House of Commons

32.13The European Scrutiny Committee of the House of Commons (see also para 38.72 ) is appointed and nominated for the whole of the Parliament, and consists of 16 members (with a quorum of five). It is empowered to appoint sub-committees and to draw upon the assistance of specialist advisers. The Committee is assisted by Speaker's Counsel.1 It also has power to seek the opinion of any departmental select committee or the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee, the Committee of Public Accounts, or the Environmental Audit Committee on any EU document and to specify the time within which that opinion must be given.2 It normally meets weekly when the House is sitting.

The main elements of the Committee's work are:

  • to assess the legal and political importance of every document, and to recommend a debate (in European Committee (see also para 39.39 ff) or on the floor of the House) in appropriate cases;
  • in its weekly reports3 to assess each document found to be of legal or political importance, providing a critical analysis of the document and of the Government's policy towards it;
  • to monitor business in the Council, the negotiating position of United Kingdom Government Ministers, and the outcome;
  • to keep under review legal, procedural and institutional developments in the EU which may have implications for the United Kingdom and for the House; and
  • in co-operation with the Select Committee on the European Union in the House of Lords, to monitor the operation of the scrutiny system and the discharge of the Government's obligations to Parliament.

The majority of documents are cleared by the European Scrutiny Committee reporting to the House that it is clearing them. The Committee will often withhold clearance pending further information or assurances from the Government (usually obtained in writing but occasionally through oral evidence), or further progress in negotiations on the proposal, and may therefore report on the same document several times. It will not, however, withhold clearance because of its view of the merits of a document; clearance indicates that scrutiny is complete and a debate is not required, rather than approval of the proposal. Under Standing Order No 119, documents recommended for debate automatically stand referred to a European Committee.4 If the Government accepts the Committee's recommendation that a document should be debated on the floor of the House, this debate replaces the debate in the European Committee.5

Footnotes

  1. 1. HC Deb (1974) 872, c 524W; SO No 143(3).
  2. 2. See Thirtieth Report of the European Scrutiny Committee, HC 152-xxx (2001–02) para 82. Responses to such requests have usually been in the form of a letter, but for an example of a full report, see Committee on Culture, Media and Sport, Seventh Report, HC 347 (2007–08).
  3. 3. Available on the Internet at www.parliament.uk.
  4. 4. See para 39.39 ff.
  5. 5. SO No 119(2) provides for motions that specified EU documents should not stand referred to a European Committee, but in practice such motions are not made.