Motion to Agree
My Lords, the Liaison Committee’s report this time last year reviewed existing Select Committee activity and recommended an additional unit of committee activity, and a reduction in the resources available to the European Union Committee and the Science and Technology Committee to enable the redeployment of resources to support two new ad hoc committees and the appointment of an ad hoc post-legislative scrutiny committee. Over the past two months, the Liaison Committee has reviewed existing Select Committee activity in the light of these changes. Both this year and last, we discussed the work of the Communications Committee with its chairman, the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, and concluded that the Communications Committee should be appointed as a sessional committee at the start of the 2013-14 Session. I have to point out that there is no resource impact arising from this recommendation.
We also considered a proposal to extend the orders of reference of the Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy to enable it to appoint a sub-committee. The Joint Committee already meets more than the three to four times a year which was originally envisaged and is well supported by Members of your Lordships’ House. The House of Commons Liaison Committee considered the Joint Committee’s proposal for a power to establish a sub-committee at its meeting on 27 February, and declined to support it. The House of Lords Liaison Committee did not support an increase in the Joint Committee’s resources and instead suggested that further thought should be given to the size and composition of the Joint Committee’s membership.
Last year, we recommended that, from the start of the 2012-13 Session, the number of sub-committees of the European Union Committee should be reduced from seven to six. We also recommended that the Science and Technology Committee should be allocated the resource of a single Select Committee. As we acknowledged in our report, this decision caused considerable unhappiness. As the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, chairman of the Science and Technology Committee explained, previously, the committee had the resources to conduct two units of activity at once. The reduction in resource to three staff members had required the committee to undertake one unit of activity rather than two, and the committee no longer had a sub-committee. In the past, the committee has typically alternated a long inquiry with a short one. The committee has been severely constrained in the present Session by having to drop the second simultaneous inquiry.
We recognise the important contribution of the European Union Committee and Science and Technology Committee to the committee work of the House. We believe, however, that the restructuring of committee activity which took effect at the start of the present Session needs further time to bed down. The reduction in resources for the EU and Science and Technology Committee in the present Session enabled an expansion of ad hoc committee activity. This has been a step change for the House of Lords, and has included the first ever House of Lords post-legislative scrutiny committee. The noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, chairman of the Select Committee on Adoption Legislation, the noble Lord, Lord Cope of Berkeley, chairman of the Select Committee on Small and Medium Sized Enterprises and Exports, and the noble Lord, Lord Filkin, chairman of the Select Committee on Public Service and Demographic Change, were unanimous in their enthusiasm for the work of their committees, the commitment of the members and the support provided by the committee staff. We consider that the three new ad hoc committees have worked very well during this Session.
I encouraged Members from all sides of the House to put forward ideas for new committee activity for the next Session, and was delighted by the response. We considered the proposals received against the criteria set out in the original Leader’s Group report on the matter. I am delighted to report that the House Committee has agreed in principle that funds can be made available to support the work of a further additional unit of committee activity in 2013-14. This is at a cost of approximately £225,000.
This increase in activity can be managed without affecting the House’s overall aim not to increase our resource costs in real terms, partly as a result of savings that have been made in other areas. As an example, Members will be aware of savings being made through reducing the number of days on which mail is forwarded and removing linen hand towels, and of significant savings being made by making more documents available online, thereby leading to the reduction in printing costs. I am fully aware that not all of these savings initiatives met with universal acclaim at the time, but it is true that the savings that we have made in these areas have enabled resource to be redirected to support the core activities of the House. That is something to recognise and support.
The new Select Committees that are going to be set up are in addition to the extra unit of committee activity agreed to by the House Committee and the House this time last year. The Liaison Committee also decided to recommend two shorter, ad hoc committee inquiries to run consecutively. This means that we have been able to recommend ad hoc committees on five subjects, as follows: first, a committee on the use of soft power in promoting the UK’s interests abroad; secondly, a committee on the strategic issues for regeneration and sporting legacy from the Olympics and Paralympic Games, to report by late 2013; thirdly, a committee on the consequences of the use of personal service companies for tax collection, following the completion of the work of the committee on the Olympic and Paralympic Games legacy; fourthly, a post-legislative scrutiny committee to examine the Mental Capacity Act 2005; and, fifthly, a post-legislative scrutiny committee to examine the Inquiries Act 2005. This is in addition to the important pre-legislative and other scrutiny committee activities.
As Chairman of Committees, I am all too well aware of the fact that it is impossible to please all your Lordships all the time. However, I know that the Liaison Committee has put in hard work in recent months to produce a report which, I hope, may please some of your Lordships for some of the time. On that basis, I beg to move.
As the Liaison Committee is a committee of your Lordships’ House, could the noble Lord give a little more of the reasoning behind its failure to approve an ad hoc committee requested by my noble friend Lady Cox, who cannot be here today? The request was for an ad hoc committee into religiously sanctioned gender discrimination against women. I ask this question as one of the 70 Peers who supported that request. It is therefore surprising that the report that we are considering says that only two Peers supported the request, whereas in the letter from my noble friend Lady Cox to the committee of 22 November, she named three eminent Peers who supported her committee, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, and the noble Lords, Lord Carlile and Lord Dholakia, and said that 67 other Peers supported it. As far as I can see, of the committees that have been selected, not one was supported by a single other Peer. Therefore, I wonder whether the Liaison Committee has got this right.
Finally, I am sure that your Lordships would be disappointed if I did not bring the European Union into this somehow. Therefore, I once again must ask whether your Lordships really need seven European Union committees, whose suggestions and considerations are largely ignored in Brussels, whereas the House of Commons makes do with one European Scrutiny Committee. I have to ask the Liaison Committee to think again on this one—or, if not, to consider a request for this very widely supported and important committee at the earliest opportunity.
My Lords, not for the first time, I draw the attention of the House to the fact that, inexplicably, the House of Lords does not have a committee that deals with foreign affairs. There is a committee down the Corridor on foreign affairs, of which I had the honour of being a member for 10 years before I came here. We have Sub-Committee C, which met earlier this morning and which deals with European Union aspects of foreign affairs, defence and trade. However, when one looks at the whole world—which none of our Select Committees has a mandate to cover—the rise of China and the growing importance of India and South America, for instance, are issues that Sub-Committee C is not able to cover.
If I may say so, there is infinitely greater expertise in foreign affairs in this House than there is down the Corridor. I find it absolutely astonishing that whenever this issue is raised, we are told that we should not duplicate the work of the House of Commons. That is absolute nonsense. I urge the Chairman of Committees to consider this matter. I have talked to him about it privately. I hope that something will be done about it because it constitutes a major gap in the work of this House.
My Lords, I warmly welcome the Liaison Committee’s report. This is exactly the sort of steady early success and progress that those of us on the Goodlad committee, which recommended this initiative, hoped for. It is very good to see it.
I thank the House and the Liaison Committee on behalf of my committee, which produced its report, Ready for Ageing?. It was a great privilege to have the opportunity to do that. We are delighted that the membership of the committee was so well supported by the staff and that the issue has caught the public’s attention. However, I draw attention to a small problem with ad hoc Select Committees which I hope can be discussed at a later date. My committee, which published its report last week, has now ceased to exist. If the aim of the House in undertaking Select Committee work is not simply to publish a piece of paper but to have an impact on public policy and debate, that is a fundamental problem. To illustrate it crisply, how the Government respond and how the political parties think about such an issue is of fundamental importance. Although my committee has ceased to exist, it will continue to meet because we recognise that in the next two months or so we need to meet Sir Jeremy Heywood, Sir Bob Kerslake, a couple of Permanent Secretaries and senior figures from each political party. As I say, the clerks have supported us superbly. I know how to use a telephone but, clearly, if you want your ad hoc committees to have an impact, you have to provide the sort of support I have suggested: that is, an administrator for one day a week for six months to support the follow-through.
My Lords, I would not like the plea of the noble Lord, Lord Jopling, for a foreign affairs committee to go unsupported by other Back-Benchers. I fully endorse his view; we need such a committee. My experience as chairman of your Lordships’ Select Committee on the European Union was that we often found ourselves having to draw back from the frontier when there were issues that we felt needed attention because it was simply not within our mandate to go into them. It would be a great comfort for the House to know that the plea of the noble Lord, Lord Jopling, will be taken seriously and not just handed on down the line once again, year after year, without any positive response.
My Lords, I support the noble Lords, Lord Jopling and Lord Grenfell, in what they have said about the need for a foreign affairs committee in this House. Since arriving in this House, I have found it very odd indeed that the only way in which foreign affairs can be looked at is through the prism of the European Union. That is sometimes the right prism, but not always. As the noble Lords, Lord Jopling and Lord Grenfell, said, there is a very strong case for a committee on foreign affairs.
My Lords, the noble Lords, Lord Jopling, Lord Grenfell and Lord Jay, have put their finger on a fundamental point. I know that the Chairman of Committees—the noble Lord, Lord Sewel—is struggling in this very difficult task of trying to make all ends meet and to accommodate all the pressures, but there is the most enormous gap with regard to foreign affairs. The world is changing. We have plenty of complex business to do with Europe and we should have good committees focusing on that. However, the IMF tells us that the whole of Europe will contribute only 17% to the world’s GNP in four years’ time. It is, alas, shrinking in an expanding world. There is a vast new area of interest to cover. Our friends in the other place can cover some of it but under their remit they cannot begin to cover all the issues. The expertise, wisdom and understanding about how we cope with this new world are here in this House. Not to have a committee focusing on it is, to my mind, verging on a tragedy. The matter should be given consideration in the future, in the way that my noble friend Lord Jopling put with such eloquence.
My Lords, I do not disagree with what has been said about a foreign affairs committee—quite the reverse, I agree completely. I want to range a little more widely. First, I welcome the fact that the House is discussing the report of one of our domestic committees. We should do this more often. There are a lot of things happening around and about the House that individual Members of the House know very little about. It is good that the Chairman of Committees comes here and explains what is happening in the Liaison Committee. Lest anything I say subsequently be construed as criticism of the Chairman of Committees, I say quite equivocally that he is doing a good job—on the whole.
We have discussed the future of the Lords on innumerable occasions. We have referred to our work in dealing with, reviewing and revising legislation. We have excellent debates—and commend ourselves and pat ourselves on the back for their excellence. But one of our most important responsibilities is the third responsibility: scrutiny. The Chairman of Committees will have received a letter from the chairmen of all the Select Committees, asking for more debates on Select Committee reports. The letter states that it is repeatedly recognised, both inside and outside the House of Lords, that our Select Committees are among the most important, effective and well-regarded elements of our work. Therefore, they should be given greater support by the House, the Liaison Committee and the officers and administration of the House.
Will the Chairman of Committees confirm that the Liaison Committee has been cash limited in its consideration of this matter, so that to create new committees—I welcome all five of them—it has had to cut back on the good work of all the others? The Science and Technology Committee, which has done a great deal of good work, has been cut, as the Chairman admitted. The noble Lord, Lord Krebs, and others complained about that. It did remarkably good work, hailed as excellent not just in Britain but abroad.
The European Union Select Committee now has one sub-committee fewer. That means the other sub-committees work harder. I am surprised that the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, does not like them because these sub-committees scrutinise in great detail what comes from the European Union, challenging and questioning it. I would have thought that that was what he was in the business for. We do a good job on his behalf—well, almost—challenging and questioning what comes out of Europe.
My Lords, the noble Lord is very generous. The point I made was that we have seven European Union sub-committees whereas the House of Commons makes do with one. I also made the point that the conclusions of our seven European Unions sub-committees carry very little weight in Brussels. Furthermore, the scrutiny reserve has been overridden over 400 times in the last two years. Of course I agree that the other committees of your Lordships’ House are hugely valuable. They are taken very seriously nationally and we should have more of them. However, I believe that we should have fewer European Union sub-committees. I do not see why we cannot make do with one, as the House of Commons does.
My Lords, I think I was too generous to the noble Lord, Lord Pearson. I have been in Brussels twice recently. Everyone I came across there—the officials and commissioners—without hesitation or exception said that they recognise and respect the work of the House of Lords European Union Select Committee and its sub-committees. That came out loud and clear and I pass it on. The trouble is that we are limited. We wanted to travel more but cannot because of the limitations on cost.
Perhaps I may now deal with the Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy. I was really astonished by the response from the Liaison Committees here and in the other place. There is a National Security Council, which the Government have set up to take an across-the-board look at all aspects not just of defence and foreign affairs, but of energy security, cybersecurity and a whole range of things. The National Security Council is a powerful body in the country, and the Joint Committee is the parliamentary scrutiny and control over it. The committee just wanted to set up a sub-committee, but because of a lack of resources it is not allowed to do so. The committee consists of people with great expertise—chairmen of Select Committees in the House of Commons, people who used to be heads of, or used to work for, intelligence agencies in this country, and people who worked on the Intelligence and Security Committee. The Joint Committee is one of the most influential committees and is being constrained in its work.
I know that the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, has a word or two to say. He always has an awful lot to say, and I am looking forward to what he will say once I have finished. I hope that further consideration will be given to this matter because the Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy should either be given powers and resources to get on with the job or it might as well be wound up. Even some members of that committee said that the other day. More money should be put into this area.
I do not know whether other Members agree, but there is money available for any issue to do with security here—for example, if Black Rod wants to try yet another way of getting cars in and out. If heads of state visit, money is available without question or challenge. However, if it is just a matter of us continuing to be more effective in our scrutiny, there is a challenge or question about money. We ought to try to have a little thought about our priorities and a discussion about making more resources available for the most valuable work that this House does in scrutiny.
My Lords, I support what the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, said. I would take an approach totally different from that which the Liaison Committee seems to have taken. The House of Lords exists; it has just survived a major onslaught and an attempt to dismantle it. For the moment, we are here. It is an incredibly valuable and low-cost outfit, and it is mad not to maximise its capability to do committee work. The constraint should be the availability of Members of the House of Lords to do that work, not some cash-limit approach. We have something that is extremely valuable, and the committee should take a totally different approach on maximising the output of the House of Lords in the national interest.
My Lords, I am very happy to sit at the feet of the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, when it comes to having lots to say. I have two short questions for the Chairman of Committees. I wrote to him suggesting that we had a foreign affairs committee. In a global world where we have to make progress outside the European Community from an economic point of view, it seems extraordinary that we do not have such a committee. I understand the reasons for constraint on resources, but can he explain why it costs £225,000 to run a Select Committee of this House? Where does the money go?
My Lords, perhaps I may add a few words in support of a foreign affairs committee. For a considerable time, I have been closely associated with debates on foreign affairs from both the Government and Opposition Benches. Each year it seems less intelligible that we do not have the resource to do the detailed and interrogative work that is needed in a committee format. There is great expertise in the House; that is without question. There is a great deal of experience in the House and I do not question that either. We all rely on a variety of sources, particularly in opposition when you do not have the resources of the Foreign Office to rely on in preparation for debate.
However, what is plainly absent is detailed interrogation in relation to significant problems, and the noble Lord, Lord Jopling, illustrated the two that have perplexed me to the greatest extent. We do not have the ability to interrogate with regard to that sort of information, making use of resources from outside in order to compile the most authoritative set of descriptions of those problems. It is a fundamental limitation, and it is one that spreads right across the House—not just to the Front Benches but to the whole of the Back Benches—and it is no surprise to me at all that that is why support for this proposition is heard on all Benches this morning. It is high time that that change was made. I regard it as urgent.
My Lords, for almost 50 years I have served in five different types of parliamentary institution: the House of Commons, the European Parliament in Brussels and Strasbourg, the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly, Stormont and, now, your Lordships’ House. Out of those five, without doubt the best parliamentary assembly for the quality of debate is your Lordships’ House. The worst, I am sorry to say, is the European Parliament because nearly all its work is done through committees. It meets in full session on only about four days in each of 10 months a year. Therefore, I caution against overloading this House with committees and reducing the time that your Lordships’ House sits in full session.
My Lords, I believe that someone has to answer the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, in making a comparison between the European Union Select Committee in this House—I declare an interest as a member of that committee—and the European Scrutiny Committee of the House of Commons. I will not take up too much of your Lordships’ time but the procedure is entirely different. The European Scrutiny Committee does not undertake individual inquiries and scrutiny of individual matters in the same way that your Lordships’ committee does. Therefore, the comparison is not a true one, and I believe that that should be made clear if we are discussing this matter.
Secondly, it is not just a question of whether or not notice is taken in Brussels. Our business is also to hold Her Majesty’s Government to account in regard to the attitude that they take to proposed legislation, to raise questions about that legislation, to get the Government’s answers and know the position they are taking, and perhaps to make recommendations. Therefore, the position of the European Union Select Committee and its sub-committees is very different from that of the House of Commons committee, and its work could not be done by reducing it to one simple committee, as is the case with the European Scrutiny Committee in the other place.
My Lords, does my noble friend agree that it is important that adequate time should be available to debate the reports of these committees? Can he say what mechanism exists for ensuring that, if a gap suddenly appears in the House’s programme, that space is filled if reports are waiting to be debated? I raise this because we suddenly find that we have an extra week’s recess in a few days’ time. Were there any reports which could have been debated at that point?
My Lords, perhaps I may add a small footnote to the comments of a number of noble Lords urging the formation of a foreign affairs Select Committee. I was in Oxford yesterday, where I was vigorously assailed by a leading member of another place about our failure to give sufficient consideration to Commonwealth matters. I explained that we debated them not infrequently. I also explained the enormous amount of work done, and commitment shown, by my noble friend Lord Howell. However, I think that it would go even further in helping to correct that false impression if we established the committee for which so many noble Lords have called.
My Lords, it is sometimes a very lonely job being the Chairman of Committees. I just want to say that I and other members of the Liaison Committee are here and, as I know the Chairman will say, we will certainly take all these things into consideration when we next discuss these issues. I did not wish the Chairman to feel that he was alone in these matters.
I thank the noble Baroness very much. First, perhaps I may deal with the matter raised by the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, mainly because of the ringing endorsement he gave me for the way in which I have carried out the job. Knowing his interest in football and a far from gloriously successful football side, it felt a little bit like being the club manager whose team is languishing somewhere in the relegation zone, as soon as he started to make those comments.
It is true that the chairmen of virtually all our Select Committees have written asking that time be made available for the debate on their reports, that time has not properly and fully been made available at the moment and that there is a delay. To a very large extent, that is true. It will be discussed by, I think, the Procedure Committee at its next meeting. That is under way and being considered. The precise timing of when reports are debated on the Floor of your Lordships’ House is a matter for the usual channels and is not within the scope of any of our domestic committees. I am sure the usual channels would recognise the points that were made, particularly in relation to the additional week’s recess.
As regards the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, I will not go into details on the EU Committee, save only to say that if he is saying that the views of our EU Committee are not considered fully in Brussels, he should look at the proposals for the reform of a very difficult area of policy: the common fisheries policy. He will see that the Commission’s proposals follow almost word for word the recommendations made by this House’s EU Committee when it looked at the reform of the common fisheries policy some years ago. Therefore, at least in one highly controversial area of policy, the EU Committee’s voice is not only being heard but is being effective and carried out through implementation.
The noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, also made various points about one particular topic not being selected. I am afraid that the quality of the submissions was such that there are bound to be a number of people who feel disappointed. We had 27 submissions for Select Committees, the vast majority of which one could have said yes to quite easily. It was a very high quality list of submissions, and it is inevitable that people will be disappointed. I have to say that the committee had previously set its face against being swayed by the number of people who had just signed up to support a topic. It really wanted to look at the quality of the topic, the importance and relevance of the topic and how it could bring forward a mix of topics that covered a broad and comprehensive range of subject areas.
Several noble Lords referred to foreign affairs. I hear and I welcome the comments that have been made and the argument to have a foreign affairs Select Committee. The established position of the House, which was repeated by the noble Lord, Lord Jopling, is that we do not duplicate the work of the House of Commons. In fact, we very rarely duplicate its work in the work of our Select Committees. We tend to bring a different perspective, a different set of skills and a different set of experiences to the consideration of what might seem to be the same topic or the same policy area, and a very different product is produced.
We have moved, let us say cautiously if not slowly, in establishing an ad hoc Select Committee in the foreign affairs area by looking at the use of soft power in supporting Britain’s influence in the world. That is something of an experiment. Let us see how that goes, see if it produces a distinctive value-added piece of work, and perhaps build from there out to have a more universal coverage of the foreign affairs policy agenda. That is something that I think we can judge perhaps better this time next year.
The noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, asked where the money goes. I would expect the noble Lord to pose a helpful question like that. First, the average cost is just over £200,000 per year, which gets swallowed up, most of it by staff salaries, clerks’ salaries, national insurance, pensions, lawyers, specialist advisers, witness expenses, travel, printing and postage. Those sorts of things all add up and pretty quickly come to what looks like a formidably large figure when you read it out, such as £200,000 for the cost of a Select Committee. Of course, that is nowhere near the real cost of a Select Committee if you try to put a monetary value on the contribution that Members bring to the deliberations of all our committees. I will quickly look to see what else I have.
The noble Lord, Lord Filkin, raised the very real problem of how you follow up once a Select Committee has reported. That is of significant importance, because clearly we would hope that the topics for the ad hoc committees in particular are selected because they are of sufficient importance to lead right the way through, from examination to the formulation of an approach, to implementation and to how far the work of the Select Committee has influenced the development of policy and the activities of government. You cannot just stop it dead once the report is in. However, a number of significant problems have to be sorted out before we can do that. One is that a Select Committee cannot sit quasi for ever, saying, “Well, we haven’t quite got that bit sorted out, and we need to do more work on that”. This is a real problem. The committee is meeting on 11 June, and at that meeting we can at least start to think about how we can address that issue.
I return to the question of cost. If the cost was an average figure that was arrived at by taking the number of committees and dividing the cost, and if the argument against having a foreign affairs committee is one of cost, presumably the soft power committee will cost the same as the foreign affairs committee, on the basis of the numbers that the Chairman of Committees has produced.
The argument there is that the ad hoc committee can be a focused committee, and can change perhaps its area of focus in the general area of foreign policy from year to year, with a different composition of people who had an interest in that area. That is the type of thinking the Liaison Committee is developing, rather than increasing the number of sessional committees. That is an argument that we can have and develop during the year, but I would be loath to set up a new sessional committee at the cost of losing the flexibility that you get with an ad hoc committee.
Can we pinpoint this a little? We cannot hold the noble Lord to the exact figures, but it would be very helpful to have an illustrative declaration statement of what a foreign affairs committee would probably cost. We have gone around the subject, but we have to tackle that basic point, as it is crucial. Of course, as my noble friend has pointed out, if one abandoned the idea of a soft power committee, a saving would be set against the cost of the foreign affairs committee. We need to pursue this. The noble Lord will have heard the views expressed in this House, and I think one would find them reflected outside this House. I therefore hope that this will be given very serious consideration.
I have tried to indicate that Members who have an interest in the foreign affairs area are pushing at a door that might not be open but is more than slightly ajar. Certainly the committee will want to look at and address the points that have been made in that area at its next meeting on 11 June. It will see what it can come forward with, perhaps not immediately but during the year, when it looks again at the range of committees and topics that it will bring forward for the following year.
Will the Chairman of Committees bear in mind, before the meeting in June that he has just mentioned, that the outside views to which my noble friend Lord Hurd has referred are growing and very urgent? They come from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, where some of us have served and which, I understand, is very willing and anxious to have this kind of opening, and the House of Commons problem is always there. Certainly there is a valid view that the House of Lords can reinforce and follow up some of the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee reports in a constructive way, to the great benefit of both the House of Commons and the House of Lords. Quite aside from that, there is an enormous volume of views that the destiny, prosperity and interests of this nation lie increasingly in the world network—Asia, Africa, Latin America—and the Commonwealth network, and that is where your Lordships’ skill and expertise should be focused.
My Lords, perhaps I may reinforce the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, that one of the great advantages of bringing a report of this kind to your Lordships’ House is that it gives members of the committee, of which I am one, the opportunity to hear the views of the House. I am sure that every member of the committee who is here today has paid great attention to this debate and that it will be taken forward when we next meet.
My Lords, before the noble Lord answers the question on the Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy, of which I am member, I have to say that this House would benefit more from an effective foreign affairs committee than it does from what I regard as an ineffective Joint Committee on Security. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, that unless that committee can be made effective—it does require the ability to set up sub-committees in order to do its work, but I shall not labour that point at the moment—we would be better off concentrating our efforts on a committee that is supported and will work, rather than taking part in a Joint Committee which, at the moment, does not have a particularly good future.
I shall try to deal with the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, yet again. The committee’s view was that the Joint Committee should revisit and constrain itself to working with its original remit, which was to meet, I think the term was, frequently but irregularly three or four times a year. That was the Joint Committee’s understanding. There are, in effect, two committees to deal with security issues. There is the Intelligence and Security Committee, which looks at the security services, and there is the Joint Committee on Security, a totally different creature that tends to look at a broader concept of security and deals with energy security, food security and so on.
The Joint Committee on Security is disappointing because, perhaps as a function of its composition and size, it has had recurring difficulty in sustaining interest from Members of the other place. This is largely because, as the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, said, the other place has appointed the chairs of highly demanding Select Committees, and perhaps being on that committee is relatively low down on the order of priorities of its Members. It might be more helpful if the committee itself started a discussion on whether it could make itself more effective by addressing size and composition. Until then, it is clear that the view of the House of Commons committee and our committee is that there should be no expansion of its powers to appoint sub-committees.
My Lords, I agree entirely with what the noble Lord has just said about the unsatisfactory nature of both the size of the committee and the levels of attendance, particularly by Members of the House of Commons. It has to be said, however, that the chairmen of the various committees—home affairs, defence, foreign affairs and so on—themselves insisted on being members of this committee in order partly to ensure that it did not actually step on to their patch. That creates real difficulties for the effective work of the committee, which is precisely why it is difficult to find the interstices where we might be permitted to do something. There are some fundamentally unsatisfactory aspects to the existence of this committee that go to its mandate. I do not think that we will make a satisfactory committee out of conforming to the mandate: rather, the mandate has to change in order to make a satisfactory committee.
That might very well be the case, and I suggest that the starting-off point is to look at composition, size and mandate rather than giving the committee powers to appoint a sub-committee. The issue is much more fundamental than giving it the power to appoint a sub-committee. The remaining important and recurring point is that of a foreign affairs Select Committee. I acknowledge fully everything that has been said, and I am sure there will be proper and full discussion at the earliest opportunity.
My Lords, I want to raise a final point with which the noble Lord may agree, because we have discussed it. When reports, particularly from domestic committees, are put on to the Minute, would it not be helpful if there was some description of what they are about? We have had a full debate today, but all that is recorded on the Order Paper is that it concerns the first report of the Liaison Committee. Perhaps we could have some description of what is involved, and a period of notice for any debate. I would suggest possibly a week. Some of these committee reports are put on overnight, I would not dare to suggest, in the hope that they may just be nodded through. A brief description and a period of notice for these reports, most of which are extremely valuable, would help the House to debate them.
My Lords, the noble Lord has tabled two Questions for Written Answer for me on this very issue. In the spirit of openness, transparency, accountability, motherhood and apple pie, I hope that we can end this debate with a degree of agreement. However, the noble Lord has made a good point. It is right that rather than having a sort of sexy title such as, “That the First Report of the Liaison Committee be agreed to”, we should put on to the Order Paper a brief description of the main issues dealt with in the report. I hope that that is the essence of the reply I will make to the noble Lord when his Questions are answered, and I am sure that he will be at least partly satisfied today.
My Lords, I hope I will be forgiven for this, but I have to take this opportunity to correct a misapprehension that was mentioned earlier in this short debate. It was that the usual channels had agreed to the extra week’s recess that was announced a couple of weeks ago. The decision was not reached by the usual channels; it was the result of a discussion by Her Majesty’s Government.