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Principal Deputy Chairman of Committees

Volume 706: debated on Wednesday 3 December 2008

Moved by

That the noble Lord, Lord Roper, be appointed Principal Deputy Chairman of Committees for this Session.

My Lords, in moving the Motion for the appointment of a new chair to this House’s European Union Select Committee, it is right, appropriate and an enormous pleasure to say something about his predecessor. Before I do so, I welcome the noble Lord, Lord Roper, to the chair. We are all confident that with his vast experience he will ably take on that task, but I know that John is the first to acknowledge that he will have a hard act to follow in the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell.

The noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, has been a simply superb chairman of the committee. In this House, in the committee itself, and in dealing with the people and organisations in this country and across Europe with whom and with which the committee deals, he has been a model of how to chair a committee and a credit to this House. He has brought to the committee all the qualities that it was thought he would when he took over the chairmanship in 2002: his intelligence, his acuity, his strong sense of fairness and his extraordinary levels of patience—no doubt sorely tried from time to time. Coupled with his background—Eton, Cambridge, the Queen’s Royal Rifles, television, the World Bank—those qualities combine to make him a natural in this House and, of course, in the Select Committee. His knowledge, his experience and his authority have all been to the gain of the committee and of the whole House.

The noble Lord, I am reliably informed, and my own experience and knowledge of him are entirely in accord with this, has never been known to lose his temper on the committee—never been known even to raise his voice, even, perhaps especially, when others would have been provoked by the inevitable frequent and probably permanent clash of civilisations on the committee between those pro-Europe and those against it. He has been a particularly distinguished, impressive and effective chairman of this, one of our most respected and well regarded Select Committees. His committee’s exceptional report on the EU Lisbon treaty, which was so important to the passage of the European Union Bill through this House this year, was only the most recent demonstration of that.

That is not the view just of this House. The noble Lord has rightly been lauded well beyond the House—indeed, well beyond these shores. When I meet colleagues from European Union capitals and the EU institutions, he is widely known, regarded, respected and, of course, liked. Last month, in the hallowed halls of the French Senate itself, the noble Lord was awarded its medal of honour and received not one but two standing ovations—rightly so. The fact that he is a linguist will have not only inspired the trust and confidence of our European partners, but ensured greater mutual understanding of often difficult and contentious issues.

The noble Lord will be greatly missed by this House as chair of the committee but greatly welcomed back into the mainstream of the House now that his tenure of the chair is concluded. If I can be allowed the smallest of partisan points from these Benches, it will be a genuine joy to welcome him back to these Benches as my noble friend. Our gain is the committee’s loss but, more importantly, our gain is a gain for the whole House.

My Lords, I welcome the noble Lord, Lord Roper, and associate these Benches with the expressions of gratitude to the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell. Although he sails under another flag today, he came here as a hereditary Peer, and I know he will not mind it said that he is one of a long line of such people who have come to this place to serve out of a high sense of public duty. That sense of duty, along with his patience, intelligence and good humour, have always marked the noble Lord. The committees he chairs, as the noble Baroness the Leader of the House has said, is regarded as providing a great service to Parliament as a whole, and I am sure that he would wish no greater compliment than if I were to say, with the warmest sincerity, that under his chairmanship its prestige has ever been more widely recognised.

Even those of us who consider it a merciful release that the Lisbon treaty has not yet been inflicted on the British people without their consent will at least acknowledge that the noble Lord’s work in relation to that, the whole process of the draft constitutional treaty and, indeed, the standard of the nearly 40 reports a year on average under his chairmanship was of the very highest quality. His efficient conduct of his office has led to a reduction in the number of scrutiny overrides, from 64 in 2003 to 25 in 2007, something that all noble Lords will welcome.

I trust that the noble Lord will go, with our warmest good wishes and thanks, with that oldest British virtue always to arm him: satisfaction in a job well done. I know that I speak for all those on these Benches who served with him when I say that he will be greatly missed and we look forward to hearing him often in our debates.

My Lords, from these Benches I welcome my noble friend Lord Roper to the position and express our thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell. I suspect that by now he must be feeling rather like Tom Sawyer when he was in the loft listening to his own funeral service. The gratitude of the House is heartfelt and from all Benches. I understand that in the French press he is sometimes referred to as “Lord Pigalle”. I can assure the House that it will not be long before my noble friend Lord Roper is known as “Lord Soho”.

The noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, has represented the Lord Chancellor and then the Lord Speaker, who, by the nature of their jobs, often have to be on the Woolsack. I understand that the noble Lord has represented this House on numerous occasions before other Parliaments and on international bodies, always with the skill, tact and diplomacy that has been associated with his name. It is for his international representation, as well as his skill as a chairman and his reputation as a good egg, that we on these Benches thank him for his work. As for his retirement, on another occasion over which the Lord Speaker presided, the noble Lord announced with some vigour that he had no intention of retiring and was just going to pause over Christmas before deciding what to do next. We look forward to finding out in the new year.

My Lords, on behalf of the Cross Benches, I am grateful for the opportunity to add to the tributes already paid to the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell. There are many areas in which he has expanded the work of the committee under his watch, particularly that of scrutiny. For example, there has been the increasing work with national parliaments and the valuable institution of a Brussels liaison officer, as well as the translation of some parts of some reports into French and German—always a useful measure.

As your Lordships will know, Sub-Committee G monitors social policy and consumer affairs. During this year alone, it has scrutinised such diverse issues as working time directives, consumer credit agreements and the regulation of food information for consumers. It also carried out a major investigation into donor organ transplants which, as your Lordships know, is a matter of life or death for those awaiting organ transfer. The report that followed this extensive and intensive inquiry concluded that the EU directive would indeed help to improve the supply in Europe but emphasised the need to allow scope for clinical judgment and patient choice. I have no doubt that this report will, as do all committee reports, add immeasurably to subsequent legislation, to the benefit of us all.

The range of work undertaken and the innovations of the past few years are remarkable. The reports are hugely respected and used throughout Europe. We owe congratulations and gratitude in equal measure to the noble Lord for having achieved so much.

My Lords, perhaps I may take a brief moment to express my warmest thanks to noble Lords who have just spoken for their much too generous remarks. Rather, I should be thanking noble Lords for having entrusted me with the chairmanship of the European Union Select Committee and the principal deputy chairmanship of committees during these past six years. I can sincerely say that they have been the most stimulating and satisfying years of my parliamentary life.

I also take this opportunity to thank all noble Lords who have participated in the work of the European Union Select Committee and its sub-committees during my term of office. Their very hard work week in and week out of scrutinising European legislation and European documents has been an extraordinarily valuable contribution, and I thank them also for the incomparable skill and expertise that they apply to it.

I take this opportunity also to pay a special tribute to the staff of the Select Committee and the sub-committees, because their dedication, hard work and skills enable those committees to fulfil their mandates. They would not be able to do so without that support from those extraordinary staff.

Finally, I congratulate my distinguished successor, the noble Lord, Lord Roper, on his appointment. I wish him well. If he enjoys his terms of office as much as I have, he will be a very happy man.

The noble Baroness the Leader of the House referred to the fact that I shall return to the Labour Back Benches. I sought her out at one occasion to inform her that that was my intention and she received the news with her customary fortitude.

I very much look forward to contributing to the work of your Lordships' House in the future, and I thank each and every noble Lord who has given me splendid support during my term of office.

Motion agreed nemine dissentiente.