HL Deb 18 April 1991 vol 527 cc1557-9

3.28 p.m.

The Lord Privy Seal (Lord Waddington)

My Lords, your Lordships will recall that just before the Easter Recess, on Tuesday 26th March, you agreed to a Motion approving the Second Report from the Offices Committee. On that occasion the Chairman of Committees specifically drew your Lordships' attention to a proposal to set up a select committee to consider the situation with regard to all the various select committees of this House. The present Motion formally proposes the setting up of such a select committee. If your Lordships agree to it, the Committee of Selection will meet next week to propose the members of the select committee and that membership will be embodied in a Motion to be laid before the House immediately thereafter. The committee may then be expected to begin its work very soon and to complete it some time in the late summer or in the autumn. I beg to move.

Moved, That it is desirable that a select committee be appointed to consider the committee work of the House and to make recommendations.—(Lord Waddington.)

Lord Northfield

My Lords, I have given notice to the noble Lord the Leader of the House that I want to say a few words about this Motion and to ask him whether the terms of reference of the committee will be reasonably widely drawn. I draw his attention to the fact that some 15 years ago there was a special committee on practice and procedure of the House which looked in some detail at the functioning of the committee system. When the report of that committee was debated in the House some some months later the Leader of the House at the time gave a half promise of an experiment on the lines recommended by that committee. It was on the basis of that half promise that the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, withdrew his Motion during the debate so that discussions could proceed about a possible small experiment.

That offer, which we understood to be genuine, was never implemented. There was never any experiment on the lines proposed in its report by the special committee on practice and procedure. It would be interesting to allow the new committee at least to look at the recommendations in that report to see whether any of them have stood the test of time and should now be subject to some kind of experiment.

I understand that one of the reasons for the new committee is that the European Communities Committee, for example, has been in existence for a long time and that it is now time for us to draw some lessons from its existence and its valuable work. Perhaps I may point out to the Leader of the House that the European Communities Committee presented evidence to that special committee when it sat 15 years ago. It drew attention to the fact that it was successful in harnessing more than 80 Members of your Lordships' House in detailed committee work which was widely recognised as successful not only here but in the European Community and particularly in the European Commission. The European Communities Committee said, in effect, said, "How odd it is that we do such valuable work on secondary legislation from Brussels and have never thought out how we should look at doing something similar about the more important legislation which reaches us from another place". The committee asked, "Is it not an odd situation that this valuable work has been going on so long and that we have not drawn the right lessons from it?"

I suspect that there were two reasons why the offer was never implemented. First, the two Front Benches were afraid that it would be impossible to man committees of the kind recommended by the special committee. If that is so, it should be said openly and we should look at the issue. After all, we are manning the European Communities Committee to the tune of 80 very active Members of your Lordships' House, so we need to know whether it is possible to start some small experiments on something similar concerning domestic legislation. The second reason why the offer was never implemented was that the Government feared that its legislation might become unduly delayed. Again, that matter should be considered.

Fifteen years is a long time for a report to lie on the table. My question to the Leader of the House is simply this: will it be clear from the terms of reference that the proposed new committee can range reasonably widely, look again at that report and advise the House whether we could more effectively carry out committee work in this Chamber than we do at the moment? After all, over the past 100 years we have lost power here but we have not yet maximised our influence. What that committee said to us 15 years ago is that it is about time that we looked at how to maximise our influence. I hope that the noble Lord will be able to assure me on the points that I have raised.

Lord Waddington

My Lords, I have no doubt whatsoever that the terms of reference of the select committee will be wide enough to cover the matters raised by the noble Lord, Lord Northfield.

The Earl of Lauderdale

My Lords, perhaps my noble friend will clear up one point. Do the terms of the resolution include or exclude the work of select committees, which are in many cases hampered by lack of staff back-up and are faced with mountains of paper which no one can read?

Lord Waddington

My Lords, I can assure my noble friend that the select committee will be able to deal with that matter.

On Question, Motion agreed to.