The way the politicians keep us from getting our message across about being ruled by Brussels is to keep everything out-of-sight and secret. They do that in Brussels and – it seems – they do it here too.
Sunday Telegraph 11/02/2007
Christopher Booker's notebook
By Christopher Booker,
A 'democratic' watchdog that likes to keep itself secret
An internal inquiry has been launched by a Commons committee into how its confidential documents came to be leaked to a member of the Lords. It is another vivid illustration of the extraordinary secrecy and lack of democracy pervading the way that laws that cost our economy billions of pounds a year are imposed on Britain by the European Union.
Lord Pearson of Rannoch, a former Tory peer who recently joined the UK Independence Party, has been challenging the Government about documents supplied to MPs on the Commons European Scrutiny Committee. This body is meant to examine every law proposed by the EU before it can be approved by British ministers and civil servants in Brussels.
Under the terms of a Resolution passed by the Commons as long ago as 1990, no minister is permitted to agree to an EU law until it has first been "scrutinised" by MPs, a task delegated by the House to this all-party committee.
It is well known that the Council of Ministers, which gives the final approval to EU legislation on behalf of the 27 member states, meets in secret (giving rise to the charge that the only countries in the world that are as secretive as the EU about the way their laws are made are Cuba and North Korea). But, astonishingly, the Commons Scrutiny Committee, which examines those laws on behalf of Parliament, itself meets in secret, so that the vast majority of MPs (let alone us members of the public) are not allowed to know what legal proposals it is considering or what it has advised.
Now, after it emerged that Lord Pearson had seen documents supplied to the committee (which often come complete with trenchant comments by its staff and weaselly letters from ministers), it is holding an urgent inquiry into how these "secret papers" came into his hands.
The significance of this row is that, whenever ministers are asked why the EU's lawmaking process has to be so undemocratic and unaccountable, their stock response is that nothing goes through without first being "scrutinised". But, since no one outside the Scrutiny Committee is meant to know what it is up to, when its papers fall into the hands of another member of Parliament, albeit from the Lords, this provokes uproar and a full inquiry into how such a dreadful thing has happened.
The farce does not end there. It has long been scandalous how often British ministers and civil servants do approve laws in Brussels, either before the Scrutiny Committee has had time to study them at all, or in defiance of its considered views. Lord Pearson recently asked how many times ministers have overridden the wishes of the committee in this way. The shocking answer given by Lord Triesman for the Foreign Office on January 30 was that, in the latest period for which figures are available, between 2003 and 2006, it happened on no fewer than 180 occasions.
We may no longer be surprised that our ministers and officials treat Parliament with such contempt. But can they please never again pretend either that this system whereby our laws are made is democratic, or that, to use another of their favourite words, it is in the slightest sense "transparent"..