European scrutiny committees

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EU Institutions Learning Outcome 3

European scrutiny committees were set up in order to look at European legislation being put forward and analyse it to see what implications (if any) it had for Britain.

The committees have the power to

  • Send for persons, papers or records
  • Meet away from Westminster
  • Appoint specialist advisors - either to supply information which is not readily available or to explain matters of complexity to the committee
  • Meet on days when Parliament is adjourned
  • Appoint sub-committees
  • Exchange papers and/or meet concurrently to take evidence, deliberate and consider draft reports. They and their sub-committees may exchange papers or meet concurrently with relevant committees of the Lords

The European Scrutiny Committee in the House of Commons consists of sixteen Members, nominated for the duration of a Parliament, with a quorum of five, and is able to appoint specialist advisers. It receives copies of Commission proposals, together with a memo explaining matters prepared by the relevant Government Department, which provides information about the general effect of the document, its financial, legal and policy implications, and any other relevant information, such as

whether the document is awaiting further consideration by other European Community bodies. In the case of fast moving proposals for which a formal Commission proposal to the Council is not available yet, departments often produce an unnumbered memo predicting the likely contents, in order to keep Parliament informed. These documents provide the backbone of the arrangements for influencing forthcoming developments. These are considered by the Select Committee which generally meets once a week whilst the House is sitting.  Following such meetings the Committee publishes a report on the documents considered, highlighting any which it considers raise questions of legal and/or political importance, with any recommendations for further consideration by the House. It may also call witnesses to give oral or written evidence as necessary.

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Working in this manner, MPs have the opportunity to debate the issues and to question government ministers before they take decisions in the meetings of the Council of the European Union.  Until the debate on the issues raised has taken place, scrutiny procedures are not considered to be complete.  However by the time the debate has taken place, the vote (at the Council) may well have already taken place.  To allow Britain to still have a say in the proposals even though parliament has not yet decided on their stance, there is a method known as ‘scrutiny reserve’ where ...

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