§ 17. The Committee considered a suggestion from the Administration and Works Sub-Committee of the Offices Committee that the time allowed for divisions might have to be extended once Lords occupied the new offices at 7 Millbank. It was decided to defer consideration of the matter until the Autumn.1276
§ REFERENCES TO MEMBERS OF THE HOUSE OF COMMONS
§ 18. In the Committee's 2nd report, 1991–92, the use of the phrases "Right Honourable" and "Honourable" was discouraged. However, the use of the phrases "my Right Honourable Friend" and "Honourable Friend" is a useful form of shorthand when referring to a ministerial or party colleague in the House of Commons, and is to be welcomed.
§ The Chairman of Committees
I beg to move that the First Report from the Select Committee be now considered.
The Committee will be aware that the report is the latest stage in a long line of deliberation on the House's committee work. It is now well over a year since the House established the Select Committee on the Committee Work of the House under the chairmanship of the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe. The committee's detailed consideration of evidence led to its report last February, which was debated by the House last month. The debate gave an opportunity to the House to consider issues in depth, and the Procedure Committee was able to deliberate with a thorough summary of the debate before it. The Committee will wish to record once again its gratitude to my noble friend and his committee for their work. In particular, I am sure that the Committee would not wish this debate to pass without a tribute to Lord Kearton, who died last week. Not only was Lord Kearton a distinguished member of the Jellicoe Committee, but none of those who have served on the European Communities Committee or the Science and Technology Committee will forget the verve, intelligence and wit he brought to numerous committees as member and as chairman. He will be sorely missed, but warmly remembered.
The Procedure Committee report was restricted to those recommendations of the Jellicoe Committee which fell within its remit. Other recommendations will be considered by the proposed Liaison Committee, by the sub-committee of the Offices Committee and by the Committee of Selection. The Procedure Committee did not therefore consider the recommendations concerning the number of subcommittees of the European Communities Committee and the Science and Technology Committee. Once the Liaison Committee has deliberated, it will report to the House with recommendations concerning the future structure of the committee system in this House. The Committee will be aware that the Committee of Selection recommended that last Session's membership of the two main sessional committees should be extended until 2nd November this year and that this was approved by the House. The possible extension of that date is on the agenda of the Committee of Selection next week, and it may well be that, now that the length of the Summer Recess is known, it would be appropriate to extend the date beyond 2nd November.
The Committee will by now be familiar with the issues raised by the noble Earl and his Committee, and I do not propose to go over the ground again in detail. It will be clear from the report that the Procedure Committee endorsed the great majority of the 1277 recommendations within its remit. The committee decided to stress that the Liaison Committee should not interfere in the running of the various committees, by changing its name and by recommending that it should "review", not "monitor", committee work. The committee also decided to recommend a larger Back Bench representation on the Liaison Committee. In general, however, the committee was happy to follow the strong consensus in the debate that some form of committee should be established to keep the House's committee structure under review.
Over the past few years, the House has experimented in the use of Public Bill Committees on a number of occasions, and the advantages and disadvantages of the procedure are now well known. But the committee was happy to endorse further experimentation if suitable Bills are available. In fact, it is probable that over the next two Sessions, most of the Public Bill Committee activity off the Floor will be linked to the use of special Standing Committees, again on an experimental basis. The Committee will have an opportunity to discuss the use of special Standing Committees without Public Bill Committees when the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, moves his second amendment. In any event, the Procedure Committee looked forward to the use of this procedure, which should allow some of the strengths of Select Committee consideration to be brought to bear on the House's consideration of legislation, with a potential saving of time on the Floor of the House as well.
The final experiment recommended by the Procedure Committee is the establishment of a delegated powers scrutiny committee. This proposal received a warm welcome in the debate. The Procedure Committee recommended that the scrutiny committee should be set up very much on the lines outlined by the noble Earl's committee, although we do suggest that the committee should begin by taking evidence with a view to establishing the criteria to help it judge the appropriateness of delegated powers. If the committee is successful, it should bring an important new dimension to the scrutiny role of this House and take some of the discussions on these matters off the Floor of the House. Another advantage of the committee as laid out in the Jellicoe report is that it will not cause any delay to the legislative programme.
The remainder of the Procedure Committee report deals with government responses, debates on committee reports, the rotation rule and the size of sub-committees. The committee will be discussing some of these issues in the context of the amendments. The aim of the Procedure Committee in these paragraphs was to balance the needs of the committees with the needs of the House as a whole, and we followed in general the lead provided by the debate last month. I commend the Motion to the Committee.
Moved, That the first report from the Select Committee be now considered.—(The Chairman of Committees.)
On Question, Motion agreed to.
§ 4 p.m.
Lord Shepherd moved Amendment No. 1:
Paragraph 3, line 2, after ("to") insert ("advise the House on the resources required for select committee work and to").
§ The noble Lord said: At the outset, perhaps I may echo the tribute that the Chairman of Committees paid to the noble Lord, Lord Kearton, whose death this week we all very much regret. In every respect, he was a noble man and he was a very faithful and diligent servant of this House.
§ When we had the debate on the report of the Jellicoe Committee, some strong criticisms were made of, in the main, the detail of the report. However, there was broad and warm support for the general thrust of the report and for the development of new committee structures in this House. It seems to me that we have come a long way since that debate. I should like to pay a particular tribute to the Government for their written response. I thought that it bore the hallmark—if I may use that word—of the noble Lord, the Leader of the House. It was conciliatory and understanding about the general spirit of the debate. The Procedure Committee has also taken particular note of what was said in the debate. Apart from one or two matters of detail, I hope that the House will give its warm support to the report.
§ I should like first to say a few words about paragraph 2. I think that the words that the noble Lord referred to will ensure the integrity and the independence of the committees, about which there was some doubt—perhaps mistakenly—in the Jellicoe Report. Paragraph 4 deals with the enlargement of the Liaison Committee, with the number of Back Benchers increasing from two to four. I hope that, when the Select Committee considers who those four should be, it will ensure that they represent the broad church of this House. They should feel free to put forward their own views within the Liaison Committee—perhaps to balance the special interests of the usual channels. They are much maligned, but there is always suspicion that their interests sometimes come through rather prominently.
§ I particularly support the recommendation that the noble Lord the Leader of the House should become the chairman of the committee. I assume that the Liaison Committee will report to the House and that notice will be given about the proposed meetings so that, if they wish to make representations to the committee, perhaps in terms of subjects that are suitable for ad hoc inquiries, Members will have had notice and can make their submissions at the right time.
§ During our consideration of the Jellicoe Report, the main anxiety was the apparent acceptance of the view that, in order to fund the new committees, it would be necessary to restrict the budget of the European Communities Committee. It was suggested in the report that the committees should be reduced in size and that they should be fewer in number. There was a general feeling that sacrifices were to be made there in order that the new enterprise could take place. From my own experience, I would say that the resources of the present committee are fully stretched. It is inconceivable that the present workload can be 1279 carried out in its present form and with its present thoroughness with any reduction in the scale of resources or Members' contributions.
§ It is difficult to see what developments will take place in the future. We hear a great deal about subsidiarity, to which the Government attach great importance. It may well be that Parliament—the two Houses—will need to have a watching brief over the way in which subsidiarity is applied, not only in this country but throughout the Community. The role of this committee is not to oversee the United Kingdom; it has been established in an effort to oversee the development in, and the acceptance by, other countries of the regulations and enactments of the Community. It therefore has a wide responsibility. My personal view is that there can be no diminution in its workload or reduction in its resources.
Paragraph 2 of the First Report of the Procedure Committee states:
should make recommendations about how the available resources should be distributed within a basic structure of committee activity".
However, when one looks at the terms of reference, one sees that there is no mention of resources in the case of information to be provided to the House. At some stage, the committee will have to come to the House for approval for its recommendations and, unless one has the information about what resources are required for the committees to be able to perform their duties and can compare that with the resources that have been made available, it will be difficult to make a judgment about whether one should proceed further in other committees until more resources have been made available.
§ I feel strongly that the resources of the European Communities Committee should be retained. I hope that at some stage the noble Lord the Leader of the House can give us some indication of his thinking in this respect, because I believe that this is still a great anxiety in the committees and throughout the House. I beg to move.
§ Lord Williams of Elvel
Before the Leader of the House responds, perhaps I may support my noble friend's concerns, which were echoed in the debate on the Jellicoe Report and found resonance in the Procedure Committee. Although I emphasise that this is not a party matter but a matter for the House, the difficulty is that a number of my noble friends are worried that there may be a diminution of resources for the Select Committee work of the House or, as my noble friend Lord Shepherd said, that extra Select Committee work in the House may be undertaken at the expense of other committee work. It is in that spirit that my noble friend moved his amendment. We look forward to the response of the Leader of the House.
§ Lord Wakeham
It may be helpful if I say a word or two at this stage. I certainly recognise the anxieties expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, in moving the amendment. Both in my speech in the debate on the report of the Jellicoe Committee and in the Government's response, we have taken pains to emphasise that the reforms which the Procedure Committee is recommending will not be frustrated for lack of resources. As I see it, it will be one of the prime 1280 functions of the Liaison Committee to determine what resources might be required to enable the wishes of the House to be met. This may well involve an increase in the current level of resources allocated to committee work in the House. Indeed it is my expectation that the budget for committee work will need to increase as a result of the Jellicoe reforms, but I hope not too alarmingly or too quickly.
As I said in my speech in the debate on the Jellicoe Report, the main limiting factor to the expansion of committee work in the House will not be resources in terms of money or staff but the availability of Members of your Lordships' House willing to serve on committees. This is a matter which the Liaison Committee will need to consider most carefully. While it would clearly be right for the Liaison Committee to bear in mind the financial and other resource implications of new demands for committee activity, it is therefore certainly not the case that the committee will be able to use the non-availability of Clerks or other resources as a reason for denying the House its wishes. I am therefore quite happy to accept the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd.
§ The Chairman of Committees
As the Lord Privy Seal has said, there is no great objection to this proposal. I am not entirely convinced of the necessity of the amendment but I have no objection to its substance.
Lord Bruce of Donington
I very much support the ideas put forward by my noble friends Lord Shepherd and Lord Williams of Elvel. I speak particularly of the European Communities Committee. The work of the European Communities Committee will inevitably increase as the months and years pass. We have experience already of an almost unending cascade of proposals of one kind or another or of draft regulations emanating from the Commission and from the Council which require some urgent review and some urgent examination before the Government themselves may be advised by Parliament as to what action may be recommended to them.
It is not always safe, particularly under current circumstances, that an undue burden should be placed on the Government to arrive at decisions unaided in these matters. Most Ministers of the Crown have considerable departmental responsibilities which occupy most of their time. They must place heavy reliance on their civil servants to be advised as to what action they might think fit to take. Indeed it is common knowledge—I speak, I think, within the recollection of most of us—that Ministers on ministerial Councils such as ECOFIN—I can name many more—are very often completely unaware of the decisions that they are required to make until they are on the aeroplane on the way to the Council meeting and are provided with the papers. Many of them have not had an adequate examination of the papers before they are invited to make decisions. Indeed most of them—if my information is correct: I have no reason to assume otherwise—are made by COREPER in collaboration with the Commission itself.
1281 I make no complaint about that, but the role of Parliament, and in particular of this House, in making its views known after due examination of the facts and in making its own views known to the Government is of crucial importance to the successful functioning of the United Kingdom within the European Community and, in the case of this House, to the fulfilment of its traditional role of revising and very carefully examining legislation that comes before it.
I am glad that the noble Lord the Leader of the House appeared to give some support to the idea that the committee's resources might even be increased in years to come. I most certainly welcome that. There is of course always the necessity for conserving public expenditure and reducing it to all proper limits. But in order to give an example perhaps I may say this. If a Select Committee of this House or even of another place cares to examine the preliminary draft budget of the Community for the year 1993, it could find economies there in wholly unnecessary and extravagant expenditure which if taken up by the Government at Community level would result in far greater savings to the Exchequer than any increased costs by reason of any extra expenditure on the activities of the European Communities Committee.
Therefore I hope that the Government will take note of this point. The fact that the new Steering Committee will contain a number of Back Benchers —possibly an increased number—will enable the Steering Committee to keep its finger on the pulse and will enable it to inform the House. I sincerely hope that the Committee will accept the amendment put forward by my noble friend.
§ 4.15 p.m.
§ Lord Campbell of Alloway
Perhaps I may make a brief intervention to support the important suggestion made by the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd. The noble Lord suggested that some system might be devised by which a list of proposals to set up Select Committees could be published and made open to comment by noble Lords before the decision was taken as to which committees were set up. In the past all this has been wrapped in the esoteric mists of—
§ Lord Flowers
Perhaps I may briefly thank the Procedure Committee for going so far towards meeting the criticisms I have of some of the details of the otherwise excellent Jellicoe Report. What now remains is something which in general I am happy to support. So far as concerns the amendment, however, perhaps I may remind the Committee that I was not in favour of a Steering Committee. That proposal has now been changed and we are to have a Liaison Committee with somewhat weaker powers. I am not 1282 very much in favour of that but I certainly do not intend to oppose it. But if we have it, it is essential that it should look at the total resources required for committee work. Someone has to do that. If there is to be a Liaison Committee, surely that must do it. Therefore I shall support the amendment.
§ Lord Shepherd
I apologise to the noble Lord. Not only do we have to keep our eyes open for the usual channels but we have also to look for the Chairman at the Table.
I should like to say a word of thanks to the noble Lord the Leader of the House for the way in which he has responded to the amendment. It will lift a considerable cloud of uncertainty. I accept all that he has said in the spirit in which he said it.
On Question, amendment agreed to.
Lord Shepherd moved Amendment No. 2:
Paragraph 6, line 4, after first ("would") insert ("usually") and leave out ("and would") and insert ("to").
§ The noble Lord said: I warmly supported the recommendations of the Jellicoe Committee for setting up a special Standing Committee if only, in the first instance, in an experimental form. It had very much the indications that we had when we considered the 1977 report on practice and procedure. At that time, this Chamber was not very happy about it. However, now, with the passing of time, we have changed our minds. I think that 28 days is quite satisfactory. However, I presume that the setting up of the committees and the invitations for evidence could be arranged prior to the Second Reading; in other words, we could get the maximum use of the 28 days between Second Reading and the Committee stage.
§ My anxiety in regard to the report relates to the inflexibility. Here we have the recommendation that a Standing Committee, having taken evidence, should inflexibly become a Public Bill Committee. It could be that in the taking of evidence it becomes clear that the Bill is not quite what it was thought to be. Therefore, there may then be a need for the Bill to be taken on the Floor of the House. As drafted, the report has that lack of flexibility, which I should like to see improved.
§ Moreover, the Government may well introduce a Bill which is of such importance that it would automatically be for consideration on the Floor of the House. However, it may be a Bill of such a nature whereby evidence might be of advantage to the House in Committee. Therefore, as now drafted, without that flexibility, we can do neither of those two things. I believe that there are advantages in having some flexibility in the matter. I hope that my proposal will be considered. I beg to move.
§ Lord Wakeham
I fully understand the wish of the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, that during this experimental phase the way in which a special Standing Committee might operate should be left with some degree of flexibility. I am grateful to him for what he said about my response to the previous amendment. This time I shall try a different response, but I hope that the noble Lord will also think that it is helpful. Nevertheless, it is not the same response.
It appears to me that the noble Lord's amendment is not really necessary. I can certainly give Members of 1283 the Committee an assurance that, if it appeared after the evidence-taking process had been completed that a Bill which had been committed to a special Standing Committee would be dealt with more appropriately in a Committee of the Whole House rather than upstairs in a Public Bill Committee, the Government would certainly negotiate through the usual channels as to the best way to proceed. In such circumstances—which I have to say I do not actually envisage occurring—the Government would no doubt put down a Motion discharging the Order of Commitment of the Bill to a special Standing Committee and recommitting the Bill to a Committee of the Whole House.
If noble Lords opposite feel that a Bill is inappropriate for the Public Bill procedure I have no doubt that similar arrangements would be made. In general, I believe that such issues are best left to the usual channels rather than to the discretion of the special Standing Committee itself. I hope that what I have said will reassure the noble Lord. I recognise the fact that we need flexibility and I give him those assurances. On that basis, I hope that he will feel able to withdraw the amendment.
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
I am bound to say that I am startled by the response just given by the noble Lord the Leader of the House. It seems to me that the report of the Procedure Committee says the opposite of what he has just said. It states quite clearly that, when the Bill is completed, the Committee will become a Public Bill Committee and consider the Bill clause by clause. The noble Lord has now said something quite different.
I suppose it was inevitable that the bulk of the consideration in the Chamber of the Jellicoe Report would have been about the Select Committee procedures, because so many noble Lords give distinguished service on those committees. But, personally, I feel much more strongly about the need to improve the consideration of public legislation by this House on the Floor of the House. For that reason, when the debate took place, I emphasised my support for the special Standing Committee procedure and for a delegated powers scrutiny committee. It seemed to me that both of those innovations would improve the possibility of the House as a whole considering legislation in Committee and on Report in an intelligent and well-informed way, without unnecessary delay and without in any way deliberately slowing down the process of legislation.
When I read the Procedure Committee's report it seemed to me that the suggestion that a special Standing Committee would in due course become a Public Bill Committee was merely a mistake in drafting, because the two issues are separate. When we are considering Public Bill Committees—yes, by all means we must take account of the success of the Charities Bill—we should continue to seek Bills which are not controversial and yet which may be complex enough to go into Public Bill Committees.
But that is not the purpose in any way of the special Standing Committees. As I understand them, the special Standing Committees are intended to ensure that the House, through a special committee, has an 1284 opportunity to invite witnesses and to give consideration before going into the formal and sometimes adversarial proceedings of Committee, Report and Third Reading. I cannot for the life of me see how the two are connected. Moreover, I cannot for the life of me see how my noble friend Lord Shepherd is wrong to suggest that the connection should, at the very least, be weakened. I should have thought that it should be taken away altogether.
I do not know what my noble friend intends to do. I know that he will pay great attention to the assurances sincerely given by the noble Lord the Leader of the House. However, I do not think that the noble Lord was adequately reflecting what the report of the Procedure Committee actually says. I support the amendment.
§ Lord Renton
I should have thought that we could quite well try to get the best of both worlds on this matter. There are some Bills which would need to go to a special Standing Committee so that evidence can be taken. But surely we need not be narrow minded and assume that all such Bills should then be considered further by the special Standing Committee. Of course, some of them should continue to be considered by that committee, but there are other Bills of such wide interest and public importance that they should, as my noble friend the Leader of the House said, be brought to the Floor of the House.
Of course, we are now approving and amending a report of a Select Committee. If I may say so, it is a very good report and, in passing, I should like to congratulate the Chairman of Committees on having presided for the first time over the Procedure Committee with such excellent results. But surely the Rules of the House will eventually have to be amended in order to comply with what we decide today should be the ultimate terms of that Select Committee. When the Rules of the House are amended, could we not achieve the flexibility mentioned by my noble friend the Leader of the House and make it possible, as I said, for us to have the best of both worlds?
§ Lord Campbell of Alloway
The objection of the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, is not readily understood against the assurance given by my noble friend the Leader of the House. It is an assurance as to the implementation of a report. Surely that is good enough. Be it so, if later it be embodied in the Rules of the House. We are the masters of our own procedure. Surely an assurance from my noble friend the Leader of the House is totally satisfactory.
§ 4.30 p.m.
§ Earl Russell
I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway: the House is master of its procedures. I listened with care and interest to the Leader of the House. I understand the point he makes. My only anxiety is whether the usual channels are a sufficient mechanism for picking up opinions in all quarters of the House. If we were to adopt the proposals of the Leader of the House, we might need to improve the procedures for input into the usual channels from the Cross Benches.
§ Lord Houghton of Sowerby
I support the report's recommendations as they stand. I am strongly in favour of using Standing Committees to deal with complex matters which are not controversial in a party sense but which involve a great deal of intricate detail which is more suitable to discussion rather than debate. It is discussion we want where a Bill affects different people differently. We get that in a Standing Committee but not on the Floor of the House. When a Committee stage is on the Floor of the House the attendance is often no better than in a Standing Committee. Also we are yards and yards apart and often inaudible to one another when we are trying to solve an intricate problem. It is better done in a Standing Committee.
The proposal is a novelty in two senses. In my time there have been only two Standing Committees dealing with Bills. I served on one of them. I was greatly impressed by the zealous attendance, application to the task in hand and willingness to reach a settlement on difficult matters. The one thing we did not have, which is mentioned in the report, was the opportunity to consider evidence from interested parties—in writing or orally—before we embarked upon deciding, as a Public Bill Committee, what shape the Bill should take.
I wish the other place had done that years and years ago. Standing Committees in another place are deprived of the opportunity of going deeper into the Bill. They are fully exposed to the mischief of lobbies. When a Standing Committee starts in the other place there are a great many lobbies. Representations are made. The public accommodation is crowded. There are queues outside. Everyone is trying to get in to listen to what the Standing Committee is doing. But it is evidence, not pressure, that we want. There is far too much pressure. Here we have an opportunity to listen to evidence.
I am in favour of having a time limit on that procedure. This place is a self-indulgent Chamber. There is no doubt about that. We have no constituents to drive us but, by God, the demon of our congenital make-up drives us on. I am as big a culprit as anyone in the House. It is a good idea to have some discipline on the hearing of evidence, and 28 days is long enough. After all, as my noble friend said, the Bill has already been through this place on Second Reading. Taking evidence will enable us to get a little closer to some of the difficulties of the Bill. I am all in favour of that.
If the Standing Committee gets into difficulties and wants to hear a great deal more evidence, it has only to come back to this place to ask for it and it will obtain it. I do not like the word "usually" because there is no "usually" about it. Each case can be looked at on its merits. However we want unrestricted time to operate as a Public Bill Committee. We do not want too much time but, on the other hand, we do not want to be tied down.
I commend the report in that respect. I ask the Committee to bear in mind as a matter of pride that we went into the Charities Bill Committee with the product of four years' study of the complexities of charity law. We produced a Bill that not only passed 1286 through this place with little difficulty in the end but one which when it went to the other place passed through without debate. Has that ever been heard of —a Charities Bill which took four years to gestate but which went through the other place without debate? The other place knew very well that it could not make a better job of it than we had. We did that in Standing Committee in less than three weeks. I should like to see more Bills go to Standing Committee. There is great pleasure to be obtained from tackling the different problems contained in Bills in an atmosphere of discussion and application. That is the most rewarding part of the work in this place, and I support the Procedure Committee's recommendations. It has done a jolly good job. When this issue has been back to it and it has reconsidered it and put forward its final recommendations, we should accept what it says.
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
I apologise for speaking again, but we are all on the same side in regard to the substantive issues. We are all in favour of Special Standing Committees. We are all in favour of Public Bill Committees on certain occasions; and yet I believe that we are all in favour of major legislation coming through this place being taken on the Floor of the House. Our difficulty is that the wording of the report is unambiguous. It says that it would become a Public Bill Committee. The assurances given by the Leader of the House are in direct contradiction to what the report says. That is the difficulty. It will have to be resolved somehow—either by the Leader of the House or by the House.
§ Lord Harris of Greenwich
What the Leader of the House has said is entirely reasonable. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby. The Leader of the House has given us every undertaking necessary. There must be general agreement before a Bill goes through the proposed procedure in any event. If there is widespread opposition to the procedure being used, the Bill will not go to the Special Standing Committee. In short, we have received every undertaking we could reasonably ask for.
§ The Chairman of Committees
Perhaps I may first thank the noble Lord, Lord Renton, for his kind remarks about the report. There is a possibility that the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, may have misunderstood what a Special Standing Committee is. It is not a Select Committee. It is a hybrid of a Select Committee and a Public Bill Committee. The Leader of the House has dealt with the matter on the basis upon which the recommendation was made by the Jellicoe Committee and discussed by the Procedure Committee. It is therefore possible that the noble Lords, Lord Shepherd and Lord McIntosh, have somewhat moved the goalposts. In the light of what the Leader of the House has said, and bearing in mind that this is an experiment, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, will feel inclined to withdraw the amendment.
§ Lord Shepherd
I am in some difficulty. I accept the assurances given by the Leader of the House. I also take the view that the contribution of the noble Lord, 1287 Lord Renton, was helpful because in the end the report is a report. It must be translated into the Rules of the House. There are others of my noble friends who feel strongly. In the light of the assurances, and taking into account the flexibility that has been shown over recent weeks, especially by the Leader of the House—there has been a good deal of activity in the various Corridors—if we were to leave the recommendation as it is something good might be achieved through taking that course. If we still have anxieties when the Rules come to the House, that might be the moment to test the will of the House. That is me going back to the days when I sat on the Front Bench opposite doing the same job as the Leader of the House: trying to find a way through a difficulty.
It is also clear that when I beg leave to withdraw the amendment, it is entirely up to the Committee to disagree. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Lord Shepherd moved Amendment No. 3:
Paragraph 12, line 3, at end insert ("Debates should not normally take place before the Government response is published, unless the committee which made the report wishes otherwise.").
§ The noble Lord said: The Jellicoe Committee took on board the anxieties that had been expressed about how departments had responded to reports and correspondence. I remember making a rather severe speech in the House 18 months ago. I have been assured in every quarter that since then there has been a most welcome and marked improvement in the way in which departments respond to reports and correspondence. We also have the assurance of the noble Lord the Leader of the House through the government response.
§ The purpose of my amendment is to suggest that debates on reports of our committees should at best be taken after a reply has been received from the Government. Most of our experience where we have had a debate with no response is that it has not been a good debate. However, when there has been a response, we have had a good debate which has been useful to all sides of the House.
§ Therefore, I suggest that usually the debate should not take place until a reply has been received from the Government. That would be helpful and would still permit, if matters were urgent, the committee to proceed without a reply. This is a small technical amendment and I do not believe that it raises any controversy. I beg to move.
§ Lord Campbell of Alloway
I wonder about this. It is easier for the Back Benches to debate a matter before the Government have made their response. Speaking for myself, I have found on more than one occasion that it is easier to have an objective debate before one knows the Government's response. So, with the greatest respect, as one member of the Back Benches I oppose the amendment.
§ Lord Renton
I support my noble friend Lord Campbell of Alloway. It seems to me that once a government report is published, the Government's position is likely to be maintained. They are reluctant to change their minds.
§ Lord Flowers
All that I intended to say has been said. The requirements of the European committees, for example, may be one matter; the requirements of the Science and Technology Committee are perhaps another. It is very much our view that when we have produced a report, we should present it to the House, have it debated and see whether it has substantial support. If it has, that will naturally influence the Government whenever they come to their formal response.
It could be argued that in those circumstances the Government's immediate response to the debate is rather wishy-washy because they have not yet thought about it very much. But at least we have started the procedure of getting them to consider their response. Thus, we believe that the balance of advantage lies in debate as early as possible. For that reason I ask the Committee to reject the amendment.
§ Lord Wakeham
I am on the side of flexibility. I therefore commend the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, to the Committee. I am sure that it would be generally for the convenience of the House not to debate Select Committee reports until the Government's response is available in writing, unless, for whatever reason, the committee considers otherwise. Then the debate could precede the response. It seems to me that we have the best of both worlds: I suggest to the Committee that we should grab it.
On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ 4.45 p.m.
Lord Williams of Elvel moved Amendment No. 4:
Leave out paragraph 15 and insert:
("15. The Committee recommends that the rotation rule should be reduced to four sessions. This seems to provide the best balance between allowing members to settle in and a proper circulation of members. The rule applies only to membership of a particular committee or sub-committee. Thus Lords rotated off a committee or sub-committee may move immediately to another committee or sub-committee. They may also return to the same committee or sub-committee after an absence of one session. However, within these limits, the rule should be applied strictly. It should apply to all Lords, including those who have switched between being co-opted members and full members. Lords who are not members should not receive committee papers on a regular basis. The only exception to the rule that no Lord should serve on any one committee or sub-committee for more than four sessions should be that chairmen of sub-committees should still be allowed exemption from the rotation rule for up to three sessions.")
§ The noble Lord said: The origin of this rather lengthy amendment is paragraph 15 of the Procedure Committee's report. When my noble friends and I met to discuss the paragraph, it did not seem to any of us easily comprehensible. I was therefore asked what I thought it meant and others of my noble friends gave their version. As a result, I took advice on an appropriate amendment to make paragraph 15 comprehensible to everyone without changing its substance. I hope very much that the amendment I put before the Committee achieves that task.
§ I emphasise again that the amendment does not attempt to change any of the conclusions of the Procedure Committee. As a member of that committee I feel that it would be improper to try to 1289 move any change of substance on the Floor of the House. This is purely a drafting proposal to make matters more comprehensible. I hope that the Committee will feel able to accept the amendment.
Lord Shepherd moved, as an amendment to Amendment No. 4, Amendment No. 5:
Line 1, leave out ("be reduced to four") and insert ("remain at five").
§ The noble Lord said: In moving Amendment No. 5 I shall speak also to Amendment No. 6. I apologise for detaining the Committee but the vexed question of rotation is an important issue. The Jellicoe Committee recommended a three-year period. I believe that all those who have had any experience of the committees came to the conclusion that three years was too short a time. Some people, like myself, would have stood by the present level of five years, but if there is a consensus on four years, then I would quite happily agree to it.
§ However, I say to the noble Lord the Leader of the House that the rotation rule needs to have regard to the effect on representation, particularly in subcommittees. We need representation on them from the political parties, the Cross-Benches and the broad church of the House. If the rotation period is too short, it is possible that we may not be able to achieve that degree of cover.
§ Will four years prove satisfactory? I have a feeling—and advice has been given to me in a number of quarters—that four years will create difficulty in some committees to some parties or to the independents. At the moment, it is not clear how the proposal will work from one committee to another. I believe that the rotation rule must have regard to how proper representation can be achieved on committees.
§ If the Committee reaches a consensus on four years, I ask the Leader of the House whether a study can be undertaken by the Liaison Committee on how it will apply to all committees of your Lordships' House. By that I mean also sub-committees. If there are difficulties or problems with representation, then, as we said earlier in regard to the report, whether or not there is the means, it must still be implemented. If there are difficulties, then perhaps a liaison committee could find a way of extending the period for some members beyond the rotation period, if only to provide proper representation in the committee.
§ My last point arises from the rotation problem and its effect upon the European Communities Committee. The Leader of the House will know that when we came back after the election to the debate on the Jellicoe Report, it was decided that the European Communities Committee should have its life extended until about the beginning of November. If the Liaison Committee is set up, it has to consider the matter and submit a report to the Chamber. That report then has to be considered and committees have to be appointed and installed with a new workload. Therefore it seems to me unlikely that these committees will be operating much before the middle of November at best. They may not have reached their maximum efficiency until December.
§ I am advocating that the European Communities 1290 Select Committee should continue in its present form, as it was appointed in the previous Session and as it was extended until November, until the end of December. This country, through the Government, is the president of the Community. It is a period of great interest for those in Parliament and the people of our country. It would seem strange to have committees in a degree of limbo, unable to get to grips with what is being proposed by the Commission or with what may be emanating from the Council of Ministers.
§ Ministers have treated us extraordinarily well. They have recognised the worth of reports that have been produced. Ministers have undertaken not to proceed to a Council meeting unless the proposal of the Commission that is to be considered that day has been cleared, or a report has been provided. These committees need to be operating fully and efficiently during this time. I ask the noble Lord the Leader of the House to consider the extension—I believe the noble Lord the Chairman of Committees was hinting at that, although I do not think he intended to go as far as I would wish—until the end of the year. The new committees, when they are restructured by the Liaison Committee, could start on 1st January. I believe that to be the right date in the circumstances. I beg to move.
§ The Chairman of Committees
It might be for the convenience of the Committee to regard Amendments Nos. 4, 5 and 6 as though they were grouped.
§ Lord Lucas of Chilworth
I hope I may say a few brief words in support of the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, on rotation. I do not wish to take further the discussion on party representation, but I wish to consider the pragmatic approach, particularly in connection with the European Communities Select Committee. It has proved sometimes to be somewhat difficult to man some of the sub-committees, particularly when a requirement arises to form an ad hoc committee. Usually the ad hoc committee has to deal with a matter of a fairly serious and non-routine nature. It then becomes difficult to find people to sit on the sub-committee as they may be otherwise committed.
As regards the other committees, it has been my personal experience that it takes a year or so to get into the work of a committee. It has also been my experience that some of the more important matters are of a recurring nature. It would be prudent therefore to ensure some continuity in the case of a matter that may return to a sub-committee by virtue of a further direction or draft from the Commission. That may occur in the fourth or fifth year after the matter was first discussed. I believe that there is a good deal of merit in the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd.
§ Lord Williams of Elvel
I wish to follow the comments of my noble friend Lord Shepherd and the noble Lord, Lord Lucas. I agree with what I would call the four-year compromise. Indeed, that is stated in my amendment. Nevertheless, there is the problem of how that compromise is to be implemented. What are the practicalities? If there is a guillotine at a certain 1291 point and all new committees are suddenly placed on a four-year rotation as opposed to a five-year rotation period, I believe that my party may be at a certain disadvantage as regards representation. That is the only party point I wish to make. If, on the other hand, there is to be a pragmatic way of phasing the measure in, I do not think we would have any serious worries.
§ Lord Wakeham
I shall try to deal with Amendments Nos. 4, 5 and 6. The noble Lord, Lord Williams, said that his amendment would clarify the situation. It is an extremely long amendment. Years of experience have taught me to treat with some suspicion a long and complicated amendment which is supposed to clarify the situation. However, I agree with the noble Lord in that I believe the amendment clarifies the situation. It does not alter the sense of the report of the Procedure Committee but it clarifies the matter of how the rotation rule will work in practice. I am sure that the Committee will consider it a sensible and helpful amendment. I commend it to the Chamber.
The noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, has explained that Amendments Nos. 5 and 6 maintain the status quo as regards the operation of the rotation rule. The Committee will recall that the Jellicoe Committee recommended that the rotation rule should be reduced from five Sessions to three. In the debate on the Jellicoe Committee report the consensus became clear—several Members of the Committee have remarked on it—that a reduction in the rotation rule to four years was appropriate. I believe the thrust of the Jellicoe Committee's argument still holds good. The committee thought that a reduction in the rotation rule would bring new blood into the committees and sub-committees and would enable the work of the committees to become better integrated with that of the Chamber as a whole.
The amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel, makes clear that the rotation rule is in itself not a rigorous rule. It does not preclude a Member who is rotated off one committee or sub-committee from joining another committee or sub-committee. Moreover, after one Session in purdah, a member is free to rejoin a committee or sub-committee of his or her choice should a vacancy become available. In the circumstances I wonder whether the Committee would be wise to accept the amendments proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd.
I understand the concern being expressed by some about how the introduction of a new rotation rule, and indeed the implementation of the Jellicoe reforms themselves, might affect the existing work and membership of the Science and Technology Committee and the European Communities Committee. In respect of the latter, as the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, said, there is an obvious sensitivity as regards interrupting the committee's work during the British presidency of the Community.
The questions of how the new rotation rule should be introduced, and when the new committee structure should be implemented, are interlinked. In appointing new committees —I believe that it cannot now happen at the beginning of November, as at one time we 1292 thought, but will have to be deferred, perhaps until the end of November—the Committee of Selection will wish to preserve continuity amid change. I have no doubt that the importance of the need to avoid dislocation of the work of the Select Committees of this Chamber should be at the forefront—indeed it will be at the forefront—of the deliberations of the Committee of Selection. The suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, that this is a matter that the Liaison Committee may well wish to consider to ensure that it is working satisfactorily, is a good one. I certainly agree with that suggestion.
That is how I would proceed. I believe there is a concern, which the noble Lord highlighted and brought to our attention in his amendments, but I think we can deal with the matter without changing the report in the way he suggests.
§ 5 p.m.
§ The Chairman of Committees
Perhaps I may briefly speak again to Amendments Nos. 4 and 5 and, of course, the consequential Amendment No. 6. Amendment No. 4 provides a redraft of existing paragraph 15 to explain a little more clearly the detailed working of the rotation rule. The important point to bear in mind is that the rule relates only to a particular sub-committee. The clock starts as soon as a noble Lord joins a sub-committee or committee but membership of any other committee has no bearing on how it works. Thus a member of European Sub-Committee A, who has served for the requisite number of sessions, can immediately move to Sub-Committee B; or if the noble Lord is a diehard supporter of Sub-Committee A the Select Committee would be free to invite him back on Sub-Committee A after one session's absence, if he so wished. The amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Williams, lays this out in rather greater detail than the original draft and I am perfectly happy to accept it.
As to Amendment No. 5, some of the details of the rotation rule are difficult to understand and the Committee, I think, will agree that the rule, as contained in the report is quite a generous one. It would allow a noble Lord to serve on the different sub-committees of the European Communities Committee for life, without interruption, if so invited. He might serve on the same sub-committee for eight years out of nine. In view of that I thought the modest change suggested by the Procedure Committee was reasonable. The Jellicoe Committee, having received various representations on the subject, supported a figure of three years.
Having assessed the debate, the Procedure Committee concluded that four years, strictly applied, provided the right balance. I still believe that a reasonable turnover of Lords is in the best interest of the committees and of the House as a whole, and I therefore urge that the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, should be rejected.
§ Lord Shepherd
It may be suggested that I should withdraw the amendment rather than invite its rejection. I said at the beginning that we have come a long way: I believe that we have now reached a point 1293 of consensus. It would be wrong therefore to react to the challenge of the Chairman of Committees. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment No. 5, as an amendment to Amendment No. 4, by leave, withdrawn.
§ [Amendment No. 6 not moved.]
§ On Question, Amendment No. 4 agreed to.
§ The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Murton of Lindisfarne)
The Question is, That I do report the First Report from the Procedure Committee to the House with amendments.
§ Lord Renton
I do not wish to take up too much of your Lordships' time but I should be grateful for an assurance from my noble friend the Leader of the House that there will not be delay in the appointment of the Scrutiny Committee for examining delegated powers. I simply remind your Lordships that the Jellicoe Committee, all who spoke in the debate on the matter, and members of the Procedure Committee are all in favour of the appointment of the Scrutiny Committee. It really is most necessary because of the greatly increased insertion of those powers in Bills in recent years. I hope that we shall have that confirmed.
§ Lord Thurlow
I should like to say a brief word in relation to the delegated powers scrutiny committee. First, may I express warm appreciation of the very positive attitude taken by the Leader of the House and also by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor. Originally, there were certain natural reservations on the part of departments. Your Lordships will recall that I visited Australia on behalf of your Lordships to see how a scrutiny committee worked. It took four years for the Government to be persuaded to withdraw their reservations; so I think we owe a debt to the Government for their positive attitude.
As regards the proposal that initially evidence should be taken to establish the criteria which may guide the committee, it will be necessary to work very much on a pragmatic basis. However, it can do nothing but assist the committee to be given evidence on criteria. I hope and believe that any criteria, any formulation, will be fixed in very general terms.
I should like to say a brief word on the appointment of a legal adviser. In the Australian experience, the calibre and the extremely hard work of the legal adviser are regarded on all sides as having played a key part in the influence of its scrutiny committee. I hope very much that every possible effort will be made to find someone with both the qualifications and the commitment—a commitment which will have to be exercised often against a considerable time deadline. I hope it will be possible to find the right kind of person and that your Lordships will not expect too much from the Scrutiny Committee in its early days. There are vast numbers of regulations every year. It would be very much better to have scrutiny in depth of some of the more difficult cases rather than shallow scrutiny over a very wide field.
§ Lord Lucas of Chilworth
Regarding paragraph 4 of the committee's report, I should like to echo what was 1294 said by the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, in moving his first amendment. He talked of a special committee of eight Lords and the necessity of having four Back Benchers of the widest possible representation of your Lordships. Those four people, broadly representing all parties, I imagine, would have to take account of the views of what is on an average sitting day some 270 to 280 Members. That is going to be a fairly responsible task for those four people. We should perhaps invite the Committee of Selection to bear that in mind.
Perhaps the noble Lord the Chairman of Committees can advise me on a further point. I quote from line 5 of paragraph 16:Lords who are not members of the sub-committee should not receive the papers on a regular basis.Most of your Lordships are very responsible people and are not usually very happy collecting paper for paper's sake. Enough of it comes in the ordinary course of events. It seemed perhaps a little unnecessary for the Procedure Committee to draw the attention of noble Lords to this collection of papers. At the same time it may dissuade some noble Lords, who may have a particular interest in, and perhaps a special contribution to make to, the work being done to keep abreast of the developments which are going on in a particular committee, even though he or she may not be a member.
§ Earl Russell
I too welcome paragraph 9 and the delegated powers scrutiny committee. The Procedure Committee has handled the matter extremely well. It has incorporated the reservations suggested by the Government on 3rd June, which were sensible ones. It has dealt with the problem that we discussed on 3rd June as to whether we should attempt to reach a consensus before setting up the committee or set up the committee and then reach for a consensus. The Procedure Committee's way of squaring the circle on the matter has been very practical: I admire it.
I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Thurlow. I hope that the consensus that is looked for will be expressed in general terms. This is an area in which one needs to be able to have a degree of growth in response to cases as they come up. It is an area in which no two cases are quite on all fours with each other. I hope that the consensus which we shall look for and to which I hope to contribute on general principles will allow evolution as we go along in response to cases as they arise.
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
We want the noble Lord, Lord Renton, on the delegated powers scrutiny committee as well. At least some of us do. However, I do not think it would be proper to let this moment pass without thanking all the members of the Procedure Committee and in particular the noble Lords the Chairman of Committees and the Leader of the House for the way in which they reacted to the report of the Jellicoe Committee.
It seems to me that we have combined protection of resources for the Select Committees of the House—not an open-ended protection; I appreciate the point made by the noble Lord the Leader about that—with an expansion of committee work. We have taken a 1295 step, perhaps only a very small one, toward the improvement of the ability of the Chamber to consider legislation on the Floor of the House. For that we must thank all those who have taken part in the deliberations.
§ The Chairman of Committees
I am deeply grateful to the whole Committee for the excellent way in which these discussions have been conducted. I am particularly grateful, as noble Lords would expect, and I am sure that I speak also on behalf of the noble Lord the Leader of the House, for the kind words which have been said about the work of the Procedure Committee and of the contribution which the noble Lord the Lord Privy Seal has made.
We have had a useful discussion. I hope that all noble Lords are as content as they sound with the conclusions reached. I apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, for the somewhat abrupt word which I used in connection with his Amendment No. 5. I hope that he will accept that apology from me.
The Committee of Selection meets on Monday next. We shall certainly give consideration to all the points that have been raised which are specifically for that committee. I repeat my thanks to the Committee.
On Question, Motion agreed to.
House resumed: First Report from the Procedure Committee reported with amendments.
§ The Chairman of Committees
My Lords, I beg to move that the First Report from the Procedure Committee, as amended, be agreed to.
On Question, Motion agreed to.