Select Committees

– in the House of Lords at 3:20 pm on 13th April 2000.

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Photo of Lord Dubs Lord Dubs Labour 3:20 pm, 13th April 2000

asked the Chairman of Committees:

What extra resources would be required to establish an additional Select Committee and how long it would take to recruit and train any new staff.

Photo of Lord Boston of Faversham Lord Boston of Faversham Crossbench

My Lords, the resources required by individual Select Committees vary greatly. Typically, a committee or sub-committee requires two to three members of staff, together with the necessary accommodation. Other costs of committees arise from shorthand writing, specialist advice, printing and any committee travel. Career Clerks are recruited through an annual competition, and normally take up posts after the Summer Recess. Temporary Clerks can be recruited to a shorter timescale. Committee Clerks are trained in post.

Photo of Lord Dubs Lord Dubs Labour

My Lords, I am grateful for that Answer. Does my noble friend agree that the Select Committees represent some of the best work carried out by this House; that there is a widespread wish that we should expand the number of Select Committees to carry out that work; and, whereas an outside observer might not believe that this House is unduly impoverished, is it not the truth that we lack resources? Will my noble friend give some advice as to what we can do to increase the resources available for our work?

Photo of Lord Boston of Faversham Lord Boston of Faversham Crossbench

My Lords, I wholly agree with the noble Lord about the success of the work of your Lordships' committees. I have particularly in mind the European Union Select Committee, the Select Committee on Science and Technology, and indeed, more recently, the Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee, all of which are committees which I do not happen to chair. Those committees, particularly the first two, have enhanced the reputation of this House both in this country and elsewhere and are taken notice of, not least in Brussels.

At the last meeting of the Liaison Committee it was decided that we should embark on a general review of our committee work. That will take place on 8th May at the committee's next meeting, when we shall be considering a number of proposals for the expansion of committee work. I wholly agree with the noble Lord--if I may say so, as only one member of the Liaison Committee; I cannot commit the committee itself--that to expand our committee work somewhat is desirable. Provision was made for resources at the most recent meeting of the Finance and Staff Sub-Committee, which has responsibility for making provision for expanding work over the next three years. However, bearing in mind in particular that accommodation is one of the constraints, there may well be a need to press further for additional resources in that respect.

Photo of Lord Barnett Lord Barnett Labour

My Lords, my noble friend the Chairman of Committees forgot one committee that he does not chair; namely, the new one, the Monetary Policy Committee of the Bank of England. I entirely agree with all that he said about the great value of the work of Select Committees. As we all know, they are extremely important to your Lordships' House. My noble friend spoke of the lack of resources and accommodation. As he will know, the other place is still occupying some of the premises at this end of the Palace which should be occupied by us and available for our resources. I gather that the situation began in the 1960s. There is no law about it; there is just a letter of agreement. Will my noble friend ensure that that agreement is cancelled and that we have those offices back?

Photo of Lord Boston of Faversham Lord Boston of Faversham Crossbench

My Lords, I can immediately reassure the noble Lord, Lord Barnett, that I have not overlooked the fact that I do not chair another committee which is beginning to enhance the reputation of this House; namely, the one chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Peston: your Lordships' ad-hoc Select Committee on the Monetary Policy Committee of the Bank of England. Indeed, I have a note to that effect in my own hand in my brief mentioning the noble Lord, Lord Barnett, as a possible intervener! We have not overlooked the matter; in fact, I have recently received an attractive letter, elegantly constructed, from the noble Lord, Lord Peston, about the possible longer-term future of that committee--perhaps it may be transformed into an economic committee.

The noble Lord, Lord Barnett, mentioned accommodation. That has been very much on our minds. I believe that your Lordships--or at least some of your Lordships--will know that, for example, the five rooms used by another place for quite some time will be coming back to us. There are other plans for an expansion of our accommodation. There is indeed still a need to find additional committee accommodation.

Photo of Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lord Wallace of Saltaire Liberal Democrat

My Lords, is the noble Lord the Chairman of Committees aware that I am chair of a sub-committee which had a newly recruited Clerk this year? I was extremely impressed by the quality of the training given by the Clerks' department and the speed at which our new recruit came up to extremely useful capability. Will the noble Lord accept that experience so far suggests that recruitment and training are not long-term bars to expansion of the committee system? Will he further confirm that the modesty of the fees which we pay our specialist advisers suggests that the resource constraints on the recruitment of more specialist advisers are not great?

Photo of Lord Boston of Faversham Lord Boston of Faversham Crossbench

Yes, my Lords, I agree with all that the noble Lord has said. I am grateful to him. We shall ensure that those concerned hear the words he used to describe the quality of our Clerks, if they have not already done so in your Lordships' Chamber.

New committees are entrusted to the care of established Clerks. Well-established committees are looked after by newer Clerks. There is excellent training on a continuing basis for both our existing Clerks and newly recruited Clerks in particular. In their initial stages of training there is a high degree of supervision which is, of course, needed until they grow accustomed to our ways. I endorse the noble Lord's remarks. Recruitment and training are not obstacles.

Photo of Earl Jellicoe Earl Jellicoe Conservative

My Lords, a decade or so ago I was the chairman of the Select Committee on Committees. I entirely endorse what the noble Lord the Chairman of Committees and other noble Lords have said about the importance of Select Committee work in your Lordships' House. However, I am a little concerned. At that time, when we were considering the resources available, whenever I asked the Clerks of Parliament concerned whether there would be any difficulty in extending the work of our Select Committees, I always received in reply an absolutely clear affirmative that there would be no problem whatever. I simply express my concern that there still seems to be some difficulty in the area of resources. I strongly hope that that difficulty may be resolved.

Photo of Lord Boston of Faversham Lord Boston of Faversham Crossbench

My Lords, I had the privilege of serving as a member under the noble Earl when he was chairing the committee on the committee work of the House; the Select Committee on Committees--the ultimate in a committee; one cannot go much further than that. As the noble Earl will recall, it was one of his committee's recommendations that the Liaison Committee should be set up--under a different name, as it happened at that time--as a means of keeping under constant review the committee work of the House and to act as a kind of "rolling Jellicoe"--if the noble Earl will forgive me for referring to his great mobility in that way. As I have had occasion previously to say to your Lordships, it is the case that when your Lordships decide that an additional committee is needed, the resources will be found one way or another. The constraint is more one of time than anything else, particularly for recruitment. Time will also be needed to establish accommodation and for the Treasury to provide the money. However, as regards the point made by the noble Earl, if your Lordships decide on a course, a way will be found to put that forward and adopt it, sooner rather than later.