gone on since March. What I can say is that those problems have been overcome. The site is due to be relaunched early in November, and the old website will be archived early in 2013. It is still the case that anybody going to the old website would have been able to ask for a copy of an Explanatory Memorandum directly from the Cabinet Office, but I accept that is not ideal, though people will still be able to do that in the future. The new site is going to be capable of Google indexing, so people will be able to subscribe to alerts for memoranda that match topics in which they are interested. The website will also now include copies of ministerial letters to the Committees, as well as copies of the EU documents to which the Explanatory Memoranda refer.

Q38 Mr Clappison: As well as what you have just said, would the Government also consider supporting, with resources if necessary, better access to Government information through the Parliament website?

David Lidington: I would certainly be willing to take that point back to my ministerial colleagues. I think Mr Clappison will understand why I am not going to give a promise about resources.

Q39 Chair: On the question of the Interim Report on Economic and Monetary Union, you may recall that I myself and a number of others were extremely exercised by the fact that it was clear that this was a definition of a depositable document. I remember having a discussion with the Minister for Cities, the Rt Hon Greg Clark, from Cyprus, which got entangled with the Prime Minister’s position with respect to the position he might adopt at the oncoming European Council. It was resolved satisfactorily, and I am sure you were involved in that eventually, probably from the beginning, but the reality is that we did arrive at a proper solution, and the document was ultimately deposited. Could I simply urge you to make sure that this does not happen again? Where it is clearly a matter for Standing Orders-and this was-whatever the prevailing wind may be from Downing Street, we must ensure that a document that ought to be deposited is.

David Lidington: I take your point seriously, Chairman.

Chair: Thank you very much indeed. We are now moving to what I think is, in many respects, a rather important aspect of all this. Having locked ourselves into proper discussions about the technicalities and Standing Orders and Explanatory Memoranda, there is an issue here that causes a lot of people a great deal of concern, which is the engagement with the people at large and public debate, the question of interest groups and the question of the media. I would be grateful if Penny Mordaunt would be kind enough to ask the next question on that very important interactive question. What does it really mean and how do people know what is really going on?

Q40 Penny Mordaunt: My first question is about what the Government is doing now to develop the level of engagement with interest groups of all descriptions and, as part of that, what part will the Review of the Balance of Competences play in that process?

David Lidington: As I said earlier, even ahead of the Review of the Balance of Competences we have been making very deliberate efforts to become more involved upstream with the EU institutions over the development of policy, and this, rightly, has to involve a very early understanding of the concerns of British business and other affected organisations. Certainly when I have talked to businesses and their representative bodies, they very much welcome that focus, because they have said that a number of other countries have been operating in this fashion for some while already.

I think the Review of the Balance of Competences is very important in that it will give us an opportunity to engage much more with people outside the political bubble and on the basis of hard evidence and information. What is going to happen is that for each of the areas of policy to be examined, the lead Government Department will be required to take an initiative to call for evidence and to reach out to a range of groups: individual companies, business organisations, think-tanks, pressure groups, and civil society organisations. They will request that they present evidence, first of all, as to how the United Kingdom’s membership of the European Union and the current balance of competences have affected what they do, to say where the advantages and disadvantages lie. For example, a business organisation might say that they have benefited in certain ways from the single market, but that there are particular regulations or particular judgments from the European Court of Justice that have worked to their disadvantage.

They would then be invited to say whether they think more EUlevel competence would help them or whether reduced EUlevel competence would be of benefit to them, and to put forward any other suggestions that they have. Those submissions from outside bodies will be examined by the lead and associated Government Departments. They will then form the basis of a report that will be drafted by officials. As the Foreign Secretary has made clear, this is not an exercise that will end in policy recommendations, so I expect those reports to have something of the character of a good crossparty Select Committee report. The aim will be to give a fair representation of the evidence, including the weight of evidence, on all sides of an argument. The report will be drafted by officials, it will then go to a small ministerial group, which I shall chair, and then to the European Affairs Committee of the Cabinet. Every six months, we shall publish online the reports of those areas of policy that have been examined in the previous six months together, as far as possible, with links or online publication of the evidence itself so that people can go to the quarry.

I had a meeting earlier today at the Foreign Office with a number of business groups and think-tanks whose interests will range across a pretty wide spectrum of areas of policy. We are discussing with them at the start how they want to take part in this exercise. We had some criticism from business over the Red Tape Challenge for sending them questionnaires every couple of weeks, so we are saying to business and the other groups, "If you have interest in a whole range of policy areas, would you rather that you addressed this strategically or would you prefer that we deal with you separately on each of these areas of policy?" We will try to make it as straightforward as possible for those groups to say what they want to say and present their evidence.

Q41 Penny Mordaunt: Could I also ask what additional things Government could be doing that it is currently not planning on doing, and what role do you think Parliament and the media might play in improving the quality of public debate on Europe? One of the interesting observations over the last few days is what issues the public get exercised about. For example, the debate this afternoon: I think a lot of people would be interested in that issue, but as a constituency MP I have not had a lot of letters on that, although I get an enormous number of letters on something like a referendum. It would be interesting to get your observations on that and what other things all the players in this could be doing to, I suppose, highlight those issues for the public and encourage engagement.

David Lidington: As far as the media is concerned, this is not something that the Government can really do much about. Editors will make their own decisions. It is a lament, I think, of politicians, whether inside or outside of Government, that less and less reporting space is given over to coverage of what happens in Parliament or what we might describe as weighty political issues. Now, we may regret that, but I do not think the editors who take those decisions are being unfair in reflecting the interests of their readers, viewers or listeners. So I think we need to look for ways in which to debate these questions within the context of a public opinion that is more interested, frankly, in looking at lifestyle issues. Some of the issues that happen with European policy-for example, the idea of a single digital market with a common framework of consumer protection for online sales across Europe-I think would have a cut through to many people. But I think also, if we could find a way for Parliament to say more and publish more about European Union matters at a strategic level and also looking at postimplementation work that might be of greater interest. I do not in any way want to denigrate the documentbased work that this Committee does, but I am conscious that the language of the Explanatory Memoranda that I sign is often very technical. It is not frequently the sort of matter that is going to grab the attention of a member of the public or even a reporter, so I think it is that more highlevel examination that might provide the raised public interest.

Q42 Chair: Could I just come in on that? It is a matter that I think many people are deeply concerned about, certainly judging from opinion polls and the interaction, for example, with the media. I am in many ways excluding the press in this context, because I do not think anyone can seriously say that either the more red top press, on the one hand, or, for that matter, the serious press or the other kind of press on the other, lacks a lot of information on European matters. But when you come to the radio and television and, I think, in particular, the BBC, there is a very woeful lack of interest in the issues you have just mentioned, the big strategic issues. For example, this morning the headlines were all about the issue of Michael Heseltine’s growth plan. Anyone who knows anything about the real reasons why all this is going on about the lack of growth might want to look at the debate that is taking place this afternoon, which is almost entirely focussed on whether the Government is going to be in difficulties over the vote, not the substantial issues that are raised about whether or not the Multiannual Financial Framework is something that the British Government should accept.

I think the issue of impartiality is another question: who they choose to go on programmes; who they choose not to go on programmes; and the manner in which the BBC conducts itself under its charter and even its guidelines with respect to the question of the European Issue. We had a report recently that indicated that the European Scrutiny Committee in terms of responses was, by comparison with other Committees, relatively static in the number of people who are taking an interest in its public sessions and, for that matter, its reports. I think that there is a really serious question here for the BBC to have to address, and I would be very interested to hear an answer. Penny Mordaunt has a question to ask on that as well.

Q43 Penny Mordaunt: I just wanted to raise the point that we know from our own constituencies that, whether we are trying to get members of the public to respond to consultation by the local hospital or whether it is trying to get support for a campaign we might be doing as a Member of Parliament here, people believing that their actions will result in the outcome they want is an important part of getting people engaged. When you meet people who do not vote, say, in general elections, you quite often get the answer, "You are all the same; it does not matter." I certainly think that part of the problem about engagement on European issues is that the public are sceptical as to the impact that we can necessarily have: we are not playing on the same level playing field; that we might obey the rules but when we kick up a fuss about something, it is not listened to, and carries on anyway-that sort of attitude. Do you think that is part of the reason why we perhaps do not get the level of engagement on European issues that we do on others?

David Lidington: There is huge public disaffection with the European Union in this country, and not exclusively in this country either, for all the reasons the Foreign Secretary spelled out in his Berlin speech the other day. That is not something that can be put right simply by changes to the process in the House of Commons. One is then into serious matters to do with how national Parliaments can have a greater voice at European level, but I think it is more than that. I think people find it hard to see a relationship between decisions that take place at European level and their everyday lives. I hope that the Review of the Balance of Competences does start to attract public interest. I would expect there to be some powerful pieces of evidence presented saying that there are benefits and others saying that there is harm done by the current level of EU competence in the treaties. But if businesses and other groups respond in the way I hope they do, that might make more concrete and real some of the European issues that we debate here.

Just going back to what the Chairman said, I think there is a difference between television and radio. I think radio on European matters, as on other political subjects, does sometimes give time for rational argument and contrasting views to be heard, whereas TV really does trade in sound bites. If you are being interviewed on television, it is very rare that you get the opportunity for more than a few seconds.

Chair: I think we have covered a lot of the territory, Minister. We are grateful to you for coming and I will bring the proceedings to a close. Thank you very much.

Prepared 27th November 2013