Reporting on Councils
122. Although not restricted to non-legislative
documents, ministerial reports on Council meetings, both in advance
of the meetings and following their conclusion, are extremely
valuable in ensuring that we are kept fully informed of developments
123. The Government submit for publication in
Hansard written ministerial statements giving a broad overview
of the agenda for forthcoming Councils and Council Conclusions.
We do not believe that it would be practical either for the
Sub-Committee or for the Government for there to be prior scrutiny
of all items for discussion on the Council agenda. It is important
nevertheless that we are able to request from the Government,
usually by correspondence, further information on items which
appear to be of a substantial nature, but relating to which there
have been no formal documents submitted for scrutiny.
124. We have established an informal agreement
with the Government that the Minister for Europe will attend a
meeting of the Sub-Committee to provide oral evidence on current
developments in foreign policy on a regular basis. In practice
it has not been possible to arrange these meetings as regularly
as we had originally envisaged (four times a year). The last published
evidence session held was held on 11 November 2004.
The next evidence session took place on 26 January 2006 and particularly
focused on developments which occurred during the United Kingdom
Presidency of the EU.
125. We consider these sessions to be invaluable,
though we consider that sessions held twice a year following the
June and December European Councils should suffice. In his evidence
on this inquiry the current Minister for Europe assured us that
he would be happy to give oral evidence twice a year. (Q 15)
126. We seek an assurance from the Government
that the Minister for Europe will continue to provide oral evidence
on current developments in European foreign policy twice a year.
127. A motivating factor for this Report was
the experience of Sub-Committee C that Defence Ministers who negotiate
in Council on behalf of the United Kingdom have not been subject
to sufficient parliamentary scrutiny. Internal agreement between
the FCO and MoD means that the FCO takes the lead on the majority
of defence issues, including ESDP missions (both civilian and
military) and ESDP Presidency Reports.
128. Defence Ministers attend the GAERC twice
a year in May and November when they take decisions on defence-related
matters. However, it is the Minister for Europe who provides both
the pre- and post-GAERC written statements and who is responsible
for any correspondence with the Committee concerning the Council.
129. This is insufficient when it comes to holding
Defence Ministers accountable for the decisions they take in Council.
The MoD maintained in their evidence that a direct relationship
with the Committee would be a duplication of effort. (Q 36) We
do not accept this view. On the contrary, we believe that time
would be saved were the Minister to write to us directly.
130. The MoD should provide separate written
ministerial statements on defence matters prior to and following
each defence GAERC in May and November.
131. In her oral evidence on behalf of the MoD,
Sarah Beaver stated that the MoD were happy, in principle, to
provide oral evidence on ESDP once per year. The Minister for
Defence Procurement, Lord Drayson, came to give evidence on current
developments in European defence on 19 January 2006. We appreciated
the Minister's evidence and hope that he found the session as
useful as the members of Sub-Committee C did.
132. The MoD should provide a Minister to
give oral evidence to the Sub-Committee following each defence
GAERC in May and November.