HL Deb 13 July 1976 vol 373 cc141-4
Viscount AMORY

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask the Leader of the House whether he will review the arrangements for debate in the House of European business.>

The LORD PRIVY SEAL (Lord Shepherd)

My Lords, I believe that the arrangements for European business in this House have been working well, but naturally I am ready to consider ways to improve them. If it is the wish of the House, I shall be happy to refer this matter to the Procedure Committee of the House.

Viscount AMORY

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord the Leader of the House for that acceptable reply. May I ask him whether he agrees, as I am sure he will, that the reports on the constitutional and political developments in the EEC are of growing importance and that it is desirable that they should be debated at times which are as convenient as possible to the majority of Members of the House?


My Lords, I have no doubt at all that the House will endorse what the noble Viscount has said. What has been done by our Scrutiny Committee and its various sub-committees has been of tremendous worth both to the House and to the Government. The problem of debate is one of growing difficulty and importance. This is why I should prefer to refer the matter to the Procedure Committee because we may need to look at the various rules and regulations governing the practice of our business. If I were to express a view, it would be that the House should debate these important matters on Wednesdays, a day that is very convenient to the House, although this would mean the parties giving up some of their great rights to Wednesday debates. However, this is a matter at which the Procedure Committee could look.


My Lords, would my noble friend be willing to ask the Procedure Committee to look also at the work of the European Communities Committee and its Sub-Committees, not in any spirit of criticism but in order to assess how far they have got on with their work and the precedents that they are now setting in the form in which they do their work, to see whether we have learned some lessons and whether we should be reorganising them in any way for the future?


My Lords, naturally I will consider what my noble friend has said, but I would hesitate to make such a recommendation at the moment. The Scrutiny Committee has been in existence for some two years and it has done a notable task, but I should have thought that it was a little premature to carry out a full examination of its work. If the Scrutiny Committee were to approach me, certainly I should give the matter very careful thought, but my own feeling in those circumstances, initially at least, would be to set up another committee, similar to the Maybray-King Committee, to look at the question in its own right. I feel that it should not be a matter solely for the Procedure Committee.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord whether he agrees, in view of the importance of the work of the Scrutiny Committee under the noble Baroness, Lady Tweedsmuir of Belhelvie, that time should be arranged, wherever possible, to enable representatives of this House who are members of the European Parliament, to take part in debates?


My Lords, my Chief Whip and the usual channels who conduct our business so admirably have this matter very much in mind. However, there are sometimes constraints when it is not possible to meet all the wishes of those who are both Members of this House and Members of the European Parliament.

The PRINCIPAL DEPUTY CHAIRMAN of COMMITTEES (Baroness Tweedsmuir of Belhelvie)

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord the Leader of the House for his sympathetic reply to the question. May I ask him to make it clear whether he meant the Select Committee on Procedure or the Select Committee on the Practice and Procedure of the House? May I also ask the noble Lord whether he is aware that I hope he will have the support of the whole House in his sympathetic attitude to this matter? When we reach the stage where no fewer than 80 Peers give of their time and experience to this work it seems that it might be useful for the House as a whole to consider matters which are of great importance to this country.


My Lords, I should have thought that we had done pretty well in meeting the demands of the Scrutiny Committee. We have had 22 debates in the last twelve months and we are to have two more next week. I believe that then there will be only four subjects outstanding. Considering the weight of the work, I should have thought that was a very good record for those who are involved in arranging business. So far as the first supplementary question of the noble Baroness is concerned, I have very much in mind the sessional Procedure Committee because this committee is immediately involved with the rules and regulations of the House.


My Lords, is my noble friend aware that I was given time for a debate late on a Thursday evening when a large number of Peers could not attend; that after representations both to the Chief Whip and to the noble Lord the debate was moved to a Monday and that that gesture was very much appreciated by those who took part in the debate?


My Lords, may I thank my noble friend.


My Lords, if and when the noble Lord refers this matter to Sub-Committee A or Sub-Committee B of the Procedure Committee, will he ask them to look ahead to the time when members of the European Parliament will probably no longer be drawn from this House, unless our own arrangements for direct elections are rather different from what they now look like being?


My Lords, sufficient unto the day. I will deal with immediate problems now and look to the longer term ones in due course.

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