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House of Lords: EU Scrutiny (EUC Report)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 2:13 pm on 27th October 2006.

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Photo of Lord Grenfell Lord Grenfell Other 2:13 pm, 27th October 2006

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate, without exception: a very fruitful three hours or more has been given to this topic. I very much appreciate noble Lords' welcoming, on the whole, the report. I also thank the Minister for the extremely positive and helpful replies that he has given on a number of issues that were raised when I addressed the House at the beginning of this debate. I thank him very much for that.

Perhaps I may also say how impressive, constructive and helpful was the maiden speech of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Boyd of Duncansby. He raised the matter of the Select Committee meeting in other parts of the United Kingdom—he mentioned Edinburgh specifically. We are due in the next couple of months to host the annual meeting of the chairs of the European committees of both Westminster Houses, the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly and, who knows, even possibly the Northern Ireland Assembly. That would be a good moment for us to take up the point the noble Lord has made.

I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, for the many excellent proposals she made. We shall certainly be discussing them in the future. On one point, as I think the noble Lord, Lord Bowness, mentioned, we are already ahead of her: we do indeed invite the ambassador of the incoming presidency to come before the Select Committee at the beginning of the presidency to lay before us the priorities of his government's presidency. We had the ambassador of Finland just before the summer Recess and we will be inviting the ambassador of Germany to come at the beginning of the German presidency.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, for his many excellent proposals, particularly in relation to post-publication activities, a point also taken up by the noble Lord, Lord Roper. The idea of seminars certainly appeals.

I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Howell, who asked whether copies of our reports automatically go to other parliaments. Yes, indeed they do—and they are much appreciated, too. They go to key officials in Brussels as well. As to the website, I can tell the noble Lord, Lord Howell, that we are aware of the shortcomings. But real progress is being made now and we look forward to considerable improvements in it in the months to come.

The noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, asked about the trend in scrutiny overrides. The best I can say to him at this stage is that he should look at our annual report when it comes out very shortly and I think he will be pleasantly surprised—well, I will be pleasantly surprised; it may not be quite so pleasant for him. But the figures will be in there in detail and he will be able to see them when they are published in our annual report.

The noble Lord raised the issue of what impact the Select Committee has on legislation and, if I interpret him rightly, he takes a slightly negative view of our ability to influence government. All I can say is that he should take a look at the exchanges of letters between the Select Committee and departmental Ministers. If he agrees with the noble Lord, Lord Stevens of Ludgate, that we are merely a rubber stamp, he should ask some of those departmental Ministers whether they think we are a rubber stamp—some of them might wish we were. I can assure the noble Lord, as has already been mentioned by others, that the amount of work that goes into making sure that our views are fully communicated to the Government, and that we get responses from them, is at the very core of our work.

I should also mention the fact that because we nowadays go as far upstream as possible and look at Green Papers very carefully, that has become a stage in the legislative procedure where we really can have a big impact. Let me give one good example—although it is some time ago—when I was chairing Sub-Committee A. We received the Green Paper on Mario Monte's merger regulation reforms and we were able to complete a full inquiry into that while it was at the Green Paper stage, including extensive talks with the Commission and the commissioner. We were able to get our full report on that on to the desk of the Government before they went to negotiate in the Council. The Government were kind enough to write to us and say that this had been extremely useful in helping them to make up their minds about how they were going to react in the Council. That is just one example of the way in which we can have an impact.

Finally, I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Howell, who wondered why it was that we had even mentioned the work of the Commission and Plan D. We did so, first, because it is the Commission that is doing something and it is we who are calling on it to do more because we cannot do it ourselves. Secondly, I should point out that only one of the conclusions in the report addressed what the Commission was doing—we welcomed the commitment made by President Barroso to make commissioners talk to parliaments and other fora to explain what it is that the Commission is doing. That was a good commitment on his part and we want to hold him to it. That is why we put it in the report.

I think I have covered all the points that I can but, of course, as I said in the concluding remarks of my address, we are always ready to answer questions and listen to concerns. This has been a very good debate and one that will be extraordinarily helpful to the work of the Select Committee.