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.
ORDERED TO REPORT
CORRESPONDENCE WITH MINISTERS
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).