Procedure of the House: Select Committee Report

– in the House of Lords at 2:30 pm on 16th June 2004.

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Photo of Lord Brabazon of Tara Lord Brabazon of Tara Chairman of Committees, House of Lords, Deputy Speaker (Lords) 2:30 pm, 16th June 2004

My Lords, I beg to move the first Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.

The report from the Procedure Committee covers a number of matters. However, only four of them involve specific recommendations to which the House is invited to agree, so it is those that I shall briefly outline.

The proposal for a Joint European Committee is, I know, viewed with some scepticism by certain of your Lordships, who question what it will achieve over and above the excellent work done by your Lordships' European Union Committee. Indeed, the amendment to be moved today by the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, is a clear signal of that scepticism. But noble Lords who attended the Commons Standing Committees on the Convention on the Future of Europe and the EU Inter-governmental Conference were disappointed not to be able to participate fully in those committees. The current proposal is intended to address that by establishing a genuine Joint Committee.

The Procedure Committee took the pragmatic view that when joint initiatives between the two Houses are proposed, it would be preferable to be fully involved rather than to decline to participate. The committee therefore recommended that we should "suck it and see" and review the impact of the new committee after two Sessions. The proposal originates with Her Majesty's Government, so I shall leave it to the noble Baroness the Leader of the House to reply in detail to the points that the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, and other noble Lords, may make.

As for the absence of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor on Thursdays, I emphasise to your Lordships that that proposal was not of the noble and learned Lord's own seeking, but was put forward by the usual channels. I know in what esteem the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor is held in the House and how sorry we shall all be not to see him in his place on the Woolsack on a Thursday. However, I know, too, that your Lordships attach great importance to the noble and learned Lord's regular attendance at Cabinet. The Procedure Committee's recommendation would apply only to those Thursdays when Starred Questions coincide with a meeting of Cabinet. The noble and learned Lord would attend the House as usual on a Thursday when the Cabinet did not meet.

The number of Starred Questions and the time allowed for them will be one of the matters to be considered by the Leader's Group. Noble Lords on all sides of the House have complained about spending 40 minutes on Questions on days when only four questions, instead of the permitted five, have been tabled. The Procedure Committee took the view that this modest change to revert to 30 minutes on Tuesday and Wednesday whenever there are only four questions could sensibly be implemented straightaway.

The last matter for decision is the reinstatement in the Companion of the guidance on pecuniary interests shared by few others. The passage was omitted from the Companion after the new code of conduct was agreed. No similar formula appears in the code but it does not appear to have been the intention of the House to relax this traditional caution when it adopted the code. The Committee for Privileges and the Procedure Committee have both recommended its reinstatement. I commend the Motion to the House.

Moved, That the second report from the Select Committee be agreed to (HL Paper 99).—(The Chairman of Committees.)

Following is the report referred to:

1. REVIEW OF WORKING PRACTICES

The committee took note with approval of the intention of the Leader of the House to establish a Leader's Group to review the package of changes to working practices agreed by the House in July 2002. The committee agreed to consider the report of the group after the Summer Recess, and to make recommendations to the House before the end of the current Session. The details of the group are to be announced by the Leader in a Written Ministerial Statement.

2. PROPOSAL FOR A JOINT EUROPEAN COMMITTTEE

The committee considered a proposal from the Government for a new committee involving both Houses in debate of European matters. This would be a successor to the Commons Standing Committees on the Convention on the Future of Europe, and on the EU Intergovernmental Conference, which a number of Lords attended. However, unlike its predecessors it is intended that this new committee should be a genuine Joint Committee in which Lords could play a full role. The proposal is for a committee with a remit to cover all aspects of the EU's work, by means of general debates, and statements from and questions to ministers and others. It would not conduct investigative or scrutiny enquiries, nor adopt substantive Motions or make reports.

Although some doubt was expressed about whether a new Joint Committee would add significantly to the work already done by the European Union Committee of this House, we recommend that this House should co-operate with the House of Commons in establishing such a committee. The details of its operation will need to be settled in agreement with that House, but we recommend that:

— The committee should be open to all Members of both Houses

— The quorum should be low (perhaps two from each House)

— The committee should be given the power to permit the participation of United Kingdom MEPs

— The committee should be given the power to allow statements from and questions to European Commissioners and other EU officials

— The committee should meet no more than four times a year

— The committee should adjourn for divisions in either House

— The title of the committee should be simple and avoid confusion with other types of committee in either House, perhaps Joint European Committee

— The chairmanship should reflect the joint nature of the committee

— The committee should not automatically follow Commons procedures; for example a speakers' list for debate would be desirable

— The effectiveness of the new committee should be reviewed after two sessions.

3. PROPOSAL FOR JOINT MEETINGS WITH MEMBERS OF THE NATIONAL ASSEMBLY FOR WALES

A proposal for joint meetings of members of the House of Commons and members of the National Assembly for Wales (NAW) was drawn to our attention. Lord Elis-Thomas, presiding officer of the NAW, proposed that the initiative should also involve this House, particularly to allow Joint Committees to meet with committees of the NAW for pre-legislative scrutiny.

The proposal was recently considered by the Procedure Committee of the House of Commons, which recommended that there should be an experiment in joint working with the NAW before further consideration as to whether joint meetings are necessary or desirable. To that end it recommended that the Welsh Affairs Committee of that House should be authorised to invite members of the NAW to participate in its proceedings, until the end of the current Parliament.1

We agreed that in principle we would favour involvement of this House in this process, particularly in respect of pre-legislative scrutiny by Joint Committees. We will watch with interest the experiment in joint working to be undertaken in the House of Commons, and make recommendations to the House in future if appropriate.

4. LORD CHANCELLOR'S LEAVE OF ABSENCE

The Lord Chancellor is frequently unable to be present in the House for Starred Questions on a Thursday morning, owing to a clash with the regular meeting of Cabinet, and on those occasions it has been his practice to take his place on the Woolsack for a brief period at some other point during Thursday's sitting. However, that can be disruptive of business particularly, for example, during a complicated Report stage of a Bill. We therefore recommend that the Lord Chancellor should have leave of absence on any Thursday when Starred Questions coincide with a meeting of Cabinet.

5. TIME ALLOWED FOR STARRED QUESTIONS

The time allowed for Starred Questions on Tuesday and Wednesday was increased from 30 to 40 minutes when the number of questions was raised from four to five. On several occasions, however, there have been only four questions on those days, and there have been complaints that 40 minutes is then too long. We therefore recommend that the length of time for Starred Questions on Tuesday and Wednesday should revert to 30 minutes whenever there are only four questions, to keep in line with practice on other days of the week.

6. COMPANION GUIDANCE ON PECUNIARY INTERESTS SHARED BY FEW OTHERS

We endorse the conclusion of the Committee for Privileges 2 and recommend that the following passage should be reinstated in the Companion to the Standing Orders:

"Members of the House should be especially cautious in deciding whether to speak or vote in relation to interests that are direct, pecuniary, and shared by few others".

1 House of Commons Procedure Committee, 3rd Report 2003–04, HC 582 2 House of Lords Committee for Privileges, 1st Report 2003–04, HL 69

Photo of Lord Marlesford Lord Marlesford Conservative

rose to move, as an amendment to the above Motion, at end to insert "with the exception of item 2 (Proposal for a Joint European Committee), which is referred back to the committee".

Photo of Lord Marlesford Lord Marlesford Conservative

My Lords, in moving the amendment I should remind your Lordships that I am a member of the European Select Committee and one of the sub-committees. However, I speak entirely for myself and in no way purport to represent the views of any of the committees or, indeed, any member of a committee.

I believe that the reputation of the House of Lords has never been higher. In fact, it has grown, not only in the revision of legislation but especially in the monitoring and scrutiny of matters connected with the European Union. That is an area that is affecting more and more the lives of the citizens of our country and it is therefore right and proper that Parliament should devote considerable time and effort to it. I am asking for item 2 of the report before us to be referred back to the committee not because I reject any suggestion of the need for such a committee as has been proposed by Mr Peter Hain, the Leader of the Commons. I move that it be referred back because neither the functions nor the operating methods, as at present revealed to us, seem to be sensible or convincing.

I hope I may be allowed to remind the House how the two Houses deal with European matters at present. The methods have evolved in parallel and have long worked together. The House of Commons has had a European Scrutiny Committee since the 1970s, now under the long-established chairmanship of the honourable Member for Clydesdale, Mr Jimmy Hood. It performs a sifting role, examining all EU documents, and it recommends, in brief terms, those items that should be debated on the Floor of the House of Commons or should be referred to one of the Standing Committees of the House of Commons. It is not responsible for considering the merits of proposals from Brussels.

Our European Select Committee and its seven sub-committees scrutinise European proposals forwarded to us by the Government. They also produce in-depth reports on particular issues. The membership of these committees makes the greatest use of the experience and expertise of Members of your Lordships' House. My impression has been that the reputation of the House of Lords reports on Europe is not equalled by those of any other Parliament in the EU. The committees of the two Houses exchange papers and their Clerks are in daily contact. Twice a year, the two committees meet to exchange views and there is a more informal meeting twice a year between committees and MEPs to exchange views on topics of the day.

Therefore, when it is necessary, there is already full and serious collaboration between the two Houses on European matters. This proposed committee is to replace the ad hoc House of Commons Standing Committees on the European Convention and the EU Inter-governmental Conference. These committees had a very real and important job to do. All Peers could attend and many did so and, arguably, these committees may well have a role in the future. They were focus committees. They worked well.

This proposed committee has no such task. It is to have the most general remit, as the Procedure Committee report states,

"to cover all aspects of the EU's work".

In other words, it is to overlap and duplicate everything. Yet it is not to investigate, scrutinise or make reports. The scarcest resource in either House of Parliament is the time of Members. I believe that such a committee would divert time, except, of course, that most of us try not to waste our time. It is therefore no surprise that the quorum for this new committee is to be low:

"perhaps two from each House".

It is also proposed that there should be a power for the participation in the committee of UK MEPs. To integrate further the work of both Houses with the European Parliament may be desirable but I believe that it raises important constitutional points that deserve proper debate in their own right. I suggest that they should not be slipped in in this way.

Mr Hain's proposal to the Procedure Committee has the whiff of cosmetics. Some of us are already uneasy at some of the constitutional changes proposed by the Government, which have a similar scent. Such ideas must be properly tested on the hard anvil of need. The timescale for Lords' consideration of this proposal was required to fit into the timetable of the Commons' Modernisation Committee. Our Procedure Committee was not even allowed to wait for a date when the chairman of the European Select Committee, the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, could take part in the discussions.

The report states:

"Some doubt was expressed about whether a new Joint Committee would add significantly to the work already done by the European Union Committee of this House".

The test of added value is a crucial part of the justification for this proposal. As revealed at present, it seems to me that it merely muddies clear waters. That is why I believe that we should ask the Procedure Committee to have another go. I beg to move.

Moved, as an amendment to the above Motion, at end to insert "with the exception of item 2 (Proposal for Joint European Committee), which is referred back to the Committee".—(Lord Marlesford.)

Photo of Lord Grenfell Lord Grenfell Principal Deputy Chairman of Committees

My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, who is a valued member of the Select Committee, for making it clear that he is proposing his amendment on a personal basis and not on behalf of the European Select Committee, which I have the honour to chair.

Our committee discussed the proposals put to the Procedure Committee and I wrote on behalf of the committee to the Leader of the House with some observations. I am rather disappointed not to see them printed in the Procedure Committee's report. However, most of the points of detail need not trouble your Lordships this afternoon.

The noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, and I agree very substantially that there was little enthusiasm in the committee—putting it very mildly indeed—for the proposed new joint European committee. Members expressed serious doubts about the added value of the initiative and I told the committee how fully I shared its concerns on that point. That said, I should inform your Lordships that I also gave the committee my view that we should accept the Procedure Committee's report, subject to two assurances and one important clarification, to which I shall return in a moment.

My principal reason for offering this advice to the committee was that, in my view, to do otherwise risked giving the impression to the other place that we are not in a mood to co-operate further with them on this issue at this time. Is that the right signal to send at this stage of the continuing discussions between the two Houses? I do not think so.

Some noble Lords may argue that all that the House is being asked to do this afternoon is to consider an amendment allowing for more reflection in the Procedure Committee. My response is that the amendment is in fact unnecessary because to all intents and purposes the Procedure Committee is still seized of this issue. As I understand it, if the House today agrees the Motion of the Chairman of Committees unamended, the Procedure Committee and the Modernisation Committee in another place can then proceed to a discussion on a number of important points of detail. Hence, I see this, as it were, as a Second Reading at this stage.

Therefore, I hope the Chairman of Committees can give the House this afternoon a simple assurance that, once the Procedure Committee and the Modernisation Committee have exchanged views on points of detail and, one hopes, agreed a suitable modus vivendi and a modus operandi, a final, considered proposal from the Procedure Committee will be put to this House. That would provide the essential safeguard for those concerned about what is being proposed. If at that stage the House does not like what emerges, it can reject the proposal forthwith.

I personally hope that it will not come to rejection. Perhaps I may explain why. Grave as are my doubts, matched by the doubts expressed in the Select Committee, about the real value of this venture, it is clear that another place, including the Government Front Bench, are determined to establish a new European Committee. I understand that another place agrees to a sunset clause, as mentioned by the Chairman of Committees, calling for a review of the Joint Committee's effectiveness after two years. I therefore suggest to your Lordships that we be prepared at least to try it out for two years and then pull out if the verdict is that it is adding no value, or worse, is detracting from the work of your Lordships' Select Committee.

We are just a year away from l July 2005, the date on which the United Kingdom assumes the presidency for six months of the European Union, a period during which our two Houses will be jointly responsible for hosting a series of significant inter-parliamentary meetings and events involving our colleagues from the national parliaments of the other 24 member countries and the current applicants for future membership. To enter the run-up to that period with a disagreeable atmosphere reigning between the two Houses does not seem to me to be at all sensible. That is another reason why I believe that we should, if our conditions are met, give it that two-year trial. To that end further discussion with the Modernisation Committee should not be delayed while the Procedure Committee, as a result of this proposed amendment, is required to go back to what is virtually square one.

In conclusion, I turn briefly to the two important clarifications that I seek. First, what does the Procedure Committee mean when it says that,

"The Chairmanship should reflect the joint nature of the Committee"?

If this is a proper Joint Committee, as your Lordships have pressed for, the chairmanship should be equally shared between appropriate Members of both Houses. But first we have to know what the committee is for. If it is to be a debating forum, a panel of specially selected deputy chairmen from the two Houses will probably do the trick. But in that case we are left with the question of who would set the agenda for the committee. Would it be the Government? Alternatively, is it envisaged that each House will appoint a chairman for the committee who will jointly propose an agenda? I do not know. For that reason I seek clarification.

Finally, it is perfectly obvious that a Joint Committee, as described in the Procedure Committee's report, could never conduct the kind of detailed scrutiny undertaken by our own sub-committees. But that it might eventually try to do so is a fear that some noble Lords have, and not without grounds, given the official briefing, for example, prepared for the United Kingdom delegation to a recent conference on subsidiarity at the Committee of the Regions which I attended a couple of weeks ago in Berlin, and which seems to go entirely in the other direction. May we therefore have reiterated today the assurance given us by the Deputy Leader of the House on 11 February that the new committee would not in any way trespass on our scrutiny work? Can the Chairman of Committees say whether such a provision could be written into the Standing Orders of the new committee, which I would wholeheartedly advocate?

Subject to satisfactory clarification of the chairmanship question and assurances on no trespassing, and particularly an assurance that the Procedure Committee will put to the House a considered proposal once detailed discussions with the Modernisation Committee are concluded, I would be minded to advise the House to support the Procedure Committee.

Photo of Lord Marsh Lord Marsh Crossbench

My Lords, I have some difficulty in disagreeing with the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, not on the basis of his approach to this matter, but because he sums it up by saying that we need to know what the committee will do. One can understand that another place is fairly relaxed about this. It has massive resources compared with anything available to this Chamber. We are short of accommodation for committees, as is well known. We are short of people to staff the committees. Cases are put to the proper authority to seek time for select committees which are turned down for no other reason than that we lack the resources to deal with them.

One looks at what the committee sets out to do. It will not conduct investigative or scrutiny inquiries nor adopt substantive Motions or make reports. We do not know what it is going to do. It is being set up because some Members found it slightly embarrassing not to be able to continue the arguments they were having with the existing committees. I accept everything that the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, said. I do not believe that it makes any sense to establish a body of this kind, which is going to have a quorum of two on each side, and which sets out quite clearly not to get involved in any reports, substantive Motions or inquiries. There are many things which could be subjected to reports and substantive inquiries. It is foolish to put them on one side while we make up our minds what we will do.

Photo of Lord Naseby Lord Naseby Conservative

My Lords, I shall not repeat some of the points which have been made: I agree with all of them. I come from a pro-European background. I suggest to noble Lords that after last Thursday's elections both Houses should reflect very seriously about Europe and how we handle it. It does not seem to me that this very thin schedule of proposals reflects what the country at large wants both Houses to do. Therefore, I certainly have great reservations about what is proposed here.

Photo of Lord Tordoff Lord Tordoff Liberal Democrat

My Lords, freed from the shackles of office, I can say what I think personally about this, but I shall not. I go along with the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, in his remarks. It is also important that we are absolutely sure that this matter comes back to the House for a definitive debate on which we can make a decision. I take the point which the noble Lord, Lord Marsh, made. The committee should be given the power to allow statements from and questions to European Commissioners and other EU officials. But not to report on those meetings seems ludicrous.

I would not want anything I say today to appear as any reflection on our colleagues in another place. Mr Jimmy Hood and I worked very well together in tandem over seven years when we were chairmen of our appropriate committees. Certainly, the point that we have always made is that the two committees do totally different things. They are complementary. The idea that you can somehow put them together and find some synergy or something totally different seems to me very strange indeed.

I am glad that a low quorum is recommended because the first thing that crossed my mind when I heard about this matter was that one of the problems with these Joint Committees was the somewhat erratic membership of the Commons. Recently I watched rather an old programme on the Parliament Channel. It was obvious that when Mr Pat Cox was being interviewed by a joint group from both committees, this House was well represented. The Commons was represented by Mr Jimmy Hood until the last few minutes when one of his deputies came in. I do not criticise the Commons for that. Its Members have jobs to do and very often they cannot spare the time. In this House noble Lords who sit on the Select Committee and its sub-committees dedicate their time to doing that, and they do it extraordinarily well in my experience. However, the idea that there should be a quorum greater than two might wreck the whole process.

I personally would be willing to go along with this stage of the proceedings provided that most of the recommendations are agreed to and that the measure comes back to this House for detailed discussion at a later stage. Then we can decide whether or not we want to go ahead with it. However, it would be a mistake to suggest that by failing to go ahead with it we are in some way insulting the Commons or trying to stop Parliament working appropriately on European matters.

Photo of Lord Renton of Mount Harry Lord Renton of Mount Harry Conservative

My Lords, like my noble friend Lord Marlesford I am a member of the European Union Committee chaired so ably by the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell. I am also chairman of Sub-Committee D that is involved with the environment and agriculture.

I should like to assure my noble friends and the noble Lord, Lord Marsh, who have spoken against the formation of this Joint Committee, that all the arguments that have been aired in the past few minutes were discussed very thoroughly in the Select Committee. Many of us were very doubtful about this proposition, but in the end we came to the same conclusion as that put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell; namely, that there may be things to be gained by having a Joint Committee with the Commons, particularly when—I stress this as my own view—over the next year or two European Union matters will clearly be of very great importance, and interest and will be discussed by all of us. Against that background—whether we discuss the European constitution, the reform of the CAP or the handling of the new members—the more that we can share information with the other place, the better.

During the years that I spent in the other place—I was in the other place for quite a few years—I realised that our attempts to look very closely at European legislation were, to say the least, pathetic. Some noble Lords will remember that my noble and learned friend Lord Howe of Aberavon set up Standing Committees particularly to consider European legislation. Frankly, they failed due to a lack of people turning up. The noble Lord, Lord Marsh, with some humour made the point that the quorum is only two on either side. All of us made that point in the committee chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell. However, I do not see that as an argument for not moving forward with this proposal at the moment. It is right for us to have as many Joint Committees with the Commons as is possible and reasonable. It is good for them to get to know us better and for us to get to know them better. It is particularly relevant at the present time when there is so much of interest and of great importance happening within the EU.

The noble Lord, Lord Marsh, and my noble friend Lord Marlesford asked what would be the added value of the committee. It is perfectly true that we do not know that yet, but we shall not know unless we try it and see. It is arguable that it could have added value. The fact that it has been given a two-year period in which to prove itself—something for which we all asked—is in itself a safeguard. I very much stress the two points that the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, made; namely, that all of us on the Select Committee would like to see genuine equal alternate chairmanship and equal membership as between the other place and this House. If the committee were run on that basis it would represent a step forward at a very important time. I hope, therefore, that we shall support what the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, said and, despite the fact that my noble friend Lord Marlesford is one of my oldest friends, that we shall not go along with what he suggested.

Photo of Baroness Thomas of Walliswood Baroness Thomas of Walliswood Women and Older People, Non-Departmental & Cross-Departmental Responsibilities

My Lords, I agree with all the comments made by the previous speaker. I merely wish to add one other on the subject of added value. As a member of Sub-Committee E, I am aware, as are all the committee members and many who are not, of the very detailed inquiries that all the committees make into important pieces of legislation, and of how valuable that is. However, it does not attract public attention. The general public are left completely cold by that level of investigation. By having more of a debating approach to these matters and by occasionally having a distinguished member of the European Commission or someone else address the committee or give evidence, one could make a contribution to the public debate on European matters.

Photo of Lord Armstrong of Ilminster Lord Armstrong of Ilminster Crossbench

My Lords, I speak as a former member of one of the European Union sub-committees serving under the chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Tomlinson, the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, and the noble Lord, Lord Radice.

It seems to me that there are two questions to which we need answers, and that we do not have those answers as yet. The first question concerns what the new Joint Committee would do, and whether it would do any more than the extra wheel, which appears to have no contact with the road at all, that you see on gargantuan lorries. Secondly, would the creation and the work of a new Joint Committee detract from the value and the reputation of what our own European Union committees do? I stress the word "reputation" because, as the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, said, the work of the House of Lords European Union committees has a very high standing not only, no doubt, in this country but also in Europe itself. It would be very regrettable if any new committee were to detract from that value or the good work that those committees do. I hope that if the proposal goes forward to the next stage, when we debate the subject again we shall be given assurances that cover both those questions as we really do not have sufficient information as yet.

Photo of Lord Roper Lord Roper Chief Whip, Liberal Democrat Lords Chief Whip

My Lords, as a member of the Procedure Committee I should like to say how much I support what was said by the noble Lords, Lord Grenfell and Lord Renton of Mount Harry. It seems to me that this is an experiment. We have said that, if we can negotiate satisfactory arrangements with the House of Commons Modernisation Committee, we should like the new committee to sit for a period of two years. It is worth remembering that as the new committee would not meet more than four times a year, that would mean at most eight meetings before we reached a view whether it should continue.

The new committee would be of a quite different character from the sub-committees of both Houses that meet on a regular weekly basis. The new committee would meet relatively rarely to take evidence or to put questions to, for example, a senior Minister dealing with European matters or a commissioner. Therefore, it would have a different character. It may not provide any added value but, as the noble Lord the Chairman of Committees said in opening the debate, the Procedure Committee felt that we should suck it and see.

Photo of Baroness Amos Baroness Amos President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Lords (Privy Council Office)

My Lords, I hope that I can help the House by making a number of matters clear. This is a matter that is entirely for this House to decide. However, I remind the House that my noble friend the Chief Whip and I are constantly asked to ensure that this House is represented along with the other place when committees are proposed. I also remind the House that in the discussion on the Standing Committee on the Intergovernmental Conference in September 2003, concern was expressed by a number of Members of this House that it was not a Joint Committee.

I appreciate the points of detail that were raised this afternoon with respect to the working of any Joint Committee. The only argument at the moment is whether the House of Lords should participate in a Joint Committee, and that is entirely a matter for this House.

On the specific points raised, the proposal is that the committee would debate European issues and have the opportunity to ask questions not only of government Ministers but of European Commissioners. It would not engage in the kind of detailed scrutiny undertaken by committees of this House. In terms of process, the Modernisation Committee in another place is looking at this matter. They have engaged to take the temperature of the Procedure Committees of both Houses, so there is the opportunity for this House to make its views absolutely clear.

I finish by reminding the House that this proposal has already been greeted positively by the European Scrutiny Committee in another place, so some form of committee is likely to go ahead. It can do so merely as a Commons committee, if that is what this House wishes.

Photo of Lord Brabazon of Tara Lord Brabazon of Tara Chairman of Committees, House of Lords, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

My Lords, I shall answer some of those questions posed to me as chairman of the Procedure Committee. I will not go into the merits or otherwise of this European Joint Committee. That is not my affair and has been well debated. In passing, I was armed to answer questions on the other three or four recommendations in the committee's report. I am most disappointed that nobody has asked me any questions on them.

I apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, that we were not able to find a mutually convenient date for him and the Procedure Committee to meet. We did our best, but there was great difficulty in the timing. We wanted to have our recommendations out in time for them to be considered—and, I hope, agreed to—by the House of Commons Modernisation Committee. We probably made an error in not printing the letter from the Leader of the House and the reply from the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, as an annexe to the Procedure Committee report. It might have made a better report if we had done so.

The noble Lord asked for a particular assurance about what would happen next, as did the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff. Obviously, when we see what we can agree with the committee in another place on our recommendations, the Procedure Committee will have to meet again and discuss the details of how this arrangement will work. The Procedure Committee will then have to make a report to this House, as it is doing today. At that moment, as the noble Lord said, this House could throw the whole thing out if it did not like the look of it. That is definitely what would happen.

There is a lot of detail to be worked out regarding the chairmanship of the committee. If it is to be mainly a debating chamber, one of the panels of deputy chairmen from either House could take the chair. As the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, said, that leaves the important question of who would set the agenda, which needs to be settled.

The last assurance for which the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, asked was whether we could put into the Standing Orders of the committee the fact that it would not trespass on the work of the main European Union Committee of this House. I am very keen that it should not do so. We would do our very best to implement that suggestion.

I hope I have answered the questions asked of me as chairman of the Procedure Committee, and I leave it at that. Let us see what the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, wishes to do.

Photo of Lord Marlesford Lord Marlesford Conservative

My Lords, I have obviously listened very carefully to everything that has been said. I started by saying that I was not necessarily opposed to such a new committee, but that it was unclear what it was for and whether it would add value. I am very glad that almost every Member who has spoken has echoed those sentiments. The Chairman of Committees has effectively indicated that the further consideration of the Procedure Committee will be the equivalent of a referral back. We have the assurance that if the later consideration with detail—when we are told what it is actually for and how it will work—proves unsatisfactory, we will able to reject it.

In that context, I am perfectly happy for the Procedure Committee to give further thought to it, along the lines of the undertaking given. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

On Question, Motion agreed to.