On 16th of this month the European Select Committee quizzed three other Chairs of committees (Alan Beith, Keith Vaz, David Davies) on various matters EU (video here), including how to obtain advance information on European Legislation prior to it becoming law. The first question related to a statement by David Lidington that departmental select committees need to take more seriously their strategic responsibility in scrutiny of european matters.
Alan Beith was of the opinion that while the UK Representative at Brussels (UKREP) and his staff were helpful, they could do more in the area of advance notification of matters that are in the pipeline. On this point it was made known that Select Committees are deliberately excluded from advance notification on the basis that the Government and UKREP feel it would tie their hands in negotiations. Keith Vaz made the point that, When Europe Minister, he invariably only received notice of measures right at the last minute, while making the point that Select Committees had not done the amount of detailed examination within their own fields of responsibility on matters EU that was necessary.
Michael Connarty made the admission that as a Parliament, they had disengaged themselves from Europe under the last government, making the point that with enacting the Lisbon Treaty, power now lies with the Commission, the Council and the European Parliament and that the UK is “left out of it”. David Davies, in answer to the question whether there is anything better could be done to engage with “Europe”, replied that what was needed was an “Idiots Guide” explaining very simply how legislation is developed within the EU.
Chris Heaton-Harris queried whether better use of MEPs could be made, with Alan Beith responding it was farcical (my word) that MPs on committees and MEPs in Brussels were, at times, “moving in different directions”. Keith Vaz made the point that he spends more time liaising with his equivalent in France and Germany rather than his equivalent in the EU/Europe as he does not consider Europe to be a country.
On the matter of liaison between the European Scrutiny Committee (ESC) and other departmental committees, Bill Cash made it known that in the year 2011-2012 it had requested 11 “opinions” on matters affecting departmental committees and during 2012-2013 (so far) requested 2 “opinions”. Of the 11 requests, 2 were still outstanding and neither of the 2 requests for 2012-2013 had received a response. Also making the point that the ESC could hardly be accused of asking too many questions, he queried whether in fact they should be making more requests.
Michael Connarty raised the matter that all Select Committee Chairs receive a document called the “Brussels Bulletin” and that Clerks to Select Committee chairs should perhaps, as a matter of course, “scan” this bulletin and bring to the attention of their chairs matters which appear to be gaining traction within Brussels. Keith Vaz responded that his Clerk did do that but that he would in future include that document in his “required reading” each day.
Keith Vaz also pointed out that matters EU are not of interest to everyone and that they should be as, because of that disinterest, Parliament has become a kind of sideshow to what is happening elsewhere due to the fact that matters EU is not publicised sufficiently.
In a supplementary question Penny Mordaunt asked the three wise men appearing before the ESC whether they thought the new family-friendly hours of the House were one of the reasons for matters EU not being discussed, not only in the House, but also by Select Committees. Keith Vaz responded that he vote against the change as now there was little time for debate in either place and if proper debate is not possible he queried why MPs were there.
So we have now discovered that MPs admit they have not been as diligent as they should have been on matters EU; don’t really understand the legislative process of the EU and feel that an “Idiots Guide” would help; have no idea how – and/or from whom – information can be extracted from Brussels about matters EU; that Parliament has become a bit of a side-show; and that where the governance of this country is concerned, power now lies elsewhere.
Indeed, Mr. Vaz: why are MPs there?