HL Deb 17 September 2003 vol 652 cc911-3


As I am sure you know, the Convention on the Future of Europe has reported, and an Inter Governmental Conference (IGC) to consider its recommendations will convene on 4 October.

Parliament scrutinised the Convention by means (among others) of a Commons Standing Committee, with the novel procedure that Lords could attend and speak, though not vote, move motions or count towards the quorum. Our House agreed to this procedure on 24 June 2002, on the basis of the Procedure Committee's 2nd Report. Some Lords expressed doubts about the procedure at the outset, but I believe it is now generally agreed to have been a success.

The Government now proposes to replicate the procedure, more or less, to enable Parliament to scrutinise the IGC. In the next few days, my colleague Peter Hain will invite the Commons to create a Standing Committee on the IGC. It will differ from the Standing Committee on the Convention in that, rather than engaging with parliamentary representatives, it will engage with Ministers: it will be able to receive written reports from Ministers, and oral Statements on which Ministers can be questioned, as well as holding general debates. And as well as general debates on written reports by Ministers, there will be the option of debates on specific subjects, on the adjournment. As before, Lords will be permitted to attend and speak, though not to vote, move motions or count towards the quorum.

If Lords are to gain full advantage from this procedure, the House will need to agree to it promptly once a Message arrives from the Commons, and no later than 18 September. Ideally, of course. the House would do so on the basis of a report of the Procedure Committee, as before. Therefore may I invite you to put this proposition on the agenda of the Procedure Committee for its meeting on 9 September?

As it happens, the House is to debate the Convention on that very day. This will give Baroness Symons an opportunity to explain this proposal, without of course taking for granted the view of either the Committee or the House.

Lord Barnett

My Lords, the report is a sensible one. I agree that Members of your Lordships' House should be able to attend, speak at or vote at any of the meetings of the proposed Standing Committee on the European Union Intergovernmental Conference. How will we know when the committee will meet, where it will meet and what it will discuss, so that we can decide whether to attend?

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

My Lords, I have read the report closely. I took part in the Standing Committee on the Convention on the Future of Europe. I attended all of its meetings, and, as noble Lords would expect, I asked questions and spoke at all of those meetings.

I agree with the report where there is some disagreement on whether the arrangements are satisfactory. In spite of the excellent chairmanship of Mr Frank Cook, who was extremely fair, he had great difficulty in keeping a quorum. Several times the committee had to be adjourned and attending Members had to wait until a quorum could be found, which is entirely unsatisfactory and time wasting.

I should like to have an assurance—although I do not know where from—that Ministers will treat Members of this House equally with Members of another place. Often, when we pass amendments which Ministers do not like, severe criticism is made of this House. It is implied that this House is less important than another place, which it probably is, and that we should not seek to quarrel with what the Commons has done. I hope that we can be assured that Ministers will recognise that members of the committee, in their questioning and speeches, will be equal. even if they are not equal in making the committee quorate. Perhaps that is a matter which should be pursued further.

As regards the number of meetings, I do not know how and when they will take place, but I hope that all Members of this House will receive information about the Standing Committee meetings. I do not know whether they can receive an agenda, but we must ensure that every Member is able to attend because they know when the committee is sitting. I am not at all sure that the previous arrangements were satisfactory. With that, I welcome the report and the formation of this Standing Committee.

Lord Maclennan of Rogart

My Lords, I. too, welcome this move. I share the view expressed: it is a statement of fact that great difficulties were experienced in the keeping of a quorum of the predecessor committee. Although Members of this House are, in a sense, invitees to the proposed committee, as a practical matter, it might be reasonable to contemplate Members of this House constituting a part of the quorum. I cannot see that that would challenge the fact that this is primarily the committee of another place. On many occasions, for practical reasons, such as Divisions in another place, it became quite a fractured experience. If the successor committee is to be effective, such fracturing would be unfortunate, but possibly not entirely avoidable. I wonder whether, underlying a provision to be counted towards a quorum, there is an issue of principle, which makes it an unacceptable practical solution to a practical problem.

The Chairman of Committees

My Lords, I am grateful to noble Lords who have spoken so far on this issue. I think that they have all referred to the intergovernmental conference. The noble Lords, Lord Barnett, Lord Stoddart and Lord Maclennan, have all talked about the Committee on the Intergovernmental Conference, the quorum, and so forth. Those issues were raised in the Procedure Committee, as will be seen in the second part of its report.

Future meetings will be advertised, as they were for the convention committee. I should draw your Lordships' attention—particularly, perhaps, my noble friend Lord Campbell of Alloway—to the next item of business on the Order Paper. It is a Motion by the noble and learned Lord the Lord President of the Council that the intergovernmental conference Motion be resolved. I do not want to duck this issue—well, I do want to duck this issue—but the questions might be better put to the noble and learned Lord on the next Motion on the Order Paper rather than the one that we are on now. I commend the report to the House.

On Question, Motion agreed to.