HL Deb 14 January 2004 vol 657 cc573-93

Draft Bills and Pre-Legislative Scrutiny Government Proposals 2003–04

The Government have published nine draft Bills in Session 2002–03. We envisage publishing a similar, or slightly greater, number in Session 2003–04.

The Joint Committee on the draft Gambling Bill will continue its work, to conclude by 8 April 2004.

Draft Bills on Disabled People and a euro referendum have already been promised for next Session. The draft Disabled People Bill has been promised by the end of the year.

A draft Charities Bill and a draft Mental Health Bill (building on the partial draft published in June 2002) have also been announced, though not necessarily for next Session. And the Government have announced that it will endeavour to publish a draft Regional Assemblies Bill in advance of any referendum.

The Government will bring forward further plans for draft Bills, and proposals for what form pre-legislative scrutiny might take if any. through the usual channels as soon as possible after the Queen's Speech.

10 November 2003

Lord Moran rose to move, as an amendment to the above Motion, at end to insert "but with the omission of paragraph 4 and that an ad hoc Select Committee should be appointed without delay to make a brief assessment of the constitutional, financial and social implications of the United Kingdom's membership of the European Union and its effect on foreign and domestic policies, including the costs and benefits of continued membership".

The noble Lord said: My Lords, the Liaison Committee is a distinguished body at the heart of the establishment. The three main political parties are represented on it by their leaders. However, its latest report is, I am afraid, far from being distinguished. Indeed, the committee—or at any rate those members of it who approved its recommendation—should be rather ashamed of what they have put forward.

When I learned from the head of our research services that there was no authoritative and impartial report on what detachment from the European Union—in whole or in part—would mean for the United Kingdom, I and some colleagues decided that this gap must be filled. After consulting interested noble Lords, we asked in the names of 51 of them for a Select Committee to do this. When the Liaison Committee's report reached me, I was disconcerted to read that the proposal had been, put forward by Lord Moran", and that the Paper outlining the proposal was also "from Lord Moran", with the other Peers subscribing to the proposal simply tucked away obscurely in a list at the end of Appendix 2. This included a mysterious mention of "fen" which must be intended for the distinguished noble Lord, Lord Biffen.

All 50 noble Lords informed me—nearly all in writing —that they supported the proposal. It went forward to the committee, not in the name of a lone Cross-Bencher, but in the names of 51 noble Lords including a former Prime Minister, a former Speaker of the House of Commons, former senior Ministers and leading men of business. Throughout it refers to "we" and "ours". I am not accustomed to using the royal "we" in any memorandum I write. The way in which it was presented glossed over the fact that it came from 51 noble Lords. It gave a distinctly misleading impression to any casual reader.

It is, I understand, rare for a request for a Select Committee to have this degree of support. I asked if there were precedents but have heard of none. I believe therefore that such a strongly supported request, on a matter of great public importance, can be regarded as unprecedented. It seems extraordinary that it should have been brushed aside as it was by the Liaison Committee.

I turn now to the reasons given by the Liaison Committee for its rejection of the proposals. Its first and principal point was that a Select Committee would not be timely in view of the current Inter-Governmental Conference on the draft constitution for Europe. I suggest that that argument was irrelevant because whatever the IGC decided, it would still have been important to consider what detachment from the Union would mean for us. But the negotiations on the constitution collapsed, so that argument collapses as well. I believe, therefore, that we could have reapplied to the committee, but since it had already decided to recommend an ad hoc Select Committee on my noble friend Lord Joffe's Patient (Assisted Dying) Bill, an important proposal but one that affects far fewer people, the prospect of an early Select Committee on our proposal being arranged by the Liaison Committee seemed to me remote.

The next argument was that the establishment of our committee, is likely to be regarded as a negative intervention in the process by this House".

I do not think that the Liaison Committee can have much experience of negotiation with foreign governments. I spent most of my working life in the Foreign Service. Anyone in that service knows that it is a great help in negotiations to have one's own legislature seen to be interesting itself in an issue. Officials in the State Department are past masters at this. They tell their opposite numbers that they sympathise with their point of view, but that their hands are tied by the line being taken by Senator So-and-so. A study on the lines we propose would help, not hinder, our negotiators in Europe.

Then the Liaison Committee said that it doubted, whether it would be possible to isolate the Committee's deliberations from wider political considerations".

I cannot think what that means. I was hoping that the Chairman of Committees might be able to enlighten us. Perhaps it means that Tony Blair would not welcome such a committee.

Lastly, the Liaison Committee said that the, resources required to conduct such an exercise would be disproportionate".

That might be true if the Select Committee were to undertake an enormous, comprehensive study of the pros and cons of detachment from the Union. Such a study, which the Government ought to have carried out long ago, would no doubt require the efforts of the whole of Whitehall and its report might be comparable in size with the Phillips report on BSE. It could be undertaken only by the Government. But the Select Committee need not undertake a comprehensive study of this kind. It would be more sensible to plan a short, sharp inquiry, bringing together in a readable form the details already in the public domain and getting expert witnesses to help to assess the various costs and benefits. In sum, I find none of the Liaison Committee's arguments convincing.

Why do 51 Peers think it important and urgent that this study should be undertaken? The reason is that they and I believe that people in our democracy should be given clear, unbiased information about issues that will affect all of them and their children after them. No irrevocable decisions ought to be taken without public assent. I told the Liaison Committee that I believed that it would be irresponsible for the House to decline to undertake such a study. That is still my view.

The Government require regulatory impact assessments for very obscure regulations and for all EU directives. Why should they oppose a much more necessary assessment of the costs and benefits of our membership of the EU? Before long we may face serious decisions. The draft constitution may have hit a roadblock in December, but it will soon be resurrected, as Bertie Ahern told us today. Two Members of the other place, David Heathcoat-Amory and Gisela Stuart, have published accounts which explain all too clearly what Giscard's convention is about—a part of the inexorable pressure being put forward towards a federal or unitary European state. We have to face a choice between commitment to that or stepping back at least to a degree of disengagement, perhaps a looser attachment.

Other countries such as Sweden, for example, make sure that their peoples give consent to major policies. I believe that we have a duty to help all sections of the public to understand the choices facing this country by giving them the unvarnished facts and setting out the issues impartially. That is what my amendment seeks to achieve.

It does not ask for a committee to recommend what we should do, but for one which would set out clearly the facts on which any future decisions should be based. I have not asked that the plan for a committee to consider Lord Joffe's proposal should be dropped. If resources permit, by all means let us have two committees. But I do think it essential that consideration of our proposal should begin, as requested in my amendment, "without delay". It should be given priority.

I cannot understand why the Government and many Europhiles appear to take the line that there should be no discussion of our relationship with the EU. If we in this House cannot consider that kind of issue then we might as well pack up and be replaced by a line of pot plants.

The Government apparently consider that it should be left to them to make the decisions behind closed doors. They remind me of the clerics who for so long resisted the printing of the Bible in English. They burned any copies they could find and, where possible, those who had made the translations.

The Government have no reason to fear the conclusions of this committee. They have said that withdrawal from the EU would be a disaster. With their great resources, they can put the case underlying that to the committee better than anyone else. No doubt the committee would take their views very seriously. I suggest that it is not sensible to refuse to allow reasonable discussion and analysis of these issues. If the Government persist in doing that, they may later face much more extreme opposition.

Our proposal has nothing to do with party politics. I ask my colleagues on the party Benches to look at this issue not as party men and women, but as parliamentarians. Let us all think of the people where we live. Is it right to withhold from them a dispassionate analysis of the costs and benefits of our EU membership and of the drive towards European integration? Should not they be told whether we can be wholly confident of the survival of an institution when its own auditors have refused to sign off its accounts for nine years in succession, something that would sink any business?

If you think it is right to keep them in the dark, then of course vote against my amendment. But if you believe that they should be told clearly and honestly what is involved and that this should not be suppressed and concealed, then I hope that you will vote for it. Public confidence in Parliament is diminishing because people think that we do not pay enough attention to their concerns. Many of them have concerns about the EU. They are bombarded with regulations. As taxpayers they pay huge amounts to the EU. They see remote and inaccessible bureaucrats interfering in every aspect of their lives. Some, like the fishermen, have their livelihoods destroyed.

To carry out this study would help to show that we in Parliament, who have the necessary resources, admirable Clerks and Members of the House who really know about economics, business, agriculture, defence and much else, can help to meet some of those concerns. We can do this job better than anyone else.

During my 20 years in this House, the worst mistake I saw the House make was to reject Lord Blake's proposal for a public referendum on the Maastricht Treaty. I hope that this time we shall put the interests of the British people first and help to put the facts fairly and squarely to them with the minimum delay. This is what my amendment seeks to achieve. I respectfully commend it to the House and I beg to move.

Moved that, as an amendment to the above Motion, at end to insert "hut with the omission of paragraph 4 and that an ad hoc Select Committee should be appointed without delay to make a brief assessment of the constitutional, financial and social implications of the United Kingdom's membership of the European Union and its effect on foreign and domestic policies, including the costs and benefits of continued membership".—(Lord Moran.)

3.28 p.m.

Baroness Howe of Idlicote

My Lords, I wish to speak to the amendment standing in my name on the Order Paper. I do so because of my respectful belief that the Liaison Committee's decision not to set up a communications Select Committee is one that does need to be reconsidered. And I hold that belief, I should say, at least as passionately as my noble friend Lord Moran holds his. Indeed, I dare to believe that it is founded upon, if not a more practical, at least a stronger argument. Obviously I do not expect a miracle today, but I hope for an undertaking that I can return with this topic to the next meeting of the committee and that the members will be ready to reconsider it with an open mind.

I raise this matter again because of the many noble Lords on all sides of the House who felt, like me, that given the considerable communications expertise in this House, an independent Lords Select Committee would be of considerable value in the fast-moving times that lie ahead for the whole of the communications industry, not least during the next few years of the BBC's Royal Charter review and, of course, other issues such as the future of ITV and the general uncertainty in the print media.

Let me start by registering my real puzzlement, both about the latest decision and about the way it was arrived at by the Liaison Committee. When the Committee first met to consider my proposal, l could not attend in person, but I had written a letter setting out the case for a communications Select Committee in some detail. Those detailed reasons, contributed to by the many Members of this House with communications expertise, are again set out in the Third Report of the Liaison Committee, which is before your Lordships today.

We argued that communications were of such critical economic and cultural importance to us all that the real need was for an ongoing sessional Select Committee rather than the odd ad hoc one. As the Communications Bill was going through Parliament at that time, my proposal was, I thought sensibly, for the committee to be set up once the Bill was on the statute book.

As your Lordships can imagine, we were delighted when the Liaison Committee appeared to express its clear agreement in principle to our proposal. The first report of the 2002–03 Session states: We believe it would be a good subject for a House of Lords Committee". The report continued: We would prefer the appointment of an adhoc committee in the first instance, with a view to making it permanent if it were a success. We will return to the matter with a firm recommendation nearer the time". So far, so good. We thought we could look forward to a firm recommendation for the establishment of a Select Committee of one kind or another. The only question that I had to address—or so it appeared to most people—when I was invited to the Liaison Committee's meeting on 10 November was whether there was to be a sessional or an ad hoc communications Select Committee, on the basis of the stated premise at the first meeting that it would be a good subject for a House of Lords Committee". As one of the newer Members of your Lordships' House, I was—and probably remain—a procedural babe in arms. So, alas, I had no idea that I might take others with me to make the case more forcefully, as did the proposers of the other Select Committees under consideration that day. That option was not suggested in the letter of invitation.

There is, incidentally, no guidance on the correct procedure to be followed for those suggesting Select Committees in the various House booklets. Perhaps that could be remedied in the next reprint. Obviously, had I had the support of such powerful players as, for example, the noble Lords, Lord Puttnam, Lord McNally and Lord Fowler, a much more convincing case would have been made. I can, therefore, only apologise to those who supported the idea so wholeheartedly for making, on my own, a clearly inadequate presentation.

Of course, it is possible that we read too much into the words in the Liaison Committee's first report. But, along with many others, I do not think so. We still believe that we need to proceed on the basis of that initial opinion. So I very much hope that it may be possible for the proposal to be re-examined by the Liaison Committee, and that, on such an occasion, the real experts can be present to press the case for a more positive conclusion. I hope that the Chairman of Committees will feel able to give the House an assurance to that effect.

3.30 p.m.

Lord Joffe

My Lords, as the introducer of the Patient (Assisted Dying) Bill, I naturally welcome and support the Liaison Committee's report. I particularly support the recommendation in Clause 2 for the appointment of an ad hoc Select Committee on the Patient (Assisted Dying) Bill, which should begin its work after the Easter Recess.

I am grateful to the Liaison Committee for that recommendation, and also appreciate that the noble Lord, Lord Moran, and the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, have not challenged that recommendation in their amendments. As the Liaison Committee has made it clear that there is only sufficient resource available to support one Select Committee, it follows that I must oppose both amendments.

The noble Lord, Lord Moran, in his address, felt that his amendment and the Select Committee on the European Union should have priority over the Patient (Assisted Dying) Bill, but I heard no persuasive reasons to support that view.

The importance of moving ahead with the Patient (Assisted Dying) Bill is that there is already a Bill before the House. Public opinion surveys show consistently that at least 80 per cent of the population would support it. In addition, somewhere between 150 and 200 Peers have indicated their support. I could perhaps have rustled up 150 signatures to my Bill, but I thought that applications for a Select Committee were normally made by one individual Peer.

I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, that, for a beginner coming to this House, it is rather difficult to understand the precise rules, and it would be helpful if those could be set down in writing. The one thing on which proponents and opponents of the Patient (Assisted Dying) Bill agree is that it is essential that there should be informed deliberation on the Bill and the issues, and that a Select Committee is the ideal place for such deliberations, particularly as ethical issues are involved.

The urgency is that such a Bill could eventually—I emphasise that word—prevent great and unnecessary suffering. The sooner that day comes, the sooner the suffering will be prevented. Many patients who suffer unbearably desperately hope that a favourable Select Committee recommendation will open up the opportunity for the Government to adopt the Bill, even though the patients realise that it will almost certainly be too late for them.

If there are to be two Select Committees, there is no case for priority to be given to the European Union Select Committee. The Patient (Assisted Dying) Bill should receive such priority.

Lord Campbell of Alloway

My Lords, I shall make a brief intervention in support of the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Moran. It is surely in the national interest, and there is an urgent need for an objective assessment now—a clear, unbiased source of information, as the noble Lord put it in his own words—devoid of party political motivation and stamped with the hallmark of authority, which only a Select Committee of this House can confer.

I have had a word with my noble friend, and the Jellicoe convention was assuredly not devised to inhibit setting up ad hoc committees in exceptional circumstances such as these. Your Lordships may think that there is a matter of priority, but that is for the House, not for the Liaison Committee, if challenged, as it is.

I take the point made by the Chairman of Committees. I declare my interest as a signatory—one of the 51 on Appendix 2 to the original application. I accept that the original application was far more extensive and far reaching than the assessment sought on the Motion today. But, why was it rejected? Three reasons were given in paragraph 4, suggesting that such a committee would be regarded as a negative institution, that it would not be possible to isolate party political considerations and that it was disproportionate in its regard and need for resources. No reasoning is given for any of those conclusions, which we simply have to accept on the nod. Why should we?

Those considerations and objections do not apply to the form in which this assessment is sought today. I shall sit down in a moment, but if noble Lords look at the form and wording of the Motion, it is an assessment. In those circumstances, surely this must now be a matter for the House. It is no good, having taken time challenging the report, to send it back again to the same committee. The questions of priorities, exceptional circumstances and national need are questions for the House. I believe it is so, but what does that matter? This is a question for the House. I support the amendment.

Lord Borrie

My Lords, I should like to speak briefly in support of the amendment proposed by the noble Baroness, Lady Howe of Idlicote. I do so because I think the original claims she made on behalf of not only herself but a number of us in this regard, set out in the appropriate appendix, are still very valid today. As the noble Baroness explained, the Liaison Committee at first seemed to support the proposal for a communications Select Committee. So naturally, one looks at the Liaison Committee's reasons for going back upon that proposition.

I am not at all impressed by the reasons given in paragraph 8 of the report. For example, the committee emphasises that many aspects of the subject of communications have recently been discussed at length in the debates on the Communications Bill in the last Session and the pre-legislative scrutiny that that Bill received. To my mind, that only shows the tremendous range of interests and ramifications of the subject of communications, which deserve the attention of a Select Committee.

Also in paragraph 8, the Liaison Committee says that the remit envisaged, is also very wide and is more suited to a sessional Select Committee". It then proceeds to damn the idea of a sessional committee without giving any reasons. In other words, the Liaison Committee declined to recommend either a committee ad hoc or on a sessional basis. With the best will in the world, I cannot follow the reasoning for that, and I therefore support the amendment in the name of the noble Baroness.

Baroness Scott of Needham Market

My Lords, as a member of the Liaison Committee, I would like to add a few words in support of the report produced by the Lord Chairman. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Moran, that I am certainly not ashamed of the report that has been produced, and I would like to explain why.

I have been here for some three and a half years which, admittedly, makes me a relatively new Member of your Lordships' House. However, like many people, I have always looked with enormous respect at the work of the Select Committees produced by the House. I feel a very keen sense of responsibility to uphold the very high standards for which this House has become justifiably known. In reaching my decision on that day, I bore in mind the criteria that any subjects chosen for Select Committee consideration should be finite in both scope and time and that they should he salient. These considerations are, I believe, essential, if we are to continue to produce high-quality reports and to use the limited resources of your Lordships' House to best effect.

Although I am a member of the Liaison Committee, I will not be swayed in my decisions either by the bringing along of heavyweight companions to add grist to the debate, nor by large numbers of people signing up. Making these decisions a sort of beauty contest would be a very dangerous path.

The proposals of the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, for a communications Select Committee failed my first test. They were very broad in scope. Had they been more finite and focused, I would have been more happy to support them, but I felt that such a subject was, as the report said, more suited to a Standing Committee process. However, I think we can look again at how this might be achieved.

The proposals of the noble Lord, Lord Moran, comprehensively failed my second and third tests. Our membership of the European Union has implications for almost every area of our economic, political and social life. I think we all agree on that; Eurosceptics are always saying how Brussels interferes with every facet of our life. It follows that any authoritative piece of work to assess the implications of withdrawal or the costs of benefit cannot be produced quickly, as the noble Lord said, but would need to address a wide range of subjects, from the economy to fisheries, from security to agriculture. It would need to draw on evidence from such a large number of sources that the resource implications would be mind-boggling. I say respectfully to the noble Lord that perhaps the reason no such piece of work has ever been undertaken or attempted is precisely because it would be so difficult to do. I also question the salience of such a committee, given that none of the political parties represented at Westminster has openly advocated withdrawal from the European Union.

I am very content to support the proposal of the noble Lord, Lord Joffe. A Select Committee on the very difficult and emotive issue of assisted dying certainly meets all the criteria which I consider important, and I think will produce the sort of report for which your Lordships' House is notably well known.

3.45 p.m.

Baroness Richardson of Calow

My Lords, the case for overturning the recommendations of the Liaison Committee seems to rest on two issues—first, that there is an enormous amount of support for appointing a Select Committee to look at European conventions and, secondly, that delay in looking at those matters would be injurious to the country.

I respectfully remind your Lordships that when we debated the Patient (Assisted Dying) Bill in June, more than 50 of your Lordships took the trouble to attend and speak. There was a huge postbag for many of us—I had 74 letters in advance of the debate and many more after it. There is enormous concern around the country that this should happen.

With regard to delay, again I respectfully remind your Lordships that a delay in considering assisted dying is literally a matter of life and death for not just a few people but for many. As the Select Committee would be charged to consider not only assisted dying but the nature of palliative care, it may be much nearer to the heart of many of us in this House than we can presently see.

Lord Vinson

My Lords, as one of the signatories to the request to the Liaison Committee, I support the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Moran

I realise that ever-closer union with Europe is, to some Members of this House, the fulfilment of their vision of a supranational European state, bringing eternal peace in our time. I used to think that way too, but the idealistic fervour that drove me to think so has been tempered by time and, not least, by reality. Now I think differently.

I have changed my mind, believing it better to be inconsistently right than consistently wrong. I think I am not alone, as every poll on this subject throughout the United Kingdom shows. The British public are becoming doubtful about the whole exercise and sceptical about its benefits. Even the Government's representative on the Giscard committee, Gisela Stuart, also changed her mind after first-hand experience of the realities of the EU—an honest and very brave thing to do.

Over the next six months, this country will continue to negotiate terms for a European constitution which, as all objective observers agree, will result in a massive transfer of sovereignty. Except for limited issues, we will barely be self-governing any more.

The undeniable change makes it imperative to give the British public some positive facts against which they can weigh the benefits and disbenefits of deeper and wider European integration. As has been said, those who believe that deeper integration, in both economic and political terms, will be beneficial to United Kingdom citizens should welcome, to justify their claim, a cost-benefit analysis of our membership of the EU to date. Those more sceptical, particularly in a month when we have—

The Earl of Sandwich

My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt the noble Lord, but is it in the best interests of this House for us to continue to debate the various issues? Is it not better to proceed to a conclusion?

Lord Vinson

My Lords, I am just rehearsing the background to why this subject is immensely important. I have virtually dealt with it and if the House will give me a couple of minutes more I should like to finish.

Currently we have a £3 billion monthly deficit in our trade with the EC. It would be sensible to see precisely what membership is costing this nation—a point already well made. Hence the need for a fully authorised standing committee to report, and to report quickly, on this matter. We should all know if a different sort of Union is feasible, possibly under the variable geometry concept.

I can appreciate that the Liaison Committee felt there was wide support for a report on voluntary euthanasia; indeed, I subscribe to such a report myself. However, that matter has a much longer timetable than the few months before we sign up to the EU Convention and all the constitutional changes that go with it. For that reason the Jellicoe convention limiting the number of standing committees should be regarded as precisely what it is: an indicative convention which in times of need should be ignored and the appropriate resources found and found quickly. There is, over this matter, a political imperative.

It has been pointed out that precedentially it is highly unusual for 51 Peers, including a former Prime Minister and former Speaker of the House of Commons, to put their names to a resolution of this sort. That fact alone should have justified the Liaison Committee authorising a committee on the lines suggested on the Order Paper. That has been worded more impartially and will attract even wider support from Members of your Lordships' House.

Our constitution has been developed over 1, 000 years and given us political and economic stability second to none, but one which we all too easily take for granted. It is exceptional. It must not be bartered away unless and until the British public know what they are getting in exchange.

There is a fundamental democratic inadequacy manifest in EU affairs—better known as the democratic deficit.

Lord Lea of Crondall

My Lords, with great respect, I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way, but are we debating a resolution of 51 Members of this House? I suspect we are not. We are debating a report of the Liaison Committee and the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Moran. We are not debating the substance of the matter at the moment, as other noble Lords have said.

Lord Vinson

My Lords, with respect, we are debating an amendment which I am trying to recommend.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch

My Lords, perhaps I can point out to the noble Lord, Lord Lea, and to the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, that the Companion states that speeches in this kind of debate can run for 15 minutes, though I am not saying they have to. The noble Lord, Lord Moran, spoke for only 10 minutes. But the other side attempting to gag this side of the debate is unhelpful and time consuming.

Lord Vinson

My Lords, I am speaking to the amendment and I have nearly finished.

To repeat, there is a fundamental democratic inadequacy manifest in EU affairs, better known as the democratic deficit. We must not repeat that error in our own democracy. The British people must be allowed to decide on the facts. If an EU constitution is imposed without a real effort to explain its desirability—and then a referendum—the whole EU experiment will be doomed because it will lack the endorsement of democratic legitimacy.

It would be odd if, on looking back at the history of this House in years to come, we saw that resources could be found to discuss the voluntary termination of human life but comparable resources could not be found to highlight the facts that could prevent the political euthanasia of our own self-governing country. I urge the Liaison Committee to think again and find the resources to do both. The British people deserve to know the facts.

Baroness Amos

My Lords, I had not intended to intervene in this afternoon's debate. Clearly this is a matter for the House. The Liaison Committee is a House committee. I am speaking now as the Leader of the House and as a member of the Liaison Committee.

We had a long and interesting debate on Monday about this House and the fact that we treasure self-regulation above all else. A responsibility rests on us all if we treasure that self-regulation. However, the discussion into which we are now drifting is moving away from the relevance of the Motion on the Order Paper; we are drifting into discussing issues with respect to the three proposals put before the Liaison Committee.

While I am on my feet—as I said, I had not intended to intervene—and speaking as a member of the Liaison Committee (I underline, not as a government Minister), as the Chairman of Committees said to the House, the House has delegated to the Liaison Committee the function of considering requests for ad hoc Select Committees. We had three proposals before us and we considered them extremely carefully. We came to a clear recommendation. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon, that the whole point of the Liaison Committee is called into question if the House is going to re-run that discussion and second guess the committee's judgment without good reason.

Lord Peston

My Lords, I should like to say a word in support of my noble friend and add two matters to the debate. One is that I first started to do cost benefit work 40 years ago and have had a great deal of experience in that regard. I can say therefore that the suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord Moran, is absurd. The notion that a cost benefit study of the magnitude implied can be done briefly shows that there is no understanding of the subject whatsoever. I say that in terms because it is important that your Lordships understand what is being represented to us. It is possible that, with a lot of resources and perhaps three years, we might get somewhere. But the notion of "brief" is of no help to your Lordships or to the country at large.

Secondly, I have the privilege of being the chairman of one of your Lordships' major committees. I regard it as a miracle that every year we come up with an agreed report. Without boasting, that requires a great deal of talent. It is inconceivable that we could set up a committee to do this job that would get within a million miles of agreement. It would simply create trouble.

I hate to add a political point to the debate, but for some years I watched the Europhobes totally disrupt the last Tory government and come very close to destroying the Tory Party, which I did not like. The notion that we should give them any encouragement to disrupt your Lordships' House and damage it is appalling. The sooner we stop this, the better. I was rather disappointed that the Chairman of Committees almost implied that we might go back to the proposal. We must say no now, once and for all. We ought to support the Liaison Committee, as my noble friend the Leader of the House says, and get on with the business. There are more important matters confronting your Lordships at this time.

4 p.m.

Lord Strathclyde

My Lords, I support the noble Baroness the Leader of the House in echoing what the Lord Chairman of Committees said.

It is worth reminding the House that the purpose of the Liaison Committee is to allocate resources between Select Committees; to consider requests for ad hoc committees; to ensure effective co-ordination between the two Houses and to consider the availability of noble Lords to serve on committees.

This afternoon —it may become this evening before too long—we have heard a re-run of much that was debated in the Liaison Committee. The House not only delegated but asked the Liaison Committee to do the sifting work and report to the House. The Liaison Committee acts as a servant of the House, though it is undoubtedly true that the final decision lies with the House.

The noble Baroness the Leader of the House said that we were faced with three decisions. We were also faced with a proposal put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Peston. It was rather good. It related to whether or not his economic sub-committee should have more and better resources. He put a powerful case.

I opposed the suggestion put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Joffe, not just because I found the issue deeply distasteful, but also because neither the Labour Government nor a future Conservative government would hold out any prospect whatsoever of ever bringing forward legislation to deal with that subject. Therefore I consider it to be a waste of time for the House to debate it. However, that was not the majority view of the Liaison Committee. As a member of that committee, and as I subscribe to the rules of the House, I therefore support the conclusion to which the Liaison Committee came.

The noble Lord, Lord Moran, has made a powerful case on the interesting subject of the European Union, but I wonder whether—I say this in the presence of the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, the chairman of the European Union Committee, of which we have many sub-committees in the House—this kind of issue should be a subject for the EU sub-committees rather than for ad hoc Select Committees. Given what has happened in recent months—the failed constitution and the other kinds of chaos coming from the European Union—their time may be very well spent on this subject.

I echo what the noble Lord, Lord Moran, said: this is not a party political matter—there will be a free vote—but I hope that the House will feel that the Lord Chairman of Committees deserves support in this matter.

Lord Grenfell

My Lords—

Lord McNally

My Lords, I wonder whether—

Lord Grenfell

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord McNally for giving way. My name has been mentioned by the Leader of the Opposition but I speak only for myself. This matter has not been discussed by members of the committee in any formal sense and, frankly. I would not touch it with a barge pole.

My reason for saying so is simply this: we have a very full programme of scrutiny to conduct in the European Union Select Committee and we depend upon the seven sub-committees to do their work to enable us to complete the process. We would not be serving this House or the country if, at a time when scrutiny of European affairs is so important, we pre-empted all the work that we are doing now to take on a study which, in the words of the noble Lord, Lord Peston, probably would not reach a conclusion and for which we would not have the resources anyway.

Lord McNally

My Lords, I was a member of the Joint Select Committee on the Communications Bill chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Puttnam, which is referred to in the report. There was no doubt in our minds that the Communications Bill and the work carried out on it was only half-time in a parliamentary process to determine the shape of our broadcasting industry in the 21st century. That is why I believe that the committee misdirected itself. There is no doubt, as the minutes quoted by the noble Baroness in 2002 show, that the committee had accepted the logic of this House retaining some kind of monitoring and assessment of the decisions made in communications after the passing of the Communications Act.

The noble Lord, Lord Puttnam, who unfortunately has had to leave to attend another appointment, called me aside and—

Noble Lords

He is here.

Lord McNally

My Lords, then perhaps he will nod and reaffirm the assurances and discussions we had at the time the pre-legislative scrutiny committee was in process.

I do not want to debate the totality of the committee's decisions. I say to my noble friend Lady Scott that where she is absolutely wrong is that there is a finite and salient issue here. The decisions that will be made about broadcasting and communications in the next 18 months will shape the industry for well into the 21st century. I say to noble Lords that the House will discover the mistake that the committee has made—and that the House has made—when, down the Corridor, Mr Gerald Kaufman and his committee regularly, week by week, scrutinise what is happening in the industry and we at this end of the Corridor are impotent and without the resource and ability to follow these important developments. These are immediate issues; they are happening now. The reason that the committee made the right decision in 2002 and misdirected itself in 2003 is because of the saliency and urgency of the matters to be discussed.

Lord Hughes of Woodside

My Lords—

The Chairman of Committees

My Lords, I wonder whether it is appropriate now for me to wind up the debate. I sense that the House would like to reach a conclusion on the matter.

I do not intend—I cannot anyway—to respond to every point made by noble Lords, particularly those who went into what might be described as a Second Reading debate on the merits or otherwise of membership of the European Union. All I will say is that the arguments were considered carefully by the Liaison Committee, as our report indicates.

The noble Lord, Lord Moran, made much of the fact that 51 Peers had signed their support for his proposal. The Liaison Committee also had letters of support for the other two proposals. I am certain that had the other two proposers gone around the House attempting to collect support for their proposals, they, too, would have attracted a large number of signatures. As the noble Baroness, Lady Scott. a member of the Liaison Committee, said, do we want to make our decisions based on the number of signatures that can be collected in support of any one or more proposal? Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Vinson, said that he supported the Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Joffe, as well. If that is to be the case, we might as well scrap the Liaison Committee altogether and merely send a questionnaire to noble Lords to decide what we should do.

I took slight exception to the remark of the noble Lord, Lord Moran, that the reason the Liaison Committee did not like his proposal was because it might upset the Prime Minister. I would point out that only three members of the Liaison Committee are members of the government party. The others are independents and Conservatives. Looking at the list of members, I do not believe that they would be influenced by whether or not the Prime Minister happened to like that particular decision.

The noble Baroness, Lady Howe, felt that she was at a disadvantage because she did not bring supporters. She did not realise that she could bring supporters to the meeting. It has been a practice recently—but only recently, I agree—to bring one or two supporters along to address the Liaison Committee. Indeed, the practice where the proposers themselves attend is fairly new. However, it is the quality of the case made and the suitability of the subject matter that counts, not the number of supporters present at the meeting. In fact an examination of the report will show that to be the case because the noble Lord, Lord Moran, brought two supporters and his bid was not successful.

It is true that in February 2002 the Liaison Committee reported to the House that communications would be a good subject to be considered by a committee, as the noble Lords, Lord Borrie and Lord McNally, said. But the Liaison Committee makes clear in its report that it did not consider this to have been a firm commitment. It reviewed the proposal afresh and concluded that the remit was very wide and more suited to a sessional Select Committee than an ad hoc committee. It further concluded that the topic had no particular claim to be the subject of a dedicated Select Committee. In other words, quite simply, the Liaison Committee changed its mind.

I would remind your Lordships once again that the House makes provision for only one ad hoc Select Committee at any one time and the Liaison Committee has made a clear recommendation in favour of a committee on the Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Joffe. That is not to say that the noble Lord, Lord Moran, and the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, cannot bring their proposals back to the Liaison Committee in the future if they wish. I know that that may disappoint the noble Lord, Lord Peston, but I cannot stop them bringing their proposals back and nor can he. Indeed, given that the Motion of the noble Lord, Lord Moran, differs from his original proposal, that course would seem desirable in that particular case.

In view of the usual practice of the House to follow the recommendations of the Liaison Committee, I hope that your Lordships will support its report and that the amendments will not be moved.

Lord Alton of Liverpool

My Lords, before the Chairman of Committees sits down, he will recall that I wrote to him last week setting out a number of concerns. I wonder whether he will answer two questions to help the House.

First, when the Liaison Committee considered the Patient (Assisted Dying) Bill, did it weigh up the fact that there had already been a Select Committee, chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Walton of Detchant, which had looked at exactly these issues and decided, by a majority decision, to oppose any change in the law? Will he say what medical, ethical or legal issues have changed since then and whether he and the Select Committee took into account that, in the debate that took place in June of last year on this Bill, the majority of your Lordships opposed it, along with the Royal Colleges and the BMA?

The Chairman of Committees

My Lords, I do not want to go into the merits of patient assisted dying. That is not my role. I have a view on it, but it is not for me to disclose what that view might be. The noble Lord, Lord Alton, referred to the fact that the matter was looked at, but it was looked at 10 years ago. If he looks at the evidence given to the Select Committee, he will see that a number of factors have changed since then.

Lord Moran

My Lords, before the noble Lord finally sits down, he took exception to my reference to the Prime Minister, but in my speech I asked what was the meaning of the committee's decision that: We doubt whether it would be possible to isolate the Committee's deliberations from wider political considerations". I said that I could not understand that. The noble Lord has not yet explained what it means. Could he very briefly tell us?

The Chairman of Committees

My Lords, I do not think that at this stage I can add anything further to what is in the report.

Lord Moran

My Lords, I am very grateful to those who have supported my amendment. I am afraid that this has been a rather mixed and muddled debate. I had hoped, and asked, that we should debate the two parts separately so that those who wished to speak about Europe and those who wished to speak about communications could do so. I thought that that would be much clearer and less confusing.

Unfortunately, I was told that the procedure was the other way, and so we have had a rather confusing debate.

The noble Lord, Lord Peston, is an eminent economist and knows much more about these things than I do. In answer to the points that he made, I believe that if we were to adopt his point of view, we would never be able to discuss these matters. As the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, has explained, the EU Select Committee and its sub-committees discuss legislation, which is right and proper. They do not discuss—and the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, has explained that they do not wish to discuss—our fundamental relationship with the Union. That is what I have asked that they should do. It may be that in the technical terms of cost benefit analysis, it would be impossible to do it in under three years; in that case, I hope it will be taken as a guideline and not as a strict rule. I believe that a short, sharp report, which would initiate public discussion of this matter, which has been kept under wraps, would be valuable.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

My Lords, I am much obliged to the noble Lord. There are many other Members of this House who wished to support his amendment, but they did not do so because the Chairman of Committees rose to close the debate. Out of courtesy to him and the procedures of the House, we did not proceed to put our points of view. I, for one, feel that I have been robbed of that opportunity.

Lord Moran

My Lords, I have a very great respect for the noble Baroness the Leader of the House and I paid very careful attention to what she said. I think that this is a matter of great importance and a matter for the House. Although we have been able to debate it today only in a very summary way, I think it is right that we should have an opportunity to express our view. Therefore, I would like to test the opinion of the House.

4.17 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said amendment shall be agreed to?

* Their Lordships divided: Contents 58; Not-Contents, 195.

Division No.1
Alton of Liverpool, L. Falkland, V.
Beaumont of Whitley, L. Feldman, L.
Blackwell, L. Fowler, L.
Buscombe, B. Glenarthur, L.
Campbell of Alloway, L. Hodgson of Astley Abbotts, L.
Chalfont, L. Jauncey of Tullichettle, L.
Colwyn, L. Kilclooney, L.
Cooke of Islandreagh, L. Kimball, L.
Cox, B. Knight of Collingtree, B.
Dixon, L. Liverpool, E.
Eden of Winton, L. McColl of Dulwich, L.
Elton, L. Monson, L.
Erroll, E. Moran, L. [Teller]
Moynihan, L. Sharples, B.
Murton of Lindisfarne, L. Sheppard of Didgemere, L.
Noakes, B. Slim, V.
Northbourne, L. Stevens of Ludgate, L.
Northesk, E. Stoddart of Swindon, L.
Norton of Louth, L. Strange, B.
Onslow, E. Swinfen, L.
Palmer, L. Thomas of Gwydir, L.
Pearson of Rannoch, L. Trefgarne, L.
Peel, E. Ullswater, V.
Pilkington of Oxenford, L. Vinson, L.[Teller]
Rawlings, B. Waddington, L.
Rees-Mogg, L. Wade of Chorlton, L.
Ryder of Wensum, L. Weatherill, L.
Saltoun of Abernethy, Ly. Wedderburn of Charlton, L.
Seccombe, B. Willoughby de Broke, L.
Ackner, L. Faulkner of Worcester, L.
Acton, L. Filkin, L.
Addington, L. Gale, B.
Ahmed, L. Gibson of Market Rasen, B.
Allenby of Megiddo, V. Glentoran, L.
Amos, B. (Lord President) Golding, B.
Andrews, B. Goldsmith, L.
Archer of Sand well, L. Goodhart, L.
Armstrong of Ilminster, L. Gordon of Strathblane, L.
Attlee, E. Goudie, B.
Avebury, L. Gould of Potternewton, B. [Teller]
Barker, B.
Berkeley, L. Grabiner, L.
Blackstone, B. Graham of Edmonton, L.
Bledisloe, V. Grantchester, L.
Boothroyd, B. Gray of Contin, L.
Borrie, L. Greaves, L.
Bowness, L Greengross, B.
Bragg, L. Gregson, L.
Brennan, L. Grenfell, L.
Brightman, L. Grocott, L.
Brigstocke, B. Hannay of Chiswick, L.
Brooke of Alverthorpe, L. Harris of Haringey, L.
Brookman, L. Harris of Richmond, B.
Brougham and Vaux, L. Harrison, L.
Burlison, L. Hayhoe, L.
Butler of Brockwell, L. Hayman, B.
Campbell-Savours, L. Hogg of Cumbernauld, L.
Carlile of Berriew, L. Hollis of Heigham, B.
Carnegy of Lour, B. Holme of Cheltenham, L.
Carter, L. Hooson, L.
Chan, L. Howarth of Breckland, B.
Chandos, V. Howe of Aberavon, L.
Christopher, L. Howe of Idlicote, B.
Clark of Windermere, L. Howells of St. Davids, B.
Clarke of Hampstead, L. Howie of Troon, L.
Clement- Jones, L. Hoyle, L.
Clinton-Davis, L. Hughes of Woodside, L.
Cobbold, L. Hunt of Kings Heath, L.
Cohen of Pimlico, B. Hussey of North Bradley, L.
Corbett of Castle Vale, L. Jannerof Braunstone, L.
Craig of Radley, L. Jay of Paddington, B.
Craigavon, V. Jeger, B.
Crawley, B. Joffe, L.
Croham, L. Jones, L.
Darcy de Knayth, B. Jordan, L.
David, B. Judd, L.
Davies of Oldham, L. King of West Bromwich, L.
Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde, B. Kirkhill. L.
Dholakia, L. Laird, L.
Donaldson of Lymington, L. Lea of Crondall, L.
Dubs, L. Lester of Herne Hill, L.
Evans of Temple Guiting, L. Lipsey, L.
Falconer of Thoroton, L. (Lord Chancellor) Listowel, E.
Livsey of Talgarth, L.
Falkender, B. Lloyd of Berwick, L.
Farrington of Ribbleton, B. Lockwood, B.
Lofthouse of Pontefract, L. Rogan, L.
Macdonald of Tradeston, L. Roll of Ipsden, L.
MacGregor of Pulham Market, L. Roper, L.
Russell, E.
McIntosh of Hudnall, B. Russell- Johnston, L.
MacKenzie of Culkein, L. St. John of Bletso, L.
Mackenzie of Framwellgate, L. Sandwich, E.
Mackie of Benshie, L. Scotland of Asthal, B.
Maclennan of Rogart, L. Scott of Needham Market, B. [Teller]
McNally, L.
Mar, C. Sharp of Guildford, B.
Mar and Kellie, E. Sheldon, L.
Mason of Barnsley, L. Shutt of Greetland, L.
Massey of Darwen, B. Simon, V.
Merlyn-Rees, L. Skelmersdale, L.
Miller of Chilthorne Domer, B. Smith of Clifton, L.
Molyneaux of Killead, L. Smith of Gilmorehill, B.
Morris of Manchester, L. Stallard, L.
Nicol, B. Stern, B.
Northover, B. Strabolgi, L.
O'Cathain, B. Symons of Vernham Dean, B.
Patel of Blackburn, L. Taverne, L.
Pendry. L. Temple-Morris, L.
Perry of Southwark, B. Thomas of Walliswood, B.
Peston, L. Thomson of Monifieth, L.
Peyton of Yeovil, L. Thornton, B.
Platt of Writtle, B. Triesman, L.
Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L. Trumpington, B.
Prior, L. Turnberg, L.
Puttnam, L. Turner of Camden, B.
Radice, L. Wakeham, L.
Ramsay of Cartvale, B. Wallace of Saltaire, L.
Randall of St. Budeaux, L. Walpole, L.
Rawlinson of Ewell, L. Warner, L.
Rea, L. Whitaker, B.
Rendell of Babergh, B. Wilcox, B.
Renton of Mount Harry, L. Williams of Crosby, B.
Richardson of Calow, B. Williams of Elvel, L.
Rodgers of Quarry Bank, L. Williamson of Horton, L.
Windlesham, L.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

[*see col.625]

4.27 p.m.

Baroness Howe of Idlicote had given notice of her intention to move, as an amendment to the Motion standing in the name of the Chairman of Committees, at end to insert -but with the omission of paragraphs 5 to 8; and that the report be remitted back to the Liaison Committee in respect of those paragraphs with an instruction that the committee should reconsider the proposal for a Select Committee on Communications".

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I would like to thank noble Lords who spoke in support of my amendment. I am indeed grateful to them and to the many noble Lords around the House who have said how warmly they support my proposition. However, having listened to what the Chairman of Committees said, I note that he warmly invited us to return to the committee with the same or even a better proposal. I assure him that we will take up his offer at the earliest possible moment, so I will not move the amendment.

[Amendment not moved.]

Lord Brightman

My Lords, may I raise one very short point on the report of the Liaison Committee? Appendix 5 tells us that nine or more Bills will be available in draft form before First Reading. I have made inquiries at the Printed Paper Office and the Minute Room and, apparently, notice that a draft Bill has become available for collection is published nowhere. I suggest that there might be a note in the Minute Paper of the availability of a Bill in draft form. For example, there could be a brief note of it just before the statement of Bills in progress.

The Chairman of Committees

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord for having given me notice of his question. I am sure that we can deal with that request sympathetically and find some way of meeting it.