European Scrutiny Committee - Minutes of EvidenceHC 109-II

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Oral Evidence

Taken before the European Scrutiny Committee

on Wednesday 6 March 2013

Members present:

Mr William Cash (Chair)

Mr James Clappison

Michael Connarty

Julie Elliott

Nia Griffith

Kelvin Hopkins

Chris Kelly

Mrs Linda Riordan

Jacob Rees-Mogg

Henry Smith

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Examination of Witnesses

Witnesses: Chris Bryant MP, former Minister for Europe, Martin Horwood MP, Chair, Liberal Democrat Parliamentary Party Committee on International Affairs, and Andrea Leadsom MP, co-Founder, Fresh Start Project, and member of the Treasury Select Committee, gave evidence.

Q276 Chair: Welcome, all three of you. Could I simply say that we are extremely glad we have such knowledgeable people who have been involved in the whole of this process for a long time? Furthermore, what I am going to do is ask the questions, but, because there are three of you and there a whole lot of us, it will turn into something of a dialogue. I think it would be as well if we start with, shall we say, Andrea first, then Martin and then Chris, because we just want to try to get some form of continuity out of it, if it is possible. The other Members will all want to ask you, because it is not really quite the same as having a witness from outside, and you know the system.

The first questions that I am going to put are in relation to the current system-the system that we operate under already-and to ask a very general question and address this to Andrea Leadsom first. What, in your opinion, are the strengths and weaknesses of the scrutiny system in the House of Commons in terms of the sift-the manner in which this Committee sifts European Union documents according to their legal and political importance? When I have finished with you, you can go next, Martin, and then Chris, on that question; then the Committee can come in and ask any further questions. First of all, then, what is your opinion of the way in which we sift?

Andrea Leadsom: To start with, the very obvious advantage of a European Scrutiny Committee is the specialisation and the level of knowledge that it gains, and the fact that it can very easily pass all documents that come through from the EU without the risk of them being lost in the post. The very obvious answer is that the focus and concentration of expertise and time taken is a good one for the European Scrutiny Committee.

If I could focus on the disadvantages, because this is about trying to improve scrutiny, I have made a list of points. One of those that I would highlight as a member of the Treasury Select Committee is that I find myself slipped, with a couple of days’ notice, onto a European Scrutiny Committee with no title attributed to it. It is just a European Scrutiny Committee with a mass of papers that big.

Q277 Chair: Do you mean a European Standing Committee?

Andrea Leadsom: A European Standing Committee, where a document has been referred to it by the European Scrutiny Committee. I am not prepared for that meeting. It could be extraordinarily significant, such as discussing whether the European Union should limit a cap on bank capital requirements, for example, which would be a very fundamental issue in the banking sector. I, as the person who has been told to turn up by the whips, do so with very little prior notice or time to prepare. None of my colleagues on the Treasury Select Committee are aware of it, unless I mention it to them afterwards in passing, and there really, therefore, is no input from the specialist Treasury Select Committee. My first concern would be that it does seem to me that, if we wanted to improve scrutiny, what we would at least be doing is perhaps not changing the way we scrutinise the legislation, but asking the specialist Select Committees to look at, perhaps, White Papers and Green Papers coming from the European Commission and certainly discussing at large, with plenty of notice, the European Commission’s work programme as it pertains to that Select Committee. I do not want to monopolise the time. I can leave it there for the moment. I have lots of other thoughts on it.

Martin Horwood: I would agree with quite a lot of that. I think the specialism of this Committee is both astrength and a weakness. Your specialism is in the European nature of the issues that come before you, not so much an expertise in any particular policy area. I think that is potentially a weakness and is something where we should have more formal processes for making sure that departmental Select Committees look at particular areas of policy. That is both policy that is emerging from the Commission, the positions that Ministers take at the Council and perhaps reporting back from Council meetings as well. Although I am not an expert in it, I know that other Parliaments-particularly Finland-have almost a hearing system before Ministers go off to European Councils. I think something of that nature but with departmental Select Committees would be quite an advantage.

Q278 Chair: We will come on to departmental Select Committees shortly.

Martin Horwood: In terms of the strengths and weaknesses of the current system, I think one of the weaknesses is that there is not that expert scrutiny. It is possible that you may be looking more for the constitutional importance of some issue and may, quite innocently, miss some quite important policy dimension to that.

Chris Bryant: The biggest difficulty that we face in this whole area is the fact that Europe is a bit of a specialist subject, although it touches on everything else. I have heard Members in the Chamber clearly not knowing the difference between the European Court of Justice and the European Court of Human Rights, and the Council of Ministers, the Council of Europe and the Council of the Commission and so on. That makes it quite difficult to garner a sufficient body of knowledge and up-to-date information and expertise to be able to keep a proper watch either on what Government is doing or what the European Parliament, the Commission or the Council is doing. I think the sift works, broadly speaking, in that you do get a set of people with a degree of expertise, and you are well supported by clerks and advisers to be able to do that. However, I would say that I am not sure that all of the debates that I have done since the last general election have been very timely.

Q279 Chair: Are you referring to the debates in Standing Committee or are you referring to debates on the Floor of the House, or both?

Chris Bryant: Standing Committee. I have turned up when we have been talking about something which, frankly, happened nine months earlier.

Q280 Jacob Rees-Mogg: May I follow up on that, because I think that is absolutely crucial and something we were discussing slightly earlier? At what point do you think we should put debates forward? Should it be when the Government has made its position absolutely clear, we know what is happening and we are debating a decision, or should we debate it early in the process, in the hope that the House of Commons will influence what the decision ends up being?

Chris Bryant: From my experience of having been Minister for Europe, definitely the latter, for two reasons: one, because, regardless of which political party you are in, often the British interest is the same, and most Ministers will want to secure the British interest. There may be tweaks to that, depending on the political party, but not as dramatic as most would assume. It would also be enormously helpful to feel that you had Parliament behind whatever you were ending up delivering when you went off to negotiate on behalf of Britain, or if you had to tweak it so as to be able to come back and say, "This is the best I have been able to do." It is like when somebody writes to the MP about the planning decision that was taken last night by the council. That is what it feels like all too often.

Martin Horwood: The most extreme example I have of this is a debate on the annual work programme, which is effectively the European equivalent to the Queen’s Speech, which we think was eight months after the publication of the document. That is completely hopeless.

Chris Bryant: And six months into the-

Martin Horwood: Yes.

Q281 Nia Griffith: Do you think that that would help engage more Members of Parliament if they felt that there was some point in saying something because it might influence the decision?

Chris Bryant: I think it would do two things. Undoubtedly, it would mean that it was more live and, therefore, people might say, "Actually, there is a chance of influencing something here" and might engage more people. Secondly, within the Foreign Office, or whichever Department it is, it means that the Minister will have to do a great deal more work before going off to their meeting, and the civil servants will have to come up with a lot more answers to complicated issues. I just think that it means that, when you turn up at the Council meeting, you could do a more effective job.

Andrea Leadsom: Could I just add to that that you cannot underestimate this issue of Members of Parliament not really knowing that much about the European Union? The quality of debate is partly a function of the lack of it. If it is always late and it is a two-hour debate in the Chamber at an unpopular time, people do not turn up, so they do not improve their level of understanding and knowledge. Another reform I would advocate very strongly is that this Committee be given dedicated, allocated time in the Chamber such that it can then call for debates in the Chamber. It does succeed in doing that now, but informally, and I think it should be given formal time so that you then have to prioritise which debates should be for the entire Chamber to cover.

Chair: I hope we will not disappoint you, because there are a lot of other questions, and we will be coming to some of the points that will come up in the dialogue later. James, did you want to ask a question?

Q282 Mr Clappison: I think the question I had has been answered by Mr Bryant and Ms Leadsom in what they have said. My point is: can you understand the frustration of Members of Parliament who come to these debates in European Standing Committees, which are supposed to be there to help influence the Government’s position, only to find that the decision has already been taken and that the matter concerned has already passed into law? There is absolutely no purpose which can be served, and that is an experience that I have had under Governments of all descriptions.

Andrea Leadsom: I was just going to add that it also really does not help that colleagues are whipped on to the Committee and are not even told, "This is what this is about and this is why we have chosen you." To add to the fact that you get there and it is completely pointless, you also feel that, since it is about something you know nothing of, it is pointless. If it is too late and you are given no warning, it really undermines the whole process.

Q283 Michael Connarty: This is one for Chris. You were the Minister for part of the time when the last Labour Government abolished the permanent membership. They never gave any reason, other than the whips said it was easier to share the pain if you just stuck anyone on who did not happen to be very active in anything else, rather than, as before, put people on who would learn about the issues for Committee A, B and C. I have never had any explanation from anyone as to why it was done-and I was Chair of the Committee at the time-or any excuse that made me feel it was justified, and many promises that it would be changed by the incoming Government, the one that is in now, which has done nothing. What is it all about? What are they afraid of? Is somebody afraid of something? Why did they do it? We have a shambles now, whereas at least we had something that seemed to make some sense before.

Chris Bryant: I knew it was going to be my fault and that there would be some speech that I could not remember. In fact, I think it might be even worse than that.

Q284 Michael Connarty: I do not think you initiated it but you were the Minister for part of the time.

Chris Bryant: I think I did. Wasn’t I Deputy Leader of the House and took it through maybe? Maybe I didn’t. Maybe I’m not as guilty as I think I am. What I remember, insofar as I remember anything, is that there is a balance to be drawn. You, as I recall, were finding it difficult to get people to be permanent members of the Committee. You kept on begging me to be a member of the Committee, which showed how desperate you were. In all seriousness, however, I think there was a balance to be struck. The one thing that has disappeared since then is, of course, that we do not have the quarterly EU debates in the Chamber, which met some of the need for being timely, because they were before Council meetings, but they missed lots of other areas. I am sorry if I got it wrong.

Chair: Could I just mention that, because we have two sessions today-

Q285 Michael Connarty: Chair, I really find it is a key issue. I have another explanation for why things are not timely. At that time, there were not that many Standing Committee debates. The rule of the previous Chair before me, which I took on, was, "Be selective to be effective", so you did not choke up the process by having lots and lots of Committees, which meant that, by the time you got to the one that was important, it was out of date. What I am worried about is this. It was not difficult to get people to come on to this Committee. When people were, as part of their duties as a Member of Parliament, put on to a Standing Committee, they normally turned up. Now, people do not turn up.

Martin Horwood: Can I just, through the Chair, say to Michael-and I do not know whether or not Chris remembers it-that I think it was the right decision. I do not think permanent memberships are the answer, partly for the reason that I mentioned earlier: that the more you have generalist Committees, you are missing out on the policy expertise. If I could be a permanent member of a European Committee, that is great. If I know about foreign policy, I will have an opinion on an EU training mission in Mali. I know diddly squat about fisheries, so, if I get a whole series of things that are on different policy areas, I am not sure you do build up the expertise that is necessarily required.

I know there were three Committees-A, B and C-but, all the same, I think the more valuable thing to tackle is why it is such a low-prestige thing that people have to be coshed to go and turn up to. It is partly about-and Andrea mentioned this-the level of advance notice and the fact that you are presented with a doorstep’s worth of paper to read through, which you are physically incapable of reading in time; you discover it is out of date already, it is very heavily whipped and you do not seem to have much real input into policy at the time, so it is not a popular appointment. We need to tackle some of those fundamentals but try to, somehow, get to a membership of each Committee or each body considering these things that knows something about the policy area it is discussing.

Nia Griffith: There was a slight specialisation with the three committees, which each had certain topics.

Q286 Michael Connarty: My point shows how the collective memory is fading. Any Member of Parliament can go to any Standing Committee. When we had fixed membership, you would often have people turning up with tremendous expertise from their own Select Committee, because what was coming to the debate was something relevant to their own interest. Transport was one that took the interest of a former Member of the House, sadly now passed away, and she came and made some tremendous contributions, as did other people on other issues.

Another thing is that, if the public outside and the business community want to find someone to raise an issue with who is coming to the Committee, there is not a lot of point in raising it with someone on this Committee, because all we do is look at the political and legal importance. They would have a set of people with these three remits, who they could then send briefings to and raise points with. We have no contact point with the outside world at all in European business now, apart from the generalist one. What has been lost is not just expertise of the members, but also an outward-facing image of a Parliament that is interested in the impact of European decisions on the populace.

Andrea Leadsom: May I make a comment, Chair? It certainly seems to me that limiting this Committee’s remit to looking at the political and legal-is it?

Chair: The political and legal importance.

Andrea Leadsom: It seems to me that, in a review of EU scrutiny, that should surely be expanded to include "looking at the merits of", as opposed to simply "the political and legal importance of", and it should be far more widely advertised as to what the Committee are looking at. Fundamentally, the reason for the lack of engagement is not a lack of interest but a lack of understanding, knowledge and information. The same holds true for the Standing Committees: if all colleagues were asked, "What part of EU policy are you interested/expert in?" and then they were told, "There is something coming up that might interest you"-even if they were subsequently told, "By the way, you are whipped to be on the Committee"-it would be a far more attractive way of engaging with people. The problem is, as it stands now, Foreign Affairs questions includes a tiny little bit of "Europe if you simply must." We really ought to have European questions separate from Foreign Office questions. All of these things are key to try to improve not just the level of engagement but, fundamentally, the level of understanding and the quality of the debate.

Nia Griffith: Could we just follow that point up and ask if the other two would agree with that? It is something that we have discussed here before: the idea of separate European questions.

Chair: Yes, we are going to come on to that a bit later, I think.

Nia Griffith: I think we should raise it now.

Chair: Yes, but we have so many questions and we are going to run out of time, if we are not careful.

Q287 Kelvin Hopkins: On permanent membership, I wanted to add my own questions, if I may. I was, perhaps unusually, member of a Permanent Committee from 1997 until they were abolished, and I have been an active member of Standing Committees ever since, and on this Committee, so I have probably attended well over a hundred of these Committees and I speak at every one. I make a point of speaking, to make sure they are realistic. I have, however, seen a difference.

In the early days, Ministers used to get very keyed up and they were very concerned. The members took the job seriously, everyone would speak and there was a real teasing-out of issues. Now, they are much more like SIs. They are not quite as casual as SIs, but members come along and say, "I have never been to one of these, Kelvin. What do we do?" Ministers know that they are going to get an easy ride. Having been a Minister, is it the case that Ministers like an easy ride and do not want to make a rod for their own backs, the Civil Servants do not have to work so hard, and the issues drift through without as much difficulty as in the past? Was there a sense that Government, in broad terms, likes an easy ride and having ad hoc membership is easier?

Chris Bryant: I do not particularly like an easier ride. I quite like the way it is complicated and difficult, but that is just a personal preference and a style of life. However, if I am very honest, no Commons Committee got anywhere near as nerve-wracking as the Lords Committee. I was only Minister for 10 minutes; in that time, I do not know how many various European debates and so on I did, but the House of Lords Committee was by far more rigorous, embarrassing, nerve-racking and detailed.

Q288 Kelvin Hopkins: They have permanent members.

Chris Bryant: They have permanent membership. The other thing I would say is that the job of Minister for Europe in particular is one of the few jobs where you are permanently negotiating with other countries on Britain’s behalf. The more you have your ducks in a row, and Parliament helps you to do that, the more likely you are to achieve success in European debates, which is why I always wanted to do things earlier in the process, before I was going off to meetings in Brussels or Strasbourg. I would say that the more rigorous and the more aggressive it is, probably the better-not from an ideological, partisan view but just in terms of the British interest.

Q289 Chair: We now have three other questions I am going to group together, because we have covered some of this territory while we have been engaged in this dialogue. They fall into the following categories. What is your view about the involvement of departmental Select Committees? Do you think time taken on European business on the Floor of the House is adequate? What is your view about the scrutiny of the transposition of EU directives into UK law? Could I start with Andrea? We have another list of questions to come and I know we have another three people who are coming to give evidence after you, and they are going to be asked the same questions, so can we keep fairly concise? Involvement of departmental Select Committees, time taken on European business on the Floor of the House, and transposition of EU directives into UK law: Andrea?

Andrea Leadsom: I will concentrate on the first two. The transposition is not something I have particularly focused on. In terms of the Select Committees, I do believe, as I have said from being a member of the Treasury Select Committee, that there are occasions when we are asked for an opinion and the Select Committee does not really engage with that request. What would be very important in a review of scrutiny is that Select Committees themselves have a new requirement to engage with European matters.

What I would propose is that they have a requirement to debate the work programme as it is announced once a year, and the five-year strategy targets, as a one-off, and then that they side aside time periodically, at their discretion, specifically to deal with proposals coming out of the EU as it relates to their workload. They can then respond ad hoc to requests from this Committee. It seems to me, if we are to really try to get ahead of the game, rather than just dealing with legislation as it is already there, we need to start front-ending it and getting the Select Committees to engage far more proactively than they do.

Second, in terms of time on the Floor, as I have said, I believe that this Committee should be allocated specific slots for time on the Floor of the House.

Martin Horwood: As I have made clear in my submission, departmental Select Committees should play a much larger role. Most of the motions that go to European Standing Committees are, effectively, "This Committee notes…" so it is not as if a critical policy decision is being taken. The example of Holyrood is quite interesting, where they effectively have only one kind of Committee, which deals with legislation, scrutiny and holding Ministers to account and so on. They group them into one thematic committee.

I do not think we need to be stuffy about the history of departmental Select Committees. If they could be given an obligation not just to look at the work programme but to look at Council positions and forthcoming legislation, that should be a much more formal and established part of their work. It is part of the job of Parliament to scrutinise these things. I am sorry about this, but I would not support giving this Committee more time on the Floor of the House; it gets quite a lot already. In a sense, the whole point is to try to get it away from these generalist committees and into more specialist and policy-informed hands.

Coming back to the point that Michael made about the accountability of the permanent membership, that is a very good point. Perhaps that argues that, if it was not going to be formally given to the departmental Select Committees and you did go back to permanent Standing Committees, there should just be more of them. Perhaps they should have membership that was quite closely paralleled in the departmental Select Committees, or even formed of the members of departmental Select Committees, or something like that. That would, in effect, share the pain too, because you would be meeting far less frequently, but you would at least be meeting on issues that you knew something about.

Q290 Nia Griffith: It is very unbalanced, because some areas would have far more meetings than others. I know what you are saying, that you could spread it out a lot, but you would probably find things like Defra would probably have a lot more.

Martin Horwood: That, however, is how it should be. If there is more going through at European level on particular issues, they should be meeting more often.

Chris Bryant: Not all departmental Committees even do annual scrutiny of their Department in the UK, let alone scrutiny of what happens in the EU. I just do not think they are structured in that way. The one thing I think we could learn from the European Parliament that I think works very effectively is the rapporteur system, where one person within a Committee is charged with producing a report. That person then becomes the point person as far as the public is concerned. The Committee still ends up having to own it, but I think that that would be more accountable and more effective.

Chair: That is very helpful, because that is the next question we were going to ask.

Chris Bryant: Could I just answer the one about questions? I think we should have a dedicated session of European questions, because just taking the hour-

Q291 Chair: Has somebody sent you the questions in advance?

Chris Bryant: Sorry. Shall I do transposition then, because nobody else has referred to transposition?

Chair: By all means. I am not so sure the other two want to get into that, but do.

Chris Bryant: They didn’t. I know everybody says that we gold-plate in the UK. I think because there is a term "gold-plate", everybody thinks it happens a lot. I am not as convinced as others are. In fact, Britain has more infractions against it than most other countries in Europe. One of the important things when legislation is going through is that it should be absolutely clear where something has come from. If we are transposing directive X into statute Y, it should be clear to people in the House and on the face of the Bill that that is where it has come from.

Q292 Jacob Rees-Mogg: Mr Horwood, can I come back to your suggestion, because it is a very interesting one: that you send all the business from this Committee to a departmental Select Committee to sit, effectively, as a Standing Committee? Am I understanding that correctly?

Martin Horwood: I would not necessarily suggest that you are abolished. The constitutional implications, I think, need some attention.

Q293 Jacob Rees-Mogg: We would still be the sorting office to decide what had political and legal importance.

Martin Horwood: Triage, yes.

Jacob Rees-Mogg: But they would always go to a Select Committee that would have expert members. It would sit formally as a Standing Committee rather than as a Select Committee and, therefore, may be able to take a couple of members of this Committee from either side to represent this Committee, but you would extend the A, B and C idea to a much wider number of Committees, each one of which models itself on the Select Committee. That seems to me a very interesting suggestion.

Martin Horwood: Yes, something like that. You could even formalise it to the point where the members of the Select Committee perhaps sat as a Standing Committee. It does not have to be the same Chair and it could include a member of this Committee making the referral, or something like that, at the time. Something like that would be an interesting model and would get round some of the problems that we face in the current system.

Q294 Kelvin Hopkins: I wanted to come back to Martin’s point, and Mr Rees-Mogg has touched on it as well: losing this Committee would be a terrible mistake, in my view. We have the advantage of the advice of specialist clerk advisers who are very good at what they do. These papers here are a quick read on all the essential issues. We do not miss anything. Sometimes it is late because of what the Government has done-not our fault. Losing what we do in private every week would, I think, be a terrible mistake. We can refer things, and we do, to departmental Select Committees from time to time, and we get letters from Ministers and so on, but I would not want to lose what we do now.

Martin Horwood: You are assiduous at pointing out the constitutional implications. If there are organisational issues to do with the European Union, those would not sit with any other Committee, so it would be a logical thing to consider.

Q295 Chair: Martin, if I may just say, having been on this Committee for 28 years now, and having interacted with most Members of the House over the whole of that period of time, the degree of attention that is given to the questions which arise every single week on every single paper, and the direct implications on the daily lives of the people of this country, to be handed over to a Select Committee that has a whole range of other matters to deal with as well-

Martin Horwood: Sorry, I do not want my remarks to be misinterpreted. I am not arguing that you should not scrutinise anything you would like to scrutinise; I think your particular importance is in the constitutional and perhaps the legal and organisational aspects. What I would worry about with the lack of scrutiny by departmental Select Committees is there may be aspects of energy policy or something like this that your permanent membership does not necessarily have the-

Q296 Chair: That is precisely where our questions are going to on the question of rapporteurs.

Andrea Leadsom: Can I just interject there? I do not agree with Martin’s suggestion that you could turn a departmental Select Committee somehow into a Standing Committee. What I would go back to, though, is that the Select Committees are not contributing to the debate with the processes we currently have. Absolutely, this Committee is essential and it always will be, because the Select Committees have their own agendas. What would be worth thinking about, however, is that there might be a member of this Committee who was perhaps dedicated to working with that Select Committee as, perhaps, the rapporteur. Somebody from here who knows about Treasury matters might come to the Treasury Committee on the Europe day, and we might even get an MEP-goodness me, wouldn’t that be radical?- to come along and contribute as well. That brings in some specialist focus on the European aspects of it, so that you also get the benefit of the expertise of people who have been very concentrated on Treasury matters.

Q297 Chair: Would you summarise that by the expression, for example, "mutual interaction"?

Andrea Leadsom: Possibly, yes.

Q298 Chair: That is the point: where you get the benefit of the specialisation, the knowledge, the procedure and the detailed assessment of the document, but you also get the benefit of the policy implications that come from the Select Committee involvement too.

Chris Bryant: But there is nothing that quite focuses the mind so much as being the one person who has to present on something.

Q299 Chair: No. If I could just refer to two other questions, one is: do you think there should be an annual Chamber debate on the Commission work programme?

Chris Bryant: Yes.

Q300 Chair: The other is: should pre-Council debates be reintroduced?

Chris Bryant: Yes.

Martin Horwood: Yes.

Andrea Leadsom: Yes.

Chair: There we are.

Chris Bryant: I just wonder about the latter. Having, I think, in my 12 years, been to every one, and having heard your single transferrable speech immediately before my single transferable speech –

Chair: You know I have a profound objection to proportional representation.

Chris Bryant: Yes, but not to the Möbius strip. There should certainly be an annual one, and it should be presented by the Prime Minister-I have always thought that-in the Chamber, which should be on the Commission’s work programme, but I wonder whether the quarterly ones should be in Westminster Hall and take not the time on a Thursday afternoon that nobody ever comes to but should take one of the slots on a Tuesday or Wednesday afternoon.

Q301 Chair: One last question: with respect, can we get this clear on the question of oral questions? Do you believe that it would be a good idea to have a dedicated session for European oral questions, which used to be the case?

Andrea Leadsom: Yes, I certainly think so, and I would add to that not just European questions as distinct from Foreign Office questions, but also, when we have the Business question on a Thursday morning, there ought to be a section of that dedicated to what is going on in Europe as well.

Chris Bryant: I would have a European hour, in which you could table questions which were to any Department which might refer to Europe. It might not be best for David Lidington or whoever the Minister for Europe is to be answering on the Justice Council meeting, so other Ministers could be answering as well. All the questions would have to be about an EU focus.

Martin Horwood: I do not think that would be a good thing, for precisely the reason Chris has just said: that I am not sure who would answer that with sufficient expertise on every single policy area. My recurring theme in all this is to try to get debate not entirely away from generalist committees and sessions but into areas of specialist policy expertise.

Q302 Mr Clappison: Can I just briefly interject? Does that not run counter to everything that you have just been telling us, that you want to have policy matters in the hands of policy specialists and Committees? Why not have the Home Office Minister who has been at the Council coming along to answer questions about it?

Martin Horwood: I would have no objection to that, but that is not quite what you were saying. You were talking about standard European questions. Unless you have every Minister lined up-

Chris Bryant: What happens is it is Europe questions for an hour-we were at school together. Three days before, you get printed out what the questions are, don’t you, so you know that there is one on culture and one on justice and so on. The Government then just decides to make sure that the right Ministers are there.

Q303 Chair: Were you in the same class, at the same time?

Chris Bryant: Unfortunately, we were, and we sat next to each other. I have been trying to get away from him ever since.

Q304 Michael Connarty: The one thing we have not canvassed in these questions is something that was raised some time ago about the idea of a European Grand Committee. In the Bundestag, they invite MEPs to come to debate any specific European issue that comes up. It is an issue basis, not a generalist debate. Does anyone find that attractive? MEPs are now disconnected almost entirely, I have to say. I have said it for the record and I will say it again that, on going to the last joint Lords/Commons and European MEP debate in Brussels, I was very disappointed that very few people turned up. They turned up for a very short time. The level of engagement was so reduced compared with what it used to be, it was quite shocking. However, I do not think that that is necessarily their fault; that may be our fault, because there seems to be nowhere where we come together to debate things and use their expertise. Would that be an attractive proposition?

Andrea Leadsom: Certainly, a number of MEPs have told me that they find it much easier to deal with the Lords than to deal with the Commons in Westminster. A big gripe for them is that they do not have Parliamentary passes, which seems a very obvious way to give better access between us. I would certainly support the idea of a joint debate because, very often, the fact that people do not even know who to talk to, who is leading on this particular piece of legislation, enhances the lack of understanding here in Westminster of what is going on.

Chair: There was a time-and it was not all that long ago-when you had dual mandate, so that you had the interaction between Westminster and what was then the European Assembly. The idea that there should be interaction does seem to make a lot of sense, but the problem remains as to who calls the shots, and that really is becoming increasingly evident from the Barroso blueprint, which says the European Parliament-and only the European Parliament-is the Parliament for the European Union. We are talking about some fundamental questions.

Q305 Michael Connarty: What I am talking about is debates taking place in this Parliament, and their expertise, understanding, knowledge and insight being used for our benefit-nothing to do with where the power lies and making the final decisions. I just think we lack that element and I am glad that Andrea seems to be attracted to what I think.

Martin Horwood: I strongly agree with Michael on that. We just have different views on where the precise nature of sovereignty lies and all this kind of thing. I certainly believe that the European Parliament is the Parliament of the European Union-that is quite straightforward-in the same way that we are the Parliament of the United Kingdom. The need for interaction, however, still stands and, certainly, if you go to the Bundestag, the space and resources attached to the European forum there-I think they even have their own building-allows for much more interaction between European MEPs and Bundestag MPs.

Chris Bryant: I used to work for the BBC and did all the BBC’s lobbying in Brussels. The great advantage of the rapporteur system and the Committee system there, where every single MEP is a member of at least a Committee, is that Committee Week itself is as valuable and important politically as the plenary weeks. For instance, the copyright directive was going through. The BBC had a very significant interest in how this was going to come across. We were having a big row with the Murdoch press about it. It was the Chair of the Committee and the rapporteur on the copyright directive who were the two most important people for me to deal with. It also happened that it meant that lots of MPs here knew who the person to deal with in Brussels was, but the people in Brussels had no idea who to deal with here in Parliament, because it is just a kind of morass of generally, vaguely interested people who might know something.

Chair: Kelvin, I think this will have to be the last question.

Q306 Kelvin Hopkins: Two very simple points: the House of Lords do not have elections. Our noble colleagues, admirable people though they are, do not have elections and do not have constituencies. They have more time and a much more relaxed way of life. On the continent of Europe, they have PR systems, where, often, they do not have single-member seats to relate to, they do not deal with constituents, and they spend all their time in Parliament. Again, they have an easier time. We have to make sure that the system is geared to the realities of being a Member of Parliament too.

Chris Bryant: That is why I would like to see Committee Week being instituted. The real politics of how you effect change in British life is as much through a membership of a Committee as it is through what you do on the Floor of the House, and I think we will eventually have to recognise that.

Chair: Thank you all very much indeed. It has been extremely helpful. The dialogue went slightly better than I thought it might because there were so many people who wanted to get involved, but thank you all very much indeed. We will move on to the next group of Members of Parliament in a minute. Thank you very much.

Examination of Witnesses

Witnesses: Mr Richard Bacon MP, former member of the European Scrutiny Committee and member of the Public Accounts Committee, Robert Broadhurst, Senior Researcher to the European Research Group, and Chris Heaton-Harris MP, member of the European Scrutiny Committee and member of the Public Accounts Committee, gave evidence.

Q307 Chair: I think all three of you listened to quite a lot of what took place in the previous session, so it may help to just start straight off with the same questions, in the same order. First of all, thank you very much for coming and also for the detailed, very full and comprehensive note that Chris Heaton-Harris and Robert Broadhurst provided. To start at the beginning, what are, in your judgment, the strengths and weaknesses of the scrutiny system in terms of the sift by this Committee of the documents according to their legal and political importance? What are your views about the role and composition of European Standing Committees, as they are euphemistically called? The last three questions on this first part are the involvement of departmental Select Committees, the time taken on European business on the Floor of the House, and lastly scrutiny of the transposition of EU directives into UK law. I would like to start with Chris Heaton-Harris and then move to Robert Broadhurst and Richard Bacon. Welcome back, Richard, after many years. You and I, of course, were on the Scrutiny Committee for several years some years ago. Chris, would you like to kick off?

Chris Heaton-Harris: Thank you, Chair, for my invitation to give evidence to the Committee I serve on. It is a bit weird. I am sure it has happened before in the history of the House, but it does feel a bit odd doing it. Members will know that I was a Member of the European Parliament for 10 years, and was lobbied by Mr Bryant in my time in the European Parliament. In fact, I danced on a bar with him at one point in time, but maybe we will talk about that some other time. Strangely enough, I was talking to my colleague Robert Broadhurst about this earlier, because I read more European Scrutiny reports when they had been finalised when I was a Member of the European Parliament than I do when we finalise our reports now. Maybe I have been part of the sausage-making process so I have seen enough of them and do not read them, but I will take the questions one by one.

Firstly, the A, B, C one and how we grade them: it is fascinating and interesting, and I know the clerks do an awful lot of work. It makes the Committee members’ work a lot easier, but I do not think it particularly adds too much to our scrutiny of things, to be quite honest. As you know, I wrote to you at the very beginning, as soon as I was appointed to this Committee, saying I think we should meet in public. If we are going to do scrutiny, it should be a transparent process so that the public can see that we are scrutinising European legislation properly.

The very excellent advice that we get from the clerks should be given in private, before we go into public session, but the decisions we make as to what we are going to do-whether we are going to refer a document for debate or whether we are going to write to a Minister and have a moan about him ignoring what we want-should be done in public. I think we have that part of it wrong, and there is no surprise then that there is less interest around about what we do, because most of it is done behind closed doors and should not be like that.

Then I guess you get a bit further down the process. As a member of this Committee, like all the others here, I get to serve on European Committees quite regularly, and I quite enjoy that. It is quite interesting to be indulged in a debate where you know slightly more than most of the other people there-because they have been drafted or whipped in, they do not want to be there-and you make an opening statement. You might be one of the only people who speaks other than the Minister and the shadow Minister, or who asks any questions, unless you have somehow managed to spark some interest in the brief opening comments or the Minister says something vaguely controversial in their interjection. I think the way that the European Committees work at the moment does not work. It is dysfunctional and I think we need to bring some specialism into that. That is maybe where you can bring in other members of Select Committees for certain subjects in certain ways.

Our process has not changed in a very long time. I know there was a debate and a vote a while back, before I got to this House, about whether this Committee should meet in public, but one of the first things we should do to improve scrutiny is meet in public.

Mr Bacon: May I start by agreeing with that last comment? I served on the European Scrutiny Committee for four years. I only came off because the timings changed and it was not possible to combine that with my membership of the other scrutiny Committee which I still sit on-the Public Accounts Committee. The reason that is always given, I know, for meeting in private-and I read the evidence that Gisela Stuart gave, and Mr Hopkins gave a good summary of the case-is that the expert advice would no longer be available. I have never fully understood that.

I do understand the receipt of expert advice because, on the Public Accounts Committee, we get expert advice from the National Audit Office every week, several times a week. We are a very busy Committee. We met on Monday and informally yesterday, and we are meeting this afternoon-I am late because I am here-and again tomorrow morning. We rely heavily on professional advice from the National Audit Office. Much of that advice, it is true, is published in the form of the 560 audit reports that the NAO does, and also the value for money studies that it does on a whole range of Government expenditure, covering pretty much every area.

It is also true, however, that the advice that the National Audit Office gives to us as a Committee about its reports is not public. They attend our Committees, our deliberative sessions and our open, public sessions, and they are available publicly to state facts and to help us, but the fact that they are expert advisers, that they are professional, that they are impartial and that they should not be involved in the political process and, indeed, are statutorily prohibited from being involved in questioning the merits of a case, has not prevented them from giving us expert advice and us drawing on it.

It is an extraordinary paradox that the EU is so important and everyone understands that-it touches so many aspects of all our lives; when one becomes a Minister, they say, there is hardly anything, depending on which Ministry you are in, where your life is not affected, not to say dominated, by this corpus of institutions-and yet there is so little enthusiasm and understanding inside this legislature. It does seem to me that it must be connected with the fact that it is all so private.

In the four years I served on this Committee, I would turn up to everything with "E" on the front of it. It was always the same old people having the same old conversation, without the involvement of others. In the most broad and general sense-and we are talking about this on the Public Accounts Committee-the introduction of rapporteurs with specific responsibilities for specific areas is, I think, a much broader theme that should be introduced across Parliament to make the jobs of MPs more worthwhile, more valuable, more interesting and more attractive. Do we need to do that in a more public way, including Committees like this one-your Committee, sir-meeting in public? Yes-I agree with Chris.

Q308 Chair: That is very interesting. Mr Broadhurst?

Robert Broadhurst: Thank you, Chair. I have been involved in this sort of thing one step removed by supporting MPs on this Committee for a number of years. I happened across a book by Peter Hennessy, the great constitutional expert and now Lord Hennessy, which is about the British constitution generally. I thought that it was a very apt statement that he put in a very pithy way: "The Commons and Lords Committees watching Europe try hard but many issues come to them too late and they fail to sound the tocsins in time. Their work is almost completely unknown to the public, and the press pays too little attention to them." That was published in 1995 but, unfortunately, it is still apt.

This Committee has, as you mentioned, its sifting role, which is vital. The Commons has a comprehensive system of scrutiny, which is very important, because the EU has such wide-ranging effects on the lives of the people who send MPs here that MPs should be able to keep a watch on all of that. Of course, however, it means an enormous amount of paper and an enormous amount of documentation of very different levels of importance, so the sifting is integral at the start of the process.

It broadly does it very well in terms of the output of that process. There are question marks as to whether it could do it more publicly. There is a question as to what happens afterwards and, as Chris said, good though the reports are for reference, if anybody wanted to refer to them for more in-depth research on a particular issue, they do not provoke public debate, at least most of the time. The discrete reports on very particular areas like the EU Bill or the Lisbon Treatyare different matters but, on the more routine EU legislation, which is still important, there does not tend to be a great deal of public attention. So there is a real issue there. There is only so much that can be debated in the House, even in European Committee. I am sure we will come on to European Committees afterwards.

There is an issue there about the Committee perhaps trying to slightly build its public profile a little bit, maybe by engaging the press slightly more in terms of the findings it has made on EU proposals coming down the track and generally trying to be a little bit more public about its manner.

Q309 Chair: Could we explore the question of the involvement of departmental Select Committees, and the idea of rapporteurs, a little bit? Chris Heaton-Harris, do you go down that route?

Chris Heaton-Harris: Yes, I do, very much so. I think it would be a very healthy innovation. I am not so sure about these French words-you have to be very careful about this, Chair. I think it was George W Bush who said, "These French, they don’t even have a word for entrepreneur." I really do think there is so much locked-up expertise, both in the departmental Select Committees, in the individual members within them, and in this House-the expertise that they have had before they get to this place and they then build up.

There are so many important things coming down the line, which we could probably see a bit better through the Commission’s work programme and following that, that we are missing a trick by not appointing people with a role of tracking certain things in certain areas. What would be wrong with trying to have a pilot where you bring the odd member of departmental Select Committees into this Committee; for example, when we are dealing with the Justice and Home Affairs remit, someone who is on the Home Affairs Select Committee? I know we have Mr Clappison here, who helps, but let’s bring some more expertise in to these things.

Mr Bacon: The very act of people who are in one silo-and, inevitably, you get into a silo, whichever Committee you are on-meeting people from another Committee is, in itself, energising. Recently, for the Draft Local Audit Bill, the pre-legislative scrutiny was done by a Committee consisting of members of the Communities and Local Government Select Committee and the PAC. This was to consider measures including, among other things, the abolition of the Audit Commission. It was a very interesting experience, I think, for all of us to work with members of a different Committee, and there was a new level of energy simply because we were there doing something slightly different with people we did not work with every week. In and of itself, it is a good thing and it gets us out of our silos.

I also think, sharing Mr Heaton-Harris’s concerns about the Frenchness of it, that the rapporteur principle has huge potential. We talk about Parliament not being important enough, not being attractive enough, not getting enough good people and those people, when they get here, even if they have had a tremendous contribution outside, finding that they are not able to be used and are just considered lobby fodder. I think we are seeing a process that started in the late 70s and has already come much further than you might think. I remember, as an undergraduate, Ken Clarke coming to the London School of Economics in the mid 1980s. He was a complete maverick on Select Committees-he thought they were a complete waste of time and a great place to put people to keep them quiet. I have heard him say recently that he has changed his mind: that they have started to make the weather a bit more.

We are not there yet, but I suspect, if we look back on it on a 50- or 60-year view, rather than a 30-year view, we will find there has been a significant shift towards more parliamentary power and more Executive accountability and transparency, and that the rapporteur principle could form a very important part of that by giving Members of Parliament a more valuable role. I think it was a famous psychologist who said, "If you want people to do a good job, give them a good job to do", and this should form a very important part of that.

Q310 Chair: Could I just move on to another question, which is the time taken on European business on the Floor of the House, but relating that to the question of whether or not you think that this Committee should be able to refer documents directly for debate on the Floor of the House rather than going through the process of the whips and the Leader of the House and all that?

Mr Bacon: My personal view is that anything that strengthens Parliament-by which I mean individual Members of Parliament assembled in Committees rather than the establishment and the system, be it the whips or the Leader of the House-is a good thing. It would be a power that would need to be exercised judiciously, and I am sure it would be exercised judiciously, but I think giving that direct power to a Committee like this one would be a good thing.

Chris Heaton-Harris: I certainly think we should have set times where we are given Floor space. Like Mr Bacon, I believe we should use those times very wisely. You just have to look at some of the debates we have got on to the Floor of the House recently. Some have not been so exciting but the one on the multiannual financial framework turned into a very big deal, which did direct Government down a certain route that it probably wanted to go down anyway, and added huge value and saved this country a huge amount of money. I think there is an amazing amount that could be done on the Floor of the House if we were given set times and we could be very clever with the way we used it.

Q311 Michael Connarty: Debates on the Floor of the House: I have to say that, apart from the last debate we had, I felt they had become repetitive and not necessarily focused on issues. The speeches made were about the principle of "in the EU or out of the EU; bad thing, good thing", again and again. It did not matter what the purpose of calling the debate was; most of the speeches and their content were generalised and did not show a lot of deep study of the issue before us, unless it was a debate on something like the eurozone or multiannual framework. I did not feel that the level of light was as strong as the level of heat generated in those debates.

The last debate seemed to change that, and I do not know if that is because the Fresh Start initiative has taken place and people are beginning to think about the issues that might come, should you take a decision to genuinely leave the European Union, in much the same way as, in Scotland, as we have got past the process and got the question, people are now talking about the issues, and suddenly there is more interest in what really happens if you leave the EU in a Scottish independence situation and what happens to a service or defence contracting. People look into the issues and the debate is much more focused and much more enlightening. How do you avoid slipping back into a situation where the point of getting to a debate in Europe is to rehearse your ideas about being in the EU? How do you discipline the Chamber to be more productive instead of generalist, which I think was a phrased used quite a lot?

Mr Bacon: Plainly, part of that does rest with the Chair. It partly rests with the decisions of this Committee as to what decisions are put forward, but I might put the question back to you: how do you discipline COSAC, the body of committees like this one across Europe, when it meets together to talk about the things that it is supposed to talk about; namely, how to improve the scrutiny by national Parliaments-plural-of the way in which things are done, rather than rehearsing the old issues, which is, when I used to go to COSAC, what happened. There was a good slap-up dinner and it was interesting, but, quite frankly, I was so losing the will to live at one of them that I went into the library room of the Italian Senate, settled into a comfortable chair and started reading Isaiah Berlin, because I thought it was more productive than listening to these same old rehearsed speeches again and again.

I do not think there is a simple answer. It does have, surely, to do with what topics you put before people to discuss, however, and a lot of the responsibility for that does rest with the Chair. I do not think one should just take it as read that the Chair will necessarily get that right. It might be the sensible thing for this Committee to sit down with the Speaker’s Office and talk about these issues.

Q312 Henry Smith: I am going to assume, but correct me if this is an incorrect assumption, that you would agree that there should be a debate before the work programme every year and also a quarterly debate ahead of EU Councils. I also assume-and again correct me if this assumption is wrong-that you would think that a dedicated European question time on the Floor of the House was a good idea too. I do not know whether you heard, towards the end, when Andrea, Martin and Chris were giving evidence, that there was some suggestion of some sort of joint, possibly Westminster Hall debate including MEPs. What is your take particularly on that? Please, as I say, do correct me if the earlier assumptions are not what you feel.

Chris Heaton-Harris: I found myself sitting in the corner over there in horror, because I was agreeing with what Mr Bryant was saying, and I will go away and take some powders after this meeting to make sure that never happens again. There are set pieces in both our political calendar and the Commission’s political calendar-and the work programme is certainly one of those-where we should have a decent debate. We were whittled down to only having four or five minutes in the course of the last debate on the work programme because it had been squeezed in to the last three hours and, with other urgent questions and statements, got whittled down a huge amount.

Firstly, I would like to agree with Andrea Leadsom completely that MEPs should have passes to roam about this building and annoy us all by waving documents that they are interested in in Europe way before we have even seen them out here. I know there was an issue with the BNP, which is what caused the issue of no passes for MEPs now. That could easily be overcome if you said that, if you had a party elected to this place and a party elected to the European Parliament, there should be a pass available for those MEPs. I very much liked this idea of having the quarterly Council debates in Westminster Hall with MEPs present and able to contribute.

Mr Bacon: I agree with the MEP passes. I had not appreciated the BNP point, but I think that is an elegant solution. I used to share a corridor when I was first elected with some Sinn Fein MPs, and I never saw one, but one of my researchers looked in complete shock one day when he said, "I have just walked past Gerry Adams". They did hang around this place occasionally and they had passes, and this is called democracy. When you get 71% of the vote in your constituency, you are going to get returned and we had better get used to it. I think it is extraordinary that we have so little dialogue and interaction with MEPs. I have very rarely managed to go and do it, but I know a number of MEPs-not nearly as many as Chris-and I have often planned to go over there, just to see them, really, because we have things we want to discuss in common; in some cases, we are old mates. It does not happen as much as it should. Parking for a minute the big question of whether we should be in or out, so long as we are in there ought to be a much more fluid dialogue and interaction. Gosh, there might even be more understanding as a result. On that, then, yes.

On the question of things like debates on the Commission’s work programme, yes, of course, so long as it is timely enough that this Parliament feels it might influence something. There is nothing worse than the triumph of form over substance. If I am honest, one of the things that I used to sometimes feel about what was going on on this Committee when I served on it, going through this enormous pile of briefs, which I assume you still have-the sift, where it is done as A briefs, B briefs and C briefs-is that it did feel like a process that was there for its own sake, and I was not quite clear what it was influencing on the outside. I used to use it as a source of information, but when somebody like Digby Jones, who was at the CBI, once came along to the Committee-I was not present; I am not sure I was any longer a member of the Committee-and accused this Parliament of being asleep on the job in relation to European legislation, it turned out he did not even know what a scrutiny reserve was. The reason why that could be the case was because it is all done hugger-mugger and in private.

Q313 Chair: There is another point, however. I am a former legal adviser to the CBI in private practice-I was not in the House-and I can absolutely assure you, because I was in that debate, that David Heathcoat-Amory and I both challenged Digby Jones. How often have the CBI ever sought the opinion of the Committee on any matter whatsoever? The answer is "none" and, what is more, never since.

Chris Heaton-Harris: Chair, there is a reason for that: because the CBI have an active government/public affairs lot in Brussels, and they are doing what we should be doing, which is connecting with that system and that debate a lot earlier.

Chair: There is that point but there is also the fact that, in the course, for example, of the unified patent law, and many others, as we go through the process, with the benefit of our legal advisers and on an interactive basis, we put forward proposals to the Government on the basis of what they put to us. There is much more interactivity in the process of changing the content of a directive or regulation than people appreciate, because of the questions that we are asking of Government Ministers and, thereby, working groups. There is, then, much more interactivity, perhaps, than people appreciate, but I certainly understand the point that is being made regarding the necessity to get more engaged in what is going on in the European Parliament.

Kelvin Hopkins: First of all, on COSAC, I agree with Richard. My experience of COSAC is that the only exciting bits are when the British House of Commons representatives speak, and they speak in a completely different way to all the other delegates. At the last meeting I went to, I asked a continental delegate why there were no party affiliations against the names in the list of attendees. He said, "Party affiliations make no difference. They are all, essentially, the same." We have a different view. That is interesting. They have many more problems than we have, I think, in these matters. I am concerned about this idea of rapporteurs. The fact is that our Parliament is sharply divided between political parties, and parties are very sharply divided over attitudes to the European Union. When a rapporteur gets up, people say "He is a euro-fanatic", or "He is a crypto-fascist", or whatever-people make these comments. People have different attitudes, and "rapporteur", in a much more consensual world like the European Parliament, is different.

Mr Bacon: I take your point completely, and the reason why I am enthusiastic about it, if I am honest, is less because of it being suggested here than because of the discussions we have been having on our own Committee-the Public Accounts Committee-being not a policy committee, where we do not look at merits, but where we look at implementation, effectiveness, efficiency and economy, and where we think we might be able to usefully use the rapporteur system to spread out the enormously heavy workload. Currently, we are just running hot and we think we could probably do a better job by importing some of those ideas. I take your point, however, that there will be cases where it will be quite difficult to make it work, but that is not a reason for not choosing cases where you think it probably will work and experimenting with it.

Chair: Could I say something on the two pre-eminent Scrutiny Committees? There is also, of course, the Statutory Instruments Committee, but, in practical terms of the impact on the big scale of the landscape of what goes on in this place, Public Accounts and European Scrutiny are, in fact, the only two real Scrutiny Committees. Your evidence, if I may say, and your knowledge of both Committees have been extremely helpful, certainly as far as I am concerned this afternoon.

Q314 Kelvin Hopkins: On that point, Chair, may I just add that the National Audit Office is one remove from Parliament? It is an outside body-

Mr Bacon: Let me correct you. One of the reasons why I would have loved to have got them into 9 Millbank instead of Ofgem is because the boss of the National Audit Office, the Comptroller and Auditor General, is an officer of the House of Commons. Its employees are not Civil Servants, and he is not a Civil Servant; he is an officer of this House.

Q315 Kelvin Hopkins: He is, though, able to be freer in his criticism of Government, in a way, no doubt because it is historic. We do not have that. If we had a kind of Institute of European Affairs or a National European Office, or something with a high-status person like the Comptroller and Auditor General-that kind of approach-it would be easier for us to meet in public, because reports would be coming from this body to us, we would nod them through, and it would be much more acceptable. Our clerk advisers and the staff we have here are very good, but they do not have that kind of status.

Mr Bacon: No, they do not have that kind of status and, when Sir John Bourn, the previous C&AG, used to give evidence to our Committee, he would always turn up and speak if asked. They were ex cathedra. It was almost like the Pope had issued a bull: there was no contradicting him. The present C&AG is much more engaged and rolls up his sleeves. He is very much a servant of the House but he will mix it with Permanent Secretaries, though not about policy. What I am saying is that, yes, as a Committee, you have experts and they write these briefs for you, which I have seen and which I think are very good. There is no reason why that advice needs to be in the generality public-quite the contrary-but there is no reason why the sift cannot take place in public, so that those who have an outside interest have the opportunity to know what it is you are sifting and have the opportunity to have their own input and to contact you through the clerks in a timely manner.

Q316 Chair: Could I just bring in something which has not had very much attention so far in these sessions: the Explanatory Memoranda? As a matter of fact, that is the statement by the Government of its view about what is contained in sometimes a labyrinth of complex legal matters. There is no real excuse for anybody in this House who has the knowledge that the Explanatory Memorandum is there, not to know what the content of the subject matter is and also what the Government’s view of it is. I think perhaps more encouragement for people to know what the Explanatory Memoranda has been saying would be more helpful all round.

Mr Bacon: I am sure that is right. It is just that we are all faced with such a tidal wave of information on lots of different things that it is a question of choosing. The other thing is I believe I am right in saying that this Committee waits until the Explanatory Memorandum from the Government has arrived before it takes action. It seems to me there is no good reason why, if something appears to be coming out of Brussels or, through your intelligence network, you know that something is coming out of the Brussels, or the Commission has opined that it is going to do something, and if it is interesting and important enough, this Committee, as a Parliamentary Committee, should have to sit and wait until the Government has said what it thinks. There is every reason why this Committee might want to investigate that matter for its own purposes and, perhaps, as a result, influence what the Government thinks.

Q317 Chair: Gentlemen, both of you are on the Public Accounts Committee and it has come to my attention that the Public Accounts Committee is anxious to have your attendance. Michael Connarty wants to ask one last question but we will release you almost immediately after this question.

Q318 Michael Connarty: The impression I have about Select Committees is that, if they have more knowledge, they have more effect. The perception I have is that we have less effect on European matters because we lack knowledge, and the generality of the Parliament lacks knowledge to make effective contributions in most European debates, except in a very general way. A question from me: one thing you would each suggest that would increase the knowledge of Members of Parliament. I would give them study time and tell them they have to sit in the library to learn something, like you used to do at school. That might help, but that is not likely to happen. How do we make Members realise that knowledge is power, and opinion is just hot air?

Mr Bacon: Goodness, it is a long answer. If you read Bent Flyvbjerg’s book, Rationality in Power, he will tell you that power is knowledge. I can tell you that I have read it several times and it takes quite a lot of unwrapping. The short answer, is that, yes, people do have to take the decision themselves to specialise. In the Public Accounts Committee, we specialise but we specialise in public expenditure and value for money; thus, we look at agriculture, defence, transport, health, the teaching of primary-school mathematics and nuclear submarines. We cannot be specialists in all of those but we can be specialists in, "Did you have anybody in charge?"

It is, to me, extraordinary that the Department for Transport managed on west coast main line not to have a senior responsible owner in place at all for a period of three months and, even when it did, they were changing every few months, when anybody who knew anything, I would think, would know that one of the main failings in the Bowman radio military communications system in 2006, when the National Audit Office did a report on it, was-guess what-that they did not have continuity of management and they did not have a senior responsible owner. However, you would not necessarily know that unless you were specialising in something that is a step removed from "defence", but rather in the implementation and the management of these issues. I think the same is true for every area, and it is certainly true in the US Congress that members of the Congress generally build up a much greater degree of expertise and have a much greater degree of power as a result. I would agree with you: it was James Madison who said, "Knowledge will forever govern ignorance."

Once again, it does pain me, like it does Mr Heaton-Harris, to have to agree with Mr Bryant, and I too will be finding some medicament that I can take afterwards. What he said at the end of his evidence, I thought, was profoundly important: that modern legislatures have to wake up to the fact that it is through Committees that we work best. The European Parliament finds that true, the US Congress finds that true; we have found it increasingly true over the last 30 years, and my plan and my hope-and I am doing everything I can to make it happen-is that it shall become truer here.

Q319 Chair: In that case, I think we will perhaps finish on that note, unless Mr Heaton-Harris has anything.

Chris Heaton-Harris: I just want to say that I would agree with what Mr Bacon says entirely, but you get a lot of knowledge transfer by meeting people. If we are, essentially, banning Members of the European Parliament from walking around this place, we are letting our country down because we are not using the expertise they have. There are a number here today because they happen to be on one of those week sessions where they can be here. Having to sign in a democratically elected Member of the European Parliament is a bit embarrassing, at the end of the day. If we can sort one thing out, so they can come here and they can sit in the back of these sorts of public sessions and maybe tap us on the shoulder as we go outside and say, "You should have said this", or "You should have said that", it would be a darn sight better than what we have got now.

Q320 Chair: On that note, perhaps we could finish the session. Robert?

Robert Broadhurst: I was just going to say something that feeds into one of the live issues before your inquiry, which is the European Committees. It would impose a bit of a discipline, I suppose, on Members if they were a permanent member of a European Committee and they would have that continuity and be able to develop expertise in whatever area they were on.

Chair: Thank you not only for this session but also for the detailed document that you provided us with. Thank you very much indeed.

Prepared 27th November 2013