Tag Archive: European Scrutiny Committee

EU ‘Mission Creep’ & talking of ‘creep’: Tony Blair

Chris Grayling, Secretary of State for Justice, (why do we have a Secretary of State for Justice who has no legal background? – but I digress) has been giving ‘evidence’ today to the European Scrutiny Committee on the impact of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights (video here).

The hearing was of a technical nature (although still worth watching) and it is interesting that Grayling made the point that while social security was a national competence it is becoming obvious that the EU is increasingly playing a greater part in social security matters, the means of so doing being based on the Free Movement of People and he cites this as an example of EU mission creep. Another example of mission creep to which Grayling refers is that of a speech today by Viviane Reding on the subject of the rights of people to vote in national elections. Reding is seeking to have the UK amend its law whereby those who have lived abroad for 15 years or more are removed from the electoral role – but as Grayling asserts national elections are a competence of the member states. Coincidentally, the EU Commission also issued a press statement about the right of EU citizens to stand for election in European elections within the state they live, a requirement of which the UK was praised for having amended national law to comply.

On another matter much of which much was made about whether or not Protocol 30 to the TEU was an opt-out, though as Grayling said; having been sold to us as such, it most definitely was not. At this point (14:59) in the link above William Cash interjected that at Tony Blair’s last PMQs on 25th June 2007 he had stated, in answer to a question, that Britain had an opt out from the Charter.

Now far be it for me to correct such an august, all knowing, person as William Cash but he is not quite correct in that statement. Witness a transcript of that last PMQs which took place on 27th June 2007 and can be read here. Cash is correct on the date, but the statement of Blair’s to which he erroneously referred actually occurred during the report of the European Council meeting held on 21st/22nd June 2007; the Hansard version of which is here, with the statement in question being recorded at the foot of Column 37 in answer to a question from Peter Lilley:

The Prime Minister [Blair] ……..It is absolutely clear that we have an opt-out from both the charter and judicial and home affairs………..

It was then in the hearing that Grayling, in response to Cash, said: The legal advice I have, Mr. Cash, is that anybody who stood up in the House of Commons and said that the Protocol was an opt-out would be giving inaccurate and false evidence to the House.

It is a lovely feeling when the opportunity is given whereby one can ‘cash’ in, pointing out an error by one of the great and good – and in the process nail them ‘stone’ dead.

Afterthought: Not seen much about this snippet of ‘news’ in the MSM yet, or on twitter………..

 

 


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European Scrutiny Committee vs David Lidington & Gisela Stuart vs Lidington

Yesterday David Lidington, Minister for Europe, appeared before the European Scrutiny Committee; and for those interested it is well worth watching those proceedings, which while lasting just over an hour are a prime example of the deficiencies within the system of representative democracy and the practice of politics.

The session began with Bill Cash making the point that while a written statement had been produced, it was lamentable that an oral statement had not been made by David Cameron which would have allowed him to be questioned on the floor of the House – this point being later rejected by David Lidington.

Questioning began with James Clappison querying the apparent wish of the Government to prevent debate on Syria and the country’s relationship with the European Union. This was, in effect swatted aside by Lidington who pleaded that there were time constraints, bearing in mind other business and that in any event it was the responsibility of party business managers to allocate time for debate. In regard to the first point made by Lidington, perhaps if Parliament sat for longer than it does, time constraints would not be such an issue. On the second point, it is obvious that none of the three main parties in Parliament wish to discuss matters EU, consequently it is hardly surprising that left to party business managers – who after all only do their master’s bidding – matters EU do not feature as regularly as they undoubtedly should.

The first half-hour was taken up very much on the question of who did what when, viz-a-viz requests from the ESC to the Government and the response by the latter. Lidington countered by stating that responses and papers were provided as and when possible, but cited the fact that some information and documents were subject to classification of confidentiality by the EU which caused delay in the release of said information. Clappison raised the point that surely the HoC should be involved prior to any meeting of Heads of State and Ministers, rather than what happens whereby by the time the HoC and the ESC are involved it is very much a ‘done-deal’.

Towards the end of the session Jacob Rees-Mogg returned to the question of the Government and the delay in their response, pointing out that in the 13th ESC report specific questions were raised in respect of Syria and which went unanswered, accusing Ministers of therefore not having read the report. At this Andrew Morrison from the MoD was most indignant complaining that if the ESC wished for a response on any matter then it would be courteous at the very least for such responses to be called for by means of a letter.

Reference was made by Bill Cash to an urgent question on the December Heads of State Council meeting which had been granted. This was one raised by Gisela Stuart and which can be viewed here - starts at 12:35:43; and containing extremely pertinent questions in response to Cameron’s written statement which she considered ‘tawdry’. In his opening statement Lidington was a tad disingenuous – as was Clappison during the ESC session when he mentioned that Cameron had negated any increased contributions to the EU (something in fact he did not) – by stating that Cameron had ensured the UK would not be liable for any further underwriting of eurozone debt when in fact I believe it correct that this country is still liable under IMF obligations.

Lidington’s response to Stuart was, I feel, patronising in the extreme. I fail to see the difference between the EU assuming competence in an area and the EU requiring Member States to ‘voluntarily’ co-operate in order to achieve that which the EU wants and is determined to have. Bill Cash then highlighted the two conflicting statements of Cameron and Van Rompuy, following the December Council meeting which only served to underline the content of the preceding sentence.

When considering democracy per se and the fact that the HoC’s role is so obviously diminished by our membership of the EU, it cannot have escaped the notice of readers that such statements, whether written or oral, coupled with the work of the European Scrutiny Committee are but another charade, one of many that we have to endure.

Setting to one side the ‘handbags at dawn’ adversarial content of the aforesaid ESC session, it is worth noting that when the ESC produced its 24th report calling for reform of the European Scrutiny System within the HoC, it ran to 3 volumes – the fact that it was necessary for this report to run to 3 volumes can but demonstrate that there is much wrong with our present system of democracy and the mechanisms involved in our membership of the European Union.

If Parliament is sovereign – which we are repeatedly informed it is – then surely there should be pre-EU Council meetings debate and any minister attending such would be constrained as to that which he can agree by the will of Parliament. That such debates now no longer take place only serves to demonstrate that we do indeed live under a democratised dictatorship whereby Ministers can take decisions and ‘come to agreements’ with no oversight whatsoever. While it is admirable of Stuart to attempt to hold the Government to account it is but a forlorn effort due to (a) the lack of separation of power that currently exists twixt the Executive and the Legislature; coupled with (b) the stranglehold party leaders have on their MPs through the whipping system; and (c) as stated earlier, Parliament does not sit long enough for any ‘holding to account’ to occur on any matter, particularly matters EU.

It is becoming increasingly obvious that where our politicians are concerned, in virtually everything they say, it is possible to levy a charge of misrepresentation or being economical with the actualité – apply whatever term you like; personally I prefer to rely on basic Anglo-Saxon and use the word ‘lying’.

Much has been written of late about our loss of ‘Englishness’ – it is becoming apparent that those in power have lost their Englishness due to the fact they have cast aside two important characteristics – namely that of principle and honour.

But we should worry not as do we not live in a democracy and are thus able to hold our elected representatives to account? 

 


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Political Shenanigans

According to this report in the Mail there is more to the Queen’s Speech than meets the eye and one could say that once again we have an example of our political elite not being totally honest with us. Apparently there is “buried in the detail” of the Queen”s Speech, although not mentioned, the small matter of the European Union Approvals Bill which allows for authorisation for the UK ‘to support measures and programmes in the European Union’. Among three programmes listed, it includes Europe for Citizens which according to government briefing notes ‘aims to develop understanding of the EU, its history and policy-making processes and encourage civic participation in the EU’. It also aims to ‘promote remembrance of Europe’s history, particularly the wars and totalitarian regimes of the 20th century’.

Invariably, if one wishes to know what is about to happen with matters EU in this country, one of the good places to start is at the European Scrutiny Committee website (ESC) – and bingo, what do we find?  A ”Europe for Citizens” Programme with a budget of €229 million for the period 2014-20. It would ensure continuity of funding for a range of activities already supported by the EU under the current Europe for Citizens Programme (2007-13). And when were we told about the current programme? When did our informative press tell us about this?

So as we all wonder why David Cameron blows hot and cold over a referendum – intimating he may “propose” a bill and then backtracking – we find that our government actually supports the objectives of the Europe for Citizens Programme, citing the fact that it has “synergies with the Government’s “Big Society” agenda and youth policies, as well as the focus on “localising action at the lowest possible level” and empowering individuals.”

And to cap it all, we have a Scrutiny Committee prepared to issue a conditional “scrutiny waiver”? And we have a parliamentary system that is supposed to govern our country?

Does the size of the budget matter (its only small so the ESC say) when this is no more than brainwashing – and not very subtle at that.

Afterthought: Why have Ukip not picked up on this and made a fuss – I’ve seen nowt – has anyone else? Do they even know about it? Just asking my Ukip followers, you understand…..

 

 


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The ESC “ignored” by the BBC?

An article by Christopher Hope, writing in the Telegraph, points out that a BBC Controller stated that so much of the political “outpourings” are incomprehensible to the “man in the street”. This occurred during a hearing by the European Scrutiny Committee (ESC) who were querying what they perceived as a lack of coverage by the BBC of their work as an important select committee.

The proceedings of this hearing can be viewed here, those from the BBC being Ric Bailey, Chief Adviser, Politics, Mary Hockaday, Head of Newsroom, and Peter Knowles, Controller, BBC Parliament. Attempts were made by the ESC to pin the BBC down on the matter of bias and what the ESC viewed as poor editorial judgement – all to no avail. This was not surprising when one bears in mind the convoluted and almost impenetrable questions that were asked – something about which Peter Knowles from the BBC had a point when he said parliamentarians language was nothing but acronyms and “legal speak”.

William Cash questioned whether BBC interviewers were fed “the line to take” and if so who by – a suggestion that was hotly denied, with the added information that all BBC journalists were provided with a “European Course” in order that they were able to deal with matters EU. What was not picked up by the ESC was the question of why, if BBC journalists were so well briefed it never seemed to be mentioned in their reports or questioning instances where politicians had obviously been economical with the actualité. In this regard one thinks back to Cameron’s assertion about Norway being liable to “fax government”. The fact BBC journalists don’t can but lead one back to Cash’s question because the omission can only mean that either the journalists concerned know not the subject with which they are dealing or they do, in fact, report under what may be termed “guidelines” – and if so, in respect of the latter, on what “guidance” and who issued it.

Digressing slightly, on the subject of demonstrating that being economical with the actualité one has to ask why it appears it is bloggers that do all this work, work involving basic research that could easily be done by journalists, yet the work by bloggers is never reported – yet we all know that journalists do read blogs, which begs the question why the truth never surfaces.

It is all very well for Peter Knowles to state that a perceived lack of programmes dealing with the EU is due to the complexity of the subject matter – which begs another question namely, might not the BBC be providing a public service were it to instigate a series of simple – and I hasten to add, unbiased – guides to the European Union, its construct, its effect on sovereignty and democracy and listing the areas in which it does have an effect on the lives of people. What had appeared to escape Knowles’ attention is that he is faced with a “chicken and egg” situation where his dilemma is concerned.

Mary Hockaday may well maintain that as Head of News her editorial focus is on matters of importance, in which case I am surprised the ESC did not pick up on the point that John Stanley had William Hague “on the mat” yesterday during a hearing by the Foreign Affairs Committee over the use of Article 50 where any renegotiation of powers was concerned. I have yet to see any reference or article on the BBC about what is an extremely important point – perhaps Mary Hockaday was only Mary Hock yesterday – ie, she’d had aday off?

 


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We might as well not be here

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?

H/T: Fausty


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Cell justice

According to the Parliament website Parliament is responsible for approving new laws (legislation). The government introduces most plans for new laws, or changes to existing laws – but they can originate from an MP, Lord or even a member of the public or private group. That statement implies that other than laws that originate from an MP, Lord, member of the public or a private group, the government is responsible for the remainder. It is not until clicking “Europe” in the sidebar that we learn the European Union is able to apply legislation affecting the United Kingdom – although no mention is made of how much legislation. From “Parliament and Government” we learn that both play a part in forming the laws of the United Kingdom and that the Government runs the country and that Parliament is the highest legislative authority in the UK. If only that were true – for sure the government may ‘run’ the country but it is purely at the behest of Brussels and while Parliament may be the highest legislative authority in the UK it does not have the authority to refuse to implement any law that emanates from Brussels.

An example of that last statement comes from an ongoing issue, namely the right of prisoners to vote which currently is denied them. This first reared its head in 2004, reported in the Mail. Since then governments have been fighting the European Court of Human Rights although they have known since November 2010 that a change in the law would be required. Even in 2010, as can be seen from the preceding link, the original ECHR ruling stated that each country can decide which offences should carry restrictions to voting rights, so the ruling today is hardly ‘news’. For those readers who are interested, today’s ruling can be accessed here, clicking on the entry “4. Grand Chamber Judgement Scoppola vs Italy which will open a pdf document. Today’s ‘news’ is reported by the BBC, among others, here and here, with one of the ‘sirens of the left‘ welcoming the news, obviously with open arms. Intriguingly, after an exhaustive search, I am unable to find any instance of the European Scrutiny Committee having held a hearing on the subject of voter’s rights although the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee did so do on 8th February 2011.

There no doubt will be readers who, like me, believe that if someone elects to ignore the requirements of society then they should no longer have a voice in what society requires – on the other hand there will obviously be those of the alternative view like Mary Riddell, one of those ‘sirens of the left’. Either way, if Government and Parliament are charged with forming the laws of this country; if the Government ‘runs’ the country (‘runs’ as in ‘rules’); and if Parliament is the highest legislative authority in the UK and should logically be the body that makes the rules by which society has to abide, it rather begs the question what the hell are they doing there and why are we paying them for being there.

Just asking……….

 

 


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