Part of Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee - Membership Motion – in the House of Lords at 3:45 pm on 31st January 2023.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts, in moving his Motion so ably, has spoken for all of us on the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee and I hope for many other Members of this House. As the noble Lord said, we all support the premise behind the rules on rotation of membership of our Select Committees. It is a good and sensible procedure for all the reasons he set out, as did the Chairman of the Committee of Selection. However, it is perfectly right and proper that this House must and should continually remind itself of the basic premise and purpose behind this three-year rotation rule. If we find—as in fact I think we do—that it is working in a way not envisaged when it was formulated, we should be prepared to revisit it and correct any perverse impacts.
I am sorry to say that this is what is happening today. The rule is not promoting sensible rotation; it is promoting upheaval, which is a different thing altogether. If we do nothing today, we are locking ourselves into an unhealthy pattern of future appointments to our Select Committees. I do not think we should do that, and nor do I think this is what lay behind the original purpose of the three-year limit on committee membership. As the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, has pointed out in relation to the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee, this locks us into a pattern of “seven, one, three” which would repeat itself indefinitely.
We have today appointed people for three years. There is the possibility of casual vacancies—we all understand that—but we cannot plan on that basis. That is not the basis on which we should decide committee membership. With the greatest of respect to the Chairman of the Committee of Selection and, indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, whom I hold in the very highest regard, nor can we say that this is a problem for the committees themselves to sort out.
The House is appointing people today for three-year terms, so we are locking ourselves into a pattern of seven, one, three for this committee. I defy anyone listening to this debate to justify that pattern of rotation—but that is what we are contemplating. It might turn slightly differently, but as the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, himself pointed out, it is entirely reasonable to remind ourselves of the fourth report of the Procedure and Privileges Committee, which spotted this as a potential problem years ago.
All the noble Lord’s amendment asks the House to do is invite the Committee of Selection to have another look at this pattern of rotational movement of members off our Select Committees. This is not how the rule was intended to operate. As the noble Lord said, this is not a revolutionary moment for your Lordships’ House. It just invites people to think again about the practical impact of this rule and see if there is a better way of avoiding disruption to the work of the Select Committees, because that is what we are talking about.