Shortly after I was elected to Parliament last year I was nominated for the European Scrutiny Committee (ESC). The Chairman is Bill Cash, a man well-known to readers of The European Journal and someone who I have greatly admired since I first met him at the time of the debates of the Maastricht Treaty. The Scrutiny Committee’s remit is to examine any decision made by a minister which may lead to pan-European action. This includes plans for legislation or establishing a common position where the European treaties give the EU competence.
The volume of paper which comes through is more than even a die-hard Eurosceptic would fear. We have already issued our thirty-third report, the thickest of which contains eighty proposals for European action with the thinnest having about a dozen. Our scrutiny is done as diligently as possible but with limited powers. We may approve documents, refer them to a House of Commons committee or send them to the floor of the House for debate. Only the last of these has a chance of gaining the attention of the British body politic.
Compared to this an Act of Parliament has four major debates in the House of Commons before or after being considered by the House of Lords. Financial matters are subject to no time limit in the Commons and the Lords can dwell for as long as it likes on any non-financial matter. The most that can be devoted to considering a further extension of Europe’s powers is an hour and a half.
This ought to be a matter of deep concern. Europe is now said to be responsible for 60% of our new laws but with less than a quarter of the scrutiny. The ESC under Bill Cash’s robust chairmanship does its best to bring the steady erosion of our nation’s powers to Parliament’s attention. However, this is insufficient democratic control and will ultimately be rejected by the British people.