HL Deb 14 January 2004 vol 657 cc564-7
The Chairman of Committees (Lord Brabazon of Tara)

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

It may be helpful if I start with a word on procedure. Once I have sat down, the noble Lord, Lord Moran, will move his amendment. The debate on the report and on both the amendments will then take place as usual. It may be for the convenience of your Lordships' House if the noble Baroness, Lady Howe of Idlicote, speaks early in the debate. At the end of the debate, the noble Lord, Lord Moran, will decide what to do with his amendment. The noble Baroness, Lady Howe, will then have the opportunity to move her amendment if she so wishes and to do so without further debate. The report as a whole, whether amended or not, will then be decided upon.

The report is short and, I hope, clear. It relates to two matters: the appointment of an ad hoc Select Committee and the question of additional resources for the Economic Affairs Committee to enable it to scrutinise the Finance Bill again this year.

I turn first to the appointment of an ad hoc Select Committee. Three requests for the establishments of new committees were considered. In each case the proponents attended the meeting and addressed the Liaison Committee briefly on the merits of their proposals. It was the view of the committee, by an overwhelming majority, that a Select Committee be appointed to consider the Private Member's Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Joffe, reintroduced this Session as the Assisted Dying for the Terminally Ill Bill. The committee did not recommend the appointment of committees on the implications of withdrawal from the European Union or on communications. The reasons for making this choice are set out in the report.

In view of the amendments tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Moran, and the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, it might be helpful if I were to say a few words as to why I hope the advice of the Liaison Committee will be accepted. First, the House has delegated to the Liaison Committee the function of allocating resources for Select Committee work and for considering requests for ad hoc Select Committees. As some noble Lords will recall, the Liaison Committee was established on the recommendation of the Select Committee on the Committee Work of the House chaired by the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, in 1992. The intention was to bring rationality to a process which until then had been somewhat haphazard.

The composition of the committee is broadly based and includes six Back-Bench Members as well as the party leaders and the Convenor. The House normally accept the committee's advice and I hope that it will do so on this occasion. I suggest that such advice should be set aside only where circumstances have changed or if there is some overriding political imperative, not simply because the advice has proved unwelcome to some.

Secondly, we have long operated on the presumption that the House should provide resources for one ad hoc Select Committee at any one time. This was certainly the presumption of the Jellicoe committee. If the House were to decide to the contrary to our advice that more than one ad hoc Select Committee be set up, the Liaison Committee would have to consider the resource implications. The resource implications of a committee on the costs and benefits of the United Kingdom's continued membership of the EU, for example, would be immense if the work were to be done properly. If two ad hoc Select Committees were to be agreed to, it is likely that one of those committees would be delayed until the necessary resources could be found.

Thirdly, I should point out to your Lordships that the proposal of the noble Lord, Lord Moran, was for a committee on the implications of withdrawal from the EU, rather than on the implications of membership as proposed in his amendment today. The two are by no means the same and in the circumstances perhaps the noble Lord may feel that he should not press it now, but return to the Liaison Committee in due course.

Lastly, I invite your Lordships to consider the implications for Members of the House, and for their time, if more committees are appointed. I have a clear impression, as Chairman of the Committee of Selection, that the demands on Members' time are already very heavy. Currently, 126 Members sit on our sessional investigative Select Committees. A further nine sit on the Joint Committee on the gambling Bill. More pre-legislative committees are promised. I do not include here the membership of our three Select Committees on delegated legislation. Peer resource is an important factor which the Liaison Committee bears in mind during its deliberations.

I turn now to our recommendation that a Clerk and other resources be provided to enable the Economic Affairs Committee to set up a sub-committee on the Finance Bill again this year. No such additional resources were provided when the sub-committee was first established in the previous Session. I am sure that the House would agree that when we agree to establish the new committees, we must also will the means.

Moved, That the 3rd Report from the Select Committee, Session 2002–03, be agreed to. (HL Paper 183, Session 2002–03).—(The Chairman of Committees.)

Following is the report referred to:

10 November 2003

By the Select Committee appointed to advise the House on the resources required for Select Committee work and to allocate resources between Select Committees; to review the Select Committee work of the House; to consider requests for ad hoc committees and report to the House with recommendations; to ensure effective co-ordination between the two Houses; and to consider the availability of Lords to serve on committees.


Patient (Assisted Dying) Bill

1. The committee has considered a proposal put forward by Lord Joffe that his Patient (Assisted Dying) Bill [HL] be committed to a Select Committee. A paper from Lord Joffe was considered by the committee and is printed at Appendix 1. The committee also heard Lord Joffe and Baroness Jay of Paddington in support of his proposal.

2. The purpose of Lord Joffe's Bill is to allow competent terminally ill patients to request assistance to die. It was the subject of a major debate in the House at Second Reading in June of this year. Almost 10 years have elapsed since the subject was considered by the Select Committee on Medical Ethics which reported in 1994. Since then other countries have introduced such legislation and public opinion in the United Kingdom has become more engaged in the issue. We consider that a Select Committee of this House would be well placed to consider major ethical issues of this kind and accordingly we recommend the appointment of an ad hoc Select Committee upon the Bill. The Bill will have to be reintroduced in the next Session, read a second time and committed to a Select Committee. Accordingly, we recommend that the committee begin its work after the Easter Recess.

Implications of withdrawal from the European Union

3. The committee has considered a proposal put forward by Lord Moran that a Select Committee be established to consider the implications for the United Kingdom of withdrawal from the European Union. A paper from Lord Moran was considered by the committee and is printed at Appendix 2. The committee also heard Lord Moran, Lord Weatherill and Viscount Falkland in support of this proposal.

4. The purpose of such a committee would be to assess the constitutional and legal position, financial, trade and investment implications, effects on foreign relations and defence, and on agriculture and fisheries. The likely positive and negative effects of partial or total withdrawal would then be assessed. We consider that such a committee would not be timely in view of the current Inter-Governmental Conference on the draft Constitution for Europe. The establishment of such a committee is likely to be regarded as a negative intervention in the process by this House and we doubt whether it would be possible to isolate the committee's deliberations from wider political considerations. The resources required to conduct such an exercise would be disproportionate. We do not therefore recommend the establishment of a Select Committee on the implications of withdrawal from the European Union.


5. The committee has further considered a proposal put forward by Baroness Howe of Idlicote for a Select Committee on Communications. A memorandum from Lady Howe was considered once again by the committee and is printed at Appendix 3. The committee also heard Lady Howe in support of her proposal.

6. When the committee first considered this proposal in February 2002 it then reported:

7. The remit proposed for such a committee, it was put to us, might include all broadcasting media, all aspects of the internet and telecommunications, newspaper and periodical publishing, film and video, advertising, and the ownership licensing control and management thereof. In addition to the reasons for setting up such a committee set out in Appendix 3, the forthcoming renewal of the BBC Charter, the consequences of the Hutton inquiry, and questions of foreign ownership were also cited in support.

8. We do not consider that communications has a particular claim to become the subject of a dedicated Lords. Select Committee. Furthermore, many aspects of the subject matter have been debated at length recently in the context of the House's consideration of the Communications Bill and in the pre-legislative scrutiny that preceded it. The remit envisaged is also very wide and is more suited to a sessional Select Committee. Upon further reflection we doubt whether the consideration in isolation of a single communications-related subject by an ad hoc Select Committee would be useful; and we are reluctant to recommend to the House that a sessional Select Committee be set up. Accordingly, we do not recommend the establishment of a Select Committee on communications, whether on an ad hoc or on a sessional basis.

Additional Resources for the Economic Affairs Committee

9. The committee has considered a request from Lord Peston for resources to enable the Sub-Committee of the Economic Affairs Committee on the Finance Bill to be set-up at the beginning of the new Session. A letter to the Chairman of Committees from Lord Peston is printed at Appendix 4.

10. The Committee considers that Lord Peston's proposal represents a major departure from the original recommendation of the group on the working practices of the House chaired by the late Lord Williams of Mostyn and which was subsequently endorsed by the Procedure Committee and agreed to by the House itself. This recommendation was:

11. While we appreciate the excellent work of the Sub-Committee on the Finance Bill earlier this session, we do not think that the arrangements agreed to by the House in 2002 should be departed from so soon, particularly in view of the sensitivities surrounding this initiative. The original proposal is due to be reviewed after two Sessions and we take the view that any case for a change in the current arrangement should be considered then. It follows that we do not agree to the first limb of Lord Peston's request.

12. We recognise however that from March to late June or thereabout the Finance Bill Sub-Committee should be able to meet in parallel with the main Select Committee which will no doubt be engaged in an inquiry of its own. We therefore recommend that a Clerk and other resources be provided to allow this to happen.

Pre-legislative Scrutiny

13. The committee took note of the memorandum from the Leader of the House (Appendix 5).

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