§ 6.12 p.m.
§ Debate resumed.
§ Earl Russell
My Lords, coming on stage at the end of a high drama one is tempted to say that, 947the eyes of man …After a well-grac'd actor leaves the stageAre idly bent on him that enters next".However, having listened I am encouraged to think it possible that the business of today's debate will be with us when the business of the Statement is concluded and behind us, for procedure is always with us.
In common with all noble Lords I offer my thanks to the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, and to his committee for a distinguished report with which I am much in sympathy. I have one small note of misgiving on which I wish to touch briefly. It is about the procedure for taking Public Bills in Committee off the Floor of the House. I listened carefully to the noble Earl and did not disagree with anything that he said. My slight misgiving related to the word "occasional"; one's view about that word depends on how many occasions. Many things have been said to be occasional. Income tax was said to be occasional when the House of Commons first voted it in 1436. Indeed, Members were so anxious about the issue that they refused to enter it in the records for fear that it might be taken as a precedent—I may say to the great dismay of historians.
I also listened to my noble friend Lord Harris of Greenwich. He said that as a result of the composition of this House such a committee would not necessarily have a government majority. If that were the accepted view the type of Bills which would go to Committee upstairs would be only those which one could happily see go there. Therefore, with the rider that my noble friend put on the proposal I should he happy to go as far as the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, has gone today.
I refer also to the committee for the scrutiny of legislation, especially the inappropriate delegation of powers. The proposal originated from a debate held on 14th February 1990, referred to in a footnote of the report. I re-read that debate during the weekend. It was most impressive. The proposal put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Rippon of Hexham, was supported warmly and ably from every corner of the House. Some good speeches were made during the debate. I shall repeat only a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Shaughnessy. He pointed out that similar committees also exist in New Zealand and Canada, and therefore we are not being asked to follow a single example.
I like very much the terms of reference for the Australian committee. The noble Earl and his committee have come down in favour of something a little narrower. I admit that I should have preferred the Australian terms but, like Winnie the Pooh, I do not want to be greedy. If we could have the terms proposed by the noble Earl's committee I should welcome them most warmly.
Consideration could be given to matters which might be appropriate for delegation. The mere existence of such a committee would cause that issue to be discussed. There is a great deal of room for discussion. The Donoughmore Committee suggested that delegated legislation should be reserved for minor matters. I am not sure that that is always the case. If it is not it causes particular difficulties in this House where always there are procedural difficulties in the 948 way of voting on provisions in a regulation. There are ways in which those difficulties might be tackled but they are cumbersome and not always the best way of proceeding. A great deal of trouble could be saved if at an early stage discussions could take place behind the scenes.
If such a committee were set up it would be concerned largely, but by no means exclusively, with what have come to be known as Henry VIII clauses. That is a subject on which the noble Lord, Lord Rippon of Hexham, has made many distinguished contributions to our debates. This is not the occasion for a long discussion of the issues raised in those debates. However, I must say that those who have the least misgivings about such clauses might perhaps agree that in recent times they have tended to get out of hand. I shall instance the clause in the Statutory Sick Pay Bill. It was defeated and to my great pleasure another place agreed to its removal from the Bill. Under a Henry VIII clause it had authorised the imposition of a charge. From any point of view that would have to be held as "getting out of hand".
I have thought about how such a committee would work. As far as I can follow the proposals in the report it would work well. It would ask the Minister to explain why such a clause was felt to be necessary. That would achieve one of the aims of the Donoughmore Committee; that where such a clause is thought to be necessary a statement shall be provided to explain why. Such a procedure is capable of saving a great deal of trouble.
The noble Lord, Lord Renton, speaking on 31st January 1990, asked in regard to legislation, "Is your journey really necessary?". He was talking about the bulk of legislation brought forward, which is an issue that underlies much of our debate. I do not know how deeply we can go into that matter today. Similarly, one can ask, "Is your Henry VIII clause really necessary?". The answers to that question, if they are made available to us, deserve a great deal of scrutiny and they will save a great deal of parliamentary time.
The saving of parliamentary time is sometimes invoked as a reason for using Henry VIII clauses. I do not know whether the desired effect is achieved because almost always someone tables an amendment either to delete the provision or to make it subject to affirmative resolution. That tends to lead to lengthy debate. Speaking purely for myself, if I were to read a Minister's explanation of why such a clause is necessary there are likely to be at least some occasions on which I should find that explanation convincing. Indeed, I would have tabled an amendment in order to obtain such an explanation. Therefore, in that way the time of the House could be saved. Moreover, perhaps it is not too much to hope that the existence of such a committee might, on some occasions, make Ministers refrain from using such a clause when they otherwise might have done so.
Speaking immediately before the noble Lord, Lord Thurlow, I shall not dwell at length on Appendix 4 of the report, which I read with great pleasure, but I was struck by one point; namely, that the Australians found that the existence of the committee had changed the culture of some government departments. That 949 could happen here. I can recall one occasion when the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, tabled an amendment to delete a Henry VIII clause. At first the department seemed to have absolutely no idea as to what was the noble Lord's objection. It did not even realise whether he was concerned about a drafting or constitutional point. It took a little time to get that debate on the rails. With such a committee in place, we could avoid that type of misunderstanding.
The Government have expressed certain reservations. I am not entirely surprised; indeed, I am not entirely out of sympathy with the points which the Government are making. They make the point that one could not normally expect a committee to see draft instruments. It is nice when one can see them in draft and in that context I thank my noble kinsman Lord Henley for the last occasion on which he was able to do that. We all understand that that cannot always happen because it is not always known what kind of regulations are proposed.
The Government suggested also that the committee should be experimental, and I have no problem with that. That is necessarily the case whether or not it is so spelled out. Therefore, I have no objection to the Government wishing to spell it out.
The Government suggested also that we should move towards a consensus on the appropriate use of those powers. My response to that is, "Yes, please." I have been asking for that for quite a long time. I have never argued—and most noble Lords who have opposed such clauses have also never argued—that they are always illegitimate. Clearly there is a place for them; for example, in a statute where a figure is included which is eligible for annual up-rating because it cannot be up-rated without the existence of a Henry VIII clause. We are all prepared to admit that there are such cases. We are willing and eager to take part in discussions about what they might be.
There was an extremely interesting debate about this during our debates on the Further and Higher Education Bill. I listened with particular interest to the speeches of the noble Lords, Lord Renton and Lord Henderson of Brompton, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone. They all said things which are true and which should go into the evolution of consensus. Therefore, I have no problem with that.
However, I am not quite sure about how that should be done. The suggestion in the minutes of evidence that we should establish a consensus before setting up the committee is rather like putting the cart before the horse. After all, is that not what one sets up a committee for? The consensus evolves from the proceedings of the committee and, indeed, from the evolution of a body of case law. Anyone likely to be appointed to such a committee would go into it hoping to achieve consensus. I am extremely glad to hear the Government talking about consensus. The noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, deserves a great deal of credit for that. His committee has already achieved something.
On the other hand, I am not quite so happy about the Government's suggestion that vigilance might, in 950 some circumstances, be difficult to distinguish from political opposition to the underlying policy. That is a slightly and ungenerous objection to a proposal which originated from their own side of the House and which has been supported by every quarter of the House. Most of us would like to think that we can distinguish between form and substance. Most of us know that we are not always right. Most of us are prepared to listen when people point out that we are failing to make such a distinction. In this House at least I cannot see anyone being appointed to such a committee who is likely to use it simply for the pursuit of party objectives. Any such person would not be particularly happy serving on such a committee and would probably not choose to remain there for long. This proposal could do a great deal of good and I hope that it will be accepted.
§ 6.25 p.m.
§ Lord Thurlow
My Lords, as your Lordships are going to be contained within these four walls for many hours yet, perhaps I may be permitted to open a window beyond the Chamber for a few minutes and invite your Lordships to accompany me to Australia. As no other member of the committee was free to go on its behalf to get a first hand impression of how the experience of 10 years of a delegated scrutiny committee had worked out and as we thought we should get that first hand impression, I made the trip. I know that some of your Lordships, in particular the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack, have long been familiar with the Australian experience, but the committee wanted a first-hand look. It so happened that in Canberra a special meeting was convened to celebrate the tenth year of the working of the committee. Therefore, it seemed to be a suitable and good opportunity to draw on that experience.
I was packed up in brown paper with one of our very distinguished senior Clerks, Mr. Sleath, and we spent three days in Canberra. They were extremely intensive days. On the first day we sat through an interesting reviewing seminar attended by distinguished academics, journalists, officials and others seeking to evaluate their experience. We then had a day of intensive discussion at all levels in the Senate, from the president of the Senate to the chairman of the scrutiny committee, officials and journalists. On the third day I attended a meeting of the scrutiny committee to see it actually work.
I should like to say a few words about how the Australian committee works because that may be relevant if it is decided to establish a delegated scrutiny committee here, even though conditions there are, as your Lordships will be well aware, different both as to how parliamentary proceedings are conducted and in other ways.
The system provides for careful scrutiny. Every week all the Bills which have come forward in the past week are gathered and looked at by an extremely eminent legal adviser who produces a note of comments of points to be considered which is circulated and drawn to the attention of the 951 departments concerned. In turn, they have an opportunity to reply before the scrutiny committee compiles and presents a report to the Senate.
There was a general consensus among those I met in Canberra that the committee had been a useful influence on Australian legislation. The effect is reflected directly in the amendment of Bills in the Chamber in accordance with the committee's recommendations. As a self-denying ordinance the committee does not propose specific amendments. The main influence seems to be indirect. As the noble Earl, Lord Russell, mentioned, it has effected a culture change in the departments in Canberra causing them to take more care in the drafting of Bills to avoid unnecessary, ill-considered or indeed mischievous encroachment on parliamentary control.
No one I met wished to exaggerate the influence of the committee. The committee itself was modest in its claims. The departments naturally have the last word and some departments ignore the recommendations of the committee altogether. The influence and the effectiveness, such as they exist, are largely the result of the extremely high quality of the contribution of the legal adviser. With great dedication he has worked for the scrutiny committee for the whole 10 years and has built up a network of relations with the departments, the legal draftsmen and others which is of the greatest possible value.
As the noble Earl, Lord Russell, mentioned, in Australia the terms of reference of the committee are much wider than those our committee recommends. The committee is 10 years old. It took several years to establish. Inevitably in any country the Executive is likely to seek to delay the appointment of a scrutiny committee. That is in the nature of things. In Australia the motivation was mainly to increase the protection of the rights of the citizen. In this country our conclusion was that there is a much wider and more deeply based set of arrangements by which rights can be protected. For experimental purposes it seemed desirable to confine the terms of reference to the specific area which troubled your Lordships in the impressive debates that we had on the subject.
The Senate committee in Canberra has a self-denying tradition in which it does not recommend specific amendments. We, for our part, felt that with more limited terms of reference a scrutiny committee might be disposed to take a rather stronger line and perhaps propose amendments. That would be a matter for the committee to decide.
In Australia the timetable of the committee is breathless. The Australian legislature sits for such a short period of time each year that an enormous quantity of Bills must be squeezed into a small number of weeks. That creates great difficulty for those who want to keep track of them. We believe that in the much longer Sessions that we have in this country, it would not create such a rush. Those concerned in the scrutiny committee—the legal adviser, the Clerk and the committee itself—would not be under such pressure.
I would not wish to exaggerate the opportunity for change as a result of the work of a scrutiny committee. The vast mass of orders, regulations and secondary 952 legislation does not call for comment or serious concern. The enormous rise in secondary legislation over the past 50 years is due partly to the changes in the world in which we live and must be accepted. But there are bound to be a certain number of orders and regulations which profit by a parliamentary look.
With great respect, I should like to endorse the view the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack expressed to the committee that it would he difficult for any scrutiny committee to get on top of the work and make much impact on it. So much secondary legislation is concerned with complex and detailed subjects which only the departments themselves can he expected to see right through. Nevertheless, the lesson from the Canberra experience is that it is possible to overcome such difficulties. The extent to which they are overcome depends, as I suggested, mainly on the qualifications and skill of the legal adviser appointed to help the committee.
We received the greatest help from all sides in the Senate. In three days it would have been impossible to have carried out such an in-depth investigation without the programme which had been prepared in advance. Wherever we went we received the fullest help. As a personal aside I might mention the contrast between visiting on behalf of your Lordships' House and receiving such a reception and the experience that I had many years ago. I led a financial delegation to Australia at a time of the utmost danger of a run on sterling. It was necessary to obtain the agreement of the major sterling area governments to a set of secret conditions to protect sterling—known later as the Basle Agreement. The Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Bank of England were like cats on hot bricks because it was so urgent to obtain the agreement of the Australian Government. Just to take the mickey out of this country, the Australian Treasurer kept us waiting for three weeks before he saw us. That is all past history: we now have a quite different relationship. However, I should like to place on record my warmest thanks for all the help and facilities we received.
As the only member of the European Communities Committee who was also on the committee chaired by the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, I have much sympathy with the views expressed from several quarters in the House about some of our specific suggestions for possible means of introducing greater flexibility. I would like to impress on those who expressed doubts that the main motivation for the establishment of our committee, although we went wider as we progressed with our work, was the problem of the resources of Clerks and Peers.
Perhaps we were wrong, but we were operating from the assumption that these resources, especially the number of Peers available for committee work, are finite. It may be that there are a good many more than 100 or so Peers able to take on the work and to contribute to it. I hope that they will come forward. Perhaps if we make a collective effort to induce Peers to do so we may increase the resource of Peers. We were proceeding on the conservative assumption that there is probably a more or less finite resource of your Lordships for this work which is onerous.
953 On the equally important issue of the limitation of resources of Clerks, I hope that we were also wrong about that. We felt that if the House were to be in a position to ask for a significant increase—we do not have very many Clerks anyway—of perhaps one or two Clerks, we could then make a gesture by economising in our own use of them. I share many of the doubts which have been expressed about the opportunity for making economies. If we cannot, I hope that the House, with the advice of the Procedure Committee and the steering committee, will be able to make a more powerful impact on the Government to make more resources available.
§ 6.43 p.m.
§ Lord Aldington
My Lords, I too would like to join with all noble Lords who have spoken in congratulating most warmly my noble friend Lord Jellicoe both on the report and on his introductory speech which contained all his splendid insight and understanding of the way in which we work in this House and for a great deal of his happy-making wit which I have known since he and I were at school together.
This report contains a number of issues of real importance to the House. Its committee work is part of the work of the House. Perhaps I may be allowed to utter a bleat that in a report as important as this, here am I, the 14th speaker, speaking at 6.45 p.m. There are 24 more speakers on the list before we reach the three noble Lords who are to wind up. All this is taking place in connection with a matter of real importance to the House and on which every Member of it believes, like I do, that he has something useful to say, drawing on his experience. When we look at the Order Paper we do not see any pressing reason which is apparent to a small, ignorant, bleating man like I am, who has been here a mere 30 years, why we cannot have a debate on a subject of importance such as this over two days rather than one.
Having delivered myself of that bleat I will now make some points as quickly as I can. I would like to make twice as many points as I know I shall have time to make.
§ Lord Shackleton
My Lords, before the noble Lord makes his points, would the Government care to comment on the suggestion that has been made?
§ Lord Hesketh
My Lords, I move into uncharted waters in response to the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton. It is worth remembering that it was thought within the context of the usual channels that for your Lordships' House it would be a happy resolution to the debate that my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor should respond for the Government. At the time when that decision was made there was not a great number of speakers.
In order to put the matter into context it may be worth remembering that on Second Reading of the War Crimes Bill the number of speakers was greatly in excess of those speaking today—that is to say, 53. During the four days of the Queen's Speech debate which has just taken place in your Lordships' House the number of speakers was 30, 24, 33 and 28. Today 954 we have a list of speakers which I believe has already been reduced by two before I came into the Chamber in comparison with the number of speakers mentioned by my noble friend Lord Aldington.
Within the context of all of those features I suggest that the usual channels tried to achieve a satisfactory result for your Lordships. If it is not satisfactory I take the blame, but I believe that we tried to present a set of arrangements that would provide the results that your Lordships would desire.
§ Lord Aldington
My Lords, my noble friend always makes his case in such a charming way that we accede to him. I shall now try not to take up too long. It is a little unfair that I have had four minutes taken up already.
I am not a new participator in Select Committees either in this House or in another place. I began my experience of Select Committees in 1948 when I learnt a great deal about the system from the late Sir Ralph Glyn. I was chairman of the Select Committee on nationalised industries during my last five years there. The other place did not seem to have a dislike of people carrying on for five years doing the same thing because they would know about the issues.
I say bluntly to your Lordships that a rotation rule of three years for the members of Select Committees seems to be absolutely nonsensical and wrong. I was glad to hear my noble friend Lady Young, as well as the noble Baroness, Lady Serota, and others, make these points. I do not see how a rotation rule of three years is going to increase the number of Peers available from which members can be drawn. It seems that every time one rotates a person off a committee it reduces by one the numbers available. I do not understand the reasoning. Perhaps a feeling has got around that the Science and Technology Committee and the European Communities Committee are self-perpetuating. But that is rubbish and I am surprised that anyone has taken notice of it. I have found both in another place and in the Select Committees of your Lordships' House that continuity is of enormous value to the chairman, just as getting new blood involved is also of enormous value.
In upholding his recommendation of three years, my noble friend Lord Pym said that five years is a long time to go before any change. But what we are talking about is the rotation period of each individual Member of the House, not the rotation period of the whole committee. It does not all change at once. It should change year by year. I hope that this matter will be reconsidered.
I can tell your Lordships that the advantage to Sub-committee A of the European Communities Committee, which I have the honour to chair for the time being, of having the noble Lords, Lord Benson and Lord O'Brien, who have served for a period and carry experience through everything they have learnt and made recommendations on, is very great. Anyone who has served on Select Committees knows the advantage of working with the noble Lord, Lord Kearton, who, unhappily, is not well today. We should make a great mistake if we made that type of continued service impossible. I see the noble Lord, 955 Lord Shepherd, sitting opposite. The continued service he has given to that committee is of enormous value.
Before I come on to the European Communities Committee I wish to make one or two points in support of the noble Baroness, Lady Serota. I am wholly in favour of the proposal to have ad hoc committees again. I am sure that that is right. I regretted it very much when the ad hoc committee which I chaired in 1984–85 came to an end and was not succeeded by another committee to tackle a subject of that importance. I am also pleased that we are likely to adopt what I call the "Rippon committee" on the scrutiny of delegated legislation.
I am pleased with all the other proposals. I just have to be sad that they should lead to a serious diminution in the resources available to the European Communities Committee. I hope that the diminution, if it has to be, will not be serious. I hope too that that diminution of resources will not affect the Science and Technology Committee, whose reports, long before I joined the European Communities Committee, had been of enormous value to me and must have been of enormous value to those in the House and outside. That committee, like our committee, has been splendidly led. It is now chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Flowers, and before that was chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, who is to speak after me, and by the noble Lord, Lord Sherfield, who will speak later.
I am coming to the end of my period as chairman of the European Communities Committee so I think I can say one or two things without being accused of pushing my own boat. First, I hope the House listened carefully to the noble Baroness, Lady Serota. She has been a splendid chairman, she has unrivalled experience and has a way of getting her colleagues here and in other countries of the Community to work with her. We are told that it is important to review certain procedures. The noble Baroness told the House earlier that she had begun a review of those procedures. They were already flexible, as we are advised they should be. We already had the ad hoc committee idea, as we are advised we should have. The question now facing us is what we should do if our resources are cut and the number of sub-committees is reduced.
I heard my noble friend the Leader of the House saying that he would be interested to hear what noble Lords thought should be done about the reduction in the number of sub-committees that will be forced upon us. I too shall be interested to hear that, but I hope that he will observe the principle of subsidiarity that he has championed in Europe and will allow the European Communities Committee to make that decision for itself, bearing in mind, as we always do, the points which are made in the report and which will be made in the House.
I should like to make one other point which was touched on briefly by the noble Baroness, Lady Scrota. It relates to the emphasis on the value of our broad issue reports. It has fallen to me to prepare a good many of them. I have to tell your Lordships that, on the day when my noble friend the Leader of the 956 House and my right honourable friend the Prime Minister have made their statement, we are in the process of finalising a report on the enlargement of the Community. They will realise that we do not have an easy task. I should like to say this to the House. Please do not go away with a belief that one can serve usefully the purpose of the European Communities Committee by concentrating on broad issues without going through the scrutiny processes and without understanding all the practicalities of the way in which the Commission, the Council, the Court of Justice and the Parliament work. It is that discipline of scrutiny and going through the papers which makes it possible for us to analyse subjects and produce a good report.
My noble friend's excellent report refers to the hard work both of members and the chairman. He uses one remarkable expression when he says that all this work is "largely unrewarded". I have to tell him that it is completely unrewarded. We do it because we like it. We are able to do it because we have excellent Clerks. We are able to do it too because in your Lordships' name we are able to attract to our discussions first-class witnesses, whether they be Ministers, senior civil servants, members of the Commission, academics, or whatever. I cannot try to persuade the House that I do not like the great hard work that we do. I enjoy it and so I think do we all. That is what keeps us together.
There are two points that are connected with the working of the committee on which I wish to comment. The first is the proposal for a steering committee. The logic of the proposals that there should be a committee of the House which will, as it were, co-ordinate the workings of the committee, allocate the resources and see that we do not duplicate our work is impeccable. However, I strongly agree with those who say that we should not call it a steering committee and that we should call it a co-ordination committee or a liaison committee. The noble Lord, Lord Flowers, is right. A steering committee, however well it starts—my goodness it has started well, both with my noble friend Lord Jellicoe and my noble friend the Leader of the House saying that on no account will it interfere in anything we do—will finish up by steering. I hope that we will not do that. I like the part of its terms of reference which says that it will monitor us. I hope that that part will be deleted.
The second point concerns its composition. As proposed, it will be the usual channels dressed up. It is quite possible that that is the right way to do this. If it is the right way, I am surprised that we have to set up a committee to do it. I have a suggestion to make. It would be right for the usual channels to be associated with the liaison committee, but it should in fact be drawn from non-Front Bench Members of the House who can take an interest in this matter and do the job that is recommended. I hope that that suggestion will be considered.
Finally, the report spends a little time, with some slight mischievous hints that we are not doing our job very well, pointing out that we should receive more publicity for our reports. I can tell the House that the best way of obtaining publicity for our reports is to attack the government of the day; that will bring 957 publicity. However, that is not the purpose which your Lordships have in mind either when setting up such committees or when carrying out the work. We cannot expect great column inches of coverage in the press for many of the things about which we report. Noble Lords are aware that we do not receive many column inches for our daily proceedings in the House. However, when I first came here 30 years ago the proceedings were always fully reported. Indeed, any speech—even my worst —was nicely covered. But that does not happen any more; it has all changed.
We sometimes get column inches in the press in connection with our reports regarding matters which we do not consider to be of the slightest importance. For example, a whole column in the Independent based on our regional development report was written about a chance remark by Mr. Peter Lilley who appeared to be accusing me of being a corporatist. That made very good reading but it had absolutely nothing to do with the report.
The value of our reports is to those who read them. That is what we want to achieve. We do not need a dedicated Clerk to do that for us. The chairman and the Clerk of the committee should do that, as, indeed, we used to do in another place when I was chairman of a Select Committee. Therefore, I hope that we shall not waste Clerk resources on this new unnecessary job. The noble Lord, Lord Thurlow, and my noble friend reminded us that the report before us stems from the need to examine the resources and to do something about the shortage of them. It is very droll indeed that it should propose an additional Clerk for something which is quite unnecessary.
§ 7.2 p.m.
§ Lord Shackleton
Before I begin my speech I have a comment to make. I note that the average time of speeches is now about 20 minutes, whereas it was about 3 minutes earlier in the afternoon. I want to make a protest, which I have already made to the noble Lord the Leader of the House. The noble Lord who has just spoken said that he does not want anyone to steer us. But, my goodness, we need someone to steer us today! I realise that the noble Lord the Leader of the House is in a difficult position. However, even at this late hour, will he consider whether there is some way in which the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor can be given an opportunity to say something on the matter? If not, we shall be here until 2 o'clock in the morning. Surely that is not a very good sign of a well-organised working House. I realise that the Chief Whip has done his best and that the Opposition Chief Whip has co-operated—indeed, we have all been thoroughly decent—but will the noble Lord now use some of the skill that he is bringing to Canary Wharf to the needs of this House?
I do not propose to make a very long speech. I am in favour of a steering committee. I realise that it is quite likely that the noble Lord the Leader of the House will play a big part in the matter. However, I want a number of what one might call regular Members of the House to be included. For example, I have in mind someone like the noble Lord, Lord 958 Renton, who knows much about procedure. He is the sort of person who could give advice and would be a good member of such a committee. There is also the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe. After all, he has had much experience in such work and that is why he is very good with procedure. He and I worked together for several months in an effort to reform this House, although without total success. He is quite right to limit the area that he is covering.
Many important issues have been raised during the debate. We heard from the noble Lord, Lord Thurlow, on the Australian experiment. It is surprising that, as a country, we never look at the procedures in Australia and Canada. I had the opportunity to do so in Australia and found great advantages in it. There are procedures in Cabinet which are rather valuable; for example, the science advisory body is told in advance about the issues coming before the Cabinet. I believe that the visit of the noble Lord, Lord Thurlow, was a very valuable one and that it is a precedent which we should follow.
I accept that the five-year rotation rule is right. The House of Lords has made it very clear that that is what it wants. I think that we shall probably also adopt the proposed delegated powers scrutiny committee which we have already discussed today. However, I believe that the steering committee would be a crucial body. I do not think that it is fair to expect the Leader of the House to do all the work. The steering committee must sit down and study it. In fact, it could even be the committee of the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, that considers the matter. Although I do not know whether he will be willing to continue—in fact, I doubt it.
As regards Select Committees, we had a general purposes committee as part of the Select Committee on Science and Technology. I do not think that it was a very good committee. I think such matters are a job for the steering committee. It may be of interest to the House to know how the Select Committee on Science and Technology was established. It was due to the fact that the House of Commons had just abolished its committee. I thought that it would be rather fun to have such a committee in the House of Lords. I talked to my noble friend Lord Sherfield—another Wykehamist—and he agreed with me. We then put in a paper and it was accepted. It has been a great success.
I should like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to the key figure in all of this: the Clerk of the committee. I refer to Mr. Paul Hayter. He was absolutely invaluable. We must realise how valuable all the various officers in your Lordships' House are in committee work, especially on occasions when members of the committee do not turn up for weeks on end. I was not very well during the last committee meetings and therefore I read the whole report. My goodness, what a lot of paper there was! If I had attended the committee meetings, I would not have had to read it. It is necessary for us to have good Clerks from the House for this work; and, indeed, we do have good Clerks. That is very helpful.
There is a case for looking at fairly regular intervals at our reports to see what has been done about them. I remember one of the first committee reports that I 959 chaired which dealt with digital mapping and remote sensing. We followed that up fairly steadily. We obtained some results, although we had a Minister who got hold of the wrong end of the stick and thought that we were advocating Europeans in space, which was exactly the opposite of our intentions. However, we put forward several useful proposals and some action was taken.
I shall conclude by saying that I would accept "Jellicoe" as it stands. I think that the Jellicoe proposals are very good. I think that we will be making a mistake if we mess around too much. Let us push hard for the Jellicoe proposals and then later on, if necessary, we can amend them.
§ 7.8 p.m.
§ Lord Brightman
My Lords, as there are 20 speakers to follow me, I shall be as brief as I possibly can. Apart from the Appellate Committee, my own experience of committee work has been confined to ad hoc Select Committees. I have never served on a sessional committee. But the experience which I have gained has given me some insight into what is capable of being achieved in the field of legislation by an ad hoc Select Committee, with a minimum expenditure of man hours and maximum effect. It may be helpful if I give your Lordships two examples.
The first is the ad hoc committee, of which I had the honour to be a member, which was set up in 1983 to consider two Private Members' Bills to amend the law relating to parochial and small charities. There were 10 Peers on that committee, which met on 15 half-days. The committee got off to a contentious start but ultimately unanimity was reached. The committee rejected both Bills and with the help of parliamentary draftsmen produced its own Bill. This was passed by both Houses without significant amendment. The resultant Act, the Charities Act 1985, was a success. All the main provisions were repeated in Sections 43 and 44 of the Charities Act 1992.
The other example is the ad hoc Select Committee which was set up to consider the Infant Life (Preservation) Bill that has already been mentioned. The committee consisted of only nine members, who met on 16 days. The subject matter—abortion—was of course highly controversial. It is no secret that the committee began with very differing views on this immensely difficult problem. However, at the end of the day the committee made unanimous recommendations which, after debate on the Floor of the House, were adopted in toto by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990.
I venture to think that the track record of ad hoc Select Committees set up to consider legislation is good. What seems to me to be clear is that in a suitable case a small committee of some nine or 10 Peers, receiving, where appropriate, written and oral evidence and committing their conclusions to a written report, is capable of giving advice upon a Bill, or intended Bill, that, after full debate, is acceptable to the House so that the Bill proceeds to the statute book with little or no amendment. That can be done even where the subject matter is controversial.
960 This leads me strongly to support the recommendations in paragraphs 183 and 184 of the report that more use should be made of committees off the Floor of the House in the field of legislation. In particular, I should like to underline what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, and by my noble and learned friend Lord Wilberforce with regard to law reform Bills.
The Law Commission was set up in 1965 to promote law reform and to draft Bills for that purpose. As your Lordships have been told, there are some 39 Law Commission reports extending back to 1969, the recommendations of which have not yet been implemented. All the reports except three have Bills attached, drafted by parliamentary draftsmen, all ready to proceed. Only three reports have been rejected by government. There is no reason known to me, except lack of parliamentary time, why the remainder—or at least those which have not been overtaken by the lapse of time—should not proceed to the statute book.
There was an impressive start to the implementation of Law Commission reports. During the first seven-and-a-half years of the Law Commission's life 27 Bills were drafted and 24 reached the statute book within that period. Thereafter the situation deteriorated except for a short burst of enthusiasm in the mid-1980s. Then came the year 1991. That year was the worst ever for inactivity on this front. In that year not a single law reform Bill put forward by the commission reached the statute book. The cost of the Law Commission in 1991 was approximately £3 million. If the commission's recommendations cannot be implemented for lack of parliamentary time, what is the justification for that expenditure?
The commission produces an average of four to five law reform Bills a year. It follows that unless the implementation record matches that number, the backlog is certain to grow. It seems to me that as a matter of urgency a suitable selection of Law Commission Bills at present lying in limbo should be sent to committees off the Floor of the House to the maximum extent that manpower and accommodation can be made available.
Whether the committee off the Floor of the House should be an ad hoc Select Committee or a special standing committee, as advocated by the Jellicoe Committee, will be a matter for consideration. I tend to favour an ad hoc Select Committee because no alteration to standing orders would be needed. The process could start at once.
In addition to the Law Commission based in London of which I have so far been speaking, there is the equally important Scottish Law Commission. I have not had the opportunity to consult the Scottish Law Commission but I have had the advantage of reading the speech of my noble and learned friend Lord Morton of Shuna delivered on 1st July last year on the Second Reading of a Scottish law reform Bill. It is one more persuasive appeal that something should be done to assist the implementation of law reform Bills recommended and drafted by the two commissions and approved by government.
961 I quote a brief passage from the noble and learned Lord's speech which encapsulates exactly what I have been trying to say this evening:Surely, it is a complete waste of time to have what is in effect two Royal Commissions sitting permanently, considering matters that are referred to them by governments and other bodies, only for the Government in the majority of cases to forget all about the results. It is also a waste of the time of judges, law societies, consumer bodies and others who respond to consultation papers and believe the measure they are considering is serious as the Government have referred the matter to them if nothing then happens".—[Official Report, 1/7/91; col. 873.]I do plead that something should be done to get rid of this backlog of law reform Bills. That is all that I wish to say except to add my congratulations to the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, and his committee and to wish their valuable report well.
§ 7.18 p.m.
§ Lord Porter of Luddenham
My Lords, many scientists, industrialists and technologists in this country will be as grateful as I am to the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, and his committee for their recommendation that the Select Committee on Science and Technology be reappointed as a sessional committee. That is far more important than the procedural details.
Although I have been privileged to serve on the committee for the past year, I speak today—and I shall do so very briefly—not in that capacity but rather as one of those scientists who have benefited enormously from the work of the committee and have seen it as a vital link between science and government. If sometimes the committee seems to be a voice for science, so be it; that is all to the good. Most of those working in the professions of science and technology are somewhat disappointed by the rather limited interest that seems to be taken in their work in the Palace of Westminster. But there is one notable exception and that is your Select Committee on Science and Technology.
If we ask ourselves in what area of human endeavour Britain has most excelled compared with other countries over the past century and more, the case for science and technology would be a very strong one. The wealth of the nation and its defence in time of war have always been linked closely to our talents for discovery and innovation. Even today, for example, our development of new drugs by research scientists like Sir James Black and Sir John Vane have helped to lift our chemical and pharmaceutical companies to the top of the Financial Times index. Those are things which, if not proclaimed from the rooftops, at least deserve notice on the Floor of this House.
There have been encouraging signs since the election that science is to be given more serious attention at ministerial level. That follows closely the recommendations that were made by your Lordships' Select Committee six years ago. I am also encouraged by the setting up of the the new Office of Science and Technology in the Cabinet Office because that might help to end the dismal era that we have seen of direction of research by committees from above, and 962 it may ensure that once again policy decisions are made from the bottom up, with scientists rather than politicians having the main say in deciding priorities.
Many changes are now afoot and that, as the noble Earl has said, is all the more reason why a Select Committee on Science and Technology is necessary at this time. At this moment decisions are being made about the long-term planning of research and about the funding of the science base. There is much concern about forensic science. There is a proposal to copy Germany's way of doing research in FraunhOffer institutes by setting up our own "Faraday" institutes. The prospect of a worthy memorial to that greatest of all experimental scientists warms my heart, but it is by no means established that the German way is better than the way we and the United States do research in our universities. Perhaps that is a matter that your Lordships' Select Committee should consider urgently before irrevocable decisions are made.
Debates on scientific affairs, important though they are, cannot occupy the business of your Lordships' House itself for very long; but there are in the House a significant number of noble Lords who are well qualified to advise on such matters. There are, for example, 20 Peers who are fellows of the Royal Society; 10 fellows of engineering, as well as fellows of the Royal Colleges and leaders of industry. That is why the Select Committee on Science and Technology is in its right place here in your Lordships' House and is listened to with respect. That Select Committee has had a succession of wise and knowledgeable chairmen. It has provided those in government and in this House with reports of the highest quality and clarity on matters which are generally of great importance, often highly technical and far too complex to be discussed in detail in the House.
With so much to be done, I hope that the suggestion contained in paragraph 196 of the report that the work of the Select Committee might be limited to a single sub-committee will not be adopted, at least at present. Your Lordships' Select Committee is good value for money, as the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, has shown, and should be limited in its activities only by the amount of time that noble Lords can give to it.
§ Lord Shackleton
My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, one of the points the Select Committee made was that we have a number of generalists. We regard the many fellows of the Royal Society, like our present chairman, as valuable, but we believe it possible for people who are not scientists to be aware of some of the scientific issues. That is why I believe that the Select Committee has a particular importance.
§ Lord Porter of Luddenham
My Lords, I agree with every word that the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, has said. I was merely saying that it is good to have some specialists.
§ 7.24 p.m.
§ Lord Monkswell
My Lords, I am mindful of the long list of speakers and I shall try to keep my remarks short. I welcome the report that the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, and his fellow committee members produced. 963 While I agree with some of its recommendations, there are others at which we need to look more closely. I intend to confine my remarks to the role of the House, the resources involved, and the structures and procedures.
First, I wish to place on record my view, which I hope is shared by other Members, that the House operates best in an advisory capacity. We provide advice to the Government and the other place, and in some cases—dare I say it—we provide advice to the nation. Our strength is the advice that we can offer rather than the bureaucratic role of revision—as it is described in the report—that we fulfil.
This House has broadly the same powers, structures and responsibilities as the other place, but we wield those powers, exercise those responsibilities and operate the procedures differently from the other place, and that is one of our great strengths.
I shall now deal with the subject of resources. I draw your Lordships' attention to paragraph 175 under the section entitled "Conclusions and Recommendations" which states:There is a finite limit on the number of Lords available for select committee work. This precludes any great net increase in select committee activity".The first sentence is correct: there is a finite limit on the number of Peers. It just happens to be somewhere in the order of 1,300. That large number of Peers potentially available for Select Committee work makes a nonsense of the second sentence. We must recognise that there is that potential to contribute to the work of the House and its committees. There are two ways in which we could increase the number of Members of the House who are able and prepared to serve on Select Committees. The first relates to the work that the committees do. If we were to look at particular subjects, I am sure that we should find some which would attract the interest of a wider group of Peers than is currently involved in Select Committee activity.
The second way in which we can try to increase the number of Peers active in Select Committee work is by looking at the recompense for Peers when taking part in the business of the House. There are probably three broad categories of Members of the House. There are those who have what I would describe as independent means (wealthy people); there are those who have retired and who are in receipt of a pension; and there are those who have neither independent resources nor a pension from previous activities. The level of expenses that can be claimed for activities in relation to the House is so low that it prevents many Peers becoming involved in Select Committee activity. That is an area which we should consider.
While on the subject of resources, we must recognise—as a number of speakers have—that we need to increase the number of committee Clerks to enable the House, through its committees, to carry out an even more effective job than it does already.
I wish to point out a significant difference between the operations of this House and the other place. What gives us immense authority, in proffering advice to the Government or to the House of Commons, is the fact that that we consider all Bills at Committee stage on the Floor of the House. It is an immense 964 strength; it enables all Members of the House to contribute and all aspects of the Bill to be considered. That is extremely important.
The report refers to two experiments in recent years where consideration of Bills in Committee has been taken off the Floor of the House. If we were to carry on down the road of increasing the number of Bills considered off the Floor of the House at Committee stage, we should do the House a grave disservice.
I apologise to the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor because he has obviously set his heart—as have other noble and learned Lords—on getting Law Commission reports through, if I dare say it, on the nod as part of the change in procedure. However, it is important that the laws of the land are seen by the public to be determined in an open manner and debated in Parliament. One of the strengths of the legal system is the acceptance of the laws of the land by the vast majority of the population.
If we go down the road of stifling debate and open contributions from all Members of this House and detailed scrutiny of all parts of legislation, we shall not only do the House a grave disservice but I suspect that we shall chip away at the respect that British people have for the laws of our country.
§ 7.34 p.m.
§ Lord Dainton
My Lords, I shall be brief, not simply in deference to the general exhortations to brevity which have been so delicately phrased in paragraph 129 of the report, but because I consider that the committee has produced many valuable and practical recommendations which I hope will be accepted. Therefore, I wish to congratulate the noble Earl and his colleagues and also to say how cogent I found the arguments in those areas of which I have direct experience.
The time was certainly ripe for a thorough review of our Select Committee system. Some objections have been raised to the proposal that there should be a permanent steering committee, but I believe that it is basically sound to have a forum which will try to achieve consistency of policy in the matter of establishing Select Committees. It will also try to secure a place for ad hoc committees on matters of special timeliness and importance. It should further serve to adjudicate on competing proposals and resource allocation.
I understand the anxieties of some noble Lords that the steering committee proposal has within it the potential to become too powerful a body and perhaps to usurp and exercise powers it should not have. But I have faith that the cumulative wisdom of the House will not allow that to happen. In this context, I was much reassured by the words of the Leader of the House when he spoke immediately after the noble Earl. They showed that the Leader is clearly alive to these dangers, and he promised to be prompt in their avoidance.
I confess that I am less happy about the proposed three-year rotation rule. I recognise that it is a matter of fine judgment where the balance should be drawn with, on the one hand, a period of years which is so long as to attract the charge that the committee, as the 965 noble Lord, Lord Aldington, said, is self-perpetuating, failing to renew itself with more than a minute injection of new blood. On the other hand, the period must be long enough to ensure the benefit of continuity of experience, about which noble Lords spoke so eloquently. In my judgment, five years may be too long; but three years is certainly too short.
I have heard other expressions of anxiety about the three-year period; but I also believe that to make a change from five to three years in one jump is too great. I consider that it would be wiser to move to four years in the first instance and learn by experience what effect that has. It seems to me that this pragmatic approach has much to recommend it.
Although I have no direct experience of Public Bill Committees not being taken on the Floor of the House, it seemed to me when I read paragraph 132 on special standing committees that there is great merit in an arrangement which permits, even at the lowest level, the taking of evidence from knowledgeable and interested parties before deliberation on individual clauses. I therefore hope that recommendations 183 to 185 will be accepted. I could and would have said more on this subject, but the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wilberforce, has already made the points with greater clarity, eloquence and authority than I could ever command. Therefore, I shall not dwell on it.
Finally, I comment that the recommendations on timing of debates seem to me to be long overdue. I do not know with what funereal intent those who arrange these matters provided for debate in some committees on a Thursday morning; but if anything were the kiss of death, that is it.
I should have made other comments endorsing other parts of the committee's proposals; but since they have been made by other speakers I shall refrain. I simply end as I began by expressing a warm welcome to the report and the hope that it will commend itself to your Lordships.
§ 7.39 p.m.
§ Lord Renton
My Lords, I too, like the noble Lord, Lord Dainton, wish to deal briefly with the special standing committees which are recommended in the report. I wish to deal mainly with those parts of this admirable report which affect our important task of revising legislation, whether it comes to us from another place or direct from the Government.
As to Public Bill Committees, I had the experience of serving on the committee on the Charities Bill which was considered in great depth. Thanks to the expertise of most members of the committee, the Bill was improved far more, in my opinion, in committee than it would have been if it had been taken on the Floor of the House. I therefore hope that we shall refer many technical Bills and law reform Bills to Public Bill Committees from now on. As to special standing committees, which include the power to take evidence from interested parties, I see less scope for using them; but I agree that that should be tried experimentally.
For the past 12 years this procedure has been available in another place, but it has been used very little. I believe it was used on only four Bills in 12 966 years. I do not say that that would prevent our using it much more; but as regards Law Commission Bills, we have to bear in mind that the Law Commission generally consults interested parties and we would probably not gain much from having such parties before one of our committees as well.
I strongly support, as other noble Lords have done, the appointment of a delegated powers scrutiny committee—as paragraph 185 points out—to,give closer and more systematic scrutiny to the delegated powers sought in bills".In the absence of my noble friend Lord Rippon, who has been a great initiator of controversy on this interesting matter, I invite your Lordships' attention to the most interesting evidence in Volume II of the report which he gave. On page 136 of Volume II the Government suggest in their evidence that there is a need for a consensus between both Houses of Parliament as to what should be reserved to primary legislation and what should be in secondary legislation. The Government suggest that this should be a precondition to the setting up of a delegated powers scrutiny committee. I am sorry to have to say that I do not find that acceptable. It would be very rash to generalise about the distinction between primary and secondary legislation and when the one or the other should be used. I say that because circumstances vary so much with the type of legislation.
There is a real dilemma to be faced when choosing between primary and secondary legislation. For some years past our Bills have been too lengthy, too detailed and too complex and have at the same time, in spite of their length, contained far-reaching powers to make delegated legislation. The Child Support Act of the last Session is a prime example of that and the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, pointed out that there were 90 references to the opportunity to make secondary legislation. Really this vast use of delegated powers has become something to which informed opinion is totally opposed.
However, to say when there should be primary legislation and secondary legislation is much more difficult. The dilemma arises in the following way. If those Bills which are very lengthy had not contained some delegated powers, those Bills would have been even longer. That is the dilemma. In my opinion, that dilemma can only be resolved—I hope I am in order in saying this although there is no reference to this matter in this excellent report—by avoiding the putting into legislation of matters which need not be there.
For example, the Government should ensure that largely administrative matters and provisions regulating the proceedings of various public bodies are excluded altogether from primary legislation. Indeed, I say that many such provisions could be excluded even from secondary legislation by allowing public bodies to be more self-governing and, if necessary, by letting them be given guidance in departmental circulars from the government departments to which they are responsible. This is relevant I suggest to the work of a delegated powers scrutiny committee, and it makes it difficult to generalise. As I have said, it is 967 quite unacceptable for the Government to insist that there should be a consensus between the two Houses of Parliament defining the sphere of primary and secondary legislation before such powers are considered. I therefore suggest we should go ahead and appoint a scrutiny committee without waiting for any such consensus. Paradoxically, I think a consensus is more likely to emerge from the discussions of such a scrutiny committee than from any formal consultation between the two Houses.
I am glad that the noble Earl, Lord Russell, dealt with Henry VIII clauses in a way that would have pleased my noble friend Lord Rippon. I agree with the antipathy towards Henry VIII clauses generally speaking, but just occasionally they can be justified as when provisions are rightly included in primary legislation to amend relatively minor detail. If there were not the power to amend the primary legislation in minor detail, Parliament would be burdened with an amending Bill of a somewhat trivial character. On just those occasions Henry VIII clauses are justifiable. However the ones we have had in recent years have gone much further than that. Therefore we are right to have that matter scrutinised.
The report states in paragraph 187 that the new committee activity proposed which affects legislation should be given priority. I hope the Government would agree that we should give that priority. A scrutiny committee, for example, would need only seven Peers, a Clerk and a lawyer to advise them. In conclusion, I must say I am glad that the Government accept there should be a steering committee so as to ensure the better use of the vast and varied array of experience, expertise and talent which is to be found among your Lordships.
§ 7.49 p.m.
§ Lord Shepherd
My Lords, like other noble Lords I warmly welcome the report which the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, presented to the House and congratulate him and his colleagues on the report which is before the House.
Like many other noble Lords, I have some anxieties in regard to some of the detailed proposals. However, taking the broad view, I have always believed that because of the composition of this House, and unlike the other place, through the procedure of committees we could make a greater contribution than we do at present.
The noble Lord, Lord Aldington, and the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, complained, with some justification, about the time factor, but perhaps the Chief Whip will be proved wrong because we are now moving more rapidly. Most of the major points on the report have been made. I fully support the recommendations of the Jellicoe Committee, particularly in respect of a special standing committee. The report has a smack of the 1977 report. We were perhaps too adventurous and radical, but it is interesting that that report has been largely implemented in another place, with the establishment of the policy committees and, under Standing Order 968 No. 91, standing committees having the power to call for evidence, persons and reports and to take oral evidence.
My contribution tonight will be very short. First, how do we handle the report when it comes from the Procedure Committee? No doubt the Procedure Committee will take note of what has been said in this debate and we shall have a report. Normally we have a Motion to take note or to approve the recommendations of the Procedure Committee. I am not sure whether that would be the right formula in this particular instance. I think that there should be at least 10 days between publication of the report and the Motion coming before this House to approve it. In other words, Members of this House should have a full opportunity to consider what the procedure committee recommended. In addition, although it is unusual, perhaps they should have the opportunity to put down amendments to the report. Such amendments could be debated, not as part of the general report but in terms of the specific details contained within the report. I hope that the Whip who is sitting on the Government Front Bench will take note and draw that suggestion to the attention of the Leader of the House. I believe that the House would welcome a reasonable period between the publication of the report and its consideration by this House so that it could be fully considered.
Much has been said about the steering committee. I share the anxieties of many noble Lords. It appears to be the usual channels in a more formal context. I have anxieties about that. I am a traditionalist. When I was Leader of the House I sought to follow the example of Lord Salisbury, regarding the interests of the House as the predominant discipline of the Leader of the House. I wonder whether a steering committee with the Leader of the Opposition, the Leader of the Liberal Party and the representative of the CrossBenchers, with perhaps two tame Back-Benchers, is good enough for this House.
I fully accept that there is a need for a committee or a body to co-ordinate activities between this House and another place. However, unlike the recommendation, I should like to see that as very much an advisory committee or a liaison committee. It should be a committee appointed by the Leader of the House. It is quite wrong for the Leader of the Opposition and the Leader of the Liberal Party, and others, to be part of that decision making. The Leader of the Opposition has the same responsibility as the Leader of the House to the House as a whole. If he is to be part of the decision making, in terms of the way in which resources are allocated or judgments made, that precludes him from raising on behalf of Members of the House matters which may worry them.
Therefore, I strongly recommend that instead of a steering committee there should be an advisory committee or a liaison committee of Back-Benchers who would consult from time to time with the Leader of the House. The Leader of the House can always consult the Leader of the Opposition and other leaders within the House, as they always do in an informal way, so I do not see why that particular aspect needs 969 to be formalised. I would much prefer to see a committee advising the Leader of the House. I am quite happy that he should appoint it.
The other question that I wish to raise is this. The noble Lord, Lord Aldington, and others, spoke very strongly about rotation and bringing new faces into committees. I am sure that that is to be welcomed. However, I wonder whether this House has ever considered how those committees are appointed. They are appointed by the usual channels. If one looks at the appointments which are made from one committee to another one finds a degree of commonality—to use the Community phrase. I know a number of noble Lords who would be willing to serve on committees if they knew of their existence and something about what they do. How do they find out about the Committees and where do they go, other than to their Whips, to have their names considered?
I wonder whether there is a case for having a system by which noble Lords who wish to serve on committees could put down their names so that the Committee of Selection would have those names in front of it. Perhaps that could be done at the end of a Session, taking a view for the next Session. In other words, we would open the whole procedure by which committees are appointed. Having been a Chief Whip, both in government and in opposition, and having been Leader of the House, I know how the Committee of Selection works. I am not terribly happy with it now, sitting on the Back Benches. Therefore, I think that there is a case for the opening up of opportunities for noble Lords to put their names forward for consideration in appointments to committees.
I conclude with this thought. I am being slightly mischievous in saying that I am an entrepreneurial businessman-cum-socialist. I always work on one basis: always invest in success. The European Communities Committee without question has achieved great things, not only in terms of this House but in terms of Parliament and the Community. At this moment none of us knows what burdens are likely to be placed on the scrutiny procedures required. As the committee of the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, said, we are unique. In fact, we do a great deal for the Community as a whole. We do it for relatively small sums of money.
It would be tragic if the aspirations of the Jellicoe Committee in the enlargement of the committee procedure were to be fulfilled at the expense of one of the most vital parts of parliamentary procedure; namely, the prior consideration of Community proposals. We should say to the Leader of the House that this House wishes to see the development of the committee procedures and structures for the benefit of the parliamentary procedures of this Parliament, and more widely. It is not only money that is involved but also the manpower and resources of the very bright young men and women who serve our committees. It would be tragic if an essential part of the work of the British Parliament—a unique operation—were in any way to be curtailed in order that this House could undertake other matters which in themselves are of 970 interest and importance to Parliament as a whole. That would be tragic considering the sums of money that are involved.
I hope that the Procedure Committee will read this debate and in particular the very powerful speeches that have been made, and that it will come to a considered judgment. When it makes its report I hope that the House will have adequate time to consider it and the way in which the report should be received in this House.
§ 8.3 p.m.
§ Lord Simon of Glaisdale
My Lords, this is far from the first time that the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, has put your Lordships' House deeply in his debt. Today we are doubly indebted to him and his committee. In the first place his well considered and cautious proposals are designed to improve your Lordships' House as a parliamentary chamber. In the second place, and equally important, they emphasise the standing of your Lordships' House in the constitution.
Before I come to the recommendations themselves, I wish to associate myself with the protests made by the noble Lords, Lord Aldington and Lord Shackleton, that a matter of such grave parliamentary importance should be allocated a one-day debate. I am number 22 in a list of 41 speakers. It is now nearly five minutes past eight o'clock. With all respect, it is idle for the noble Lord the Chief Whip to pretend that this is an isolated occasion for which he can express an apology and it will then be expunged. It happens time after time and week after week.
Your Lordships' House, like most second chambers, is on the whole an elderly chamber. Unlike most second chambers, your Lordships are unsalaried. Nevertheless, your Lordships are treated as though this were a legislative sausage machine churning out government business late at night and often early in the morning. The most egregious occasion was undoubtedly the debate on the Green Paper which led to the Courts and Legal Services Act. Such Green Papers arouse widespread constitutional apprehension and many noble Lords wish to speak on them. It would have been very inconvenient for the Government, so the business was tabled for a Friday at 11 o'clock. As more and more names were added to the list of speakers, rather than give a second day to it, the business was brought forward to 9.30 in the morning. As I said, what has happened today is not an isolated case. It bodes ill that this report should be so treated parliamentarily and it bodes ill for its implementation so far as the Government have any hand in it.
I intend to deal almost entirely with what I regard as the most important recommendation; namely, that for a delegated legislation scrutiny committee. Like the noble Lord, Lord Renton, who gave the reasons for it so cogently, I believe that the proposal ranks first. However, I want to deal also with the proposal as regards a Public Bill Committee. I felt chary about that, for the reasons given by the noble Lord, Lord Monkswell; namely, that examination by a 971 Committee of the whole of your Lordships' House is to my mind an incomparable method of committee examination.
Nevertheless, I am persuaded by the committee's report that within the limited terms and in the special conditions which it identified, in view of the success of the Public Bill Committee on the Charities Bill, we ought to make some further experiment. I did not sit on that committee, although I took part in every other stage of the Charities Bill. However, I have no doubt that it was as great a success as the one on the Pilotage Bill was a failure.
I agree that there is very much a role for the special standing committee in the area identified by the Jellicoe Committee, principally if not entirely dealing with the backlog of Law Commission reports. My noble and learned friend Lord Brightman slightly exaggerated in regarding all the backlog as non-contentious. My noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor is rightly sitting firmly on a couple of reports, one of which was also sat on by his predecessor, my noble and learned friend Lord Hailsham. The special standing committee will take evidence and consider clause by clause and line by line largely technical Bills. That is so much akin to the procedure of the Joint Consolidation Committee that I hope that once your Lordships' special standing committee is set up consideration will be given to making it a joint committee with another place.
I turn now to what I consider to be the most important recommendation: that relating to delegated legislation. It is most important because it is an area in which, as noble Lords have indicated, matters have been going very seriously wrong. I need mention only the disregard of two important committee recommendations which had been accepted by your Lordships' House. The first relates to the Donoughmore Committee which reported in 1932. Its recommendations, recently endorsed by my noble and learned friend on the Woolsack, were particularly important as to Henry VIII clauses. They have been persistently flouted in recent times. The other committee was the Joint Select Committee on delegated legislation chaired by Lord Brooke in 1973. I believe that the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, was Leader of the House at the time and accepted the report. That is important when dealing with the criteria for affirmative or negative resolution procedure on the one hand and the hybrid instrument procedure on the other. Again, those have been persistently flouted in recent years. Such flouting is an example of the bureaucratic aggrandisement from which we have been suffering.
In view of that, it was with considerable foreboding that I heard the noble Lord the Lord Privy Seal express reservations about the committee's recommendation as regards the delegated legislation scrutiny committee. His remarks were all the more disappointing in view of the much more forthcoming evidence given by the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, as Leader of the House, to the Jellicoe Committee. I hope that when my noble and learned friend replies, he will be considerably more forthcoming.
In particular, the questions posed by the noble Lord, Lord Pym, require answer. What are the 972 Government afraid of if their proposals as to delegated legislation are quite innocuous? What are they frightened of? Why do they fear any scrutiny? Those questions demand an answer.
I stated that matters seem to be going seriously wrong. I ought not to leave the issue so generalised. I give three examples only. The first is one referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Renton: the Child Support Act. He slightly minimised the impact. He stated, rightly, that the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, had identified 97 regulation-making powers. But that was only at the introduction of the Bill in your Lordships' House. By the time the Government had finished with it, there were over 100. Of those, only about 15 were subject to the affirmative resolution procedure. That is one respect in which matters have been going badly wrong.
The second example is the Statutory Sick Pay Act. That Act amended an earlier Act whereby employers had to pay statutory sick pay. They were to be reimbursed 100 per cent. by the Government. The amending Act changed that 100 per cent. to 80 per cent. but then went on to inscribe a most extraordinary Henry VIII clause. The Minister could alter that proportion by ministerial order which was in effect a charge on public funds and a charge on the individual employer. That provision was introduced into the other place. At that time it was subject only to the negative resolution procedure.
The first question is this. How did that provision escape the Government's scrutiny? Those instructions for a Henry VIII clause dealing with finance subject only to the negative procedure must have been a subject of specific instructions by an official to the draftsman. It was not spotted by any Minister. In another place, grave objections were taken to the negative resolution procedure and the Government promised to amend that to "affirmative" in your Lordships' House. However, your Lordships, rightly, would not accept the provision and expunged the Henry VIII clause entirely. In the end that was accepted by the Government.
My third example—I simply mention it—is the obviation of the hybrid instruments procedure. That is a procedure peculiar to your Lordships' House. It does not exist in the other place. It is for the safeguard of individual interests. That is not to say that those interests shall triumph in every case but that they will be considered. That no doubt is an irritation to the clumsier administrator. In two recent Acts, the power has been taken to avoid the hybrid instruments procedure in your Lordships' House. I hope that I am justified in identifying myself with the noble Earl, the noble Lord, Lord Pym, the noble Lord, Lord Renton, and many others. But the matter is absolutely vital.
The noble Lord the Lord Privy Seal expressed reservation. However, it is not for the Government to say what shall be done. It is for your Lordships' House. If the Government show signs of dragging their feet, making trouble, and huffing and puffing, your Lordships are entirely entitled to go ahead and set up that committee. I very much hope that your Lordships will do so.
§ 8.20 p.m.
§ The Earl of Selborne
My Lords, like all noble Lords who have spoken in this rather protracted debate, I agree that the Jellicoe Committee has made a forceful case for extending the committee work of this House. That is beyond dispute. We have not agreed in what respect the work should be extended, but we recognise that the case has been made strongly. I agree with many noble Lords who have said that a delegated powers scrutiny committee would be a great asset to this House. I support the case for at least one ad hoc committee. Therefore, I have an immediate commitment to try to reconcile that statement with the competing claims of the existing Select Committees.
My problem, like so many speakers—in particular those who like myself are involved in Select Committees—is that under the terms of reference I find it almost impossible to achieve a reconciliation. For a short time I served on one of the sub-committees of the Science and Technology Committee. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Porter, that the committee has done this House proud and will continue to do so. However, I accept that in future it must compete for scarce resources as must the agriculture subcommittee of the European Communities Committee which I chair.
Looking at the likely increase in the role of EC legislation in our affairs, I am dubious about whether it is consistent with good sense to reduce the sub-committees to three plus one ad hoc committee and at the same time to require yet greater scrutiny of more legislation. That appears to be totally incompatible. However, I accept that a committee—a steering committee or the like—must try to determine whether legislation coming from Europe requires the quality of scrutiny that it has previously received and why that can be done faster and perhaps less thoroughly in future. I have my doubts about that.
In attempting to try to reconcile those two rather irreconcilable concepts, the Jellicoe Committee points to opportunities within the European Communities Committee to rationalise the sub-committee structure. Your Lordships will not be surprised to hear that, as chairman of the agriculture sub-committee, I read carefully paragraph 147(ii) which hints at a case for putting agriculture with environment and that the case will be strengthened in future years. That is not a recommendation so much as an aside. I am puzzled about the suggestion. It might be a beguiling thought and I wish it were the case. Will environment become a less serious problem? Do we really believe that the impact of environmental legislation from Europe will impinge on us less in the future? I rather doubt that. Indeed, as regards global issues, I am sure that it will increase.
As regards agriculture, the report was written when there were very hopeful thoughts about a reform of the common agricultural policy. We know that the reform of the CAP has led to increased expenditure with vastly increased opportunities for fraud. That problem has caused the Court of Auditors enormous anxiety, and I am sure that the Select Committee will wish to look at it with particular care. It may well be that within the committee the sub-committee structure 974 can be changed and that sub-committee A, finance and agriculture, should be looking at the problem together. I am certain that there will be a great deal to examine as regards the woeful loss of opportunities for environmental enhancement from the prodigious cost of the CAP, which is to continue. Therefore, I am sure that the case for bringing together the environmental and agricultural sub-committees will be good. I suggest, however, that the matter is best left to the Select Committee to determine. How does it use its resources? What are the issues? Will they increase or decline in importance?
Although I have difficulty in trying to reconcile those conflicting claims, I must accept the case for a steering committee. However, please do not call it a steering committee because I agree with those who say that a steering committee does steer. It could be called a liaison committee or a resources committee—I do not mind what. I believe that the way in which it will reconcile the problem will be to take an obvious alternative. It is to test the premise that the resources are totally finite in all respects. I do not believe that only a limited number of Peers are able to serve on the committees. Other speakers, including the noble Lords, Lord Shepherd and Lord Monkswell, have made that point. I should wish to challenge the claim more thoroughly. Are we short of resources in terms of staff? Certainly we are, but there is one way of resolving that and it may not be such a silly use of resources. It would be a sensible use of resources to increase the number of staff available to this House for that purpose and to increase the amount of facilities in terms of office space and committee rooms. The organisation of that should not be beyond the wit of this House. I am sure that no one will cavil at what is a remarkably small cost for a sensible extension of the successful facilities which the Jellicoe Committee has praised.
Under Appendix 4 I looked wistfully at the report on Australia of the noble Lord, Lord Thurlow. He was able to say that there was an example of no lack of resources for what was clearly a successful committee structure.
§ 8.26 p.m.
§ Lord Murray of Epping Forest
My Lords, I was grateful to the noble Lord the Leader of the House for assuring us that the report, valuable and impressive as it is, is not the last word on the subject. Surely those who will be responsible for implementing its recommendations cannot fail to be persuaded by the devastating criticism advanced by the noble Lord, Lord Flowers, among others, on the concept of the form and composition of the steering committee. They are views which I wholly share and can leave at that.
I also found most persuasive the arguments advanced by my noble friend Lady Serota and the noble Lord, Lord Aldington, on the criticisms of the proposed changes in the sub-committee structure of the European Communities Committee. The House is deeply indebted to the noble Baroness and to the noble Lord for their persuasive arguments and for 975 their ability to persuade reluctant Peers such as me to share in the responsibility of serving on some of those sub-committees.
In that context, an issue that has not received the attention that it might have is the establishment of an additional ad hoc committee on European matters. I believe that to be entirely mistaken. It is referred to as a proposal to deal with some of the most important issues likely to face the Community. After careful reading of the report, the proposal appears to be based on casual comments made by Sir Christopher Prout and by the Leader of the House. The proposals are not argued nor thought out and I find them most unpersuasive. I believe that such an ad hoc committee would lack the expertise, depth of judgment and sensitivity which comes from looking continuously at related subjects. I believe that the existing subcommittees have demonstrated their competence to undertake wide-ranging studies as well as to engage in meticulous attention to the detail of proposals.
It is plain that the real reason for the proposals relating to the structure of the European Communities Committee sub-committees are to save resources, money and staff. That is the real weakness of the report. It takes for granted the finiteness of the resources in terms of staff and money, as mentioned by the noble Earl, Lord Selborne. The report pays tribute to the staff, as have your Lordships. I am in favour of keeping the staffing system lean, but I disapprove of exploiting unduly committed people, as we most certainly do in this House. In passing, I wish to know why we drag clerks away from their offices or keep them here late at night to cross off our names in Division Lobbies. At the peril of stumbling into a demarcation minefield, I ask whether the job can be done by clerical workers or by our attendants in order to free clerks to do what they do best and do well.
The committee calls for shorter and sharper reports. I agree with that entirely. However, shorter and sharper reports require not fewer staff but more; and more careful preparation and editing. Perhaps there may be a case for taking on an experienced sub-editor or perhaps even a competent proof reader to support the existing clerks to free them to do well what they do best.
Finally, as regards publicity and publications, anyone who wishes to read this splendid report and look through the evidence must pay £42 for it. That is an impossible way to approach the job of spreading information and providing guidance to people who must make decisions in industry, government or EC and foreign institutions. With great respect, I thought the committee was extremely defeatist on that matter. Figures given in the HMSO evidence are quite inadequate. HMSO referred to low demand leading to sales revenue falling well short of costs. That is not surprising at that sort of price. Rather, it is surprising that any copies of the report have been sold at all. Surely we should look to HMSO to examine ways of making the product look more attractive and livening up the marketing as well as looking at more direct ways of reducing costs. Perhaps we shall see an improvement under the new arrangements which are due to come into operation in April.
976 If we find at the end of the road that the reports are not paying their way or perhaps, by their nature, cannot pay their way, we should recognise the benefits to this House, to Britain and the community of subsidising a rather wider dissemination of the reports. We should look that straight in the eye.
In conclusion, we have heard many tributes to the achievements of the committees. As my noble friend Lord Shackleton said, we all wish to reinforce that success; but to will that end, we must will the means in terms of staff and money.
§ 8.32 p.m.
§ Lord Sherfield
My Lords, I must begin with an apology and crave the indulgence of the House. Owing to a long-standing and unbreakable engagement I fear that I shall not be able to stay for the winding-up speeches. I intervene only briefly in the debate on the report of the Select Committee because I am largely in agreement with its recommendations and I have only a few marginal comments to make on it.
Having spent, on and off, about 18 years on the European Communities Committee and its subcommittees, and another 12 on the Science and Technology Select Committee and its sub-committees, I have some experience of the work of those two sessional committees. As a co-sponsor of the Select Committee on Science and Technology with the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, I find some gratification in the tribute which the Select Committee and other noble Lords have paid to its work.
The suggestions which the committee makes for its future functioning have already been dealt with by the noble Lord, Lord Flowers, and I have no further comment to make on them. However, the noble Lord and other noble Lords have spoken about the term of three years which the Select Committee suggests should apply to the committees. I believe that that time is too short. It takes quite a time to play oneself in, especially on the Science and Technology Committee, and both the noble Lord, Lord Aldington, and my noble friend Lord Dainton emphasised the importance of continuity. Therefore, I consider that much more flexibility is needed and that the chairman should have a discretion to exercise a right of co-option to a limit of five years to ensure the addition to the committee of those who have a particular contribution to make to it. Subject to that proviso, I would go along with the suggestion of four years which the noble Baroness, Lady Serota, and my noble friend Lord Dainton have put forward.
In the work of those two sessional committees I have been impressed by two matters in particular; first, the importance of basing the conclusions and recommendations on the evidence received. There is an ever-present temptation to allow one's own opinions and prejudices to colour one's judgment in arriving at conclusions. That is something which must be—and I believe has been—firmly resisted. That that has been so in itself rebuts the charge in the case of the Science and Technology Committee that it has been no more than a high level lobby for the scientific community.
977 I am glad to know that the Select Committee has firmly rejected that slur on its work. In fact, scientists have been in a minority on the committee, which has always included among its members distinguished engineers, industrialists and the often abused class of generalists. In any event, if some of the reports have been critical of the Government's scientific policy it must be said that, quite apart from the evidence on which the recommendations were based, the scientific policy of governments in the past decade have certainly at times been open to criticism.
Perhaps I may be allowed to interpolate here my opinion that the outlook for policy making in science and technology is better now than it has ever been. I greatly welcome the fact that the present Government have just taken up a recommendation which the committee made about 10 years ago that there should be a senior Minister in the Cabinet, advised by the Chief Scientific Adviser, to deal with scientific and technological issues. That arrangement, backed up as it will be by ACOST and the ABRC and supervised by the Cabinet Committee on Science Policy, under the chairmanship of the Prime Minister, should ensure the best possible co-ordination within the Government.
In Parliament the prospective addition of a science and technology committee in another place is to be welcomed. I hope very much that the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology—POST for short —will now be brought within the parliamentary machine and placed on a secure financial footing because that, supplemented by the well-established Parliamentary and Scientific Committee, should offer a wider and better informed basis for the discussion of scientific and technological issues, priorities and funding in both Houses.
Duplication of effort between committees in this and the other place and elsewhere in the system will need to be watched but the proposed steering committee, co-ordinating committee or whatever emerges, should be able to take care of that. All in all, it will not be due now to any organisational defect if a sound policy for science and technology is not formulated.
My second point relates to the resourcing of the two sessional committees. In relation to the volume and complexity of some of the issues, and in comparison with other committees of a similar nature, the system has been run on a shoestring and has always had an inherent instability and risk of breakdown. The responsibility hitherto laid on a single Clerk, assisted by one or possibly two specialist advisers and the chairman, is a heavy one; and I want to pay my tribute, echoing that of the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, and other noble Lords, to the way in which the Clerks of these committees consistently produce results of high quality.
In that connection, and especially in the light of the reasonable call in the committee's report for much more succinct and readable reports, I emphasise the importance of drafting skills. We all know that drafting by committee is time-wasting and frustrating. The drafting ability of the Clerk, the specialist advisers and of course the chairman, can be crucial to the 978 quality and influence of a report. I am glad to note the recommendation for some increase in the staffing of the committee office. I should say that it was the minimum required if this expanded work is to continue at the standard hitherto maintained.
I should like to return to a previous existence and say a word on the Select Committee's rejection of a Select Committee on foreign affairs. I wholly endorse its conclusions, particularly as to the value and quality of the foreign affairs debates in this House—a tribute I can safely pay as I have not recently taken part in any of them. The Foreign Secretary is already the recipient of more advice than he probably needs.
In conclusion I should like to pay my own tribute to the work of the Select Committee and its excellent report.
§ 8.41 p.m.
§ Baroness Elles
My Lords, the outcome of this excellent report from the committee chaired by my noble friend Lord Jellicoe will undoubtedly have an important impact on the effectiveness and usefulness of your Lordships' House. I therefore welcome the debate today. Although it is long and many noble Lords have taken part, there have been many useful contributions. I hope that my noble friend Lord Jellicoe will be making a note of the various comments both in praise and support and possibly in slight criticism of some of the contents of the report.
Among the wide-ranging issues discussed in the report I shall confine my remarks to two main areas. The first is the European Communities Select Committee. It is clear from the evidence which came before the committee from all sides that high value is placed on reports from that committee. That is a great tribute to the chairman recently retired, the noble Baroness, Lady Serota, the legal adviser and the Clerks who worked so assiduously for such long hours for the sub-committee and the Select Committee itself. As we know, the reports are not only widely appreciated in this country and by this Government but also in the European institutions.
Perhaps I may mention that a few days ago I was in Seville at the 1992 Exhibition. I met Carlo Ripa di Meana, who is an old friend. He came up beaming and said, "I have just received your latest report on the environment. It is sitting on my desk in Brussels". It is nice to know that the Commissioners see the reports and read them. I did not question whether or not he agreed with the contents, but at least we have evidence that it was appreciated. He welcomed the fact that he had received a copy of it.
We must consider that when the Select Committee was set up in 1974 we were living in a different world. We had delegates from this House who went to the European Parliament, or European Assembly as it was then called. There was therefore a direct link between Members of this House and another place and the European Parliament. With direct elections in 1979 that link was broken. From that time on the importance of the European Communities Select Committee was enhanced, partly because of the lack of direct connection with the Parliament and discussion of draft legal proposals and also because of 979 the great increase in legislation from 1985 with the Single European Act, on which were based all the legislative proposals for the 1992 single market.
There has therefore been a great flood of legislation coming from the Community which affects our domestic legislation. Therefore the scrutiny role of the European Communities Select Committee is vital to protect our own domestic legislation and ensure (a) that it is in accordance with the interests of the United Kingdom, (b) that it is implemented and (c) that, although we may not get as far as it being enforced, it at least follows the track record of EC legislation in this country.
With the increase in the width of competences of the Community, as there are more and more moves from national parliament to the Community, as in the Single European Act, and if the Maastricht Treaty is ratified—which presumably it will eventually be—a whole lot of new areas will be transferred from national to Community competence. It seems to me therefore that it is most illogical that this should be the time to suggest that the sub-committees should be cut down. I should hate to suggest that they be increased —that would clearly be contrary to any thinking I have heard so far today. But when we suddenly find five or six extra subjects added to three or four major subjects from the Single European Act, I wonder whether it will he possible to do a proper job.
I was somewhat surprised, though I may have misunderstood the intention behind the report, that one of the reasons for cutting down the subcommittees in the Select Committee was not that they were inefficient or producing reports that no one wanted but a question of staffing. I can understand the anxiety of the Clerk of Parliaments—a real anxiety --that there are not enough Clerks to go round. But could we not drag this House from the 19th century to the 20th or 21st century? Where one Clerk has to serve two committees, is it beyond the wit of man to decide to have two Clerks to serve two sub-committees? I fail to see how we could not recommend that at least one or two extra Clerks should be employed by this House for the proper and obligatory work of the House if it is to do its duty in the field of United Kingdom legislation. It is quite extraordinary that a reason given for cutting down sub-committees should be the problem of staffing of this House. I hope that that matter will be reconsidered.
We sometimes forget the unique role of the European Communities Select Committee in relation to other Select Committees. I know this because I happen to have the honour and privilege of being a member of it. But this committee is not only a scrutinising committee; by the standard of its reports and the wide-ranging issues with which it deals it has become an advisory committee even to the Government.
That was made clear in the excellent evidence given by the Foreign Office Minister, Mr. Tristan Garel-Jones, when he referred to some of the reports which he found made,a significant contribution to the debate and to people's collective wisdom … and provided a valuable input into thinking in these areas".980 We must take note that that came from a Minister in the Foreign Office who accepts that there is a valid advisory contribution from the Select Committee. Those reports were mainly in areas of wide-ranging subjects such as the economic, monetary and political union report and indeed the enlargement report which was requested by the Government to be terminated by June so that they had the benefit of its findings before taking over the presidency.
Another point I should like to mention in relation to the European Communities Select Committee is the role of Sub-committee E. I find it incomprehensible that one should have only three or four subcommittees without paying special attention to the role of the sub-committee. Paragraph 52 on page 28 of the report sets out the special terms of reference for the sub-committee which has the task of reporting on:any Community proposal which would lead to significant changes in United Kingdom law, or have far-reaching implications for areas of United Kingdom law other than those to which it is immediately directed".Inter alia that refers also to any important developments which have taken place in community law. It is the only sub-committee that I know of in either House which has the special task of dealing with this particular matter.
We are immensely privileged in this House by having the benefit of a Law Lord as chairman of that sub-committee. At the moment I have the honour also of being on the sub-committee. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Oliver, has been a most excellent, assiduous and brilliant chairman. As noble Lords will know, he retired in January and we are waiting for a new Law Lord to take on the task. The role on that sub-committee is filled very ably by the Members of this House. I shall be sad to see no provision for its retention or for the work that it does for the House.
Because of the Single European Act we have had to look again at the legal base of draft directives coming from Brussels. As noble Lords will know, that affects the way of voting in the Council of Ministers, which directly affects the role of the British Government in the Council on these occasions. It also affects the procedure within the European Parliament according to which article of the treaty the draft proposal falls within.
Another aspect is subsidiarity. The noble Baroness, Lady Serota, raised this matter in her excellent speech earlier this evening. That again will be a very special area for Sub-committee E to scrutinise most carefully in future European legislation.
I am sorry to say that I am not in agreement with the noble Lord, Lord Sherfield, for whom I have immense respect. I support the proposal that there should be a foreign affairs committee. I understand that this is the only House of all the national Parliaments throughout the Community which does not have such a body. That of itself is no reason why we should have one. We have many other distinctions which make us unlike any other Chamber within the EC. But this House probably has a greater number of experienced members both in the field of foreign affairs and international relations and with very wide 981 knowledge of the workings of international organisations. I believe that that would have been of immense benefit to this House and to the scrutiny of our international relations.
It is sometimes forgotten how much foreign affairs are now undertaken in Brussels under the name of European political co-operation. With the eventual ratification of the Maastricht Treaty it will extend into the field of foreign common policy and security, yet there will be no provision in this House to scrutinise, follow or monitor any of the policies of the Government, with the ability to give advice or to have any influence at all on the development of our foreign relations. It seems quite extraordinary in the United Kingdom, which is playing such an important role in international affairs, that this House should not have any possibility of being able to contribute except in a very occasional debate.
As regards the development of our international relations, as noble Lords will know, a great many international treaties are now concluded by the European Community on behalf of this country and other member states, as well as those treaties which are concluded by the European Community together with member states. Unless there is some parliamentary scrutiny, it is quite clear that a great many legal obligations will be imposed on this country of which this House is totally unaware. That is one of the reasons why I hope very much that the Select Committee can be set up. I suggest that if there is a difficulty concerning rivalries as to the kind of Select Committee, it might possibly start off as an ad hoc Select Committee for the first year to see how it works. I very much hope that in the interests of the United Kingdom and international relations a foreign affairs committee will not be left out.
§ 8.54 p.m.
§ Baroness Lockwood
My Lords, in his excellent introduction to the debate this afternoon the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, said that his committee had been concerned only with the mundane question of the committee work of the House. Yet, as we have seen, the committee work of the House affects all aspects of the House's work. It seems to me that the recommendations need to be judged against four issues which emerge: first, how to make the House more effective in its primary role as a revising and legislating Chamber; secondly, how to avoid unnecessary duplication of the work of another place, particularly by not replicating that House's committees and procedures; thirdly, how to ensure the continuing development of this House's different and distinctive characteristics and contribution to the parliamentary scene; and, fourthly, how to make the best use of the resources of the House.
In trying to resolve these issues, like the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, and my noble friend Lord Murray, I wonder whether the committee has not been too modest in its demands and perhaps too negative in its approach to resources. After all, is there any justifiable reason why this House should be so strapped for resources?
982 The committee has made some excellent recommendations for additional committee work for the House,which I support. However, I have some reservations about the recommendations for a steering committee both as regards its membership and its terms of reference.
Like the noble Lord, Lord Aldington, I am not sure that I like the idea of a steering committee monitoring the work of the Select Committees. I am not sure that I am convinced by the points made by the noble Lord the Leader of the House that the steering committee would be at arm's length and would leave the routine work to the Select Committees themselves. I have reservations on the subject.
I believe that it is widely accepted, not least by the European Communities Select Committee itself, that that committee needs, using the words in the report, to,adjust its working methods and sub-committee structure",as development within the Community takes place. I believe that the Select Committee is conscious of the fact that it needs to be flexible in order to take account of the continuing changes that are taking place in Europe. Surely the Select Committee itself is the best body to determine the disposition of its committees and the scrutiny subjects with which it is dealing. A steering committee, a liaison committee or even the Procedure Committee itself can set the wide framework in which the Select Committee should operate, but I believe the committee must be allowed to take its own decisions.
I return to the issue of Peer and financial resources. The committee states at paragraph 121 of the report, and it has been stated by a number of noble Lords in the course of the debate, that there is a finite limit to the number of Lords who are available for committee work. Some noble Lords have disputed that and I agree with them.
My noble friend the Leader of the Opposition, Lord Cledwyn, in his evidence to the committee said that he was concerned about this issue too. He suggested that at least 50 new Peers were required if we are to avoid some of the difficulties which have been envisaged. He was particularly concerned about the ability of the Opposition to provide an appropriate quota of members for committees and thereby fulfil the purpose and role of the Opposition parties. His concerns were well founded.
An analysis of the changing membership of the House since 1979 shows that, through the Honours List, the working Peers list and the Dissolution Honours List and through the replacement of hereditary Members, the government ranks have increased by 37 net. On the other hand, the Labour Benches during this period have declined by 27 Members net. Therefore, the gap between the Government and the Opposition Benches over the 12 years has widened by 62 Members. I say that in no spirit of partisanship. I am facing up to the problem. This makes it much more difficult to match Opposition with Government membership in an appropriate way—
§ Baroness Seear
My Lords, the noble Baroness has omitted the fact that the Labour Benches are not the only Opposition Benches.
§ Baroness Lockwood
I have indeed, my Lords, and I stick to that point. If the noble Baroness wishes to indicate how the Liberal Democrat Benches have declined net, we would be very interested to hear what she has to say. I have looked at the position from the point of view of Labour membership, but I am concerned as a Member of this House that there are adequate numbers of Members from all Benches to man the committees that the House thinks are necessary to carry out its work. This is not an insoluble problem. It can be rectified, and in the best interests of the House I hope that the Government will look at the problem seriously.
There is also the problem of other resources. Paragraph 8 of the report indicates that we are the second hardest worked chamber in the comity of Parliaments. We are by no means the second best resourced House. Indeed, we are probably one of the worst resourced Houses. In a way this House is a voluntary House and is almost like a voluntary organisation. When one considers its workload and its responsibilities, it is probably less well resourced than many of the other voluntary organisations in the country. We must face up to the fact that, if we are to be as effective as we would like to be, we must be properly resourced. That is why I think the committee was quite wrong to suggest that we should spread our resources more thinly. It should not be a question of robbing Paul in order to pay Peter.
I am completely opposed to the proposals to scale down the work of the European Communities Committee and the Science and Technology Committee. I am completely opposed to the proposal to reduce the rotation rule from five to three years. I say that as a member who has served on both committees. Indeed, I am still a member of the European Communities Committee. To reduce the period from five to three years would be counterproductive. It would damage the continuity of the committees and reduce their effectiveness. After all, there is with all committees a settling-in process and even in your Lordships' House a learning process. That is certainly true of the Science and Technology Committee, particularly if we are to follow the recommendation of the Select Committee to have more lay members.
I was very much a lay member of the Science and Technology Committee but I like to think that I was a useful member if only because I could ask some of the innocent questions which the more learned scientific members of the committee were reluctant to ask. I think I would have been a less useful member of the committee had the period been three rather than five years. I do not share the view that there is a complete separation between the committee and the Chamber work of the House. One feeds into the other. That has certainly been my experience.
The approach of the two sessional committees of the House is quite different from the approach of committees in another place. That is part of their value. The committees add to the distinctiveness of 984 this House. I should like to think that the expansion recommended by the Select Committee will build on that distinctiveness. I hope that we shall consider the recommendation in this more positive and expansive way.
§ 9.6 p.m.
§ Lord Alport
My Lords, like every previous speaker, I should like to congratulate my noble friend Lord Jellicoe and his committee on the thoroughness and particularly on the restraint which has gone to produce their report. They have avoided the temptation to which those of your Lordships like myself, who have come from another place, are prone. They have not tried to import into the work of this House procedures which are appropriate to the composition and responsibilities of the elected House of Commons.
It is widely accepted, and has been accepted throughout the debate, that the European Communities Committee and the Science and Technology Committee have been extremely successful and have contributed to the much enhanced reputation of this House, here and throughout the European Community. They must continue as they are. I think, however, that we should be very sparing in the use of Public Bill Committees for the Committee stage of Public Bills. I was chairman of only one meeting of the Public Bill Committee on the Charities Bill. Like others who came from the House of Commons, I thought initially that Committees of the Whole House were cumbersome and time wasting; but now in this respect my views are very different from those of my noble friend Lord Pym. I have changed my mind. My impression of the proceedings on the Charities Bill was that it was not as effective a method of legislative scrutiny as a Committee of the Whole House.
As I said, we should resist the temptation to take responsibilities in the political field—for example, foreign policy—which are appropriate to the party composition of the House of Commons. However, there is one exception to that. The Parliament Act 1911 left this House with one absolute power; namely, that of preventing the elected majority of the day in the House of Commons from destroying the constitutional right of the public to vote for a new Parliament at intervals of not more than five years and thereby turning the "elected dictatorship" of my noble and learned friend Lord Hailsham into a permanent one.
I believe, although I speak only personally, that that recognised that the House of Lords has a special responsibility in constitutional matters. If, for example, the problems of devolution for Scotland or Wales have to be faced in the future, or if Parliament has to consider electoral reform or the introduction of a Bill of Rights or the basic principles of the legal system, those are constitutional issues about which the examination by an ad hoc Select Committee of your Lordships' House would be entirely appropriate. We have unrivalled resources of legal knowledge, abundant personal experience of the workings of 985 electoral systems, eminent constitutional historians and most of your Lordships have played a role of one sort or another in regional and local administration.
I include within the constitutional field the structure of local government. If, for example, the advice of a Select Committee on the reform of local government had been available prior to 1974, some of the sad mistakes that were made then might have been avoided. I note that in paragraphs 38 and 123 the committee has considered that as a subject for an ad hoc committee. But there is no point in having a Select Committee for the sake of having one. No doubt there are many subjects—and we have heard about many of them during today's debate—upon which your Lordships would wish to examine and express an opinion. But I strongly support the view of the committee in a different context; namely, that we should exercise self-respect, especially where the subject involves party-political controversy.
I have always been conscious of the extraordinary privilege which we enjoy as Members of the House of Lords. Despite our lack of powers and the illogical character of our membership, we have the privilege which is possessed by members of no other second chamber in any parliamentary constitution. We represent only ourselves. Therefore, we have the privilege of speaking and voting as our conscience and judgment dictate.
I hope that your Lordships will not think that I in any way denigrate what was called by someone "the honourable ties of party affiliation". As Edmund Burke said:Parties must exist in a free society".Indeed, I have been a card-carrying member of the Tory Party for 60 years. While this House can invite the elected Chamber to reconsider the content and drafting of Bills and draw public attention to issues of a general nature through our debates, in normal circumstances it inevitably reflects the ebb and flow of the party fortunes in the House of Commons.
But I submit to your Lordships that we have an independent stance in matters affecting the constitution. That applies to our procedures on the Floor of the House and to our Select Committee system. I therefore believe that we should concentrate any extension of the investigative activities of the House, in the shape of ad hoc Select Committees, on the constitutional field for which we are particularly well qualified.
Here the independence which all Members of this House enjoy is of great importance. I am sure that the growth of public esteem for your Lordships' House, which has been evident in recent years, is due partly to the instinctive feeling in the country that whatever may be the clash of party policies in the elected Chamber, there still resides in this House an element of independent judgment. We may only possess the power to prevent any government from turning our parliamentary democracy into a one-party state. But we have the right to examine and inform public opinion on all matters affecting the constitution and we should not hesitate to do so. In that role, the illogicalities of our composition become a sort of 986 strength, and what appears to be an anachronism remains an essential feature of the British political system.
§ 9.14 p.m.
§ Lord Coleraine
My Lords, I intervene in this debate as a stranger to committee work off the Floor of the House. Such work calls for a commitment which the daily demands of my employment preclude my offering. Nevertheless, I wish strongly to support the Select Committee's cautious proposal that, as an experiment, one or two Bills of a technical and largely non-party-political nature should be referred to special standing committees off the Floor of the House. Those standing committees may receive evidence over a limited period and then consider the Bills in committee.
I wish particularly to consider law reform Bills, singling out those appended to the reports of the Law Commission. The Law Commission is very well qualified to identify areas where reform may be required and it makes important proposals for consideration for inclusion in the legislative programme. Nevertheless, notwithstanding what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brightman, said in his forceful speech, I offer my own opinion that the Bills offered by the Law Commission are not always of equal quality.
Law reform of a non-party political nature is an area where Parliament does not perform very well. It is an area, I believe, where this House could play a very much more important role in securing the passage of more and better legislation. I would judge that if the Committee stage of law reform Bills took place off the Floor of the House in a special standing committee they would receive better consideration. This would include the attention of non-lawyers. I believe that this attention is often sadly missing. Non-lawyers tend to leave law reform Bills alone. But law reform Bills are seldom comprised solely or mainly of what may be called "lawyers law".
I should like to take as an example the Distribution of Estates Bill which is appended to Law Commission Paper No. 187, Family Law—Distribution on Intestacy, which was laid before Parliament in 1989. I choose this Bill because the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, has given notice to ask the Government of their intention about the Bill in an Unstarred Question on 16th June. I shall not be able to hear the debate but it seems to me that this may be the kind of Bill which a government might wish to put to a special standing committee if they sufficiently supported the Bill.
There is in the draft Bill much that is at least mildly controversial. I mention only the Law Commission's proposal to amend the law so that on an intestacy a surviving spouse would be entitled to the whole of his or her dead spouse's estate. This is clearly a contentious proposal, having regard to claims which may be made on behalf of the children of a former marriage and in particular having regard to the fact that anyone marrying is in normal circumstances thereby rendered intestate under English law.
It is a proposal which in my opinion needs to be looked at with wisdom, common sense and experience 987 and not necessarily by lawyers just because it is classified as law reform. It is also, I suggest, a proposal on which it would be desirable to receive evidence from the Law Commission. The Law Commission report on the point is balanced and detailed. But I do not think that the commission would for a moment claim that the arguments lead inevitably to the conclusions to which it has come.
My noble friend Lord Renton doubts whether special standing committees will often be required to take evidence on Law Commission Bills because the Law Commission would already have consulted widely. I am sorry that on this occasion I do not agree with my noble friend.
I was very glad to read the unstinted welcome of the Law Commission to the idea that it should give evidence to special standing committees. I quote from a submission of its chairman, Mr. Justice Peter Gibson, in Volume H of the special committee report:The Law Commission supports with enthusiasm and gratitude the suggestion of the Lord Chancellor that the House of Lords might use special standing committees to consider and take evidence on law reform Bills".He also writes:The Commission would be willing and indeed anxious to assist such a Committee in its work".The particular significance of this may be seen by contrasting it with the more guarded response of the chairman of the Scottish Law Commission, from whose submission I also quote:If one purpose of taking oral evidence from members of the Commissions is to debate the merits of any particular proposal, there is a risk that consultation carried out by the Commissions may be devalued, and that the present detachment and independence of the Commissions may be compromised".The English Law Commission may well feel that it would have been beneficial had special standing committee procedure been applied to what eventually passed into law earlier this year as the Access to Neighbouring Land Act 1992. In my view nothing would have been lost to Parliament or the Law Commission had the previous Bill, which the Government supported, been debated (to borrow the word used by the chairman of the Scottish Law Commission) with a Law Commissioner in a special standing committee of this House.
I have finally but two reservations to put forward about the Select Committee's proposal. The note of the meeting between my noble and learned friend and the chairman of the committee has my noble and learned friend express interest in special standing committee procedures:to facilitate the inclusion of Bills … in the legislative programme which would not otherwise find a place".I find myself a little sceptical here. It seems to me that technical and law reform Bills could even now be introduced into and passed by this House in the generally quiet period at the beginning of a Session. The difficulty seems to lie in another place and that difficulty is not necessarily going to go away with the introduction of special standing committees here.
My other worry arises from a few words in the second of the Select Committee's proposals on special standing committees. Paragraph 132 expresses the hope that, 988through the free exchange of views at the evidence-taking stage, a consensus will emerge from the Committee, which will facilitate the speedy passage of such bills through their remaining stages in both Houses".That is stated to be a hope shared by my noble and learned friend on the Woolsack; but I see that his hope was that the consensus would be established in the Lords rather than in the committee. That is a different matter.
That apart, I am sure that I am not alone in envisaging the possibility of challenge being made on Report to the consensus established in a special standing committee. The Select Committee report does not suggest that there should be any rubber stamping; so I merely say that I hope that the rules of procedure applicable to special standing committees would permit Members other than those on the committee to take a full part in the evidence-taking process and to speak on and move amendments in the committee, and that there would be no fetter on the right of the House to re-open on Report any question decided in the committee. Any other arrangements would be very much against the traditions of the House. They would also create considerable difficulties in the selection, composition and balance of the membership of any such special standing committee.
§ 9.21 p.m.
§ The Earl of Longford
My Lords, I rise with some diffidence. Even before I saw the wonderful list of speakers, I doubted whether I had anything of value to contribute; but the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, whom I admire so greatly, not least for his report and his indomitable attendance here all day, and my Chief Whip, whom I also greatly admire (and whom, in addition, I fear) told me that it was my duty to speak. Having been Leader of the House, and a Member for nearly 47 years, I should have to be a moron if I could not find something to say; so be it on the heads of the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, and my Chief Whip that I speak.
Most noble Lords who have spoken have done so as producers of reports. I come before the House as a consumer. I see the Leader of the House in his place. Perhaps I may extend to him my very best wishes. I think we can say that all Leaders of the House have been well-meaning men. None of them has been caught out in any malpractice. Taking it all round, he has every right to be proud of joining our little team. I mean that in the best of spirits.
I have listened in the House to committee reports. The members of the committee come before the House in a spirit of mutual admiration and congratulation. Up to a point that is pleasant to listen to. They always seemed to have served under a chairman who is a mixture of Solomon and Rhadamanthus. It has clearly been a great privilege to serve on one of those committees. Such a privilege has, alas, been denied me. During my quarter of a century on the Back Benches no one has ever invited me to serve on one of those committees, and no one has ever approached me to ask if I would serve if I were selected. Clearly I am not what is called the "right type". I am not good committee material. I take that all in good part. I hope 989 the House will therefore allow me to make a few remarks about the method of selecting the members of the committees.
I am keeping a good eye on the clock, so I shall mention just two of the committees. I shall touch on the committee on murder and life imprisonment chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Nathan. No committee in my time has produced a more successful report. It won the admiration of everyone in the House. The Government were not as helpful as we hoped they would be. Still, it made a permanent impact on the history of penal thought. Why was it so successful? The answer is not far to seek. With no disrespect to anyone I can say that, on the whole, there have been differences of opinion in this House between what might be called the penal reform lobby and those who represent the judiciary here and elsewhere. On this occasion all those parties and other people were represented and a fine report was produced.
There was another committee where I am afraid the outcome was less happy. I refer to the Select Committee on the Infant Life (Preservation) Bill. Anything I say is no reflection on the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brightman. He needs no compliments from me because he is held in such high esteem here. The story was quite remarkable and I commented on it at the time, rather waspishly perhaps, but I am slightly more mellow now in my attitude. The Bill was produced by Bishop Montefiore to make it more difficult to obtain abortion. The Bill received a Second Reading for which there was a majority; incidentally, supported by the Government of the day. Nevertheless, the lifelong champions of easier abortion fought hard and were defeated, they were in the minority and had the worst of it.
When the Select Committee was set up, a very different picture resulted. Apart from myself—and we know that I am not the right type for such committees —no one out of the majority was chosen to serve on the committee, yet three of the minority were on it. I do not know how that came about. I am sure that it was not the fault of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brightman. He is integrity itself. It was an odd outcome and in the end the committee produced a report precisely the opposite of what the Bishop had intended when he produced the Bill that received a Second Reading. If that kind of thing could happen, there is something wrong. It is anomalous. Thus, it seems necessary to make a change. I have only made a beginning in that direction. I shall not go into fine terms of detail. I have already spoken for five minutes and that should be enough.
Steps ought to be taken to allow all Members of the House to know that a committee is being set up and the news of it should be published in a way that makes it easy for people to apply for membership. They may not be selected, but selection is another question. At least application should be made a great deal easier and more available than now. That is not the end of the story, it is a beginning and, in my eyes, would be a marked improvement.
§ 9.27 p.m.
§ Lord Henderson of Brompton
My Lords, during the last part of the noble Earl's speech I began to doubt whether he was a "well-meaning" man, but it was a very enjoyable speech. It would be much better if I left it at that.
§ The Earl of Longford
My Lords, perhaps I may interrupt the noble Lord. Why did he think that? Will he not give way?
§ Lord Henderson of Brompton
My Lords, I do not do so because we have been asked to be brief, which tempts me to take my compliments to the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, and his committee as read. They have already been paid, but I hope that the committee will take it that the compliments are genuine and heartfelt.
The memorandum from the Clerk of the Parliaments or one of the academics tended to suggest that the development of the Select Committee on the Committee Work of the House was unplanned, was not thought out and was not systematic. That is right, but it is none the worse for that. This has been a remarkable story since the noble Earl the Leader of the House rescued that famous spar from the reform attempts in the late 1960s. The first Select Committee for a long time in this House was the Select Committee on Sport and Leisure in 1971. That was what a favourite judge of mine used to call "an alert seizure of opportunity". Since then there have been a series of alert seizures of opportunity. We heard a good example from the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, when he described the origin of the Science and Technology Committee —an alert seizure of opportunity if ever there was one. That is the way we have developed. After 20 years or so, it calls for review. That review has been exceedingly well conducted by the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, and his colleagues. It is no matter for apology that we should have worked as we have. But we should be alert and seize opportunities. I am sure that we shall do so. Perhaps we shall be better informed in doing so as a result of the work of the noble Earl and his committee.
Unfortunately, I do not believe that the recommendations of the Jellicoe Report will lead to any reduction—I should say, more charitably, measurable reduction—in time spent on the Floor of the House. That matter should be considered by another committee. The noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, will have to report after the Commons has decided whether or not to reduce the amount of time spent on the Floor of the House there. As the noble Baroness rightly said, if the Commons succeeds, this House will be the Chamber that devotes the longest period of any in the whole wide world to consideration of matters on the Floor of the House. That is unthinkable.
I have a feeling that after the House of Commons has considered the Jopling Report and has made attempts to reduce the amount of time it spends on business, we shall unfortunately have to have another report. I hope that the task of compiling it does not fall to the noble Earl after he has spent nine months on this one.
§ Lord Henderson of Brompton
It would be marvellous if he agreed to undertake the task. However, I am rather more kindly disposed to the noble Earl than that.
On the subject of Law Commission proposals in Bills, I should like to see the use of a special standing committee, if that is at all possible, for such Bills. I am being hopeful when I say that I should like to see such a measure combined with an understanding by the business managers that the selection of Law Commission Bills for this treatment gives those Bills a measure of immunity from the political battle and that such Bills should be capable of being carried over from one Session to another if necessary. I address myself here to the noble Lord the Leader of the House as he has had such long experience as a Whip. I hope that the idea will not be thrown out as being a romantic one from someone who knows nothing about the conduct of business. I know that the Whips' club are close in their refusal to agree any alteration to procedures or conventions. However, I seriously believe that unless we can achieve some kind of consensus there is no chance whatever of Law Commission Bills having any accelerated progression through both Houses.
I concur entirely with what the noble and learned Lords, Lord Wilberforce and Lord Brightman, said about these Bills. Prior selection must be made before introduction, preferably in consultation with the Opposition parties. If that is not done I envisage less chance of success for that category of Bills. I recognise, of course, that some are so controversial in party political or other terms that they cannot be candidates for such treatment. However a great many of them, and parts of them, should be capable of receiving that treatment. I put in a plea for a measure on those lines.
As regards the European Communities Committee I agree that the sub-committee structure could possibly be a little more flexible than it now is but I hope that there will not be fewer resources for that committee. The same applies in the case of the Science and Technology Committee. I recognise that, being a question of resources, it will have to be decided primarily by the steering committee, although ultimately by the House.
I much applaud the Jellicoe recommendation that the time has now come to find the resources for at least one ad hoc Select Committee each Session, whether on a Bill or a general subject. It was a matter of great embarrassment at the time when I was Clerk of the Parliaments to have to advise the Leader of the House that resources were not available to serve such committees as well as the two main committees of the House. It is not right that, if the House wants a particular subject to be referred to a Select Committee, that that should be denied for want of resources.
As to the rotation rule, I have always been attracted by the idea of reducing the number of years to three. However, I think that the rule had better remain as it is. I was much impressed by what the noble Baroness said about Peers coming and going all the time. It is unthinkable that, as the House is now composed, we should reduce the term to three years. The only 992 alternative is even more unthinkable. It is that there should be a six-year rotation rule for the Opposition parties and a three-year rotation rule for the rest of us. I believe that the status quo had better be maintained.
On the subject of the steering committee, I have the honour to agree fully with the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition and with the noble Lord the Leader of the House. I am firmly of the belief that the Leader of the House should take the chair rather than the Chairman of Committees, a former Leader of the House, or any other Peer for that matter. The position and the authority of the Leader of the House in this House are unique: I should hate to see that status diminished in any way. It would be diminished if he was not the chairman of that very important committee. There should be no fear that any Leader of the House would not put the interests of the House first and foremost in a matter of such importance. That was amply demonstrated by the tenor of the memoranda and evidence of the last Leader of the House, the noble Lord, Lord Waddington. The same can confidently be expected of the present Leader of the House.
While on the subject of the steering committee, there may be some ambiguity in the recommendation that it should,monitor the select committee work of the House".If that means merely allocation of resources in the light of competing needs I have little complaint. However, if it means monitoring the Select Committees in the sense of evaluating their work, then I share the startled reaction of my noble friend Lord Flowers in evidence. He said that he would take out his shotgun. It was news to me that the noble Lord was a shooting man, but I now know. I had the same reaction. There is a hint of Big Brother—I do not say Son of Jellicoe—in the suggestion that that committee should be looking over the shoulders of the Select Committees as they do their work. To my mind the composition and terms of reference, and the name of the steering committee, all need careful reconsideration. I hope that that will happen. I would just add that to my mind Back-Benchers should certainly be included on that committee.
I should like to say a word about specialist advisers. I refer to paragraph 168 of the report. I agree that specialist advisers have a major contribution to make to the work of the committees and should continue to be appointed. However, there are concealed dangers. The proposal in which I am particularly interested is that some specialist advisers should be retained beyond the conclusion of the particular inquiry. There is always a danger, and particularly if that happens, that they may get on top. It has been pithily said that specialist advisers should be "on tap but not on top". It is a most important consideration. It has sometimes happened—I shall not say in which House —that they have got on top. It is most undesirable.
So far, nobody, at least in my hearing, has mentioned the evidence of Mr. Kenneth Clarke MP. He deserves mention. I concur with the committee in disagreeing strongly with what he said about this House and the technology committee; namely, that it,can be identified as nothing more than a distinguished part of the science lobby".993 I think that he was just being naughty. However, one must be careful with specialist advisers. They can get on top and achieve a very powerful position, having the ear of the chairman and the committee. Their use may conceivably have given rise to, or coloured, Mr. Clarke's erroneous impression. I therefore enter a caveat over the committee's agreement that in some circumstances it would be helpful for sub-committees to retain specialist advisers and seek their guidance on future programmes of work and potential inquiries.
§ Lord Shackleton
My Lords, perhaps I may interrupt my noble friend on the subject of Mr. Kenneth Clarke who said that the committee was committed to putting European men into space. That was the exact opposite of the committee's recommendation.
§ Lord Henderson of Brompton
I know, but it has not been said on the Floor of the House. Finally, I wish to endorse all that has been said about the Select Committees being value for money. I also believe that it is a waste of money to spend money on a publicity clerk.
§ 9.41 p.m.
§ Lord Mottistone
My Lords, what the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, just said included some very wise remarks indeed, which I hope in due course we shall be able to absorb. I too welcome the excellent report of my noble friend Lord Jellicoe and his committee. I am reminded that it was my noble friend Lord Jellicoe who, just over 20 years ago as Leader of the Opposition, advised me on my maiden speech, for which advice I was grateful.
My Lords, perhaps I may just correct my noble friend on a small matter of history—in doing so, I should like to take the opportunity to congratulate him on his governorship —and say that I was the Deputy Leader of the Opposition.
§ Lord Mottistone
I beg the Leader's pardon, if he is still around. In a debate of this kind, it is tempting to comment on many of the interesting recommendations; but I shall restrict my remarks to those relevant to the European Communities Committee and in particular Sub-Committee D. In view of the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, about the selection of members of the committees, and what the noble Earl, Lord Longford, said about his never having been selected to serve on a sub-committee, it might be worth telling the House of my experience. I went to see the Deputy Chairman of Committees, who at that time was Lady Tweedsmuir. It is interesting to note how many charming ladies there have been in that job. I said, "I should like to serve on one of your sub-committees." She asked, "What would you like?" and I said that I had just started to be employed by the biscuit industry. So we settled on Sub-Committee D. I served on that sub-committee for 10 years, which is 994 much too long by the terms of the report with which we are now concerned. I enjoyed those years very much and hope that I was of some use. Obviously 10 years is too long; but, on the other hand, three years is much too short.
If there is time, I shall say a few words about Public Bill Committees, having contributed to both the Pilotage Bill Committee and the Charities Bill Committee. I agree with the general recommendations in paragraphs 172 to 177 of the report—and especially with the need for shorter and sharper reports. Such were produced for most of my time, which ended in the mid-1980s, with Sub-Committee D.
I turn now to the European Communities Committee. I agree with almost all that the noble Baroness, Lady Serota, said. I shall refer only to aspects that are relevant to my experience. I agree with most of recommendations 188 to 193 and with recommendations 200 and 203. However, like my noble friend Lord Selborne, and unlike the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, I strongly disagree with the suggestion in paragraph 147(ii) to combine the agriculture, fisheries and food sub-committee with the environment committee. My noble friend Lord Middleton, who was predecessor to my noble friend Lord Selborne as chairman of Sub-Committee D, and, sadly, cannot be with us today because of a long-standing engagement outside London, has read that part of my speech and is in broad agreement with it.
Sub-Committee D deals with subjects which cost the Community 65 per cent. or more of its expenditure. That is too important to be brushed under the carpet. Before seeing the unfortunate proposed amalgamation, I had observed in paragraph 8, on page 70 of the report, that the Secretary General of the Commission had omitted a recommendation for our Select Committee to keep an eye on the common agricultural policy or on the common fisheries policy. My reaction was, "He would, wouldn't he?". The common agricultural policy must be the biggest embarrassment for the Commission that there has ever been. Repeated efforts by Sub-Committee D during the past 15 years to propose manageable improvements to agricultural policy have been shied away from by Councils of Ministers, Councils of Agricultural Ministers and the Commission. Even the most recent change has been most inadequate. Our proposals always tried to be as communautaire as they could be and not British inclined. They were always non-political. Regard really should have been paid to them.
We must retain a strong sub-committee to continue to scrutinise and where necessary to attack the common agricultural policy and defend the common fisheries policy. Diverting the activities of the committee to more general environmental matters, which Directorate-General VI can faintly praise without doing anything, would be a tragic waste of this House's potential influence.
Another detailed scrutiny of the sugar regime is long overdue. The sub-committee also needs to look more closely at what is intended for the green currencies and monetary compensation amounts 995 which are supposed to be being phased out but which appear to linger on. Those arc a few points from what could be a long list. My noble friend Lord Middleton tells me that the amount of European Community papers—which could usefully be studied by Sub-Committee D in its present form—have been growing steadily in recent years. Combining environmental matters would he unmanageable for one committee.
Like other noble Lords, I cannot accept that the House should not employ the number of excellent Clerks that it needs. The arguments against increasing the number of Clerks were not convincing. The noble Lord, Lord Ezra, has stated that the total cost of all the committees is under half a million pounds. That seems absolutely ludicrous when one considers that if your Lordships were paid at the outside going rate for the information, experience and knowledge that you contribute to the various committees from your own expertise, the cost would be astronomical. We are getting that cheaply. We are getting your Lordships cheaply. Surely we can ensure that we are serviced by superb Clerks who are of the highest quality in sufficient numbers to have as many committees as we wish and that we can provide service for.
There is another point with which I and my noble friend Lord Middleton strongly disagree. It is the suggestion made at the end of paragraph 140(iii) that reports should be based on written rather than on oral evidence. We both believe firmly that the recommendation should be reversed; oral evidence is far more useful as the basis for a report.
While agreeing that sub-committee membership should be about 12 and that it should include non-specialists, I hope that efforts will always be made to include in Sub-Committee D not only farmers but one or two Peers with a knowledge of other matters in what is described as the food chain; that is primary and secondary processing and retailing. When I as a food processor stood down from the sub-committee, I was delighted that the noble Lord, Lord Gallacher, with his Co-op experience remained a member as chairman. That spread of food knowledge has been neglected in recent years.
I now turn briefly to the Public Bill Committees. I do not believe that they will ever be much of a success or save much of the House's time. They appear to me to appeal more to Leaders of the House freshly appointed from another place and to Back-Benchers with a similar background than to those of us who have grown into the particular debating advantages of this House. The Pilotage Bill Committee needs no more comment than the report has given to it. The Charities Bill was better organised, even though the Committee was again condemned to the Moses Room. However, the Committee membership was properly apportioned, similar to the normal attendance in the House, with equal Government and Opposition of both parties' membership and a balance of Cross-Benchers. That meant that after a few sittings the Cross-Benchers rumbled the fact that they could always win their more important amendments, and did so. They would have had to play their by hand much more carefully—
§ Lord Tordoff
My Lords, I believe that the noble Lord's memory fails him because on a number of occasions members of his party voted for some of the amendments. I do not believe that the situation was as straightforward as he supposes.
§ Lord Mottistone
My Lords, in the early stages, members of my party cast their votes the other way. However, after more than half way, the Cross-Benchers rumbled that fact and did very well—
§ Lord Mottistone
My Lords, I am sure that they do not. The noble Earl, Lord Halsbury, has often made that point to me. However, if two or three people apparently vote together perhaps they are working in unison. If they do not do so officially they may do so instinctively. Without that advantage, the CrossBenchers would have had to play their hand much more carefully on the Floor of the House and probably wait as usual until Report for the big attacks.
In conclusion, I believe that a study of the Public Bill Committees was not appropriate to the committee which prepared the report with its particular terms of reference. If the House ever wishes to have a committee studying the overall handling of Public Bills through all their stages from First Reading to being passed, attention to the Committee stages off the Floor could be more suitably included in that study. That is the background that one needs in order to study when and how that should be done. I hope that note will be taken of my comments, and that the recommendations in the report that I believe are a mistake will be ignored. I hope that in other respects the report has every success in the future.
§ 9.54 p.m.
§ Lord Moran
My Lords, the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, has listened to our long debate with extraordinary patience. He and his colleagues have produced a valuable report for which we must all be grateful. At this late hour almost all the important points have been made and I wish to intervene only briefly having regard to my experience as a member in turn of three of the sub-committees of the European Communities Committee.
The main point I wish to make is to question, as did the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, the wisdom of the suggestion made in paragraph 147(ii) that there should be a single sub-committee to consider agriculture and the environment. Of course, there is a great deal of overlap between those two spheres and the two sub-committees often need to work closely together. But, having been a member of the environment sub-committee and now the agriculture sub-committee, I have serious doubts about that suggestion.
As the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, pointed out, proposals requiring scrutiny are increasing in number in both environment and agriculture. I have been impressed in working with the sub-committees by the value of thorough in-depth inquiries carried on over a 997 period of several months: for example, the environment sub-committee produced a report on habitats and another on municipal waste water or sewage, both of which were important; the agriculture subcommittee has produced a report on the CAP, and we are now working on a report on the common fisheries policy. Those involve a substantial amount of reading and listening to evidence and, in my judgment, it would be quite impossible for one sub-committee to cover adequately both those spheres.
That said, I welcome the proposal in the report for more ad hoc committees, which would be extremely useful. I have only taken part in one of those, which was a sub-committee of the Science and Technology Committee under the chairmanship of my noble and gallant friend Lord Carver, to consider the science base in the successor bodies to the Nature Conservancy Council. However, that was a fairly quick inquiry which produced a useful and timely report and some of the major reports by ad hoc committees, such as the overseas trade report and the report on murder and life imprisonment, have certainly been landmarks in the committee work of the House.
I am rather inclined to agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Elles, that a foreign affairs committee in some form or other would be useful. One of the things which has struck me in this House is the lack of contact between Members of this House and civil servants. By bringing civil servants to give evidence a committee is extremely useful to Members of your Lordships' House. Talking to them in that sort of forum one can understand very clearly the thinking behind policy. It is also quite useful for civil servants to have that contact. It would be useful for Foreign Office officials—and I speak as one who has been a Foreign Office official—to have that contact. It is even more useful for your Lordships' House.
I believe also that, as the noble Baroness, Lady Elles, suggested, it could be perhaps an ad hoc committee to start with. Clearly it should not overlap or conflict with what is being done by the Foreign Affairs Committee of another place.
I believe, too, that it is important to have a committee in some form to consider general environmental and conservation matters. I see that page 73 of the report states that that was suggested to the Jellicoe Committee by several noble Lords.
Finally, I wish to make one very brief point about procedure in the committees. I am very much against the practice of preparing questions, giving them in advance to the witnesses and then sharing them out among members of the committee to ask. It has put off the media, as is recorded in paragraph 96 of the report which states:proceedings were often little more than a 'private and a technical series of exchanges' with witnesses who replied from prepared scripts to questions agreed and circulated in advance".The practice also destroys spontaneity. In my view it would be better to give witnesses in advance a general indication of the areas on which the committee would like to question them and for chairmen to 998 arrange for members of sub-committees to tackle specific areas of interest to them. That is touched on in the last sentence of paragraph 161 of the report.
Finally, I join in the tributes made to our admirable Clerks and to the chairmen of the sub-committees. I have served under five. A heavy burden falls upon them and they discharge their responsibilities with exemplary tact and skill.
§ 10 p.m.
§ Lord Dormand of Easington
My Lords, your Lordships are aware that the 34th speaker in a debate can have little or nothing new to contribute to the issues under discussion. I hasten to say, therefore, that I make a contribution at this stage because I was a member of the Select Committee and feel it may be useful to stress the importance of at least some of the matters raised by the report. Your Lordships will forgive me if I make my points briefly.
There is a fundamental problem in considering the committee work of the House which is not immediately apparent, although I am glad to say that certainly two speakers in the debate referred to it. It concerns the shortage of resources with the so-called "Peer resource" probably presenting a greater difficulty than financial resources.
It is a constant struggle for chairmen and staff to recruit Peers for committee work. The work can and often does make considerable demands on a Peer's time. Therefore, those members of your Lordships' House who ask from time to time why some subject is not being dealt with must make some suggestion as to where the manpower is to be found. Perhaps your Lordships are not aware that in the last Session of Parliament the average daily attendance was 337. That is misleading because, as we all know, for good and different reasons Peers can often stay for only a short time and are not necessarily present for the whole of the daily Session. I believe I am right in saying also that the total number of Peers is 1,200 or thereabouts. We are therefore really speaking of around one-quarter of the Peers putting in some sort of attendance.
I am bound to say that I am not so sanguine as my colleague on the committee, the noble Lord, Lord Thurlow, who seemed to suggest that there was a wide reservoir of Peers who would be ready to undertake committee work. With regard to financial resources, your Lordships will have noted that all that is suggested in the report is a "modest" increase—that is the word we use. I hope that that will be forthcoming from the Government.
My second point relates to the recommendation that some legislation, or indeed some aspects of legislation, should be taken off the Floor of the House as an experiment. When I came to your Lordships' House from another place some five years ago I was struck perhaps more than anything else by the committee structure in relation to legislation. The flexibility and the opportunities for making contributions were a considerable advantage. I believe that that is still the case. However, it cannot be denied that the problems facing the House from an increasing workload are now far greater than in 1977 when the 999 Practice and Procedure Committee reported, and perhaps even more serious than when the group on the working of the House reported as recently as 1987.
I suggest with great respect that self-restraint, which is so frequently urged upon us, has not been successful. As a heavy workload will stay with us I have no doubt that the time has come when we should seek proper ways to consider legislation off the Floor of the House. The committee is cautious about that and suggests only that it should be of an experimental nature. Your Lordships will note from the report that we suggest four possible options and I shall not go into their details. I hope that Appendix 6, dealing with the Public Bill Committee on the Charities Bill which sat as recently as December 1991, will be carefully considered. Most of the disadvantages contained in the appendix were of a minor nature and could easily be corrected. The evidence for further experimentation is overwhelming. I hope that that will be supported by your Lordships and the Government. I concede immediately that a final decision now would not be appropriate and that further experience is essential.
I turn to the report's recommendations on ad hoc committees. In our deliberations I was a very strong supporter of them for a number of reasons and I mention only two. The first is the very high quality of most of those reports issued in recent years. Your Lordships' House is perhaps better qualified to undertake that kind of work than any other legislature that I know of. I do not believe that that is being immodest. Some of the reports made a very considerable impact not only inside but also outside the House.
Secondly, ad hoc investigations permit the House to study areas of importance which simply cannot be undertaken in any other way. The suggestions that we received—your Lordships will have read some of them in Appendix 5—are good examples of what can be done. When we were considering the possibility of a third sessional committee I was the Member who was rather keen on having a foreign affairs Select Committee. I felt that the existence of the Commons' Foreign Affairs Committee was no obstacle to having one because it is such a wide policy area and, particularly these days, of very great importance. Duplication with the Commons' work could be easily avoided not least by prior consultation between the two committees.
I finally accepted the views of my colleagues. One of the reasons was that ad hoc studies of aspects of foreign affairs would be very appropriate. I believe that the increased emphasis we place on ad hoc committees is one of the most important recommendations of the report. In particular, I draw your Lordships' attention to the suggestion that these committees should report to the House well within 12 months. That is surely a significant aspect of such reports.
If there is universal agreement about the work and reports of committees in your Lordships' House it is on the high standards achieved. It was mentioned time and again during our sittings in both oral and written evidence. So the most important subsequent question 1000 to be asked is: what have they achieved? An objective answer would be that no one really knows. It is a matter which requiring a great deal of research which nobody would be prepared to undertake. But there is general agreement that they make some contribution to our work.
I make that point because there is one thing that can be said with some certainty—that the links between the committees and the House are, to say the least, tenuous. If the reports are as good as it is said, something should be done about it. The report makes some concrete suggestions. Your Lordships will have noted that debates on committee reports took up less than 4 per cent. of the time of the House. Not only that, the debates took place at times which were highly inconvenient to most Members. The three recommendations made to rectify the situation would be an important first step in integrating committee work into that of the House as a whole. They are: debates on major reports should not be held on days when the House meets in the morning; two Wednesdays should be allocated to the debates at the later stages in a Session; and the usual channels should take greater account of committee reports when selecting subjects for their own debates.
I venture to suggest that these proposals will not be adopted—I look particularly at the noble Lord the Leader of the House at the moment—if one ingredient is missing. If the Government do not inject some goodwill into considering these proposals the work of committees and of the House will remain as far apart as ever.
I wish to make some brief comments on the proposals concerning the European Communities Committee. The report makes clear the high esteem in which its work is held. Not only that, it was pointed out when we were in Brussels that it is unique among the member states. The suggestions made by the committee are an attempt to make the work even more effective, not least because of the rapidly growing importance and effect of the European Community. At this stage in the development of the EC it seems sensible, indeed essential, that there should be, as we recommend, increased liaison between the committee and both the Commission and the European Parliament.
In this connection it appeared to us that there is a need for a sub-committee structure which has a greater degree of flexibility, and I hope that some of the proposals, at least, will be acceptable to your Lordships. However, one has to say at this stage, having listened to the whole of the debate, that this has not been one of the most popular recommendations of the report.
A particular contribution to that flexibility is the suggestion that within the European Communities Committee there should be an ad hoc sub-committee. I do not accept the view of my noble friend Lady Serota that this is a contradiction in terms. I can understand the logic of it but I think that that is not quite the case. There must be, from time to time, areas of policy which are not considered by the sub-committees. Although the report recommends some reduction in the number of sub-committees it 1001 stresses that, taken together, the proposals will involve a net increase in the European Communities Committee's work overall. That point has not been made during the debate.
It is not possible to deal with even the more important subjects in a debate like this, but I hope that such matters as a steering committee, which I am glad to say has been well aired, the availability of committee reports, which has not been spoken about too much, the publicity given to them and, not least, the Government responses to reports, will be fully considered not only today but in the coming months.
I conclude by paying tribute to the work of the committee chairman. His long and varied experience in this House and his wide knowledge of procedure here and elsewhere were evident in every session we had. He gave the impression all the time that committee members were producing the ideas but we knew all the time that he was the guiding hand. I doubt whether there has ever been a more charming chairman of any committee. It was a great pleasure to serve under him. I am going to add these words now. The reason I am speaking tonight is that he charmed me into doing so.
I am delighted that so many of your Lordships have referred to the Clerks. Our Clerk was superb. He did a first-class job and I am glad that he has been able to be at the Table in the normal course of his duties—he need not blush—to hear so much of the debate. A great deal was due to him.
I think that every Member of your Lordships' House will agree that it is time for some changes to be made to the committee work of the House and I hope that the report will make some contribution to those changes.
§ 10.13 p.m.
§ Lord Brain
My Lords, I am glad to be able to follow the noble Lord, Lord Dormand, and congratulate him as well as the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, and the other members of the committee on their report.
At this late hour I shall keep my remarks very brief. Like the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, I am concerned about the structure of the steering committee and its name. The usual channels, good as they are, are not necessarily equipped to allocate financial resources and to monitor the work of committees, two points which are linked together. I also wonder, knowing how Select Committees in another place do not always see eye to eye with the usual channels there, whether they are the right liaison body between the Select Committees and our Select Committees. I make that point in passing.
1002 As the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, and other speakers, including the noble Baroness, Lady Serota, said, I feel that the European Communities Committee should be given the resources and then be allowed to decide how it divides the cake itself. The noble Lord, Lord Dormand, said that there is perhaps need of an ad hoc committee within the European Communities Committee. In a way, we have had that recently because, although we had a particular committee—I have in mind at present the one on the carbon tax—it was basically one committee with co-opted members from two other committees. In many ways, that is an ad hoc committee, based on experienced members who are used to working as a team in European committees. In my view that is important.
The other point that I should like to make relates to the issues of whether a period of three or five years should apply and whether there should be 12 or 15 members in a committee. I can see a slight case for three years, although I should still prefer five. As the noble Baroness, Lady Young, said, it is most unfortunate if, for example, one third of the committee are new boys each November. A committee is a team. If there are only four members available instead of eight, especially if two of the four are missing due to an earlier meeting, the committee is not a strong one as regards questioning civil servants and others. Only recently we had six civil servants backed by 25 of their support staff. Such a situation creates a problem. Similarly, while I agree that the optimum number of members on our sub-committees is 12, I should not like that to be set as a rigid limit. Again, if someone is missing, the committee will be short in numbers. I believe that 12 should be the recommended number but that 15 should be a possibility. I leave the matter there.
There is just one further comment that I should like to make. I am an intermittent attender of the House, but I enjoy coming here regularly once a week to take part in committee work. I have been involved in the Committee stage of Bills. I find it acceptable to have a break of a day, two days or part of a week as the Committee stage proceeds. I would be somewhat horrified if I were to become involved, as happened on the Charities Bill, in having to sit continuously considering a Bill in which I was interested for a tight period of time. That is why I have sometimes felt unable to join committees on Private Bills, and so on.
I welcome everything that has been said. I congratulate the noble Earl on his committee work and on the report. Like other speakers, I join in thanking the Clerks and the specialist advisers of all our committees for their very valuable work.
§ 10.17 p.m.
§ Lord Tordoff
My Lords, after that most commendable speech—indeed, the most commendable speech of all because it has hit the record of being the shortest speech of the evening—it falls to my unhappy lot to initiate the conclusion of this most interesting debate. Of course it is almost impossible to try to pull the threads together. However, I propose to spend just a few moments dealing with those matters upon which there appears to be general agreement, then deal with the ones in the next category and finally I shall turn to those issues where there is perhaps no agreement at all.
I believe that there is general agreement that Public Bills in committees off the Floor of the House are worthy of experimentation. We pinned some faith on the success of the Charities Bill, although we were not quite sure of that success until after the committee's final meeting. However, I think that we were right to have faith in it. It was a successful committee and its success gives us the opportunity to have further experiments.
Special standing committees have received fairly universal support throughout the whole House, especially on matters relating to the law. Ad hoc committees have also been widely accepted. Everyone has their ideas as to what they would like to see in an ad hoc committee. But I think that the principle of such committees has been widely agreed.
There is certainly total agreement that the staff of our committees do a superb job. There is no dissent from that view. I was most interested in the intervention of the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol. She said that if there was to be an increase in the staff of the House, the whole question of career development ought to be looked into. That was a most interesting and useful point.
There are those things which fall into the category of being in the "curate's egg" department so far as this House is concerned today. First, there is the recommendations on the European Communities Committee and the Science and Technology Committee. There is no disagreement at all that these two committees do a superb job. There is no way in which those of us who sat on the Jellicoe Committee have any doubts about that at all.
There has been criticism of some of the suggestions that we have made and there seems to be in many cases a feeling that these committees should be expanded rather than contracted. I thought that the comment of the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, that we should have as many Clerks as we need probably epitomised that point of view. Indeed, I do not think that anyone on the Jellicoe Committee would have dissented from that. But we know that reality is such that that will not happen. The demands of European legislation could go on expanding almost indefinitely and the need for support staff for that purpose could also go on expanding indefinitely; and it may be cheap to provide. Certainly I do not dissent from that. But as the noble Lord, Lord Dormand, said, it is the question of Peer resources with which we are faced. Certainly I find, as one of those dreaded members of the usual channels that have been referred to so often during the 1004 course of the day, that it is not easy to provide people from the ranks on my Benches to staff the various committees of the House. We do our best, but there is a limit to Peer resources.
If one looks at the figures for attendance at Select Committees the truth is that in the European sub-committees in 1989–90 attendance was of the order of 57 per cent. That does not indicate that there is a vast vibrating group of Members of your Lordships' House who are anxious to be at committees every day of the week. The truth is that our resources are extremely limited. The figure for the Select Committee on Science and Technology, I should say, is somewhat better. It is 71 per cent., but it is not even approaching 100 per cent. That is the major restraint and I am sure that that was the restraint that members of the committee felt when we were looking at resources.
Of course, so far as Clerks are concerned, if the Government and the Treasury can be persuaded to put up the money, we could have as many Clerks as we need. That is a more difficult problem in some ways; but at the end of the day it is Peer resources that are the problem.
The steering committee has obviously met with somewhat mixed fortunes in the course of our debate today. The name is not important, as has already been said. We tussled with the name and we were not satisfied that it should be called a steering committee, but nobody, as the noble Lord, Lord Pym, said, could come up with anything better. The idea that the committee should be monitoring the work of the Select Committee, as the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, said, was very far from our minds. It would be there as a co-ordinating committee, a committee which facilitated the agenda for the various committees, but not in any way to monitor the results of what the committees produce.
The composition has come in for considerable criticism. Again this is clearly something which is there for future debate. My view is that it would not be right to have the chairman of the European Communities Select Committee and of the Science and Technology Select Committee on that committee. Certainly they should be in attendance. Their views should be sought, but I do not believe that they should be actual members of that committee because they are, as we have seen, extremely committed to their own particular bailiwick; and so they should be, and very properly so.
Clearly the Leader of the House, if he could be persuaded to be the chairman of that committee, would be a very useful member. If one can get the commitment of the Leader of the House, the chances are that things will actually happen. Whether the rest of the usual channels should be involved is a matter for further discussion.
The committee considered secondary legislation—the "Rippon Committee" as we might perhaps call it—and that has received approval from all around the House, with a slight suggestion from the Leader of the House that he might have some problems with it. That seems to be a step back from his predecessor's 1005 position. I hope that it is not seriously so. I know that we shall shortly hear about that from the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack.
It is perhaps unfortunate that the Government were not prepared to expose their hand at the beginning of the debate so that we could have discussed the issue properly. Like many other noble Lords, I believe that it is a crucial part of the report. If it did nothing other than prevent my noble friend Lord Russell and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, from bobbing up and down in debates rather more frequently than they have to, it would save the House a great deal of time. They are correct to stand up to say what they have to say on the Henry VIII clauses; but nevertheless I believe that that type of committee would save the House a considerable amount of time, not just because it would act as a filter but because the people who draft Bills might say to themselves, "Hang on a minute, is this going to run up against the committee in the House of Lords? Had we better not think about the way in which we are drafting this legislation?" It is a precautionary measure that would improve our legislation.
I commend to noble Lords the appendix which deals with the visit to Australia of the noble Lord, Lord Thurlow. It is a most interesting document. I should have preferred to include in the report rather more of the Australian experience. We have pared it down. Many of the items in the Australian checklist are ones we should consider in the future. The matters we have included in the report are vital to ensure that legislation coming through the House is better legislation.
Finally, there is the rotation rule, which no one seems to have liked. I have to admit that I was not pleased with it. It seems that we are moving towards four years rather than three. The problem was that there was a feeling in the committee that the five-year rule was not being applied as rigorously as it might have been. There were those who had been on committees for five years, who were co-opted for a further year, went on for another five years and then were co-opted for another year. One can have a lifetime's experience of committees in that way. We have drawn attention to that and suggested that in the future rotation should mean rotation. Whether it is three, four or five years is not necessarily significant. It is important that people should have a break from the onerous task of serving on those committees.
Like other members of the committee who have spoken, I have nothing but praise for our chairman, enhanced by the fact that he has managed to sit through the whole debate.
§ Lord Tordoff
My Lords, none of us apart from the noble Earl have managed to do that. He is greatly to be commended. He was a marvellous chairman. It is a good report. I hope that noble Lords will accept it in principle and largely in detail, with the caveats that have been entered tonight.
§ 10.29 p.m.
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
My Lords, the debt of gratitude which the House owes to the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, and his committee is nonetheless sincere if I express it in a weary way at this time of night. I add my congratulations to those of the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, on the diligence with which he has attended the debate, knowing that he will not even have a chance to reply at length to the discussion.
As my noble friend Lord Williams said, this is not a party matter. I conceive it to be my duty to respond always in a personal capacity to the matters prominent in the debate. I wish to conclude by talking about what I conceive to be the first rank importance of the issues raised by the Jellicoe committee report. I believe that the proper use of the committee system in this House is essential not only to the smooth running and marginal effectiveness of the House, but to the House's survival in some form in the 21st century.
We must give the report the first rank in serious consideration of the future, not only of the committee structure but of the House. That is the tribute which ought to be paid to the Jellicoe committee and those who gave evidence to it. We have here evidence about the working of a second Chamber of the utmost importance for the future of the House in some form.
I start with the issues which were prominent in the debate. After 37 (not 41) speakers, it is possible to see the oscillations reducing, to some extent, and a form of consensus emerging on many of the issues. One issue on which there was a consensus from the outset was the admiration felt for the work of the European Communities Committee and the Science and Technology Committee. If I were to list noble Lords who made those points, I would come up against what used to be in the Good Food Guide, in recommendations of restaurants: "Approved by too many members to list". I shall not attempt the full list that I have here.
When I consider the discussion on the European Communities Committee, I think above all of the contribution of my noble friend Lady Serota. She was the one, above all, who emphasised the importance of the legislation which will come to the House and the country from Brussels and the importance of not restricting the scope of the work of the committee. She emphasised in particular the importance of not restricting the work of the committee to legislation which had already reached its final form. We should rather seek to use the European Communities Committee procedure to deal with legislation as it takes shape, in order to influence the final form. Above all, she made the point that the importance of the quality of the report of the European Communities Committee was absolutely fundamental.
All the other issues which have been the subject of the debate—whether there should be an amalgamation of the agriculture and environment committees; whether there should be a reduction in the total number of committees; whether there should be ad hoc sub-committees within the European Communities Committee—are secondary. The context in which we must look at the work of the European Communities Committee is that the workload is increasing; it has 1007 increased; and from 1st January 1993 it will increase enormously. We had expert evidence on that point from the noble Baroness, Lady Elles, and many other noble Lords. I cannot overemphasise the importance of ensuring that the resources available to the European Communities Committee are not restricted by some notion that there is only a finite pool of resources for the committee, defined in a limited way. We should ensure that they are determined by the workload which will be thrust upon the committee by the changes in the European Community itself.
A number of noble Lords of great distinction made a powerful case for the continued work of the Science and Technology Committee—in particular, the noble Lords, Lord Flowers, Lord Shackleton and Lord Porter. The noble Lord, Lord Flowers, used the phrase "a fearsome list of pressing topics" facing the Science and Technology Select Committee. That may be the case, but of course it could also be the case in a number of other areas—when we come to think about ad hoc committees more widely—where all of us could think of a fearsome list of pressing topics which could benefit from the work of sessional committees in this House.
We have to maintain some degree of caution. I say without any disrespect to the work that the Science and Technology Committee has carried out since it was set up when the House of Commons failed to reappoint its own committee that the time may come when it may say, "Let us have a couple of years off. Let us not think of this as being a permanent fixture just because it has been a success for a period of 10 or 11 years. Let us think objectively and coldly about the pressing issues to which the House might contribute in its deliberations, not necessarily in the sphere of science and technology".
That leads me on to the issue of the extension of the deliberative committees of the House. The committee's report, having considered carefully all of the suggestions for sessional committees, comes down on the side of a cautious increase in ad hoc committees rather than setting up sessional committees. However, there are plenty of suggestions for sessional committees. My noble friend Lady Nicol was keen on having such a committee on environmental assessment and the noble Baroness, Lady Elles, and others wanted one on foreign affairs. I recommend the recent book of John Kenneth Galbraith to the noble Baroness entitled The Culture of Contentment in which he describes a study of foreign affairs as being recreational rather than seriously political. His essay is entitled Staying awake at the Council of Foreign Relations.
I feel strongly that there is an argument for a committee on the relationships between central and local government, as proposed by the Association of Metropolitan Authorities, as that is an issue that arises in a large proportion of our legislation at the present time. It deserves some form of continuing consideration. If one looks at the areas of expertise and interest in the composition of the House one might well feel there should be a sessional committee on salmon fishing or on field sports. Certainly looking at the legal representation in the House there are many 1008 arguments for increasing the committee consideration of legal matters either in the broadest sense of the operation of justice or in the more narrow detailed sense discussed by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brightman, and by the noble Lord, Lord Coleraine. However, I would say that any move towards committee consideration of legislation on the legal process which tended to confine or restrict discussion to lawyers would be a bad thing. We should make sure that in any restricted consideration there is adequate and indeed dominating participation by non-lawyers. After all, the Law Commission provides the legal input to these matters.
However, at the end of all of this discussion I tend to the view that the committee is right and that we should not set up from scratch new sessional committees but rather we should use the suggestion of more ad hoc committees and, if they justify themselves, consider whether their work should be continued. I shall not comment in great detail on the matter of the steering committee. I think that a range of views has been expressed on that matter but I do not honestly think it matters much what it is called or what its composition is. The important matter is its terms of reference. It is important to ensure that what it is doing is avoiding duplication rather than seeking to guide the work of the committees themselves.
Nor do I think that there will be much disagreement about the rotation rule. As the oscillations flatten out over time we seem to be moving towards four years rather than three or five.
Much more important in that respect is the issue of resources. A number of noble Lords—my noble friends Lady Lockwood, Lord Longford and Lord Dormand and the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff— referred to the shortage of Peers available to serve on the committees. I suspect that the shortage would be less if the commitment were not so overwhelming and that more people would be willing to serve on ad hoc committees than would be willing to undertake the commitment of three, four or five years on a sessional committee. That may be a further argument in favour of ad hoc committees.
A number of noble Lords—including my noble friends Lord Murray and Lady Lockwood—referred to the need for staff resources. Whatever the figure —I made it £1.3 million rather than £0.5 million, as the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, suggested—for the cost of the committee work of the House, it is incredibly cheap. The cost of additional resources in the form of Clerks cannot be and should not be a significant element in the consideration. If the problem is that that creates too many Clerks for the career structure, we should consider bringing in people on secondment from elsewhere in the Civil Service or even outside the Civil Service. I am sure that Mr. Waldegrave would be pleased to hear me say that. That is not and should not be a major concern of the House.
What I consider to be the fundamental issue behind the report, however, is the role of the committees in the essential work of the House. I take the essential work of the House to be the revision of legislation. 1009 That is what will justify the continuing existence of this House in some form as a second chamber into the 21st century.
The noble Viscount, Lord Whitelaw, in his evidence referred with his usual moderation to "a difficult situation". He was not exaggerating. The truth of the matter is that the increase in legislation and the increase in the complexity of legislation are incompatible with our rules which impose no restrictions on the number of speakers, on the length of speeches and on the number of amendments to be considered.
Some way must be found—and I suggest that it will have to be through the committee system—of improving the quality of legislation coming before the House in order to avoid the enormous waste of time on probing amendments, on misconceived amendments or on misconceptions in the legislation itself. That is the only way in which we shall keep consideration of legislation on the Floor of the House at a manageable level.
I am one of those who feel, as others have said in the course of the debate, that the distinctive feature of this House is that we consider controversial legislation on the Floor of the House and do not allow it to be restricted to a limited number of Members of the House. If we lost that feature we should be losing a large part of the raison d'être of the House.
Let us consider the suggestions that have been made for dealing with that issue. The noble Lord, Lord Pym, described this as a tailor-made opportunity to rethink our legislative procedures. The noble Lord, Lord Alport, referred to the constitutional significance of the work that we do and the need to maintain that. I agree with both noble Lords.
Perhaps the least important aspect is the Public Bill Committee. The Public Bill Committee will clearly be applicable only in a limited number of cases. In the case of the Pilotage Bill it did not work but in the case of the Charities Bill it appears to have worked. Perhaps I may say to the noble Baroness, Lady Young, that that is not due to any self-denying ordinance as to whether to repeat matters at Report stage. There was inadequate consultation on the Pilotage Bill and a great many people felt very aggrieved about it, whereas the Charities Bill was the result of many years consultation and the charities themselves felt fairly happy about it. In addition we were up against the deadline of an election. So it is the quality of legislation that goes into Public Bill Committees rather than any self-denying ordinance on the part of noble Lords which is the significant factor.
With regard to the scrutiny of delegated powers, very many noble Lords supported that view, based to a considerable extent on the Australian visit of the noble Lord, Lord Thurlow. Again it was approved by too many Members to mention, but clearly there is scope for experimentation there. I hope that it will not be delayed in the search for consensus in advance. I agree with those noble Lords who said that consensus would have to come from the committee itself rather than what would otherwise be an abstract statement.
1010 Of all those methods I am much more strongly in favour of special standing committees. It seems to me that special standing committees present an opportunity, if they take place in a very short period of time—a maximum, say, of 28 days after First Reading—to improve the quality of the legislation coming before a Committee of the whole House and therefore to reduce the time spent in Committee. As the Clerk of the Parliaments said, in those committees we work in very primitive ways, with carrier pigeons from officials' and advisers' boxes, rather than by means of an effective dialogue with those who know what they are talking about.
But what is behind it all? If we are to survive into the 21st century as some form of an effective second chamber, we have to do it on the basis of the functions we perform and not on composition. Ultimately, as we all know, the composition of this House is indefensible. What will defend a House with that indefensible composition is a House which does something useful. The value of the work of the committee has been to consider and enable us to consider what we might do to be genuinely useful. I am most grateful to the noble Earl and his colleagues for the work they have done.
§ 10.46 p.m.
§ The Lord Chancellor
My Lords, this has been an extremely interesting debate covering a great deal of ground. My noble friend Lord Jellicoe will have an opportunity to sum up the whole of the debate to which he has listened so attentively if he should desire to exercise that particular right.
If there was one matter of unanimity in the debate, it was praise for the chairman of the committee, its members and its staff. I certainly wish to associate myself most strongly with that. I have daily experience of the need to rely on the Clerks. Were it not for them, I should make many more mistakes than I do.
The noble Earl, Lord Longford, gave another commendation to my noble friend the Leader of the House by describing him as one who has joined the ranks of well meaning men who have been Leaders of the House. I am glad to note that in that group the noble Earl, Lord Longford, intended to include my noble friend Lady Young.
I do not think your Lordships desire me to attempt to recite in summary form all that has been said in the debate. I begin by saying a few words about two matters which my noble friend the Leader of the House rather left to me. The first concerns the special standing committee. The idea was that it would be a way of dealing perhaps particularly with Law Commission reports. I was a law commissioner before I joined the Government in 1979. I have had a great interest in the work of the Law Commissions from that time on. It is perfectly true that there are a number of Law Commission reports awaiting consideration by Parliament. I do not think that the number is quite as great as the statistics given earlier might suggest. Some have been overtaken by events, some have been rejected by the Government for one reason or another, and some are quite controversial in character.
1011 I was most interested to hear my noble friend Lord Coleraine talk about the report on intestacy. That was a report prepared by the Law Commission, balancing all the evidence that it had heard in the course of consultation. It has come up with a view which my noble friend summarised and which has caused great differences of opinion among those well qualified to have an opinion. The noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, has kindly put down a Question in the House so that we may consider the matter because I have felt some doubt about the correct way forward. I thought that our minds might be clarified by preliminary discussion in the House.
However, there is no doubt that there is a degree of difficulty in getting the more technical Law Commission reports legislated. The Law Commission of course provides legislation for us every Session in the form of consolidation Bills. We must not forget that work. My noble and learned friend Lord Brightman was a distinguished chairman of that committee. He kindly taught me how to do the work. However, I was on the committee for only a short time before I found myself with some rather different responsibilities.
The Consolidation Committee is a joint committee. It is an example of how the Law Commission work in this area can be legislated without troubling the House in the process. The Law Commission reports which we have in mind for the special standing committee are more substantial and involve more policy than consolidation. I was interested in the suggestion of my noble and learned friend Lord Simon of Glaisdale that we should go for some form of joint committee with another place. I started out with that in mind. However, I have concluded, not least in light of the experience of the Joint Committee on Consolidation, that it may be better for each House to have its own procedures. Therefore what the committee has proposed, and what I very much endorse—and I am glad that so many noble Lords have felt able to endorse the proposal—is that that is the way for this House to deal with such matters.
A question has been raised about whether it would be suitable to have evidence, or whether it would be better to have an ordinary Public Bill Committee. I am persuaded that it would be better to have evidence available from the Law Commission and from those who have been kind enough to contribute to the various sides of the debate which the Law Commission carries out as a result of its working papers. Such evidence would illuminate technical matters for Members of the House who would form the committee. I strongly endorse the view of the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, that the composition of the committees that would deal with Law Commission reports should by no means be confined to lawyers. Indeed, very few lawyers need to be on them. It would be much better to have a lay appreciation. Members of the Law Commission are lawyers, as has been pointed out, and they analyse the matter from the legal point of view. But sometimes there are questions of what I might call common sense and ordinary policy to be decided.
1012 The noble Lord, Lord Monkswell, was one of the few noble Lords who had hesitation about the proposal. I understand well what he said about the general scope of committee work in this House and the importance of the opportunity for everyone to contribute. On the other hand, the Bills are in a fairly narrow compass. If we do not have some new procedure for dealing with them, I believe that they may not be satisfactorily dealt with. I have taken some Bills through this House myself. As my noble friend Lord Coleraine mentioned, one was dealt with last Session as a Private Member's Bill by my noble friend Lord Murton. However, the problem is that they often contain matters of detail which are much better decided in the light of evidence on the problem. I believe that that procedure would help to make the Bills even better because although, as my noble and learned friend Lord Brightman said, Bills are prepared by the Law Commission, very often they have to be amended. Bills are never absolutely perfect and on examination amendments are often required. Amendments tabled in the light of evidence of what the real problem is would be useful in this type of Bill. Therefore, I hope that the noble Lord will feel that, despite his reservations, the proposal should be accepted.
Questions arise about the consequences of the procedure. I hope that your Lordships will consider that if a broad-based committee has examined the matter in detail in the light of the evidence, the Report stage and Third Reading can be formal. If that were so there would be a strong chance that the Second Reading Committee procedure in the other place would be agreed to. The Bill could proceed fairly rapidly to a conclusion, possibly making unnecessary the carry-over provisions referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Henderson of Brompton. My intention would be to seek to have those matters agreed with the Opposition parties in advance before the Bills are put into Parliament. I am grateful for the huge amount of support that the idea has received.
I turn to a proposition which, from my point of view, is a little more contentious. It is the delegated powers scrutiny committee. Many noble Lords have approved of the committee. My noble friend Lord Pym issued me a challenge by asking what we are afraid of and why do we not want the committee. I shall not give a conclusive answer to whether we want it because we wish to consider carefully all that your Lordships have said. I shall indicate only some provisional views.
First, no parliamentary draftsman presently employed by the Government is unaware of your Lordships' attitudes to these clauses. The appointment of a new delegated powers scrutiny committee in this House is unlikely to create any greater fear in the minds of parliamentary counsel than the thought of having to justify such a clause in this House under the present system. As the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff said, among our Members are the noble Earl, Lord Russell, my noble and learned friend Lord Simon of Glaisdale, my noble friends Lord Renton and Lord Rippon, and a host of others. Everyone who has anything to do with the matter knows that these clauses must be 1013 defended. Of course, defended they are and most of them survive, usually with a degree of conviction on the part of the House that they are justified. My noble and learned friend Lord Simon of Glaisdale gave an instance in which the defence was not successful. That shows that the House enters into the matter with care and judgment.
The position in Australia—visited in the brown paper parcel by the noble Lord, Lord Thurlow—is interesting. However, one must remember that it is different. I am open to correction because I have not seen the Senate debate a Henry VIII clause. I suspect that it does not happen often; indeed there is no opportunity in the Senate for that to happen. Appendix 4 paragraph 3 states:the scope for and the number of amendments passed by Parliament seems considerably less than in the United Kingdom—the role of party caucuses, approving legislation before its introduction into Parliament, is strong, so that even an abstention by a Labor Party member on a caucus-approved bill could be grounds for expulsion from the party.This does not mean that the weight of legislation is less than in the United Kingdom; it is common for over 200 bills to be introduced each year, and although on average these are much smaller than their British equivalents, they must be squeezed into a parliamentary year lasting a maximum of 80–90 days. The result of party strength and time pressure in the Senate is that the opportunities for amendments, including amendments sponsored by committees, is restricted".The situation is that that type of point is not considered at all except through the committee—that is the way I would summarise that—whereas in your Lordships' House the situation is entirely different.
In his summing up, the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, gave me an extraordinarily interesting carrot and suggested that if this committee were in existence I might not have to face the terrors of the noble Earl, Lord Russell, my noble and learned friend Lord Simon of Glaisdale and my noble friends Lord Renton and Lord Rippon on this kind of question in the House. I do not think the committee's proposal embraces that suggestion. It is interesting that the committee proposes only that the attention of the House should be drawn to those matters. As regards those Members of the House, that is a work of supererogation. They are extremely quick to notice them already. Therefore, that seems to be a classic case of duplication of work already carried out.
That does not mean that I am huffing and puffing—I use the phrase of my noble and learned friend—but I believe those are matters to be considered. If your Lordships felt that some kind of self-denying ordinance on raising such points could be founded on the committee's view that would be well worth considering, but that aspect has not really been put forward.
There are a number of other matters which I should mention briefly. As regards a steering committee, a liaison committee—or perhaps a committee committee—most of your Lordships agree that such a committee is desirable. The question of who should be on such a committee has been widely debated. I doubt whether there is much consensus on that point but I cannot see why it should not be chaired by the Leader 1014 of the House if that is what your Lordships desire. Of course, he would have the interests of the whole House at heart.
On the question of rotation, the arbiter's approach to the matter is probably the right approach. The committee suggested three years, the existing limit is five years and the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, plumped for four years quite early on. That seems to be a fairly good compromise.
I welcome the suggestion made by the noble Lord, Lord Sherfield, that noble Lords should put down their names to signify an interest in being appointed to a certain committee. It would be extremely useful for the Committee of Selection to know whether Members of your Lordships' House are interested in serving on committees.
As regards resources and accommodation, a number of your Lordships have mentioned the pressure on physical accommodation for the work of the House. The noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, referred to the accommodation which is to be relinquished by the Lord Chancellor's Department in this House. As soon as I had an opportunity to examine the situation I thought it wise to try to make some arrangement of that kind. As soon as I find accommodation for those members of the staff who are still here, who deal with matters not directly concerning myself daily, we shall relinquish that accommodation. I cannot say exactly when that will be but your Lordships can be assured that I am anxious to progress in that regard as soon as circumstances permit. Discussions about that and other accommodation matters are continuing by the Administration and Works Sub-committee.
The only other point I should mention is on publicity. It was suggested in the report that that is a matter which could perhaps be dealt with. My noble friend Lord Aldington has long experience of dealing with these matters. He suggests that all a committee needs to do in order to attract publicity is to make an attack on the Government. That method has been employed with a certain degree of success over the years. I am not sure that it is one that particularly commends itself to me, and of course it is not a means of obtaining publicity which is open to a Member of the Government. That may be why my right honourable friend Mr. Clarke thought the best thing to do to obtain publicity for his appearance before the committee was to attack a few of the committees here. I am sure that my right honourable friend appreciates, in the quietness of the evening, just how valuable the work of both the European Committee and the Science and Technology Committee is.
We have had an extremely valuable debate. The Government have listened carefully to all that has been said. I believe that it would be wise for us to seek to put into written form a considered reply to the committee's report, and that the procedure suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, giving plenty of time to the House before the matter is finally decided, would be appropriate.
It is a most valuable report. I am sure that it will not be shelved. I shall be most concerned to see that 1015 substantial parts of it are pursued. I believe that our committee deserves to he thoroughly congratulated on taking such a major step forward.
§ 11.6 p.m.
My Lords, at the end of this short debate it is only appropriate that I should not make one of my longer speeches, such as those made by the Abbé Bossuet and what used to be called a discours fleuve. Mine today will be marginally less.
I should like to extend my thanks—and this is not just polite waffle—to all those massed battalions who have put duty before Epsom this afternoon; and for the contributions that they have made to the debate. It has been a useful discussion. I heard what the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack said with regard to the follow-up, and I believe it is the follow-up which will be really important.
I should like to thank also all those who said nice, nasty or mixed things about the report. Irrespective of agreement or disagreement on this or that point, I believe everybody is agreed that it is right that we keep our committee structure under review; that we keep it up to date, moving with the times and as flexible as possible. I felt that there was a large measure of agreement in that regard.
I thank again the members of the committee, which I had the honour to chair, for all the experience and industry they brought to bear and for the help and guidance which they extended to the often faltering footsteps of their chairman. In doing so, perhaps I can give special thanks to that particularly experienced and valuable member of our committee, the noble Lord, Lord Kearton, who would certainly have been with us today had not illness made that impossible.
I should trespass unduly on your Lordships' extraordinary patience if I sought to wind up in the three-hour fashion that I described; but perhaps I can make a few points. I was glad to hear the fairly wide support given to a number of recommendations which lay at or near the heart of our report—and there were exceptions to this—for the continued occasional use of Public Bill Committees and for the experiment, or perhaps more than an experiment after what was said by my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor, for special standing committees.
There was widespread support too for the appointment of a delegated powers scrutiny committee. We have heard what the noble and learned Lord had to say on that and his teasing remarks. I understand that this matter will continue to be looked at. There was also widespread support for ad hoc committees. There was almost unanimous support for what we have said about them.
I am really following in the footsteps of the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, in a Tordoffian fashion. I believe that there was unanimous agreement on the deserved very high standing of our existing two sessional Select Committees; namely, of Science and Technology and of the European Communities.
Perhaps I may make a few remarks about rotation. I believe that we are rather close, as my noble and learned friend on the Woolsack feels. About 48 months at the present time might be a sensible 1016 measure. Whether it is three, four or five years is not absolutely vital. I was very interested in the remarks which have been made on the subject.
I was also very interested in the critique of some of the things said about a possible slight massage of the structure of the European Communities Committee. On that matter all that can be said has been said and taken account of. In some quarters of your Lordships' House there was perhaps an underlying feeling that one of the driving forces behind our report was the need for financial restraint and that we simply accepted that no significant increase in Clerk resources was possible. That is very far from the view of the committee. There is a great list in paragraph 166 of the report. If the full implementation of what we propose is going to require more staff, I am one who feels that we should press very hard for the resources to he provided.
As regards the steering committee, many useful suggestions have been made about it. A great deal of care must now be taken that we get its composition, chairmanship and remit right. That said, I remain absolutely convinced that, if the House is to widen its committee activity even a little, some system of oversight or co-ordination must be established to look at resources, to establish priorities and to keep our system flexible and up-to-date but not, I stress, to meddle or to dictate. To put it as clearly and succinctly as I can—I believe that I am expressing the views of all the members of the committee —we did not see this proposed steering committee as an interfering busybody of a nanny but rather as a helpful and constructive midwife.
The system as it stands will simply not deliver. Having said that, there are clearly matters that need to be looked at such as the name. In the view of our committee it is not the essential thing. There is the question of membership. We suggested two experienced Back-Benchers and maybe the number should be three or four. I do not know. That should be looked at. As to the chairmanship, at the time we suggested that it might be the Lord Chairman of Committees. I feel that there is a strong sentiment at present that the chairman might and should properly be the noble Lord the Leader of the House. I do not think that we would quarrel with that if that were the final decision.
In conclusion, I should like to express the hope, put so clearly by the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, that the House will show that it means business and will not allow our report to gather dust on the shelf. I was extremely encouraged by what the noble and learned Lord, the Lord Chancellor, said about that in his summing up. But we all know what governments are. I should just like to suggest to your Lordships' House, with 1977 and all that in mind, that we should keep an eye on progress. All that said, and thanking again all noble Lords who have made such a contribution to what has been a not uninteresting debate, I commend the report to your Lordships.
On Question, Motion agreed to.