Liaison Committee: Third Report — Motion to Agree
Lord Brabazon of Tara (Crossbench)
My Lords, the Liaison Committee's terms of reference require it to advise the House on the resources required for Select Committee work, to review the Select Committee work of the House and to consider requests for ad hoc committees. Its terms of reference also include a requirement to consider the availability of noble Lords to serve on committees, which I think we would all agree is not an issue at present. Indeed, one of the objectives of our recent deliberations has been to find new opportunities for a wider group of Members to participate in committee work.
The report of the Leader's Group on Working Practices has given us a further opportunity to re-examine the committee work of the House. The recommendations in our present report are intended to refresh and rebalance the range of subjects that are scrutinised and, in so doing, to engage a wider range of Members in the work of the House.
Select Committee activity is-rightly-highly regarded both within the House of Lords and outside, and contributes greatly to the reputation of the House as a second Chamber. In our first report of this Session, we concluded that there were a number of general principles that we should apply in considering proposals for committee activity. We concluded that new committees should be appointed for a limited time only and that there was a case for ad hoc committees with narrower and more topical remits conducting shorter inquiries. The report was agreed by the House in June 2010 and we sought to apply those principles in our recent review.
Regular turnover of committee members gives a wider range of Members the opportunity to serve. Short, sharp inquiries should also make it easier for Members with significant commitments outside the House to participate. Therefore, we concluded and recommended to the House that new investigative Select Committees should be appointed for a fixed term of up to one Session to conduct a specific inquiry. It would remain open to committees appointed on this basis to bid for reappointment at the end of their term.
Fixed terms would allow the Liaison Committee to play a more active role in reviewing and adapting Select Committee activity in the future. The resources to support new Select Committee activity would be released at the end of each session, allowing the committee more room to accommodate bids for new Select Committees. I remind Members that they may submit proposals for new ad hoc committees at any time, and I encourage them to do so.
The report recommends the appointment of two new ad hoc committees. One, on small and medium-sized enterprises exporting goods and services, is based on a proposal from the noble Lord, Lord Popat, and others. The other, on public services, stems in part from the proposal that was initially canvassed in the report of the Leader's Group and subsequently elaborated in a note by the noble Lord, Lord Bichard, and others. The potential range for a committee on public services is wide, and the Liaison Committee recommends the subject of public service provision in the light of demographic change. We also consider that, once appointed, the committee should consider carefully its call for evidence in order to focus its work in a practical way.
In recent Sessions the House typically appointed one ad hoc committee. Our recommendation that the House should appoint two ad hoc committees next Session means that we are recommending an additional unit of committee activity. We have sought and obtained the approval of the House Committee for the additional expenditure necessary, which is estimated at around £225,000. We also reviewed the existing committee structure, and benefited from oral as well as written submissions from the chairmen of four of the major investigative Select Committees of the House: the European Union Committee, the Science and Technology Committee, the Economic Affairs Committee, and the Communications Committee.
In respect of the European Union Committee, which currently appoints seven sub-committees to complement the work of the main committee, we concluded that it should remain the focus of House of Lords committee scrutiny. We consider, however, that it would now be appropriate to divert some of the resources allocated to it to support new committee activity in other areas. We therefore recommend that from the start of the next Session the number of EU sub-committees should be reduced from seven to six, and that the European Union Committee should reapportion responsibilities between its remaining sub-committees as it sees fit.
In respect of the Science and Technology Committee, we concluded that from the start of the next Session it should be allocated the resources of a single Select Committee. We recommend that it should, however, retain the power to appoint sub-committees, and the power to co-opt additional members for particular inquiries, but that those powers should not be exercised in such a way as to increase the workload of the committee beyond that of a single committee unit.
The chairman of the Science and Technology Committee, the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, tabled an amendment to leave out the paragraph of the report that recommends a reduction in the committee's resources. I remind the House, however, that in the Liaison Committee's first report of this Session, we said that,
"in the event of further demands for committee work requiring redeployment of committee resources we would in the first instance look towards retrenchment of the Science and Technology Committee".
We received representations from the chairman of the Economic Affairs Committee that that committee should be able to appoint its Finance Bill Sub-Committee at an earlier point in the year than at present, following the new approach to tax policy-making adopted by the Government. The chairman, Lord MacGregor of Pulham Market, assured us that both the committee and the sub-committee would continue to respect Commons financial privilege, and that no additional resource would be required. No change in the terms of reference will be needed to enable this to happen, and we recommend that it should.
Finally, we reviewed the work of the Communications Committee, which is not a sessional committee. We recommend that it should be reappointed on the same basis as at present at the start of next Session. We will review the question of its further reappointment towards the end of that Session.
Our proposed reduction in sub-committee activity by two units-one European Union sub-committee and one Science and Technology sub-committee-would free up resources for new committee activity. Consistent with the strong support of the Leader's Group for pre-legislative scrutiny, we have reconfirmed our support for pre-legislative scrutiny and believe that some of the resources that would be released by the reduction in sub-committee activity should be reallocated to supporting an additional pre-legislative scrutiny committee.
We also recommend an important new area of Select Committee activity: post-legislative scrutiny. The Leader's Group recommends a single post-legislative scrutiny committee to manage the process of reviewing up to four selected Acts of Parliament each year. The Leader of the House proposed instead-and we agreed-that it would make better use of the expertise of Members to establish an ad hoc committee on a particular Act or Acts.
In our report we recommended the appointment of an ad hoc post-legislative scrutiny committee to examine the Children and Adoption Act 2006 and the Adoption and Children Act 2002, and to report in a timely manner so as to allow for evaluation of the committee's work before the end of the 2012-13 Session. If time allows, the resources allocated to the first post-legislative scrutiny committee could then be made available for a post-legislative scrutiny committee on another topic to be established within the 2012-13 Session.
Finally, we considered two further procedural changes to enable a wider group of Members to participate in committee work. The first, to which I have already alluded, was that the maximum size of sub-committees to the European Union Committee should be increased from 12 to 14 Members. The effect of this would be to provide 84 places for Members on the six remaining sub-committees. Secondly, we invited the Procedure Committee to consider the reduction from four to three years of the rotation rule relating to length of service on investigative sessional committees, in order more frequently to refresh the membership of these committees.
I pay tribute to the valuable work done by all House of Lords committees. The Liaison Committee's recommendations are intended to revitalise existing committee activity and provide an overall expansion of this activity, thereby enabling a greater number of Members to participate in a wider range of inquiries. I beg to move.
Amendment to the Motion
Moved by Lord Krebs
As an amendment to the above Motion, at the end to insert ", with the exception of paragraphs 18 and 47 (the Science and Technology Committee)".
Lord Krebs (Crossbench)
My Lords, I declare my interests as the chairman of the Science and Technology Committee and as a career scientist. As the chairman of the Liaison Committee said, my amendment refers to paragraphs 18 and 47 of the committee's report, which include the proposal to reduce the resources of the Science and Technology Committee to those of a single committee from the present level of a Select Committee and a sub-committee. Although the report is not specific, my reading is that it will, in effect, halve the number of inquiries that the committee is able to carry out. This does not seem to square with the Leader of the House's letter to Cross-Benchers in which he refers to a small reduction in resource to the Science and Technology Select Committee.
My amendment is important because it gets to the heart of what the House does best-using its great depth and breadth of expertise to investigate and to hold the Government to account. This House is unique in the world in its depth of scientific expertise. The Goodlad report of April 2011, of which we heard earlier, acknowledged,
"the clear public interest in making best use of the expertise of the House's Members".
Science in its broadest sense-included social science, medicine, engineering and technology-permeates almost every aspect of government policy. This is notably true of the all-important agenda of rebalancing the economy by developing new industries based on advanced knowledge and technology.
The Science and Technology Committee not only has great depth of expertise but great breadth in its coverage. I will list just a few examples of areas that we have covered in recent years. They include policies related to education, innovation and economic growth, energy supply, treatment of infectious diseases, ageing-a topic of particular interest to many of us-internet security, preservation of our heritage, and disposal of waste. The reports of the Select Committee also have significant impact. To name just one recent example, our report on the future of nuclear energy resulted in a substantial change in the Government's approach. If the lights stay on in 15 years' time, we should thank the Science and Technology Committee for its work.
Our reports not only have the stamp of authority within government but are highly respected and admired in the wider world. I will quote Mark Henderson of the Times, who wrote of our report on genomic medicine, published two or three years ago, that it was,
"a quite remarkable summary of the state of the science and the steps the Government must take".
He went on to say:
"It is hard to imagine even a body like the US Senate producing a report of quite this quality and authority ... There's a reason why this report is so good: it was compiled by a committee of people with genuine experience and understanding of science".
To avoid misunderstanding, I should add that the committee is not just a club for scientists. It has an eclectic mix of Members, which enriches its deliberations and sharpens its recommendations.
The Science and Technology Committee has a tradition of following up its reports, thus ensuring that its scrutiny is thorough and insistent. For example, our recent report on public procurement and innovation was very critical of the Government's approach to driving innovation in UK industry with its £230 billion annual procurement budget. The Government largely accepted our recommendations and we said that we would return to this topic soon to inquire whether the recommendations had been carried through.
The ad hoc committees referred to by the noble Lord the chairman of the Liaison Committee will not have this capacity to follow through their inquiries and check that the Government have indeed acted on their recommendations. The Liaison Committee's proposal to reduce the resources of the Science and Technology Committee will do great reputational damage to this House. The presidents of four national academies-the Royal Society, the Academy of Medical Sciences, the Royal Academy of Engineering and the British Academy -wrote a joint letter to the Prime Minister expressing their concern about the Liaison Committee's proposal.
I appreciate, of course, that the Liaison Committee has a difficult job. It wishes to create new ad hoc committees to inquire into new areas, and to enable a wider range of noble Lords to participate in committee work. It is trying to do this at a time of scarce resources. However, in allocating these resources it is essential to be very thorough in assessing value for money. Indeed, the report of the Liaison Committee refers to value for money in paragraph 8. I looked very carefully through the report to understand how this assessment of value for money was made but I was unsuccessful in finding any relevant analysis. The Science and Technology Committee, at its present level of support, represents excellent value for money. It uses the unique expertise of the House, it covers a very wide range of policy areas, and its reports have authority, impact and respect within government and more widely. It conducts follow-up inquiries to ensure that its recommendations have been acted on.
I am not, however, simply defending the status quo. I made specific and constructive suggestions to the Liaison Committee to enable it to achieve its objective without damaging the work of the Science and Technology Committee. These suggestions, which included increasing our co-option of additional Members to embrace a wider variety of expertise from the House, and shortening the term of service of members of the committee, were not taken up in the report. I invite the noble Lord the Chairman, when he responds, to explain to the House how his committee carried out its assessment of value for money, and why it concluded that better value for money would be had from reducing the activity of a demonstrably successful, immensely valuable, high-reputation committee and creating new committees. I believe that any such analysis would support my amendment.
Before I close-and I wish to be brief-I suggest to the noble Lord the chairman of the Liaison Committee that he takes this proposal back to the committee for further consideration. If he agreed to do so, that would be the basis for my withdrawing the amendment. Meanwhile, I beg to move.
Lord Jenkin of Roding (Conservative)
My Lords, I endorse everything that the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, has said. I used to be a member of the committee and I have been co-opted to a number of recent inquiries, including the one to which he referred about the UK's capacity for undertaking nuclear research. I want to draw the attention of the House to one particular point made by the noble Lord, Lord Krebs: that is the wide influence that the Science and Technology Committee has, and the respect within which it is held, not only in this country but across the world.
Some years ago, the noble Lord, Lord Winston, came to see me to ask whether I would be willing to chair an inquiry into a subject on which I had been rather jumping about as a member of the Select Committee, which I called in those days science and the public. He offered me that opportunity and of course I accepted. It became known as the science and society inquiry. Neither the noble Lord, Lord Winston, nor I had any idea at that stage how far that report would penetrate to reach not just thousands but millions of people across the world.
I will not go into the detail but we made the recommendation that the public understanding of science was a rather inadequate way to approach the relationship and that there should be wide engagement by scientists with the public, with ears as well as voices being important. I recently had an indication of how far the impact of that report had gone. The British Council organised a two-day seminar in this country, in London, to reflect the 10-year anniversary of the Science and Societyreport. Representatives of no fewer than 55 countries across the world attended. I was astonished. That report had become, if not the Bible, certainly the guidance for a large number of countries across the world on how relations between science and the public, science and society, should be developed.
To pick up one point made by the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, the committee has always included people like me who are not scientists. I deferred always to my scientist colleagues on any issue of scientific understanding; that was their specialty. However, a number of people have said to me: "You know, that Science and Society report could not have been written by a scientist". Of course, I had had a certain amount of experience in government and elsewhere of dealing with scientists and of trying to ensure that they were explaining themselves properly to the public. Of all the reports which the Science and Technology Committee has produced, that has turned out to be one of the most influential. It was produced by Sub-Committee B, as it was called, not the main committee.
With great respect, the description by my noble friend the Leader of the House-I have the letter, too-of a small reduction in resources simply does not begin to reflect what would be the impact of the Liaison Committee's proposals. If a committee is to undertake a serious inquiry, a minimum number of people have to be allocated to support that committee. As the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, said, it appears to be the intention that the committee should be reduced to one inquiry at any one time. That is a huge reduction in the work of one of the most highly regarded committees in this House and is simply not acceptable. I ask the committee to think again.
The noble Lord, Lord Krebs, will no doubt decide how he will handle the amendment in the light of what the Chairman of Committees says. I would find it very difficult not to support him. The committee is in danger of doing serious damage to one of the most valued and valuable parts of this House of Lords. I very much hope that it will reconsider the issue.
Lord Filkin (Labour)
My Lords, I rise, as a member of the Goodlad committee, to give my warm support to the recommendations of the Liaison Committee and to at least put on the record some of the argumentation as to why the other issues need to be considered and supported by the House.
In this report from the Liaison Committee we consider some of the significant areas for improvement to the working practices of this House which, in many previous debates, have been strongly argued for by many Members from all parts of the House. I can be brief because they come to relatively few fundamental points.
First, most Members of the House believe that if we spent more time on pre-legislative scrutiny of more Bills, we would have better legislation. This recommendation both makes that possible and starts an increase in the resources going to pre-legislative scrutiny, which is to be commended.
Secondly, many of us have argued for years that we should carry out post-legislative scrutiny. We should look, in a sober, thoughtful and informed way, at the effects of the legislation that we pass. The Commons is doing some but we have done nothing. We have not yet brought our considerable expertise and knowledge of many of the aspects on which we legislate to looking at whether the legislation achieves its objectives-and if not, why not-so that we can better inform both that policy area and, more significantly, our own processes of scrutiny of legislation.
Thirdly, the Liaison Committee makes a recommendation for a process to bring in additional ad hoc committees. The Leader of the House will know that I would not have brought it in in exactly that way but, nevertheless, it is to be welcomed in terms of what it would allow the House to do. It would allow the House to identify a topic of significant domestic policy interest which is potentially cross-cutting, and so in no way duplicate the work of the Commons; and it would have a short remit of a year in which to bring forward an influential and reflective report. There are two good examples there and I shall spend 30 seconds speaking on one of them. Most of us know that the significant demographic changes in our society will have a fundamental effect on public services-the demand for them, their cost, and the impact of that-and yet no-one in either House has as yet looked at that issue. It cries out for a short, sharp, well-informed and expert committee of this House, drawing on experts from outside. It is a topic to which the House would bring great value.
One of the more contentious elements of the Goodlad report was the recommendation that this House should be better at reviewing its committees as they exist. In the past the House has sometimes tried to do this and, for obvious reasons, it is painful. There is great resistance to making any change to the existing architecture of committees. Why so? It is because people develop passion, commitment, and expertise. Everything that the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, said, and everything that the noble Lord, Lord Roper, so eloquently said in his argumentation of the value that the EU Committee has brought to this House, is true. However, unfortunately that is not the point. The point is that unless the House can continue to increase its resources to allow new topics to be studied, there will always be a starvation of the issues that are not being debated because the existing agenda dominates the resources, and existing interests in the House are eloquent in its defence. I respect their doing so-I would do the same myself-but that squeezes out anything new to the disadvantage of the House.
If, the House considers that it can have only one net addition, the Liaison Committee would then have the invidious task of deciding that we did not do more pre-legislative scrutiny, that we did not start post-legislative scrutiny, and that we did not have a process whereby we selected a couple of topics of cross-cutting domestic policy to look at each year. That would be regrettable. I regret that the Science and Technology Committee and the EU Committee are to be reduced, but that is necessary in circumstances where we do not have limitless resources. They can both make their case in a year's time as to why they should be increased.
However, the thrust of the report essentially is that we would be a better House if we accept these recommendations. It would involve substantially more of the expertise in the House which currently has no voice in our affairs because some noble Lords do not have a seat on a committee of the House and are longing to have that opportunity. For those reasons, I strongly support the Liaison Committee's recommendations.
Lord Broers (Crossbench)
My Lords, I speak as a past chairman and present member of the Select Committee for Science and Technology. I cannot accept the argument of the noble Lord. The Science and Technology Select Committee provides fundamental information across the board in our country, particularly as an economic entity, that is relevant to all legislation. It is therefore incredibly important.
The most effective way to rebuild our economy is to restore our industrial leadership in the manufacturing of innovative products. This will only happen if we regain competitiveness in research and development. This is the business of the Science and Technology Select Committee. We inquire into whether our educational system is producing the graduates needed by industry for its R&D activities, whether the Government are using their procurement effectively to stimulate innovation, as the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, has said, and we inquire into the state of specific industries such as nuclear power.
At present, the lack of R&D spend is the Achilles' heel of our economy. To reach the level of spending in Germany we would have to spend £10 billion more than we are spending at the moment, and to rival the USA we would have to spend £13 billion more. The Government are doing well in some of their initiatives, such as the catapults, but this is really only seed money. We need to keep our eye upon our academic and industrial performance in both the private and public sectors, and this is what the Select Committee does.
The committee needs two sub-committees in order to cover the two broad fields of science and technology: the engineering and physical, and the biological and medical. For example, the committee needs different talents to inquire into genomic medicine and renewable energies, or to inquire into pandemic flu and nuclear power. Innovative products, and therefore gains in our health, transport, energy, communications and other systems, will also help us with our massive deficit. These potential gains are also the business of the Science and Technology Select Committee. This is not the time to cut in half the resources available to that committee.
Lord Roper (Liberal Democrat)
My Lords, I speak as the chairman of the European Union Committee, and I regret that I will be critical of the report presented by the Lord Chairman of Committees. I have not tabled an amendment, but in my view, and that of many of my colleagues on the committee and in the sub-committees, the report of the Liaison Committee is the unsatisfactory outcome of an unsatisfactory process as far as the European Union Committee is concerned.
First, the process. Earlier this year I learnt that the Liaison Committee was, entirely appropriately, reviewing the House's committee structure in the light of the Goodlad report. I wrote to ask to appear before the committee, and that request was granted. However, I was surprised to be told, in the letter inviting me to appear, that before the Liaison Committee had heard the arguments from my committee for its continuance of the committee in its present structure, the Liaison Committee was already minded to cut the number of European Union sub-committees by two or by one. I have sent to Members the detailed argument that I then put forward, which also appears in appendix 2 to the report that we are considering.
The last time the Liaison Committee conducted a general review of Lords committee activity was in 2010. On that occasion, unlike this time, it asked for information from the various committees before it made any decision. In 2010, the Liaison Committee concluded that the European Union Committee was performing a relevant and useful function, and it recommended no change. In fact, it recommended that certain other committees should be considered first if reductions needed to be made. I am unclear about what has changed in the mean time, except that on this occasion the Liaison Committee seemed to have made up its mind, or to have gone a long way towards doing so, before it took any evidence.
So far as concerns the outcome, in the end the Liaison Committee recommended the reduction of only one European Union sub-committee, which is why I did not table an amendment to today's Motion. Some of my colleagues on the committee-and noble Lords may well hear from them-may feel that I am being excessively reasonable, but I am conscious of the wider financial context in which these decisions had to be made. However, even a cut of one sub-committee will have an impact on our work. The European Union will continue to propose new laws that will affect UK citizens and companies, and consultation documents and White Papers will continue to come forward.
We have to deal with something like 1,000 documents a year from the European Union. This reduction will simply reduce the ability of the House of Lords to scrutinise the proposals effectively. In particular, it will reduce its ability to conduct an in-depth examination of key proposals. These inquiries are what give the committee, and therefore the House, such a strong reputation with civil society groups in this country, with European Union institutions and with other parliaments across the European Union. The House will also be reducing its ability to hold the Government to account.
The House sees the reports that we publish; it does not see the 500 letters a year that we send to Ministers raising problems that arise from the documents that we consider. However, that is the method by which we ensure that we have an explanation from the Government and a justification of their position. Ministers have told me that they consider that what we do is the most effective scrutiny of any part of their department's work. The House risks weakening our work in an area where our reputation is currently, and justifiably, exceptionally strong. That is why I regret the Liaison Committee's decision, and I fear that in due course the House, too, will come to regret it.
I conclude with a note about the suggestion to increase the maximum membership of sub-committees from 12 to 14. In the full Select Committee's view, sub-committees of 14 risk being too large. An excessive number of members could make it difficult to work effectively as a team. Therefore, we would rather co-opt an additional two members to a sub-committee for a particular inquiry, thereby involving a wider group of Members of the House to take part in different aspects of our work. We feel that otherwise the current size of 12 members per sub-committee is probably right.
Lord Jopling (Conservative)
We have just heard from the Cross Benches; I think it is our turn. I very much support what the noble Lord, Lord Roper, has just said. I was first elected at the other end of this building almost 48 years ago. One strand that has run through the entire time in which I have served in both Houses has been my enthusiasm for the Select Committee system, which all those years ago I believed, very strongly, was the way in which Parliament could better exert its influence over the Executive. I was a member of two of Dick Crossman's Select Committees-the first ones to be set up-back in the 1960s. In the early 1980s, following the 1979 election, I, with my late lamented friend Norman St John-Stevas, later Lord St John of Fawsley, who sadly is no longer with us, set up the departmental committees. I conducted all the negotiations over them with the Opposition at the time. Since coming to your Lordships' House, I have been a member of, I think, three European Union committees. I have been chairman of two of them and I continue to serve on Sub-Committee C.
As the noble Lord, Lord Roper, has just said, the work of the European Union Select Committee is widely admired throughout Europe, and I believe that it provides the best scrutiny of European legislation anywhere in the Community. I agree with much of what the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, said about these committees making the best use of the expertise in this House and providing outstanding value for money through the work that we all do. Therefore, I am astonished and exasperated at the suggestion that the sub-committees of the European Union Committee should now be reduced from seven to six. It was only a few years ago that their number was increased from six to seven. When the Leader of the House responds, will he tell us the justification for going back to where we were only a few years ago? When the Chairman of Committees introduced this debate, he said that it was "appropriate"-that was his word-but I have heard no justification for doing this. European Union legislation is now getting wider and deeper, and it plays a bigger and bigger part in the legislative structure of the country.
Instead of reducing the number of committees, we should be thinking of expanding them. I have spoken before in the House about my failure to understand why we do not have a foreign affairs committee. There are whole rafts of foreign affairs issues, of which the Commonwealth is only one, with which Sub-Committee C, covering foreign affairs, defence and development, cannot begin to deal. I profoundly disagreed with the suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord Filkin-for whom, from previous associations, I have the greatest possible respect-when he spoke about committees being, in his phrase, "squeezed out". Rather than squeezing out these committees-particularly the European Union Committee-we ought to see what we can do to strengthen them. I very much support those who hope that when the Leader of the House responds to the debate he will agree to take the matter back and think again.
Lord Sutherland of Houndwood (Crossbench)
My Lords, I support the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, on, if nothing else, the basis that to give way once might be thought a virtue but to give way seven times seems more like a form of masochism peculiar to the practices of this place. Therefore, I shall support the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, for a variety of reasons but I shall be brief.
For a number of years, the Lords Science and Technology Committee fulfilled a role in the absence of a similar committee in the other place. The other place now has such a committee, but a House that can stand down a committee of that type in a contemporary world is quite capable of standing it down again. A far more important point here is that in the other place I know of only one Member who has a recent and strong scientific background. He is able and good, and he will make a significant mark in that place. However, in this place-and without sparing the blushes of my colleagues-we have people such as the noble Lords, Lord Oxburgh, Lord Broers, Lord Krebs and Lord May, and that is before we stretch to the marvellous range of medics who have a scientific background and can speak with relevance to what goes on in those committees. I think that the one Member of the other place whom I mentioned would not wish to be weighed in the balances against that collection of talent.
The role of these specialists, and the place which this committee gives them, is important in two fundamental ways. The first is that cross-examination of witnesses requires experts. We have seen committee reports-especially, lately, from the other place-where there has been an absence of experts to make the cross-examination as sharp as it should be. I can assure you that it is very sharp on this particular committee. The second role that these specialists play is to identify where, one way or another, the evidence is to be found. These internationally-rated scientists-perhaps unlike those of us who depend on them-have that significant skill. Although I should declare an interest as a past chairman of this committee, I am not a practising scientist. These experts have given their time and energy to this House, and their main mode of contribution is often through this Select Committee.
I turn to the issue of impact. Today there has been a government announcement of £66 million for research on dementia. Our report on science and ageing set that hare running when we pointed out the sums that were spent in this area as compared with other illnesses. The impact on society of weakness in this area is huge. I am therefore glad that the Government are following it through. We also managed to persuade the Wellcome Trust and the MRC to put up £30 million about four years ago.
Lastly, after the recent follow-up report that the committee issued on flu pandemics, I had a letter from several consultants thanking us for paying such attention to the subject and making their task more manageable. I think that we would do a great disservice to this House, and to the importance of science and technology, if we did not accept this amendment.
Lord Winston (Labour)
My Lords, I will be brief. I would like to take up a point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, in a previous debate. It seems absolutely ridiculous to change the nature of these expert Select Committees at this time, when the whole question of the reform of the House of Lords will start to be discussed in the next few months. I beg the House to consider that issue, because the Science and Technology Committee is a highly respected committee. I could cite a list of sub-committees that have all made an international impact, from our treatment of antibiotic resistance, to the change in aircraft passenger environment, to the use of science in education in schools-where, for example, extensive, major changes have been made as a result of the House of Lords report. I am really surprised at the noble Lord, Lord Filkin. After all, he spent some time in the Home Office, which has to deal with a range of scientific issues, from animal research, to security and surveillance, to electronic monitoring, to weapons. We have to recognise-
Lord Filkin (Labour)
I would not wish to confuse my good friend, the noble Lord, Lord Winston. I totally respect the importance of science and technology: it could not be more important. The thrust of the Liaison Committee's report, which I was supporting, was the need for balance-by which I mean, if we cannot do everything, we need to have some space to harness the expertise of this House to those subjects that are almost completely ignored. This process allows us to do so.
Lord May of Oxford (Crossbench)
My Lords, in the light of what the noble Lord has just said, I have every sympathy with the problem that the Liaison Committee is seeking to address. The past few years have, after all, seen an extraordinary increase in the number of people joining us in this House, adding roughly one-third to the number of just a few years ago. It is of course proper to wish to handle things in such a way that more people can be engaged, and that is very difficult at a time when the resources cannot expand to accommodate it. I am not going to go over again the ground that has been covered, and there will be yet further examples of how extraordinary the Science and Technology Committee has been-but it is not alone in that. However, one of the distinctive and hugely useful features of the House of Lords is the expertise and first-hand knowledge that it possesses. The best of briefing is no substitute for that. We have expertise in law, engineering, science, medicine, economics, social science, the arts, business and much else, and we want to embrace it all.
I have sat on both ends of the Select Committee table-I was also interrogated by them in my five-year stint as Chief Scientific Adviser to the John Major and Tony Blair Governments. The committees were very different entities-they were not just the one Science and Technology Committee. The House of Commons is often excellent, but it rarely matches the expert, knowledgeable, thoughtful approach that is brought forward in this House. In my experience of the other place, particularly with regard to issues of genetic modification, opinion is too often substituted for knowledge and beliefs for thoughtful analysis.
It is against that background that I offer what I hope might be a solution-or at least the elements of a solution-to the conundrum before us, of whether we embrace more people in ways that play to their strength. Let us not forget that, until relatively recently, the Science and Technology Committee typically ran two sub-committees, one of which it has lost. The committee has always co-opted other people. I have looked at the past six years and, typically, a little more than one in five of those serving on the Science and Technology Committee or its sub-committees were co-opted from outside. It therefore has a way of going about enlarging its ambit. The result of losing one of those sub-committees is the loss of some of those opportunities. If we lose the second one, we will have lost-apart from the ability to do the work-roughly half of a sub-committee's worth of co-opted people.
I am coming to my suggestion. Having come off the Science and Technology Committee, my interests in the last three or four years have shifted; I have become involved with the Bank of England and others in systemic risk in financial systems. It is quite substantial. I am not aware of anybody in the House who has this precise kind of competence, which has not conventionally been something of major focus in the Bank. Therefore, I asked the Economic Affairs Committees whether I could be a co-opted member if and when there were things of this kind. I was told that those committees did not co-opt people. In so far as I have discovered-and I may be wrong-the idea of co-opting a fifth to a quarter of the members, which is habitual for the Science and Technology Committee, is not habitual to the other Select Committees. If this is true-if the others are more like Economic Affairs than Science and Technology-simply by altering that, we could have a much wider embrace of people who were not at that time on committees. The resources mean that we are not going to have more bums on Select Committee seats; it is just a question of how we can embrace a much wider group of people. That is an important approach.
The other proposal in this Liaison Committee report is to use four ad hoc committees. Personally, I think the idea of one or two ad hoc committees is extremely good, for the reasons that we have already heard. I also understand that we have resources for one more fully funded Select Committee. I suggest that we do not go for four ad hoc committees, rather one or two at a time, and keep what is one of the demonstrable jewels in this place, which is the full strength of its input to science and technology in the broadest sense, and with an emphasis on the technology as well as the science.
Lord Bowness (Conservative)
My Lords, I wish to endorse the words of the noble Lord, Lord Roper, the chairman of the European Union Select Committee, and to agree with my noble friend Lord Jopling. I confirm that the views they have expressed are those widely held by the members of the main committee and its sub-committees. Having said that, I do not intend to indulge in special pleading for any particular part of the European Union Select Committee, and I am sure that if the recommendation is approved today, it will find a way so far as is possible to continue its work at the level and standards that have been achieved under its successive chairmen.
However, I have two observations to make. First, we are being asked to reduce the number of sub-committees against the background of the express desire of the Minister for Europe that parliamentary scrutiny of European legislation should be improved. That is a matter for Parliament and not for Government, but it is an objective which presumably we all share, whatever our views of the European Union. Are noble Lords in the House today quite certain that that exhortation to do more can be achieved with fewer resources, and has there been-as we frequently ask the European Commission-an appropriate impact assessment? Secondly, it was the Government that chose to increase the number of Members of your Lordships' House, and quite reasonably the House now has to find ways of ensuring that as many of our number as possible are able to play a part in the committee work of the House.
As I read it, the Leader's Group recommended an expansion of committee work with additional resources and not at the expense of existing committees. I would submit that it is not really possible to expand the House by the numbers it has and, despite the House Committee's desire to hold or reduce costs over the current planning period, to improve scrutiny and increase the amount of committee work. The Leader's Group recommended additional expenditure of just over 1 per cent of existing expenditure. Moreover, if I read the report correctly, the cost of the two extra committees would be some £450,000, which, if the Sunday Times is correct-I cannot be sure of that, of course-is what we will save as a result of not sitting an extra week at Easter.
I wish that we could have had a comprehensive debate about the working practices report, especially those parts concerned with resources, rather than the piecemeal approach of a recommendation here and a recommendation there. I hope that it is not too late for that to happen.
Viscount Hanworth (Labour)
My Lords, the Liaison Committee has proposed to curtail the work of the Science and Technology Committee by effectively halving the time and resources that are devoted to it. I should like to declare in the strongest possible manner that to do so would be a misguided action. I would go so far as to say that in the perception of many people, it would be an act of vandalism. It appears from the report of the Liaison Committee that it sees the role of Select Committees primarily as that of contributing to the House's scrutiny of the Government's legislative and executive activities. It proposes to curtail the work of the Science and Technology Committee in order to make way for two new committees which might serve the purpose of engaging Members of the House more fully in committee work. Be that as it may, the fact is that the Science and Technology Committee plays a much larger role than has been attributed to it by the Liaison Committee.
Ever since they have been published on the web, and no doubt for much longer than that, the reports of the committee have disseminated scientific information and judicious opinion on scientific matters to a very wide readership. I have read the submission of the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, to the Liaison Committee and it is my opinion, at least in that context, that he has been far too modest in proclaiming the importance of the Science and Technology Committee. However, today he has left us in no doubt at all about its importance. I am sure that the reports produced by the committee have contributed greatly to the reputation of the House of Lords as a forum for serious and informed debate. If the committee's activities are curtailed, the House will suffer a commensurate loss of reputation. I do not think that I can express the matter more clearly than that.
Lord Alderdice (Liberal Democrat)
My Lords, I think it might be useful to hear from these Benches and from another side of the argument. One of the essences of science is the requirement to look at all the different arguments. The Liaison Committee has had to look at a number of difficult problems, and as a member of that committee, it is important for me to bring them to your Lordships' attention.
The first point is that we do not have sufficient resources, financially or otherwise, to service all the areas that Members quite properly wish to address. That is a fact. On the island where I spend as much time as I can, when I look across the border I see that people have had their pensions and salaries reduced by about 10 per cent overall. We have escaped that on this side of the water, but we have not completely escaped the need to address the problem of austerity. We simply do not have the money to devote to all the things we would like to do.
The second point is that we have substantially increased the number of Members of your Lordships' House. Those Members are bringing with them considerable expertise. In some areas they may even be bringing more up-to-date expertise than that of those who have been here for some time, so they should not be undervalued. In that context, we need to find a way to move forward. It is absolutely right that we should dwell on our reputation from the past, but it is equally important to continue to develop and to move forward, otherwise we will simply become stuck.
One crucial area of development is that of information and communications technology. We have a Communications Committee; it is neither a Select Committee nor a sessional committee, but in effect a kind of ad hoc committee on communications. It is quite clear that over the past year or two, that committee's understanding of its remit has developed. It now looks not just at questions of the content of communication and broadcast, but at the technology of broadband and digital communication. Whenever, as a member of the committee, I asked whether there had been some kind of formal communication between it and the Science and Technology Committee about this, I was told that there had not. That was a failing on the part of both committees. If the Science and Technology Committee was not consulting with the Communications Committee, and if that committee was not making requests to consult with the Science and Technology Committee, both of them were failing to look to the future. I have to say that science and technology is also social science and social technology, and we have had only a very modest amount of research in those areas by the Science and Technology Committee. There was a recent rather good report on behaviour change, but the overall amount has been very modest.
It is not enough for us simply to say, "We want to keep what we have and we want more", because we do not have the resources and we do have new people with their thoughts and ideas. It is therefore not enough simply to say, when it comes to the European Committee, "We have got seven sub-committees, but we want eight, with one on foreign affairs". We do not have the money for that.
So, what do we do? The proposal is to continue with the Communications Committee, and a specific proposal that I myself put to the Liaison Committee was that we should ask it to consult with the Science and Technology Committee over the coming year so that areas of overlap can be accommodated in the work of the Communications Committee, and indeed that its name should be changed to exemplify the fact that there is a science and technology component to its work. It is not a matter of shutting down but of opening up and of further understanding. Here is an area of science and technology that is extremely relevant. When you go out on the streets, you can see that young people are more aware in their daily lives of the communications aspects of science and technology than of any other. Again, it is not a matter of closing down but of developing.
There is absolutely no reason why some of the ad hoc committees, which will be relatively short term, should not pick up on issues of science, technology and medicine. Nothing should restrict them just because they are ad hoc committees. Indeed, in pre- and post-legislative scrutiny, there is no reason why some things that they pick up should be in these areas.
I appeal to noble Lords to understand the dilemma of a Liaison Committee, acting on behalf of the House and with modest resources, that has to deal with a substantial increase in the number of Members, an ever increasing amount of material that we could reasonably, legitimately, profitably-and in a way that enhances the reputation of the House-consider, but that also has to address the reality of the boundaries and limits imposed on us. I trust that however we choose to vote, the conversation will continue so that we continue to do the best we can for the House while addressing all the pressures that are on the Liaison Committee and the other committees that have to take responsibility.
Lord Grenfell (Other)
I am most grateful to noble Lords. I begin by declaring an interest, in particular with reference to recommendation 46 about the reduction in the European Union sub-committee structure by one sub-committee. In 2003, when I had the honour of being chairman of the European Union Committee, I argued very strongly for an extra committee and we obtained one. It was not done lightly. It was done because the volume of draft legislation coming from the European Union was enormous and we did not feel that we were able to cover, in particular, draft directives and other documents in the area of social affairs and education. We therefore asked for the extra committee and we got it.
It seems strange that we are arguing for a reduction in the capacity of the European Union committee structure at a time when national parliaments are being asked-in fact, pressed-by the European Union to take a much more significant role and to be a much more substantial part of the structure of the European Union. This is, therefore, not a good time for us to think about reducing our capacity to meet that very considerable challenge. The noble Lord, Lord Roper, in his excellent letter, in appendix 2 of the report and in his very good statement this afternoon, set out the scale of the burden now borne by the European Union Committee. I am rather disappointed that an amendment on that subject has not been tabled to the Motion.
The noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, said again and again that it was a fact that there were not sufficient resources. One might ask why there are not sufficient resources. That seems to me the nub of the question: what are the causes of the financial constraint? One of them-there are several-and maybe one of the biggest, is the unnecessary inflation of the membership of the House. That is to a very large extent a direct cause of the financial problem.
When we consider the additional cost of a new unit of committee activity-who on earth invented that frightful description of our work?-we are told that the additional marginal cost will be in the region of £225,000. That frightens me. Will the abolition of one of our European Union sub-committees save £225,000? If it does, it will save the equivalent of what seven Members of the House of Lords receive in expenses during the course of a year. There is not much chance at the moment of the number of Peers and the membership of the House being reduced by seven. It is going up all the time by several factors of that. This shows how strangely we approach this question of resources. Having seven fewer Members claiming up to £30,000 a year in legitimate expenses and attendance allowance would pay for the European Union sub-committee and, happily, the sub-committee of the Science and Technology Committee. I was deeply moved and impressed by what the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, and his fellow scientists said about that.
Could we not try to be realistic about this and see it in the proper context of resources? If we had a smaller House, we would have more resources. It stands to reason that if we reduce the number of Members of the House, we will reduce the amount that the Exchequer has to put out to pay to keep them here. Why do we always say that there are no resources yet do not address the question of why? The size of the House is a major contributor to that unfortunate situation.
The House has a worldwide reputation of being one of the most cost-effective second Chambers in the world. Within that, it has a reputation of being probably the best scrutiny Chamber in the world. From my own experience, I can certainly tell noble Lords that in the European Union we have consistently been considered-run close by the French Senate-the most effective Chamber scrutinising draft European legislation. Do we want to lose that capacity? No, we do not, so let us look at ways of keeping it. I beg noble Lords to strongly consider why we are short of resources, to address that issue and not to undermine the huge reputation of the House.
Lord Walton of Detchant (Crossbench)
My Lords, I shall speak briefly. I have read the report of the Liaison Committee with great care. I think that it was carefully argued. I fully appreciate why, in times of financial constraint, it made the proposals that it did. However, we as a country depend on increasing our income and overcoming our deficit. There can be no question, in my opinion, that the development of science, education and technology will play a vital role in helping us to recover from the deficit state in which we find ourselves. Unfortunately, we are slow to take account of, develop and extend the results of scientific discovery-a problem that we have faced over many years.
We live now in an era of evidence-based and translational medicine-meaning the ability to convert the results of basic science into developments in patient care and new methods of treatment of disease. It is crucial that the results of research in basic science, engineering and technology should do the same. Happily, the Government have put more money into scientific research. The Technology Strategy Board is making a major impact, and so, too, are a huge number of other important developments-but they need development and they need support.
I have been in the House for 23 years. For 15 of those years, I served as a member of your Lordships' Committee on Science and Technology. I chaired an inquiry some years ago into research in the National Health Service. That was a privilege. The report of that sub-committee inquiry led to the Culyer report and then the Cooksey report, and ultimately to the introduction of the NHS research programme-and now the highly effective National Institute for Health Research.
I worked on a small inquiry of the sub-committee which, curiously, in a limited field, dealt with the medicinal uses of cannabis and led eventually to the development of a standardised product of cannabis leaf that is now being sold across the world-used for absorption through the mucus membrane of the mouth-and that brings in money from across the world because of its effect in the treatment of multiple sclerosis. I could quote a lot of other inquiries that have been crucial: not least, for instance, the committee I chaired into complementary and alternative medicine, to try to bring a rational basis to the study of this particular area, in which a large amount of money is spent by very many people in this country. That report was taken on board by the National Institutes of Health in the United States as the basis for a programme of research on which it embarked, and into which it put money, to try to get an evidence base for that field of complementary medicine. I could quote many other examples-and many other examples have been quoted today.
The reason I support the amendment tabled by my noble friend Lord Krebs is that the reports of the Science and Technology Committee in this House have not only had a major influence on government policy across the entire scientific field but have won the respect of Britain's scientific community. Above all, they have won the respect of the international scientific community. As the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, said, the report on science and society was widely commended in the United States media. I could quote a huge number of other reports from the committee that have had a similar effect.
It is absolutely crucial that the committee should continue to function in its present capacity. My noble friend Lord Krebs said, in his carefully argued and detailed letter in annexe 3 to the third report from the Liaison Committee, proposed,
"wider involvement of members in the committee activity of the House whilst preserving the advantages of a sessional committee".
He proposed a number of methods for co-opting members to each of the sub-committees and made it clear that he could continue with the two sub-committees of the science committee with co-opted members, increasing the involvement of other Members of the House.
It would be a sad day if that committee, which has fulfilled such a vital role in Britain's science community, and which has received such outstanding credit from across the world, were to lose one of its sub-committees at a time when Britain needs much more development in science, engineering and technology. For that reason, I strongly support my noble friend Lord Krebs.
Lord Pearson of Rannoch (UKIP)
My Lords, it will not come as a surprise to the House to hear that I fear that the Liaison Committee has got the importance of our European committees badly out of focus.
It is welcome that the European committees have been cut from eight-seven plus one-to one and six sub-committees. However, that still leaves 84 Members of your Lordships' House on the sub-committees, a further 14 on the main committee, with the result that the time of 98 of your Lordships is taken by the European Select Committee. I have mentioned this before. There is a long series of Questions from the noble Lords, Lord Tebbit and Lord Vinson, answered by the Government, which show that the European Committee has virtually no influence on the legislation that comes to us from Brussels. As your Lordships know, that is quite a substantial proportion of our general legislation and easily the majority of-
Lord Sewel (Labour)
There is the vexatious question of the reform of the common fisheries policy. Has the noble Lord looked at the Green Paper that the Fisheries Commissioner has published? Is he aware that it borrows-I dare not use the word "plagiarises"-significantly from the report of the committee of this House?
Lord Pearson of Rannoch (UKIP)
My Lords, I understand that the decision of the European Commission to review the common fisheries policy is due more to the series on television by Mr Fearnley-Whittingstall than to your Lordships' Select Committee. And anyway, we await reform of the common fisheries policy, as we have for the past 30 years.
I do not want to turn this into a debate on the pluses and minuses of the European Union, but I want to explain to your Lordships why seven European committees is still far too many. I referred to the series of Questions from the noble Lords, Lord Tebbit and Lord Vinson, the answers to which show that the Select Committee has had virtually no influence on legislation coming to us from Brussels. That is not surprising. Your Lordships may be aware of the process of European legislation, which is proposed in secret by the Commission, negotiated in secret in COREPER and passed in secret in the Council. There is nothing that your Lordships' House or the other place can do when it has gone through that process.
Lord Hannay of Chiswick (Crossbench)
I hesitate to interrupt the noble Lord when he is in full flight on one of his well chosen paths, but I wonder how on earth he thinks that a government reply to another Member of this House can demonstrate that the influence of the committee and its sub-committees is nil. Of course, the noble Lord wants that to be the answer; of course, he wants there to be a reduction in the sub-committees and the committee to ensure that we do not scrutinise the European Union properly, because he wants to strengthen the argument to leave the European Union. However, it would be quite nice if we could address the subject before the House, which is the matter of the Liaison Committee's report, and could above all face the fact that the European Committee deals with a core function that is not dealt with by any other committee or by the House as a whole. If you reduce that core function, you reduce the effectiveness of how we scrutinise this work. I wish that the noble Lord would take account of that instead of arguing the contrary.
Lord Pearson of Rannoch (UKIP)
My Lords, I was about to explain to your Lordships why that core function is pointless compared to the work that the other Select Committees do in this House-and we have heard of powerful examples from the Science and Technology Committee. All the other committees are taken very seriously in this country and world wide, whereas the debates of the European Committee in your Lordships' House are ill attended and do nothing to inform public opinion about how the European Union works-and its membership, as I have said again and again, is solidly Europhile. We have just had two interventions to prove that.
The noble Lord, Lord Roper, has told us that the committee scrutinises very effectively European legislation. It writes to Ministers. But your Lordships will be aware of the scrutiny reserve, an agreement whereby successive Governments have given an assurance, although it is not a legal assurance, to both Houses of Parliament that if a piece of legislation is under scrutiny the Government of the day will not sign up to it in Brussels unless that committee agrees. Written Answers from the Government show that that has been overridden hundreds of times in the past 10 years-I think it is 343 times in the past five years.
I mention all this only to show that we put all this effort into the European Union committees and get very little out of them. I am sorry to offend noble and Europhile Lords, and I hope that the House does not think that I am banging on again about Europe. But hearing the comments about the eminent scientists in this Room who have spoken only for the Science and Technology Committee, and looking at the other committees, which are full of expertise and widely respected in the country and internationally, I fear that we have the balance wrong. Two or three European committees, including the main one, would be quite enough. We should redirect those energies into committees that will serve the House and the country well.
Baroness Royall of Blaisdon (Labour)
My Lords, I hear the debate that we have had this evening but I have to say that I support the recommendations from the Liaison Committee, which closely follow the proposals from the report of the Leader's Group. I warmly welcome the recommendation that two new cross-cutting and ad hoc committees should be set up, although my preference would have been for an appointment of two and a half years to enable the committees themselves to deliberate on the subjects of the report and to enable the committees to follow up the conclusions of the report, as the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, suggested.
I also welcome the proposals on pre-legislative and post-legislative scrutiny, which I believe to be extremely important. If there is to be new draft legislation on adoption, as suggested by the Prime Minister, I would be grateful for an assurance from the Chairman of Committees that it will not be introduced until the post-legislative scrutiny has been concluded.
The decisions regarding the European Committee and the Science and Technology Committee were not easy. In fact, they were extremely difficult. There were hard choices, and it is never a good time to bring about change. Of course, many noble Lords are concerned that, by reducing the number of European sub-committees from seven to six, we are diminishing the importance that this House rightly gives to proper scrutiny of EU documents and proposals, and diminishes our standing as a House of expertise. However, like the noble Lord, Lord Bowness, I am confident that the excellent and much needed scrutiny will continue with six sub-committees and a slightly larger membership, if the committees wish to enlarge.
The noble Lord is, of course, correct, as is my noble friend Lord Grenfell, in saying that it is the Government who are responsible for extending the membership of this House, while it is we in this House who have to deal with the financial consequences, which means reorganising the committees of this House. The work of the committee is held in the highest regard by parliaments and decision-makers in Europe and the wider world, and I know that this will continue to be the case. I disagree fundamentally with the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch. I am completely aware of the process of policy-making in the European Union, and I know just how influential the reports are both inside and outside the institutions. Likewise, the work of the Science and Technology Committee-
Lord Pearson of Rannoch (UKIP)
Would the noble Baroness not just sail over it? Would she care to comment on the override by the Government of hundreds of scrutiny reserves in the past few years?
Baroness Royall of Blaisdon (Labour)
My Lords, I would not care to comment on that at the moment, but I am grateful for the invitation from the noble Lord. I was going to say how much the House as a whole rightly regards the work of the Science and Technology Committee. Clearly, the breadth of knowledge inside that committee, along with the understanding and the influence of the reports, is phenomenal, and I am sure that that will continue. However, as the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, said, resources are scarce. Throughout our deliberations in the committee, I have argued for additional resources to be made available for an additional committee, and I will continue to make that argument in the coming year, so that when we have deliberations at this time next year, I may well be able to argue in favour of more work for the Science and Technology Committee. The noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, made a very good speech here and in Committee, and I have supported him in his arguments throughout. However, I support the report from the committee that is before us today, and I urge the whole House to adopt it. Should there be a vote, I wish to make it clear that the people on my Benches will have a free vote.
Lord Strathclyde (Conservative)
My Lords, I know that I am going to disappoint noble Lords who have spoken in this debate. It is not my purpose, but I think it is the result of the report published by the Liaison Committee that I support. As the House knows, the report proposes that more of our resources should go to one-year inquiries set up by the House for a specific purpose and with a specific membership-what we call ad hoc committees. That is a change of direction from the way in which we have dealt with things before, and I believe that it is right that these proposals for ad hoc committees should come from Back-Benchers. If this report is agreed to, I look forward to a meeting of the Liaison Committee next December when we consider a really good range of proposals for new ad hoc committees proposed by Back-Benchers around the House.
The whole point of this report is that it provides more opportunities for a broader range of Members to take part in the committee work of this House, and for those committees to be timely and to engage us in debate. The committees are meant to inform the House on subjects that we consider important. That is not to take away anything that the Science and Technology Committee does and has done. After all, this report is a package of recommendations. If it is agreed to, new resources will be made available to the Committee Office.
The report is also clear that some trimming of existing committees is required if we are to set up the new committees as proposed, and we have limited the trimming to a single sub-committee of the European Union Committee. The reason was asked by my noble friend Lord Jopling and indeed by the noble Lords, Lord Roper, Lord Grenfell, and others. They asked why we pick on the EU Committee, and the answer is, not because we do not value its work but because it absorbs by far the largest proportion of the House's Select Committee resources-eight committees in total-and so it is the obvious place to look when trying to release resources. This is also why, to answer the noble Lord, Lord Roper, the Liaison Committee was already minded to propose the change before hearing from the noble Lord. It was in no sense any disrespect to him as chairman or indeed to the quality of the work that he has done.
The second place was the Science and Technology Committee and its sub-committees. We felt that, in the future, the resources should be that of a single Select Committee. The reason why we suggest that is that it would put it on the same resource footing as the Constitution Committee, the Communications Committee and the Economic Affairs Committee, which itself appoints a sub-committee.
Of course, this House has a notable reputation in science and technology, but there are other fields of experience and interest in this House, and I suggest we should make use for them. However, I stress that there is no reason why Back-Benchers cannot propose technical and scientific subjects to the Liaison Committee as subjects for ad hoc committees. There is also no reason why, in future Sessions, we should not re-examine this decision. I am in favour of trying out pre-legislative and post-legislative scrutiny, as suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Filkin, and others. It may be that in a couple of Sessions' time we find that it is not a good use of the House's resources and that we should look again at the situation in the Science and Technology Committee.
Lord Krebs (Crossbench)
Yes. I thank the noble Lord for his comments so far, but I would appreciate it if he would address the question that I put on what mechanism was used in the report to assess the value for money from different options. It is all very well to say that we need to create resources for new activities, but how was that evaluation carried out? I request some transparency on that.
Lord Strathclyde (Conservative)
My Lords, we started off from a slightly different position. We wanted to do more different things, such as pre-leg, post-leg and two new stand-alone ad hoc committees, and they had to be paid for by some trimming elsewhere. We took the view that there could be a reduction in the EU sub-committees, and I am afraid that the Science and Technology Committee was next in line. We suggested this in the report that we published right at the beginning of this Session nearly two years ago, when we said:
"So far as the Science and Technology Committee is concerned, we note that the Committee has recently worked through two units of activity ... Given that the House of Commons committee on this subject is now permanently established, we consider these two units of activity should be regarded as an absolute maximum; and in the event of further demands for committee work arising which require redeployment of committee resources we would in the first instance look towards retrenchment of the Science and Technology Committee".
So all this was forecast a long time ago. I think there is a mood in the House to try to look at other ways in which we can work on our committee structure.
The Science and Technology Committee will continue. It will no doubt continue to work through a sub-committee, and I hope that it will continue to do its work extremely effectively.
Lord Haskel (Labour)
Will the noble Lord respond to the point made by several scientists when speaking about the Science and Technology Committee: that it also serves the public and that the Liaison Committee has looked at it purely from the point of view of serving the convenience of the House? Will he respond to the point that we are also here to serve the public, as well as serving our own interests?
Lord Strathclyde (Conservative)
My Lords, there is going to be a new committee on post-legislative scrutiny of adoption and family services; more pre-legislative scrutiny; and two new committees, one on SMEs and exports and the other on public services and demography. All of these are designed to serve the interests of the public using much more of the expertise that exists around the House. This decision was not taken easily or capriciously; its implications were well understood. As I have said, in the longer term there is no reason why we should not revisit it.
Lord Methuen (Liberal Democrat)
On what basis is the Committee Office funded and why, with this huge influx of new Members, could more resources not be given to it to enable these additional committees and the existing ones to be adequately funded?
Lord Strathclyde (Conservative)
The reason is that we are trying to work within our existing budgets. Throughout the public sector there are limits on increasing expenditure. The House of Commons is facing a substantial decrease in expenditure and it would look a bit odd if the House of Lords alone decided to spend even more public money.
Lord May of Oxford (Crossbench)
Does the noble Lord believe that his second attempt to answer the question of the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, answered it? I did not understand it. Given that he asserted that there was going to be a cost-benefit analysis, I did not hear anything like that in his reply.
Lord Strathclyde (Conservative)
It is very difficult to provide a cost-benefit analysis until we have seen the work and the success of the new committees that have been proposed. We are proposing four new committees-they do not exist at the moment-which will be paid for in part by a small reduction-I still say that it is a small reduction-in the amount of money available to the Science and Technology Committee. The best time for a cost-benefit analysis will be at the end of the first or second Session when we have seen how these new committees have worked out.
Lord Brabazon of Tara (Crossbench)
I will be brief because I know that certain Members of the House want to get on to the next business with rather a great deal of impatience. I shall not take long. I will not be able to name everyone in the impressive list of noble Lords who have spoken, particularly the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, and the massed ranks of fellow scientists that he has managed to assemble today.
In what I thought was a very impressive speech, the noble Lord, Lord Filkin, was right to say how difficult it was to review the committee structure because no one wanted change. Everyone wants to keep exactly the same thing going on-people are always resistant to change-but at the same time they want new committees. That is what we are trying to do. As the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, and the noble Lord the Leader of the House said-
Lord Winston (Labour)
I wonder if the noble Lord might be prepared to withdraw that remark about the "massed ranks". It seems contemptuous of the serious point that we as scientists are trying to put to the House of Lords.
Lord Brabazon of Tara (Crossbench)
My Lords, I certainly was not trying to be contemptuous of the noble Lord, Lord Winston-rather the opposite; I was impressed by the number of scientists who had spoken. I am sorry that the noble Lord misunderstood me, or maybe I did not express myself well.
As the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, said, it is a question of resources. We cannot continue to spend more and more money. In this report we have recommended one additional unit of committee activity-I know that the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, does not like that phrase but it describes rather well what we do-and the noble Lord, Lord Filkin, mentioned how we had followed the recommendations of the Goodlad committee. We are going to have two pre-legislative scrutiny committees, one more than we have at the moment; one post-legislative scrutiny committee-I take the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, about adoption, and obviously if something develops on that we can review the subject later on-and two brand new ad hoc committees on topical subjects. I think that that is what the House wanted. It would be even better if we could just go on with the old committees as well, but it would be irresponsible of our committee to continually recommend more and more.
On the point about the European Union Committee, we will still have six sub-committees and a main committee so there will be seven committees in action in that area. They will still be better resourced than most, if not all, such sub-committees in other EU national parliaments.
We were grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Roper, for coming to see us and explaining things. We had intended to be helpful in telling him roughly what we thought, and we had intended that he would therefore know what to expect and what to argue. We also did not want committees to plan work beyond the end of the Session that they would then have to alter. Indeed, the noble Lord persuaded us not to reduce the size of the EU Committee to five but to keep it at six. I had thought that it was the European Union Committee's desire that the membership of the sub-committees should go up from 12 to 14; that is the impression that we on the committee were given. If that is not the case, though, it is only-
Lord Roper (Liberal Democrat)
My Lords, there was some sort of misunderstanding. When I came before the Liaison Committee, I suggested the increase in size as an alternative way to involve more Peers, rather than reducing the number of committees.
Lord Brabazon of Tara (Crossbench)
I would say only that membership can be up to 14. There is no need for the European Union Committee to appoint 14 on each of its sub-committees; it can continue at 12, as it wants to at the moment.
Noble Lords have made a number of other points but I do not think I can add much more. On the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, about the Science and Technology Committee, there is nothing to stop that committee conducting follow-up inquiries in future. Paragraph 47 of the report makes clear that the committee should retain the power to appoint a sub-committee and to co-opt additional Members for particular inquiries. Both those points are already made in the report.
I hope that the House will agree to the report. It will breathe fresh air into the committee structure and I commend it to the House.
Baroness O'Neill of Bengarve (Crossbench)
Will the noble Lord confirm that the Government remain committed to policies and structures in the House; and that the Liaison Committee, above all, remains so committed and will support evidence-based policy rather than a slide towards the new, the "breath of fresh air" and the policy-based evidence?
Lord Krebs (Crossbench)
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord the Chairman of the Liaison Committee for his summing up, and the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde. A number of telling points have been made during today's debate. I am a little disappointed that in the replies from the noble Lord the Leader of the House and the Chairman of the Liaison Committee those points were not all fully addressed. However, I take heart from the noble Lord the Leader reiterating the point that he made in a letter that he sent to the Cross-Bench Convenor, and perhaps to others, that the reduction that he envisages in the support for the Science and Technology Committee is a small one, which is very different from my understanding when I read the report that essentially support for the committee was going to be halved. I see a glimmer of hope there and I hope that in further discussion I can understand how small "small" is. I assume that "small" is smaller than what I see as large. On that basis, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment to the Motion withdrawn.