HL Deb 22 March 2004 vol 659 cc468-72
The Chairman of Committees

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

Moved, That as proposed by the Committee of Selection, the following Lords be named of the Select Committee on the Bill:

  • V. Bledisloe,
  • L. Carlisle of Bucklow,
  • L. Carter,
  • L. Craig of Radley,
  • L. Crickhowell,
  • L. Elder,
  • L. Falconer of Thoroton (Lord Chancellor),
  • B. Gibson of Market Rasen,
  • L. Goodhart,
  • L. Holme of Cheltenham,
  • L. Howe of Aberavon,
  • L. Kingsland,
  • L. Lloyd of Berwick,
  • L. Maclennan of Rogart,
  • L. Richard (Chairman),
  • L. Windlesham;
That it be an instruction to the committee that they should report the Bill to the House not later than Thursday 24 June next;

That the committee have power to appoint specialist advisers;

That the minutes of evidence taken before the committee from time to time shall, if the committee think fit, be printed; and

That the committee do meet on Wednesday 24 March at five o'clock.—(The Chairman of Committees.)

Lord Renton

My Lords, this will be a Select Committee of unusual constitutional importance. I draw your Lordships' attention to the proposal set out in the Order Paper: the minutes of evidence taken before the committee from time to time shall, if the committee think fit, be printed". Your Lordships' House as a whole will need to know what has happened during the discussions of this important committee. I ask, therefore, that the committee be persuaded to have as much as possible of the evidence brought before it printed in the way suggested.

The Chairman of Committees

My Lords, as the noble Lord says, that is a matter for the committee. I see the chairman-to-be of the committee in his place, and f am sure that he will take note of what the noble Lord said.

Lord Barnett

My Lords, my question is not really for the Chairman of Committees, it is more for the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor or, indeed, the Leader of the House. Clearly a deal was done in these two matters. It would not be unreasonable for the House to be informed in some detail, before we approve of this Motion, what the deal is, so that we can all approve it or disapprove it.

The Chairman of Committees

My Lords, the setting up of this committee—its composition and the carry-over Motion which the Leader of the House will be moving immediately after this Motion—were all agreed by the usual channels. The House agreed to set this committee up following the Second Reading debate on 8 March. The membership was agreed by the Committee of Selection and was published in its second report on Thursday 18 March. The timing of the first meeting and the time when the report will be made are also subject to the Motion today. All this was agreed by the usual channels.

Lord Peston

My Lords, I should like to ask the Chairman of Committees more than one question on this, assuming that it is in order for someone who is not a lawyer to involve themselves in a committee which seems to have a majority of lawyers as its membership. We might like to reflect on that when we eventually have the committee's report.

In 18 years in your Lordships' House, I have had no experience of a committee of this kind, so I have no idea what sort of committee it is. Is it a committee like other House of Lords' committees, meaning that it will meet in public? Can we be assured that it will meet in public?

Secondly, like other committees, can all other noble Lords attend if they so wish, although they cannot take part without the permission of the Chairman? That is normal with our committees.

Thirdly, it is customary in our House, certainly in the committees that I have chaired or been a member of, that we proceed by consensus. I have never chaired a committee in which I have allowed a vote. Of course, I do not believe in votes anyway, I believe in reason. Will the aim in this committee be to produce a report which is agreed by every member consensually? That is another question that needs an answer.

More generally, what is the point of the committee anyway? Will it go through the Bill as if it were the Committee stage, clause by clause, and, having done so, will it then come back to your Lordships with an enormous list of suggested but agreed amendments that your Lordships will be able to consider? Before agreeing to the membership—and if we disagree to the membership, we would be in the rather nice position of being able to disagree with having the committee altogether, which some of us would dearly like—we need to know, for the sake of your Lordships' House, the answers to the questions I have put to the Chairman of Committees. It is not a question of it being up to the committee to decide—this is a committee of the House of Lords and it is up to us to decide.

The Chairman of Committees

My Lords, I do not know if the House would prefer me to answer these questions one by one or to take them several at a time, but I will attempt to answer the questions of the noble Lord, Lord Peston. My understanding is that the committee will normally meet in public. Other noble Lords not on the committee may attend when it is meeting in public. Of course, occasionally it may wish to meet in private, as any committees may when they are deliberating, as the noble Lord knows well. I cannot answer on how the committee will proceed on whether it reaches agreement or not. All I know is that the committee has the power to amend the Bill, but how it will proceed in finding a consensus view is not a question for me.

Lord Marsh

My Lords, we seem to be moving towards a slightly unusual way of looking at this. I intended to speak on the next Motion, but it is already becoming part of the somewhat general debate on the issue.

Given the controversial nature of this Bill, am I right in believing—I think I am because people have already mentioned this—that it is entirely appropriate for the committee to amend the Bill in any way it wishes by a simple majority? It does not have to agree at all. If that happens, is there not a danger that we would go back to square one? I would be interested to hear how we would get out of that.

The Chairman of Committees

My Lords, the setting up of this committee was somewhat controversial in the first place, but it was a decision of the House, not a decision of mine. I cannot, therefore, say what happens if the committee fails to agree. It does, as I have just said, have the power to amend the Bill. That is set down on page 121 of the Companion to the Standing Orders; if noble Lords wish to refer to it, they will see some detail about how these committees proceed. It is a fairly unusual type of committee; it does not happen very often, but it is not my choice that we have found ourselves in this position.

Lord Laming

My Lords, I do not wish to cause offence, and I have no personal aspirations in this, but bearing in mind the nature of the work of the committee, is it wise that the membership is so unrepresentative and unbalanced, in favour of lawyers?

The Chairman of Committees

My Lords, the list of names I am putting forward today was agreed by the usual channels. Had the noble Lord wished to sit upon the committee, he should have made representations to the Convenor of the Cross Benches. This is the list that was agreed by the usual channels—very quickly, by the way—and that is what we have before us.

Lord Barnett

My Lords, I remain unhappy with the answers, but not because the Chairman of Committees has given a wrong answer in any way—I understand his problem. I was really putting my question to those who made the deal. If nobody on the Government side is prepared to tell us, perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, will give us the detail. I have no objection to a deal so long as I know what it is and can approve it.

My noble friend Lord Peston asked whether there would be an opportunity to amend the Bill. We are told that if it comes back in the next Session or subsequent Sessions, it will go through pro forma which means, I assume, on the nod. I really would like to know what kind of arrangement has been agreed. No doubt my dear friend the Chief Whip will be able to tell me precisely what is going on here. We have not been told in any detail and we would like to know.

Lord Renton

My Lords—

Lord Grocott

My Lords, I shall briefly answer my noble friend, I hope to his satisfaction, as he invariably did when answering my queries in the other place when the positions were reversed. I do not like the word "deal"—the word is "agreement", and everything is transparent. It is there in the two Motions before the House. There were discussions in the normal way to decide the size of the committee and the respective number of members from each group. I obviously regret that there are only five Government members on the committee, but that is the nature of reaching agreement, and five out of 16 is the number agreed. There is agreement on the length of time that the committee should consider. As has been explained, there are no instant answers to all these questions, because this procedure has been used only three times in the past century—before, even, my noble friend's membership of the House.

Finally, part of the agreement is the Motion that is shortly to come before us; because this obviously delays the progress of a government Bill, agreement has been reached by the usual channels that the Bill should, unusually, overlap from this Session to the next. So I do not think we have done too badly, really.

Lord Renton

My Lords, will the Leader of the House clarify one important matter? It has been suggested that this Committee of Selection would have power to amend the Bill, but surely all the powers that it would have would be to recommend amendments.

The Chairman of Committees

My Lords, that is not correct. The committee has the power to amend the Bill, as set down in the Companion to the Standing Orders. Following that, the Bill will be recommitted to a Committee of the Whole House.

Lord Rees-Mogg

My Lords, will the Committee of the Whole House, to which the Bill will be recommitted, have the capacity to amend the amendments that this committee has passed?

The Chairman of Committees

Yes, my Lords.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

The Lord President of the Council (Baroness Amos)

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

Moved to resolve, That it is expedient that if the Constitutional Reform Bill [HL]

  1. (a) has not completed all its stages by the end of this Session of Parliament, and
  2. (b) is reintroduced in the next Session of Parliament, the new Bill shall, notwithstanding the provisions of Standing Order 47 (No two stages of a Bill to be taken on one day), be taken pro forma through all the stages completed in this Session.—(Baroness Amos.)

Lord Strathclyde

My Lords, I have been tempted by the noble Lord, Lord Barnett, to rise to my feet. I thank the noble Baroness for moving the Motion and I thank the Government Chief Whip for all the work that both of them did in the usual channels with my noble friend Lord Cope to make sure that we had a sensible agreement so that we could complete the bulk of the scrutiny of the Bill in the course of this Session and then use the new carry-over procedure that was introduced by the Labour Party—what a benefit it has been for this legislation—to enable the House of Commons to examine it in the new Session that will begin in the autumn. All those who have been involved in the negotiation have provided a service not just to this House and to Parliament, but to the Government to make sure that we end up with a better Bill.

On Question, Motion agreed to.