Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee - Membership Motion

– in the House of Lords at 3:25 pm on 31st January 2023.

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The Senior Deputy Speaker:

Moved by The Senior Deputy Speaker

That, as proposed by the Committee of Selection, Baroness Harris of Richmond, Lord Hunt of Wirral, Baroness Lea of Lymm, Baroness Randerson, Baroness Ritchie of Downpatrick, Lord Russell of Liverpool and Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd be appointed members of the Select Committee, in place of Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville, Lord German, Viscount Hanworth, Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts, the Earl of Lindsay, Lord Lisvane and Baroness Watkins of Tavistock; and that Lord Hunt of Wirral be appointed chair of the Select Committee.

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My Lords, the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee conducts excellent scrutiny of secondary legislation. Indeed, the committee makes one of the most valuable contributions that the House makes to scrutiny and public policy discourse.

The noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, raised his concerns with me and the Committee of Selection that seven members of the committee are rotating off this month. He requested that a different course of action be adopted. The noble Lord’s proposal to address the issue was that three of the seven members of the committee should be permitted to serve a further year, resulting in those members serving on the committee for four and a half years in total.

For many years, your Lordships have recognised the need to ensure that as many Members of the House as possible can sit on committees through a rotation rule. To give greater certainty, the House agreed in October 2020 to have a rotation rule based on three consecutive calendar years or parts of years. As all noble Lords know, Select Committee places are highly sought after. Members of your Lordships’ House have a wealth of experience that contributes to the high-quality output of committees and the scrutiny that they undertake.

I shared the proposals from the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, with the usual channels. I then took his request to the Committee of Selection at its meeting earlier this month. I can assure noble Lords that the usual channels and the committee considered this request carefully. The Committee of Selection agreed unanimously to proceed with the Members nominated to the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee. It was deemed important that we maintain the same process across all committees; indeed, it is not uncommon for there to be the proportion of change on Select Committees that there has been in this year’s rotations.

The noble Lord’s amendment states that the rotation

“will undermine the quality of service the Committee gives to the House”.

I take this charge very seriously indeed. Respectfully, I take a different view. First, I emphasise the qualities of the proposed new members of the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee. These noble Lords are of considerable standing. I am confident that, alongside the four excellent members who remain, they will serve the committee with distinction. As all of us who have been privileged to serve on committees know, there are also officials who ensure their smooth running. Five officials support this committee’s work and will, I know, help to ensure the continuity of what we all deem to be exemplary service.

The noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, calls for the Committee of Selection to produce a plan to ensure that, in future, rotations are

“as close as possible to one third of the total membership of the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee”.

The problem is that the amendment presumes knowledge of when casual vacancies may occur. The Committee of Selection cannot guarantee the number of future rotations in any given year. Casual vacancies will impact on any prediction of future vacancies.

There is one further point I wish to emphasise. I take myself back to when I was a Minister at Defra. Six noble Lord were appointed to this committee in July 2019. As I say, I was a Minister then, and I am afraid that that committee caused the department a very considerable amount of work—I am looking at one or two noble Baronesses here who were involved in that as Opposition Front Bench Defra. At no point, and I say this honestly and candidly, did I reflect in the months afterwards that the committee did anything other than provide consistently strong scrutiny of secondary legislation. Indeed, I took the opportunity to discuss this with one or two Defra colleagues last night, because I was so fussed about the matter, and they said, “No, the scrutiny committee was consistently strong and robust—and of course, it kept the department on its toes”.

I do not want to labour this, because there is a way forward. Chairs can plan ahead and there are examples of committees taking proactive steps. These steps do not need an amendment to address this. If, indeed, the proposed chair, the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Wirral, wishes to discuss these matters, I would warmly welcome that.

I conclude by saying that Members of your Lordships’ House have a wealth of experience to offer committees. We have a rotation rule to ensure that we can utilise this—as well, of course, as ensuring fairness. My purpose is to ensure that our Select Committees flourish. It is perhaps why I am stung by the accusation that I could countenance anything that might jeopardise that quality of service. So, I know we may have a debate on this, but I emphasise what I think is my punctiliousness in seeking to do the right thing for the House. I beg to move.