Select Committee on European Communities Twelfth Report


18 March 1997

  By the Select Committee appointed to consider Community proposals, whether in draft or otherwise, to obtain all necessary information about them, and to make reports on those which, in the opinion of the Committee, raise important questions of policy or principle, and on other questions to which the Committee considers that the special attention of the House should be drawn.



  1. As part of its work on Community proposals, the Select Committee sends letters to Ministers to express its views on proposals under scrutiny. The procedure of sending a letter may be adopted when the timetable of the Council of Ministers is too short for the Committee to make a report, or if the enquiry indicates that the points at issue do not warrant a full report. Such letters pass the same stages of approval as a report, and are normally signed by the Chairman. Occasionally the Chairman delegates authority to a Sub-Committee Chairman. Where the timing of discussions in the Council of Ministers does not permit consideration in advance by the Committee, the letter is sent on the authority of the Chairman and placed before the Committee at its next meeting.

  2. The Committee therefore considers that the attention of the House should now be drawn to letters which it has sent since the last volume of correspondence was issued, together with replies received from Ministers. It includes letters sent by the Committee and replies received from November 1997 to the end of the Parliament.

  3. This Report is in four parts. The first includes letters relating to the policy issues raised by proposals; the second includes letters relating to cases where the Committee has been unable to scrutinise documents effectively; the third includes letters relating to issues of legal and procedural interest; and the fourth includes correspondence relating to the Committee's reports and Government responses to them.

  4. The second of these categories reflects our dismay at the frequency with which Community proposals, and Government explanatory memoranda, are received by us too late for any effective scrutiny to be undertaken. This is usually because of the speed with which proposals may come before the Council for decision, and is often aggravated by long delays in distributing documents submitted by the Commission to the Council. The Government has proposed for discussion at the Intergovernmental Conference that there should be a binding minimum period for national parliaments to scrutinise Community documents with legislative implications. This encouraging development makes it all the more distressing that we are faced with so many cases where Ministers will, or feel obliged to, agree to proposals without any opportunity for effective Parliamentary scrutiny. We shall be continuing to press for improvements and, in order to highlight the extent of the problem, we have brought recent cases together in this Report.

  5. The two immediately previous volumes of Correspondence with Ministers were published as the 17th Report, 1995-96 (HL Paper 107) and the 5th Report, 1996-97 (HL Paper 31).

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