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Annex: Letter from the Leader of the House, Lord Williams of Mostyn, to the Chairman, Lord Brabazon of Tara, dated 4 September 2003

    As I am sure you know, the Convention on the Future of Europe has reported, and an Inter Governmental Conference (IGC) to consider its recommendations will convene on 4 October.

    Parliament scrutinised the Convention by means (among others) of a Commons Standing Committee, with the novel procedure that Lords could attend and speak, though not vote, move motions or count towards the quorum. Our House agreed to this procedure on 24 June 2002, on the basis of the Procedure Committee's 2nd Report. Some Lords expressed doubts about the procedure at the outset, but I believe it is now generally agreed to have been a success.

    The Government now proposes to replicate the procedure, more or less, to enable Parliament to scrutinise the IGC. In the next few days, my colleague Peter Hain will invite the Commons to create a Standing Committee on the IGC. It will differ from the Standing Committee on the Convention in that, rather than engaging with parliamentary representatives, it will engage with Ministers: it will be able to receive written reports from Ministers, and oral Statements on which Ministers can be questioned, as well as holding general debates. And as well as general debates on written reports by Ministers, there will be the option of debates on specific subjects, on the adjournment. As before, Lords will be permitted to attend and speak, though not to vote, move motions or count towards the quorum.

    If Lords are to gain full advantage from this procedure, the House will need to agree to it promptly once a Message arrives from the Commons, and no later than 18 September. Ideally, of course, the House would do so on the basis of a report of the Procedure Committee, as before. Therefore may I invite you to put this proposition on the agenda of the Procedure Committee for its meeting on 9 September?

    As it happens, the House is to debate the Convention on that very day. This will give Baroness Symons an opportunity to explain this proposal, without of course taking for granted the view of either the Committee or the House.

Lord Barnett: My Lords, the report is a sensible one. I agree that Members of your Lordships' House

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should be able to attend, speak at or vote at any of the meetings of the proposed Standing Committee on the European Union Intergovernmental Conference. How will we know when the committee will meet, where it will meet and what it will discuss, so that we can decide whether to attend?

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, I have read the report closely. I took part in the Standing Committee on the Convention on the Future of Europe. I attended all of its meetings, and, as noble Lords would expect, I asked questions and spoke at all of those meetings.

I agree with the report where there is some disagreement on whether the arrangements are satisfactory. In spite of the excellent chairmanship of Mr Frank Cook, who was extremely fair, he had great difficulty in keeping a quorum. Several times the committee had to be adjourned and attending Members had to wait until a quorum could be found, which is entirely unsatisfactory and time wasting.

I should like to have an assurance—although I do not know where from—that Ministers will treat Members of this House equally with Members of another place. Often, when we pass amendments which Ministers do not like, severe criticism is made of this House. It is implied that this House is less important than another place, which it probably is, and that we should not seek to quarrel with what the Commons has done. I hope that we can be assured that Ministers will recognise that members of the committee, in their questioning and speeches, will be equal, even if they are not equal in making the committee quorate. Perhaps that is a matter which should be pursued further.

As regards the number of meetings, I do not know how and when they will take place, but I hope that all Members of this House will receive information about the Standing Committee meetings. I do not know whether they can receive an agenda, but we must ensure that every Member is able to attend because they know when the committee is sitting. I am not at all sure that the previous arrangements were satisfactory. With that, I welcome the report and the formation of this Standing Committee.

Lord Maclennan of Rogart: My Lords, I, too, welcome this move. I share the view expressed: it is a statement of fact that great difficulties were experienced in the keeping of a quorum of the predecessor committee. Although Members of this House are, in a sense, invitees to the proposed committee, as a practical matter, it might be reasonable to contemplate Members of this House constituting a part of the quorum. I cannot see that that would challenge the fact that this is primarily the committee of another place. On many occasions, for practical reasons, such as Divisions in another place, it became quite a fractured experience. If the successor committee is to be effective, such fracturing would be unfortunate, but possibly not entirely avoidable. I wonder whether, underlying a provision to be counted

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towards a quorum, there is an issue of principle, which makes it an unacceptable practical solution to a practical problem.

The Chairman of Committees: My Lords, I am grateful to noble Lords who have spoken so far on this issue. I think that they have all referred to the intergovernmental conference. The noble Lords, Lord Barnett, Lord Stoddart and Lord Maclennan, have all talked about the Committee on the Intergovernmental Conference, the quorum, and so forth. Those issues were raised in the Procedure Committee, as will be seen in the second part of its report.

Future meetings will be advertised, as they were for the convention committee. I should draw your Lordships' attention—particularly, perhaps, my noble friend Lord Campbell of Alloway—to the next item of business on the Order Paper. It is a Motion by the noble and learned Lord the Lord President of the Council that the intergovernmental conference Motion be resolved. I do not want to duck this issue—well, I do want to duck this issue—but the questions might be better put to the noble and learned Lord on the next Motion on the Order Paper rather than the one that we are on now. I commend the report to the House.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Inter-Governmental Conference

3.25 p.m.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.

Any questions which your Lordships may have would be best addressed to the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon.

Moved to resolve, That the Commons Message of 16th September be now considered; and that any Lord may participate in the proceedings of the Standing Committee on the Inter-Governmental Conference appointed by the Commons, but may not vote or move any Motion or be counted in the quorum.—(Lord Williams of Mostyn.)

Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, I turn to the point on the quorum. I shall not mention the names, but I have served on two Joint Committees; the quorum is a perennial and constant problem. We cannot be part of a quorum unless we have a vote. Therefore, it requires rethinking, to some degree, about where your Lordships' stand on these committees. I suggest that some thought be given to whether those who accept to serve on these committees do not, as a matter of honour, agree to attend because on so many occasions there has been no quorum. The matter could be considered by an appropriate committee of this House.

Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, perhaps I may shake the Leader of the House by offering warm enthusiasm for what he has done with regard to the

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second stage of the scrutiny of the IGC. In the light of concerns expressed by Members of this House about the issue of noble Lords not counting towards a quorum, not being able to move a Motion and not being able to vote, perhaps the appropriate mechanism would be a Joint Committee of the two Houses rather than a Standing Committee of the Commons, which obviously implies these limitations on the rights of Peers.

Having said that, although we are grateful for this second stage, we hope that the noble and learned Lord can assure us that it does not set a precedent for any future studies of this kind on matters arising from the European Union. There is a particular reason for that. Apart from procedures which have left us with a Standing Committee rather than a Joint Committee, a tremendous contribution is made by this House towards the scrutiny and consideration of European Union developments and legislation. I hope that the noble and learned Lord is able to give us an assurance that this second stage—which we accept because it is the second stage of a Standing Committee—does not imply any precedent for the future.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, first, I shall deal with the questions that remained unanswered, asked by the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, and my noble friend Lord Barnett. Of course, then I shall give way to the noble Lords, Lord Howell and Lord Stoddart.

The noble Baroness is right. This is a Commons committee, which is the reason that Peers will be invited to attend and speak, but not to vote, move Motions or count towards the quorum. The noble Baroness rightly identified the nature of this committee and that this is a second stage. I think that the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, has indicated that this will be a useful co-operative venture.

For the future, we should determine whether we can agree possible differences with our colleagues in the Commons. The noble Baroness will know that a number of these points were raised at the Procedure Committee. I promised to write immediately to my right honourable friend Peter Hain, as Leader of the Commons. I did, and copied the letter to the noble Baroness, to the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, and to the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde. I am awaiting a reply because the letter went only a few days ago.

The noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, and my noble friend Lord Barnett asked specific questions which I should answer. There was concern before the committee met on previous occasions about notice of meetings. I think that that was dealt with satisfactorily in the end. It is a Commons committee but, of course, our colleagues in the Commons want to be helpful. Therefore, the plan is for meetings to be set after consultation between the FCO and the usual channels in the House of Commons. The FCO has undertaken to keep the Chief Whip's Office informed. As always, the office of my noble friend Lord Grocott will ensure that the usual channels are kept in the picture. I hope that gives a degree of assurance.

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Questions were also put about whether an FCO Minister would be present on every occasion. I am happy to say that I understand that a Minister will always be in attendance, but not on every occasion can there necessarily be a guarantee that it would be a Minister from the FCO.

I did not want those questions to go unanswered because they were specific and the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon, was quite right to say that I would deal with them.

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