HL Deb 09 July 1992 vol 538 cc1271-5

3.54 p.m.

The Chairman of Committees (Lord Ampthill)

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now resolve itself into a Committee upon the first report.

Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(Lord Ampthill.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.


Following is the report referred to:


1. The report of the Committee on the Committee Work of the House was made on 10th February 1992 and debated on 3rd June 1992. The Committee has considered those aspects of the report which are its responsibility. The report's recommendations appear in italics.

Liaison Committee

We see no role for Lords' committees in duplicating the work of select committees in the Commons, and we believe there would he advantage in greater coordination of committee work between the two Houses, whether informally at official level or by occasional discussions between the Commons' Liaison Committee and a Lords' Steering Committee.

We see the need for a continuing oversight of the committee structure, for greater flexibility in that structure and for decisions about priorities to be taken by a committee of the House. We accordingly recommend the appointment of a Steering Committee.

The Committee should allocate resources between select committees; monitor the select committee work of the House; consider requests for ad hoc committees and report to the House with recommendations; ensure effective coordination between committees in the two Houses; and consider the availability of Lords to serve on committees.

2. The Committee accepts the case for a committee to co-ordinate the House's committee work. It should not be the task of such a committee to monitor the work of the various House committees. But it should continue the process of review initiated by the Committee on the Committee Work of the House, and should make recommendations about how the available resources should be distributed within a basic structure of committee activity. It should not interfere in matters which should properly be left to the committees themselves. The name "Steering Committeee" would therefore give a misleading impression of the committee's function. The Committee recommends that the committee should be called the "Liaison Committee".

3. Its terms of reference should be as follows:

"to allocate resources between select committees; to review the select committee work of the House; to consider requests for ad hoc committees and report to the House with recommendations; to ensure effective coordination between the the two Houses; and to consider the availability of Lords to serve on committees."

4. The Committee invites the Committee of Selection to nominate a committee of eight Lords, with the three Leaders and the Convenor of the crossbenchers or their representatives as members. The other four members of the committee should be backbenchers. The Leader should act as Chairman. The Chairman of Committees and the Chairmen of the main sessional and ad hoc committees should be entitled to attend the meetings of the committee and to receive its papers.

Public Bill Committees

We do not recommend an experiment in the comprehensive structure of policy committees put forward by the Practice and Procedure Committee in 1977. Nonetheless, we recognise that the House faces an ever increasing workload. Much could be achieved by greater self-restraint, the need for which has become apparent, but the time has come for the House to consider a limited amount of legislation off the floor to improve the quality of legislation and save some time on the floor.

It is too early to give a definitive view on the success or otherwise of the Public Bill Committee on the Charities Bill. We recommend that one or two suitable bills should be referred to such committees each session.

5. The Government response to the report of the Committee on the Committee Work of the House agreed that it was desirable to consider a limited number of bills off the floor of the House, provided that suitable bills could be found and that the committees were composed of a balanced selection of peers. The Committee endorses the experimental use of public bill committees when suitable bills are available. The decision on which bills are chosen should remain a matter for the usual channels.

Special Standing Committees

We recommend the experimental use of special standing committee procedure—whereby committees off the floor would be able to take a limited amount of evidence on a bill from interested parties over a specified period before considering it clause by clause. Such committees would initially consider only bills introduced in the Lords, largely devoid of party-political controversy.

This procedure would be well suited to the proposals put forward by the Lord Chancellor to facilitate the introduction of certain legal and technical bills, for example certain bills proposed by the two Law Commissions or those concerning company law, which might not otherwise find a place in the legislative programme.

6. The Committee endorses the proposal for an experiment with special standing committees. Such committees would take written and oral evidence within a period of 28 days after second reading. The committees would be free to organise their own programme within that limit. When the period was completed, the committee would become a public bill committee and would consider the bill clause by clause.

7. The Committee of Selection is invited to ensure that the Government is given a majority over the other political parties, but with the crossbenchers holding the balance.

8. In the Government response to the report, it was suggested that two or three bills might be considered in this way over the next two sessions, with the Committee assessing the results of the experiment after that time. The Committee considers that this would make a very worthwhile experiment.

Delegated Powers Scrutiny Committee

We recommend, on an experimental basis, the appointment of a Delegated Powers Scrutiny Committee to give closer and more systematic scrutiny to the delegated powers sought in bills. This would be well suited to the revising function of the House, and we believe it could have great potential value.

9. The Committee endorses the establishment of a Delegated Powers Scrutiny Committee on an experimental basis. The Committee should consider whether the delegation of powers proposed in a bill is appropriate; and if the delegation is appropriate, whether it should be subject to affirmative resolution, negative resolution, or not be subject to parliamentary proceedings. It would then report, and the House would of course be free to accept or reject its recommendations. The proposed terms of reference of the Committee are as follows:

"to report whether the provisions of any bill inappropriately delegate legislative power; or whether they subject the exercise of legislative power to an inappropriate degree of parliamentary scrutiny."

However, the first task of the Committee should be to take evidence with a view to establishing criteria for helping it judge the appropriateness of delegated powers and the degree of parliamentary scrutiny. The Committee should then report to the House before its terms of reference are confirmed. The Committee should not begin to report on legislation until its terms of reference are confirmed in this way.

10. If the proposed terms of reference are confirmed, the Committee should consider bills in the week following their introduction, and should normally seek only a written reply from the Government. This should allow the reports to be available before the committee stage. If for whatever reason the report of the Committee is not ready for the committee stage, the House will be under no obligation to delay proceedings. The Committee should not itself draft amendments. The composition of the Committee is a matter for the Committee of Selection.

11. The experiment should be assessed at the end of this session.

Government Responses

The Committee welcomes the Government's agreement to respond in writing to all reports of the European Communities Committee and to do so within two months of publication. Government responses to the reports of other committees should be made within six months of publication.

12. The Committee welcomes the Government's undertaking to respond to reports of the European Communities Committee, if possible within two months of their publication, and in general to respond to the report of other committees within six months of publication.

Debates on committee reports

We make the following detailed recommendations:-

  1. (i) Debates on major reports should not be held on days when the House meets in the morning.
  2. (ii) Two Wednesdays should be allocated to debates on committee reports at the later stages in a session.
  3. (iii) The usual channels should take greater account of committee reports when selecting subjects for their own debates.

13. The Committee sympathises with the concern of the Committee on the Committee Work of the House that business managers sometimes give insufficient priority to debates on select committee reports. The rules above should normally be followed, but there will inevitably be circumstances in which it will be in the interests of all to pursue a flexible approach. The Committee agrees with the suggestion that debates on select committee reports could be time limited in certain circumstances. Good committee reports do not always require long debates, and indeed committees should exercise restraint when deciding whether reports require a debate.

14. The Committee supports the linking of debates on committee reports with other debates when appropriate. If such debates are time-limited, the mover of the second motion should be allocated 15 minutes in a debate where the mover has 20 minutes, and at least 10 minutes in debates where the mover has 15 minutes.

Rotation Rule

We recommend that the rotation rule for the European Communities Committee and the Science and Technology Committee be reduced from five sessions to three; and that the rule should be strictly applied.

15. The Committee recommends that the rotation rule should be reduced to four years. This seems to provide the best balance between allowing members to settle in and a proper circulation of members. The rule should be applied strictly. It should therefore apply to all Lords, whether full members or co-opted members, and Lords who are not members should not receive committee papers on a regular basis. Lords will still be free to return to committees and sub-committees after an absence of one session, and to move immediately to another committee or sub-committee. There should be no change to the convention that the rotation rule is waived for Chairmen of sub-committees for up to three years.

Size of Sub-committees

We recommend that the membership of sub-committees should not exceed 12 in number; if members of committees do not attend with some regularity, they should not be re-appointed.

16. There is a danger that large sub-committees can take up a disproportionate amount of the available resources. The Committee endorses a maximum of 12 as the norm for sub-committees, but recognises that this may have to be extended in exceptional circumstances. In particular, there is a case for allowing an extension in the case of members co-opted for a single enquiry. To ensure that the maximum is applied in practice, Lords who are not members of the sub-committee should not receive the papers on a regular basis. Reasonably regular attendance should be regarded as a prerequisite for membership for both full and co-opted members of sub-committees.