We've just stumbled across an interesting, and frankly rather worrying, snippet from a Commons debate last month on the handling of the EU budget.
It reveals that members of the European Scrutiny Committee - the handful of experts charged with filtering through the mountains of EU legislation on behalf of all MPs - have often been double-booked for European debates in the Commons. These debates happen only very occasionally - about three times a year - with only the very most important EU issues being discussed.
Michael Connarty, the Chairman of said Committee, told the House (Column 664):
"European debates are a bit like buses--we wait for one for ages, then three come along at the same time. For the first time, we are holding the debates on a Tuesday--they normally happen on a Wednesday to ensure that many members of the European Scrutiny Committee have to choose between its Committee meetings and the debates in the Chamber... I am pleased to be here, given that, as Chair of the European Scrutiny Committee, I would not normally get to debate the subject on a Wednesday."
Blimey. What possible justification can there be for holding a rare debate on the floor of the House on important EU issues and then making sure that the only EU experts in the whole place are not able to take part?
It's bad enough that less than 5% of the thousand or so pieces of EU legislation the Committee sees every year is actually subject to debate - especially given that EU legislation is responsible for 72% of the cost of regulations in the UK. It's also pretty bad that there are only 16 MPs who regularly track all this stuff. But now, we find out that on those rare occasions when there is a debate among MPs, the only EU experts in the place regularly cannot attend.
Oh and guess what - it is the Government that's in charge of the scheduling.