§ 3.22 p.m.
§ THE LORD PRIVY SEAL (LORD WINDLESHAM) rose to move, That this House takes note of the Second Report from the Select Committee on Procedures for Scrutiny of Proposals for European Instruments. The noble Lord said: My Lords, in opening a debate of this sort I find myself more than usually conscious of the fact that I wear two hats. In fact, my collection seems to be growing a little at present. As Leader of your Lordships' House I have a responsibility for trying to identify what is the common will of your Lordships and to do everything I can to try to further it. I accept that role with some humility and with some pride, too, and will always be anxious to do anything in my power to strengthen your Lordships' House and to increase its reputation. At the same time, as members of the Government, as are all who sit on this Bench, we are not entirely free agents. The Government have to decide on their policies in the light of the opinions of both Houses of Parliament, as well as of many wider considerations, and where the raising and spending of public funds is involved the Commons are of course paramount. Thus, in a matter of the sort that we are debating today, it is necessary to keep in mind both those sets of considerations.
§ The first point—and it is one which raises no difficulties of demarcation of any kind—that should be made right at the start of this debate, is to put on record our warmest thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Maybray-King, and the members of his Committee for all the work they have done during the period of 760 seven or eight months since the Committee was first appointed. When one looks down the list of members of the Committee and sees what a strong Committee it has been, including so many distinguished and busy Members of your Lordships' House, one realises that the thanks of the whole House are doubly due to them for giving up so much of their time. There is no doubt, my Lords, that the Committee have greatly benefited from the widsom and procedural knowledge of the noble Lord, Lord Maybray-King, a former Speaker of the House of Commons. The Committee were fortunate to have in their Chairman a Peer who knows the procedure of another place so intimately. This in itself must have done much to encourage the spirit of friendly co-operation in which your Lordships' Committee and the parallel Committee in another place worked. One or two noble Lords of our own Committee were, if they will not mind my saying so, somewhat less ardent in their zeal for British accession to the European Communities than was the House as a whole. But none the less, all Parties and all interests in Parliament, in another place as well as in your Lordships' House, co-operated willingly in working out proposals as to how the British Parliament could best evolve procedures to enable us to discharge our responsibilities concerning proposals emanating from the other side of the Channel which can, and often do, affect the everyday life of people in this country.
§ Her Majesty's Government have recognised from the outset the need for a Committee in each House, or a Joint Committee, if that proved possible, to examine the ways in which Parliament could scrutinise proposals of this kind. Both my predecessor the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, and also the Lord President of the Council in another place gave evidence to the respective Committees to the effect that in their view appropriate machinery would have to be established by Parliament for the scrutiny of European legislation. Thus the Government, my Lords, needs little convincing of the general principles underlying the Report that we are debating to-day. But before coming to any final decision we want to hear the views, and to establish the wishes, of your Lordships' House and also of Members of another place.761
§ It is particularly helpful that the list of speakers fir to-day's debate includes several noble Lords who were members of the Committee, as well as the Chairman, the noble Lord, Lord Maybray-King. Peers like the noble and learned Lord, Lord Diplock, gave evidence to the Committee; and also in our list of speakers for to-day's debate we have a number of Peers who are Members of the European Parliament. Perhaps I could pay a tribute here to the work of the British Members of the European Parliament who themselves have the function of scrutinising proposals at Strasbourg, Brussels and Luxembourg. They are very busy people and I believe we owe them a debt of gratitude for the impact they have made on the European Parliament in its formative stages. But no less important, as I think we would all agree, are the views of those Members of the House who were not members of the Committee and are not Members of the European Parliament but who, nevertheless, have studied the Report and are interested in the workings and in the functions of the House. All these opinions need to be heard before conclusions are reached. This afternoon, therefore, I have a mainly listening role, although it might be helpful if I were to comment—I shall do so briefly—on some of the recommendations in the Report. In doing so, perhaps I should stress that anything I say at this stage is entirely without prejudice to the final outcome. This will depend on the views both of the House and of the Government as a whole.
§ My Lords, the most important recommendation contained in the Maybray-King Report is of course the proposal for a Select Committee to be appointed on the European Communities. As I have already indicated, the Government accept the need for a Committee on European Community affairs. We gave evidence to this effect to both the Lords Committee and the Commons Committee, and while the Government's evidence in favour of a Standing Committee in each House was not, in the event, accepted by a majority of the Maybray-King Committee, the Government agree that a Committee of some sort is required.
§ Speaking for myself, I see the strength in the argument that the Committee 762 should have the power to call for evidence and hear witnesses. There are also the questions of what the terms of reference of the Committee should be, and how large a Committee should be constituted. The Report contains some suggested terms of reference, and I shall look forward to what other speakers have to say about these in the course of the debate. Although the Government's mind is open, our present thinking is that there would be advantages if the terms of reference of any scrutiny committees set up in this House and in another place were as nearly as possible in line with each other.
§ Then there is the question as to the size of any committee we may decide to set up. The Maybray-King Committee envisaged a membership large enough to allow for the apointment of several subcommittees, including a law sub-committee. This is rather more ambitious than what the parallel Commons committee proposed, and I believe it would be wise to think very carefully before taking on commitments on a scale that we might not be able to fulfil in practice. There might be advantage in starting off on a more modest scale with one main committee, properly staffed and with a strong membership, rather than over-extending ourselves with a series of sub-committees in addition. It would then be possible to review the position in the light of experience.
§ Another recommendation of the Committee was that my noble friend, Lord Bessborough and other members of the European Parliament might attend the committee and receive the appropriate papers. In principle this seems a useful suggestion, and I look forward to hearing the reaction of noble Lords who are members of the European Parliament in the course of the debate. I know that the pressures on the time of members of the European Parliament are considerable and might make it difficult for them to attend all of the meetings. Here again, it might be easier to have one main committee, in the early stages at least, rather than a number of sub-committees.
§ The May-bray-King Report also commented that if both Houses could agree to joint procedures for the scrutiny of European legislation it would save duplication of effort and economise in manpower. While the equivalent committee 763 in another place, presided over by Sir John Foster, suggested that the same specialist staff might serve both committees, they were not in favour of joint procedures. Partnership requires the assent of both sides, and I fear we may have to wait rather longer for joint procedures in this field. I should like to say, however, how much I welcome the co-operative approach of the Foster Committee in their suggestion that the specialist staff of the committees should serve both Houses of Parliament. This would seem to be a most useful step forward, and I believe it would certainly result, if agreed to, in real savings in terms of public service manpower as well as in terms of public expenditure. At the same time, both Houses would be able to benefit from the same body of skill and knowledge.
§ In this context I should welcome the views of your Lordships upon the recommendation in paragraph 125 of the Maybray-King Report that the Select Committees' specialist staff should include a legal adviser who is conversant with both community and domestic law to advise the committees on the repercussions of community legislation on domestic law. A similar recommendation was made in the Report of the Commons Select Committee, although that Report went on to recommend that there should be a third Law Officer who would be ultimately responsible to the committee in respect of European legislation. The recommendation in paragraph 125 would be very similar to the role which until recently was played by Counsel to Mr. Speaker in the Commons Select Committee on Statutory Instruments which experience has shown successfully provides the necessary measure of independent legal advice.
§ My Lords, the Maybray-King Committee also recommended that time for debates on Reports of the proposed Select Committee should be discussed through the usual channels. As your Lordships know, apart from Wednesdays, which are normally set aside for debates on subjects of topical or general interest, we have no Orders or conventions in this House whereby specific subjects are discussed at specific times. My noble friend the Government Chief Whip and I believe that the Committee's recom- 764 mendation is the most practical way to proceed, particularly since the pressure on time in your Lordships' House is nothing like so great as in another place.
§ Next there is the question of the role and status of the chairman of the proposed Committee for the Scutiny of European Legislation. I see merit in the suggestion that the chairman should be responsible for the initial sifting of Community documents. He would be assisted by a clerk and by whatever specialist assistance is available to him. This preliminary task of sifting and of scrutiny will be an importing and demanding task, and the Maybray-King Committee, in consequence, recommended that the chairman of this Committee should be salaried. I do not think it would be appropriate to make any commitment at this stage, but I should certainly like to look at this suggestion in more detail. I am aware that there has been some pressure in any event for a full-time—and consequently salaried—deputy to be appointed to the Chairman of Committees, and the extra work which European legislation would inevitably throw on to the Committee Office might make it an appropriate time to consider such an appointment.
§ The Maybray-King Committee also made the novel suggestion that the House of Lords should have its own Parliamentary observer at Brussels who might feed in early information to the committee from the European Economic Commission and the Council of Ministers. It also envisaged that he would be authorised to keep an eye on the Court of Justice in Luxembourg. My colleagues and I have considered this interesting proposal very carefully, and understand the reasons which lie behind it; but, to be frank, we see considerable difficulties about putting into operation what might well prove a frustrating and embarrassing role for anyone appointed to the post.
§ In the first place, any observer or agent of this kind would lack any official status vis-à-vis Community institutions He would thus be in a different position from the German observer on behalf of the Länder Government, who enjoys the unique privilege of attending Council meetings. This privilege was granted to the German States, which together comprise the Federal Republic, at a time when the Treaties were originally being 765 negotiated. Nor would he have any special access to the United Kingdom permanent representation other than the normal right of any member of the public who has, of course, normal opportunities to approach the United Kingdom representation for help or for information. Nor, in all probability, would one man, from one House of the British Parliament, lacking any popular electoral basis, find it possible to cover adequately the full range of Community activities.
§ My Lords, I ought to set an example by following the advice of my noble friend the Chief Whip and not speak for too long in opening this debate, but there are two further points which I might briefly mention. The first is the recommendation that the Committee on the Preparation of Legislation, under the chairmanship of Sir David Renton, might consider the possibility of typographically distinguishing Community law translated into United Kingdom law. I can inform your Lordships that this suggestion has already been drawn to the attention of Sir David Renton's Committee.
§ The second point is the suggestion contained in the Maybray-King Report in paragraphs 19 and 20, that the Government should make a Statement to explain its attitude towards the disclosure of information on Council proceedings. Perhaps I may remind the House that the Government made a Statement on this point on March 13 last, to the effect that Ministers would make reports to Parliament by way of Ministerial statements after a series of Council of Ministers' meetings. The Government undertook to place in the Printed Paper Office written statements about forthcoming Council business. My right honourable friend the Lord President of the Council also dealt, in detail, with the question of making oral statements to Parliament before Council of Ministers' meetings during a debate in the House of Commons on April 18 last. During that debate he gave the Government's provisional view that for Ministers to be publicly questioned, perhaps only a few days in advance of a meeting of the Council of Ministers, would either put at risk the interests of effective negotiation on the country's behalf or result in a series of such guarded defensive replies as would hardly be a worthwhile use of the time of the House. My Lords, the essential 766 difficulty here arises from the fact that the Council of Ministers is not the equivalent of either a Cabinet or a Legislature. Its essential character is that of a forum for international negotiations.
§ The Government's view was that when Peers, or Members of another place, have had a chance to study the written estimates of Council business it might be better if they were to put down specific questions on subjects which interest them and so use the normal Parliamentary methods of bringing pressure on the Government. This has already taken place with regard to the size and weight of juggernaut lorries.
§ I think that I have covered, albeit briefly, most of the main recommendations made in the Committee's Report. As I said at the outset, I have not tried to be dogmatic about the Government's view, nor have I sought to cover every point of detail. But I would suggest to your Lordships that, before deciding finally upon what procedures we should adopt, we should take due account of what is happening in another place and of the implications for the policies of the Government of the day. For this reason I believe that it might be valuable, as a next step, after hearing the views expressed in to-day's debate and in another place, to refer the question of what sort of Committee might be set up—if it is your Lordships' wish that we should move in this direction—to the Procedure Committee. In that forum issues such as the terms of reference and size of the Committee, and the specialist advice it would require, could be considered in detail before reporting back to the House.
My Lords, Parliament has adapted itself, over many centuries, to meet changing circumstances and I sense that we all realise that we should make some adjustment to our procedures, and in the role of Parliament, to meet the new circumstances created by our accession to the European Communities. Perhaps I might draw your Lordships' attention to a remark of Sir William Anson in the introduction to his Law and Custom of the Constitution, when he says:
Our Constitution is a somewhat rambling structure, and, like a house which many successive owners have altered just so far as suited their immediate wants or the fashion of the time, it hears the marks of many hands, and is convenient rather than symmetrical.
I leave this thought with your Lordships in the hope that we can, once again, evolve procedures which are "convenient rather than symmetrical". But for to-day, my Lords, both the House and the Government are anxious to listen and to evaluate, and then to move on with the minimum of delay, to the necessary action. I beg to move.
§ Moved, That this House takes note of the Second Report from the Select Committee on Procedures for Scrutiny of Proposals for European Instruments.— (Lord Windlesham.
§ LORD DERWENT
My Lords, before my noble friend sits down, can he give any idea of how long he thinks the Procedure Committee might take to make recommendations?—because the whole of this is rather urgent.
§ LORD WINDLESHAM
My Lords, I appreciate the urgency, and I hope I reflected that in my final remarks. If your Lordships did feel that it was appropriate to refer this matter to the Procedure Committee, so that the proposals could be considered in detail, I should hope that that could be done as early as possible after the Christmas Recess.
§ 3.46 p.m.
§ LORD SHEPHERD
My Lords, the House will be indebted to the noble Lord the Leader of the House for having introduced this debate and for the manner in which he has done so. Naturally, we expected, with a "take note" Motion, that the noble Lord's speech would be tentative. It has been tentative. On the other hand, there were some parts of it which were constructive and encouraging. I was a member of the Select Committee, but this afternoon I speak from this Dispatch Box on behalf of my noble friends and seek to express their view on what is a very major document, a major Report. It represents, I believe, radical changes in procedure. It is true that your Lordships' House is always reluctant to consider any innovation but, as I shall seek to show in the course of my speech, our entry into the E.E.C. has created a need for Parliamentary change, as the noble Lord, Lord Derwent, said, as a matter of urgency. I shall leave it to the noble 768 Lord, Lord Maybray-King, to reply on behalf of himself and the Committee. I think I should pay a tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Maybray-King, not only for the quality of the Report but also for the relentless drive that he placed upon all the members of that Committee. May I say that that relentless drive was a consequence of the recognition, by the Committee as a whole, of the urgency of the need for Parliamentary reform in this matter.
Anyone reading the Report, seeing the number of witnesses, not only in the United Kingdom, but in Denmark, Holland, Bonn, Germany and Strasbourg, and including the Commissioners in Brussels, will be conscious of the efforts not only of the Chairman of the Committee but also of Mr. Michael Wheeler-Booth, who was the Clerk to the Committee, and Miss Jane Franks. It was only because of their untiring efforts and, on occasions, great ingenuity in arrangements that it was possible for a Report to be ready in July, but unfortunately it was unable to be printed until mid-September. This Report has now been in your Lordships' House for two months, and I should have thought, even taking your Lordships' normal pace of consideration, that we should now be in a position to take a view. Recognising the position of the noble Lord the Leader of the House, I must say, on behalf of my noble friends, that we should much have preferred to see a Motion to approve, so that proceedings could have been taken immediately on the implementation of the Report.
The Select Committee's terms of reference were to consider procedures for scrutiny of proposals for European Community Instruments. The effectiveness of Parliament depends largely on its procedure and the manner in which it seeks to control the Executive. Government and the Executive, by their nature, gather more power and continually enlarge their functions and areas of administration. So, too, should Parliamentary procedure be adapted to maintain effective control. As a consequence of our joining the European Community, there has been a marked change in the balance between the Executive and Parliament; and the time has come, in my view, for Parliament to seek to restore that balance. The primary responsibility for this lies with 769 the Commons, as the elected Chamber; but we, too, have a responsibility. It is my judgment that if the recommendations of this Report were accepted and implemented to the full, then the consequences to your Lordships' House could be profound and could create opportunities for this House to perform a Parliamentary role of greater significance than at any time in its recent history. It would represent a radical change in procedure and functions, and I believe it would be wrong to hide this fact. But whether the change proves to be fact or fiction will depend on whether the Membership of your Lordships' House can rise to the new opportunities.
Having said that, it would be wrong to suggest that the proposals and recommendations redress the loss of power and control of Parliament over the Executive as a consequence of our entry into the E.E.C. Prior to our entry, the control of Parliament over the Executive was absolute. Parliament had the power to say "Yes" or "No" to any action of the Government. Entry into the E.E.C. has changed that dramatically over a wide field of national policy. Under the Treaty of Rome originally, agriculture, transport and external affairs were the areas of conformity; but these have been added to as a consequence of Summit conferences and now include energy, social affairs, regional development and monetary and economic co-operation. The Treaty of Rome gives such powers to the Commission as to make regulations issued by them immediately effective as the law of the land without any Parliamentary scrutiny or approval.
The power of the Council of Ministers is even greater, by way of Council regulations, which take immediate effect as part of the law of the United Kingdom and naturally prevail over any law of the United Kingdom which is inconsistent with them, and by way of Council Directives which place on Parliament an obligation to make and change the law of the United Kingdom in all such respects as is necessary to give legal effect in the United Kingdom to the provisions of the Directives. If decisions are taken by the Council of Ministers on a majority vote, then the absolute power previously held by the British Parliament over a wide field of public policy—the right to say 770 "Yes" or "No"—has clearly gone. But as a result of the Luxembourg Conference, where an unanimous vote is required on important matters, it is possible for Parliament to claw back its lost position of absolute power on matters which are to be decided by the Council of Ministers, by an insistence that Government obtain the consent of Parliament to any proposal prior to consideration and decision by the Council of Ministers. To some extent, Denmark is in this position, since the Danish Parliament has taken power to mandate its Ministers. Its Parliamentary Market Affairs Committee agrees with the Ministers what should be the Danish negotiating position at the Council of Ministers and, if necessary, comes back for a new mandate. But if all national Parliaments were to adopt the position that they had to consent to all proposals before they were agreed by the Council, then very little would be done and perhaps frustration and delay would bring about the collapse of the European Economic Community.
Your Select Committee do not recommend the adoption of such a provision, and I personally would support that view so far as this House is concerned. Certainly such a proposal would have been outside the terms of reference of the Committee; but I have always taken the view that this House is complementary to the House of Commons. It is a Revising Chamber and should not be in a position of being able to frustrate the will of the Commons. Were the Commons to insist on such a provision, then it would be time for this House to consider its own position. The Commons Select Committee on European Community Secondary Legislation set out their objectives in Paragraph 37 of their Report—that is the Report to which the noble Lord the Leader of the House referred—when they say that the objective must be to restore to Parliament responsibilities for and opportunities to exercise its constitutional rights in respect of the making of these laws, involving, as they must, first, by the Government, that it necessarily follows that it must be at the expense of some of the freedom of action enjoyed by the Executive since the United Kingdom's entry into the E.E.C., and, by Parliament, that the scope, means and degree of scrutiny and control must be attuned to 771 the fact that it is dealing with a new way of making laws which is very different from that to which it is accustomed.
Your Select Committee believe that Parliament is entitled to know, and indeed has a duty to know, what are the proposals prior to a decision by the Council of Ministers, and Parliament should have an opportunity of making clear to Ministers what are its opinions and what view it would take of the Government were they to take any decision that runs counter to the clearly-expressed views of Parliament. I have no doubt, either, that the Government should be more accountable to Parliament for the decisions arrived at and positions taken by the Government at the Council of Ministers. In your Lordships' House, a Minister has stated that the Council is a negotiation body and that its deliberations are equivalent to those of a United Kingdom Cabinet Committee. The noble Lord the Leader of the House developed this matter further. I personally feel that the Council of Ministers is more of a legislative council than any other form of body. True, it has an executive role, but it is here that the European Community matters are discussed and decisions finally taken. I have no doubt at all that Parliament is entitled to know what has been the position of Ministers during legislative discussions.
The member-countries of the E.E.C. differ very much in their practice of disclosure to their national Parliaments. In the Netherlands, by what is called the Lulls Doctrine, it is customary for the Minister on the Floor of the House to disclose his position, but not that of other countries. The Acts of ratification of some other countries lay a duty on the Government to keep Parliament informed fully, and this has been taken, in those Parliaments, to include all information on Council proceedings. If the Government are answerable to Parliament and Parliament is answerable to the electorate, clearly Parliament has a duty to know why a decision has been taken.
We look forward to hearing from those noble Lords who are Members of the European Parliament. I think they would be the first to agree that it is really an Assembly since it has no legislative powers. The European Parliament has some power over the Commission, but 772 none over the Council of Ministers; and I should not have thought that a national Parliament, until there has been a major change in the European Parliament, would wish to hand over any of its national responsibilities to such an Assembly. Clearly, Parliament would, either by an Act of Parliament or by a Resolution, have to take such a decision.
One other matter on which I believe, as did your Committee, that we should have a great deal more information and general exposure is with regard to the position of the general public towards the European Economic Community. Many noble Lords are deeply anxious about the British public's attitude to the E.E.C. I, for one, believe that this may be due to the absence of real knowledge, information and understanding. I personally believe that it should not be left to the media, whether television or radio, to pass on information, and that Parliament should be in a better position to inform the general public.
What sort of procedure should we adopt? The Government, in their original evidence, recommended that we should have a Standing Committee. My noble friend Lord Diamond, who, unfortunately, is not able to be here to-day, also held that view throughout our Committee. There was a considerable case for such a procedure. Certainly it gives the opportunity to influence Ministers. But the Select Committee that was set up by your Lordships' House took the view, and I share it, that there are three prime objectives: first of all, the opportunity to influence Ministers; secondly, the acquiring of information and knowledge; and thirdly, the securing of a full appreciation of the consequences of any decisions and proposals.
The influence of Ministers is undoubtedly on the Floor of the House: a full expression of view and, if necessary, a vote. But one has to consider some of the practical difficulties which the noble Lord, the Leader of the House, dealt with. There are some 2,000 documents published by the Commission each year. Some of them are of very great importance and some have a life of only a few hours. It was estimated that between 15 per cent. and 20 per cent. of those documents warranted Parliamentary scrutiny. Therefore the question immediately arose: who was to decide what was 773 to be scrutinised and how should it be done? We came to the view that it could be done only through a Select Committee procedure, by which one could first of all sift the important from the non-important and also have the ability and opportunity of questioning Ministers.
I was grateful that the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, acknowledged this and, I thought, supported the view. So if this is to be adopted, clearly it has to be within a Select Committee procedure. I think such a procedure as set out in the Report, with the duty of the Select Committee to produce a full Report setting out the general effect of a proposal, the policy implications, the effect of the proposal on the United Kingdom law, and also the opinion of the Committee on the proposal, with possible amendments, provides the House with an opportunity not only of an informed debate but of being able to identify those subjects which the House as a whole ought to take into account.
In regard to Ministerial Statements, I do not believe that the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, from his own experience yesterday, would regard this as particularly satisfactory. First of all it breaks into a debate, then we have, as we did yesterday, a report of, I think, some 12 different meetings of Ministers on a very wide range of subjects; and no doubt due to the need for brevity, very little information was given as to what had in fact taken place. There is another matter, too: it is by courtesy that the Front Bench on this side of the House receives a copy of the Statement at three o'clock in the afternoon, half an hour before one is required to reply. It is usually only at 12 o'clock on the day in which the Statement is to be made that the Opposition is aware that a Statement is being made; and most noble Lords, who may be interested in the Statement will have no knowledge of it at all until they are in the Chamber. Certainly there is no real opportunity for examination. I should have thought that the proposed Select Committee procedure could well be used by the House referring such Statements to that Select Committee, and for the Select Committee to be able to report to the House on matters which they thought were of interest and importance. Statutory Instruments and Bills that arise from decisions within the E.E.C. that come 774 before your Lordships' House should also go to the Select Committee.
The suggested terms of reference are to be found in paragraph 111. I think they are concise and would meet the point. Your Select Committee suggest that we should have a committee that is relatively large in order that it can be sub-divided to embrace particular subjects like agriculture, social affairs, foreign policy, energy, transport and the law. The noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, I do not say criticised it, but I thought took the view rather of the House of Commons on having a smaller committee. The procedure that we have recommended in our Report is more in conformity with your Lordships' House's practice as with the Offices Committee, and Procedure Committee, setting up a large overall committee from which sub-committees are appointed. I view the Commons' recommendation of a small committee of nine as being very much of a steering committee; it is true that they will have the power to investigate and report, but they equally have the power of setting up sub-commitees.
I, for one, would accept the House of Commons' proposals, because the smaller the committee the more powerful and more influential it is—certainly it gets things done a good deal quicker than having a large committee. Therefore if the Government were to propose a smaller committee on the lines as suggested for the House of Commons, with a power to create sub-committees, I unhesitatingly would go along with them, despite the fact that we are departing from our usual custom. In regard to the Chairman, I do not think we should underestimate the work that will be involved. Certainly there will be the sifting and the initial scrutiny to be carried out. As the work develops there will be the relationship between the committee and the Departments; the relationship between the Select Committee and the Officers of the House; and there will be a good deal to do in the supervision of the work of sub-committees. Your Lordships' House has Recesses, but the E.E.C. continues, and it may well be that the Chairman and the sub-committees will have to continue working through the various Recesses. The Committee felt that this should be a full-time and salaried post. Whether the suggestion made by 775 the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, will prove acceptable, I do not know. If it does it would have to be quite clear that, as a Deputy Chairman, he had a full responsibility to your Lordships' House, because he would be the Officer of the House who would have to deal with very many complex matters.
My Lords, the fact that the House of Commons have agreed—or at least, in the Report support the proposal for a joint official staff—means that many of the problems and difficulties which we took into account when we made our recommendations for Joint Committees have been overcome. I was impressed with the House of Commons' view of the need for having two separate Committees, one in the House of Commons and one in the House of Lords. The noble Lord the Leader of the House spoke in generosity of the attitude of the House of Commons and I should like to quote from paragraph 77 of the First Report of the Commons Select Committee. They say:… it would seem entirely desirable that each House should devise whatever processes are best suited to its own role and procedures, and if the two bodies set about the same task in their own separate ways it would have twin advantages:I think that if that suggestion were accepted by the Government and by the House of Commons then many of the difficulties that could have arisen from proceeding in our separate ways could be overcome.
It would be reasonable for the expert staff to serve both Commons and Lords Committees, and the proposed legal adviser could also service both Committees.
- (a) that it is that much less likely that any item of significance will be overlooked, and
- (b) that … to the extent that the two Committees reached the same conclusions as to which items were and were not important that would be even more convincing than the views of one Committee only.
The other factor that we had in mind for joint procedure was the special burden that falls on Members of both Houses who would be called upon to take part in these Committees. I have a lingering doubt, and I think I should give it to the Leader of the House: he has heard it before, and I think he should hear it again. My Lords, we are a voluntary House; we are unpaid and what allowances we do receive are very inadequate in relation to the expenditure in which 776 one is involved in attending your Lordships' House. Our Members have many commitments both in terms of employment and with the local authorities and many voluntary causes. We have, too, the increasing pressure of domestic legislation, so that there is cause for doubt about adding to the duties and responsibilities of Members of this House. I would not in any way wish to be critical of the House as a whole, but I think there would be a recognition of the fact that the everyday burden falls upon a relatively few Members of your Lordships' House. Certainly for members of my Party to be called upon to man subcommittees of an E.E.C. relationship would stretch still further what are already overstretched resources. E.E.C. matters clearly need to be considered and I believe that the Select Committee procedure is in fact the most economical. This is not an occasion to suggest any remedy for the basic problem in which the House may find itself, but I think it is right, when we are considering these proposals, that we should recognise what burdens are going to be placed, and we may need to consider ways of overcoming them.
My Lords, I believe that the success of this procedure will depend very much upon the relationship of the Select Committee and the Government. I hope that the Government and their officials will not regard this as a confrontation but will regard it as an area in which cooperation would not only be to the benefit of the occasion but permit Parliament to perform its undoubted rights and duties. The critical issue, it seems to me, is the type of documents that the Government can make available to Parliament. Some are official documents and some are unofficial, the unofficial being the pre-legislative, the discussion documents, which are issued by the Commission before official submission to the Council of Ministers. I believe that it is here that Parliament can exercise its greatest influence over the Government: in the pre-legislative period, before a final decision has been made either by the Commission or by the officials. So my Lords, it is essential that the Government make available to Parliament all this class of paper and that the Government should be ready to discuss with the Select Committee the implications even 777 of these proposals in their very earliest draft position. If the Government are willing to do this, the question of having a Parliamentary observer in Brussels quickly disappears.
In conclusion, I would only refer the Leader of the House to the fact that we have now been in the Common Market for twelve months. Denmark and Eire, who joined at the same time, have already established their own procedures for scrutinising E.E.C. legislation, and we are only just beginning. So, my Lords, if the noble Lord wishes this to go to the Procedure Committee I shall not object, but I hope that the Government and the noble Lord the Leader of the House have taken the sense of your Lordships' House that proceedings ought to be taken on the proposals before us, subject to amendment. Then I hope that early discussions, if not immediate discussions, will commence between the Leaders of the Parties and noble Lords who sit on the Cross-Benches to see how best these proposals could be brought into a package for presentation to the Procedure Committee for their approval. I think it would be quite wrong to expect the Procedure Committee to start working out how these proposals are to be implemented. If that happened, I can see that it would be 1975 before we had any machinery in being. I believe that it would be a failure of duty if we were not to have some machinery in existence, some procedure in your Lordships' House actually working, in the early part of 1974 for the scrutiny of European Instruments. My Lords, I would close with one last word, because it is of great importance: silence signifies consent; and if your Lordships' House remains silent on these matters it can only be construed by the public as meaning that we have consented to them, irrespective of the merits of the proposals.
§ 4.19 p.m.
§ LORD MAYBRAY-KING
My Lords, I appreciate the honour given me by the House in appointing me to preside over this important Select Committee. My colleagues would wish me to express our gratitude to the Clerk of the Committee, Mr. Wheeler-Booth, for his devoted and distinguished service to us for over six months and for nearly every day of that period. I would thank too Miss Jane Franks for secretarial assistance beyond praise, and involving the typing of 778 thousands of pages of documentation. The Report which we have presented owes much to the assistance we have received from officials and Ministers of both Houses, and to the evidence from experts of various kinds, both here and in other European countries. For all this help and advice we are grateful. I am pleased that from the start we have shared evidence and papers with the House of Commons Select Committee. This has been helpful to us and, I hope, to them.
The Reports from the two Committees are not so much different as complementary. They marry with each other. In our earlier days we had thought and desired that there might ultimately be one Joint European Committee, just as, under Lord Brooke of Cumnor, there is a Joint Committee for Statutory Instruments. But the Report of the Commons Committee clearly points out that as the two Houses are very different in con-situation and function, their tasks vis-à-vis Europe take different forms. But I think both Houses will agree that, whereas there will be two scrutinising Committees, most of the apparatus, the expert staff, will be one, and will serve both the bodies which Parliament sets up so that there will be no unnecessary duplication of machinery.
I am more grateful than I can express to my colleagues who have served on the Committee. It is their combined wisdom which has produced what I hope the House—and the Government—will find a convincing Report. I am indeed proud to have been associated with them in their arduous task. Our work is over. It is now for the House and the Government to take action—for action there must be, and that quickly.
Let me briefly, and perhaps over-simply, set the scene. Britain has now been a member of the European Community for one year. That Community makes decisions, some of them affecting profoundly the life of every European citizen, and therefore of every British citizen. And, as yet, there is very little opportunity for the British Parliament to play its necessary part in influencing what decisions are made by the Community. Roughly, there are three important European bodies. The first 779 is the Commission, headed by 13 Commissioners, each of whom leads a team of experts in his own field. We appoint two of the Commissioners—our own two, George Thomson and Sir Christopher Soames—both of them working hard; we had first-hand evidence of this at Brussels.
It is this Commission—each of its members sworn to be Europeans rather than nationals in their loyalty—which has the initiative in making proposals to the second body. This second body is the Council of Ministers—a Council which is steadily growing in power and importance. When proposals are made to the Council by the Commission, the Council, after careful deliberation, seeks to arrive at a unanimous decision about the proposals. Just as the Commission has its own experts, each Government maintains at Brussels its own permanent body of advisers—a permanent staff headed by an official of ambassadorial rank. We were tremendously impressed by the work of our own Permanent Representatives and by our own Ambassador in Brussels, Sir Michael Palliser.
Then there is the European Parliament. This is so far largely a Consultative Assembly. But it seeks, and no doubt will in time achieve, powers which will make it a real Parliament. That aspect of the matter was outside our remit—but we saw our own British colleagues at work in Strasbourg, under the capable leadership of Peter Kirk and the noble Earl, Lord Bessborough, working towards making the European Parliament a real Parliament. But—and I would stress this —whatever developments take place at Strasbourg, the British Parliament still has, and will still have, its own European tasks to perform. For our part, we believe that the point at which the British Parliament has to prove itself effective is between the time of the formulation of a proposal by the Commission and the Council of Ministers (which includes our own Minister) making a decision on it; sometimes perhaps, even before the proposal has taken complete shape in the Commission, or when policy papers—for example, what we call Green Papers—are being considered. First, then, it is of key importance that the House 780 be made aware at the earliest possible moment of any new proposals which are being made by the Commission to the Council of Ministers.
In his evidence to us, we had the assurance of the then Leader of the House, my noble friend Lord Jellicoe, that the Government accept as a clear duty the provision of all necessary information. Both our Report and that of the Commons set out the ways in which this must be done. We then discussed what form the new Scrutinising Committee should take. This was the only issue on which there was any substantial disagreement in our Committee. The noble Lord, Lord Diamond, shared the original view of Lord Jellicoe that it should be a Standing Committee. Every other member was in favour of a Select Committee—as a more effective and more powerful machine for the job. This Select Committee will have power to send for persons and papers, hear evidence, examine witnesses—Ministers if necessary. It will create sub-committees by which it will be able to call on the vast and various wisdom and experience of this House. The Commons Report too is in favour of something like the Select Committee on Procedure—though it gives it another name.
Now other European Parliaments have Committees which meet in confidence—without any published report of what has been said. Britain is different. Our Committees' reports are published. We feel, however, that there may be occasions when a Minister (or one of his officials) may wish to speak to the proposed Lords Select Committee off the record, in order to avoid disclosing his hand before meeting his fellow Ministers on the Council of Ministers. Our Report suggests how this may be achieved by the method which the House of Commons sometimes uses—which is called the "side-lining" procedure, which would allow the Committee not to publish certain evidence if they thought it would be against the national interest to do so.
In our First Report we were anxious —over anxious, perhaps—about the problem of sifting the massive documentation which comes to us from Europe. Later we felt that this presented less difficulty than we had thought. But there must be some Member of this House, advised 781 by a professional staff, to sort out the comparatively few important documents from the many less important ones. In our Report we suggest that this noble Lord be a salaried Chairman. He will have heavy and continuous duties. In any case, when the documents have been so sifted into "unimportant" and "important" any member of the Select Committee will be able to insist that a document which the sifters have regarded as unimportant be considered as an important documents, and be scrutinised. The Select Committee which we propose will report to the House the results of its examination. Its work will be critical in the fine sense of the word "criticism" —positive as well as negative.
Every Parliament in the Community is grappling, in different ways, with the important task of providing adequate influence by the national Parliament on the decisions which its own Minister is to table at the Council of Ministers. Our Report indicates how your Lordships' House can play an important role in this matter. My colleagues on the Committee will be adding to this debate their wisdom and experience, and we are delighted that so many other distinguished noble Lords are to speak, including the noble and learned Lord, Lord Diplock, whose evidence was so valuable to the Committee. This is an urgent matter. From this important debate we hope that practical results will flow. If so, then the months of work of the Select Committee embodied in its Report will indeed have been worthwhile.
So far, I have spoken for the Committee. Obviously, I could not consult them on what the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, was going to say to-day. I understand the reason for the delay is that the other place has yet to consider its Report, and that the suggestion of the noble Lord is that this matter should then be referred to a Procedure Committee. The basic feature of this Report is the urgency of setting up the Instrument. This is of importance. I hope some of my colleagues will express their views on this question. We would hope that sending it to a Procedure Committee would not mean delay in the setting up of an Instrument, which should have been set up twelve months ago. I am grateful to the House for listening to me.
§ 4.24 p.m.
§ LORD GLADWYN
My Lords, this Report, as is only to be expected, given its Chairman and its composition, is a thoroughly workmanlike and extremely readable Report on a new and important problem which, so far as I know, has no precedent in your Lordships' House. I need hardly say that on these Benches we agree broadly speaking with its conclusions. Clearly, there must be some system whereby the United Kingdom Parliament is informed in advance of prospective legislation in Brussels, or rather, of any legislation which is likely, for better or worse, to have any serious effect on the national economy. When and if real powers are vested in a directly elected European Parliament, then, and only then, will the powers so conferred presumably be outside the scope of any national Parliament, including our own. But, as we all know—and here I agree, broadly speaking, with what the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, said—the European Parliament at present has virtually no powers, nor is it directly elected, even nationally. I think it will fairly shortly have considerable powers, in which case the situation will change to this extent: that whatever else it is, it will no longer be, as the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, said it is now, a mere assembly. That is common ground.
Therefore, at the moment, the Ministers in the Council of the European Economic Community are, from a democratic point of view, answerable only to the Parliaments which they represent. If these Parliaments are to be in a position to call Ministers to account, they clearly ought to be aware of what is going on. Of course, a national Parliament can call a Minister to account by simply depriving his Government of a majority if they do not like what he has done. But if they can do so only after the measure approved by the Ministers and contested by the Parliament has already become the law of the land under the Treaty of Rome, then this can hardly be said to be a satisfactory situation. On the other hand, it is obvious that no Government in present circumstances will agree to anything in Brussels which it believes would be unacceptable to its own Parliament. This is so long as the unanimity rule prevails in the Council. If there 783 were to be a qualified majority vote in the Council, as is provided for in the Treaty, a Government could be in the position of being overruled, whatever it thought its own Parliament might think, and then, however obnoxious it might hold the measure to be, the national Parliament could only deprive the Government of its majority and cause it to fall. But I suggest that this sort of situation is likely to arise only when and if the actions of the Council, or some of them, do not require the consent of the national but rather the European Parliament. Until then, I doubt whether the Governments will be willing to abandon the unanimity rule.
For the time being, therefore, we can all admit that some special procedure is necessary for keeping national Parliaments informed of what is going on at an early stage. But seeing that the European Parliament will increasingly be invested with real powers, such special procedure will to some extent be provisional. If all goes according to plan and as the Ministers have suggested, there is going to be a European Union in 1980, and in such conditions there will clearly be little need for any procedure. Having said that, however, by way of a few preliminary remarks, I should like to make a few criticisms, if I may, of the procedure now proposed, at any rate so far as this House is concerned. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Maybray-King, will take them in good part, more especially since they are designed to be helpful and do not detract in any way from my admiration of the Report he has prepared.
In the first place, although I agree that the weight of evidence seems to be—I think it is—in favour of a Select rather than a Standing Committee, I must say I still cannot quite see why there should not be a Joint Select Committee. Perhaps I did not read the evidence with sufficient attention, but throughout I had the impression that one saw occasional references to the fact that such a Joint Committee would result in a considerable economy of effort and, indeed, of some expense, although perhaps that is not so great as we might have thought, since we have agreed to have a joint secretariat or something like that. It was further suggested—and this is the point that I should like to make tentatively—that if there 784 were a Joint Select Committee it could result in a more dispassionate examination of the available material and in a tendency to regard it less from the standpoint of Party politics and more from the general interest. That is the impression I had from certain evidence given to the Committee.
Now not having taken part in the discussions, I cannot say from where exactly the opposition to the proposal for a Joint Select Committee actually came. I only hope it does not come from any who may desire to make use of a vast mass of material in front of the sifting machinery for the chief purpose of criticising the Government of the day, and even for the perhaps more sinister purpose of slowing up the whole operation of what is already an almost impossible cumbrous institution. Perhaps I am being too suspicious, but I should be interested to learn whether any noble Lords, to say nothing of the Government themselves, feel that there may be some danger, if the new scrutinising procedure is not used with great discretion and restricted to really important matters, of a gumming up of the works.
After all, as things are, a proposal for European legislation, in order to get going at all, has to germinate in the Commission, where nothing apparently is secret, and then has to run the gauntlet of various powerful management committees, expert bodies, the Economic and Social Council I rather think, the famous and very powerful Coreper, the Committee of Permanent Representatives, and finally, under the new procedure, the European Parliament itself, before actually coming up to the Ministers. If, before the Ministers take any final decision, it has in addition to be examined, as it were de novo, in subcommittees, both in this House and perhaps in another place, torn to pieces conceivably by nationalistically minded experts, or even, so far as we are concerned, by any noble Lord who may care to attend one of the sub-committees of this machinery, exposed, in other words, to hostile analysis by avowed enemies of the Government and of the European Economic Community, and then finally debated in both Houses of Parliament—and, incidentally, what is going to happen if the two Houses are not in agreement?—then I must say that 785 the chances of ever getting anything agreed at Brussels will be considerably less than they are at the present time.
I do not say that all this may not be desirable and even necessary where an important matter of principle is at stake; I would be the last to suggest that. But it does seem to me that there may be a real danger in the new procedure unless it is operated with intelligence, and, above all, with restraint. Much, therefore, as I see it, would seem to depend on the personality of the salaried Peer who will be Chairman of the Select Committee. Might we not agree—I throw this out as a suggestion—that he should be a Cross-Bencher who is neither a European federalist nor a known opponent of our entry into the E.E.C.? I should like to think also that the chairmen of the numerous sub-committees would be noted less perhaps for their Party political zeal than for their objectivity.
Whether we should have a number of sub-committees is something on which the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, has thrown a certain doubt. I myself think there is something in the potential criticism of the Report in that respect which the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, has made. Would it not perhaps be better to follow the Commons' example and set up one committee, with a chairman and a deputy and a simple staff, and then, if it is found to be necessary, set up sub-committees, as many as are necessary for the purpose? But do not let us start with an enormous machinery. Start off with a smaller apparatus and then see how it goes. I think that is in accordance with our normal procedure, our normal tendency, in this country as a whole.
There is another matter on which I must say I share the view, as I understood it, of the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, and that is in regard to the proposed appointment of a Parliamentary observer in Brussels. I must say that if I was responsible for trying, during any very difficult negotiations, to get all the pigs into the poke in the complicated jungle of the European Economic Community, I should regard this gentleman with a certain apprehension. If indeed he were that kind of person, he would have an almost unique opportunity of starting up unnecessary hares. Who 786 would nominate him, and how would he be paid? Would the Government have any say in his choice? Perhaps that was considered in the Report, but if so I did not see it. Personally, I should have thought that all that is really necessary would be for the Chairman of the Select Committee, and perhaps also his many sub-committee chairmen, to subscribe to what is known as the Agence Europe, which gives all the gossip on what is happening in Brussels, and indeed other similar productions. Little in any case seems to escape the eagle eye of a large number of highly intelligent journalists accredited to the European 'Economic Community. It might thus be better, and it would certainly be much cheaper, for the Committee to rely on some good Press-cutting agency. Finally, I should like to support the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd in what he said about Ministerial Statements. It is perhaps irrelevant to this Report, but I would very much support what he said.
I said at the beginning of my remarks that in my belief all this rather elaborate apparatus will probably be, over the years, of a provisional nature only. If the European Economic Community, under the dreadful strains to which it is now being subjected—and there may be worse ones to come—breaks up in the coming years obviously all this apparatus will not be necessary and would gradually lapse. If, on the other hand, the European Economic Community, as I myself still believe it probably will do, fairly shortly becomes a monetary and soon after that some kind of political union (again I think that enormous forces are pressing us into European unity, whether we like it or not) responsible, among other things, for its own foreign policy and defence, equally the present machinery will not be necessary, because we shall all be agreed by then on what decisions, generally speaking, shall be taken in some European centre by entirely democratic means and what decisions will be left for decision by the Parliament at Westminster.
Not all of us may want to proceed in this direction, which was nevertheless the direction indicated by all Heads of State and Governments just over a year ago, and recently reiterated by that important and celebrated Socialist statesman Herr Willy Brandt. One of the best, if not the best, present means of advancing along 787 this road, if indeed we want to advance along it, is the granting of real powers, not only over the Community budget, which is now being considered, but in other spheres as well, to the existing European Parliament which by then, let us say quite soon, will have to be directly elected on a national basis, pending agreement on its election on a European-wide basis on an agreed universal suffrage.
What would be the most desirable means of electing it nationally is something which I think this House would be well advised to discuss before very long. For you simply cannot give real powers to the present Parliament, and the Ministers are, after all, pledged to do this very thing, without changing the existing method of composing it. It is like riding a bicycle: unless you press on, you fall off. If you do press on, some real powers are going to be removed from Westminster, in which case the labours of this machinery we are contemplating will pro tanto be less. Equally, if we fall off, there will not be any need for them. So, as I say, we must surely regard the proposals of the noble Lord, Lord Maybray-King, however useful and indeed necessary, things being what they are, as essentially transitional measures, subject to constant review in accordance with the development, or alternatively the non-development, of the Community itself. I hope that it is in this sense and with this proviso that the Government will eventually adopt this Report, and that produced in another place, which seemed to me, incidentally, to be very much on the right lines. Perhaps I might end simply by parodying the famous lines:For forms of scrutiny let fools contest; That which is best administered is best.In other words, the machinery matters much less than the way you work it.
§ 4.50 p.m.
§ LORD CROWTHER-HUNT
My Lords originally it seemed an admirable idea when it was suggested that I should make my maiden speech in this debate which deals with a new but fundamental constitutional question, because, after all, for the last twenty years or more now I have been lecturing Oxford and Cambridge undergraduates on fundamental constitutional issues and, among other things, emphasising the virtues of our flexible, pragmatic and largely unwritten 788 Constitution. But I now recognise the folly and the dangers of this afternoon's enterprise. It is one thing to tell Oxford undergraduates how our affairs should be conducted; it is quite different to address your Lordships on these matters. After all, Oxford undergraduates only think that they know better than I do, and clearly it would be an indefensible impertinence to the accumulated wisdom and practical experience of your Lordships' House if my few words this afternoon could even be remotely construed as an attempt of a brash newcomer to lecture your Lordships on how best to perform one of the most crucial and important functions of this House, the preservation of our basic constitutional principles and the preservation too of the fundamental rights and liberties of the people of the United Kingdom. I therefore ask your Lordships' indulgence, and trust that nothing I say can possibly be construed in that way. Fortunately, the noble Lord, Lord Maybray-King, and his colleagues on the Select Committee, have, I trust and believe, entirely saved me from the danger of any possible impertinences this afternoon, because virtually my sole purpose to-day is to say how much I admire the splendid, scholarly and practical Report, and to add my voice to those who have been emphasising its virtues, and to urge Her Majesty's Government to take urgent and speedy action on it.
But, my Lords, in commending the Maybray-King Report to the serious consideration of Her Majesty's Ministers it would be wrong of me to hide a minor ulterior purpose, and that is to insert what might be called a "mini-plug" for the Memorandum of Dissent which accompanied the Report of the Commission on the Constitution. When Professor Alan Peacock and myself were debating together about our Memorandum of Dissent, we were very much exercised by the impact that United Kingdom membership of the Common Market was having, and will increasingly have, on the workings of our system of government. Here I am flattered to find that our diagnosis of the constitutional implications of our membership of the Common Market is broadly the same as that so lucidly presented in the Maybray-King Report. Since the diagnoses are broadly the same, there is naturally a 789 broad similarity about the main recommendation in the two Reports; the recommendation that proposed regulations, or Directives, from the European Commission should be considered in the United Kingdom by a Parliamentary Select Committee or Committees, though here I must confess a slight difference. In our Memorandum of Dissent I suggested that these proposed regulations, or Directives, should be handled mainly by an appropriate Select Committee in the other place, but that was written before I had any indication whatsoever that I was to become a Member of your Lordships' House, so I trust that I may be forgiven for not being sufficiently farsighted on that point.
I am fortified now in my belief that your Lordships' House has a major role to play in the scrutiny of proposals for European Instruments not only by the Maybray-King Report but also by the parallel Report that has now emanated from the other place. If that appears to be both enigmatic and backhanded, as indeed it is, may I be permitted to explain more precisely what I really mean in a minute or two. I should like first of all to set out and emphasise what seems to me the basic principle which should guide us in devising proposals for the scrutiny of European Instruments. It seems to me that the fundamental principle to be applied here is that all proposals from the European Commission to the Council of Ministers, whether for regulations, Directives, or Treaty agreements, should be referred to this Parliament for scrutiny before Her Majesty's Ministers are called upon to reach a decision on any of these proposals in the Council of Ministers. Clearly such a scrutiny can be carried out effectively only by a Select Committee, or Committees, of appropriate size and with appropriate staffs.
Here it is worth for a moment considering the Select Committee proposed in the parallel Report on this subject by the other place. They recommend a very small Select Committee of not less than 9 and not more than 15 members, and their job is seen simply as informing the other place as a whole about any proposals of legal or political importance so that the other place can debate them if it so wishes. Here the pattern being followed is simply that of the Statutory Instruments Committee. But my own view on this is very strongly to prefer the recommenda- 790 tions made by the noble Lord, Lord Maybray-King, because these recommendations envisage that your Lordships' Select Committee to scrutinise proposals for European Intruments can be concerned with their merits as well as their importance. It will look, as I understand it, at the merits of what is being proposed. So it is suggested that the Committee would be large enough to form functional sub-committees on finance, agriculture, and so on, and then when the Committee, or the sub-committees, have reported on the merits of what is being proposed, the Select Committee would be able to make recommendations which could be the basis of informed debate in your Lordships' House before—and I emphasise this again—Her Majesty's Ministers are called on to make final decisions on these matters at the Council of Ministers in Brussels. If the recommendations of the proposed Select Committee were not unanimous, because agreement on merits is often more difficult than agreement on importance, I see no harm in that. Minorities have a role to play in contributing to democratic debate.
Clearly Her Majesty's Government need to give effect to the Maybray-King recommendations at the earliest possible moment. Since we became Members of the European Community and up to November 15 of this year, there have been some 252 regulations approved by the Council of Ministers which have now become, or are becoming, the law of the United Kingdom, and none of these has been scrutinised, still less approved by Parliament. Unless this is urgently remedied it will contribute still further to what was one of the most disturbing pieces of evidence put before the Commission on the Constitution; that is, the evidence of the widespread sense of powerlessness which ordinary people throughout the United Kingdom feel to-day against the omnipotence and remoteness of government. In this context, if the recommendations of the Maybray-King Report are acted on and as soon as possible, this House will be able to make a major contribution to bridging the gap between the people of this country and the decision-makers in London and Brussels.
I should like to make one final point. The Select Committee being recommended by the noble Lord may well be 791 seen in some quarters, as indeed it is, as a sort of temporary expedient. For example, some may argue, as has been argued this afternoon, that when the European Parliament gains in strength, is directly elected and becomes a European Legislature with real power, then it will no longer be necessary to have a Select Committee in this House to scrutinise proposals emanating from the European Commission. But, my Lords, with respect, I cannot believe that this is so. If and when the European Parliament develops in this way, there will still be, in my view, a crucial role for our Parliament to play in the governing of this country. The fundamental role of the European Parliament, as I see it, is to consult with the European Commission on the evolution of proposals being put to the Council of Ministers, and in these consultations it must seek to develop those proposals from an overall European point of view—from the point of view of the extent to which they will contribute to the welfare of Europe as a whole. The job of this United Kingdom Parliament is different and at once more important to the people of this country. It is to scrutinise those proposals which emanate from the Commission, and to scrutinise them in the context of how far they will contribute to the welfare of the people of the United Kingdom. Furthermore, the essential role of our Parliament is to hold Her Majesty's Ministers responsible to the elected Members of the other place and to this House for the decisions they take at the Council of Ministers in Brussels; and if your Lordships' House is able to act now and in the future in the way proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Maybray-King, not only will this House be carrying out its traditional role of safeguarding the rights and liberties of the people of this country, it will also be building a bridge between the people of this country, their Government in London and beyond to the Common Market institutions in Brussels—and such a bridge, my Lords, is in my view an urgent and vital need to-day.
§ 5.2 p.m.
THE EARL OF BESSBOROUGH
My Lords, I am very happy to be the first Member of your Lordships' House to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord 792 Crowther-Hunt, on a fascinating and most valuable contribution to our debate. I am glad to see that we were both at Cambridge and both in the Royal Artillery, so we have some bonds in common. Certainly his unrivalled knowledge as a member of the Commission on the Constitution, in particular, makes him a valued Member of this House. I hope that we shall hear more from him, and hear more of his humour, on many other occasions. I am very glad that he has spoken to us this afternoon.
I am also grateful to my noble friend the Lord Privy Seal for having moved his Motion in such lucid terms; and I would also thank the noble Lord, Lord Maybray-King, for a most interesting and comprehensive Report. I know, too, what a wise and important part my noble friend Lord Brooke of Cumnor played in the work of this Committee. I am grateful to many people this afternoon. I am grateful, too, to my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Duchy in another place for his comprehensive survey of Community affairs, which he delivered in another place last week. This enabled those of your Lordships who read his speech to look at the broad spectrum of Community affairs in the perspective which they deserve.
My Lords, I will be as brief as possible and will confine my own remarks to the activities of the European Parliament, which is one of the important institutions of the Community and of which I have the honour to be a Vice-President and also deputy leader of the European Conservative Group. First of all, I should like to say that I support what my honourable friend Mr. Kirk, the leader of the Conservative delegation in the Parliament, said in his speech in another place last Tuesday in regard to the powers of the European Parliament, which are referred to in paragraphs 71 to 76 of the Select Committee's Report. As Mr. Kirk said there is a strong body of opinion in the European Parliament which believes that the last word should rest with that Parliament itself, and that it should have the right in certain circumstances, and with a qualified majority, to overrule the Council. Mr. Kirk agreed —and I agree with him—that that is unrealistic at this stage, and certainly so long as the unanimity rule remains within the Council.
793 However, the result is that this situation may well lead early in the new year to a motion of censure and the dismissal of the present Commission if they are not prepared to change their views or to persuade the Council to change its views. This power of dismissal is one which the Parliament possesses, and in my view it is nonsense for a spokesman of the Labour Party to describe the European Parliament as a sham assembly—and I was glad that the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, did not describe it as such. It is true, as I recognise, that it has not the powers of the Council, of the Commission or, indeed, of the European Court of Justice, but it does have this power to dismiss the Commission. It also has a very considerable influence under the Treaties, for the Parliament has to be consulted on a very wide range of legislative instruments and Lord Maybray-King covers this in paragraph 61 of his Report.
I know well, from a year's experience, that the committees of the Parliament have a significant influence over members of the Commission and the kind of proposals which they put forward to the Council. Indeed the Commission seem to consult the Parliament on virtually every issue. I would judge that they do so considerably more extensively than even the Treaties require. All the same, from the Parliament's point of view the situation is not wholly satisfactory. For example, during the last plenary session in Strasbourg on November 15 (the noble Lord, Lord O'Hagan, was one of the noble Lords present on that occasion) we were informed by the commissioners that, as reported in the Press, the Commission had made certain proposals to the Council regarding Community supplies of enriched uranium—a sensitive subject, I agree. Although I asked the commissioners whether I could see a copy of those proposals as a member of the Parliament and in accordance with the provisions of the Treaty, they were not immediately available and in fact were given to me on a confidential basis as a member of the Parliament's Energy Committee only this last Monday, December 3; that is to say, over a fortnight after the proposals had been put to the Council. I was told that the delay in communicating this document was the fact that it was confidential and that the Commission wished to be 794 courteous to the Council and to give them an opportunity to study it before it was communicated elsewhere.
Although this is not wholly satisfactory, it at least means that members of the committees of the Parliament are personally in possession of these confidential proposals, and I am therefore in a position personally to discuss them with Ministers and officials in Whitehall. I should also think—and I address this remark particularly to the noble Lord, Lord Maybray-King—that in a case of this kind it would be possible for me or another member of another committee to communicate such proposals, still on a confidential basis, to the Scrutiny Committee when it has been set up. I recognise, too, that under the Treaties it is technically for the Council to communicate this kind of document to the Parliament, even if sometimes the Parliament receives it direct from the Commission. I give this example only to show that even if the methods of communication are not ideal, the relevant committee of the Parliament, and eventually the Parliament itself in plenary, is given an opportunity to express its opinion before a final decision is taken by the relevant Council of Ministers or, perhaps in this case of enriched uranium, by the Supreme Council of Ministers—that is to say, the Heads of State and Governments—when they meet later this month.
At all events, the point I wish to make is that the European Parliament is constantly consulted by the commissioners and also, I may say, their Directors-General, more regularly, perhaps, than national Ministers consult committees in some national Parliaments. The European Parliament is therefore not a sham Assembly. None the less, it should, in my view, have increased powers; and I was glad to hear my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Duchy in another place say last week that both the Council and also the Commission have agreed with the European Parliament on improvements in their relationship and methods of work, and it was proposed that the Parliament should achieve additional budgetary powers next year to reinforce those it would attain by previous agreement in 1975. My right honourable friend added that this pro- 795 gressive accumulation of real power was generally seen as the right way forward.
I am very glad that my right honourable friend Mr. Davies said that. I am sure that it is right. I am equally certain that, having increased powers, it is also important that the Parliament should ultimately be directly elected, or even in the interim perhaps designated in a manner somewhat different from that which exists already, or at any rate in a manner which would relieve the excessive strain and burden resting on my honourable friends, particularly those in another place. But I would say also that it is equally a strain on my noble friends in your Lordships' House. It is not possible for us effectively to carry out our double duties. We exist on an expense allowance paid only when we go to Strasbourg or Brussels or Luxembourg or wherever our Committees meet. We cannot even then receive our allowances in this place; we have no paid secretaries, and in this respect we are certainly less well off than those in another place, although we do not have the burden of a constituency to serve.
No congressman in the United States nor member of the Canadian House of Commons could function in this way, or function as a member of their own State or Provincial Legislature. I do not want to see my honourable friends and my noble friends here break down under the strain. But the European Parliament having increased powers, and ultimately being directly elected or designated in some other manner, would not mean that either your Lordships' House or another place would be in any other way by-passed so far as Community legislation is concerned.
I agree broadly with Lord Maybray-King's proposal. I see no reason to fear that the Council of Ministers as the ultimate legislating body will take decisions at variance with the wishes of either House of Parliament in this country. The checks are already considerable and I should not think it necessary—this is the only place where I disagree with the Report and agree with my noble friend the Leader of the House —to appoint a Parliamentary observer or observers and specialists in Brussels in the way the Germans have done. After all, we know that we have a strong 796 national Governmental delegation in Brussels led by a most distinguished and able diplomat, Sir Michael Palliser, to whom several noble Lords have already paid tribute. That delegation is looking at all the Commission's proposals to the Council on a day to day basis. Secondly, we know that Members of your Lordships' House and of another place who are Members of the European Parliament are likewise scrutinising the Commission's proposals. Thirdly, from a Party political point of view there are the Party group secretariats in Luxembourg also carefully sifting the Commission's instruments. Fourthly, there will now be—I hope they will be set up as soon as possible—the two new scrutiny committees, or whatever they may be called, of both Houses. Therefore, it seems most unlikely that the Council, with their strong United Kingdom membership, backed by a strong team of officials, would accept Commission proposals likely to be opposed to British interests.
I do not think that there is any great risk of the Commission's proposals slipping through without the knowledge of either House of Parliament at Westminster. If the Labour Party also agreed to send delegations, and had their own Party officials, the risk would be even less. They would represent a fifth and important sieve. It is true that, due to the fact that we were not in the Community at the outset we have some difficult problems, especially the Common Agricultural Policy, with abuses such as the butter mountain. But the C.A.P. is largely the result of not having joined the Community earlier. In any case, we know that Her Majesty's Government, led by my right honourable friend Mr. Godber, are doing everything possible to see that the C.A.P. is amended. And when I speak of "mountains" I would also mention another conceivably potential mountain which might be created if the Commission's proposals in regard to enriched uranium go through. By the end of the decade this might involve a mountain of rich uranium and I should be sorry to see this happen if indeed there is a great deal of overproduction as a result of the Commission's proposals that both technologies should go through.
Finally, let me say that I am very happy with Lord Maybray-King's proposal in his Report that noble Lords who are members of the European Parliament 797 should be encouraged to attend meetings of the Select Committee or Scrutiny Committee, and/or its sub-Committees, on their specialities and that I, as the Leader of the Lords Delegation, should receive the papers and attend, whenever possible, the main Committee. Even if such meetings may occasionally clash with our meetings in Brussels or Strasbourg or Luxembourg or elsewhere on the Continent, it is very likely that I or one or other of my noble friends will be able to attend as required. But I emphasise again that the exercise of this dual mandate and the folly of having to attend meetings in so many different places is a severe strain, and I hope that the Government will bend their mind to this matter of the location of the Parliament.
I am certainly in favour of introducing a system of direct election sooner than perhaps one might have thought was realistic on joining at the beginning of this year; or at any rate, as I said earlier, in a different form of designation which would relieve my honourable friends in another place. If we are to achieve complete political union, as was stated at the last Summit Conference, by 1980 and we have, in Chancellor Brandt's words, a European Government by the end of the decade, then a directly elected Parliament should, in my view, exist alongside it. I have not made up my mind whether the proposals of the noble Lord, Lord Maybray-King, and his Committee should be referred to the Procedure Committee. Whether or not they are referred to the Procedure Committee I hope that the proposed Committees should be set up as speedily as possible and I am glad that the noble Lords, Lord Shepherd and Lord Maybray-King, agree with me on this.
§ 5.10 p.m.
§ LORD DIPLOCK
My Lords, I count it a happy coincidence that my taking part in this debate should have given me an opportunity to hear and to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Crowther-Hunt, upon a maiden speech on a subject on which he is an acknowledged authority. I intervened in the debate on the Second Reading of the European Communities Bill to make one point only. It was a point which I thought that I could make with propriety because it raised a question of constitutional law which I believe far transcends any Party 798 allegiance. It was to urge the early appointment of a Committee to consider what machinery could be devised to enable both Houses of Parliament to be informed in advance about proposals for Community law, and in appropriate cases to debate them before they were made and before it was too late to influence. It was urgent then because we were about to accede to the Community. It is the more urgent now that 12 months have passed since we have done so.
My Lords, I should like to add my tribute to the Maybray-King Report, and particularly to mention the lucid analysis that it contains of the way in which the Council and the Commission prepare Community legislation. It puts flesh on the bare bones of the constitutional structure of the Community institutions which are contained alone in the Treaties themselves. It shows that that constitution is flexible and able to adapt itself, in the light of practical experience, to needs as they arise. And, most important, it leads one to hope that it will be able to adapt its procedures to accommodate the desire of national Parliaments, and particularly this Parliament at Westminster, to play a part in the preparatory stages of laws and policies which will be binding on all the subjects of this realm.
The proposals of the Committee have my unqualified support. I hope that they will be put into effect with the absolute minimum of delay. The need for urgency was underlined by Lord Brockway's Question on the Order Paper to-day about provisions in a Statutory Instrument laid before Parliament on November 9 to give effect to a Directive of the Council of the Communities about compulsory insurance of motor vehicles. When I saw that Question on the Order Paper it seemed to me that it would provide a practical test of the Committee's proposals to see what would have happened if the United Kingdom had been a member of the Communities and the Select Committee proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Maybray-King, had been in operation when the Directive upon which that Statutory Instrument was founded was prepared.
It was as long ago as June 24, 1970, that the proposal by the Commission for the Directive was sent to the Council. That proposal set out, as all Directives 799 do, the reasons why it was being proposed. The broad policy, it said, was to eliminate frontier controls on vehicles crossing from one Member State into another. The particular purpose, it said, was to eliminate the need to check at these internal frontiers between Member States whether a vehicle was properly insured against third party liability as required by the law of the particular Member State. And the means by which it proposed to achieve this purpose was that Member States should assume responsibility to see that vehicles registered or based in their own territory were insured against liabilities in other Member States of the Communities; and, a necessary complement to that, that vehicles from non-Community States entering a Member State should not be allowed to be used until the Member State was satisfied that they had the appropriate insurance against third party liability as required by the laws of each of the Member States. The actual wording in which this last requirement was put was:That each Member State shall take all appropriate measures to ensure that vehicles normally based in a non-Community State entering the territory of the Member State shall not be used in its territory unless there has been the appropriate insurance policy cover.This was a Directive. It set out what was to be achieved. It therefore left Member States to decide what was the most appropriate way of carrying it into effect under their own legal system. That was June 24, 1970. A Directive was not made until April 24, 1972. So there was a period of almost two years in which there could have been discussion of its contents. When it was made in 1972 it required that the Member States should bring it into effect upon December 31, 1973.
My Lords, what would have happened if the proposed Select Committee had been in operation? First, the Committee would have seen the draft not later than April, 1970. The sifting process would have thrown it up at once as a Directive which required consideration and report, because it would affect hundreds of thousands of British motorists travelling into European countries; it would affect commercial vehicles, and it might affect the insurance interests of this country. 800 The Government's proposals to amend the law would, under the recommendations of the Maybray-King Report, have been placed before the Select Committee with the proposed Directive. As I have said, the Directive gives some scope for choice of methods to be used by the Government. In the Government proposals which are now embodied in the Statutory Instrument laid before Parliament last month the problem as regards home-based vehicles was fairly simple. All that was necessary was to extend compulsory cover already required for this country to compulsory cover for liabilities incurred in Community countries. Incidentally, that would involve the creation of a new criminal offence in this country, but of a relatively minor nature. As regards entering vehicles, the Government's chosen machinery, as the Statutory Instrument disclosed, was to require such vehicles to produce evidence of requisite insurance cover, and to prohibit their use in this country if that evidence was not produced. It created an offence, not of a novel character, of using the vehicle in breach of the prohibition, and it conferred a power of arrest of the person using it in breach of the prohibition.
My Lords, I have not mentioned this because I am concerned in any way with the merits of the proposal, but it is one that affects the liberty of the subject. It has aroused public apprehension, mainly, I think, because of lack of information and explanation. This House ought to know about a proposal of that kind, and to have an opportunity of deciding whether it merits debate, although I do not say that if a full explanation had been given this House would have thought that it merited debate. In order to consider whether the terms of the proposed Directive should be modified, in this case in respect of the entering of non-community vehicles, or in any event whether the Government's proposals for meeting the obligation were the best machinery for carrying out what the Directive required, if the Select Committee had been in existence, there would have been full information to enable Members to decide whether a debate was required, and to ensure that if a debate took place it would be a fully informed debate and to the point. In this instance there would have been all the time 801 between June, 1970, and April, 1972, for that to happen.
My Lords, may I leave this subject with two comments. First, I hope the Government will accept the need for a legal adviser, familiar with Community law, to provide services for this Committee. I think that is essential. Lastly, may I say that I was naïve enough politically to believe that the task of scrutiny and report might usefully have been undertaken by a Joint Select Committee of both Houses. No doubt that was naive of me. It certainly was not to be. It is encouraging to see that the Committee in another place has recommended a machinery comparable to that proposed in the Report of this House, and has welcomed the proposal that there should be a share-a-service of expert advisers and secretariat.
My Lords, the task of these Committees is bound to be demanding of the time and effort of members of the Committee, of Officials of the House, and of Ministers. Every effort should be made to avoid unnecessary duplication. The example of the Statutory Instrument which I have been discussing is such that it would not be necessary for both Houses individually to look at the matter. I hope that experience will show that there are other means by which Committees of the two Houses will co-operate to avoid unnecessary duplication of vital, but very exacting work.
§ 5.34 p.m.
THE EARL OF DUDLEY
My Lords, the noble Lord the Leader of the House made a number of remarks with which I agree, and none more so than his tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Maybray-King. It was a rewarding experience to serve with him and his colleagues. I must also say that there were a number of remarks made by the noble Lord with which I profoundly disagreed: on the subject of the Committee and the sub-committees, the role of counsel, the participation of Parliament with the Commission, and other points with which I shall deal in the course of my remarks.
My Lords, the events of past weeks have severely tested the links which bind the Community together. There has been criticism, even scorn, at lack of concerted policies. To my mind, the significant feature of the crisis has been the other side of the picture: the growing influence 802 of the Community on national policies. Britain and other Member States may for a long time in their national policies fall short of the standards set by the European ideal. But I believe that public opinion is becoming more Community minded, despite the increases in food prices, despite the energy crisis, than might have been expected a year ago. In using that expression, I do not mean to imply pro- or anti-Community, but simply an acceptance of the existence of the Community and of Britain's involvement. It may be moving a little faster than the Government on some issues, including the pooling of scarce resources. As I shall hope to convince noble Lords, a wider Parliamentary involvement will greatly assist the vigorous growth of the Community, and in my view the pace of recent events has made the Committee's recommendations even more urgent. The future tense has become an imperative, and the Government's time for reflection even shorter.
Much of the Committee's Report deals with Community institutions and with the nature of the legislative processes. This is described in paragraph 97 asa distant, bureaucratic and unaccountable decision-making process in Brussels.As one who believes in Parliamentary democracy and in the future of Europe, I am sorry to have to acknowledge that that description is true. The role of the Commissioners has been fully explained by the noble Lord, Lord Maybray-King, and I would only add these few words. The Commissioners are appointed by national regimes but placed, by the Treaty, outside their control. They are, in a sense, accountable to the European Parliament but are not members and they cannot rely on Party support for their policies. They have no right to vote, yet they have executive powers, derived from the Treaty or conferred by the Council, to make Regulations which are promptly binding on the citizens of all Members States.
In short, my Lords, they are a bureaucracy, with a substantial executive and some legislative power, whereas the European Parliament has a mainly consultative role and limited powers. Due to a reluctance of Member States to transfer sovereign powers to Community institutions, the right of final decision over most important legislation remains vested 803 in the Council of Ministers: as the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, said, neither a Cabinet, in the British sense, nor a Legislature, in the Parliamentary sense, but a body which I should prefer to define as one in which a consensus is sought between the European policies of Member Governments with a view to promulgating or rejecting legislation proposed by the Commission.
Bureaucratic Governments, and powerful executive branches of government, overshadowing comparatively weak Parliamentary institutions, have often been a feature of European constitutions; and if this country had helped to establish the Community's institutions I am sure they would have had a different shape. Although national Governments participate in the legislative processes, national Parliaments are excluded from them. They would be superfluous if Community laws evolved from policies formulated by a European Government and were enacted by a European Parliament. But that is not yet the situation.
This poses the problem for national Parliaments, which is examined in paragraph 97 of the Report, as to how far they should participate in the decision-making process. In that paragraph and in paragraph 98, because of the nature of the Community's legislative process, the Committee underlines the need for the national Parliament to participate before decisions are taken in the Council and suggests that the formulation of policies to which the United Kingdom is a party should be subject to scrutiny by the national Parliament, and concludes that the purpose of Parliamentary scrutiny is to influence the United Kingdom Ministers prior to discussions on Community proposals in the Council, in which they take final form. In a subsequent paragraph the Report states:While Parliament cannot itself amend, alter or reject Community legislation, it can bring pressure on Ministers to try to do so in Council.Part V of the Report focuses on the special problem of suitable procedures for the House of Lords. The method proposed for scrutiny is, as noble Lords have heard, by means of a Select Committee; and the point cannot be made too strongly that the function of the Committee would be to inform itself and report 804 to the House and not to influence or persuade Ministers directly on the occasions when they may be invited to give evidence. Paragraph 104 proposed that:In the Lords, it is on the Floor of the House where Ministers may be directly influenced, and that is where debate—as distinct from scrutiny—should take place.The Committee conclude in paragraph 130—and although the noble Lord, Lord Maybray-King, has already mentioned this point, I should like to quote directly from the Report—that:The effectiveness of the Committee's work would depend on the response by the Government to a report or to a debate on a report. The Committee's reports might also be taken directly into account by the Commission.The point initially raised by the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham—and I believe there has been some argument about it—was as to the composition of the Committee and whether it should immediately include a number of sub-committees. It seems to me that this argument does not reveal any profound differences of opinion. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Maybray-King, will agree that the reason why the Committee felt that there should be sub-committees was because they were aware that a large number of specialist subjects would require to be dealt with by one or two noble Lords with specialist knowledge, so that it would be a waste of time for all noble Lords to sit around in the main meetings of the Committee while some subjects with which the majority were not involved were discussed. For this reason, it seemed best to say that the Committee should form itself into sub-committees so as to deal with these specialist subjects.
I hope the Government will not find anything difficult or unacceptable in the proposals, despite some of the arguments put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham. I was surprised that they apparently ignored the First Report of the Committee, but I assume that they, too, were awaiting the second wedding of the year—a wedding which never took place. Noble Lords may know that both Committees were given powers to confer, but in the event they only exchanged papers. So it can be said that the noble Lord, Lord Maybray-King, waited over nine months at the altar for his right honourable friend—and I use the word in its romantic, rather than the Parliamentary sense—who shall remain anonymous, to 805 show up. All he got for his patience was a bouquet and an offer to share the cost of the priest.
I should like to remind the noble Lord the Leader of the House of the fact that the Select Committee in another place have recognised that this House has an advantageous role to fulfil, both in the new processes and in the expression of views on important items of Community legislation, and that both Committees have recommended joint staffing procedures as being reasonable and as facilitating the sharing of work. The Reports were in essentials complementary, and noble Lords may consider this a further argument in support of the conclusions reached by the House of Lords Committee.
I noticed the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, regarding the desirability of the terms of reference of the two Committees being as closely akin as possible. The terms of reference were spelt out by the House of Lords Committee in paragraph 111, and they can be read there by noble Lords. I cannot find anything in the Report to the House of Commons Committee which conflicts in any way with their terms of reference, although they themselves did not spell out their terms of reference. Perhaps I need not take that very much further.
I should now like very briefly to look beyond the body of the Report, and try to evoke something of the spirit which, so far as I personally was concerned, animated our discussions. I have no doubt whatever that the inter-relationship between Parliament and the Community in its widest sense was very much in all our minds. Membership of the European Assembly provides a powerful and continuous link between Westminster and Strasbourg, although one could wish that it were truly representative. I have already mentioned ways by which Parliament can participate indirectly with Government in the deliberative and legislative functions of the Council; but what must, I think, be read between the lines of the Report is the need for increasing contact between the representative bodies of Parliament and the European Commission. It might very well be necessary for these to remain informal, since the Commission is understandably reluctant 806 to maintain contacts at official level with the Parliaments of nine Member nations.
§ LORD O'HAGAN
My Lords, may I interrupt the noble Lord for a moment, solely to correct what I think may possibly be a mistaken impression given earlier in the year by the Commission about their attitude towards national Parliaments. If I may be forgiven for doing so, perhaps I should tell the House and the noble Lord that the Commission says that it is gratified by the interest shown in its work by individual and national Parliaments, and wishes to grant all possible assistance to members and committees of Parliaments of the Member-States. That was stated in an official answer to a Written Question.
THE EARL OF DUDLEY
My Lords, the noble Lord has made my point for me. I will not go on with that point any longer, except to add that in paragraph 38 reference is made to these views having been expressed by Mr. Ortoli, President of the Commission, and by Mr. George Thomson to the Committee. Those are the fair Reports of a Parliamentary observer, and perhaps it might be worth saying a few words about them at the juncture: that is, that the flow of information from Brussels will be vital to the work of the Committee, and particularly the flow of early information. Because contact with the Commission (despite the noble Lord's remarks) may have to remain unofficial, it may not be easy to maintain them on an official level. Therefore in the early stages it will certainly he extremely useful and advantageous if the Committee could maintain unofficial links with the bodies in Brussels, and particularly with the Commission, which would enable them, on the basis mentioned by the noble Earl, Lord Bessborough, to receive advance information on important memoranda and other documents which might in the future lead to policies and proposals from the Commission. This is why we felt so strongly that it would be helpful to have somebody situated in Brussels to maintain these contacts.
Noble Lords should ask themselves where they stand on participation: whether they regard the British Parliament as being outside the mainstream of Community activities and uninvolved, or whether they think that British membership has qualified Parliament to be des- 807 cribed as an institution of the Community, even if not so designated by the Treaty, and to play a full and continuous role in the Community's processes aided by a two-way flow of information between Westminster and Brussels; the contacts of the Committee's permanent staff with officials of other Government Departments and the Commission, and access to Commission papers at an early stage, such as communicative and consultative documents.
My Lords, I stand, if not with the Angles, at least with the guardian angels of Europe, of which we are now an integral part. I believe the Government will lay themselves open to justifiable criticism unless they accept the Committee's recommendations fully, promptly and effectively. I urge the noble Lord the Leader of the House to consider very seriously the danger to Parliamentary democracy inherent in the present stage of development of the Community institutions and legislative process; to bear in mind the urgent need for adequate procedures for Parliament to play its part as guardian of the rights and liberties of the British people, and as the maker of their laws; and to enable increased Parliamentary participation in the future development of the European community. I invite noble Lords to lend their support to the Committee by endorsing the Report, by their approval of the recommendations and by their active and beneficent interest in Community affairs under the new procedures.
§ 5.52 p.m.
§ LORD WELLS-PESTELL
My Lords, it is not often that we on this side of the Chamber can meet the wish of the noble Earl the Government Chief Whip, when he invites those taking part in today's proceedings to speak as briefly as possible. I am able to do so for two reasons: one, because I find myself almost in entire agreement with the Report; and, secondly, because my noble friend Lord Shepherd has said far better than I could say them all the things I wanted to speak about. I merely say to the Government that I hope that, in making up their minds what they are going to do, they will read carefully my noble friend's speech so that notice can 808 be taken of the various points he has made.
It seems to me that there is a tremendous—in fact I would say a definite—responsibility on the Government to see that Parliament has full knowledge of what is being done by the European Community and of the effects of their decisions on the United Kingdom. Like the Committee, I want to see the setting up of a Select Committee, but I feel bound to ask myself this question: if a Select Committee is set up what are we going to achieve? If we are going to achieve anything at all, procedures must be found whereby the decisions of the Select Committee can in some measure be mandated on the Minister, or whoever is negotiating on our behalf, in the Community. It is pointless that we should have a Select Committee spending a good deal of time going into these various matters unless at the end we can have some assurance that the decisions which the Select Committee, and ultimately our Parliament, reach do in fact become mandatory upon whoever is speaking for US.
§ LORD MAYBRAY-KING
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. He is advancing a revolutionary concept in the British Parliament—government by Committee. If anyone mandates a Minister it must be a House rather than a Committee.
§ LORD WELLS-PESTELL
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord. I was working on the assumption that if a Select Committee came to certain decisions, and they felt it was desirable in the interests of the people of the United Kingdom that that point of view should be put forward, then that point of view would be raised in Parliament, and Parliament would make a decision on the matter. If I did not make that clear I am all the more grateful to the noble Lord for giving me an opportunity of doing so.
I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, is not present because I want to take up one or two matters in his speech. I received the impression that he was in favour of a Select Committee, but had some doubts in his mind about the usefulness, perhaps at this stage, of sub-committees. Taking the 809 Report which we are discussing to-day, and the kind of work the Report envisages for the Select Committee, involving fields of finance, economics and regional policy, agriculture, external trade and treaties, environment, social health and education, energy and transport, I would have thought that it was impossible for a Committee to give real, deep consideration to these matters. Furthermore, there is within your Lordships' House a tremendous amount of real ability, real knowledge and competence. I should have thought it would be in the best interests of the United Kingdom that we should harness the experience and knowledge of certain people to work in sub-committees in these various fields. Therefore I feel that sub-committees stemming from the Select Committee are an absolute essential.
I do not think that the matter can be met in the way the noble Lord suggested; that is, by Questions on the Floor of your Lordships' House. Reference has already been made as to how they can develop, and very often they are unsatisfactory. I should also like to raise the point about the advisability of referring the matter to the Procedure Committee. I hope that I shall not be misunderstood when I say that there is a doubt in my mind as to whether the Government really want a Select Committee to consider these matters if they now want the Procedure Committee to deal with them. If the Government really want a Select Committee, so that both Houses of Parliament can examine sincerely the documents and the proposed Instruments coming out of the E.E.C., we should give teeth to the matter immediately. I can see no reason why in the next few days we cannot have a Motion before your Lordships' House saying that this Report has been adopted by your Lordships, and that a Select Committee should be set up forthwith.
Procedures must be adopted so that we can exercise a real measure of control in respect of the decisions that are being taken. It seems to me appalling that we have been in the Community for nearly 12 months, and that, as my noble friend Lord Shepherd said, something like 2,000 decisions have been made during that period. The Committee were of the 810 opinion that something like between 15 per cent. and 20 per cent. of the decisions made by the E.E.C. would necessitate very careful investigation. If that is so then something like between 300 and 400 decisions which can be of real significance to the United Kingdom have been taken and we have not made any investigations, preliminary or otherwise, into these matters. I feel that we should take steps within the next few days to see that this Report is adopted, and that a decision should be taken by your Lordships that, as recommended in the Report, a Select Committee with sub-committees should be set up forthwith.
§ 6.0 p.m.
§ THE EARL OF LAUDERDALE
My Lords, this is not the first time that I have had the pleasure of following the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, but it is the first time that I have agreed with everything he has said. I, too, plead with the Government to listen to the case for urgency, to listen to the charge, however unfair it might sound, that to refer the matter to another Select Committee can only create delay. My Lords, may I first of all apologise in advance for the fact that owing to another engagement of long standing I must leave the Chamber by 20 minutes to eight. If, therefore, I am not present when the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, speaks or the Front Benches wind up I hope the House will accept my apology.
§ LORD SHACKLETON
My Lords, I think we are all hopeful that we shall be able to keep to the suggested timetable.
§ THE EARL OF LAUDERDALE
My Lords, after the experience of yesterday I thought there was no harm in putting as nicely as I could that we are all concerned about time. It was an unusual pleasure to have listened to the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Crowther-Hunt. We beheld the assurance of knowledge and saw it adorned by mode-sty of address; we listened to realism, born of experience, lit by the faith that comes with vision. Surely we shall all look forward to hearing him again.
My Lords, it would be churlish to intervene in this debate as an alumnus of the Select Committee of the noble Lord, Lord Maybray-King, without paying a personal tribute to himself. Those of us who contributed anything at all 811 did so thanks to his inspiration; we lit our lights at his lamp. Throughout the deliberations two antitheses kept challenging one another in my mind, not least as we observed that the Community is itself still unfolding. The antitheses that I sensed were those of a Continental vision on the one hand and, on the other, the proud traditions of personal liberty protected by the Parliamentary habits of a maritime country. The antitheses recalled to mind a tract by Lord Halifax, in 1678, called The character of a Trimmer, when he discussed which is the greater beauty, Monarchy or Commonwealth. He called Monarchy "a thing that leaveth men their liberty"; he called Commonwealth "Such a one that allows them no quiet"; and then he wrote, as he put it,of our blessed constitution in which dominion and liberty are so well reconciled. It giveth to the prince the glorious power of commanding free men and to the subjects the satisfaction of seeing the power so lodged as that their liberties are secure".My Lords, those antitheses came out clearly in the Report of our parallel Committee in the other place, at paragraphs 36 and 39, where they stated—…it remains central to the United Kingdom concept and structure of Parliamentary Democracy that control of the law making processes lies with Parliament… Your Committee … reject entirely any suggestion that the Executive should, for that or any other reason, have an unfettered right to make or alter any part of the law it may choose, subject only to securing the agreement of other Governments to those changes.In our deliberations I find one sentence in the evidence more pregnant than all the others. The Lord President of the Council, whose memorandum is printed on pages 39 and 40, said in paragraph 9—…ultimately Parliament's influence will derive from its power to make and unmake Governments by calling them to account for their actions in the Council of Ministers".But the gravity of the situation lies in the fact that, even if Parliament were to bring down a Government in reprisal for their behaviour in the Council of Ministers, whatever they had consented to there would still stand, and the creation of any new Government would do nothing whatever to alter that fact. In other words, what is done is done, and the gravity of the situation is that only before the Council of Ministers take a decision can our Parliament have any serious effect.
812 This really means that Parliament's influence and power depend entirely on obtaining early warning of what is afoot and giving early warning of its worries to the Executive. This requires that Parliament in general and the Opposition in particular—especially in view of the Opposition's constitutional role as Her Majesty's loyal Opposition with the job of probing and criticising—must have access to the facts on proceedings in the Council. This must still be so even if, as we were led to infer by my noble friend Lord Windlesham's description this afternoon, its transactions resemble those of a horse fair. He described the Council neither as a Cabinet nor as a Legislature, but as a forum for international negotiations. In order to meet this problem several of the Nine have imposed a demanding and explicit obligation on their Executive—omitted from our legislation—to keep their Parliaments informed of the proceedings within the Council, albeit sometimes on a basis of confidentiality. Indeed in this regard Germany's experience illustrates the value of establishing an independent line of inquiry as an independent source of information, something that is responsible to Parliament and independent of the Civil Service.
My Lords, since the E.E.C. itself is a hybrid, the Council is a hybrid also. The Commission's structure is perhaps suited best to a United States of Europe; the Council's structure is perhaps best suited to a federation of sovereign States. But the fact is that, whatever we call the Council and however we describe it, it does exercise both legislative and executive functions. As a legislature, it passes laws binding in their effect upon every citizen, perhaps—and we heard this matter so well (if I may put it like that) illuminated by the noble Lord, Lord Diplock, just now—affecting his cherished freedoms, such as immunity from arrest without warrant. My Lords, it is intolerable, it is out of tune with our practice and traditions, that such legislative deliberations, akin, if you will, to Parliamentary procedures, certainly in their effect, should occur in secret. In this we are back to the days of John Wilkes.
To reply that the Council is in fact like a Cabinet—not my noble friend's argument this afternoon, but that of my other noble friend sitting on his left on last April 3, when he likened the Council 813 to a Cabinet—belies the facts. For it is already accepted, vide the Luns doctrine, that Ministers may well disclose to their Parliaments how they have behaved. Indeed we know from the evidence given by Ministerialrat Herr Dr. Blischke of the Bundestag—it is on page 108, Question 373—that Ministers not only declare their own stance; they issue their own speeches and on occasions they describe how other countries and Ministers have behaved in the Council. Then there are executive functions and there are, still more, a sort of in-between range of phenomena, such as agreements on the semi-float of currencies, which was finally decided, so Mr. Thomson told us in his evidence—and that is Question 501 on page 137—at Council level. The Germans made it quite clear to us, and others did, too, that they regarded the Summit Conference in Paris, even though Britain was there as a guest at that time, likewise as essentially a meeting of the Council of Ministers.
The German experience, which has focused on beer, as ours might on butter or juggernauts, has been particularly instructive. We were told in our inquiries in Bonn that the German Government's obligation to inform Parliament is total, and Herr Blischke's paper said virtually the same on page 101 in paragraph 2. We were told that this includes developments inside the Council while they are in train and the very state of the deliberations themselves. We were also told in Bonn—this was a kind of obiter dictum, as one might say; it is not printed in our evidence but we were told, and much impressed by what we were told—that the Bundestag Committees have the initiative; we were assured that those Committees are determined to win, and are indeed winning, the struggle to control the Executive.
In the light of all that, our Committee saw that it would not be sufficient for Parliament simply to be content with looking at proposals for Community Instruments in the narrowest sense. So we interpreted our terms of reference as relating to all proposals while still in the formative stage, before they were considered by the Council; and paragraph I of our Report states that. We made it clear that that covered recommendations, opinions and even memoranda, whether they emerged from the Council 814 or the Commission. But we also found —and yesterday's experience is an admirable illustration of the problem which was stated so clearly by the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, earlier on—that ministerial statements were not at present a satisfactory means of conveying information. At paragraph 139(a), our Report issued the understatement of the century. It said that ministerial statementshave not always been entirely satisfactory.We have therefore proposed that it should be open to any Member of the House to move that a particular statement be referred to the Select Committee, where it can be fully probed and studied.
Two functions are quite evidently required. The first is an early warning system so that we really can find out what is brewing in good time. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Diplock, instructed us just now, as he did so clearly in his evidence to our Committee, when he pointed to the history of the particular insurance Directive to which he was referring. It had been going on for a long time and it is the kind of thing which one wants to know about at the start.
My noble friend Lord Windlesham cast some doubt on the merits of a Parliamentary Observer at Brussels; and it may well be that I personally am at fault here because in talking to the Press I said that what we really wanted was a "spy" to find out what was going on. But I think it will be not unduly disclosing the proceedings of our Committee if I say that, thanks to the long arm of the services of the Clerks of this House, it was possible in advance of our going to Brussels to learn things which we probably would not have found out on our own unaided. Surely if this Select Committee is to be adequately staffed it must have some sort of advance echelon at the centre where the decisions are taken—at the centre where, as Sir Christopher Soames put it so well, the Commission sits in a building made of glass and secrets there are none. Surely the case for having somebody there, whatever his status, but distinct from the British Foreign Office Delegation to the Community, stands well supported by the admirable experience that the German Bundestag showed us. Need we be shy, my Lords, of learning from the Germans? 815 This is not the first time that we in this country have learnt from our antagonists at other times. Let us readily take their experience to heart and let us also recognise, as surely we must, that if early warning is one function, probing, probing, probing, is the other. If this demands for its success a measure of confidentiality, why then the adaptation to this House of the "sidelining" procedure, common in Select Committees of the other, is the answer.
The merits of the Select Committee have already been gone over sufficiently, but surely only a Select Committee could achieve that balance, so rightly endorsed by Sir Michael Palliser in his evidence (Question 547, page 151), between what is constitutionally right for Parliament to require and what the Executive must rightly reserve to itself. That balance can be attained, in my view, only—and, after all, this is the view of our Committee—by a Select Committee which can tackle the problem with security to the public interest, with impartial responsibility to Parliament, and without danger of partisan domination.
Parliament has an educative as well as a watchdog role. It is common ground to us all that what is said in this place one day is said in the supermarkets and at the street corners three or six months later. If it is also the case—and this too seems to be common ground—that public opinion has turned sour, surely it is all the more urgent that this Select Committee should be established, and established without the delays implicit in reference to the Procedure Committee. In this matter the public wants to be quite satisfied that Britain is not being bamboozled; and even the delay of pushing our Report on to the Procedure Committee might be so misinterpreted. In this matter, as in others, your Lordships' House has a function wholly complementary to that of another place. It is to look closely; it is to look wisely; it is to look early while time yet remains. And, my Lords, whether the machinery will best be described as symmetrical or convenient, Parliament must work with the tools of the age or it will sculpt no monuments for the future.
§ 6.19 p.m.
My Lords, like other noble Lords, I am glad to have this chance of congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Maybray-King, and his Committee on their handiwork. It is a remarkable feat in a subject which is so involved to have produced a Report so lucid and so constructive. So far this evening there has been no dispute to the basic proposition in the Report, where it is stated that effective procedures are urgently needed by Parliament for consideration of Community matters. That now seems to be common ground, and the discussion today has effectively focused on machinery.
I, like the noble and learned Lord, Lord Diplock, am naive. I was persuaded by the case in the Report for joint machinery and I was disappointed by the reactions of the House of Commons. It may be that tile role of the two Houses is different and separate, but I hoped that this was a matter in which the two Houses could act as one. However if we find—and it seems likely that we shall find—that it would at any rate be more expeditious to set up two separate committees, I hope very much that we shall, again as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Diplock suggested, try to identify ways whereby those two committees can operate in a complementary way. There must surely be fields or functions in which one or other can specialise.
Equally with two committees, we can hope at any rate to have common services. It is accepted in both Reports that this would be wise and I hope that that recommendation will be endorsed by both Houses. It seems to me that a team of Clerks drawn from both Houses is obvious good sense; equally the appointment of a legal adviser. There was one suggestion in the House of Commons Report which has not been mentioned, namely, that there should be a committee of Whitehall officials to help in the sifting Process, and I should think that that would be a useful addition to the procedure suggested by the noble Lord. Lord Maybray-King. I believe that the recommendations of that sifting, committee would be of considerable assistance to the Lord Chairman of the Lords Committee.
Then we come to the Parliamentary Observer in Brussels. I am against that 817 idea. It seems to me that it is too much for one man to be able to report intelligently on what is going on in Brussels, and I should have thought more fundamentally that it would be a mistake for this House to take any action which would, so to speak, dilute the responsibility of the Government to keep Parliament informed on everything that is going on in Brussels. It is the duty and the responsibility of the Government to do that, and it is for them to devise the best means. The best means might well be to detail one or two members of the Delegation in Brussels to specialise in this kind of thing, and if it were felt that the Clerks of this House or the Clerks of the other House were particularly well equipped to do that, I cannot see why a Clerk from our establishment should not be seconded for a term of duty in Brussels. He would have to be seconded and for a period of years he would cease to be our servant; he would be a servant of the Government and he would be responsible to the Ambassador, but as such, and subject to the approval of the Government and of the Ambassador, he could be a contact man for the purposes of any Select Committee. I imagine there would be no problem about his attending the meetings of any Select Committee from time to time.
I should now like to deal briefly with the question of whether meetings of the Select Committee should be held in private or in public. I agree with what is said in the Report that it will be a prime task of the Select Committee to make Community activities and affairs more intelligible to the average citizen. The noble Lord, Lord Crowther-Hunt, dealt most effectively with that point, and I think the Report contains an excellent phrase where it speaks of creating a two-way flow of opinions and ideas between the Community institutions and the British public. Therefore I think the hearings should be in public as far as possible, and I should have thought it was perfectly possible that the hearings should be published and that there should be a full verbatim record whenever the Committee was informing itself about what is going on or what is intended in Brussels; when it is trying to assess the effects of that legislation on the law in this country; when it is considering what changes would be required in the British law to bring it 818 into conformity with European legislation, and even when it is attempting to draw its conclusions upon what is proposed in Brussels. But if and when the Select Committee then attempted to go on to discuss with a Minister, with a responsible member of the Executive, how he should handle his brief in Brussels, or, at an even later stage, if the Committee should then discuss with the Minister what had happened in Brussels, what had happened in the Council meeting and what the next step might be, then if the discussion was to be meaningful I think it essential that it should be an informal discussion in private—in fact, in great confidentiality.
I am not familiar with the side-lining procedure, but personally I should think that to publish a document with a good many gaps in it is both difficult to follow and probably gives rise to quite unnecessary suspicions. In such cases, therefore, when the Committee is meeting in private I would dispense with any verbatim account and rely purely on the Report which the Committee would publish at the end of its deliberations. The Report struck a note of urgency. That same note has marked our discussions to-day. It seems to me that the terms of reference in paragraph 111 are just about right, and I hope that a Committee with those terms of reference will be established rapidly.
§ 6.28 p.m.
§ LORD O'HAGAN
My Lords, I make frequent journeys to the Continent and I am often asked to explain the rôle and purpose of the House of Lords and, still more often, my own membership of it. I think quite a good explanation of the work of this institution is contained in a copy of the Report we are debating to-day, which fully illustrates many of the tangs for which your Lordships are rightly known. It has a bipartisan approach; there is a far-ranging collection of evidence assembled, and a penetrating analysis with some practical conclusions that can quickly be put into practice and make a realistic contribution to the running of the country as a whole. The Report hallmarks many of the better contributions of your Lordships to British Parliamentary life and public life in general, and I feel that the noble Lord, Lord Maybray-King, and his colleagues 819 have given an outstanding example of what we can do to adapt our institutions to the challenge provided by our membership of the Community. I only wish that other equally ancient institutions could respond with such elasticity and imagination.
I find some difficulty in saying what I want to say because I always think it is impertinent of people to lecture this House. I do not intend to do that, but I feel I should follow on from the admirable maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Crowther-Hunt, in one particular aspect. In order to do so, I must make one or two preliminary remarks. I think it is generally accepted, except amongst Parliamentary romantics, that the ability of Parliament to control the Executive has declined in recent years. I cite a[...] evidence the statement of Sir William Armstrong on a recent Granada Television programme, when he was asked if he took the point of view that Parliamentary control is not now as effective as it was when he joined. I quote his reply, "It has certainly loosened". That is one of the background factors I wish to mention. To that I would add the fashionable but nevertheless true statement, that there is increasing distrust of authority, particularly political, local councils and the like, as was evidenced in the observation of the noble Lord, Lord Crowther-Hunt, and in the remarks made on television last night by Mr. Harold Wilson (who, if nothing else, is a brilliant political barometer) when he was it[...]mising various ways of involving people more closely in decisions taken allegedly on their behalf. Whatever the Government said during the passage of the European Community Bill, if sovereignty has not actually left this country, it has been pooled with the sovereignty of others in such a way as to make our sole control over certain areas considerably diminished. This is a fact we must recognise because if we allow it to stay in that state, sovereignty has left our Parliament and gone to the Council of Ministers, to "a horse-trading fair", as the noble Earl, Lord Lauderdale, termed it, or to an international negotiating body, if you like to term it more politely. That is the end of my lecture. That is the general context in which I wish to set matters.
820 We have in this country a Government that in some ways perhaps are rather more aloof, brusque and remote than others. We have in our membership of the E.E.C. something that is not the subject of general enthusiasm among the people of this country. What I am trying to say is that in this rather muddled list there is no room for complacency, that if we wish people to see the value of our Parliamentary institutions we must show them that they make a contribution to their lives, and that with the imposition of membership of the Community, all the people of this country, if we are not to turn them further against authority, must be provided with some safety device whereby they can express their point of view in such a way as they think might be taken into account by those who rule them. It is therefore against this background that I do not ask but implore, the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, to treat this matter of a Select Committee as one of urgency, because from the figures we have here there are a huge number of decisions, directives, regulations, opinions, whatever they may be, of the Community which are going to influence the lives of the people of this country. Yet we still run behind the Irish and the Danes, because we at Westminster have not set up the machinery by which we here can look at this legislation while it is still in draft, to see whether there is anything in it that we really cannot take from the national point of view. This is something that we must look upon as a matter of action this day, rather than leaving it for the Procedure Committee to forget tomorrow.
I would support all the recommendations of this Report with the exception of the proposal for putting an observer in Brussels. This I oppose partly because it could be done more effectively by clerks who read Agence Europe and by maintaining the records used by those of your Lordships who are Members of the European Parliament. People would get hold of the information which is so necessary. I oppose it, secondly, because I feel that for many years it will be necessary for the European Parliament or Assembly to act in parallel with national Parliaments. To attempt to tinker with the machinery of the Community—and sending an observer to Brussels would be so interpreted by some people in the 821 Commission—would be only worth doing if there were no other way open. As there is another way, we should respect the rights of the Community institutions, because in the long run if we do so we are more likely to get what we want out of them.
The noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, asked for an expression of the will of the House, and he wondered as to the value of the legal adviser. I myself would have thought the legal adviser with experience of Community institutions and/or Community law was absolutely essential because of the differences in the systems, which I know far less about than the noble and learned Lord, Lord Diplock, and many others. Without someone with the mental furniture, if not the actual ability to work in Community law, I think this Committee would find itself making silly errors quickly and therefore vitiating what it was set up to do, particularly if there was no one who could interpret the legal nuances, and so on. I hope that such a person could be shared with the other place. A role of this sort, as the noble Earl, Lord Lauderdale, termed it, could be in part fulfilled by the Members of the European Parliament or Assembly who could not, of course, commit themselves to attending regularly meetings of the House of Lords Committee. They might find themselves in occasional difficulties if they were seen by Community institutions to be acting on behalf of a national Parliament in vetting Community legislation. They might get themselves into a constitutional entanglement there. As they would not be able to guarantee to be present at meetings, it would be better if they could continue the right of ordinary Members of this House to sit in on Committees, and they could provide useful information by so doing. If they were unable to attend, they could provide useful papers to the Clerks. That might be the best thing they could offer.
The noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, has looked forward to the day, as I do, when the European Parliament is more of a real Parliament, and we all want to know what is the Government's position on this. But whatever the future of the European Parliament, it has not yet got much control over these matters. What we must be careful to do, if we are genuine Europeans, is to safeguard the interests of the people of this country in a way that does 822 not inhibit the evolution of the European Parliament, because in the long run it is probably more likely that a European institution with British representatives in it, on the spot and mingling in European circles, will, on a purely logistical basis, have a greater ease in dealing with draft legislation. That position is a long way away. So I feel that for a long time it would be necessary to operate some parallel system, because both institutions, the national and the European Parliaments, will have a great deal to do.
What I should like to ask the Government is when they see a chance for moving towards direct elections. This is the turning point of the evolution of the European Parliament, and if we are going to progress towards European Union by 1980 I presume that they will have to come before then. If the institutions are to submit a report on the complex of relations of Member States into a European Union to a Summit Conference by the end of 1975, can we safely take it that Her Majesty's Government will come out with a view on direct elections before them? Because how can the institutions make a coherent report unless they know the position of the Member States on direct elections?
I have never been a member of a Select Committee of your Lordships' House, and I am very hesitant in making comments as to how the proposed new Committee should work. But when the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, was considering the possibility that it might be sensible to have a small Committee which did not divide itself up, I would ask whether this view has taken into account the nature of Community legislation. The type of thing in which the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, was so interested today was one kind of Directive. As a result of the Summit Conference last year, and the one we shall have towards the end of this year—and also, if the Prime Minister in this country and France have their way, the increasing Summit Conferences we shall have, all of which lay down great programmes—we shall be getting huge blocks of legislation tied together; complicated social action programmes or environmental programmes; huge bundles of company law, and similar matters. It may well be that if the Committee were to examine subjects such as the one that interested Lord Brockway 823 today, this could be done by a smallish Committee that did not split itself up into sub-committees—I do not know. But what I am certain of is that these complicated bundles of legislation, which have the equivalent of Community White Papers and Green Papers and cover great areas of policy, must be dealt with by people who are continually looking at that area, people who are well informed about the Community's intentions and practice in that area; otherwise they will be lost.
This is the way that the European Parliament deals with the subject: it splits up the Community's activities into 12 fields, and members monitor draft legislation through being members of one of the 12 committees. I would submit that there is good reason why the European Parliament does this, even though it has no real power. That is a purely practical point of view, coming from my own membership of the Social Affairs and Employment Committee in the European Parliament. and from looking at all the legislation in those fields with which we deal, even though at the moment we cannot influence them very greatly. I would make that plea.
I should like to ask the noble Lord a constitutional question about the Parliamentary accountability of Management Committees of the Commission. I understand that Management Committees are very important bodies and that they are composed of the representatives of Member States, chosen by the latter, and presided over by a representative of the Commission. Are these people accountable to Westminster; are our representatives accountable to Westminster? Will they be able to appear before such a Committee, especially in view of the fact that it is the Commission's view that they are not accountable to the European Parliament? Is there a gap here or not? These bodies are very important, especially so far as food prices and the like are concerned.
My Lords, I have one practical point. If the proposed Committee is set up, I hope that the Printed Paper Office will be able to cope with the requests of the Members. At present, I understand, there is one clerk who has to hop up and down stairs between the European Printed Paper Office on this floor and 824 the one above. And since there is no index of draft legislation except by number one has to know the number of a Paper before one can ask for it. Would the noble Lord look into the question of the Printed Paper Office so far as European papers are concerned, because a Committee trying to work rapidly might find it very difficult to do anything in present circumstances.
I suppose that the danger when people get interested in the E.E.C. is that they become crusaders or hot gospellers or missionaries of some sort. Perhaps that is what is happening to me. I regret that the Government have not been able to convey to the people of this country some of the exciting constructive aspects of the Community, and that its hope for the future has been doused, so that most people tend to see our membership as some sort of defeat or expression of decline. They do not see that the rôle of Britain inside the Community could be something very dynamic and constructive, not only from our point of view but for the future of the West and of the world as a whole. I do not ask the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, in his new capacity as Minister for Information or whatever it may be, to go round making impassioned speeches about the soul of the Community, because he would not be believed at the moment. But unless the Government think that we have a permanent scepticism about central Government and about the Community, there must surely come a day when the pressure is relieved and people will be able to think, "Perhaps there is something good in this Community; perhaps there is something idealistic about it." I think the criticism of the Community for not "baling out" the Dutch shows that people expect the Community to be a Community. This is very encouraging.
I would ask the noble Lord whether he is confident that Government machinery in Whitehall is capable of making our membership of the Community more of a national adventure, or a British initiative in the larger field; or is he going to leave it in the present state, where it is essentially a Foreign Office matter, a matter of Foreign Office policy, seen by the Government machine as something to fight for abroad but whose ramifications at home are all too little thought of, all too little worried about, the consequence 825 of such a policy being that a genuine evolution of the feeling that we are part of Europe and we might make it into something splendid is constantly undermined? Would he show the House that this process of trusting the people and having confidence in their views is beginning, because at the moment the Community is something that has been thrust on them. And until we provide some Parliamentary machinery, whereby people have access to Parliamentarians, and therefore to the Government, and their views are taken into account, until we have the sort of Committee that the noble Lord, Lord Maybray-King, has recommended, we are never going to get away from the state of affairs we have now, where the Community is about as popular as the Arab sheikhs. I apologised at the beginning, my Lords. I said that I thought it impertinent to lecture your Lordships. I have never done it before, and I shall try not to do it again.
§ 6.50 p.m.
§ BARONESS GAITSKELL
My Lords, I am very happy to follow the noble Lord, Lord O'Hagan. I agree with practically everything that he said. I am not usually asked to explain the House of Lords; am asked to explain it away. First, I should like to thank the noble Lord the Leader of the House for his sympathetic speech and his welcome of the Report, except for one thing that he said. Is it necessary to send the Report back to the Procedure Committee? There really is urgency about the Report, and the sooner it is acted upon the better. Then I must congratulate my noble friend Lord Crowther-Hunt on his excel-lent maiden speech—a speech we would expect from him, a professional.
I am not surprised that the Commons rejected the idea of our having a Joint Committee, because I believe they always rather regard us as "high caste Untouchables". As the least expert Member of your Select Committee, my contribution was to give it my very close attention. I wish to underline one matter to which my noble friend Lord Shepherd referred in his wide-ranging speech. I have long felt that both Labour and Conservative Governments have failed to make the mechanisms of the Common Market intelligible to ordinary people, and that this ignorance breeds a growing 826 public disillusionment. I think that the noble Lord, Lord O'Hagan, also referred to this point. It is true that the institutions of the European Community—the Council, the Commission and the European Parliament—are highly sophisticated structures, but little attempt has been made to explain how they have evolved from a Customs Union to a Common Market and to a European Community, except by those with a special interest in them.
I first saw the light after the Select Committee received a Paper from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Diplock. Before receiving that I could not understand a thing. Among the papers that I have collected over the years, I recently came across one of the shortest, and what I thought was the clearest, expositions written in 1962 by Emile Noel, who is now the Secretary-General of the Commission, and who gave evidence to our Committee while we sat. The noble and learned Lord tells me that that evidence is now out of date.
I had little idea of what to expect from our Select Committee, but I soon realised that it was no ordinary Committee of consenting adults sitting in private and engaging in a public relations exercise to boost the Common Market. Its most ardent advocates did not regard it as sacrilege to draw attention to some of its obvious imperfections. We were lucky and privileged to have as our Chairman the noble Lord, Lord Maybray-King, the Speaker in the previous Labour Government. There must be something about having been a Speaker for several years, for he was so calm and so fair. We also had the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, and the experience and grasp of complexities by these two men simply staggered me.
First, I was struck by the great number of Instruments, or "proposals" as I would rather have them called—at least I understand the word "proposals", but I do not understand the word "Instruments"—which ranged from the important to the trivial. As the investigations went on, the relative weakness of the Eupropean Parliament, which bears no resemblance to our national Parliament, seemed a more serious criticism of the Community, and I was very pleased to hear the speech of the noble Earl, Lord 827 Bessborough, who gave me great encouragement about the way he thought the European Parliament should go. It is not surprising that many of us fear for the sovereignty of our own Parliament; fear that being a member of the Community weakens us. The other countries, France, Holland, Germany and Belgium, do not appear to feel this threat. Germany has an observer there, and so far as I remember we rather favoured this idea in the Committee because it is so urgent that our national Parliament should be able to look at proposals at the earliest possible point. Most speakers agree on this. My noble friend Lord Shepherd stressed this in his careful account of the Committee's work. He took a somewhat different view from that of the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, who seemed to be rather frightened to knock his "idol". He has been so long an advocate of the Community that when he said he did not think that any changes should be made just now, I felt he was being perhaps too cautious.
§ LORD GLADWYN
My Lords, all I wanted to say was that at the moment the European Parliament has virtually no powers. I hope and believe that very shortly it will have powers. I am behind the noble Earl, Lord Bessborough, in hoping for that. But until it has such powers, it is useless to treat it as if it did have powers.
§ BARONESS GAITSKELL
My Lords the present idea is that the political views of the Parliamentarians, or members of Governments, are taken account of by the Commission, but this is done purely on an unofficial basis and seems to me rather unsatisfactory.
THE EARL OF BESSBOROUGH
My Lords, I do not think it is quite true to say that this is done purely on an unofficial basis. Under the terms of the Treaties we have to be consulted, and any proposals usually go to the Committee officially. As I have described, there are sometimes cases where they come to us confidentially, but I think there is an official process in action as well.
§ BARONESS GAITSKELL
My Lords, I am afraid those are not my words, they are words I took from one of my documents when I did my homework. Various witnesses pointed out that any refining or reforming of the institutions of the 828 Community within the present Treaties would mean giving more powers to the European Parliament. I hope that I am right about this. Even if this will take time to achieve, it is the European Parliament which must be built up to become the institution of democratic scrutiny and control, and there is a strong case for greater national Parliamentary representation.
I believe that this Report of our Select Committee is good and comprehensive, and I hope that it will help those who study it to understand the intricacies of the Common Market set-up as much as it has helped me. Apart from its educational value, I really enjoyed this Committee. It is often instructive to watch men at work, so to speak, and each Member had an individual approach when probing and dissecting the ways and means of scrutinising the proposals for European Instruments. There is no doubt that the Select Committee procedure is one of the strongest organs in the armoury of our democratic institutions.
Before I come to my final sentences I should like to thank the Clerk of our Committee, Mr. Michael Wheeler-Booth, who did a mammoth and speedy job on both the interim Reports and the final Report—and he wrote them in pretty good, reasonable English. Finally, my Lords, I hold the view that now that we are in the Common Market we must endeavour to make a success of it. I myself, as most people know, am an agnostic and rather anxious pro-Marketeer. This Report encourages me in this view because it suggests measures for the improvement of procedures and the effectiveness of the European Community.
§ 7 p.m.
§ LORD BROOKE OF CUMNOR
My Lords, we have just listened to a modest speech from the noble Baroness, Lady Gaitskell, but I should like to say that, though she was possibly the most retiring member of our Committee, she was by no means the least valuable, and I shall always look forward to opportunities to serve on Committees with her in the future. I should like to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Crowther-Hunt, not only on his distinguished maiden speech but also on his skill in choosing the 829 occasion for it, because his great knowledge enabled him to make a contribution of, I thought, unique value to this important debate today. He highlighted the very centre of the problem when he mentioned that figure of 252 regulations made by the Communities and not subjected to any supervision, scrutiny or examination by the British Parliament. It is the increase of that figure which we must bring to an end as quickly as we possibly can.
I could not carry through my speech without paying my personal tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Maybray-King. I have had the experience of sitting under him in days gone by when he was Chairman of Standing Committees in the House of Commons and I was a Minister trying to take a Bill through. There he was in a position to call me to order. In your Lordships' House and in its Committees he enjoys no similar privilege, but he certainly has the knack, even without the power, to get his will obeyed. Nobody could have found in the whole of your Lordships' House anyone better qualified and more distinguished to carry through this difficult inquiry to a successful conclusion. I should also wish, as the noble Baroness has just done, to pay my tribute to Mr. Michael Wheeler-Booth, the Clerk of the Committee, and also to his secretary, Miss Jane Franks, not only for serving us with unfailing efficiency but also for their cheerfulness, which boosted our morale whenever we got tired with the length of our duties.
My Lords, no speech in this debate touched me more by its sense of precision and drive than that of the noble and learned Lord. Lord Diplock. When we debated this subject on a previous occasion he spoke very wise words; and, if I may say so with respect, he gave absolutely first-rate evidence to the Committee. I want to back up what he said about the urgent need for all possible speed. It is that which is required here, above all things. We may not be able to get our machinery perfect from the start, but we must get it there and start it working, and then try to improve it as we go along. The responsibility for the delay which there has been rests certainly not with anybody in your Lordships' House, nor with the Government. The fact is that two years ago the Government proposed in another place the set- 830 ting up of an ad hoc Joint Committee of both Houses to do the job which the Maybray-King Committee and the Foster Committee were later appointed to do. But that original initiative by the Government was frustrated because the Opposition in another place, for political reasons of their own, were not willing to join at that stage in a Joint Committee, or indeed in any Committee that was designed to seek to help Parliament play its part within the European Community. We were not in the Community at that time, and the Opposition felt, rightly or wrongly, that it was their duty to stay outside of everything until we were actually there. That is how a most valuable twelve months was lost to us, because if things had turned out otherwise we should have been holding this debate twelve months earlier—a month before we entered the Community instead of eleven months afterwards.
I certainly found it somewhat embarrassing, as a Parliamentarian, when we visited Copenhagen and took evidence there, to find that the Danes had their Parliamentary machinery operating within seven weeks of their entering the Community, and we were coming after seven months to ask their advice as to how we might do it. I should say in passing that in each of the capitals which we visited, where we took evidence from Parliamentarians and civil servants, it was quite obvious that they were immensely pleased that the great Parliament at Westminster should be sending people to their Parliament to learn how they did things in case our Parliament could be guided by their experience in setting up the machinery which we required for a similar purpose. Everybody was extremely helpful to us.
My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend the Leader of the House for the tone of the speech with which he introduced this debate, and now that he has listened to the debate I hope he will be able to pick up a number of the points and perhaps be somewhat more specific about them. Like others of your Lordships, I have been made anxious by his suggestion that the Report should now be referred to the Procedure Committee. My appeal to him would reinforce the appeal of the noble Lord, Lord O'Hagan, a few minutes ago, imploring him to take whatever steps are needed to get this machinery into operation as soon as 831 humanly possible. I appreciate that there are a number of loose ends which still have to be tied up, and we certainly do not want a position to arise in which half-baked proposals are put before your Lordships—half-baked, I mean, in the sense that the ends have not yet been tied up (to mix my metaphors rather badly)—because what we wish is to be able to see and to approve as quickly as possible a scheme which really will work. If, as I believe from his speech, my noble friend thinks that reference to the Procedure Committee would hasten rather than delay that end, well and good, but I should be greatly gratified if, in winding up this debate, he would support my view that within three or four weeks of the reassembly of Parliament after the Christmas Recess we ought to have a plan laid before the House for any necessary amendment or addition to Standing Orders, and all the other arrangements which will be required to set up this machinery. If my noble friend thinks that a quick reference to the Procedure Committee will help to reach unanimity so as to save time subsequently, after the proposals have been introduced, well and good; but I should like to be sure that the Procedure Committee was going to meet very soon after the House reassembles following the Christmas Recess and that it was going to meet with a determination to go on sitting until it had ironed out all the difficulties and was in a position to help the Leader of the House, or perhaps the Chairman of Committees, to put before us for our approval an agreed scheme which would then come into force quickly.
My Lords, my noble friend spoke about the sub-committees and the size of the main Committee. This obviously is not a point of principle. I myself think that if we have a small Committee like the Committee recommended for another place it will be too small and we shall very quickly find that we shall have to expand it in order to man the subcommittees; because I am quite certain that no small Committee, similar to the one recommended in the Foster Report, could get through the work that will be required of it according to the Maybray-King Report. It will certainly be required to do more work on particular Instruments and documents than the 832 Foster Committee proposes should be done by the small Committee in another place. But that is not a point of principle. We can learn as we go on. I trust that we shall start with the machinery being set up by Sessional Orders which we can revise at the beginning of a new Session. Indeed, when I am quite sure that the Procedure Committee will be needed is in about July of next year, when we have had six months' experience of the machinery. Then the Procedure Committee, backed by that experience, can examine how we have been getting on and see whether improvements are needed in the Sessional Orders or, it may be by then, Standing Orders for the following Session.
I noted what the noble Lord the Leader of the House said about the possibility of appointing a Deputy Chairman of Committees. My one concern here is that we should not do anything which might suggest that the chairmanship of the new Committee on European Instruments would be a second-class job. It will not be; it will be an extremely heavy job. I have no special knowledge of the load of work falling on the Chairman of Committees, which I believe is very great; but in this case there will be the extra burden in that it will be pioneering work. For the first 12 months, or for the first session or two, the new Chairman of this new European Instruments Committee, if it is sot up, will, I am certain, be carrying a tremendous load of work and responsibility on his shoulders. I do not think that we ought to do anything to suggest that this was only a subordinate part of the work of the House of Lords. It will certainly not be that.
As for the observer in Brussels, what I think we actually recommended was an observation post and not specifically a human observer. But here again this surely is no question of principle. It may be that if we start without it, the Select Committee may come to the conclusion after a year or so that they badly need additional assistance at the Brussels end. On the other hand, it may be that the Committee will find that the criticism which has been made of this recommendation in your Lordships' House this afternoon was well-founded and that nothing of that kind is required. To my mind, the tragedy is that this 833 proposal was travestied in an article in The Times which appeared to me to represent a deliberate misapprehension of what the Committee required. But, as I said, this is obviously a minor recommendation of the Committee and not something which has to be settled here and now for all time.
My Lords, I greatly hope that as a Committee we have served your Lordships well. I dearly hope that in winding up this debate my noble friend Lord Windlesham will be able to endorse what I have said about the need for urgency, and will pledge himself to us that a Select Committee of some kind will be set up as quickly as possible in the New Year.
§ 7.12 p.m.
§ LORD SHACKLETON
My Lords, I do not propose to make the case for the Committee. Indeed, I had hoped to enable the noble Earl. Lord Lauderdale to catch his train. I know that he has to catch a train, and I was timing my speech to the departure of his train. But I think perhaps I should be embarrassed now and might go on longer. There is very little more that I can say. But perhaps, as one of the few non-members of the Committee, I may say that it was obviously an exceptionally good Committee. The members seem to have enjoyed themselves a great deal, judging by some of the tributes which have been paid, and I think that congratulations may fairly be extended to everyone. Certainly in this House we should be pleased—and it says much for the wisdom in the period before the Select Committee for Committees was created—that we managed, through the usual channels, to put together such a good team.
I should like to echo what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor. It is obvious that there is a very real urgency. Examples have been given. Particularly we have in mind what was said by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Diplock. I do not think this is an occasion to dot all the i's and cross all the t's. Listening to the debate I have come to the view that the House has expressed its will that a Committee should be set up at the earliest possible moment. This is a House of Lords matter. By courtesy, we allow the Government to have a small say now and again; but we do expect the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, who I know has his heart in this matter, to go 834 ahead. If I may, speaking as someone who has in previous years occupied the post that he now holds I would say to him that I hope he will rely primarily on the advice of your Lordships. He knows that I have a very high regard for civil servants, but one of the things on which I think anyone who has held Ministerial office will agree is that even the best of civil servants never seems to understand Parliament. I think we know what we want on this occasion, and therefore I would echo the words of those who have suggested that we do not want to take any time over this matter.
I am hesitant about its going to the Procedure Committee, but there are some "nuts and bolts" that need adjusting. There is the question of the permanent Chairman. This is something that I regard as of great importance, but it need not come first. Again, there is the question of the observation post, and I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, corrected the impression with regard to that. I hope that by the end of January, say, this Committee will be actually in being. I think that we could get it into being because there are one or two ways in the normal procedures that we have in this House by which it could be done. There was set up the equivalent of the special Committee—I cannot remember whether it was "The Three Wise Men" or another Committee —which looked into the procedure of the House. But I do not doubt that the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, was involved, because he seems always to be involved in these valuable activities.
My Lords, although I can see that here and there in the recommendations of the Maybray-King Committee there are particular points about which we could pick holes, it is so good and clear a Report that, even if there are improvements which could be made, we should adopt it lock, stock and barrel, and do as much as possible, particularly regarding the setting up of the Committee, at the earliest possible moment. As was said by the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, we could do this by Sessional Order. If in the light of experience a large Committee with sub-committees proved not the right answer, we could always change the set-up. I think the arguments in favour of what the Committee have recommended are valid. The 835 Committee spent a long time thinking about these things. One is impressed by the industry of its members, and, without wishing to reflect on another place, I think we have been at least as well served, if not better served, by our Committee in this matter.
So, my Lords, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, if he is unable to give positive answers to-day—and I would not wish to press him—will carry away the sense of urgency that has come out of this discussion. I think we have reached a very satisfactory synthesis of the problem, and the Report is so good that I would make one suggestion. That is that the actual Report might be published without the evidence—although the evidence is fascinating, and there is so much of it. Many of us feel guilty about picking up a publication worth £2.40; and rather guiltily one goes and puts it back in the Printed Paper Office, who never seem to want it. If it is going to the Procedure Committee, I should like to suggest that the whole Report, or a reprint of this clear and informative, almost hand-book, guide to the Community, should be circulated to the members of the Procedure Committee as holiday reading: and we might also send them the Hansard of this debate.
I therefore would end up, my Lords, by saying that, so far as the usual channels on this side of the House are concerned, I echo what my noble friend Lord Shepherd said in his clear speech, and my noble friend Lady Gaitskell, who I am sure was a most valuable member of the Committee. My noble friend should not be too modest, because we know of her long experience at the United Nations. So far as we are concerned we should like to get on with the job, and I would certainly encourage the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, to do so.
§ VISCOUNT AMORY
My Lords, I only rise to ask the noble Lord whether, looking back over his long and distinguished career, he can recall any occasion when one of our Committee's Reports has received a warmer or more unanimous approval than the Report that we have had before us to-day.
§ LORD SHACKLETON
My Lords, I was not sure whether the noble Viscount was intervening to make a speech. I 836 have known many periods of high self-congratulation in the House of Lords, but not with quite so much intellectual content as we have had to-day.
There is one other point that must be made, and that is the strain on Parliament. All this comes about because, as my noble friend Lord Crowther-Hunt in a brilliant maiden speech made clear, Parliament is not doing the job that is expected of it. Though I do not wish to go back to the misfortune of the lost reform of the House of Lords, I support what my noble friend Lord Shepherd said: that if we have to go down this path (and we shall have to), the resources have to be provided; and I have no doubt that at some point those who take on what may well be an onerous and virtually lull-time job will have to be paid at least up to the standard of local councillors, because the demands are heavy.
§ 7.23 p.m.
§ LORD WINDLESHAM
My Lords, the postscript to the noble Lord's speech enables me to join him in a tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Crowther-Hunt, on his maiden speech. It was a most notable contribution to our debate. The whole House, as the noble Lord could see, listened to him with the closest attention and interest, and we shall look forward to hearing him on many future occasions. There will be a debate on the Kilbrandon Report shortly, and perhaps we shall have the opportunity of listening to the noble Lord again very soon.
As the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, said in reply to my noble friend Lord Amory, it has been an admirable and thoughtful debate; and I hope it has been one which the noble Lord, Lord Maybray-King, and his colleagues will feel has been fully worthy of their Report. I was asked one or two detailed questions in the course of the debate. The noble Lord, Lord O'Hagan, put a fairly detailed list of questions to me. I accept that they all flow out of the Report but they were not directly connected with the proposals contained in the Report, and I do not think it would be appropriate at this stage in the debate to deal with any of them in detail. However, I should like to follow them up with the noble Lord, and the questions of any other noble Lords who feel that they have not had an answer to any specific question put to me.
837 There is no doubt after listening to this debate, as I anticipated when I opened it, that there is a broad body of support for the proposal to set up a Select Committee of your Lordships' House to concern itself with the impact of our accession to the European Community and the proposals which emanate from Brussels. It is likely, I understand, that the parallel Report of the Foster Committee will be debated in another place shortly. The need for urgency has been emphasised by almost every speaker who has taken part in this debate, and I can assure noble Lords that the Government intend to press on without delay with the preparation of a final reply when the views of both Houses have been heard on the two Reports: and, as I say, there should be no delay at the other end of the Palace on this matter.
The main point of doubt which has arisen in the course of the debate has been whether it is really necessary for the Procedure Committee to consider this matter. First of all, let me say that there is absolutely no question of this being regarded as a delaying tactic. I am aware that when it is said that another Committee should look at a subject this is thought to be putting an extra wheel on what is already a four-wheeled coach. There is no question of its being a delaying tactic. Nor is it a question of referring the Report to another quite separate committee of people. What I would envisage is a meeting very early after the Christmas Recess—I think the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, indicated in his speech that the timetable is perfectly feasible—at which some of the detailed proposals as to how the machinery should be put together could be put before Members of the House. I say "Members of the House", because the Procedure Committee is a Committee to which any of your Lordships can come: and I would expect that all noble Lords who have spoken in this debate would attend that meeting, and would speak, as is often the case when a major issue is considered by the Procedure Committee. So there is no question of this being referred to a quite separate group of noble Lords who have to familiarise themselves with it. I would hope that noble Lords who have spoken in this debate, as well as members of the Procedure Committee, would be present. 838 What we are talking about is the implementation of the Report. Where the Procedure of the House is concerned, the Procedure Committee is the best forum, in my judgment and in that of many others who have far more experience in the ways of the House, for reaching agreement. Otherwise there is only one alternative, and that is for the Government and the Opposition Party, through the usual channels, to get together and hatch something up and to put it before the House.
There is a general consensus—I agree about that and it makes it a great deal easier—that has emerged out of the debate. But it is clear that there are differences of opinion on a number of specific matters, and it is these, rather than the Report as a whole, which would be considered by the Procedure Committee and by those of your Lordships who attend the meeting of the Procedure Committee. For instance, there is the question of whether there should be one committee or a number of sub-committees, and what the response of the House would be towards the staffing of committees if there are to be a number. It is no good setting up committees only to find that you cannot get the number of noble Lords required to come forward to sit on them. This is the sort of issue on which we must obtain some further reaction from Members of the House. There is the question of the observer in Europe, on which the debate has been divided. There is the question of staffing of the Committee if we are to have joint appointments with another place, which I think is so important. There is the question of by whom they are to be paid. There is the question of the status of the Chairman and whether he should be paid. These are the sort of points which should be put to a meeting of the Procedure Committee, and at an early date. Otherwise, it is difficult to see how there could be a method for those of your Lordships who are interested in this subject to have an opportunity to influence the shape of the actual proposal before it is put before the House.
The noble Baroness, Lady Gaitskell, said, I think, that she was alarmed at the prospect of the Report being sent back to the Procedure Committee. There is no question of that. It is sending it on. We are talking about the next step. I have been concerned with a number of organisations, as many other noble Lords have, 839 and from getting general agreement to actually making something happen is by no means as easy as it looks, and it does not happen by just saying, "Let it happen". I think, my Lords, having looked at this matter and given the assurances that there will be no delaying tactics whatever, that is a sensible next step.
My Lords, once again, on behalf of all noble Lords who have taken part in the debate, let me thank the noble Lord, Lord Maybray-King, and members of his Committee who have brought forward this Report. I should also like to thank all noble Lords who have spoken in this debate. I would end by saying once again that the Government will certainly take the views of noble Lords into account, will take the sense of urgency—the words used by the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, just now—and will move on with the greatest possible speed, spurred on by this debate to reach and implement decisions.
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.