Select Committee on European Union Forty-Fourth Report

CHAPTER 4: Administrative and procedural matters

Effective scrutiny

Scrutiny of ministers in Council

110. Our Review of Scrutiny of European Legislation undertook to conduct more regular scrutiny of meetings of the Council of Ministers[20]. The Select Committee has continued to take evidence from the Minister for Europe after meetings of the European Council, implementing a recommendation of the Review of Scrutiny. Sub-Committee C takes ministerial evidence after each General Affairs and External Relations Council (GAERC). To this end the Minister for Europe was invited to give evidence on the GAERC held on 18-19 March[21]. A further evidence session was held on 12 June[22]. Sub-Committee C remains committed to holding the Government to account on matters of EU foreign policy and defence, and to receive written evidence on each GAERC.

111. All Sub-Committees continue to take evidence from ministers and officials in the context of Council meetings as necessary.

Enhanced scrutiny

112. We will review the case for enhanced scrutiny in defence, and of matters subject to the Open Method of Co-ordination.

113. We will return in 2004 to some of the ideas in the Scrutiny Review which did not find favour with the Government, particularly those concerned with enhancing the effectiveness of the Scrutiny Reserve Resolution.

114. We await, and will consider, proposals from the Government for enhanced scrutiny during co-decision procedure. This takes on a new significance as, under the draft constitutional Treaty, more matters will be subject to co-decision.

Scrutiny overrides

115. The Government reports to us on the occasions when the House's scrutiny reserve has been overridden in Council. During the period January to June 2003 there were 37 such overrides, a figure which seems to us to be high. We will analyse these cases carefully and will seek to enhance the provision of such information directly to the House.

Documents not deposited

116. We continue to monitor occasions when documents are not deposited for scrutiny; and to seek regular reports back from the Government to allow us if necessary to review the decisions taken.

The work of our Sub-Committees

117. Our Sub-Committees continue to work to implement the Review of Scrutiny:

118. The Select Committee has set up a series of mechanisms to review the work of Sub-Committees. These include regular report backs on activity (three times a year) and the production of this annual report. We expect to launch a monthly newsletter on our work in the new year and would welcome any suggestions for what would be of value.

Scrutiny: Co-operation

The House of Lords

119. We will continue to work to find ways to improve the usefulness of our work to the House. In our view, however, the House has in return a duty to make use of our work. In particular, timely debates on our reports are needed in the interests of effective scrutiny, but are not being delivered. We were accordingly disappointed that the Procedure Committee was not able to support any of our suggestions for enhancing the provision of time on the Floor of the House for debates on our reports but we note their invitation to the Usual Channels to consider these questions further. Noting that, at the end of the current session, no fewer than nine debates on our reports are outstanding, dating as far back as March, we will need to return urgently to this matter in the new year.

120. We will also examine ways of improving the information flow from our Committee to the members of the House in general.

The House of Commons

121. We continue to work closely with colleagues in the Commons. This includes not only the European Scrutiny Committee on cross-cutting issues but also departmental select committees on particular inquiries. We will look to strengthen the work currently done mainly at official level and to enhance co-operation between members where doing so will add value.

Other national parliaments

122. We will develop bilateral and collective exchanges with other national parliamentary scrutiny bodies. We continue to work to ensure that COSAC focuses on scrutiny and not on general debates. We are pursuing this both in our work on the constitutional treaty; in COSAC itself (where we work closely with our colleagues in the Commons); and through the Conference of Speakers at which our Chairman has represented the Lord Chancellor on behalf of the House.

The European Parliament

123. We have taken part, with members of the House of Commons, in two meetings to exchange views with UK MEPs, and we will work to enhance the effectiveness of those meetings. All Sub-Committees continue to develop links with individual MEPs.

The UK Presidency

124. Although the current system of rotating presidencies of the European Council is expected to end under the provisions of the draft Constitutional Treaty, this will not take effect before the United Kingdom holds the Presidency from July to December 2005. We will examine during 2004 what preparations need to be made by the House in advance of the Presidency.

Resources and administration


125. The House has agreed to a recommendation from the Liaison Committee that each of our seven Sub-Committees has ten members, instead of the 12 who currently serve on each of our six Sub-Committees. We will monitor the impact on our work of this reduction in the number of Peers available to serve on our Committees.

126. The recruitment of research staff, combined with the provision of one clerk for each of our Sub-Committees, has enabled us to undertake more work, and to do so more effectively. A review of the staff resources available to us is underway. We are pressing for the House to have appropriate representation in Brussels, as the Commons already has.

The internet

127. Our pages on Parliament's website[23] contain a great deal of useful information, including the text of all our reports since 1997[24]. Our staff will work during 2004 to continue to develop the website and in particular to present information around policy themes and issues rather than just by Sub-Committee as at present. Our staff will also work to develop exchanges of information with other national parliaments and the European Parliament.

128. Subject to the provision of the necessary resources, we will do more to make correspondence with Ministers available on the internet as soon as practicable after it has been sent and received.

Format of reports

129. From the start of the new session our reports will be published in a new House of Lords format, designed to make them more accessible. In preparing our reports, we will continue to work to the principles we agreed in the Review of Scrutiny that:

Press and publicity

130. Working with the Committee Office's Information Officer, we have agreed, and all Sub-Committees have endorsed, a press and publicity action plan[25]. Bearing in mind the practical realities of dealing with the media, we hope that this will allow us to make the most effective impact.


131. We continue to press the House authorities to provide effective modern facilities such as videoconferencing and simultaneous translation, which will benefit all in the House.

20   1st Report, Session 2002-03, HL Paper 15, paragraphs 111 and 204.  Back

21   The Committee took this opportunity to obtain information from the Minister on the process of scrutinising European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP) and on the state of the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) following recent events relating to the war in Iraq. Back

22   The Minister for Europe was asked about a wide range of foreign policy issues including the "wider Europe" policy; the EU missions to the Democratic Republic of Congo and Bosnia, the IGC and the Middle East. Back

23   Error! Bookmark not defined.  Back

24   These are freely available in HTML and (for Reports since May 2002) also in pdf format. Back

25   This is printed in Appendix 4.  Back

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