A mole on the European Scrutiny Committee has just got in touch about a session that took place this afternoon:
"One of the few influences Parliament has on EU matters is operated by the all-party European Scrutiny Committee. Basically if the Committee decides a proposed law is important the Government is not allowed to agree to it in Brussels until the Commons has had a debate. Unfortunately the Government ignore the rules when it feels like it. This became evident to all an sundry this afternoon when Joan Ryan, Home Office Minister, stepped up for a session of the Committee.
Ryan had MPs and journos falling off their chairs in disbelief as she tried to justify the Government's decision to bypass Parliament and sign up to a measure which will allow UK criminals in European prisons to be transferred to UK custody, even if their offences are not recognized by UK law (e.g. homophobia and holocaust denial). Ryan claimed that the reaching of a "general approach" in Brussels on the measure was not the same as an "agreement". She persisted with this hair splitting despite her own admission that all member states were agreed on the substance of the measure. That sounds like an agreement to me...
Even Labour members on the Committee were spitting. Michael Connarty, the Committee chairman, spent most of the session with his mouth wide open, and Chorley MP Lindsay Hoyle told Ryan to her face that she was ridiculous and should apologise to the Committee. Usual champions of Parliamentary supremacy like Bill Cash didn't really need to speak as Ryan's own backbenchers rounded on her. Happy days."
This isn't the first time Joan Ryan has given a below-par performance at the Scrutiny Committee. Watch a session with her and you realise that it takes quite a lot of skill to 'pull a Geoff Hoon' and not actually answer MP's questions for two hours. Her last appearance led Simon Carr to write that she had "a brain like a box of Cheerios". The following week he went even further saying, "It's not just that she's out of her depth, the problem is she can't swim".
Update: Read Simon Carr's description of the proceedings here