Letter from Lord Grenfell to the Chairman
As you know, the European Union Committee has recently
concluded a review of scrutiny, which began last session under
your chairmanship. The Leader's Group indicated that we should
report our findings to the Liaison Committee. I accordingly enclose
a copy of our report as published.
This letter makes the case for an increase in the
number of the Sub-Committees of the European Union Committee,
on which the Committee would welcome the views of the Liaison
I would be happy to discuss these issues further
at the next meeting of the Liaison Committee on 17 February.
At present, the Select Committee itself performs
the following functions:
- Scrutinising the Commission's Annual Work Programme
and in future possibly the Council's Strategic Agenda as well;
- Hearing evidence from the Minister for Europe
after every major European Council;
- Hearing evidence from the Ambassador of every
- Inquiring into matters which do not efficiently
fall to an individual Sub-Committee, including major institutional
questions (such as the report on the Second Chamber) and crosscutting
inquiries (such as the review of scrutiny);
- Approving reports prepared by the Sub-Committees;
- Considering Government responses to our reports;
- Appointing the members of Sub-Committees;
- Appointing specialist advisers for the Sub-Committees.
The Committee currently has six Sub-Committees, of
up to 12 members. The individual Sub-Committees at present scrutinise
policy in the following areas:
and Financial Affairs, and External Relations (A).
- Energy, Industry and Transport (B).
- Common Foreign and Security Policy and International
- Environment, Agriculture, Public Health and Consumer
- Law and Institutions (E).
- Social Affairs, Education and Home Affairs (F).
Drivers for change
There are three drivers for change that have drawn
us to the conclusion that the number of our Sub-Committees should
be increased: our own sense of the case for change, given existing
work; our own willingness to make scrutiny more effective by doing
more; and external pressures.
First, it is clear that our members feel that the
present division of policy responsibilities means that each Sub-Committee
is examining too wide a range of policy areas and cannot always
give proper attention to them all. This is supported by the relentless
increase in the number of documents deposited for scrutiny: since
the Jellicoe review of our work in 1992 the number of documents
deposited each year for scrutiny has increased from around 800
to about 1400. Our review has recommended that certain documents
no longer be deposited for scrutiny but as these are documents
which would normally be cleared by the Chairman's sift this change
will not noticeably cut the workload of Sub-Committees.
Secondly, our review has endorsed the fundamental
principles on which we work, namely that documents are sifted
by the Chairman and referred to expert policy Sub-Committees for
examination. Our review nevertheless proposed new areas of activity
designed to enhance and strengthen the House's scrutiny of European
legislation. These will mean increased responsibilities for Sub-Committees
- more regular scrutiny in advance of Council meetings,
including of Government officials;
- more short studies to complement major inquiries;
- more emphasis on the follow-up of work;
- more analysis of cost impact assessments;
- more scrutiny of Comitology decisions;
- more emphasis on ensuring that our work is of
use to the House;
- a greater effort to disseminate our work in the
As we recognise that these are additional responsibilities,
we have also accepted that we need to make the best use of the
time we spend with witnesses. We nevertheless conclude that these
new functions will, overall, mean an increased workload for Sub-Committees.
Thirdly, there are outside pressures for change which,
we believe, will lead to an increase in our workload. It is a
clear and significant theme in the Convention on the Future of
Europe that there should be an enhanced role for national parliaments
in the European Union, to help redress the disconnection between
the citizen and those governing the Union. There are already specific
proposals for national parliaments to have a more formal role
in monitoring subsidiarity; and suggestions that matters of Justice
and Home Affairs might be brought under the Community method,
requiring an enhanced scrutiny of an increased number of documents.
Enlargement too may mean more legislation to consider. There is
also pressure for closer working with other national parliaments
(through COSAC) and for a closer working relationship with our
colleagues in the Commons, which we have welcomed.
We have always kept under review the balance of work
between our Sub-Committees and the number of Sub-Committees has
varied over the years. As part of our recent review, we have considered
whether the present balance of work between the Sub-Committees
is right, given the likely future priorities of the Union. We
have concluded that there is a prima facie case for increasing
the number of our Sub-Committees and we make a proposal to that
One way of deciding which policy areas Sub-Committees
should cover would be to examine the existing structure of Government
departments. Another would be to mirror the Council of Ministers
which now operates in nine formations (see annex). It would therefore
be possible to argue that each Council should be scrutinised by
one of our Sub-Committees, giving a total of nine.
We rejected this idea, however, for two reasons.
First, none of these existing Councils uniquely fits with the
work of our Sub-Committee E (Law and Institutions) which, chaired
by a Law Lord, provides valuable scrutiny of legal matters across
the board. Secondly, two of the Councils (Education, Youth and
Culture; and Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs)
do not in our view generate a full Sub-Committee's worth of scrutiny
Our proposal is accordingly for eight Sub-Committees
combining policy areas (such as environment and agriculture) but
to a lesser extent than with our present six Sub-Committees, as
- Economic and Financial Affairs (elements of existing
- Transport, Telecommunications and Energy (elements
of existing B and D)
- General Affairs and External Relations (existing
- Environment and Agriculture (elements of existing
- Law and Institutions (existing E)
- Justice and Home Affairs (most of existing F)
- Social Policy and Consumer Affairs - including
Healthcare and Education (most of existing D and F)
- Competitiveness and International Trade Policy
- including the Internal Market, Industry, Worker Protection and
Research (elements of existing A and B)
It would be our intention that these be the areas
of primary responsibility for each Sub-Committee; but that, as
now, flexibility is maintained to ensure the best deployment of
resources by agreement between Sub-Committees.
We would not, however, wish any expansion of the
number of our Sub-Committees to take place unless a sufficient
number of Members of the House were available with both the expertise
and time necessary to do the work and put it to good use. We stress
here that we believe expertise and commitment to be more important
factors than party balance.
We support the rotation rule in its present form
although we would welcome a wider pool of names coming forward
to allow us great flexibility in co-opting members to Sub-Committees.
We have no wish, however, to increase the number of Members serving
on individual Sub-Committees. Indeed, if there are to be more
Sub-Committees, we would welcome smaller Sub-Committees, each
with an expert and active membership. We also have no objection
to members of the House serving on more than one Sub-Committee.
Our six Sub-Committees currently have a maximum total
membership of 12, meaning up to 72 Members of the House can serve
on our Sub-Committees (although a few places have deliberately
been kept vacant to assist flexibility if the overall number changes).
It is our view that ten members is about the right
size for a Sub-Committee (provided that all members are reasonably
regular attendees). Dividing our current 72 among our proposed
eight Sub-Committees would mean finding only eight more Members
of the House to reach the desired number.
Any change in the number and responsibilities of
Sub-Committees would, of course, mean a consequential need to
redistribute our existing members among a new series of Sub-Committees.
As far as staff are concerned, the Leader of the
House told us that he hoped the House would "will the means"
to deliver the necessary resources for our work, although he stressed
that the time taken to recruit clerks of a suitable calibre would
always be a factor.
We would not wish to see extra work being undertaken
without the necessary resources to undertake it. Each Sub-Committee
needs their own dedicated Clerk and Assistant. The work of our
three new European Policy Researchers has assisted the Select
Committee and the Sub-Committees but with only three posts it
has not been possible to allocate a researcher to each Sub-Committee.
Our Sub-Committees accordingly remain much less intensively resourced
than the Commons departmental select Committees which they in
some ways mirror.
We recognise that, even if there is acceptance of
the need to increase the number of Sub-Committees, the need to
find suitable members and recruit suitable staff may mean a timetabled
introduction of any additional Sub-Committees. We nevertheless
consider that the present division of work overloads the Sub-Committees;
that changes are needed to enhance the House's scrutiny of EU
legislation; and that existing problems will only get worse in
the future. The time to act is now, to ensure that the House is
ready to meet the new challenges we will face.
1 As a consequence of the review, we have adjusted
the workload of Sub-Committee C to fit this description, as an
interim measure. This is intended to enhance the Sub-Committee's
scrutiny function. Back