25th REPORT: ANNUAL REPORT 2005
Letter from Rt Hon Geoff Hoon MP, Minister
for Europe, Foreign and Commonwealth Office to the Chairman
Thank you for your letter of 2 March to Douglas
Alexander, enclosing a copy of your Committee's Annual Report
for 2005. Douglas provided evidence to the Committee on the outcome
of the UK Presidency on 17 January and I look forward to continuing
contacts with the Committee.
The Government welcomes the quality of analysis
and expertise, reflected in this annual report, that the Committee
contributes on European issues.
Your letter highlighted a number of areas, set
out in the Report on which you requested Government responses.
I attach a short note covering these points.
11 May 2006
1. Explanatory note: Where the Committee
has asked for a specific response from the Government the relevant
paragraph from the Report has been included in italics.
For more general Government responses the relevant paragraph numbers
have been listed.
EU MEMBER STATES
(COSAC): PARAGRAPHS 21-29, 42-51
2. The Government welcomes the Committee's
work on subsidiarity and the Committee's 14th and 15th Reports.
We support a greater role for national parliaments in monitoring
the application of subsidiarity. This was part of the motivation
behind the Sharing Power in Europe Conference held in The Hague
in November 2005 and the Government was grateful for Lord Grenfell's
3. The Government is aware that the Committee
has some remaining concerns about Article 8 of the Protocol on
Subsidiarity and Proportionality in the Constitutional Treaty.
Whether or not the Protocol comes into force through the Treaty,
the Government would want to ensure that it retained its right
of access to the European Court of Justice (ECJ) as well as ensuring
a significant role for Parliament. The Government and Parliament
would need to work together to devise a system to ensure that
unrepresentative claims were not forwarded to the ECJ.
4. Given the current uncertainty of the
Treaty our focus should now be on what we can do to increase the
role of national Parliaments within the current treaties. The
Austrian Presidency held a conference in St Poelten in April 2006
on this. The Government acknowledges and welcomes COSAC's proactive
contribution in this area.
PARAGRAPHS 36-41, 59-64
5. The Government welcomes the progress
made on better regulation during 2005including during the
UK's Presidencyand believes that this provides a sound
basis for ensuring better regulatory outcomes on individual policy
dossiers in the future.
6. The Government will continue to give
high priority to the better regulation agenda in Europe. We will
work with the Commission and other member states to embed the
use of impact assessment in the work of the Institutions, including
through the measurement of administrative costs of proposals and
use of impact assessment during discussions on proposals in the
7. In line with the conclusions of the Spring
European Council, the Government supports the increased focus
on SMEs and looks forward to seeing robust Commission proposals
to encourage SME growth and development.
8. The Government strongly supports the
Commission's efforts to simplify existing EU legislation. During
2006, we shall encourage progress to implement on time the Commission's
October 2005 Communication, in particular adoption by the Commission
of simplification proposals contained in its rolling programme
and agreement to these by the Council and Parliament at an early
stage. As the Committee may be aware, the Commission carried out
extensive consultation with both member states and stakeholders
for its Simplification Communication. The Government believes
it is important that the Commission continues to involve stakeholders
in the initiative.
9. The Government welcomes the interest
in better regulationin particular simplificationshown
by the European Parliament, following the recent adoption of four
reports by the Internal Market and Legislative Affairs Committees
and the debate at the plenary session on 4 April 2006. The European
Parliament, as the co-legislator, has an important role to play
in simplification and will have responsibility for scrutinising
proposals as part of the co-decision process. Proposals simplifying
EU legislation will be subject to the usual Parliamentary scrutiny
procedure at national level.
The Committee has pressed through COSAC for
greater transparency in the Council of Ministers. We expect
the Government to report progress on this matter to parliament
at the earliest opportunity. (Report para 178)
10. The Minister for Europe wrote to Jimmy
Hood MP, copied to Lord Grenfell, on the issue of Council Transparency
on 13 March setting out progress under the UK Presidency and longer-term
goals. The Government will continue to keep the Committee updated
on this matter.
We note that our Government is committed
to making sure that overrides are avoided wherever possible. Some
Departments make particular efforts to ensure that overrides are
avoided and these we commend We note that an override can on occasion
be triggered by events outside the control of our Government,
for example by the last minute presentation of a new text by the
Presidency. But every Department must remain vigilant to ensure
that standards do not slip. We expect the Cabinet Office to
continue to take a lead in ensuring that performance improves
in those Departments where the twice yearly returns show a need
for improvement. We are much heartened by the lower figures for
last year so far, compared with 2004. (Report para 181)
We also note that we have a responsibility
to help prevent unnecessary overrides-for example by managing
our work so that documents are considered by Sub-Committees in
an appropriate time-scale and not left to fester unexamined and
"awaiting scrutiny". All Sub-Committees recognise
that this means taking time to consider routine scrutiny items
as well as spending time examining witnesses, and all Sub-Committees
manage this balance in their own way. (Report para 182)
The Committee was, however, delighted
at the much improved record of the Government on scrutiny overrides
over the first half of the year, and we hope that they have continued
to perform as well in the period following June 2005. (Report
11. The Government welcomes the Committee's
remarks about the much improved record in the first half of 2005.
We remain committed to keeping the number of scrutiny overrides
to a minimum and the figure of 22 overrides for the second half
of 2005, including 19 where scrutiny could not have been completed
in the House of Lords, shows that figures remain lower. Of these
19 overrides, 11 occurred at times when the Committee was not
sitting because of the Parliamentary recess. The Cabinet Office
continues to work with Departments to promote the benefit of forward
planning and working closely with the Committee to ensure that
as much business as possible is cleared before periods of recess,
and in ensuring that items listed in the Committee's Progress
of Scrutiny document are reviewed regularly and that responses
to the Committee's questions are responded to as quickly as possible.
Having a member of staff working for the
Committee in Brussels is proving to be a valuable support for
our scrutiny work and we recommend the continuation of the post.
The Committee's effectiveness is enhanced by having a presence
on the ground in Brussels. We have instructed the post-holder
to focus in particular on:
Obtaining information for the
Committee (and in particular advance intelligence of Commission
Explaining and promoting the work
of the House in relation to EU affairs;
Strengthening relations with the
Brussels offices of the devolved administrations and other national
Fostering personal and face-to-face
contacts with people in the EU Institutions in order to enhance
further the reputation of the House among EU decision makers and
gain influence for the Committee's recommendations. (Report para
12. The Government acknowledges the value
of the Committee's representation in Brussels and agrees with
the Committee's assessment of the focus for the post in the year
We urge Her Majesty's Government to establish
a dedicated website where the public can easily access all explanatory
memoranda and regulatory impact assessments. These documents are
invaluable to all those engaged in scrutiny of EU matters and,
although publicly available on request, could in this way be considerably
more easily accessible. (Report para 211)
13. The Government agrees that in the interests
of full transparency Explanatory. Memoranda (EMs) on EU proposals
should be easier to access than they are currently. The Cabinet
Office is working to set up a website where EMs can be consulted
and hopes that this can be established shortly.