The Sketch: Secretive body? Who's asking?

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The Independent Online

Should the European Scrutiny Committee sit in public? That's the question it asked itself yesterday. You may not have known but it sits in secret most of the time. Maybe I have said too much already. Who's on it? I'm not sure I should tell you. Why do you want to know? What does the committee actually do? You wouldn't understand. The Leader of the House says so. "It's very technical," is the way he puts it.

Should the European Scrutiny Committee sit in public? That's the question it asked itself yesterday. You may not have known but it sits in secret most of the time. Maybe I have said too much already. Who's on it? I'm not sure I should tell you. Why do you want to know? What does the committee actually do? You wouldn't understand. The Leader of the House says so. "It's very technical," is the way he puts it.

Jimmy Knapp used to chair it but he wasn't there yesterday. What happened to him? You're very inquisitive today, aren't you? You wouldn't want to keep pushing your nose where it isn't wanted or someone might cut it off.

Yes, all right, but putting the question on a larger canvas: should the EU Council of Ministers meet in public? As one of the functionaries addressing the committee said: "The Council of Ministers is the least known institution in the EU despite the fact it is the most powerful." Despite? Because!

Another functionary said it wouldn't help the public if meetings were open. All the "heavy business", as he put it, was done at lunch. Even civil servants were kept out of the room.

"For the Council of Ministers to meet in public would require enormous education of the public," we were told. So that they could deal with the complexities and technicalities of whether there was too much tarragon in the pot-au-feu .

So, again: should the European Scrutiny Committee sit in public? Even though we might get the wrong idea about the technicalities? Worse, and more important, we might see how little European scrutiny they actually do. Thousands of directives come out of Europe and the committee looks at dozens. Or is there a complexity I haven't grasped?

Mind you, the House of Commons sits in public and we have very little idea why things happen as they do.

Bill Rammell's responses to questions should be in the textbook of mediocrity. Asked what was being done about Iran backing terror attacks on Israel, he said: "We are consistently urging them to desist." And then, in the despairing words of the half-time pep talk: "There has to be real effort from both sides." And how is the Government stopping Afghan farmers from growing heroin poppies? "I think actually what we need is actually what we've got." Ha! What do we have? Community development committees investing in irrigation channels and modern fertilisation - to grow more poppies.

But imagine what an acceptable answer would be if these sessions were private.

simoncarr75@hotmail.com

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