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20 November 2013

UK Parliament: Reforming the European Scrutiny System in the House of Commons - MPs propose wholesale reform

The Committee made proposals relating to a veto to be deployed at national level, and asked the Government to respond to its conclusion that parallel provision should be made to enable the House of Commons to disapply existing European legislation.


This is the first major inquiry into the European scrutiny system in the House of Commons for eight years. The Committee has examined each aspect of its current powers, and also scrutinised the effectiveness of the other components of the system: Departmental Select Committees, European Committees and debates on the floor of the House. 

There is a need for essential reform to make the existing system more coherent and coordinated. The Committee's sifting role is valued across the House. But there is more that it could do to look at the impact of new proposals on the electors of the United Kingdom, and its Standing Orders require an urgent update. The evidence the Committee took showed how important it is to ensure that the policy expertise of Departmental Select Committees is applied to these complex questions; it proposes that there should be a new requirement to appoint ‘Reporters’ to take the lead within Committees on EU issues, as well as a more coordinated approach to the Commission Work Programme.

The Committee was told that the existing European Committee system should be scrapped, but does not agree. The system must be enhanced. The problems with European Committees as currently constituted arise from the fact that new Members are appointed for each document. The Committee argues forcefully for a return to the permanent membership system, new powers and a change of name to reflect the Committees’ core purpose: EU Document Debate Committees.

Given the vital primacy of the United Kingdom Parliament, the Committee also examined how EU business is taken on the floor of the House, and the procedures which apply to it. It set out a series of recommendations about the way debates are scheduled and conducted and put the case for a new session of ‘EU Questions’. In earlier evidence from the BBC, it was clear to the Committee that serious questions need to be answered about how EU issues in general and scrutiny in particular are covered and explained, given the fundamental importance of this scrutiny to the workings of our parliamentary and legislative systems. The Committee will take this forward over the coming months.

As important as all these recommendations are, it is now time also to take more radical steps. Throughout this Report the Committee alludes to the fundamental role of national Parliaments – which has been emphasised in speeches this year by the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary and the Minister for Europe. It is time to translate this shared view into concrete proposals, and the Committee does so in this Report. Not only does it recommend a strengthening of the scrutiny reserve, it concludes that now is the time to propose the introduction of a form of national veto over EU legislative proposals, and then to explore the mechanics of disapplication of parts of existing EU obligations, notwithstanding the European Communities Act 1972.

Full report

Further reporting © IPEX

© House of Commons

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