What is the Scrutiny Reserve?
The categories of document that the Government is required to deposit in Parliament are described in the terms of reference of the EU Committee. They include draft legislation and other documents published by the EU institutions.
As long as the EU Committee is examining a document deposited in accordance with these terms of reference it is "held under scrutiny". This means that it is subject to the scrutiny reserve, so that Government ministers may not agree to it, either formally or informally, in the main EU decision-making body, the Council of Ministers.
The EU Committee may hold a particular proposal under scrutiny for various reasons, including that the Committee is conducting an inquiry; because it is planning to hold an evidence session to explore the proposal in more detail; because it is seeking further information from the Government about the content of the proposal or its impact on the UK; or because it is the subject of a report which has yet to be debated in the House of Lords.
The most recent text of the House of Lords Scrutiny Reserve Resolution was agreed by the House on 30 March 2010.
How is the Scrutiny Reserve operated?
The Committee may on occasion decide to waive the scrutiny reserve, if a decision in the Council is imminent. This can happen during parliamentary recesses, or if there is no opportunity for the Committee to meet in time; where the proposal itself is trivial or routine; or where the agreement in the Council relates to an element of the proposal that is not the focus of the Committee's scrutiny work.
Ministers may also override the scrutiny reserve where there are special reasons that justify such a step. Such overrides most often happen when the Council of Ministers is forced to act quickly in response to events affecting international relations or security.
Whenever ministers override the scrutiny reserve, they must write to the Committee at the earliest opportunity to explain their reasons.
All recent overrides are logged in Progress of Scrutiny. Every six months, the Committee and the Cabinet Office also review the list of recent overrides. The Chairman then asks a written question, giving the Government an opportunity to publish the total number of overrides, broken down by department. Recent answers are given below.
The Committee publishes figures for overrides, and assesses the trend over recent years, in its Annual Report.