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Parliamentary Privilege

Volume 741: debated on Tuesday 11 December 2012

Membership Motion

Moved By

That the Commons message of 4 December be considered and that a Committee of six Lords be appointed to join with the Committee appointed by the Commons to consider and report on the Green Paper on Parliamentary Privilege presented to both Houses on 26 April (Cm 8318) and that, notwithstanding the resolution of the House of 28 May, the Committee should report by 25 April 2013;

That, as proposed by the Committee of Selection, the following Members be appointed to the Committee:

L Bew, L Brabazon of Tara, L Brooke of Sutton Mandeville, L Davies of Stamford, L Peston, L Shutt of Greetland;

That the Committee have power to agree with the Committee appointed by the Commons in the appointment of a Chairman;

That the Committee have power to send for persons, papers and records;

That the Committee have power to appoint specialist advisers;

That the Committee have leave to report from time to time;

That the Committee have power to adjourn from place to place within the United Kingdom;

That the reports of the Committee from time to time shall be printed, regardless of any adjournment of the House; and

That the evidence taken by the Committee shall, if the Committee so wishes, be published.

My Lords, perhaps I may ask the Chairman of Committees, is there a lack of talent among the noble Baronesses that there should be none on this committee?

I have a great deal of sympathy with the implied comment that the noble Lord is making. I have to point out that the Committee of Selection made these appointments on the basis of nominations from the usual channels. If the noble Lord or other Peers wish to take this matter further, they know where the first port of call should be.

My Lords, this is a Joint Committee of the two Houses, which I welcome—generally speaking, I think they work very well. We are a bicameral Parliament. This may seem a minor point, but it is part of a pattern: that on the last day before the Recess the Commons are sitting and we are not, and on the first day after the Recess we are sitting and the Commons are not—or whichever way round it is. As the Leader is obviously master of these matters, perhaps he could give us a rational explanation because I simply cannot find one.

My Lords, perhaps I may ask the Chairman of Committees for his great advice on how to tackle this, to make sure that we do not develop into a second House of Laity of the Church of England and have no women on any of these committees.

My Lords, in attempting to lower the temperature slightly, can my noble friend the Chairman tell us whether any member of this committee from either House sat on the previous important Joint Committee on Parliamentary Privilege? It would clearly be an advantage if there were somebody who had experience of that committee. As one of those people was the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor, she would provide a wonderful answer to both questions.

My Lords, without referring to any of the people who have been proposed for this committee, the noble Lord mentioned that it was down to the usual channels. Can he assure the House that when a quarter of the membership of this House does not get to have a say in these important matters, that when he gets this kind of referral in future he will go back to the usual channels and propose to them that they need to incorporate perspectives from all sides of the House?

My Lords, I endorse the views of my noble friend Lord Cormack. I, too, served on that committee and I warmly endorse the suggestion that the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor, should be nominated to this committee. From memory, she and I sat through many sessions when we worked very hard on this issue. Parliament as a whole does not do itself any justice when it seems to go back and reinvent the wheel every so often instead of taking advantage of the work that both Houses have done in the past.

My Lords, I will deal with the list of complaints. First, the main issue has been the gender composition of the committee. I can only say that the Committee of Selection works on the basis of accepting the nominations that come from the usual channels. If Members of your Lordships’ House have a concern that the gender balance is incorrect, they should refer in the first instance to the usual channels that represent their own particular group. It is not up to the Committee of Selection to make that challenge in the first place, but I am absolutely sure that the usual channels have heard the comments that Members have made and will take these into consideration in future. In terms of the experience of the names brought forward today, I have not got the faintest idea whether or not they served on the previous committee.

My Lords, the Chairman of Committees said that the first thing we should do is go back to the usual channels. With respect, that is not so. The first thing we have to do is not pass this Motion. If this Motion is passed, the committee is established; if it is not passed then certainly we can go back to the usual channels.

I am very proud to be part of the usual channels. I am also acutely conscious of the need for gender balance. I am rather embarrassed by the fact that there is no gender balance on this committee. We have a very democratic system in my party and we ask people to put their names forward if they wish to serve on committees and we try to ensure a gender balance across committees. If, however, it were the will of the House that this should go back in order to find a better gender balance, I would have no hesitation in supporting that. It is something that I am very conscious of.

My Lords, I wonder whether the Chairman of Committees could respond to the question raised by my noble friend Lord Grocott. If he feels that it is difficult, perhaps the Leader of the House could intervene and explain to the whole House what the position is.

I take the chance that the view of the House is that it would wish to see the composition of this committee re-examined. On that basis, therefore, I will take the nominations back. On the issue of the meetings of the two Houses, the somewhat ingenious way in which the dates of the sittings of the two Houses are arrived at is beyond my comprehension. It seems that a great deal of effort is put into ensuring that we do not sit on the same days.

Motion withdrawn.