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Lord Tordoff: My Lords, I do not intend to follow the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, in any direction, which will not surprise him. It would be useful for the House if, in future, instead of speaking in the gap, as he frequently does, he would put his name down on the list with other people.
This has been an excellent debate, and we are grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, and the Committee for producing a most excellent report. I find myself in a curious position, as this is the first speech that I have made from these Benches in about nine years. I feel like a maiden speaker. I do not expect anyone not to walk out, but I do not expect anyone to walk in.
We have had a wide-ranging discussion; we have had two octopuses, a juggernaut and an avalanche. It has been a well illustrated debate, but it has been good and people have generally made positive comments. The main complaint against the Government is that they have not accepted one or two of the recommendations. However, as the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, said, they have accepted a wide range of them. They are to be congratulated on that.
I am pleased that Sub-Committee A is getting involved in the budgetary situation. Clearly, it cannot usurp the role of the European Parliament, but there was a gap and the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, has for many years pressed the Select Committee to spend more time considering budgetary arrangements, which are clearly very important for this country. What we have now may be as far as we are likely to get, but it is a big step forward.
I have always resisted the idea of joint meetings with the Commons, because I have always seen our job as complementary and we should be careful not to do each other's jobs. There are good contacts with the Commons, at the level of the Clerks and through the Chairman. Those who have been to COSACConference of European Affairs Committeesknow how closely we work in that strange body. My relations with Jimmy Hood, which have been carried on by the noble Lords, Lord Brabazon of Tara and Lord Grenfell, have been excellent. That is a useful contact point.
My noble friend Lady Harris spent some time on the question of timing of responses, as did many noble Lords. Clearly, it is still a problem. What are we doing in that regard, given that we spend so much time asking expert witnesses to come and give evidence to us? They are expert witnesses, and one reason why the Select Committee is so good is that expert witnesses are prepared to give of their time, because of the quality of the members of the Select Committee. They know that they will not endure the disgraceful treatment that sometimes happens in Commons committees, when party-political issues are bandied backwards and forwards. They know that, as expert witnesses, they will be asked questions to which we want an answer, rather than from which we want to make a point.
We must consider timing. A six-week target is very reasonable. The question then is when we can have debates. That point has come up several times in the discussion. The Select Committee does not like the idea of going into Grand Committee, and I understand why. It should be a last resort, and perhaps there should be a trial last resort at some stage, but we should consider other ways of dealing with reports before we get to that stage. I agree that Wednesday is the obvious slot, but I am not sure whether one should go as far as the noble Lord, Lord Lea of Crondall, and abolish Back-Bench debates on a Wednesday. I do not believe that would get much support in the House; I hope not, at any rate. But I wish his balloted debate well when it comes.
The noble Baroness, Lady Billingham, mentioned some of the myths that are around. I felt that one or two of those myths might have been floated by the noble Baroness, Lady Park of Monmouth, at an earlier stage. The noble Lord, Lord Williamson, clarified our minds with regard to secondary legislation in particular. There is a great myth that the sifting process in the House is deficient. However, as he pointed out, there is an awful lot of dross in the papers that come through and an awful lot of stuff in secondary legislation relating to farm prices, and that sort of thing, that cannot be the proper subject of a discussion for this House. COREPERCommittee of Permanent Representativesis the place for such discussions. If there are instances when we feel that something has been decided that is incorrect, we can always return to the question.
The fact is that secondary legislation is often not properly handled when it comes from Whitehall. An awful lot of legislation that affects the people of this country is secondary legislation from our own primary legislation, which gets through without ever really having proper scrutiny in either Chamber.
The noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, was right to make reference to the quality of the Clerks who support these Select Committee activities. They are absolutely superb, although I do not know how they keep their sense of humour at times. However, they manage to do so and have produced some excellent prose; they deserve tremendous support from this House. The noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, got us on to
The speech by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Scott, was definitive. He set out clearly the importance of the balance between the executive and the legislature, the dangers that we have experienced in the past and the battles that have been fought. That is at the bottom of what we are trying to do; we are trying as a legislature to keep the Government under some sort of control. On the whole, dare I say it, we succeed. Ministers actually take a bit of notice of what is said in this House and in the reports from the Select Committee, or that is my experience at least. They run ragged occasionally, and then one has to write rude letters to them.
One of the best things that we have instituted is the publication of letters to Ministers. To get those into the public domain was a big step forward. To publish them as we do makes civil servants, at least, feel that they should watch their backs a bit, which is no bad thing.
My noble friend Lord Lester of Herne Hill makes a good point in relation to the compatibility with human rights legislationnot only the European Convention, but a wide range of things. I do not know whether one could set up a separate committee. When we talk about setting up new structures, we are treading on the edge of the void, as it were. There is a tremendous amount of activity going into the European Union Select Committee. It represents a huge commitment, both by Peers and by staff. When I was Chairman I was worried that we would run short of Peer resource, more than anything else. We may not be at that stage, but we are not far off it. The amount of time and effort that members of sub-committees must put in to the pile of paper that they receive weekly is really asking an awful lot. To ask much more may be to strain credulity. So I think that we have to be a bit careful about adding on ever more committees from the point of view of Members and of staffand, incidentally, because of accommodation. In my previous job as Chairman of Committees the question of where we were going to put some of these committees exercised our minds quite a bit.
The noble Lord, Lord Williamson of Horton, as alwaysbecause he knows where all the bodies are buriedcomes up with many useful suggestions. He is quite right, of course, that the emphasis of this House really should begin to start tilting towards the second and third pillars. I realise that it is a very jagged edge, but that is the area which is the responsibility of the national parliaments more than of the European Parliament. This is where the responsibility finally lies. It was to that end that we originally established Sub-Committee F and re-jigged the job of Sub-Committee C. I think that that has worked very well.
The noble Lord, Lord Williamson, is right in saying that we have tried to go upstream. The only hesitation I have about that is that we can go too far upstream and find that, by the time the legislation gets to the point where decisions are going to be made, it has
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