European Standing Committees

Oral Answers to Questions — Lord President of the Council – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 29th April 1991.

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Photo of Mr Teddy Taylor Mr Teddy Taylor , Southend East 12:00 am, 29th April 1991

To ask the Lord President of the Council what representations he has received calling for procedural changes to ensure that motions and amendments agreed by European Standing Committees are placed before the House for consideration: and if he will make a statement.

Photo of Mr Teddy Taylor Mr Teddy Taylor , Southend East

Is my right hon. Friend aware that since the Government made it clear that the views of the Committees would not necessarily be reported to the House unless the Government found them acceptable, hardly anyone is bothering to attend the sittings of these rather irrelevant Committees? On Wednesday last week, only four Members were present at the end of the sitting. Is he aware also that a further crisis has arisen because Ministers are not reporting on the proposed legislation as it is? Instead, they are reporting on what they think it might be by the time that Committee considers it. On Wednesday, with a huge crisis looming for British potato crisps manufacture, which could lose 600 jobs in this country, there was not one word about the issue in the papers before the Committee or in the Government motion. Would not it be better to scrap the Committees rather than have a democratic front?

Photo of Mr John MacGregor Mr John MacGregor Chair, Privileges Committee, Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House Lords (Privy Council Office), Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Privy Council Office)

No, I do not think that it would be right to scrap the Committees. As I said at the outset, I believe that they are an effective way in which the House can carry out scrutiny. I have said that I am prepared to review those Committees, but I do not think that it would be right to scrap them.

With regard to my hon. Friend's point about Government motions before the House, he will know of one case about which he and I have corresponded. In that regard, the Government acted entirely in accordance with the Standing Orders. However, in view of my hon. Friend's concern, I have asked the House authorities to consider whether the Order Paper can make the position clearer in such cases, perhaps with the date of the resolution passed by the Standing Committee being printed in the Order Paper beside the Government motion. I am also considering further my hon. Friend's idea about how that may be changed.

Photo of Mr Peter Pike Mr Peter Pike , Burnley

Does the Leader of the House accept that all members of those European Committees believe that it is absolute nonsense that a motion agreed unanimously and as amended is reported to the House in accordance with the Standing Orders of the House, but is then not the motion moved by the Government at a subsequent stage? The Committee then has the right to table an amendment, but not to speak to it or explain reasons. That is totally unsatisfactory and if no changes are made to the procedure, Members will refuse to attend those Committees.

Photo of Mr John MacGregor Mr John MacGregor Chair, Privileges Committee, Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House Lords (Privy Council Office), Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Privy Council Office)

I make it clear that that happened on only one occasion. The change was made because, as the Minister explained to all members of the Committee, the actual terms of the motion were, in the Government's view, inaccurate and did not represent the position. Therefore, on that occasion, the Government tabled a motion and it would have been possible for any member of the Committee to table an amendment. However, as I said, I constantly review the way in which those Committees work and I am now considering whether this can be done differently if a similar situation arises in future.