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Lord Brightman: My Lords, perhaps I may ask the noble Lord the Chairman of Committees a question of which I have given him notice. Under the revised terms of reference of the Select Committee on the European Union, can he say whether the committee will be able to consider the guidelines on the drafting of Community legislation, which are being produced under the Treaty of Amsterdam? Your Lordships may feel envious of some of these guidelines; for example, Community legislation should be,
Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, bearing in mind the widening of the powers of the European Union, especially following the Amsterdam Treaty, it is only right and proper that the European Communities Committee should in fact be renamed. I say that because the powers that have been extended to the European Union are very great indeed. It is right
Noble Lords should welcome the extension of the writ of the Select Committee. I am sure that it will do its job as thoroughly in the future as it has done in the past. I sincerely hope that the debates we shall have in this House will be well attended and that they will take place in prime time and not on Fridays or late at night. These are important matters. The Select Committee does a great deal of hard work which should be appreciated and discussed.
I am among those who believe that the membership of the European Communities Select Committee is too narrow and that it has been made up of people whom I would regard as being very favourably inclined towards the European Union. It is not sufficiently representative of those who are a little sceptical of the European Union, of what it does, of what powers it should have, and of whether those powers should be further extended. I hope therefore that when these matters are discussed and when the membership of the committee is discussed, the views not only of Members of this House and the make-up of Members of this House will be taken into consideration, but also the views of people in the country who are far more sceptical of the whole business than might be gathered from the views sometimes expressed here and in another place. If we are to have a proper debate about what is happening in Europe we need to have a much better balanced Select Committee. I hope that that will be addressed in the new Session.
Lord Bruce of Donington: My Lords, I welcome the report of the proceedings of the Select Committee. I note in particular that they were ordered to be printed two days ago and that a very short time has elapsed for detailed consideration to be given to them.
At the risk of trying your Lordships' patience a little more, I should say that over the past two years it has been my personal function to make up for the lack of scrutiny that there has been of European legislation and proposals so far. The Select Committee of this House, which still exists to the end of the Session, has, together with its sub-committees, obviously done a good job. However, it has never been able to deal with the whole. Whole sheaves of legislation go onto the statute book without receiving any proper parliamentary scrutiny at all. It has been part of my personal function to carry out research from time to time and put myself in a position where I can venture to inform your Lordships about what exactly is happening.
These new proposals are quite unexceptionable; indeed, I welcome them. But there are certain queries that the Government will have to address. First, will the proposals in this report--in conjunction with, or in substitution for, as the case may be, deliberations and scrutiny in another place--be sufficient to achieve the necessary objectives? The proposals that emanate from the Commission, and the various items put
From time to time in another place the scrutiny committee has been quite incapable of dealing with the stuff forwarded to it. I have lists of it. I know exactly what I am talking about, and I know exactly what the regulations comprise. Despite my relief at no longer having to do what the new committee is to do, I still have great reservations as to how effective it will be and how it will be able to cope in the best parliamentary traditions.
The report says nothing about the attendance of the public as regards the deliberations of the committee, or any sub-committee. At the moment some indication is usually given in--I shall not call it the caprice, because that is too frivolous a term to use--the judgment of the chairman that the proceedings ought not to be held in public. No stipulation is given here as to whether the deliberations should be held in public or not. Perhaps your Lordships may come to the conclusion that I have been finicky in these matters. All I can say in answer to that is that I have tried my best to act consistently with good parliamentary democracy as I have always understood it, old Labour though I am and shall remain.
Lord Bowness: My Lords, I too welcome the proposals for greater scrutiny and the possibility of wider debate principally because I believe that it would do something to dispel the obvious prejudices and hostilities to the European Union that are so frequently expressed by some speakers in your Lordships' House, as we have heard today.
Lord Peston: My Lords, I welcome the report which I think is a step forward. The noble Lord the Chairman of Committees will, I hope, remain his normal courteous self--as is generally the case with all your Lordships--and pay no attention whatever to what I regard as the insulting remarks of my noble friend Lord Stoddart of Swindon on the membership of the European Communities Committee up to now. The implications of his remarks are that these people are biased and incapable of carrying out a dispassionate and objective scrutiny of European matters because they do not include people of a particular point of view. As I understand it, that has never been the policy of your Lordships' House. That policy has always been to choose the very best people from among those who say they are available. I hope that we stick to that tradition.
As someone who was many years ago involved with the committee and who reads the reports--and, when one can, other things--I have never noticed any bias in this matter against what are called the "Eurosceptics". This House has always maintained its traditions of appointing a wide range of people to these committees--but people who are able to do the job. I hope that we do not move from that now or at any time in future.
Lord Tordoff: My Lords, I wonder whether I should intervene at this stage. I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Peston. Generally, I think that your Lordships will agree that the reports which come from your Lordships' Select Committee are as unbiased as they can be in the sense that at all times they are derived from the evidence which is put before it.
There is a wide spectrum of view in the sub-committees and in the Select Committee. I should say straightaway that the membership of the Select Committee is not my job--that is a matter for the usual channels--although I have a considerable input into the membership of sub-committees. When I look at the sub-committees and see the wide range of opinions, it is surprising to me that we come up with such unanimity in our reports. The reason that we come up with such unanimity is because Members of your Lordships' House who act in Select Committees and sub-committees consider the evidence and come to their conclusions on that basis.
I listened to what the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, said. He is quite right: there are large amounts of legislation coming out of the European Commission and the European Council which are not as well scrutinised as we would wish. But, bearing in mind that we have some 70 to 75 people working on a regular basis on the legislation that comes forward, the majority of the rest is what we in this House would
I believe that the Procedure Committee report which is before the House will be of considerable help. We have managed to bring ourselves into line with the rules and procedures of the House of Commons. At the same time, we have managed to maintain the degree of flexibility in the subjects we discuss that this House has always had. Therefore, I believe that we are in a much stronger position than another place to deal with this legislation.
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