The European Scrutiny Committee is a cross-party select committee, with 16 members who are nominated by the Committee of Selection. If you’re interested in serving on the Committee, you should consult your whips. The Chair is elected by the Committee members.
The Committee’s main role is to assess all EU documents (including draft legislation and policy proposals) placed before Parliament by the Government. The Government provide an explanatory memorandum to accompany each document. The Committee can also consider the views of organisations and individuals outside Parliament.
The Committee looks at the significance of the document and decides whether it needs further scrutiny. The Committee reports on all documents that are politically or legally important.
Political importance may be about the sensitivity of the subject, the financial implications, or the likely impact on the UK. Legal importance may be about a doubtful legal basis, an unsupported assertion by the European Commission about its powers to act, difficulties of drafting, or the impact on existing law.
The European Scrutiny Committee can also refer a document for debate in a European committee or recommend that it be debated in the Chamber.
The European Scrutiny Committee meets once a week (usually on Wednesday) and publishes a report with its decisions the following week (usually on Tuesday). You can find the reports on the Committee’s website or in hard copy from the Vote Office.
The Committee monitors breaches of the principle of subsidiarity. This is the principle that decisions should be taken at the lowest appropriate level, so that the EU should act only when national, regional or local action would not be effective. If a third of national parliaments present reasoned opinions objecting to an EU legislative proposal on the grounds it breaches the principle of subsidiarity, the EU Commission has to reconsider its proposal. If the Committee considers that the House should come to a reasoned opinion, its report will include a draft reasoned opinion and the Government will arrange for the report and the draft reasoned opinion to be debated.
The Committee is also responsible for:
- monitoring Government decisions to ‘opt in’ or ‘opt out’ of EU legislation
- scrutinising ministerial actions and decisions at meetings of the Council of the European Union
- being a source of analysis and information on EU issues for MPs
- monitoring and holding inquiries into legal, procedural or institutional developments in the EU (the Committee can require individuals, including ministers, to give evidence)
- scrutinising Commission legislation (Commission legislation is largely uncontroversial and so isn’t routinely scrutinised, but the Committee can investigate if an issue of principle or political importance arises)
- working with the House of Lords European Union Select Committee, which performs similar functions in the House of Lords
The staff of the Committee have produced a booklet for MPs, “The European Scrutiny System in the House of Commons”. You can contact the Committee for a copy.