Skip to main content

Liaison Committee: Third Report

Volume 687: debated on Wednesday 29 November 2006

rose to move, That the third report from the Select Committee be agreed to (HL Paper 251, Session 2005-06).

The report can be found at http://www.publications .htm

The noble Lord said: My Lords, the report relates to the duration of appointment of Select Committees, to the review of committee work and to three proposals for new committees. The Liaison Committee’s report notes that sessional Select Committees, though reappointed sessionally, are in fact permanent committees. In the past, we have expressed reluctance to appoint new sessional committees in view of the permanent commitment of resources that this represents. We have now agreed that, unless there is a compelling reason to the contrary, in future we will not recommend the appointment of new sessional committees of open-ended duration. Instead, we will recommend the appointment of sessional committees for the duration or remaining duration of the Parliament. This will avoid the presumption that sessional committees will automatically be appointed every Session ad infinitum. I invite the House to take note of this intention.

In considering its own role in fulfilling its remit to review the Select Committee work of the House, the Liaison Committee found merit in the idea of reviewing the work of committees at the beginning of every Parliament. The committee will meet to review the work of policy Select Committees before the Motions of reappointment are tabled. In reaching this decision, we noted the importance of ensuring that the review does not delay the appointment of the European Union Committee. I am sure that the House will agree that it is desirable to review committee work from time to time. Indeed, many of our sessional committees are already doing this and are producing annual or sessional reports on their activities.

I also invite the House to take note of the criteria that we apply in determining whether to recommend the establishment of sessional or ad hoc committees. This is not meant to be an exhaustive list and other considerations may well apply, but I hope that the House finds it helpful.

Finally, the report relates to three requests to establish new committees: from the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, for a sessional committee on broadcasting, the media and communications; from the noble Lord, Lord Soley, for a sessional committee on international organisations; and from the noble Lord, Lord Renton of Mount Harry, for an ad hoc committee on climate change.

It was the view of the Liaison Committee that a sessional Select Committee on communications be established for the remainder of the present Parliament. Given developments in technology and broadcasting and the importance of media industries, and following the work of the recent Select Committee on the BBC Charter Review and the expertise and independence of Members of the House in this area, we were persuaded of the merit of establishing a committee on communications. The Liaison Committee is firmly of the view that Lords Select Committees should complement and not duplicate the work of the Commons and that their remits should be cross-cutting rather than departmental. However, given the importance of the subject matter, we feel that, provided that the Lords committee is scrupulous in avoiding duplication of the work of the Commons Culture, Media and Sport Committee, there is value in establishing a committee in this field. The establishment of a new committee has considerable resource implications. Were the House to agree to the establishment of this committee, staff would have to be appointed to support it. I expect that a new committee could begin its work by Easter of next year.

It was the view of the Liaison Committee that neither of the proposals of the noble Lords, Lord Soley and Lord Renton of Mount Harry, should be supported. In the case of a Select Committee on international organisations, we felt that the range of organisations falling within the scope of the proposed committee was too wide. However, we have said that we will give sympathetic consideration to an application for an ad hoc committee to scrutinise a homogeneous group of organisations were the noble Lord, Lord Soley, to return to the Liaison Committee with such a request.

In the case of an ad hoc Select Committee on climate change beyond the Kyoto Protocol, the Liaison Committee noted that climate change issues had been considered on several occasions in recent years by committees of both Houses. Indeed, it is highly likely that the Economic Affairs Committee and the Science and Technology Committee will return to the subject in due course. We were therefore not convinced that the establishment of a further committee on this subject would add value. I beg to move.

Moved, That the third report from the Select Committee be agreed to (HL Paper 251, Session 2005-06).—(The Chairman of Committees.)

My Lords, as I proposed an amendment to the second report of the Liaison Committee, I strongly welcome the report that the Lord Chairman has just spoken to. I am glad that the case for a communications committee has been accepted. I accept the concept that a Select Committee should be appointed for a Parliament and not in perpetuity. That is extremely sensible.

I do not wish to be churlish, but perhaps I could remind the House that, back in March, when we first set out our case for a permanent committee, we said that the state of independent television was,

“the most obvious extension of the work of the BBC Select Committee”.

We said:

“There are important issues of media ownership as raised by the current bid for ITV which could have wider implications”.

We can claim to have been right in our judgment in March.

That brings me to my only point of concern—the issue of timing and when the committee can start work. The committee has been appointed for the remainder of this Parliament, but we are already 18 months into it. I hope that everything will be done to get the committee up and running as soon as possible and that we will be able to do this before Easter of next year. That seems a long time away and I very much hope that we can do it before then.

My Lords, I support the noble Lord, Lord Fowler. I do not want Easter to be the start of the preparations for this committee because we all know that that would probably mean that the committee would not start until the autumn. The events of recent weeks have proved beyond peradventure that there is a need for this committee. As to the need to avoid cutting across the work of any other committees, as far as I am aware no regulator or committee has ever looked at the anti-competitive behaviour of the Sky organisation, so this committee could safely get on with that.

My Lords, I thank the Chairman and members of the committee for the consideration that they gave to my proposal for a committee covering the international organisations, a committee that I have always felt has been seriously lacking in both Houses. I also thank him for the encouragement—I appreciate that it is without any commitment whatever—to narrow down my proposal and to return to the Liaison Committee at a future stage, which I will do.

The committee raised some important points, because the scope of the organisations covered was very wide. However, the amount of money that goes into these organisations, particularly the United Nations, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, to which we recently gave £3 billion, is an indication of the financial implications for the taxpayer.

This is a very important subject; I will certainly return to my proposal at the appropriate time and try to hone it into a more focused committee. Again, I thank the committee, but this subject is covered neither in the House of Commons nor here, and it urgently needs to be.

My Lords, I support what the noble Lords, Lord Fowler and Lord McNally, have said. It may appear rather odd for these Benches to oppose something to do with Easter. Nevertheless, Easter is about five months away and, for the reasons that the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, has given and the continuing technological advances that speed by, I believe that the earlier this committee can meet, the better.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Soley, for his words. As the report says, we will look again at a more focused proposal if that were to come before the next meeting of the Liaison Committee. The noble Lords, Lord Fowler and Lord McNally, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Manchester, all want the new communications committee to start as soon as possible. I am well aware of the various developments in the industry, particularly in independent television, with a new chairman who has left the BBC, Sky bids, and so on. Quite possibly those developments would have taken place whether or not the House had the benefit of a committee looking into them. I suggest that the noble Lord, Lord McNally, speaks to Mr Murdoch and finds out whether he was waiting for the House of Lords to report on this before he took his 20 per cent stake in ITV and whether Mr Grade would have been influenced by the committee when he switched from the BBC to ITV.

Noble Lords may have forgotten, conveniently, that we have already agreed to set up a new committee on regulators, whose work will start very shortly. I am afraid that that new ad hoc committee this coming Session has to take priority over the communications committee that, if the House agrees to this report, will be set up. It is really a question of staff resources, not of finance. We simply do not have the staff available to clerk another new committee. I hope that it will be before Easter—we will do our best to make it so.

On Question, Motion agreed to.