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House of Lords

Monday, 16th June 1997.

The House met at half-past two of the clock: The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Prayers--Read by the Lord Bishop of Southwell.

The Marquess of Tweeddale--Took the Oath.

The Bishop of Liverpool--Took the Oath.

Message from the Queen

The Lord Chamberlain (The Earl of Airlie): My Lords, I have the honour to present to your Lordships a message from Her Majesty the Queen signed by her own hand. The message is as follows:

    "I have received with great satisfaction the loyal and dutiful expression of your thanks for the Speech with which I opened the present Session of Parliament".

Parliamentary Procedure

Lord Wallace of Saltaire asked the Leader of the House:

    Following the appointment of a Commons Select Committee to look at ways of making parliamentary procedure more effective and efficient, whether a similar proposal will be made for a comparable committee in the House of Lords.

The Lord Privy Seal (Lord Richard): My Lords, the noble Lord makes an interesting proposition on which I have an open mind, though leaning towards the sympathetic. It is, of course, very much a matter for the House itself and therefore I shall be consulting with the usual channels and the Chairman of Committees.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that Answer to my Question. Perhaps I may be tempted a little further by his sympathy into asking him to accept that changes which are made in the Commons procedure in terms of pre-legislative scrutiny, organisation of committees and management of legislation necessarily affect what the revising Chamber does, even if we stop before considering joint committees and the like. Therefore, does he consider that, as the other place considers revising its procedures, we may need to do the same?

Lord Richard: My Lords, with great respect to the noble Lord, there are better arguments for his proposition. What he has just said is an argument for not doing it until after the House of Commons has reported. That is certainly one side of the argument. The other side is that this House should give consideration to its own procedures at this stage. As I said, I have an open mind on that.

Viscount Cranborne: My Lords, will the noble Lord accept from me that this side of the House has great faith

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in his judgment in these matters and will look with confidence to the guidance that he gives to the House in considering what will be a difficult matter of judgment? Nevertheless, will he recognise, when he comes to give guidance to the House in these matters, which are particularly fashionable at the moment and understandably so, that this House is not a clone of the other place? As he said in his Answer to the noble Lord, there is a great deal to be said for this House not falling into the seductive trap, very often indulged in--dare I say?--by Members of your Lordships' House who have had experience of another place, of believing that the practices of another place are necessarily better than those of your Lordships' House. If the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, has thoughts on this matter, will the noble Lord the Lord Privy Seal consider asking him to submit a paper for the consideration of the Procedure Committee?

Lord Richard: My Lords, I personally am touched by the noble Viscount's faith in my judgment. Any guidance that I give to the House will be well considered. Frankly, I do not want to go any further this afternoon than what I said to the noble Lord, Lord Wallace. It seems to me that this is a matter which the House might wish to consider. But it is a matter for the House to decide whether it wants to consider it. As regards the noble Viscount's observations about the difference between this House and the other place, as he and I know, having served in both Houses, the answer to what he asked is yes.

Lord Dean of Beswick: My Lords, does the noble Lord agree that a matter of this kind should be referred to the Procedure Committee of your Lordships' House? Bearing that in mind, does the noble Lord the Leader of the House agree that any changes that do come through shall not be at the expense of the freedom of individual Members of your Lordships' House to challenge the Executive and the Government, whenever they feel it appropriate, on the Floor of this Chamber?

Lord Richard: My Lords, of course, it is a matter for the committees of your Lordships' House to decide which way this House wishes to go. The noble Lord, Lord Wallace, might indeed think hard about the suggestion made by the noble Viscount the Leader of the Opposition as to whether he should put a paper before the Procedure Committee. So far as concerns the rest of my noble friend's question, yes, I entirely agree with what he said.

Lord Beloff: My Lords, does the noble Lord the Leader of the House agree that most of our important procedures are carried out in this Chamber? Does he further agree that an important part of those procedures is that we should feel comfortable? Would he suggest that comfort to the Opposition Benches could be assured if the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, and his friends would cross to the other Benches in conformity with their oft expressed admiration of the new Government?

Lord Richard: My Lords, I feel extremely comfortable with the existing arrangements in the House, infinitely more comfortable than I felt three

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months ago. The place where the Liberal Party sits is very much a matter for the Liberal Democrats and the Conservative Party to work out for themselves.

Baroness David: My Lords, can my noble friend say, if a committee is set up, whether it will look at the procedure for the introduction of Peers? Cannot there be a reduction in the ceremony that goes on?

Lord Richard: My Lords, I have considerable sympathy with what my noble friend says. Again, it is a matter for the House. Whether or not at some stage I will feel moved to offer the House the firm and well thought out guidance to which the Leader of the Opposition referred a moment ago in relation to the introduction ceremony remains to be seen.

Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, is the noble Lord the Leader of the House aware that there is anything radically wrong with the existing arrangements? They have gone on and changed from time to time to meet circumstances.

Lord Richard: My Lords, the noble Lord tempts me. At this stage all I will say is that it is a matter for the House. Though I have a sympathetic view in relation to this request, it will have to go through the normal committees in the normal way.

BSE and Other EU Countries

2.44 p.m.

Lord Bruce of Donington, on behalf of Lord Wyatt of Weeford, asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they have studied the report in the Sunday Times of 1st June which indicated that beef imported into the United Kingdom from European Union states carried a high risk of being infected by BSE; and whether they will seek a ban on the export of beef by those states.

The Parliamentary Secretary, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Lord Donoughue): My Lords, I trust that my noble friend is not too ill in Ascot week. The Sunday Times report refers to findings by a Commission study of BSE controls in the European Union indicating lapses in the identification and reporting of BSE in member states. The Spongiform Encephalopathy Advisory Committee considered this matter at its most recent meeting and recommended that action should be taken to extend our specified bovine material controls to imported material. In the light of that advice, the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food announced on 5th June that we were opening consultation on proposals which would mean that the requirement to remove and dispose of specified tissues would apply not only to carcasses of cattle slaughtered in the UK, but also to imported bovine material. We are not proposing an import ban.

Lord Bruce of Donington: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that satisfactory reply. However, is he

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aware that when this matter first arose in May of last year, when the European Commission put out a regulation banning the United Kingdom from exporting beef to countries other than those in the EC, the then government and the then opposition were united in support of my contention that the EC acted entirely illegally? One would hope that that action is still being pursued. If any doubts arise again in the future, I hope that Her Majesty's Government will not hesitate to take the appropriate legal action through the European Court of Justice.

Lord Donoughue: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for his question. The Government are proceeding, as did their predecessor, through the European Court of Justice in protest against what they see as an excessive use of the powers of the European Union. We await the result of that judgment which we consider should be due before the end of the year. In relation to any ban which members may incline towards, it would not be appropriate for us to pursue a ban on imports while at the same time protesting that such a ban was beyond the EU powers. I should point out also that it is contrary to GATT, to which we are a signatory, as well as contrary to the single market treaty.

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