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European Working Groups

Volume 403: debated on Thursday 10 April 2003

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To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will make a statement on progress with achieving transparency in respect of the European working groups for which his Department is responsible. [105746]

The Government have long been committed to greater openness in the EU Institutions. This was a key theme of the UK Presidencies in 1992 and 1998. Making it easier to gain access to non-sensitive documents is crucial to this. The Government welcomed Regulation 1049–2001 regarding public access to European Parliament, Council and Commission documents. As a result, more documents are released to the public, whilst genuinely sensitive documents are given the protection they need.Much of the Council's work takes place in preparatory bodies, including working groups. Negotiations at all levels are generally held in private. However the Justice and Home Affairs (JHA) Council occasionally holds open debates on general policy subjects. Discussions at the JHA Council are also reported by written answers to PQs in both Houses or by letter to the Parliamentary Scrutiny Committees during Recesses.Accountability and transparency of Council business to Parliament are ensured by the scrutiny process, to which the Government are also firmly committed. The scrutiny process offers the opportunity for Parliamentary oversight of proposals which are under negotiation in all but a few cases, such as agreement with third countries, which remain confidential during their negotiation. All deposited documents are placed in the Library and the Scrutiny Committees publish their reports, together with Ministerial correspondence relating to the proposals, on their websites (www.parliament.uk). Home Office Ministers regularly give oral evidence to the Scrutiny Committees of both Houses.We strongly supported the measures agreed at the Seville European Council to make the Council more open when in legislating mode. We remain committed to increasing transparency. The Future of European Convention is also looking at ways to make the EU more open, including through proposals for the Council to meet in public when it is discussing a legislative proposal.