My Lords, first, I must apologise for the fact that the Chairman of Committees is unable to answer the Question. He is in Australia attending the conference of Commonwealth Speakers on behalf of the Lord Chancellor.
Noble Lords will be aware that the Monetary Policy Committee of the Bank of England was set up as an ad hoc committee following the report of the Liaison Committee of 20th July 1998. The question of whether it should be set up again will be considered at the next meeting of the Liaison Committee on 7th February.
My Lords, I should make it clear that I do not blame the noble Lord for that totally inadequate reply because he is not even a member of the Liaison Committee. However, I do blame the House's authorities, whoever they are. Some noble Lords will know who they may be, and perhaps those in the usual channels, who are sitting not too far away, can tell us.
Is the noble Lord aware that when the subject was debated on 4th November, there was on all sides of the House agreement and a strong demand for the committee to be set up again as a new Select Committee? Can he assure us that he will at least press the House's authorities for an earlier meeting of the Liaison Committee than is at present planned? Is there any reason why it cannot meet without the Chairman of Committees, or should we all move out to Australia in order to hold it? Indeed, it might be better to hold a meeting of the Liaison Committee without the noble Lord because the demand is that the committee shall meet as quickly as possible to set up a committee on the Monetary Policy Committee.
My Lords, the House's committee on the Monetary Policy Committee was discussed at the meeting of the Liaison Committee in July. That was before the debate on the report. Indeed, it was before the report was published, although we had a pretty good idea of what was happening. I say "we", but the noble Lord is correct in saying that I am not a member of the Liaison Committee. However, I attend in my role as chairman of the European Communities Committee.
There were a number of items for discussion and several suggestions came from members who wanted ad hoc committees set up. The subject was deferred until the autumn. I am aware that the autumn has passed, but it should be borne in mind that until late in the year there was some confusion in your Lordships' House about who would be here. I believe that that is one of the reasons for the delay.
My Lords, the Question was tabled for today, but as regards when the committee will be set up I can say only that it will be discussed at the meeting of the Liaison Committee on 7th February. There is no chance of bringing the meeting forward.
My Lords, is the noble Lord aware of any steps that may have been taken in the meantime by Her Majesty's Government to ensure that the committee is provided with accurate and consistent statistics upon which to make proper judgments?
My Lords, perhaps I may reinforce the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Barnett. It always was a mistake that it should be regarded as an ad hoc committee. The report described its task as one of critical interpretation. Is it not a fact that the arrangements affecting the Monetary Policy Committee and the Bank of England are not those for a temporary phenomenon but one that is here for the long term? Therefore, is it not right that the same consideration should apply to the committee in order to make use of the expertise which exists in all parts of the House?
My Lords, that may well be so; no doubt the Liaison Committee will take it into account when it deliberates on 7th February. However, the committee was originally set up as an ad hoc committee almost two years ago and was regarded as such until the end of its deliberations when the results of the report suggested that it should be made permanent.
My Lords, is the noble Lord aware of how puzzled I am by his answers? The report was published last July and was widely acclaimed. It contained several explanations of why the committee must carry on. We discussed the subject in a widely acclaimed debate. Like the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, I believe that the committee should be made permanent, but that is another point.
One is left in a complete puzzle about what goes on in this place. One does many things and produces reports which are a credit to your Lordships' House and then no one does anything about anything! Those of us on the Back Benches must then ask how the place organises itself so that it is capable of taking a rational decision on a matter of some importance. I would never criticise my good friend, the Principal Deputy Chairman of Committees, but is he aware that many of us would like someone to do something sooner rather than later and learn a lesson about taking other decisions on other matters?
My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that the importance of the Monetary Policy Committee was underlined this morning and therefore the importance of this House having a committee to monitor it is equally important and underlined? Is he also aware that we on these Benches support the proper establishment of a permanent committee on this issue?
My Lords, I am now aware. I suggest that the noble Lord may want to make the leader of his party aware. He is a member of the Liaison Committee which is charged with the allocation of resources to sub-committees.
My Lords, is there a settled view among the appropriate authorities on how many committees the House can manage? Are there any physical or other limits to the number of committees we may have as regards Clerks and rooms? Only a small minority of our now active membership sits on committees, but I am sure that some of the newer Members would welcome such an opportunity. What is the view of the appropriate authorities on the future of the committee structure of this House?
My Lords, I cannot give a definitive answer. There are restrictions in terms of rooms, support from the Clerks and membership. However, that is changing with the increasing membership of your Lordships' House. Speaking as chairman of the European Communities Committee, after a difficult period during the summer when we did not know who would be available, we managed to staff and fill all the places on the Select Committees and the sub-committees. If rumour is true that there is to be a further infusion of new Members, I am sure that the task will become easier. However, the Clerks of this House have been seriously overworked in recent times. The situation has improved, but, as the noble Lord will know, some Clerks in the Committee corridor have run two committees, which is more than flesh and blood can stand.