HL Deb 02 November 1994 vol 558 cc843-8

3.39 p.m.

The Lord Privy Seal (Viscount Cranborne)

My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.

Moved, That the first report from the Select Committee be agreed to (HL Paper 88).—(Viscount Cranborne.)

Following is the report referred to:


  1. 1. The Liaison Committee has considered a proposal for a Select Committee to scrutinise legislation for consistency with the European Convention on Human Rights. The committee will consider this proposal further at its next meeting early in 1995.
  2. 2. We agree that the ad hoc Committee on Sustainable Development should be reappointed next session (1994–95) and should make its report to the House by Easter 1995. At our next meeting we will make recommendations about the subject matter for an ad hoc committee to follow that on sustainable development Before doing so, we will invite Members of the House, by means of a printed notice, to submit proposals to us for the appointment of ad hoc committees into specific matters.
  3. 3. The Committee has also considered a memorandum by the Chairman of the European Communities Committee proposing that from next session the number of sub-committees which that Committee is able to appoint should be increased from five to six. It was proposed that the sixth sub-committee would initially consider preparations for the 1996 InterGovernmental Conference (IGC). Thereafter it would consider matters arising under the Common Foreign and Security Policy. We agree that the Committee should appoint a sixth sub-committee on the 1996 IOC. This would be appointed early in 1995 and would complete a report before the end of next session. The number of sub-committees in the following session (1995–96) would be a matter for further review in 1995 in the light of other proposals for select committee work.
  4. 4. Finally, the Committee recommends that the Science and Technology Committee should be able to appoint two sub-committees next session. This will be reviewed in 1995.

Lord Cocks of Hartcliffe

My Lords, I would like to thank the committee for the work it has put into this report. Normally, as would have happened in another few moments, this matter would go through on the nod. However, there is one matter which gives me some cause for concern which I wish to share with your Lordships. Paragraph 1 of the report states: The Liaison Committee has considered a proposal for a Select Committee to scrutinise legislation for consistency with the European Convention on Human Rights. The Committee will consider this proposal further at its next meeting early in 1995". This question of the European Convention on Human Rights is a matter of political dispute between some members of our community and the Government. I do not think it is proper to set up a committee of this House in order to try to furnish evidence to buttress an argument which a group is having with the Government. That seems to me a gross misuse of what I consider to be the procedure of this House.

In the past few weeks we have heard a great deal about lobbying in another place, but I wonder whether we ourselves are not being lobbied in a much more subtle manner than we have heard talked about elsewhere. I wonder whether this is inspired by Charter 88. When I read Charter 88 I begin to wonder whether I am living in the same country, as it appears that we are oppressed, downtrodden and persecuted and that we live in virtually a police state where one cannot find out anything.

I recall when I was Government Chief Whip in another place that on leaving Bristol by car one day I picked up a young man to give him a lift to London. Unfortunately, he recognised me and for the whole journey to London, having said that he was going to a board meeting of an anarchist newspaper, he told me that the police were corrupt, the Civil Service was corrupt, politicians were of course corrupt and that this and that edifice in society was ramshackle and should be destroyed. I took punishment for well over two hours. When I dropped him off in Parliament Square I said to him, "When you have finished your board meeting you might just reflect in how many countries in the world you could travel with a senior government minister for over two hours, telling him you wanted to destroy every fabric of society and he then drops you off without even asking your name and address".

We have a freedom in this country which perhaps we do not appreciate enough. I think we should cherish it more. Because of my suspicions, having seen this document, I got hold of some Charter 88 literature which refers to the formation of a parliamentary group to be composed of a number of MPs and Peers, experts in lobbying and activists. The Charter 88 document states: From this group would flow a continuous programme involving the use of varying techniques such as: A programme of Ten Minute Rule Bills around the aspects of the Charter. Monitoring and feeding into the other proceedings at Westminster and Strasbourg"— that is, feeding off each other— Debates in the House of Lords". It is heartening to see that we are sufficiently important to be considered by the charter for this privilege. The document continues: Early Day Motions on particular issues—for publicity, to further lobbying and to identify support". The lobbying which is talked about elsewhere is talked about frequently in terms of commercial advantage. This seems to me much more invidious. If my suspicions are right, it is based on intellectualism and almost a contempt for ordinary people.

I raise this only in order that the Liaison Committee can be on its guard when the matter is considered. If I may be so bold, I would be happy to speak to the Liaison Committee about this if it feels that that would be helpful, and I would be happy to speak to it in private or in public.

Lord Monkswell

My Lords, I thank the noble Viscount the Leader of the House for introducing this report. I wish to touch on a slightly different matter to the previous speaker. In paragraph 2 of the report there is a reference to the ad hoc Committee on Sustainable Development which has been doing some sterling work. There is an invitation to Members of the House to submit proposals, for the appointment of ad hoc committees into specific matters". I hope that I may take this opportunity to lobby for a subject which is dear to my heart and on which I think the House has unrivalled expertise and could perform a useful service, and that is a

committee on the democratic structures for the global village. I have just one thing to say on this. We have expertise in this House ranging from parish councils through local authorities to our national Parliament, the European Parliament and the United Nations. It is on the basis of that, I suspect, unrivalled expertise in one body that we could perform a sterling service in that area.

But the question I ask the noble Viscount the Leader of the House is whether there is any mechanism by which Members of this House could identify specific subjects and register their support for a committee on a particular subject. It appears that individual Members can suggest a topic but it is not clear how other Members of your Lordships' House could register their support for a particular topic.

Baroness David

My Lords, perhaps I may make a comment on paragraph 3 of the report. I am perfectly happy with the idea of the sixth sub-committee discussing the 1996 inter-governmental conference, but I am disappointed that the matter of the number of sub-committees should be held over for discussion in 1995. I served for a year on Sub-committee C when social policy and human affairs were linked with the Environment Committee, and I do not think that that was a success at all. Present Members of the committee perhaps feel the same. So I would hope that consideration can be given to setting up the seventh sub-committee again when this is discussed next year. I believe that that is important. I know it is being considered that environment and agriculture might be joined together, but the environment is so important that it deserves a sub-committee of its own.

Lord Bridges

My Lords, I hope I may address a specific question to the House about paragraph 1 of the report. The wording of the report of the Liaison Committee suggests that it may be the intention to set up a committee which would scrutinise all legislation from this point of view on a permanent basis rather in the way that the Delegated Powers Scrutiny Committee operates. I, for one, feel that that would be unnecessary and undesirable. I would also suggest that, as a substantial report was prepared under the chairmanship of my noble friend Lord Allen of Abbeydale some years ago on the broader aspects of this question, we ought to treat this particular suggestion with some reserve.

Lord Boston of Faversham

My Lords, I had not intended to intervene in this brief debate, but in view of the point raised by my noble friend Lady David it might be of help to the noble Viscount the Leader of the House if I were to say a word or two on that point. It is, of course, for the noble Viscount to respond to the point that my noble friend made about an additional sub-committee being further considered at the end of next Session; for the Liaison Committee to deal with that in due course; and then of course for the House to deal with it.

But so far as my noble friend's point about the Environment sub-committee is concerned, the European Communities Select Committee of your Lordships' House has been considering, and has accepted, some restructuring of the policy matters for which the existing five sub-committees are responsible. Although this is not a matter which need trouble either the Liaison Committee or your Lordships' House directly, I can say that those proposals which have been accepted by the European Communities Committee include a proposal that Sub-committee C should deal solely with environmental matters and that the other matters which have been dealt with by it on the social side over the past Session should be reallocated to other sub-committees. It might be helpful for your Lordships to know about those details.

Lord Dean of Beswick

My Lords, before the noble Viscount the Leader of the House rises perhaps I may put one question to him. If at the end of the debates in your Lordships' House a format for dealing with business is decided on and that is then found to be inadequate to deal with the volume of business which comes from the other place, and the other place makes that known, what is the constitutional position of this House?

Viscount Cranborne

My Lords, with the permission of your Lordships, I should like to thank those noble Lords who have commented on this brief first report of the Liaison Committee. I am particularly grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Boston of Faversham, for his remarks, which assist me in answering the noble Baroness, Lady David.

Perhaps I may add to what the noble Lord, Lord Boston, said. The reports of the Select Committees of your Lordships' House, whether sessional or ad hoc committees, rightly have acquired a considerable reputation, both within this country and internationally. It is important that we should try to maintain the very high standards and the remarkable quality of those reports, because that is what gives them the weight and reputation which they enjoy.

We ought at least to give some consideration to the question of quality versus quantity. We know that, although more of your Lordships are now prepared to serve on Select Committees of your Lordships' House than three years ago, nevertheless what I am told is rather unattractively called in the jargon "the Peer resource" is still somewhat limited. I merely say to the noble Baroness that it is for the Liaison Committee to make recommendations to your Lordships about the balance of the committees and the work that they should undertake, to take decisions about their priorities and to try to estimate the best use of their resources. However, I am sure that the Liaison Committee will take careful note of what is said by your Lordships.

It may be worth while emphasising to your Lordships that less than two years ago the House decided—after some argument, I understand—that the European Communities Committee should be able to appoint five sub-committees. However, at its meeting last month the Liaison Committee considered that there was one subject which justified the temporary reversal of that decision—the inter-governmental conference scheduled to take place in 1996. That is clearly an extraordinarily important matter in this country. Therefore, in the Liaison Committee's view it was justified for a sixth sub-committee to be appointed in the next Session in preparation for the inter-governmental conference only. The number of sub-committees in the following Session would be a matter for the Liaison Committee at that time.

I was grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Monkswell, for the interesting question that he raised. Certainly we expect that noble Lords will be encouraged in the near future to put forward suggestions to the Liaison Committee. It would be for noble Lords to write to the clerk to the committee with any suggestions they may have on appropriate subjects for the committee to study.

The noble Lords, Lord Cocks and Lord Bridges, both addressed themselves to the question of the European Convention on Human Rights and whether there should be a committee which scrutinised such legislation. I am well aware of the formidable reputation which the noble Lord, Lord Cocks, enjoyed in another place as an upholder of liberty among his troops, of freedom of speech and all the other important human rights which he rightly said we value so highly in this country. Therefore, particularly in the light of his notable record in that respect, I take very seriously what he said. I am sure that members of the Liaison Committee also listened with great seriousness to what the noble Lord said with such great force and from great experience. We shall indeed consider the points that he made and are certainly grateful for his kind suggestion that he may be able to come to speak to the Liaison Committee. We shall consider that suggestion in due course.

I have answered the questions that have been asked this afternoon, except for that of the noble Lord, Lord Dean. I was not entirely clear whether the noble Lord would prefer me to endeavour to answer his extremely important question in this series of exchanges or in the debate which is to follow on the sittings of the House. It may be for the convenience of the House if I address myself to that question of the volume of legislation and how we deal with it in the context of the: report made by my noble friend Lord Rippon who, I believe, has borne that problem very much in mind in framing his recommendations. However, if the noble Lord wishes to intervene I shall be pleased to hear his views.

Lord Dean of Beswick

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Viscount the Leader of the House. That is a factor which has to be at the back of our minds in our deliberations.

Viscount Cranborne

My Lords, noble Lords will be well aware that, among other things, I stand here as a representative of the party of less legislation. We know all too well that that undertaking is too often honoured more in the breach than in the observance, and I admit to considerable sympathy for the point which the noble Lord, Lord Dean, makes. All of your Lordships should be, and I am sure are, aware of the importance of that point.

On Question, Motion agreed to.