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European Scrutiny Procedures

Volume 464: debated on Monday 8 October 2007

The Government are well aware that there is dissatisfaction in many quarters about the scrutiny of European measures in this House. In its 2005 report, the Modernisation Committee identified the need to look at how to reinvigorate the work of the European Standing Committees. We are continuing to examine possible ways forward, and the Government expect to make proposals in due course.

That will not do. It was two and a half years ago that the Modernisation Committee brought out that report, chaired by the then Leader of the House, now the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions. Since then, absolutely nothing has been done. The report referred to

“worrying shortcomings in the House’s scrutiny of EU business”.

More than 1,000 new measures are being proposed every year, and only a tiny fraction is scrutinised or debated properly. Rather than talk about the powers and rights of this House, will the Government do something about them and make some proposals?

The right hon. Gentleman is an experienced member of the European Scrutiny Committee. As such, he must know that it is very important that we get the proposals and any changes right. As with the management of all business before the House, it is partly a matter of balancing resources, including Members’ time. The Government are well aware of the concerns and continue to give the matter proper attention.

I echo the sentiments that were expressed by the right hon. Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory), who is a very active member of my Committee. The arrangements were that, if any European business was referred by our Committee, so that its merits could be considered, it would go to the Standing Committees of the House, three of which were established with fixed memberships and agendas. One of the great problems that face Parliament is that, for two Sessions now, Sessional Orders have turned that scrutiny process into nothing but another kind of statutory instrument process. May I have an assurance that Sessional Orders will not be laid this year and that Committees with agendas and fixed memberships will be re-established to give some decent scrutiny to European business?

My hon. Friend is a most diligent Chairman of the European Scrutiny Committee. I pay tribute to him for the work that he has done in that role. The difficulties to which he refers relate to the difficulties in finding Members who are prepared to serve on the Standing Committees as they are currently structured. That is why the Government are looking more widely at structural reforms.

The Prime Minister has said that he wishes to make Parliament the crucible of public life and that he wants open government, but the European Scrutiny Committee continues to meet in private. Will the Deputy Leader of the House commit to opening up this Committee, or is she going to bottle it, just like the Prime Minister?

The hon. Gentleman is right: as with many Select Committees, some sittings of the European Scrutiny Committee are held in private. When discussions have been held about making all sessions open to the public, the votes have proved contradictory. The issue is extremely controversial but the point is well understood.