This is a House of Commons Committee Special Report.
Date Published: 18 October 2022
1. On 8 July 2022, Rt Hon Elizabeth Truss MP, then Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs, wrote to us and the House of Lords European Affairs Committee seeking our collective agreement on revised arrangements for the scrutiny of UK/EU affairs.1 New arrangements were considered necessary in light of the UK’s withdrawal from the EU, and new obligations and methods of governance provided for in the UK/EU Withdrawal Agreement and the UK/EU Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA).
2. The Government’s offer includes new document scrutiny commitments specific to the Withdrawal Agreement and TCA. It was preceded by lengthy and detailed discussions between the Committee and the House of Lords European Affairs Committee (EAC), and Government on the information the latter would provide to facilitate scrutiny of the UK’s new relationship with the EU.
3. On 12 October 2022, we wrote to the Foreign Secretary, Rt Hon James Cleverly MP, to formally accept the Government’s offer. Our letter also clarifies our expectations with regard to the areas of EU scrutiny the Government has committed to facilitate, and outlines how the Committee will undertake scrutiny moving forwards. Our response is annexed to this Special Report.
4. We believe these revised arrangements are appropriate to the UK’s legal and political status outside of the EU and its institutions, and that they strike a balance between providing information on important matters—such as binding decisions taken in joint UK/EU bodies set up under the Withdrawal Agreement and TCA—and recognising the limited value of receiving information on EU actions that are no longer directly relevant to the UK after Brexit.
5. Our revised arrangements reinforce the Committee’s position as the House’s primary scrutineer of UK/EU relations and its central role in holding the Government to account in its dealings with the EU. This is reflected in the privileged access to information the Committee will continue to enjoy and the bespoke mechanisms for scrutiny the Government has committed to institute.
6. Working with the Lords EAC and the Government, we will undertake an initial review of these arrangements in nine months’ time.
7. The Committee is charged under Standing Order No. 143 with examining EU documents and the Government’s policy towards them.
8. During the UK’s EU membership, the Government would ‘deposit’ EU documents in Parliament and, within 10 working days, provide an ‘Explanatory Memorandum’ (EM) on their content. The Committee considered hundreds of documents each Session, which included proposals for EU legislation and major EU policy initiatives.
9. The Committee would assess the legal and/or political importance of deposited documents and report its findings to the House.
10. In accordance with the ‘Scrutiny Reserve Resolution’ of November 1998, Ministers could not, subject to a limited number of exceptions, agree to EU legislation or major policies in the Council of Ministers or European Council if the corresponding EU document had not been considered or ‘cleared’ from scrutiny by the Committee.
11. If the Committee deemed a document to be of significant legal and/or political importance, it could recommend it for debate in European Committee or on the floor of the House.2 The timing of debates was determined by the Government.
12. After the UK’s withdrawal from the EU, the Government stopped routinely depositing EU documents and, as a rule, only deposited those that engaged the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland to the Withdrawal Agreement.
13. The Committee’s new scrutiny arrangements update this system and change the categories of EU documents the Government will deposit and provide EMs on.3
14. The Government has committed to deposit EU documents relating to:
15. The Government’s offer also includes commitments away from EU document scrutiny, for example, covering regular Ministerial appearances and briefings from officials.
16. These changes will focus Committee document scrutiny on the Government’s dealings with the EU under the Withdrawal Agreement and TCA, and complement our inquiry-based work on wider UK/EU affairs and related issues.
17. All other aspects of the Committee’s document scrutiny will remain the same. The Government will continue to deposit EU documents with the Committee and in the Vote Office in the Commons, EMs will be expected within 10 working days, and we will liaise with Government Departments on the progress of files we hold under scrutiny. We will continue our recent practice of reporting on EU documents fortnightly.
18. We have written to the Procedure Committee to inform them of these changes.
Dear Charles, Bill,
EU RELATED SCRUTINY ARRANGEMENTS
1. I am writing to seek your agreement on future scrutiny arrangements, following the conclusion of discussions between officials on a formal framework for scrutiny arrangements, which provides a balanced approach to parliamentary oversight of our new relationship with the European Union. I am grateful to the officials involved in these discussions for arriving at an agreed approach.
2. I agree with Lord Frost’s position when he wrote to you on 23 September 2021, that we should be as open as possible in how we work with your committees, whilst noting that our new relationship with the EU requires a new approach to scrutiny and a move towards a more flexible approach.
3. The scrutiny offer enclosed in the Annex seeks to reflect this and takes into account the clear representations made by your officials, including some reasonable additional requests since Lord Frost wrote to enhance the commitments in several areas. I should note that the additional requests made by the Northern Ireland Protocol Sub-Committee in their report on scrutiny have been responded to separately through the Government’s response to the Sub-Committee’s report.
4. I am aware that the offer does not go as far as the European Affairs Committee in particular would have liked in terms of automatic deposit of EU documents on a broader range of issues. These arrangements are proportional to our new relationship with the EU, and are part of an evolving process to be kept under review. As set out in the offer, it is sensible to conduct an interim review of these arrangements in nine months’ time, and then a full review after two years (or at the end of this Parliament, whichever is sooner), to ensure the process remains relevant and manageable for both sides.
5. I hope that the offer enclosed is acceptable to you, and I look forward to implementing it as quickly as possible. I am grateful to you both for your continued engagement and for the valuable role that your Committees play.
THE RT HON ELIZABETH TRUSS MP
Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Secretary
Final Government Offer on Scrutiny of EU-related Business by the EU Scrutiny Committees
1. Scrutiny of the Withdrawal Agreement (excluding the Northern Ireland Protocol)
We are committed to:
2. Scrutiny of the Northern Ireland Protocol
We are committed to:
3. Scrutiny of the Trade and Cooperation Agreement
We are committed to:
We are committed to:
5. Ministerial appearance before the Committees
As you will be aware, your predecessor, Rt Hon Elizabeth Truss MP, wrote to us on 9 July 2022 seeking our agreement on revised arrangements for the scrutiny of UK/EU affairs. This letter was preceded by over a year of discussions. We are grateful to all of those involved for their time, and determination to reach a settlement that facilitates parliamentary scrutiny of the Government’s dealings with the EU whilst being appropriate to the new UK/EU relationship.
We believe the Government’s offer strikes this balance and, as such, we formally accept. We have informed the House of these revised arrangements. My Clerk will be in contact with your officials shortly to discuss consequent changes to document handling practices, for example, concerning the information provided in Government Explanatory Memoranda on EU documents. As our revised arrangements relate mainly to the types of EU documents the Government will facilitate scrutiny of, our reporting practices will remain largely unchanged.
As suggested, we will review these arrangements with you in nine months’ time. These revised arrangements are without prejudice to our powers to send for persons, papers and records, and our ability to consider all European matters. We must also make clear that we expect Ministers to appear before us when they are called, irrespective of how frequently this is or Government arrangements with the Lords Committees.
We look forward to continuing our work with you.
With kind regards
I hope this letter finds you well.
I write to update you on recent changes to how my Committee undertakes EU document scrutiny.
As you will be aware, the European Scrutiny Committee is charged under Standing Order No. 143 with examining EU documents and the Government’s policy towards them. During the UK’s EU membership, we reported on a regular basis on the legal and/or political importance of EU legislative proposals and policy initiatives. The Government would ‘deposit’ these documents in the House and provide an Explanatory Memoranda detailing its views on the proposed EU law or policy under scrutiny.
On 8 July 2022, Rt Hon Elizabeth Truss MP, then Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs, wrote to us and the House of Lords European Affairs Committee seeking our collective agreement on revised arrangements for the scrutiny of UK/EU affairs. New arrangements were considered necessary in light of the UK’s withdrawal from the EU, and new obligations and methods of governance provided for in the UK/EU Withdrawal Agreement and the UK/EU Trade and Cooperation Agreement.
We wrote to the Foreign Secretary, Rt Hon James Cleverly MP, on 12 October and accepted the Government’s offer. I attach copies of these letters for your information. Moving forwards, the Government has committed to deposit EU documents relating to: the Northern Ireland Protocol; the Withdrawal Agreement; and the Trade and Cooperation Agreement. All other aspects of our document scrutiny will remain the same and we will continue to report our assessment of EU proposals and initiatives to the House on a regular basis. Our revised scrutiny arrangements also cover areas in addition to EU document scrutiny, such commitments on regular Ministerial appearances before the Committee and briefings from officials.
We believe these revised arrangements are appropriate to the UK’s legal and political status outside of the EU and its institutions, and that they strike a balance between providing information on important matters—such as binding decisions taken in joint UK/EU bodies set up under the Withdrawal Agreement and TCA—and recognise the limited value of receiving information on EU actions that are no longer directly relevant to the UK after Brexit. They formalise ad hoc arrangements that have been in place since the UK’s withdrawal from the EU and, in practical terms, will see the number of EU documents we consider each Session settle at around 100. The Committee’s Standing Order is unaffected by these changes as they relate to the types of EU documents the Government will facilitate scrutiny of, not the power of the Committee to report on them.
I hope this update proves useful.
With kind regards
Sir William Cash, in the Chair
Mr John Baron
Mr David Jones
Draft Special Report (Revised EU scrutiny arrangements), proposed by the Chair, brought up and read.
Ordered, That the draft Report be read a second time, paragraph by paragraph.
Paragraphs 1 to 18 read and agreed to.
Annexes agreed to.
A Paper was appended to the Report as Appendix 1.
Resolved, That the Report be the First Special Report of the Committee to the House.
Ordered, That the Chair make the Report to the House.
Ordered, That embargoed copies of the Report be made available (Standing Order No. 134).
Adjourned till Wednesday 19 October 2022 at 1.45 p.m.
1 A copy of this letter is appended to this Special Report.
2 As per Standing Order No. 119.
3 This amounts to a change in practice by the Government and does not necessitate amendment to the Committee’s Standing Order. The categories of EU document deposited by the Government during the UK’s EU membership were not exhaustively prescribed and the Committee had the power to ‘waive’ deposit if it thought appropriate.