What is the National Parliament Office?
The UK National Parliament Office (NPO) represents both Houses of the UK Parliament at EU level. Established in October 1999, it is staffed by two officials—one from the Commons and one from the Lords. Its offices are located on the European Parliament’s premises in Brussels.
The Office assists the House of Commons European Scrutiny Committee (ESC) and the House of Lords European Union Committee (EUC) in the tasks which they carry out on behalf of each House in relation to European matters. The NPO also assists other committees of the two Houses with their engagement on European issues.
How does the UK Parliament scrutinise EU legislation?
The primary purpose of the two Committees is to scrutinise draft EU law before it is agreed. The scrutiny process is the means of exerting parliamentary influence over the UK Government’s actions in the Council of the EU. Until UK parliamentary scrutiny is complete, UK Ministers cannot—unless there are exceptional circumstances—adopt a formal position on European legislation and other decisions in the Council.
The Commons ESC and the Lords EUC examine all proposals for EU legislation, as well as other documents such as Commission Communications and Green and White Papers. Both Committees scrutinise all areas of EU activity—from the internal market and environmental issues to foreign policy and justice and home affairs matters.
The ESC in the Commons considers each EU document in the light of an Explanatory Memorandum supplied by the UK Government, and reports to the House of Commons whether a document raises matters of legal and/or political importance. The ESC can recommend documents for debate, either in a European Committee or on the floor of the House, or hold documents under scrutiny pending receipt of further information.
The Lords EUC also considers each document but carries out in depth analysis of the merits of a smaller number of documents that it classifies as important. The Committee acts as an investigative body, carrying out inquiries and producing reports that make recommendations to the UK Government and directly to the European institutions.
Why does the UK Parliament need an office in Brussels?
The NPO acts as an observation post for both Houses in Brussels. As the “eyes and ears” of the ESC, EUC and other committees, it gives early warning on issues of particular interest or importance and supplies information on European legislation and other matters which may not be readily available in London. The staff of the office work closely with the European institutions to provide this information.
The office also provides information on the EU-related work of both Houses to interested parties in Brussels.
What else does the NPO do?
The NPO supports the work of the Committees in other ways, including:
- Explaining and promoting the work of the UK Parliament on EU matters
- Fostering personal and face-to-face contacts with people in the EU institutions in order to enhance further the reputation of the UK Parliament among EU decision makers and gain influence for the Committees’ recommendations
- Strengthening relations with other national parliaments and with the devolved administrations
Furthermore, since the Lisbon Treaty, the role of national parliament representatives has attracted greater significance. The NPO is the principal means by which the UK Parliament can communicate quickly and informally with other national parliaments through the network of representatives based in Brussels. This is particularly important in helping the two Houses to take decisions on subsidiarity.
The NPO also supports delegations from the UK Parliament to the growing number of inter-parliamentary meetings in Brussels and elsewhere in the EU.
What issues does the NPO investigate?
The Office provides information on individual legislative proposals which are of particular interest to the ESC, the EUC and both Houses.
The NPO also covers wider European political and institutional developments, including:
- Constitutional issues
- The annual EU budget and Multiannual Financial Framework
- Oversight of Freedom, Security and Justice Agencies (EUROJUST, FRONTEX and EUROPOL)
- Economic governance and reform of financial regulation