European Scrutiny Committee - Minutes of EvidenceHC 109-II

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Oral Evidence

Taken before the European Scrutiny Committee

on Wednesday 16 January 2013

Members present:

Mr William Cash (Chair)

Mr James Clappison

Michael Connarty

Julie Elliott

Nia Griffith

Chris Heaton-Harris

Kelvin Hopkins

Chris Kelly

Penny Mordaunt

Stephen Phillips

Jacob Rees-Mogg

Henry Smith


Examination of Witnesses

Witnesses: Rt Hon Sir Alan Beith MP, Chair of the Liaison Committee, Rt Hon Keith Vaz MP, Chair of the Home Affairs Committee and David T. C. Davies MP, Chair of the Welsh Affairs Committee, gave evidence.

Q150 Chair: Chairman of the Liaison Committee-Chairman of Chairmen-welcome this afternoon. We look forward very much to your thoughts on the question, which has already to some extent been looked at by the Liaison Committee in general. I will ask the first question as follows: what is your view of the Minister for Europe’s comment that departmental Select Committees need to "take more seriously their strategic responsibility" for scrutiny of European matters? The Liaison Committee memorandum suggests that there is an additional and higher bar that needs to be passed before Select Committees commit resources into inquiries on European issues. What factors create this bar, and should they not be outweighed by the direct effect of Europeanlevel policy on the United Kingdom?

Sir Alan Beith: Let me first say, by way of preface, that I am very glad to be accompanied Keith Vaz, the Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee, and David Davies, the Chairman of the Welsh Affairs Committee, both of which in different ways have European matters impinging on their Committee’s work. Of course, I am also Chair of the Justice Committee, of which that could also be said. Basically, I agree with David Lidington’s comments. Perhaps they slightly underestimate the amount of work that is already going on, and has been for considerable time, particularly in those Committees whose policy area is dominated by European decision making-Agriculture and Fisheries being an obvious example. In general, I agree. Something of an ambition of mine is shared with him, which is to get Committees more efficiently engaged in the process.

You have referred to an additional hurdle, an additional barrier. The barrier is this: unless you have been able to establish that something that is doing the rounds in the Commission is going somewhere then you risk taking up a lot of Committee time on things that will not be productive in the end. That has led me to a lot of discussion with David Lidington and with the UK Permanent Representative in Brussels about how Select Committees can be assisted to ensure that, when they devote time to European policy developments, they are seizing on developments that are going somewhere, that have some traction about them and that we draw on the very considerable knowledge and background that UKRep staff have. Committees find when they go to Brussels and have made the decision to engage with something that they get very good help indeed from UKRep staff. It would be far better if Committees had been tipped off at a much earlier stage that something was developing that was going to be important in policy terms, so we can engage with it before it goes too far.

Q151 Chair: You will appreciate, of course, that is a point we could make as the European Scrutiny Committee. Part of the difficulty in the past has been that the information has simply not been made available in practical terms as soon as it could have been. I am sure that we would all agree that in the context of the relationship between the Government and UKRep, for example-as came out in the debate we were in on the work programme the other day-there is a disinclination to allow us in at too early a stage because they say they need to have the freedom to negotiate. On the other hand, you and we are right in suggesting, if we do, that it is important that we get as early access as possible to the information. Do either of the other Chairmen have any views to add to what Alan has said? Could I ask David Davies first?

David T. C. Davies: I would agree with you and the Minister. We need to be involved in issues that come out of the European Union, but we need to get much better warning of issues that are going to affect us. By way of example, we were in Brussels last year some time in September, and discovered more or less by chance during a meeting that Swansea was not going to be TEN-T port and was therefore ineligible for funding. This is not an issue perhaps of direct interest to anyone here except for one Member. The point is, had we known that previously, we could have lobbied the Government or the European Union to try to make sure that Swansea was included, but we did not know that. This is something that we would all agree on: the information is not fed down to us in time.

Keith Vaz: I agree with my colleagues, with this caveat: the lead Committee on European issues ought to be European Scrutiny, because I would imagine that you would have the expertise to be able to deal with, first of all, the very short notice that everyone is given to look at these documents. And we really have to sort this out. I am casting my mind back to when I was Minister for Europe. I cannot believe that you only get to know about these things right at the last minute as Ministers, and therefore you send it off to Parliament. I can remember on many occasions having to sign off things to go to the then Chairman of European Scrutiny with very little notice. The notice point should be taken by all of us. This is a serious issue that needs to be addressed and Government needs to get its act together.

Secondly, where departmental Select Committees can help is by offering opinions on particular areas. We have not done enough work on European issues because our agenda is so crowded with dealing with topical issues to do with police, immigration and other issues of that kind. We are about to embark on an inquiry that looks at the European Arrest Warrant and the optouts, as you are as well. This is a really good opportunity for European Scrutiny to work with Justice, Home Affairs, Welsh Affairs and all the other Committees and present a united front on Parliament’s behalf. The worst thing is everybody doing things separately. This does not help. Through our Clerks we should structure this well. We have the advantage of Mr Clappison on Home Affairs and he is, in a sense, our representative on Earth as far as the European Scrutiny Committee is concerned.

Chair: Hear, hear.

Keith Vaz: Whenever we stray or forget something, Mr Clappison is there to remind us that we are straying or we have not spent sufficient attention on the subject and then we jump to attention and start looking at issues. As far as Parliament is concerned, it should be your Committee. Where we come into it is by offering opinions on departmental issues, and it should not excuse us from our responsibilities. Mea culpa on my part; we have not really concentrated on this in the last two years. We need to do more.

Chair: One very quick thing: today we have had a very detailed report on the whole question of optouts, which will be made available in due course. In fact, the point that you make about James is equally valid as far as we are concerned, because he has become a great expert on all this.

Q152 Michael Connarty: Chairman, this is a unique occasion for us in these kinds of inquiries. They have been going on for a long time, as we started to disengage from Europe as a Parliament, quite frankly, under the last Government, with the change of Standing Orders. I watched it happen when I was sitting in the Chair. What we have here is: Keith, a very well-respected senior Member and former European Minister; Sir Alan, a wellrespected Member of the Liberal Benches, with tremendous experience; and a young fresh face from Davies, not a man to hold back in his opinions. This is a unique time to have a dialogue, rather than an evidence session where we try to ask the tricky questions and people try to answer them without making a fool of themselves. I really want to have a dialogue about this lack of engagement with Europe.

Since the Lisbon Treaty, power has changed markedly. I keep repeating what I said in the speech I made when it went through: it was a tipping point. It changed the forces in Europe: the Commission, the Council and the Parliament of Europe are now where the power lies. I always explain this in geometrical terms; we are the little bit in the rhombus down at the pointed end, somehow trying to resolve the forces that give us some influence. Our Parliament has failed to do that in any meaningful way. The power has shifted to the European Parliament, which is correct in democratic terms, but we are left out of it. We have to ask how we engage all the powers of the Select Committees to reengage with Europe?

From my point of view, why are Members of Select Committees not going to Europe more on their issues, which are being dealt with or even coming from the Commission and the work programme, and engaging with European Parliament facetoface on all these issues? We do not have the time on the European Scrutiny Committee, as Keith has said, because of the speed of turnover. We have to try to hit all the balls back over the net, in the right direction. It seems to me that Parliament and the Committee structures have not retooled themselves to deal with the new Europe. Do you think there is some way in which the Select Committees can help us, as a European Scrutiny Committee, to move back into the field of play, where the power really lies, which is really between the Council and the European Parliament now? Our job is to look at our Ministers all the time and what our Government is doing, but surely Select Committees have a role to play in reengaging with the modern Europe in a way that I do not see happening?

Sir Alan Beith: I think that role is there. I do not think you should discount what happens now. My Committee has just done great deal of work on the European Data Protection Directive and regulation, and the EU Emissions Trading System was looked at by the Energy and Climate Change Committee. All this kind of thing does happen, but there is a great deal more than can and should be done. In order for it to be done, and done effectively, engagement has to start at quite an early stage. Frankly, I do not think it is something that the European Scrutiny Committee can do. You have got your work cut out in overseeing the process and dealing with situations when things are coming up at far too late a stage.

A departmental Committee can get it at a much earlier stage, as policy is emerging from the Commission and being tested against national Governments in other areas of Europe. By an evidence process, we can get light thrown upon it. Take the example of the work we did on the Data Protection Directive. We had chief police officers, people from the business community-both IT businesses and other businesses that would be affected-in front of us, and they became more aware of the issues. Some of them were already aware and then they told us a great deal.

In this process, you engage with Commissioners and make them realise why we think it is framed in a way not suited to UK conditions. You engage with Ministers and push them into using their Council of Ministers opportunities to challenge things. You engage with other organisations which operate across Europe in the relevant field to some extent. If you do all that at an early enough stage, you can change the way policy is developed. If you wait until it is a hard and fast legislative proposal, and it is going to a European legislative Committee, then you have left it far too late.

Q153 Michael Connarty: Can I add a little question, then? Did you engage with the equivalent Committee in the European Parliament?

Sir Alan Beith: I engaged with several Euro MPs and with at least one national Parliament Chair in a related field. That made me think we ought to do that rather more systematically. I was really using personal contacts with Euro MPs and Chairmen who I meet at other events, as I am sure Keith does: Home Affairs and Justice Chairs’ meetings. I think we could do that rather more systematically.

David T. C. Davies: Mr Connarty asked if there is anything practical we can do to better engage with what is going on in Europe, and I think there is. I will preface it by saying that, obviously, all of us in Parliament know how legislation is passed here: First Reading, Second Reading, Legislation Committee and back to the Report stage and so on and so forth. We all know that there are specific individuals that we can talk to at each stage of the process if we want to influence legislation going through this House. I am not convinced everyone could say the same about legislation that is developed in the European Union.

Both I and the Member for Llanelli, Ms Griffith, when we were in Brussels had a basic guide to how things work and COREPER and the negotiations that go on between different nation states and the rapporteur from the various Committees and so on and so forth. I really still feel that I could do with a lot more information about it. I would not like to sit there and try and explain how the system works, let alone name individuals I could go to at each stage of the legislative process in Europe. The answer to the question is: I almost think we need-I hesitate to use the phrase, "an idiot’s guide"- but certainly a good basic understanding of how legislation is developed within the European Union, and perhaps there is a role for the Committee here to put on a short, concise presentation for Members who would be interested. I certainly would be, and I think many on the Welsh Affairs Committee would.

Q154 Chris Heaton-Harris: I was wondering, following on from that, whether you feel that we could use the expertise of our Members of the European Parliament in a better way on either this Committee or on departmental Select Committees.

Sir Alan Beith: I am sure we could. The rather standoffish relationship that this House has had with MEPs over the years, for a variety of reasons, is undesirable and loses opportunities to exercise UK influence in Europe and to improve the quality of what is going through. It is crazy if we get in a situation where Members of Committees here and those on the European Parliament, simply because they have not consulted each other about it, are moving in different directions on the same issue.

Chair: I will just add that we have just recently been-and we do every now and again go-to Europe, to the European Parliament, to talk matters through with them. I have just noticed what Michael’s face looked like as I was making that point. The truth is that it was not a very satisfactory arrangement. It could not have been worse really, because people were coming in and out; they were in for two minutes. We were trying to have a dialogue with them about really important questions, and I have to say, quite bluntly, that the issues, which we went over there specifically to try to address, were not really being given the attention from the Members of the European Parliament.

Q155 Michael Connarty: I have got to say that the level of disengagement was quite frightening compared with how it was, probably preLisbon, quite frankly. From my own European party, only one turned up for half an hour. You could rely on a dozen in the past coming for an hour or more and really having a dialogue. One of the suggestions earlier, when we were changing this Standing Order, was that we should have debates in Westminster Hall in which European Members of Parliament are invited to participate, like a European Grand Committee. It didn’t fly, but it is interesting that the German Parliament allows its MEPs to come and participate in debates on European matters on the floor of the Bundestag. Do people have views on this question of how we engage? I would like to get some thoughts from the former European Minister.

Chair: Would you like to come in Keith?

Keith Vaz: I am not sure I am quite taken by that suggestion, having taken so long to get to Westminster, that we give other people the opportunity of being in the debating hall. It would be a problem for me. One of the problems is we do not get enough time on the Floor of the House itself to discuss European matters. It is a point I know you have made in the past, Chairman, and we have all made at the pre-summit debates that we used to have-which is now, of course, part of Backbencher time. That used to be a standard debate, opened by the Foreign Secretary, closed by the Minister for Europe, and you knew before a summit Parliament would be consulted. This only happens because of the goodwill of the Backbench Business Committee. I think we are at fault.

The Clerk is behind me-are we allowed to beat up Clerks under Standing Orders, or maybe he could beat me up for not thinking of this before? We actually have not been over to Brussels for the last two years, partly because the bidding process through the Liaison Committee is so incredibly bureaucratic. Clerks start by telling you to bid; you then bid; you then look at the cost of everything; you then go back to the same Clerk who then says yes or no. With the greatest respect to my dear friend, the Chairman of the Liaison Committee-

Sir Alan Beith: I cannot remember a matter of yours which I have ever turned down.

Keith Vaz: I should not have said that. We need to go, and we need to see these people and we need to engage. As Mr Heaton-Harris has said, we just do not know who they all are and we need to be able to do that. As with Sir Alan, I try to pick up contacts with Chairmen of Home Affairs Committees from other Parliaments. I have been more interested in developing links with the French and German Chairs of Home Affairs than I have been with the Chairman of the equivalent Home Affairs Committee for the European Parliament, partly because they do not acknowledge that they are a Parliament of a country, as opposed to the others, because clearly it is not a country. We need to do more, and I think it is a very good suggestion to have that kind of interchange.

Q156 Nia Griffith: Are you suggesting then that any travel to Brussels should be regarded like travel within the UK, and therefore not be subject to the bidding process?

Keith Vaz: Absolutely. I was the Minister for Europe who signed off the original one visit to Europe every year to encourage people to deal with enlargement countries, so we could have gone to countries like Poland, Romania, Bulgaria. It was extended by Robin Cook, I think, to three a year. This is just not taken up, because of course we are all fearful that we will be top of the expenses list, so nobody wants to travel. I think this is a mistake. If we want to engage more, and find out what they are up to, we need to do more. Following on from David’s suggestion, it would be a good idea if the COREPER people would come here and explain to those Chairs of Committees with an interest what they all do, and how it all works. That would be very helpful. As well as knowing what the process is, we would like to see them. You all see them a lot. I actually do not know who our Permanent Representative is in Brussels. It is one of the most important jobs in the Foreign Office. I do not know who it is at the moment.

Chair: He is called Jon Cunliffe.

Keith Vaz: Right-Jon Cunliffe. I have not met him since I was at the Foreign Office. The fact is they need to come to us as well as us going to them.

Chair: I was supposed to have a meeting with him a few days ago, but it got cancelled. There is a question I would like to touch on with all three of you: however important it is for there to be inter-engagement, which surely is the case, what Mr Vaz is saying with respect to the question of the relative functions of the two Parliaments is another issue which is going to have to be further considered. In certain areas of policy making-let us take matters that relate to tax and spend, the economy and things like that-it is a question of whether or not you can really have two Parliaments operating on a convergent course. There is a question as to how you manage to resolve the dilemma of having two Parliaments, both of whom are claiming primacy in relation to specific questions. I will leave that as a comment, rather than as a question.

Sir Alan Beith: I have a point that I meant to mention earlier, in response to something you had said, Chairman, about Governments not wanting us to get in too early because they say they have not decided their negotiating position. I just want to nail this particularly. Along with that comes a kind of departmental jealousy. Individual Departments believe they own the policy and therefore they may be reluctant to release to UKRep the ability to engage fully with Select Committees at too early a stage. I simply want to assert that in my view this is hugely detrimental to a proper understanding of how the process should work. These are mostly matters that are in open public discussion. It does not undermine a UK negotiating position for Select Committees to be discussing, with affected groups in Brussels and back home, proposals that are already, publicly, in the Commission’s work programme, and indeed identified as likely to prove significant.

Q157 Michael Connarty: I just wish to say something in support of what Sir Alan has said. I recall under the chairmanship of Jim Hood that we went to the Environment DG, as part of our visit to Brussels. We had a very good process then of going for a couple of days to Brussels and going to see various DirectoratesGeneral to talk about things that were coming onto the work programme. We discovered the beginning of the REACH Directive, which grew like Topsy into this massive imposition on all chemicals to be tested etc, and we discovered that by having a discussion at the Directorate-General, that this is what they were up to. The chemical industry in the UK was shocked by what came out, but it was only by going early and discussing the thoughts with the people in the DirectorateGeneral and the Commission who basically put forward the proposals that we discovered what they were up to. Sometimes, it is far too far down the line when it comes to us as a Committee. Through a little bit more face-to-face dialogue with the Committees dealing with the Justice or Energy Directorate-General, we might prepare ourselves much better for the difficulties to come or even avert some of the difficulties. I totally agree with what Sir Alan said.

Chair: I would very much agree with what Michael said. We are all pretty much in agreement that the avant-projet-I think that is their language for it-is the point at which it would be most propitious for us to get involved, but there are going to be huge practical problems and there are, as you say, huge departmental boundary questions. There is something else which came up I thought rather interestingly in the last few days, which was that Steve Hilton, from his fastness in California, made certain remarks about the Prime Minister’s discovering things in the newspapers. He then made another comment, which did not get so much coverage. He said, "And we spend about 40% of all our time in Downing Street on European regulations and European business".

In the big context, the debate about role of the Civil Service, to bring it back to Michael’s point and your point about UKRep and the whole question of how best and the right time at which to engage in this dialogue, is very apposite. It is not just a matter for the Liaison Committee or for the departmental Select Committees or for us as a European Scrutiny Committee; it is also for entire machinery of government, including the Civil Service. Of course, the competence review is going to be looking at these things horizontally as well as vertically. We are at a very propitious moment in discussing this, which is really why we thought it was a good idea to set up a scrutiny into European Scrutiny.

Q158 Stephen Phillips: Picking up on the last piece of evidence we had from you, Sir Alan, you referred to jealousy of particular Departments in relation to portfolios for which they are responsible. You may remember the Liaison Committee suggested that there might be an increased role for this Committee to seek opinions from other departmental Select Committees, but to what extent, just before we get to that, do you think that that jealousy exists within departmental Select Committees, so that they do not want this Committee referring matters to them for opinions?

Sir Alan Beith: I do not think there is any lack of desire from departmental Select Committees on this Committee asking for opinions. That is entirely proper and quite right. It does not apply just to this Committee; it occasionally applies to some other Committees with a general brief as well: if you got to a stage where an individual Committee felt that this Committee was giving opinions on a matter about which its Members knew a great deal less than the Members of the departmental Committee, then you can see where tension might arise at that point. This Committee, very correctly when it sees a need to do so, seeks an opinion from the Select Committee that knows about that field.

Q159 Stephen Phillips: It is really that point. It is the point that under, I think, Standing Order 143, we have that right to seek opinions from departmental Select Committees. Both you and Mr Vaz have referred, no doubt correctly, to the expertise on substantive matters lying within those departmental Select Committees. I have to say, my experience, and the experience of the Committee in the past, has been that when we have sought opinions from departmental Committees, when we have had them at all, they have been of a variable quality, if I can put it in that way. Given the Liaison Committee’s suggestion that there might be increased scope for seeking further opinions from departmental Select Committees, how do you see that playing out in the future, if I may have Mr Vaz’s view and also that of Mr Davies?

Sir Alan Beith: I would like to feel that certainly my Committee has met your quality standards. You have to take into account that each Chairman is juggling a very considerable workload and Committees do worry sometimes, particularly when combined with things that Governments do that put work onto the programme of a Select Committee, that being asked to do a detailed report on some issue may not fit neatly with that work programme. I think we have to do it. It would be unusual for this Committee to ask an opinion from us, as a Select Committee, on a matter that did not deserve at least some of our attention. Committees should have regard to it.

Q160 Chair: Could I perhaps comment on some of the statistics that we have in our files? We are probably the only people who know how our system has been working in terms of responses. I will just read this out to put it in the record, because it is important. Otherwise everything we have said before is not really going to work if it is not actually functioning in practice. In the past two sessions, our Committee has requested 13 opinions from departmental Select Committees. We are quite sparing about it. Maybe we should ask more, but that is the way it has gone. The Committee requested 11 opinions in session 2012, and two so far in session 2012–13. We have got two outstanding requests from the session 2010–12, both from the Treasury Committee, who of course have had enormous burdens with all the bailout and Treasury matters, though we did regard them as very important opinions, which we were seeking. Responses have been received for nine of the requests made in 2010–12, but none of the requests which have been made in 2012–13 so far. That is the position, for the record. One might, if one were doing a school report, say, "Take note, but could do better." It is important that we up the game.

Keith Vaz: Chairman, if you have examples of Select Committees that do not respond, even if it is the Treasury Committee and bearing in mind their workload, if it is Home Affairs, I think you need to come to me to make sure we honour the commitments that we made. Mr Philips is absolutely right: because of time frame and the time scales that you have to deal with, which are very short, we should respond. If we have not, then I am sorry, but I do not think Home Affairs is on that list of Committees that have not responded. Obviously, we will look at the areas much more carefully. There is a good relationship between your Clerk and Tom and my Clerks and if there is a problem we will resolve it. We do want to be able to give our opinion on those areas that concern us. As I have said earlier, we have not done enough on this.

Q161 Chair: You will be glad to know that you are not on the nonresponding list.

Keith Vaz: Excellent. I have a brilliant Clerk and he is sitting behind me, so I am sure we are not on the list. I do not know whether Welsh Affairs is on it. One of the reasons why we do not go and engage is that whenever we get our programme together, we want to see the Commissioner when we go to Brussels and the Commissioner always has something else to do. We might use UKRep to do more work for us in terms of getting those meetings. I have been left ringing Baroness Ashton’s office and saying, "Can you fix up this meeting?" I am not quite sure that it is my job to do that. Please seek our opinions, and we will give you our opinions.

Q162 Stephen Phillips: I will ask Mr Davies as well. This is a relatively small number of opinions that have been sought in the two previous sessions, in circumstances where we see a very large number of documents, on which the views of departmental Select Committees would be extraordinarily helpful to enable informed reporting to be made to the House. At the moment, Standing Orders do say we are entitled to set the time limit within which we require a response, but that is not being observed. Should we be seeking more departmental Select Committee opinions? Should there be some real recognition within the departmental Select Committees that those responses, albeit in letter form, need to be made in short order and prioritised, in order that the House can be properly informed about thedocuments on which we are reporting?

Sir Alan Beith: Since I do not know about the individual cases in which you have not had a response-and it would be interesting to see some of those details-I cannot say whether there are any extenuating circumstances. My own view is that a Committee should make every effort, if this Committee has identified something on which a more specialised opinion is needed in the subject area of the Committee; they should get on and do it. They may have serious practical problems because there may be even more time-sensitive things going on, such as a report on a piece of legislation which is coming before the House urgently. That happens in Home Affairs and Justice when you get terrorism legislation, for example. But, bar that difficulty, the Committee should give priority to it and the Liaison Committee has recommended-and I hope the House will soon have the opportunity to endorse-the inclusion of scrutiny of European business as a core task of the Committee.

Chair: Could I just add one other point? Of course, given the process-we have all acknowledged how very much we would like to improve it-and the material that comes to us somewhat late in the day quite often, the question still is this: when we make a request to a departmental Select Committee, it is not just on, "Oh, isn’t it a good idea to look at the question of opt-outs?" It is actually on the basis of documents that already establish how, for example, the law of this country could or might be changed, and-this is crucial for a departmental Select Committee-on the basis of an Explanatory Memorandum; it is that departmental Select Committee’s own Minister, as it were, with whom they are going to be in a dialogue. Now, if they are not looking at the Explanatory Memorandum on a matter which has such an impact on the daily lives of the voters, then something needs to be done, surely, so that we can get this critical mass properly sorted out. I do not know that we are going to come to an absolute conclusion today by any means, but it is all part of the dialogue, which is why we think this Committee inquiry into scrutiny is important. As Michael said, it really is a constant issue for everybody, and applies to other countries in Europe as well.

Q163 Stephen Phillips: Mr Chair, I do not want to stop you, but just before Mr Connarty comes in, I wonder whether I can have Mr Davies’ answer to my question.

David T. C. Davies: The answer, Mr Phillips, is that we are not on that list. Because of that, it is rare for us to be asked for an opinion on European matters, and because it is rare, I am absolutely certain that if we were asked we would treat it as an absolute priority. You asked whether the European Scrutiny Committee should be sending out more of these requests. May I gently suggest that that probably would not be a good idea because already quite difficult to programme in future evidence sessions. If we started receiving a lot of them then they would not be treated with the priority that they deserve.

Q164 Stephen Phillips: Let us assume that that is right. If the substantive expertise on the various matters, documents, which come before this Committee lies elsewhere, how is this Committee to access that expertise other than through the mechanism of seeking these opinions?

David T. C. Davies: We can certainly offer opinions, but in order to do so we have to set up meetings and possibly cancel other meetings. If we are asked every now and then for an opinion, I am sure we would be happy to treat it as an absolute priority, but if we were receiving requests every week some of the Members of the Welsh Affairs Committee might be suggesting to me that perhaps it is the job of the European Scrutiny Committee to deal with European matters.

Q165 Stephen Phillips: Would additional Committee staff for each of the departmental Select Committees, for example, specialising in reporting to the European Scrutiny Committee-or, indeed, splitting that role; it may not be a full-time role-be of assistance to each of the departmental Select Committees?

David T. C. Davies: In Scotland, there is a system where one Member of the Committee is a rapporteur, dealing solely with European issues. I thought about that. I think if we did something like that we would be opening up a bit of a Pandora’s box, because we could end up with rapporteurs for all sorts of other issues as well. Before you knew it, we would end up with a Select Committee that did not act like a parliamentary Select Committee but something on the European model, which changes the whole role of the Chair-something I am aware of, as I am actually a rapporteur on a European Committee in the Council of Europe. I would be a bit cautious about that.

In the case of Wales, and possibly Scotland and Northern Ireland as well, I assume, we have an additional problem, which is that virtually any issue you are likely to ask us for an opinion on will probably be a devolved matter. Whether it is agriculture, transport or economic development, there will probably be a devolved element to it, in which case some of our ability to get a good opinion to you will depend on the relationship that we have with the relevant Minister in the devolved legislature. That varies a lot, even within the same political parties. Some will deal with us and are very helpful. Some will flatly refuse to have anything to do with us because we are Parliament. That complicates the situation further, and makes it harder for us to get you opinions as quickly as you would like.

Sir Alan Beith: Just on the rapporteur point, can I just explain that the Liaison Committee has recommended that Committees should consider whether this is a tool that would be useful to them to deal with European issues? There is nothing mandatory about it at all, and there are other mechanisms, like having a sub-Committee, or making sure that the staff that supports the Committee has got arrangements within it, to see that there is proper focus on European matters. There are various ways Committees can do it. This is merely one.

Q166 Michael Connarty: There is a Standing Order that says this Committee has the power. We are not doing it because we think it is a good idea. We are given the power ask Select Committees for an opinion. I would take that interpretation that the Committee should reply, and should reply within a time scale that is useful for this Committee-or why would they put it in the Standing Orders in the first place?-so that we are, as was said by Steven, much more informed than we would be.

The second point I would make is-I don’t know if Mr Davies knows-but every brief we get has a section that says, "Devolved administrations", and if it is applicable to a devolved matter, officials of the Department have to ensure they ask the devolved administrations and their opinion is in the Explanatory Memorandum. That would be available if we asked for an opinion of the Welsh Affairs Committee: you would know whether it was devolved and whether we had, in fact, consulted and had an opinion. In other words, we know the devolved Assembly’s opinion. What we would be asking for, presumably, is the Members of the Parliament’s opinion about the same issue, not necessarily to go and find out what the devolved Assembly thought, but what the Committee think.

Keith Vaz: To be fair, he was not saying, "Do not write." He was just saying, "If you write too often, we do not have the resources."

Michael Connarty: He was explaining how difficult it is.

Keith Vaz: But if nobody is going to take the extra resources Mr Phillips is offering, I certainly will have an extra person for Europe.

Stephen Phillips: I’m going to fund them personally.

Chair: Can we move on?

Q167 Stephen Phillips: It is a related question. At the moment, as Mr Vaz and Sir Alan will know, there has been very good co-operation between the staff of this Committee, informally, and their staff, in relation to the block opt-out. I just wonder what your views are on whether there is greater scope for that sort of informal co-operation between the staff at 7 Millbank to continue, not only in the context of this Committee and Justice and Home Affairs, but with other departmental Select Committee staff as well and whether that is working well and what more can be done to make it work better.

Sir Alan Beith: I think it is always capable of improvement, but it is a standard part of the operation of the Clerk’s Department in particular, which also brings in specialist advisers to Committees, that they do liaise with each other, and, particularly on European matters, with the staff of this Committee. Certainly, we would accept there is always scope for improvement.

Keith Vaz: I agree with Sir Alan. It has worked very well on this, and we should continue the co-operation that we have.

Q168 Stephen Phillips: I am very new to the House. I am going to ask it anyway: is there any jealous guarding of portfolios by Committee Clerks?

Sir Alan Beith: No.

Keith Vaz: I don’t think so. We must overlap quite often. Frankly, the Clerks keep in touch with each other. We do not know the mysteries of clerkery, which will take an inquiry of its own: where they are born, how they get promoted-all this kind of stuff is unique, and we do not know.

Stephen Phillips: Several heart attacks in the last 30 seconds, Mr Vaz.

Keith Vaz: They arrive, Mr Phillips, all in one piece, and we just accept them as they are. The fact is they do have their own mechanisms of drafting the letters in certain ways, etc. Obviously, Mr Cash, Sir Alan, Mr Davies and I will look carefully at what is put before us and put our own opinions forward, but I think they have their own network, their own club, and it seems to be working well as far as the opt-out is concerned. At the end of the day, we need to decide, and I think looking around the table all of us are strong enough to make those decisions.

Chair: Speaking for my own Committee, I have quite a lot of Clerks and I have some extremely good advisers, and we are in almost constant contact on all sorts of matters. I think the system from that point of view is fine. What is emerging is that there is some improvement that we are investigating, which we might be able to develop, in the interaction between Committees and ourselves.

Q169 Mr Clappison: I think we have already touched upon my question. At the risk of generating auto-criticism as far as Home Affairs is concerned, I will put it again so we are absolutely clear about it: would there be agreement amongst you three as Committee Chairmen that we need to get earlier information about what is planned in the European Union, and do you think that UKRep, particularly, as it has contact in negotiations, is best placed to provide us with that early indication-what some people might suggest as horizon-scanning information about emerging policies in the Commission, and how do you see them doing that?

Sir Alan Beith: Yes and yes-that is, more information is needed, and they are the best people to provide it. That is simply based on my own experience as Chairman of the Justice Committee. In all the discussions I have had, on all occasions when I have been to European meetings or gone to see the Commission, the briefing I have had from the UKRep staff-who are sometimes staff seconded from Departments, of course-and the support they have given has been very good indeed. They have a very clear grasp of what is in the work programme, what is getting some traction from items that are in the work programme, what sort of things are not getting very far because there is resistance either within the Commission or from other member states, and what issues are moving in such a way that we really need to get a grip of them. It is fine to be able to get that information when you have got on the train to Brussels, and gone to the other end and found them in their lair there, but it would sometimes be extremely useful if that information came to us earlier. There is a route by which we do get some help in doing that, and that is of course we have-I cannot remember if there are one or two-House of Commons Clerks based in Brussels, who are also of very great assistance to us in facilitating this process. We use that as well. The core of my argument is that the Government should loosen the reins a little and make it easier for those who are representing the United Kingdom in Brussels to know what is going on and to alert Committees.

Q170 Mr Clappison: It follows from what you have said that it depends on the individual Chairman or Committee Member taking an interest, going to Brussels, and asking for themselves. The information does not automatically come to them.

Sir Alan Beith: That is the problem.

Chair: I ought to mention the National Parliament Office, where we have, in this instance, very good communications, who supply us with the eyes and ears information that we need. Quite often it can be very important. Some of the documents are described as limité. I do not think we have got time to go into all that today.

When there is a deliberate attempt to try to block information which is generally available throughout Brussels, but when there is an embargo placed on us when we do have the information-this came up, what, twice in the last year?-on one occasion I had to raise an urgent question, which was granted, because it was so important in relation to whole business of bail-outs and the economic governance questions. That is another issue. Bearing in mind the time and Keith’s own programme, I just wonder, Chris, if you might like to ask the next question?

Q171 Chris Heaton-Harris: Yes. It is quite a simple one actually. We had some, as always, interesting academic input into this process so far, and they raised the fact that the Irish and Dutch Parliaments, and the National Assembly for Wales, have given much more scrutiny responsibility to their subject Committees-essentially mainstreaming of some individual subjects-effectively moving the sifting role away from European affairs Committees. Is there any appetite for that sort of change here?

Sir Alan Beith: It presents certain problems for us; one is the way in which the European legislative Committees are viewed generally as something of a chore that Members have to attend, and perhaps not used to the full. The other problem they present is that, in the Select Committee world, there is an understandable resistance to importing any formal part of the legislative process into the Select Committee, because that always comes accompanied by Whips, who are the last people you want to see anywhere near a Select Committee.

Now, it may be unrealistic to apply that consideration to some of the European processes that we are describing, but I think it accounts for some of the caution you get, on the Select Committee side, of doing what many other Parliaments find it much easier to do: essentially combine legislative and scrutiny functions. We have a quite serious obstacle to that around the majoritarian way in which our Parliament works. We would not want to lose anything of the freedom that we are exercising this afternoon for you to operate as a Committee, as we do, without regard to party considerations.

Keith Vaz: I do not mind. As I have admitted in my first confession right at the start, we do not do enough of this work, because the domestic agenda on Home Affairs moves so fast. We try to keep up, although we obviously never keep up, because it is so fastmoving, but we need to do more. If there is an opportunity to do more then we have to do more. This is an opportunity to do so with the opt-out arrangements. We will look at this very seriously: we intend to go to Poland; we intend to look in particular at the European Arrest Warrant. As part of our inquiry into Turkey being a candidate country, we went to the border of Greece and Turkey, and it was fascinating, because of the immigration implications for our country.

We should do much, much more of this, and hopefully that will help what you are doing; we would not want to cut across anything that you are doing, but we do want to be able to make a contribution. It goes down to the fact that when Theresa May comes before our Committee-Mr Clappison will correct me if I am wrong-there are not many European questions we put to her.

Mr Clappison: No.

Keith Vaz: This is our fault: we should do much more, and we will get the head of UKRep in to appear before the Committee.

Mr Clappison: You may regret saying that.

Keith Vaz: There is always, Mr Clappison, the conscience of a Committee on these issues, and Mr Reckless.

Q172 Chair: There is also the other question about having Question Time, as we used to have in the House, on the Floor of the House, devoted to European issues, because that has been disbanded. That is another way; if you had topical questions attached to that, there may be issues that you could raise that would be relevant to a Select Committee, which could then be asked of the Minister, to try to get ahead of the curve.

Keith Vaz: Yes. I would not be against that. Actually, after the Prime Minister gives his speech in Holland, I think he should appear before the European Scrutiny Committee, since he is talking about European matters, so that he can be examined by you on this one issue. That would mean we do not have to have-

Chair: You obviously have a sense of drama.

Stephen Phillips: And humour.

Keith Vaz: Excitement-I will be first in the queue for tickets. It is not because I want Liaison dominated by European issues, as sometimes it is; it is because when there is something so big, like a big speech by the Prime Minister on issues of this kind, it would be appropriate for him to come here.

Q173 Chris Heaton-Harris: Just one short supplementary to Mr Vaz, if I may: at the moment, while we have not exercised the block opt-out, we are gradually opting in to different Justice and Home Affairs measures. Does your Committee scrutinise any of those on an individual basis?

Sir Alan Beith: We are both involved in this process.

Keith Vaz: We are just going to start. We are waiting for the list, of course, and we have now got the list.

Q174 Chris Heaton-Harris: As we gradually opt-in one-by-one-we have been doing it gradually-over the last six months four or five have disappeared off the list, because we have opted in, and we have referred them to debate in European Committee, because we thought they deserved debate. Have you discussed them?

Keith Vaz: No, we have not, and we should, and we will at the next meeting.

Sir Alan Beith: Your Chairman and I, and the Chairman of the Lords Committee, wrote a rather stern letter to Ministers, because we felt, and I think we probably still feel, that we had not been given sufficient indication of the order and order of priority and general direction of thinking with which the Government was addressing these things. We could waste a lot of time going to things that were not an issue, or we have subsequently found were not really an issue. We really want to know which ones to concentrate on, and which ones to take in what priority order. We need more help from Ministers to do that.

Again, you find what they would feel is a reluctance to give their hand away at an early stage, giving an indication of where their thinking is going-a fact that does not square very well with the fact that Ministers have usually said something in a speech somewhere that gives you a flavour of where they are going. A clearer indication from Government would make it easier for our Committees to tackle this.

Q175 Michael Connarty: Just a very simple question: the Brussels Bulletin, which we get every week, is, I understand, sent to all Chairs of Select Committees. Now, maybe Chairs of Select Committees do not always have the time to read everything that comes on their desk, but surely these wonderful members of staff that are referred to again and again by Mr Vaz and others-

Keith Vaz: Protecting my back.

Michael Connarty: would go through these and point out matters of relevance to the Committee. For example, Barroso’s report to MEPs on the December European Council might contain in it a paragraph that reveals that our people have sat in and heard Barroso say something very significant about where he thinks the policy is going, and you have to read through it to find that paragraph. I often wonder if, in fact, they are used in the way they could be used by every Select Committee, just to inform themselves of the ongoing process referred to where things of significance are beginning to be hatched out in the European dialogue between Commission and Parliament. I do recommend it; I know people who read it.

Keith Vaz: I have not seen one of those. My Clerk has nodded that he sees them very regularly, but I will make sure it is required reading alongside the Leicester Mercury every day.

Sir Alan Beith: Our staff I think would benefit greatly from more help from UKRep staff in identifying-you give a very good example: if Barroso makes a speech-

Michael Connarty: These are our Parliamentary spies; they go to every meeting.

Sir Alan Beith: you have to have read the speech.

Chair: Could I just issue a very slight warning with respect to the reliance on UKRep too much, for this reason: UKRep is-let us get the words out-the United Kingdom Representative; this is a Government body.

Michael Connarty: It is Executive.

Chair: It would be disingenuous for us to believe that, as Select Committees, we could rely on the kind of information which would be volunteered by Government, in the form of UKRep, when we are the people who are supposed to be asking the questions. We cannot ask the questions unless we have the information; we cannot be sure we are going to get the information any more from UKRep than we are from the Government. That is something we might just bear in mind, because that, after all, is why we are here.

Michael is right; this document could possibly be expanded to some extent, to take more regard of the departmental interests. I do not want to put too much a burden on our NPO, but it is just possible we could consider that as a recommendation, because that would help you to know that you are getting information from those people who represented Parliament, our Parliament, and who are Parliament’s eyes and ears in Brussels, and not just exclusively rely on UKRep; otherwise we might be making a bit of a trap for ourselves.

Q176 Michael Connarty: My question is an expansion of the question that has been referred to by Stephen about the use of rapporteurs for departmental Select Committees. Certainly, in the early days of the Scottish Parliament’s reactions to matters coming from Europe, I do not think they were very skilled, but they have developed a system of rapporteurs for the various topics. I wondered whether this has been looked at by the Committee. If you think about what the decision was of the change in Standing Orders, it was that two people would be referred to the Committee of Selection from this Committee for every debate in a Standing Committee, and two people would be referred from the appropriate Select Committee. I do not see much evidence of appropriate Select Committee Members participating in the debates when they come to the Standing Committees, to be quite honest, so clearly the aspiration of that change in Standing Orders I do not see realised. We send two people diligently from this Committee, but do not always hear the expertise coming from the Select Committees. I just wonder, if there was a rapporteurs system, whether there should be more than one rapporteur, whether it would be difficult to get one rapporteur to do European matters. Could there be some kind of co-ordination across the House, so that the political parties buy in to this, so that the Whips take this seriously? I get the feeling the Committee of Selection is not always focused on that Standing Order, to which I referred, when they put people on Standing Committees.

Sir Alan Beith: I do not know whether the Committee of Selection checks-it may well do-as to whether that Standing Order has been satisfied in each case, but certainly Members of my Committee have served. Indeed, I frequently find them being taken to serve on both European Committees and Statutory Instrument Committees when I want them at the Committee meeting itself. The process is used to a significant extent, but as far as rapporteurs are concerned, Committees do need the freedom to experiment and develop tools that work for them; that has certainly been the approach of the Liaison Committee: to recommend ideas without saying, "This is the way every Committee has got to do it."

It may depend also on the personalities you have on the Committee. If you have got somebody who is prepared to take on a more continuous responsibility for Europe-related issues, primarily to alert other Members as appropriate, then Committees should feel free to take that step.

Q177 Michael Connarty: Do you think that is sufficient to say it depends on the personalities; it depends whether anyone wants to do it? The duty given to the Select Committees by changing the Standing Order were away from what I thought was the correct structure, which was a permanent membership of all three Committees, thereby training people. That would be 39 people being trained every year, in every debate, in the expertise in these three areas the Committees are supposed to deal with, which we used to have. It cannot be substituted, surely, just by the whim of either the Whips to "share the pain", as they call it, by putting people on the Committees, or the whim of people on the Committees, because they are interested to go on. Surely, part of being a Member of Parliament is to carry the duty of representing the parliamentary view and taking on the work seriously?

Sir Alan Beith: I was addressing a different part of your question, which is the question of whether a rapporteur mechanism is the best tool a Committee can use to see that its continuous scrutiny of European matters is done effectively; it is not the only way to do it. There is a separate question of whether two Members of the Committee should do all the European Standing Committees in the Committee’s field, or whether that task should be given to different Members at different times. I had not previously given much thought to that.

Q178 Chair: I have been on this Committee now 27 and a half years, which is quite a long time, and I have been on many, many European Standing Committees as well. I have to say that for those who are not interested in the European dimension, things are catching up with them a bit. There is a very powerful case for having people on Standing Committees, who come from Select Committees, who have the opportunity to know more than other people would about the given subject matter. On Mali, for example, today, which is being debated as we speak, or very shortly, it is now headline news everywhere; the fact that we recommended it for debate has meant that there is an opportunity for Members of Parliament from the Defence and Foreign Affairs Committees to get involved, and I hope that they are there.

David T. C. Davies: I think energy policy is coming up next, because I am intending to speak on it later on this afternoon. To answer Mr Connarty’s question, there is a practical problem, which is how rapporteurs are selected; do we take somebody from a different political party, or the majority political party? How do we get around that one? The wider point is I think we have opened up a bit of a Pandora’s box and risk changing the whole way in which parliamentary Select Committees operate.

Mr Connarty, you are a Member of the Council of Europe; Mr Clappison is on the Council of Europe. They rely heavily on rapporteurs; we have probably all done the job. Their Select Committees-well, they are not Select Committees; they are something quite different, with the Chair doing more of a managerial job. I am relatively new to it, but it is certainly very different from a parliamentary Select Committee. If we start going down a rapporteur route, we risk changing the way in which our Select Committees operate; it may not necessarily be worse, it could even be better, but it will be different, and we ought to be aware of that before we start.

Q179 Penny Mordaunt: I wanted to turn to European Committees themselves: how effective do you think they are in involving the wider ambition of the House, and why do you think there have been such, to quote the Liaison Committee’s memo, "varying degrees of enthusiasm" from departmental Select Committees to people pitching up? I would like your thoughts on whether there are things that could be done to make them more effective, whether it be a permanent membership or a better notification system, with specific reference to the European Committees.

Keith Vaz: One of the problems, certainly in Home Affairs-going back to Mr Connarty’s question and answering yours as well Ms Mordaunt-is the fact that if a European issue comes up on Home Affairs, and there is the possibility of Members of Home Affairs attending, I would automatically think of Mr Clappison and Mr Reckless, simply because they have an interest in these issues and I know that they will be able to attend and they will come back and tell the Committee what is going on. Other Members of the Committee, going back to what Sir Alan says, may not have that interest; it is not that you need to be different from normal people to be interested in European issues, but you do have to have an interest in these issues in order to follow what is going on.

We do not publicise the work of European Committees enough. It goes back to what I said at the beginning; it started under the last Government, as if Parliament is kind of a sideshow to what is happening elsewhere. We need to have this, first and foremost, on the Floor of the House; there needs to be time on the Floor of the House to discuss these issues. Then, when we have European Committees, we need to ensure that they too are publicised in a way that will encourage people to come.

The work that you all have done has been extremely important. Yes, the issue is out there; of course it occupies the minds of the public. In any survey that you have, Europe is right there at the top alongside immigration, and possibly policing and the economy. The fact that the public want us to do this should encourage us to publicise them more. That is what could be done, Ms Mordaunt, to make sure that more Members of Parliament get an interest in this.

Sir Alan Beith: I would place a slightly different emphasis by saying that these are not Committees about Europe; they are Committees that are about matters of domestic policy, where the major policy change has originated through European processes. Therefore, Parliament ought to be dealing effectively with them. Part of what I have been arguing is that we should have been dealing with them long before they reached the European Standing Committee, because we ought to have been steering policy, so that it went in a sensible direction; really, the ink is almost dry by the time we get into a Standing Committee.

I am not really qualified-and perhaps Mr Davies will say more from his own experience-to talk much about what happens in the European Committee itself, because I have only been very occasionally myself to those particular Committees, but we all know the counterpressures that make Members reluctant to take part in them, and up to now the unwillingness, I think, of Members to make a commitment to permanent involvement. There is partly a good reason for that: what defines a European Standing Committee is that it deals with issues that have come through the European process, but the subject matter varies all the time. The subject matter is of interest to Members of Parliament who are taking an interest in that subject, so they really only want to be involved when that subject is brought up.

Q180 Chair: Could I just at that point mention that the questioning during that session, which is, under the Standing Order, available for one and a half hours, would be far more productive if the questions were being asked by people who have the expertise to ask the questions, rather than somebody who has just been shoved on to it by the Whips to try and get the business out of the way.

Sir Alan Beith: Absolutely.

David T. C. Davies: Mr Vaz has just reminded me that, as a Member of his Committee, he once sent me to Brussels or Strasbourg, to a meeting of Select Committee Chairs from all over Europe, and it was a very pleasant two days. At the end of it, though, I did wonder whether anything had been achieved; everyone got a chance to make a five minute speech, while everyone else talked into their mobile phones and drank coffee. My point is that, if we are going to have rapporteurs or somebody on a Select Committee dealing with Europe, we have to make sure that it is focused and that they are getting something out of it. Much as I enjoyed it, I am not sure whether anything changed really.

Q181 Mr Clappison: I would like to feed this through to Sir Alan, as Chairman of the Liaison Committee, because he mentioned the fact the ink was almost dry by the time it came to these European Select Committees. I keep attending Committees where ink is in fact dry, because Ministers have already agreed to measures in Europe before the debate about the Standing Committee; it is literally a waste of time, and MPs cannot be blamed for not taking much interest, because what they are saying is of less consequence than the process that Mr Davies has just described.

Sir Alan Beith: The really interesting process is the process in which a Select Committee at an early stage is questioning those who are affected, and Commissioners, and others, about what would happen if it is drafted or developed in this particular way.

Mr Clappison: You do get the feeling, as a Member of Parliament looking in on this, that it is actually lobbyists in Europe who get the best deal out of the European Union. They are plugged into it right from the beginning, and if you want to get something done, go to a lobbyist; do not go to an MP. That is just my view.

Q182 Michael Connarty: I want to emphasise why I am so keen to go back to fixed membership. The point was made about expertise. When I was asked by a Whip in the 1992 to 1997 period to go on a European Standing Committee, it was to fill a space. Three Committees had three subjects, and we still refer them to the appropriate A, B or C Committee, though they do not exist anymore, and it was environment, health and safety, and agriculture. Coming from an industrial community that I come from, at first I could not see why that would be relevant; then I realised we were dealing with matters to do with the chemical industry; we were dealing with matters to do with riparian ownership and contamination by industrial process, which were then being treated through European moneys. Eventually I realised that every single topic that came before a Standing Committee was relevant to my constituents. It became a matter of pride to know what was happening in the agricultural community, because it was about food, and what was happening in the environment, because it was about the landscape, etc.

Now, of course, if we were still there, these would be talking about climate change, about carbon taxation, about pollution; all of the things that are very relevant. People have lost that ability to gather that knowledge, and know that something is both important and relevant to their constituents. As the Chairman says, they are stuck on, on a random basis.

The other point made by James was about lobbying. If anyone wants to take up a topic that is coming for debate they do not know who to go to; there is no idea of who will be on that Committee, to whom you should send the brief or speak to. We have cut off a whole swathe of civic, industrial and commercial society from the processes in here, and it seems to me that the rapporteurship, though it might be of interest, is not a substitute for permanent membership. Some may come from your Committees, gentlemen; some may come from other sources, but-and this is a general point and maybe you should pass an opinion on it-I get the feeling that, when we have debates now on the Floor of the House, sadly it is the same old suspects who stand up, and the debates turn from talking about the topic and the issue, to a view about our position in Europe in relation to membership.

You can read the debates; I have practically stopped going to them, because I know they will turn into the same people getting called again and again to make a variety of the same speeches, not always about the topic, but about the general overall view of the relationship between the UK and Europe. Now, that would change if we had people with some expertise to bring to the debate, but I do not think that is happening at the moment. We have turned into a performance, rather than a serious discussion of subjects when they come to the Floor of the House.

Keith Vaz: Chairman, we miss Mr Connarty from those debates.

Michael Connarty: I am sure you do.

Sir Alan Beith: I have been a Member of the House for 39 years, and through the whole of that time I have watched again and again-and been partly guilty-the development of a system in which, when the word "Europe" appears, people feel this is a debate about Europe. There is an entirely legitimate debate to be had about whether we should be in the European Union or not, on what terms; I have my own views, and you know what they are. However, what most of these procedures are for is to establish whether the right policy is being pursued in relation to agriculture, in relation to industrial chemicals, in relation to arrest warrants, or whatever it may be.

Chair: I am very touched by the way you are putting this, but could I simply say that one of the problems is that by the time it gets to debate, to my knowledge in the 28 years I have been in this place, not on one occasion, apart from the European budget, has a vote of the House of Commons ever gone against the European issue. Now, if there was merit in discussing it, surely there is equal merit in the Parliament in voting to say whether we wanted it or not. That is another side to the equation.

Q183 Penny Mordaunt: I was going to ask a very brief supplementary. You mentioned time on the Floor of the House, and we all know there are lots of issues that take up an MP’s time. Although I am not suggesting this is a recent problem, I would be interested to know if you think that the House’s new hours are a help or a hindrance to some of these issues, about people being able to attend things they might want to attend.

Keith Vaz: I am a dinosaur, and I voted to keep things as they were. We have enormous difficulty in Home Affairs in having our meetings on a Tuesday morning, because the House sits on a Tuesday morning. If you choose to do it when the House finishes questions, there is always going to be a statement. It limits the amount of time available for discussions on European Affairs; if it has to end at 6.00 pm then all the Government and all Ministers have to do is decide that there is going to be a statement, and that takes an hour out of the debate. If there is an urgent question it is another half hour, and there are points of order and all this kind of stuff.

If you look at the debate we had last week on Home Affairs, we had the whole afternoon from 3.30 pm to 10.00 pm scheduled, then we had two statements and an urgent question. The hours have limited, in particular, discussion of European Affairs, in my view, because those were the longer debates that were not usually on a motion that enabled people to not necessarily have a time limit, but develop arguments and themes. I sat through Mr Hemming, I think it was, who was reading his entire speech into Hansard in three minutes in the Home Affairs debate. I understand why he did it; I am not criticising him for doing it, but the fact is, it is not like the American system where you read speeches in; otherwise there is no point in us being here. If there was a vote again, I would also vote to go back to the original system, but I am in a minority; I am a dinosaur, Ms Morduant.

Sir Alan Beith: To separate the two parts of the question, as far as Select Committee business is concerned, the most scarce commodity for Select Committees is the time of Members, and that is at an even greater premium now. However, I do not think this disproportionately affects the European work that Select Committees do; it affects all aspects of their work.

So far as European legislative business is concerned, it is a different matter, because I spent many years in this House when that business was taken after 10:00 pm. 10.00 pm to 11.30 pm, and then another one often from 11.30 pm until 1 am. I was somewhat younger when I spent many years doing that; I would not now recommend it, but it has led to a situation that we have been describing earlier, which has other weaknesses.

Q184 Chair: Could I just ask each of you, finally, one last question? Would European Standing Committees be more effective with a permanent membership, with the intention of developing Members’ familiarity with the subject matter?

David T. C. Davies: Yes, but they would become sort of a de facto Select Committee, wouldn’t they, in that case?

Q185 Chair: No, because this is ad hoc, these European Standing Committees: we recommend them for debate on the basis of legal and political importance; they then debate the subject matter.

David T. C. Davies: I have not thought about it. My instant reaction is yes, but I probably ought to think about it a bit more carefully.

Sir Alan Beith: In general, no, although there might be a case for there being some core Members of the Committee. If there was no change of personnel to reflect the different subjects being considered then they would be less effective.

Keith Vaz: Yes, I think we should have a permanent group of people who are able to discuss these. They will develop the expertise that is necessary, for the very reasons that Members of this Committee-

Chair: Well, with those three very diverse answers, we shall have quite a problem working out what the answer is. Thank you all very much; it has been a great pleasure.

Prepared 27th November 2013