Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Same old story

On the face of it, it looks like a good new – with the emphasis on "new" - story by Philip Johnston in The Daily Telegraph today, when he reports that the Home Office "wilfully" ignored the wishes of MPs and signed up to new EU rules without parliamentary approval.

His tale relates to the report of the Commons Scrutiny select committee, in which members complain that ministers were warned on three occasions that they should not agree plans for compulsory prisoner transfers within Europe until they had been debated. But Joan Ryan, a junior Home Office minister, went ahead anyway at a meeting in Brussels in February.

However, Johnston did this story on 2 April and we commented on it the same day, my co-editor remarking that it was "probably too late" to complain.

I suppose it actually does no harm to "bang on" about this government's utter contempt for the Parliamentary scrutiny process – not that the last government was any better – pointing out the hollowness of the "solemn agreements" between the executive and Parliament, honoured more in the breach than the observance.

However, you can see why ministers do not take the agreement seriously. The magic "debate", about which the committee was so exercised is – as we have pointed out before - nothing more than a hollow little charade, conducted in an anonymous committee room, ignored by MPs and media alike. And with an in-built government majority, the committee always votes with the government, so the outcome is always a foregone conclusion.

Thus, the Commons scrutiny committee can chunter on, and it makes good copy for a quiet news day. Nevertheless, it doesn't make a blind bit of difference and no one in government really cares. But it is yet another reason why so many of us look upon Parliament and its processes with increasing despair.

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