Work of the EU Committee
The European Union Committee of the House of Lords scrutinises the UK Government's policies and actions in respect of the EU; considers and seek to influence the development of policies and draft laws proposed by the EU institutions; and more generally represents the House of Lords in its dealings with the EU institutions and other Member States.
The EU Committee is made up of seven committees: a 19-strong Select Committee, appointed by the House of Lords, and six sub-committees appointed by the Select Committee, each dealing with different policy areas.
The EU Select Committee oversees the work of the sub-committees, conducts cross-cutting inquiries into issues such as enlargement or the role of national parliaments in the EU. It conducts regular hearings with the Minister for Europe and one-off hearings with other key individuals, including Commissioners and representatives of the rotating Presidency of the European Council.
The sub-committees conduct inquiries looking at major issues of the day and scrutinise EU proposals in detail, asking questions and raising concerns in correspondence with UK Ministers. The six sub-committees are:
- EU Energy and Environment Sub-Committee
- EU External Affairs Sub-Committee
- EU Financial Affairs Sub-Committee
- EU Home Affairs Sub-Committee
- EU Internal Market Sub-Committee
- EU Justice Sub-Committee
EU Energy and Environment Sub-Committee
The Sub-Committee focuses on a range of policy areas related to agriculture, fisheries, environment and energy. Attention is given to agricultural issues, particularly legislation relating to the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and animal health and welfare issues. The Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) and wider environmental issues are also examined, as are policies relating to energy and climate change.
The committees' scrutiny work is underpinned by a "Scrutiny Reserve Resolution", which has been agreed by the House of Lords. According to this, the Government has undertaken not to agree to any EU proposal until the Committee has completed its consideration, or "cleared it from scrutiny".
In the course of scrutinising EU proposals, the committees engage in detailed correspondence with Ministers. The main objectives are to identify issues of legal or political significance, and to ensure that the Government's position is clearly and transparently put on the record. All correspondence is published on the committees' web-pages.
The committees also undertake inquiries into particularly important issues. These vary in length, but all rely on evidence presented by witnesses. Short inquiries may focus on a specific proposal, involving one or two public meetings at which invited witnesses appear in person. Longer inquiries involve the preparation of a public "call for evidence", setting out a list of questions to which the committee seeks responses. In such cases committees are likely to receive a large amount of written evidence, and hold public meetings with witnesses, over a period of months, before preparing a report.
Evidence is almost always published in full, and public meetings are webcast live on www.parliamentlive.tv.
At the end of an inquiry the Committee normally publishes a report, containing wide-ranging conclusions and recommendations for action. Recommendations may be directed either to the Government or to other bodies, including the EU institutions.
The Government has undertaken to respond to recommendations within two months of any report being published; all responses are published online.
The European Commission in 2006 launched an informal political dialogue with parliaments of the EU, under which the Commission has also undertaken to respond to reports. Such responses are also published.
Under the Treaty on European Union national parliaments have a specific role in monitoring proposed EU laws for compliance with the principle of "subsidiarity". This is the principle that action should only be taken at EU level if effective action cannot be taken at national, regional or local level. In other words, it is intended to ensure that decisions are taken as close to the citizen as possible.
Where the committee considers that a particular proposal breaches this principle, it invites the House of Lords to agree a “reasoned opinion”; if sufficient reasoned opinions are agreed by national parliaments the European Commission is required, under the terms of the Treaty, to review the proposal.
The work of the seven EU Committees combined involves a total of around 74 members of the House of Lords. These include former MPs and Members of the European Parliament, retired European Commissioners or other senior officials with European experience, and many others with wide-ranging experience of private sector, public sector and voluntary work. The Chairman of the EU Select Committee, currently Lord Boswell of Aynho, is a full-time salaried officer of the House of Lords.
The committees are supported by a total staff complement of 24, including specialist policy analysts and legal advisers, as well as clerks and administrators.