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Lord Peston: My Lords, I rise to ask the Chairman of Committees a couple of questions. I shall place the matter in context. When I first saw this document I assumed that it was a wind-up and as such one of the most brilliant spoofs I have seen in this House.
First, there are the remarks that whatever we do we must minimise the effect of the appointment in this case, but we must generalise it to cover any case, on the availability of Members to serve on the sub-committees. The expression,
The more important wind-upand this is brilliant of the Liaison Committeeis that whatever this new sub-committee does it must exercise restraint on the number of reports recommended for debate. This is not doing what, again, I thought we set up committees to do, which is to look at the subject, study it properly, write a report and then rather pathetically hope that people are interested so that we might have a debate. Now the approach is, "Well, we have been set up, but we had better not do anything in case it might lead to a request to debate our recommendations". It is so ridiculous that, if this is the way our House is to run in future, one starts to come to the view that perhaps the world would be better off without us altogether.
I do not believe that for one minute. But the lesson we must learn is that if we decide to so somethingand in this case the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, has put forward a serious suggestionthe correct response is to say, "If it's worth doing, we will provide the
Baroness O'Cathain: My Lords, I largely support the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Peston, about membership of committees. However, is there a minimum level below which there should not be a committee? Ten members sounds fine. But has there been any research on all the committees of this House that have sat over the last two or three years, and on their attendance levels? There are a large number of people who accept membership of committees and are unable to serve for all sorts of reasons. Some of the reasons are manufactured in this House. As the noble Lord, Lord Peston, knows, I have been unable to attend this committee on two successive weeks through being involved in discussion of amendments in the Chamber or in Grand Committee. There are around 100 people who are doing an enormous amount of work; the remaining people are not sharing the burden. It would be useful to know the attendance figures. The last thing we would wish to do is to appoint 10 members, and then find that only five ever turn up regularly.
Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe: My Lords, as a former chairman of a sub-committee I am also concerned that we are reducing the number of members from 12 to 10. Is it possible that the situation might be reviewed in light of the views expressed? The European Union Committee actually asked for two additional sub-committees to undertake its work, but we have ended up with only one. The principal reasons seemingly being given are that we are short of resources. In light of the fact that we have nearly 700 Members of this House and that we have problems ensuring that EU scrutiny is carried out correctly, would the Liaison Committee be prepared to set up an investigation to try to see why we are having difficulty finding sufficient people, and can it take steps to ensure that we have sufficient people?
I start by saying that I am grateful to the Liaison Committee for granting us one of the two committees we asked for. That will help. There is tremendous pressure at the moment. The mandates of individual sub-committees are very wide. They are all important, but a particularly significant one at the moment is the Environment and Agriculture Sub-Committee, which is also meant to deal with public health and consumer affairs. We wanted an extra sub-committee so that we could have a committee devoted to social policy and consumer affairs, which would include health, worker protection and education and other issues. I am grateful to the Liaison Committee for providing us with an extra committee. I am particularly grateful to the noble Baroness the Deputy Leader of the House, who told me first that the Government Front Bench would support it. I am grateful to her for having promoted it in the Liaison Committee.
With regard to numbers, I think that we can make things work with 10. I have never been a great supporter of large committees. The question is whether we get people who will attend. If we have a committee of 10 and we can guarantee that seven or eight will be there for the meetings, it will work. What we must avoid is a situation in which the usual channels feel that they must put so-and-so on to a committee because they need the party numbers, and so-and-so does not show up. My philosophy is to keep the numbers reasonable but to make sure that those on committees are genuine attenders.
The noble Lord, Lord Peston, raised a concern about debate times. There may be a slight misunderstanding here. I do not think that it was the intention of the Liaison Committeethe noble Lord the Chairman of Committees can confirm itthat the extra committee, which will be known as Sub-Committee G and will deal with social policy and consumer affairs, would have to go slow in producing reports. The Liaison Committee was saying that the whole constellation of sub-committees must not produce more reports than the House can digest. I accept that; it is a fair point. It does not invalidate the point that I have made for a long time, which is that we should try to get prime time for our reports. We are making determined efforts to ensure that reports that can be for information only, rather than debate, will not be brought to the Floor of the House.
One of the reasons why we are doing a great deal in the Select Committee and the constellation of sub-committees to improve our external relations and our publicity is that we want to make sure that reports that are for information will not just be for the information of the House but will be made available to the outside world.
We can live with 10 members. We are grateful to have a seventh sub-committee. Provided that we can get time in the House for the really important reports, the Select Committee on the European Union and its sub-committees will deliver what your Lordships want.
Lord Barnett: My Lords, I pay tribute, first, to the work done by the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell. I know how much he does and what a great job he does. I understand why he does not want to upset the Liaison Committee. Having got one of the two committees that he requested, he might want to go back sometime for the other one.
I never thought that I would find myself in disagreement with my noble friend Lord Peston. When he said that he had to go cap in hand to get anybody to serve on the Finance Bill sub-committee, I was quite offended on behalf of those who did join, including the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, who is certainly not "anybody" and was an excellent member of the committee, as was my noble friend Lord Sheldon. We had an excellent Finance Bill sub-committee as, I am sure, those noble Lords would agree.
Those on the Government Front Bench always say that they do not have control of more than 27 per centeven then, it is only for some of the timeof your Lordships' House so they cannot decide how many days should be allocated for Select Committee debates. That is a matter for the usual channels, as we call themthat is, those on all the Front Benches. I hope that they will take note of the mood of the House, and I hope that time will be found, one way or another, if necessary. We might even sit for an extra day or evening in order to debate important reports. As I said, that is not a matter for the Government Front Bench alone; it is a matter for all Front Benches. I hope that they will take note of that and that the last words of paragraph 3 of the Liaison Committee's report will be, if not deleted, noted with some concern.
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