Select Committee on European Union Thirty-Sixth Report

Annual Report 2007

CHAPTER 1: Background

This Report

1.  This is the fifth Annual Report on the work of the European Union Select Committee and its seven Sub-Committees. This Report covers the Committee's work from October 2006 to October 2007 (Chapter 2), as well as taking a look at the Committee's plans for the future (Chapter 3), and is intended to inform the debate following the Queen's Speech.

2.  The focus of this Report is the work that we do in scrutinising European Union (EU) matters. A detailed account of how we do this was published in the first Annual Report[1], and is summarised in Box 1 below. Readers interested in a more substantial explanation of our working methods are invited to refer to the Committee's Review of Scrutiny[2], conducted in 2002. Ways in which our work is evolving are discussed in Chapter 4 of this Report, where we analyse relations with the Government (especially regarding scrutiny overrides, delays in correspondence and the content of Explanatory Memoranda), with the Commission and with the Conference of Community and European Affairs Committees of Parliaments of the European Union (COSAC). We also look ahead to future changes to the Committee's systems.

The work of the Committee

3.  Our Committee, together with the House of Commons European Scrutiny Committee, is at the heart of Parliament's scrutiny of EU legislation. Our terms of reference are printed in Appendix 2. National parliamentary scrutiny of EU legislation serves an essential constitutional purpose, and must be as effective as possible. To this end, the Committee has noted that scrutiny should include:

4.  Additionally, it is important that this scrutiny occurs at an early stage in the policy-making process, as Parliament has almost no opportunity to influence the law-making process once the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament have agreed EU legislation.


How the Committee Conducts Scrutiny

  • Each year, the Government deposit in both Houses of Parliament about 1200 European policy documents and legislative proposals for scrutiny. Each is accompanied by an Explanatory Memorandum (EM) giving the Government's views on the document.
  • The Chairman of the Select Committee conducts a sift each sitting week (and as required during recess) and clears some documents from scrutiny, while referring others for further examination.
  • Documents not cleared are subject to the House's Scrutiny Reserve Resolution (see Appendix 2), by which Ministers cannot agree them in the Council until the House's scrutiny is complete. Under certain circumstances, however, the Minister can override the scrutiny reserve (paras 121-126).
  • Documents referred for examination are normally considered by one of our seven Sub-Committees. Between them, the Select Committee and seven Sub-Committees include over 70 of the House's Members, many with great EU expertise. Sub-Committees study particular proposals and policy areas, take evidence, and produce draft Reports which are amended and approved by the Select Committee before publication (Chapter 2 and Appendix 1 for details of recent Reports).
  • Sub-Committees also prepare letters for the Chairman of the Select Committee to send to Ministers. This Correspondence with Ministers (which we publish, both in hard copy and on the internet) is a significant part of the Committee's scrutiny work, and is designed to influence the detailed formulation of policy.
  • The Committee aims to conduct our scrutiny as early in the legislative and policy-making cycle as possible. We consider that it is a strength of the House's scrutiny system that it is policy- and evidence-based.
  • Some of our Reports are debated in the House and the scrutiny reserve is maintained until such a debate has taken place (para 121 and Appendix 2). All Reports receive a written Government response within two months of publication.[4]
  • The Committee co-operates with the European Scrutiny Committee of the House of Commons and, although the material considered by the two Committees is the same, the function and thus the output of the two Committees is different and the work of each House thus complements that of the other (paras 75-104).

5.  The Report is published for the information of the House.

"Annual Report", 44th Report (2002-03), HL 191, Back

2   "Review of Scrutiny of European Legislation", 1st Report (2002-03), HL 15, Back

3   "Review of Scrutiny of European Legislation", 1st Report (2002-03), HL 15, p.10, Back

4   The Government's Response to the 2006 Annual Report will be published in the next edition of our Government Responses Report, "Remaining Government Responses of Session 2004-05, Government Responses Session 2005-06", 37th report (2006-07), HL Paper 182.  Back

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