Select Committee on European Union First Report


3 December 2002

By the Select Committee appointed to consider European Union documents and other matters relating to the European Union.




1. Why is there a need for a report on the effectiveness of parliamentary scrutiny of the European Union? Those who govern the European Union need to be subject to scrutiny and held to account for their actions. The national parliaments of the Member States have a central role in such scrutiny and accordingly have a duty to ensure that their scrutiny of European affairs is purposeful and effective.

2. The House of Lords has for many years played a role in scrutinising European legislation, primarily through our Committee[1] and its predecessors and has always taken a wide view of its scrutiny role[2]. There has been a continuous process of development in our work to ensure that we keep pace with changes in the European Union. Hence we have on several occasions in the past addressed many of the questions covered in this report[3]. A specific review of scrutiny is nevertheless timely now because examination of the role of national parliaments is being undertaken by the Convention on the Future of Europe ("the Convention"), which appointed a working group on the subject[4]. While we do not seek here to duplicate the work being undertaken in the Convention, we hope that this review will be a contribution to that work.

3. The formal impetus for this report, however, was the recommendation, made as part of a wider review of the House's working methods undertaken by the "Leader's Group" and the Procedure Committee,[5] that we should review the European scrutiny work of the House[6]. This report delivers on that recommendation, although we do not confine our consideration to the limited issues addressed by the Leader's Group[7].

4. This report cannot, however, cover in detail all the issues raised in our review. In some places we therefore merely raise a question rather than seek to provide a definitive answer. Outstanding matters will be the subject of further consideration in due course. We will in particular scrutinise in more detail over the current months several key topics on which the Convention's Working Groups are issuing reports. These include a wide range of matters, many pertinent to this review:

  • The role of the national parliaments
  • Subsidiarity
  • The Charter of Fundamental Rights
  • A single legal personality
  • Complementary competencies
  • Economic governance
  • External action
  • Defence
  • Simplification
  • Freedom, security and justice
  • A social Europe.

5. We have taken evidence as part of this review. The questions we asked our witnesses are listed in Appendix 2 along with a list of those who sent responses, all of which are published with this report. We thank all those who assisted us. References in this report in the form of (Q 00) and (p 00) are to questions and pages of oral and written evidence.

1   Our membership is in Appendix 1. Back

2   Appendix 3 sets out in some detail how our Committee currently operates. Back

3   See for example: "1996 Inter-Governmental Conference" (21st Report Session 1994-95, HL Paper 105); "Enhancing Parliamentary Scrutiny of the Third Pillar" (6th Report Session 1997-98, HL Paper 25); "Delegation of Powers to the Commission: Reforming Comitology" (3rd Report Session 1998-99, HL Paper 23); "Special Report" [which deals with the re-appointment of the Committee under new terms of reference] (7 December 1999, HL Paper 12 Session 1999-2000) "A Second Parliamentary Chamber for Europe - An unreal solution to some real problems" (7th report session 2001-02, HL Paper 48); "The Scrutiny of European Union Business - Provisional Agreement in the Council of Ministers" (23rd Report Session 2001-02, HL Paper 135); "The Scrutiny of European Union Business - The Commission's Annual Work Programme" (25th Report Session 2001-02, HL Paper 141); and "The Convention on the Future of Europe" (30th Report Session 2001-02, HL Paper 163). Back

4   Working Group IV on the Role of National Parliaments. The Group's final report is available on the Convention's website as document CONV 353/02 (WG IV 17). Back

5   The report from the Group, chaired by the Leader of the House, Lord Williams of Mostyn, appointed to consider how the working practices of the House can be improved, and to make recommendations (HL Paper 111 Session 2001-02), called for a review of the scrutiny of EU legislation. The Procedure Committee (5th Report Session 2001-02, HL Paper 148) and the House (HL Deb. 24 July 2002 col. 371) approved our suggestion that we conduct this review and inform them, and the Liaison Committee, of the result. We gave written evidence to the Leader's Group, which is available in the Library, although all the principal points reappear in this report to ensure their wider circulation.  Back

6   The Leader's Group called for a "review of the House's scrutiny of European Legislation". We take this to be a review not only of the work of the European Union Committee but also of the House's scrutiny of European legislation in a more general sense. Back

7   The Group's Report makes reference to a number of suggestions that might be considered in such a review. We have considered all of these, along with other pertinent issues. The report from the Leader's Group also mentions by name a number of Members who, in the debate held on our report on the Second Chamber (HL Deb. 11 February 2002 col.885), made suggestions that might be covered by the review. We agreed not to be limited to considering just the matters raised in that debate. Back

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