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That the committee have power to appoint sub-committees and to refer to them any matters within its terms of reference; that the committee have power to appoint the chairmen of sub-committees, but that the sub-committees have power to appoint their own chairmen for the purpose of particular inquiries; that the quorum of each sub-committee be two;
Lord Pearson of Rannoch rose to move, as an amendment to the above Motion, to leave out all the words after that and insert this House invites the Committee of Selection to reconsider its proposed membership of the Select Committee on the European Union.
The noble Lord said: My Lords, it is some years since I have troubled your Lordships on the reappointment of the EU Select Committee. Given the vital role that we may be required to play this Session, when a vote in your Lordships House may decide whether the British people are granted a referendum on the proposed constitutional reform treaty, I felt it worth putting this Motion on to the Order Paper today.
In his speech last Wednesday, the chairman of the Select Committee, the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, made it clear that he expects his committee to advise the House on the treatys effect on the United Kingdom, paying particular attention to the Governments red lines. That is fair enough, but when one looks at the proposed composition of the committee, I hope one can be forgiven for wondering whether that advice is likely to be as objective and impartial, or as in tune with public opinion, as your Lordships would like.
We often pride ourselves on being more in touch with public opinion than is the House of Commons. Indeed, we often are. This is of great value to us and to the nation, but some of your Lordships seem to be increasingly out of step with the mood of the people in one area; our relationship with the European Union. I shall not weary your Lordships with too many opinion polls, but these have been moving steadily in the direction of Euroscepticism for several years. Some of the most recent polls show that up to 40 per cent of the British people say that they would now vote to leave the European Union altogether; that some 80 per cent would vote to leave the European Union if that meant regaining control of our borders; and that 74 per cent favour leaving or forging a looser relationship with Brusselsin effect, continuing in collaboration and free trade with our friends in the EU while departing from the political and bureaucratic constraints of the treaties of Rome. Yet, so far as I know, only one of the 19 proposed Members of your Lordships Select Committee favours the latter optionreturning to free trade while leaving the treatiesand not one publicly espouses either of the other options. Of course I do not pretend to know what every proposed Member feels about the EU, but from what they have said in your Lordships House it looks as though no fewer than 10 are strongly in favour of the project of European union, and I am afraid that that includes the chairman, who is held in such personal affection by all your Lordships, including me, if he does not mind.
Furthermorethis is an even sorer subjectit looks as though perhaps five Members of the proposed committee receive EU pensions. I refer your Lordships to our debate on 19 July, when I suggested that such pensions should be declared in our debates because they can be forfeited if the holder fails to uphold the interests of the European Union. Whatever one feels about that, I would have thought it particularly difficult for an EU pensioner to support a report to your Lordships House that might lead to the British people rejecting the proposed new treaty.
The same picture applied to our EU sub-committees last year. They have of course not been reappointed, but I hope that what I am saying can be borne in mind when they are. This is particularly true for the Law and Institutions Sub-Committee, which will have a special effect on the advice that is eventually given to your Lordships.
Perhaps I may end on a more popular note. I hope that the new committee, however it is composed, and indeed the whole House, will do its utmost to persuade the Government to pay much greater respect to the scrutiny reserve. When I was on the Select Committee some 10 years ago and more, it was rare for the Government to break that undertaking to Parliament. Yet a Written Answer to me on 30 January this year reveals that, for 2004 and up to the first half of 2006, the Government broke the reserve 157 times in your Lordships House and 180 in the Commons. That makes 337 laws, which went on the statute book when one or other of the Houses had not agreed that they should. Of course, I appreciate that the pace of EU law making has much increased since I was on the Select Committeein fact, it has doubled since the French and Dutch rejection of the constitution. So
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Moved, as an amendment to the Motion, to leave out all the words after that and insert this House invites the Committee of Selection to reconsider its proposed membership of the Select Committee on the European Union.(Lord Pearson of Rannoch.)
Lord Richard: My Lords, for 17 years now I have listened to the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, on Europe. He does not say things that are novel. He occasionally says things that are interesting. He very often says things that are quite breathtaking. I am bound to say that what he has done today seems to be firmly in the last category; indeed, it is so breathtaking that it is difficult to produce moderate language with which to oppose it.
The noble Lord seems to assume that the Committee of Selection has deliberatelythat is the implicationput on this committee people whose general views are Europhiliac rather than Europhobic. That is a terrible thing to say. The Committee of Selection and its personalities were approved by this House and it includes distinguished Members of your Lordships House. The idea that they somehow would connive in order to produce a committee on the European Union that was somehow in the interests of the government side rather than the opposition side of the Houseif that is the position of the Oppositionis incredible. I say with great respect to the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, that he should withdraw his amendment and perhaps apologise to the House for having slighted it.
Lord Tebbit: My Lords, I listened carefully to the noble Lord, Lord Richard. There were moments when I thought that he was sending himself up. In the appointment of a committee that deals with such controversial matters, it is extremely important to be clear that the people on it will approach the matter with a clear and open mind or that there is a balance of those who are generally speaking Europhiliac and those who are Eurosceptic. Unless we do that, the committees reports will get the sort of reception encapsulated by the words of Miss Mandy Rice-Davies: They would say that, wouldnt they?.
Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, did not take part in the foreign policy aspect of the debate on the Queens Speech last week. If we were to judge the composition of this committee by the balance of those speeches, we would see that it represents fairly the balance of opinion in this House. I would particularly like to ask the Chairman of Committees whether, in appointing the Law and Institutions Sub-Committee, he could ensure that he appoints people who have a rather better understanding of English common law and Scottish Roman law than the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, appeared to demonstrate in his earlier intervention.
Lord Waddington: My Lords, I am afraid that I cannot support the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, in his amendment. However, in an effort to be helpful, let me say that I hope that in co-opting members to sub-committees the committee will do its best to see that there is a rough balance between European enthusiasts and those who adopt a more cautious approach. That is only fair and reasonable. My noble friend Lord Tebbit is entirely right. If it is apparent to everyone that the sub-committees are not properly balanced, it is highly unlikely that the reports will carry much weight.
Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Richard, said that it was breathtaking of the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, to bring this matter to the House. Yes, it is breathtaking, because it is breathtakingly brave, and it is correct for him to do so. He has no apology to make to this House, because this is the place where complaints should be made. The noble Lord has every right to bring his fears and concerns to the Floor of the House at an appropriate time. That he has done and I believe that the House should be grateful to him for doing so.
There is a feeling that perhaps the European Union Select Committee is overburdened with people who believe that there should be progress towards complete economic and political union in Europe, but a large body of opinion in this House and indeed throughout the country believes otherwise and the voice of that opinion has to be heard. The noble Lord, Lord Pearson, is to be congratulated on his persistence in insisting that that voice be heard.
Let me make just one further point. We have been hearing about democracy and that power is to be given back to the House of Commons and this Chamber. Would it not be an idea if the House considered whether, instead of having a Committee of Selection, we should have elections to the Select Committees? Perhaps they would then be more representative
Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, that really is what I am suggesting. Of course, the hustings have proved to be the democratic way for people to be elected these days and in days past. It may be an idea just to have a look at this.
Lord Grenfell: My Lords, I hesitate to intervene in these exchanges, but since I have been mentioned twice and since the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, has intimated that the choice of people to serve on the sub-committees should be reviewed, I have to tell the House that of course it is the Select Committee itself that chooses and approves the members of the sub-committees.
I want noble Lords to be clear on one point. It has always been my policy to seek a broad balance within the committees, because they cannot make rigorous analyses of European draft legislation unless all views are represented. The problem that we have consistently had is that those who are Euroscepticsif they wish
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Perhaps I may make one further comment on something that the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, said. He intimated that the report that my committee will be producing on the European reform treaty would advise the House on whether to go up or down on it. Nothing could be further from the truth. We are conducting an extremely objective and rigorous analysis of the treaty in order to inform the House of the changes of which we should take note. We are not taking any position as to whether the treaty should or should not be accepted by your Lordships House, because that is a matter for your Lordships.
Lord Willoughby de Broke: My Lords, I rise to correct something that the noble Lord, Lord Richard, said. My noble friend Lord Pearson did not say or imply that the committees are in any way packed or balanced in favour of Europhiles. He simply pointed out the fact of their membership; he did not say that there was a conspiracy to pack them at all. Does it not seem somewhat perverse, at a time when most of the country is, let us say, balanced between Europhilia and Europhobia, to have a committee in the House of Lords that so clearly swings to the side of the Europhiles? That does not reflect at all the balance in the country at large. I believe that that was what my noble friend was saying. He has not said that there is a conspiracy to pack the committees. He neither said it nor implied it.
The Chairman of Committees: My Lords, this has been an interesting debate. It might be worth while to remind the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, and other noble Lords how all this happens. Under Standing Order 64, the Committee of Selection is required to select and propose to the House the names of Members to form Select Committees, of which the European Union Select Committee is one. That is not done by magic; the names and proposals are received over a period of weeks and months before. The Committee of Selection was set up last week and met yesterday. It did not meet in secret; its meeting was advertised in forthcoming business. It met yesterday afternoon and it agreed unanimously the nominations put forward to it for membership of the committee. I am surprised by the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, because he did not put forward any other names for the committee. The noble Lord could have put his own name forward. If he had got in touch with me and asked for his name to be considered
The Chairman of Committees: My Lords, the noble Lord says that that is not correct. I was chairing the Committee of Selection yesterday and I can assure noble Lords that no other names were put forward to it.
Of course, as the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, has said, the membership of sub-committees is up to the EU Committee. I hope that what the noble Lord said will be encouraging to noble Lords who want to see a balance between those who are allegedly Eurosceptic and those who are allegedly Europhile. I have looked at the list of Members proposed for the committee and I have no idea on what side of the equation they happen to be. I do not think that that is really an issue.
The committee, with its sub-committees, is by far the largest committee of the House. It has a total of more than 70 members actively involved in its work and that of its sub-committees. That is about 10 per cent of the membership of the House, so I do not think that the committee can be described as unrepresentative of the membership of the House. I therefore hope that the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, will be able to withdraw his amendment.
Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken. I am indeed flattered to have taken the breath away from no less a personage than the noble Lord, Lord Richard. He suggested that I was saying that the Committee of Selection connived on this occasion to be particularly Europhile. That is not what I said. I said that there has been a drift towards this over many years, which is why I tabled the amendment on the Order Paper today.
The noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, said that our debates on foreign affairs reflected opinion in this House, but many would take issue with that. In any event, that is not the point that I was making. I was drawing your Lordships attention to the growing divergence between the opinion of this committee and opinion in the country.
The noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, said that Eurosceptics do not put themselves forward. Perhaps that is because we feel slightly overwhelmed if we do put ourselves forward. I believe that my noble friend Lord Stevens was about to say that he did put himself forward for membership of the EU economics and finance sub-committee a little while ago, when there were two vacancies on it, and he was turned downI fear on the ground that his views may have been a little too Eurosceptic.
Finally, I should say to the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, that I hope that I said in my few words what I meant to say, which was to repeat what the noble Lord said in the debate last Wednesday: that his committee hoped to advise the House on the treatys effect on the United Kingdom. He made it clear that he did not want to go into the arguments about whether or not to hold a referendum. That is what he said and that is what I fear will not be adequately and fairly done, given the proposed composition of the committee. However, I have no intention of detaining your Lordships any longer and I certainly would not think of dividing the House. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Lord Grocott: My Lords, before we resume the debate on the address, I have the usual word to say about timing. This involves a little more rigour today, I am afraid; time is shorter because there are rather more speakers, the House has agreed that a Statement should be repeated later and we still have a target rising time of 10 oclock. That means that, with more than 40 speakers, the advisory time limit for Back-Bench contributions will be six minutes.
Most Gracious SovereignWe, Your Majestys most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Lords Spiritual and Temporal in Parliament assembled, beg leave to thank Your Majesty for the most gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Communities and Local Government (Baroness Andrews): My Lords, it gives me great pleasure to open this debate on issues that lie at the heart of the gracious Speech and to share that honour with my noble friend Lord Rooker. Together, the measures we are debating today on housing, planning, transport, agriculture and climate change will all help us to prepare and plan for the future. It is self-evident that we are not dealing with new problems, but the challenges that face us are on a different scale from those in the past. They also carry a global, as well as a national, imperative.
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