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The United Kingdom is a parliamentary democracy: government is voted into power by the people, to act in the interests of the people. Parliament is the highest legislative authority in the United Kingdom. It is made up of the House of Commons, the House of Lords and the Queen.
Alongside this system, the UK is also a constitutional monarchy. This is a situation where there is an established monarch (currently Queen Elizabeth II), who remains politically impartial and with limited powers.
The United Kingdom joined the European Union on 1 January 1973.
THE HOUSE OF LORDS AT A GLANCE
The House of Lords is the second chamber of the UK Parliament. It is independent from, and complements the work of the elected House of Commons. The role of the House of Lords is to make laws; check and challenge the actions of the government; and to provide a forum of independent expertise. Its membership is mostly appointed and includes experts in many fields.
The House of Lords Chamber spends about 60% of its time on legislation; the other 40% is spent on scrutiny – questioning Government and debating issues and policy. Members use their extensive individual experience to investigate public policy. Much of this work is done in Select committees- small groups appointed to consider specific policy areas. Committee work takes place outside the Chamber. There are currently around 800 members of the House of Lords.
The European Union Committee considers EU documents and other EU-related matters in advance of decisions being taken on them. It aims to hold the Government to account for its actions at the EU level.
The work of the EU Select Committee is assisted by six Sub-Committees dealing with different policy areas. The Sub-Committees scrutinise proposals, correspond with Ministers outlining any concerns or queries about proposals, conduct inquiries and prepare reports. The six Sub-Committees are:
(a) Economic and Financial Affairs
(b) Internal Market, Infrastructure and Employment
(c) Foreign Affairs, Defence, Development and Trade
(d) Agriculture, Fisheries, Environment and Energy
(e) Justice, Institutions and Consumer Protection
(f) Home Affairs, Health and Education
PURPOSE OF SCRUTINY
Most EU laws are agreed jointly by the EU Council of Ministers (made up of ministers representing the governments of all the member states) and the elected European Parliament. The UK Parliament does not agree EU laws directly: the primary purpose of scrutiny is to hold UK ministers to account, to ensure that their objectives are clearly stated, and that they have taken the views of Parliament fully into account before going to Brussels to negotiate on behalf of the UK in the Council.
The Committee scrutinises a wide range of EU policy documents, such as Communications and White Papers, as well as legislative proposals such as draft Directives and Regulations. These categories of document are described in the terms of reference of the EU Committee.
All EU Committee correspondence, whether with UK ministers or with the European Commission, is published online.
SCRUTINY-HOW DOES IT WORK
The scrutiny process begins when the Government formally "deposits" an EU document in Parliament - that is to say, sending it to the two EU Committees. The types of documents that must be deposited are agreed between the two Committees and the Government, and include all legislative proposals, along with a range of other documents published by the EU institutions. Around 800-900 documents are deposited each year.
The Government produces an Explanatory Memorandum (EM) on each document within 10 working days to provide the Committee with their views on the proposal. The Government analyses the document's policy implications, impact and legal base.
Once the EM has been received, the Chairman of the EU Select Committee, with the support of legal advisers, decides which documents should be subjected to more detailed scrutiny. These documents (around 30-40 percent of the total) are "sifted" to the Sub-Committee with responsibility for the relevant policy area.
It is for the Sub-Committee then to decide how to scrutinise the document. It may clear it from scrutiny, when the Government has fully explained its position, and when the document itself is either approaching adoption or has been abandoned. Or it may hold it under examination while writing to the relevant minister. There may be several exchanges of letters, sometimes over a period of years. The Sub-committee can also hold evidence sessions or seminars with stakeholders in the process of scrutiny. In the case of particularly important proposals it may launch a full inquiry. If a document has been the subject of a full inquiry, it is automatically cleared from scrutiny when the resulting Committee report is debated in the House of Lords.
The EU Committee also frequently writes directly to the European Commission, which has since 2006 engaged in a political dialogue with national parliaments across the EU. All EU Committee correspondence, including with UK ministers and with the European Commission are published online.
You can keep up to date with scrutiny work by consulting Progress of Scrutiny, which is published every fortnight when the House of Lords is sitting.
THE SCRUTINY RESERVE RESOLUTION
The work of the EU Committee is underpinned by a "Scrutiny Reserve Resolution", which has been agreed by the House of Lords. According to this Resolution, UK ministers may not agree to any proposal in the Council of Ministers until the Committee has finished its scrutiny. Ministers may override this scrutiny reserve if there are "special reasons", but in such cases must explain their reasons to the Committee at the first opportunity.
The House of Commons has agreed a similar Scrutiny Reserve Resolution in respect of the work of its European Scrutiny Committee.
As noted above, Government ministers may override the scrutiny reserve where there are special reasons that justify such a step. Most overrides occur in the case of fast-moving and sensitive policy areas, such as decisions to impose sanctions or take other emergency measures in the field of foreign policy.
All overrides are reported to the Committee, and full data on overrides are published online.
EC Reply on the Workload of the European Court of Justice 44 KB / 12/09/2011
Scrutiny of documents for compliance with the principle of subsidiarity 36 KB / 23/10/2012
Euro Area Crisis- Letter from Committee to Minister 13.02.13 712 KB / 28/06/2013
Euro Area Crisis- Letter from Minister to Committee 15.03.12 2 MB / 28/06/2013
Euro area Crisis- Letter from Committee to Minisiter 26.03.13 102 KB / 28/06/2013
Euro Area Crisis- Letter from Minister to Committee 19.04.13 542 KB / 28/06/2013
Euro area crisis: an update- 4 April 2014 341 KB / 07/05/2014
Euro area crisis: an update- Evidence 442 KB / 07/05/2014
The Role of National Parliaments in the EU 448 KB / 03/04/2014