Wednesday 18 August 1999
[THE CONVENER opened the meeting at
||The Convener (Hugh Henry):
Good morning. I welcome you to this meeting of the European Committee of the Scottish
Parliament. I hope that everyone has had an enjoyable and restful break, as the coming
months are going to be busy and potentially exciting.
Before I start the meeting proper, I need to make a couple of
points, the first of which regards fire regulations. The clerks to the committee will
support and advise anyone in the event of a fire. There are uniformed attendants in the
room who will help in the event of an emergency. We are advised not to stop to collect
personal belongings and not to use the lifts.
Secondly, this is the first meeting for Dennis Canavan and
Winnie Ewing. I welcome them to the committee and ask them whether they have any
declarations of interest to make before we start.
Dennis Canavan (Falkirk
West): I recently agreed to write a regular column for a newspaper; in my writing, I
may touch on matters that are relevant to the European Union and the work of the
committee. Other than that, I do not think that I have anything to declare.
Dr Winnie Ewing (Highlands
and Islands) (SNP): I am no longer a member of the European
Parliament, but I receive a pension and will receive some kind
of severance, which has not yet been disclosed to me. I hope
that it is good newsafter 23 years, it ought to be.
The Convener: We move on to item 1 on the agenda. A
paper on the scrutiny and sift process for European documentation has been circulated. As
we discussed at the first meeting, a plethora of documentation and regulations comes from
Europe. If we were to try to deal with everything, we would be unable to progress any
business. We wish to identify the key areas that need to be attended to. There will be
matters to which we need to pay attention and matters that Parliament and other committees
need to attend to, but there will probably be much more that needs no comment. The paper
that Stephen Imrie will speak to suggests how we might deal with that bulk of
Stephen Imrie (The Committee Clerk): Thank you. As the
convener suggested, under standing orders rule 6.8.1 it is within the remit of the
European Committee to consider and report on proposals for European Community legislation
and its implementation. That is what we are calling our scrutiny function. A paper, which
was circulated to members before this meeting, was drawn up by the clerks in response to a
request at the first meeting that we look at how the scrutiny function might take place. I
stress that it is a draft paper on working arrangements. It includes some suggestions from
the clerks, but it is down to the committee formally to decide on the procedure.
The suggested options have been developed over the past
few months by the clerks, working in conjunction with officials from the Scottish
Executive and clerks from the European Scrutiny Committee at Westminster. Our links to the
Scottish Executive and to Westminster provide an important forum for your views in your
consideration of European legislation.
The key issue that we identified is selectivity, within
which there are questions of timing and of depth. Timing relates to the period in which
committee members will be able to deliberate on any item of European business so that
their views feed into the decision-making processes at Westminster and in Brussels. The
clerks will advise members on the time frame for any item of business. On depth, members
will be able to consider items of documentation at different levels. The options available
to members range from a cursory glance, through holding an inquiry and inviting a minister
to answer questions on it, to taking evidence from external bodies.
I remind members that we expect to receive approximately
1,200 documents every year. In paper EU 99/2/1 we have devised a twin-track approach to
help members sift and prioritise a selection of those documents. Members have one
fundamental choice for each documentto do something with it or to take no further
action. It is at members' discretion whether a document is suitable for either category.
If members decide to do something with a document, the question is how deeply they wish to
scrutinise it and for how long. That is why we suggest a priority approach and a regular
approach. If the priority approach is used, that does not mean that an item of business is
more significant than one that is scrutinised using a more regular approach; it is just
that we have less time in which to try to ensure that the committee's views are heard by
the Executive and at Westminster and Brussels. Priority is a question of timetabling.
Whether the committee decides to look at a document on a
priority or a regular basis, it has to
||choose whether to examine the
document itself or, if the document is considered to be detailed on fisheries policy or
agriculture policy, for example, whether it refers the document to a subject committee for
its considered opinion. The subject committee would then report back to this committee. If
the document relates to an item that is significant to Scotland, it can also be referred
to the whole Parliament for consideration.
those decisions have been taken, the clerks will ask the Executive to provide the
committee with additional information that relates to policy and legal issues and that
looks at the item of business from a Scottish perspective. As described in the annexe of
paper EU/99/2/1, the Executive will supply the committee with additional information in
the form of an explanatory memorandum. We will also inform the European Scrutiny Committee
at Westminster about documents that this committee wishes to look at further.
We have a working arrangement with the Westminster
committee regarding items that we select for priority because they are of great
significance to us or because the timetable is tight. As soon as we inform the Westminster
committee, it will hold back on making its considered opinion until we have been able to
deliver ours. That is an important point. I stress that that is a working arrangement
rather than a formal oneit has resulted from some good discussions with officials at
Westminster. It is entirely up to this committee whether it wishes to scrutinise documents
itself, to have an inquiry or to request a ministerial briefing.
To help with the process of scrutinising documents, the
proposal is to have an initial sift before a committee meeting. In that sift, the convener
and deputy convenerwhen one has been selectedwill look through the documents
on behalf of the committee and form a recommendation. A list of those recommendations and
all the documents that we have received will be given to members well in advance of the
committee meeting to provide committee members with some guidance on the initial thoughts
on the document.
In advance of the committee meeting, members will receive
a list of every document that we have received, a list detailing the recommendations of
the convener and deputy convener and copies of the documents that have been selected for
further scrutiny. It is for the committee to decide what to do with each document at the
meeting; there may be occasions on which the process is altered. There is a further
safeguarda set of all documents will be received by the Parliament's information
centre and a list of all documents received will be published in the business bulletin.
Any member of the Parliament can address this
||committee and ask for an item to
be looked at further, regardless of the recommendation of the initial sift.
The sift is a guideline process. It is for members to decide what
to do with the priority document, the regular document or one on which no further action
is required. If scrutiny is required, the committee will decide whether to carry it out
itself or to refer the document to a subject committee or to the whole Parliament.
Finally, there are a number of administrative matters to allow the clerks to deal with the
That is all I want to say on the paper, but I am happy to
take questions of a factual basis. As the committee clerk, it is not for me to decide the
detail; I merely give the committee some suggestions about proceeding with scrutiny.
The Convener: Thank you, Stephen. Before I throw
the discussion open, I should clarify that what Stephen is suggesting is slightly
different from what the flow chart in the briefing paper implies. The flow chart says that
copies of every document will be sent to committee members, whereas Stephen is suggesting
that members receive a list of all the documents with a recommendation as to whether we
discuss them. If members wish to discuss a document and there is no recommendation, that
document can be brought to the committee. The committee has to decide whether it wants a
copy of every document that comes in or whether it is happy to receive a list.
Dennis Canavan: The briefing paper states that the
Scottish Parliament will receive a copy of all the documents that are received by
Westminster. For clarification, do we get the documentsor does the secretariat get
the documentsdirectly from Brussels or are we dependent on Westminster to forward
them to us? As the clerk said, time is of the essence. If documents are to go through
Westminster before they are forwarded here, I wonder whether that might interfere with our
About 1,200 documents may be forwarded to us for possible
scrutiny; it will be virtually impossible for members of the committee to look through the
detail of every one of them. At what stage will members of our staff have access to those
documents so that, on our behalf, they can scrutinise them and report back to us?
The Convener: I will answer your second question,
Dennis, and leave Stephen to answer the first one. It is suggested that members will get a
list giving details of every document that comes in. On that list will be a recommendation
indicating which documents we think should be considered.
||If we recommend that a document
should be considered, members will receive a copy of it. If we recommend that a document
should not be considered, but a member believes that it should be, the member and his or
her staff will have access to it immediately, as Stephen suggested.
We are trying to help members in the process of sifting out the
most important matters. We are also saying that members and the committee have the right
to determine whether things that have been missed or ignored should be brought back for
consideration. As soon as information comes out, members will have access to it.
Stephen Imrie: Documents that we receive from
Westminster are sent to us at the same time as they are laid before the Westminster
Parliament. We receive them directly from the Cabinet Office. That is the official route
and it is the fastest route. We do not receive documents directly from Brussels, although
we may receive working documents directly. We will be able to establish links into
networks to get documentssuch as reports of meetings, white papers, green papers and
draft papersdirectly to members. A complete set of the documents that we must
officially consider is sent to us as soon as it is received in the Cabinet Office. The
Parliament also receives a complete set to store in the document centre. We are not
reliant on Westminster clerks to add us to the circulation listwe are already
officially on it. As I said, that is the fastest way in which we can get the documents to
Ms Irene Oldfather (Cunninghame South) (Lab): I
think that the list idea is sensible: if we were all to be sent 1,200 or 2,000 documents a
year, the system would grind to a halt. I wonder whether, in this age of information
technology, those documents could be put on to the internet or on to the Scottish
Parliament's intranet. That would allow us and our staff to access a particular document
from the list. For those of us who are a little bit away from Edinburgh, that might be
The guidelines and the criteria laid down in the briefing
paper are sensible and suggest a useful way in which to proceed. I can see that
timetabling is going to be of the essence. As we work together and gain experience as a
committee, we will know what needs to be changed and what does not. Co-operation with
Westminster is going to be crucial and I am pleased that proposals for that are in place.
It will be important for us to monitor that co-operation; as we gain experience, I hope
that we will develop and amend it as necessary. New technology might be helpful in that as
Stephen Imrie: At the moment, we receive all papers
as hard copies rather than electronically. However, I understand that a database is to be
||up in Whitehall that will allow
us to receive electronic copies. I am not sure when that will happen but, as soon as it
does, we will try to tap into the database so that papers will be available to members in
the electronic medium.
Crawford (Mid Scotland and Fife) (SNP): I agree that using the electronic medium is a
I thank Stephen for his opening remarks, which helped to
clarify some of the issues that I was going to raise. In a list of the various pieces of
legislation or documents for consultation flowing from Europe, it would be very easy for
us just to be given a headline. However, that would not tell us much. Some of the stuff
can be obscure, so it would be useful for the list also to include a couple of sentences
outlining the thrust of the paper. That would help us to understand things a bit better.
The relationship between us and Westminster is obviously
an issue of keen interest. I am glad to see on page 4 of the briefing paper on the
scrutiny and sifting of European documentation that an informal relationship has already
been established and that Westminster is treating us, at this stage, as a parallel body on
areas of particular Scottish interestalthough I am not sure exactly what the hell
that phrase in the paper means, because if stuff coming out of Europe is going to affect
the United Kingdom, it is going to affect Scotland as well. I need a better definition of
what is of particular Scottish interest.
The same paragraph in the briefing paper talks about the
requirement for an agreement between the two Parliaments or between committees of the
Parliaments. Westminster committees have an opportunity to put their views on matters
before they are discussed by the Government. I hope that we will manage to get ourselves
into that position, because that will be important to the standing of this committee and
of the Parliament. I would like to hear some views on that from my friends and colleagues
around the table.
A couple of smaller issues need to be teased out. There is
a reference on page 3 to the way in which Scottish explanatory memorandums will be
structured. There is also a pro-forma for SEMs and I am grateful to Stephen for that.
However, having looked at the Treaty of Amsterdam, at some of the issues that will be
raised because of that and at some of the main thrusts of the European Community over the
next few years, I think that it might have been useful to committee members if the
memorandums contained mandatory information both on the environmental impact of
consultation, directives or regulations coming out of Europe and on the issues of equality
that they raise.
Finallythis is a very small pointthe
||bulletin seems to grow and grow.
It is an important document for us as MSPs and I need to get to the nitty-gritty of what
business is going on. I see that it has been suggested that the list of European
documentation held in the Parliament's document centre be published in the business
bulletin. The Parliament should find a different way of notifying us of that; if it does
not, the business bulletin will lose what it is really about. I realise that that is more
of a housekeeping issue, but I thought I should raise it here.
The Convener: I will ask Stephen to comment on that last
point. The point about our having a view before decisions are made and legislation is
passed is absolutely right. It relates to some of Irene's comments about timingwe
cannot afford to consider things after the event. We need to ensure that our procedures
are properly sorted out so that we can get in with our views as early as possible.
I think that a descriptor, to go with the title on the
list, is included in the template, but Bruce makes a useful comment, which will be
David Mundell (South of Scotland) (Con): I
certainly agree that it is vital to have a description of the documentation in the list. I
also agree with what Irene was saying. I am happy to sign up to what is being recommended,
but only on the basis that we are flexible and accept thatas we move forward and
gain experiencewe must be willing to adapt. I especially do not want to get into the
Westminster scenario where something agreed today becomes the Erskine May for all time for
Perhaps Stephen can clarify the relationships we will have
with other committees. The Rural Affairs Committee in particular has a heavy agenda, and
we cannot simply punt things on to other people and tell them to come back to us within
six weeks. How will the relationship work, in terms of the turnaround and quality of
input, especially as we could find that there is so much volume that people do not have an
input at all?
The Convener: Before I ask Stephen to comment, I
will say that, because the timetable is determined elsewhere, we will occasionally have to
ask committees to respond within a very short period. That is unfortunate but, rather than
lose the opportunity, we need to filter things out and tell people that they need to look
at matters in a hurry. Generally, however, David's point is well made: people need time to
give adequate scrutiny to business.
Stephen Imrie: We have thought about how the
committees will interact. I will explain a couple of ways in which we hope we can smooth
the process. When I, as the clerk, initially receive documents, I can at
leastwithout prejudicing any
||decision that this committee may
makesay to my fellow clerks that the document has been received, that it is a
detailed subject and that it is likely that this committee will treat it as a matter
requiring scrutiny by other committees. The clerking staff therefore have some early
warning that an item has been received and mayI stress mayfollow that path;
the clerks can look at timetabling issues as early as possible and alert other committees.
I perhaps did not stress sufficiently that, if an item has
an extraordinarily tight timetable, this committee can deal with it even if might normally
have been a matter for a subject committee. A matter does not have to be referred to a
subject committee, even if it is detailed. I have been advised by clerks at Westminster,
who are more experienced in such a role, that it is not often the case that they have only
a few weeks in which to deal with business.
Members of this committee are also members of other
committees, although not, interestingly enough, the Rural Affairs Committee. However,
members can of course use their experience from other committees and any member of the
Parliament, including members from one of the other subject committees, can come along to
this committee to give their considered opinion on a particular document. We are trying to
facilitate the interaction between committees in a number of ways. The process may not be
easy and we will have to be careful about timetabling.
Mundell: The Parliament has a tight timetable so, if we decide to refer something to
it, what will happen?
Stephen Imrie: If a matter is referred to another
committee or more rarelyI hesitate to say thatto the Parliament, we have to
advise the other convener, the other clerks or the whole Parliament of the timetable
within which we would request them to report back to this committee to allow us finally to
take a view. If a matter is to be referred to the Parliament, we would have to work
closely with the Parliamentary Bureau to enable it to be fitted in. If the matter is of
extraordinary importance and relates to a very short time scale, we would have to liaise
with the clerks and the business managers so that it could be taken as business for the
We will have to advise the subject committees of
timetables and dates and when they need to reply to us, in time for us to consider their
views and get back to the Executive and to Westminster. There are systems in place, but we
will have to monitor them when things have started to run; we will have to be flexible.
The Convener: Will you comment on Bruce's question about the
Stephen Imrie: In the pro-forma, which is shown in
annexe 1, as well as listing all the documents that we receive and the recommendation from
the convener, we will try to insert a short explanation of what the document is and some
of the issues around it, the timetable according to which we will have to take decisions,
and any other notes.
The Convener: There is also the issue of whether we
should be commenting in the Scottish explanatory memorandum on environmental impact.
Stephen Imrie: That is not within the explanatory
memorandum, but if the committee wishes that, I am happy to suggest it to the Executive.
The Convener: How has the pro-forma been developed?
Where did it come from?
Stephen Imrie: The pro-forma contained in annexe 2
is a suggestion by the Executive on how the Scottish explanatory memorandum would look.
The Convener: Would that be a standard document for
Stephen Imrie: The explanatory memorandum
will be received by our committee; that will be the standard.
The Convener: I wonder, given that every committee
might concentrate on different issues, such as equal opportunities or a whole range of
things, whether there is another route by which we could have that document looked at, so
that it is not the Executive that determines how it should come before the committees.
Ms Margo MacDonald (Lothians) (SNP): With respect,
I was signalling that I wanted to introduce that point. We are trying to work out how to
manage an impossible amount of paper, never mind electronic mail and so on. All the
committees of the Parliament link to this committee, and the Parliament is the managing
agent for the structural funds that feed into the affairs of all the committees.
This committee should say to the other committees that it
is in their interest to do as Irene suggested and keep their eye on what is coming up. I
think that Winnie could help us with guidance on how we could have a direct route to the
initial consideration of what is about to come up in Europe, so that we can link into
that. But it is up to the other committees to decide which of their members will keep an
eye on the European dimension.
||The Convener: That is a
slightly separate issue and we have covered it to some extent. You are right that there
must be an early warning system; it is not enough just to wait until things come out.
Certainly other committees will have to look at who will take the lead and how they pay
attention to European issues.
Bruce raised a
specific point about whether the pro-forma should state whether environmental issues had
been considered. There might also be other matters that are relevant to every committee.
Given that it will be a standard document and every committee will have a similar page,
rather than every committee having a debate about designing a form, is there a more
Ms Oldfather: It is important that we take into
consideration equal opportunities because, as committee members know, in Europe the two
key factors for reports are attention to the environment and equal opportunities. If we
included the environment, I would want to ensure that attention was given to equal
The Convener: I do not want to waste time today
trying to design a form, because we will never get agreement. Is there somewhere we can
send it to say that some things have been missed out and it should be looked at again?
Allan Wilson (Cunninghame North) (Lab): Might the
Procedures Committee wish to look at the matter?
Ms MacDonald: It might not wish to.
Allan Wilson: We could ask it to look at the
Bruce Crawford: I am not sure that similar
committees will have this type of paper, which relates to the Scottish dimension and
Europe. This is about our needs as a committee. Other committees might have a particular
interest in other issues, but Irene is right that the two main platforms of the Treaty of
Amsterdam are the environment and equality and they must be considered. It is not just
about us but about influencing the way in which the Executive, including the officials,
works and thinks.
Dennis Canavan: Perhaps the clerk will advise us,
because my understanding is that our committee is unique in the Scottish Parliament, in
our role of scrutinising European legislation and documentation. Therefore, the pro-forma
is unique to our committee. Surely it has not gone out, even in a similar form, to any
other committee. It is up to us as a committee to decide whether to refer documentation to
any of the other committees of the Parliament, whether on the environment, equal
opportunities or whatever.
The Convener: I suggest that we send the
||documentation back to the
Executive and ask it to consider some of the broader points that have been made and to
come up with another template for our consideration.
Dr Winnie Ewing: If we want to influence the decision-making
process, as mentioned on page 4 of the briefing paper, we must get into it as early as
possible. The documents that we shall get will not necessarily achieve that. What would
achieve it is the agendas of the meetings of the European Parliament's committees.
An example is the document that gives the dates for
various councils in which relevant matters will be decided, such as the Fisheries Council.
Already we have lost the opportunity to influence it. Once the European committees start
again at the end of the month, they will have an agenda of topics for which rapporteurs
will be appointed, and that is where the early discussions will take place in which we
want to be involvedbefore they harden into a report, when it is difficult to make
Flexibility arises when a committee is still discussing a
subject. The committees are non-political in the sense that there is rarely a left-right
confrontationexcept perhaps in economic and monetary matters. Mostly anyone with a
good idea has the chance to submit it at the early stage.
If we do not get the agendas for what is happening at that
time, we might lose our chance to influence the form in which issues are put to the
European Parliament. Usually the Parliament passes what the committees propose because the
committees, after all, are formed of all the different political groups, with the
different skills and points of view. The flexible stage is when the committees first
discuss the topics; what we need, and will not get unless we ask for it, is the agendas of
the committee meetings from now on.
The Convener: We are beginning to debate a separate
matter. We have before us a proposal on how to sift the documents that we receive. What Dr
Ewing is talking about is worthy
Dr Ewing: We are not
receiving the right ones.
The Convener: How we influence the process is
worthy of discussion at some point. I am aware of the time, because we have other items on
the agenda. Today we are talking about sifting documents that are received. Is this a
useful mechanism for sifting such documents? I am happy for a future agenda to include an
explanation to us of the process whereby Europe makes decisions and how we can influence
that process. That would be a useful part of our learning experience as a committee. Let
us have that debate, but now let us try to concentrate on the document.
Cathy Jamieson (Carrick, Cumnock and
||Doon Valley) (Lab): I
welcome the work that has been done as I recognise the sheer volume of paperwork that will
come throughwe must be clear that we are giving attention to the things that are
most relevant and of priority.
There are two points
on which I would like clarification. In relation to the initial sift process, with the
designations of priority, regular and no further action, are there many matters that would
have little or no relevance to Scotland if we are trying to put our perspective on things?
What issues are being put in that categorydoes it include reserved matters? Some
things could slip past because of that. My other point is about influence. A paragraph in
the paper refers to the committee at a future stage having discussions on direct influence
on draft legislation. I would propose that we go ahead on the basis of the process that is
outlined, given that if we want to discuss something in more depth, we have the
opportunity to do that.
The Convener: On the question that you raise about
whether there are matters of no relevance to Scotland, at the first meeting I quoted a
couple of examples in that categorySwiss watchmaking and something to do with Burma.
If we start to say that all these matters will have relevance to Scotland, we will never
Cathy Jamieson: That
is helpful. I wanted to be clear that it would not cover reserved matters.
The Convener: Noonly things that literally
would have no impact on Scotland.
Ben Wallace (North-East Scotland) (Con): I return
to Bruce's point on the relationship with Westminster. Once we have produced the Scottish
explanatory memorandum or had an input into the European Scrutiny Committee at
Westminster, what procedure or guarantees do we have that our case will be properly
presented to that committee? I do not know how many Scottish MPs are on it or how our case
will be put to the committee. We have a Scotland Office with a secretary of state, but our
case could just disappear into that committee. We need to monitor what happens to our
input and how it is made.
The Convener: We need to develop a relationship
with that committee, and I will seek a meeting with its chair to discuss how each of us
will progress business. We need to make sure that our views are given due consideration;
we will discuss that. There are other methods apart from membership of the
committeewe will use every means at our disposal, including lobbying the secretary
of state. At some point joint meetings or attendance of some of the relevant individuals
at this committee might be useful.
I do not want to cut anyone off, but we have spent three
quarters of an hour on what should
||have been a relatively
straightforward document. Is there anything that has not been raised about the mechanism
and the process? I suggest that we amend the document to take it into account that we will
not circulate all the documents but that there will be a list; that we are sending back to
the Scottish Executive the explanatory memorandum; that at some point we will discuss how
we influence the policy processthe point that Winnie raised; and that in future we
shall consider ways of trying to ensure that our views are properly heard in the
Westminster European Scrutiny Committee.
Bruce Crawford: I do not want to prolong this, but
I am confused. I understood that our deliberations would be heard in Westminster at
Cabinet level and that we would not necessarily have to go through the European Scrutiny
Committee. I would be concerned if that were not the case as it would remove the
possibility of there being a parallel system that would allow this committee to have a
similar standing to the one in Westminster. I am sorry, Hugh, but I want to press that
point. I asked a question at the beginning about whether this committee would be given the
same standing as the Westminster committee as regards any parallel agreement. We need to
understand how we feel about that issue and work out how hard we want to press it.
The Convener: I will ask Stephen Imrie to
explain the process before I bring this part of the meeting to a close. However, if we
want to discuss further the committee's relationships with other bodies, we will need to
structure our discussion properly.
Stephen Imrie: The procedures allow for this
committee to give its considered opinion on any document to the European Scrutiny
Committee, which will take that opinion on board, and to the Scottish Executive, which
will be responsible for making sure that those decisions are passed on to Whitehall. Our
committee will be able to give its opinions to other people, such as the Secretary of
State for Scotland, but it is not for me to say whether that should be done; that would be
a political decision for the committee to take. As European affairs are a reserved matter,
we would not report to Westminster, but would pass our thoughts into the Westminster
Bruce Crawford: It is still not clear to me. I know
that our opinions go into the Westminster system, but does that mean the European Scrutiny
Committee or the Cabinet Office? If we input to the European Scrutiny Committee, I would
be concerned about our committee's standing.
Dennis Canavan: It is my understanding that