§ 3.30 p.m.
§ The Chairman of Committees (Lord Brabazon of Tara)
My Lords, I beg to move that the first report from the Liaison Select Committee be agreed to.
In moving the Motion, I should like to say a few words about the timing of the proposed Select Committee on the review of the BBC charter. The Liaison Committee was aware of the need for a timely intervention in the consultation process on the BBC charter renewal, but was also concerned that the committee should not duplicate work undertaken by other bodies. We therefore considered that the best starting point and the basis of the committee's call for evidence should be the Green Paper, which is expected to be published early in 2005.
269 The Liaison Committee was also mindful of the recent expansion in committee activity and the implications of this for both members and staff. That is set out clearly in paragraph 9 of the report. The Liaison Committee therefore also recommended that the committee on the BBC charter renewal should wait until the committee on the Assisted Dying for the Terminally Ill Bill had finished its work and resources had become available.
Moved, That the first report from the Select Committee be agreed to.—(The Chairman of Committees.)
§ Following is the report referred to:
§ Proposal for a Select Committee on the review of the BBC Charter
§ 1. The committee has considered a proposal put forward by Baroness Howe of Idlicote that an ad hoc Select Committee be established on the review of the BBC Charter. Papers in support of the proposal are printed at Appendix 1. The Committee also heard Baroness Howe of Idlicote (who was accompanied by Lord Lipsey, Lord McNally and Lord Fowler) in support of her proposal.
§ 2. The purpose of the committee would be to provide a means whereby the expertise existing in the House could be deployed in the discussions surrounding the review process. The committee would be able to have regard to the reports of other review bodies, and to hear the views of other interested parties. The supporters of the proposal would like the committee to be established in October, before publication of the expected Green Paper, with a view to reporting before publication of the White Paper.
§ 3. The committee is sympathetic to this proposal. Many in the House have expertise in broadcasting and communications. Moreover the subject matter is currently important, the proposed committee's remit well defined, and a report would be likely to add value to the debate. So far as concerns timing, we understand that the Green Paper is likely to be published early in 2005. In our view it would not be sensible for a committee on this subject to be appointed before then. We are also reluctant to see further expansion of committee activity at this time and consider it preferable if this committee were not to be established until after the Select Committee on the Assisted Dying for the Terminally Ill Bill [HL] had reported. So far as the proposed committee's remit is concerned, we also express the view that so far as possible it should seek to draw on the work of other review bodies.
§ 4. We therefore recommend that an ad hoc Select Committee be established to consider the review of the BBC Charter early in 2005 after publication of the Green Paper and the conclusion of the work of the Assisted Dying committee; and that the committee should so far as possible draw on the work of other review bodies.
§ Proposal for a Select Committee on international affairs
§ 5. The committee has considered a proposal put forward by the Earl of Sandwich and Lord Blaker that a sessional Select Committee be established on international affairs. A letter setting out the proposal is printed at Appendix 2. The Committee also heard the Earl of Sandwich and Lord Blaker in support of their proposal.
§ 6. The purpose of such a committee would be to provide a forum in which all aspects of foreign affairs, including aid, could be discussed. In particular, these might include issues which lay outside the remit of the European Union. The House, they consider, contains many Members with expertise in foreign affairs and the field of scrutiny is sufficiently wide to be able to accommodate committees in both Houses without likelihood of overlap. The supporters of the proposal would like the committee to be established sometime after the next general election.
§ 7. The committee has considered the question of whether or not to establish such a committee on two previous occasions, in 1999 and 2000. We then recommended that the committee should not be appointed on the grounds that its remit would overlap with the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee. We remain of 270 that view. The work of such a committee would also overlap into the work of the European Union Committee. For these reasons we do not recommend this proposal to the House.
§ Lists of Members supporting proposals for Select Committees
§ 8. Both proposals for Select Committees came to us with lists of signatories in support—150 in the case of Baroness Howe's proposal and 42 in the case of the Earl of Sandwich's proposal. While it is useful for the Liaison Committee to be aware of cross party support, we do not find that the increasingly common practice of appending long lists of supporters' names helpful and hope very much that the practice will cease.
§ Expansion of committee activity
§ 9. In the course of our discussions on the proposals for additional Select Committees, we have reflected on the expansion of committee activity in recent years. Thus in 1999–2000 the House had Select Committees on the European Union (with six sub-committees), on Science and Technology (with two sub-committees) and one ad hoc committee. By the current session, the following additional committees had been set up: the Constitutional Affairs Committee, the Economic Affairs Committee and its sub-committee on the Finance Bill, and the additional sub-committee of the European Union Committee. In addition, at any one time one pre-legislative committee is now served by this House. Members of the House also sit on the Joint Committee on Human Rights. A Committee Office of 29 staff in 1999–2000 now has 46 staff. We are also all too aware of the pressure that this expansion has placed on "peer resource". While not wishing to exclude the possibility of establishing additional Select Committees where a compelling case can be made, we are unlikely in the foreseeable future to agree to an increase in overall committee activity.