§ The Chairman of Committees (Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish)
My Lords, I beg to move the first Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.
Perhaps I may detain your Lordships for a moment to explain briefly that this report proposes the speedy setting-up of the Select Committee on Human Cloning and Stem Cell Research, called for when the House approved the Human Fertilisation and Embryology (Research Purposes) Regulations 2000 on 22nd January. It also proposes the terms of reference for the committee and a timetable for the committee to report.
The report also proposes that the setting-up of the Select Committee to scrutinise treaties should be placed on hold until we see how the new arrangements in another place work with regard to the issue of scrutinising treaties.
§ Moved, That the First Report from the Select Committee (HL Paper 30) be agreed to.—(The Chairman of Committees.)
§ Following is the report referred to:
A Select Committee on human cloning and stem cell research
1. On 22 January 2001 the House approved the Human Fertilisation and Embryology (Research Purposes) Regulations 2000, and in doing so agreed "that this House calls on the Government to support the appointment of a Select Committee of the House to report on the issues connected with human cloning and stem cell research, and to undertake to review the regulations following the report of that Select Committee".
2. We have accordingly considered how best to make available the necessary resources for such an ad hoc committee. In order to avoid undue delay in setting it up, we recommend that the Science and Technology Committee should be reduced from two units of activity to one for the duration of the existence of the new committee.
3. The use of such a reduction in order to allow for other committee activity was first proposed in 1992 in the report of the Committee on the Committee Work of the House, under the
chairmanship of Earl Jellicoe: "If the House is to take on some other committee activity, priorities and the availability of resources will from time to time dictate that the Committee must operate through a single sub-committee, or itself conduct an inquiry in the absence of sub-committees." Hitherto this proposal has never been put into effect, but there are several reasons why it is appropriate now:
§ Terms of reference
4. We propose that the new committee should have the following terms of reference:
To consider and report on the issues connected with human cloning and stem cell research arising from the Human Fertilisation and Embryology (Research Purposes) Regulations 2000.
§ 5. We also propose that the new committee should be asked to report by the end of 2001.
§ A Select Committee to scrutinise treaties
6. In our Third Report, Session 1999–2000, we reported as follows on the proposal, originally put to us in 1999, for the appointment of a Select Committee to scrutinise treaties:
The Royal Commission on Reform of the House of Lords recommended as follows: 'The Liaison Committee should consider the establishment of a Select Committee to scrutinise international treaties into which the Government proposed to enter' (Cm 4534, Recommendation 56). In February 2000 the House of Commons Procedure Committee began an inquiry into 'Parliamentary Scrutiny of Treaties and the Ponsonby Rule'. We propose to await the report of the House of Commons Procedure Committee before making a recommendation on this matter.
7. The House of Commons Procedure Committee has now reported, recommending against the setting up of a Commons committee specifically to scrutinise treaties, and proposing that each treaty should be referred to the relevant departmental committee. The Government response to the report accepts this recommendation, and in particular accepts that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office "should send every treaty subject to ratification, along with its explanatory memorandum, to what it adjudges to be the relevant select committee. It would then be for that committee to decide whether to take further action on particular treaties, whether by holding informal discussions with the lead Department, consulting with other select committees, or taking formal evidence and reporting to the House.
8. The House of Commons Procedure Committee, in rejecting the appointment of a Commons sifting committee for treaties, concluded: "We believe that Lord Wakeham's proposal of such a committee in the reformed House of Lords may have merit." The Government response to this recommendation was as follows: "This is primarily a matter for the House of Lords, but that House will doubtless wish to consider the arrangements for the scrutiny of treaties in the House of Commons when making any decision.
9. We have concluded that we should wait to see how the new arrangements in the Commons develop before making any recommendation.
§ Lord Elton
My Lords, since the recommendation was made in 1999 to have a Select Committee to advise your Lordships on the impact on the United Kingdom of treaties which are subsequently ratified, I wonder whether I am the only Peer who still much regrets the 145 decision to wait. I should have thought that the present juncture, with the Treaty of Nice awaiting ratification, made it rather important that we have such a committee.
§ The Chairman of Committees
My Lords, I appreciate what the noble Lord, Lord Elton, says, but a number of factors were considered by the committee. Recently, there has been a considerable increase in the number of committees, including the one I have just mentioned. We are about to start an animal research committee and, of course, the Constitution Committee was introduced last week. The new arrangements in the House of Commons are just coming into effect. I think that the committee felt that it would be wise to await judgment on how such procedures in the other place work before we take a final decision on the issue of a committee in your Lordships' House.
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.