UK Politics

MPs criticise 'lack of EU debate'

Houses of Parliament Image copyright PA

The government's "failure" to let MPs debate EU legislation is "deplorable", a Parliamentary committee says.

The European Scrutiny Committee said ministers had refused to schedule debates on issues such as free movement and the EU's Budget.

It also said BBC coverage of EU matters should be "improved substantially".

The government said the number of EU debates had doubled since 2009-10, while the BBC said its coverage was "extensive and impartial".

The cross-party committee's role includes scrutinising EU documents and recommending the most important for debate in the House of Commons.

'Discourtesy'

Its report said in the period covering most of the 2014-15 financial year there were three debates on the floor of the House, compared with 12 in 2013-14.

It also pointed out that not a single debate had taken place during a nine-month period, between 9 June 2014 and 9 March 2015.

"The government's collective failure to schedule so many debates on EU documents over the past year is deplorable, and is a discourtesy to this committee and to all members of the House," the MPs said.

Prime Minister David Cameron has sought to rally support from other EU leaders for his plans to curb welfare payments to European migrants ahead of a referendum on the UK's membership if he wins the general election.

The committee said the government's "cavalier" approach was "at odds with UK ministers' claims in their speeches across the EU about the role of national parliaments".

The Foreign Office said the government was committed to a "strong EU scrutiny system that enables Parliament to hold it to account for the decisions taken in Brussels".

It added: "We have made good on our commitment to raise standards by doubling the number of Europe debates on the floor of the House since 2009-10.

"This government has also increased by around a fifth since 2010 the number of EU proposals that have been scrutinised and cleared by Parliament before being agreed in Brussels."

Image caption Lord Hall said the BBC was the only media outlet showing daily coverage from Brussels

The committee has also been examining the BBC's coverage of European issues, taking evidence from director general Lord Hall and head of news James Harding earlier this month.

During that appearance, Lord Hall said the desire for balanced output "ran deep" within the BBC and he believed that this was being achieved.

Independence

Mr Harding said if the public was going to trust the BBC to report on politicians impartially it had to be clear that BBC journalists weren't "asked by politicians to come and account for what they do and in effect do the bidding of those politicians".

But the committee said it was "concerned about the manner in which the BBC treats EU issues", calling for coverage to be "improved substantially".

It suggested coverage did not reflect all sides of the debate on the European Union, and more analysis was needed.

Its chairman, Conservative MP Sir William Cash, said the BBC had "very particular obligations" to be impartial and to "educate and inform".

He added: "We do not believe this is currently being achieved in the context of the BBC's EU coverage."

A BBC spokesman said the corporation provided extensive and impartial coverage of European and Parliamentary issues, and it would be a breach of the corporation's independence if a committee of MPs instructed the BBC on its coverage.

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