Scrutiny Reform follow-up and Legacy Report - European Scrutiny Contents

1  Background

1. The House of Commons European Scrutiny Committee has a dual role under the House's Standing Orders: both to conduct detailed scrutiny of particular EU documents on behalf of the House, recommending the most important for debate; and also, as our Standing Orders put it, to "consider any issue arising upon any such document or group of documents, or related matters."

2. During this Parliament we have published a series of significant thematic Reports alongside those arising from our weekly document scrutiny. These include: the EU Bill and parliamentary sovereignty;0F[1] the Treaty on Stability, Co-ordination and Governance: impact on the Eurozone and the rule of law;1F[2] and the application of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights in the UK: a state of confusion.2F[3]

3. We published our Report Reforming the European Scrutiny System in the House of Commons on 28 November 2013.3F[4] In it we set out a comprehensive set of recommendations on: our role, the stages of scrutiny, the scrutiny reserve, EU Business on the floor of the House - including a national veto and the disapplication of EU law, the role of Departmental Select Committees, European Committees and the visibility of scrutiny and the media.

4. We stated that we would, with effect from the 2014-15 Session, publish an Annual Report on our work.4F[5] This Legacy Report is, therefore, the first in what we hope will be a series charting the progress made in reforming the House of Commons EU scrutiny system, and should be read alongside both our Scrutiny Reform Report and Annual Reports produced by our predecessor Committee in the previous Parliament.5F[6]

5. When we published the Scrutiny Reform Report 18 months ago we asked the Government "to ensure that it responds to our Report within the customary two-month deadline … so that this matter is brought to the floor of the House no later than Easter 2014."6F[7] This did not happen. The Government response was received on the day the House rose for the summer recess, 22 July 2014, eight months after the Report's publication.7F[8] Moreover, the tone of the Government's response to the key recommendations was overwhelmingly negative and did not sufficiently address our proposals, including those relating to the introduction of a form of national veto and the disapplication of EU law.

6. In the light of this, during the autumn of 2014 we sought to hold an oral evidence session with the Foreign Secretary, a request which was initially rejected in a letter of 8 December, in which the Foreign Secretary stated that "given his close involvement in your Committee's inquiry and in-depth knowledge of the issues involved, the Minister for Europe would be best placed to represent the Government." Following our strong representations the Foreign Secretary did appear before us, in January 2015, preceded by a session with the Minister for Europe, who was accompanied by the Head of UKRep, Ivan Rogers.

7. At the same time, throughout this last Session of the 2010-15 Parliament, the Government decided not to schedule most of the debates on EU documents which we had recommended. This culminated in an oral evidence session with the Leader of the House at the beginning of February 2015.

8. In this Report we first consider in more detail the background to, possible causes of and the implications of the Government's failure to schedule EU document debates, before turning to some of the other outstanding issues covered in our Scrutiny Reform Report, in particular papers deposit,8F[9] limité documents,9F[10] and the coverage of EU scrutiny and wider EU issues by the BBC.10F[11] We also set out some outstanding scrutiny issues which our successor Committee may wish to consider, in particular scrutiny of the proposed EU-US Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).11F[12]

9. We are disappointed to note at the outset that the Government, despite its offers of dialogue, has stalled meaningful engagement with our Scrutiny Reform Report recommendations over the last 18 months: by an inadequate response which was six months late and published on the afternoon the House rose for the summer recess, followed by the initial refusal of the Foreign Secretary to appear before us to give oral evidence, alongside EU document debates recommended but not scheduled for over a year. Whether this is coalition politics or not, the result has been that much-needed reforms lie unmade.

10. We note in particular that one effect of this is that both Standing Order No. 143 and the Scrutiny Reserve Resolution continue to use pre-Lisbon terminology, as they date from 1998-despite the fact that our Report included proposed new versions of both texts.

11. As we have noted in our evidence sessions, Reports and correspondence, the Government's policy on EU scrutiny reform is at odds with UK Ministers' claims in their speeches across the EU about the role of national parliaments—including the Prime Minister's Bloomberg speech. We can only assume that the importance attached by the Government to this fundamental principle does not extend to the scrutiny that takes place in this House.

12. In the face of the Government's procrastination we have engaged with other Committees (particularly the Procedure and Liaison Committees) to make progress where we can. We set out in this Report what we have achieved and what more remains to be done, as a guide for our successors in the next Parliament. We hope that the new Government, whatever political party or parties it comprises, will have a more constructive and consistent approach to EU scrutiny reform and, furthermore, that that Government will recognise the need, in the UK's national interest, to comply with the principles of accountability to Parliament prescribed under the Standing Orders of the House of Commons.

1   Tenth Report of Session 2010-12, HC 633-I Back

2   Sixty-second Report of Session 2010-12, HC 1817-I Back

3   Forty-third Report of Session 2013-14, HC 979-I Back

4   Twenty-fourth Report of Session 2013-14, HC-109-I (referred to in this Report as the 'Scrutiny Reform Report'). Back

5   Scrutiny Reform Report, para 270 Back

6   See, for example, the Sixth Report of the Committee, Session 2009-10, The Work of the Committee in 2008-09, HC 267 Back

7   Scrutiny Reform Report, para 282 Back

8   Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Government response to the House of Commons European Scrutiny Committee Report HC 109-I of Session 2013-14, Cm 8914 (referred to in this Report as the 'Scrutiny Reform Government Response'). Back

9   See Chapter 4 Back

10   See Chapter 5 Back

11   See Chapter 8 Back

12   See Chapter 6 Back

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Prepared 25 March 2015