HL Deb 19 November 2002 vol 641 cc264-7
The Chairman of Committees

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

Moved, That a Select Committee be appointed to consider European Union documents and other matters relating to the European Union.

That the expression "European Union documents"" shall include the following documents:

  1. (i) Any proposal under the Community treaties for legislation by the Council or the Council acting jointly with the European Parliament;
  2. (ii) Any document which is published for submission to the European Council, the Council or the European Central Bank;
  3. (iii) Any proposal for a common strategy, a joint action or a common position under Title V (provisions on a common foreign and security policy) of the Treaty on European Union which is prepared for submission to the Council or to the European Council;
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  5. (iv) Any proposal for a common position, framework decision, decision or a convention under Title VI (provisions on police and judicial cooperation in criminal matters) of the Treaty on European Union which is prepared for submission to the Council;
  6. (v) Any document (not falling within (ii), (iii) or (iv) above) which is published by one Union institution for or with a view to submission to another Union institution and which does not relate exclusively to consideration of any proposal for legislation;
  7. (vi) Any other document relating to European Union matters deposited in the House by a Minister of the Crown.

That, as proposed by the Committee of Selection, the following Lords be named of the committee:

That the committee have power to appoint subcommittees and to refer to such sub-committees any of the matters within the terms of reference of the committee; that the committee have power to appoint the chairmen of sub-committees, but that such subcommittees have power to appoint their own chairman for the purpose of particular inquiries; that two be the quorum of such sub-committees;

That the committee have power to co-opt any Lord for the purpose of serving on a sub-committee;

That the committee have power to appoint specialist advisers;

That the committee and any sub-committee have power to adjourn from place to place;

That the committee have leave to report from time to time;

That the reports of the Select Committee from time to time shall be printed, notwithstanding any adjournment of the House;

That the minutes of evidence taken before the European Union Committee or any sub-committee in the last Session of Parliament be referred to the committee;

That the minutes of evidence taken before the committee or any sub-committee from time to time shall, if the committee think fit, be printed.—(The Chairman of Committees.)

Lord Bruce of Donington

My Lords, I seek some clarification from the chairman of the European Union Committee. Is it possible for him to draw the line between material that goes, or should go, before the committee and material that bypasses the committee and goes directly to Ministers?

The position at present is that material by passes even the Minister himself and goes directly from the European Commission to the ministry concerned. As a result, last year, about 2,000 items were placed directly on to the statute book without any ministerial control at all. They were merely subject to the say-so of whichever senior or semi-senior civil servant was dealing with the matter. I am sure the: House will agree that clarification is required.

I suggest that it is desirable that the chairman of the European Union Committee should give some indication as to how far his writ or that of his committee runs, as to whether or not the decisions of his committee can be taken as a licence for matters to go straightaway into British law, and where the dividing lines are.

In view of the importance of European legislation and the fact that it is now entering into very mixed fields, I suggest that the conditions proposed for the European Union Select Committee are examined in much greater detail in order that there may be a delineation of powers as between the Government and the committee itself.

Lord Renton

My Lords, lest it should be thought that the proposal put before your Lordships by the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, has no support, I want warmly to endorse what he said. If we are to have a European Union Committee, the views that he has expressed should be recognised.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch

My Lords, in further support of what the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, said, can I ask the Chairman of Committees how the sift works nowadays? It is not clear from the Order Paper. When I had the privilege of serving on your Lordships' European Select Committee, the chairman of the committee used to sit down with the Clerk once a week to go through the many hundreds of documents that Brussels had deposited in the Foreign Office that week. They would decide which ones were to be examined by the various committees. The result of that sift was put before the whole Select Committee. One member of the committee might realise that a document that needed the scrutiny of a particular committee had slipped through. What is the system now? I and many other noble Lords would support a system whereby all members of the Select Committee and the sub-committees for each subject area check the sift to ensure that nothing that requires your Lordships' closer attention has slipped through.

The Chairman of Committees

My Lords, I am no longer the chairman of the European Union Committee. If this Motion is agreed to, the role will be assumed by the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell. I wish him well in his task. I very much enjoyed the 18 months during which I did the job.

The noble Lord, Lord Bruce, supported by the noble Lord, Lord Renton, raised what is popularly known as comitology, an issue not widely understood by noble Lords or anyone else. I can tell noble Lords that the European Union Committee is conducting a review of its role, as proposed by the Leader's group. We were unable to complete that review before the end of the Session, but it is well under way. This subject is among those covered in the review. So, too, is scrutiny, and how it is carried out. I have little doubt that the review will be published fairly shortly, and it will almost certainly be debated in this House in due course, subject, as usual, to agreement through the usual channels. I have no doubt that that will be the best time for the issues to be raised.

The noble Lord, Lord Rannoch, asked about the sift. The sift is conducted—certainly this was the case when I did it—as it always has been. The whole point of the sift is to reduce the amount of paper so that everything is not required to go before the Select Committee or, even worse, before all the sub-committees also. The detailed result of the sift is published fortnightly. So anyone can see exactly what has happened to any given document. I hope that that answers the questions raised, which are not strictly related to the membership of the committee anyway. I urge noble Lords to reserve their fire for the time when the review is published and debated. I beg to move.

On Question, Motion agreed to.