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Liaison Committee

Volume 769: debated on Tuesday 22 March 2016

Motion to Agree

Moved by

That the Report from the Committee New investigative committee activity (3rd Report, HL Paper 113) be agreed to.

My Lords, with the leave of the House I beg to move that the third report of the Liaison Committee be agreed to. I can honestly say that I am delighted to be moving this Motion because I am very grateful indeed to all the Members of the House who worked hard to put forward their proposals for ad hoc committees in the next Session. Once again, this has been a very worthwhile exercise and the Liaison Committee has had an excellent range of topics to choose from.

I also take this opportunity to offer my warmest thanks to the members of the Liaison Committee for the constructive and thoughtful way in which they approached the task of first shortlisting and then selecting the proposals to recommend to the House. Sadly, it is of course not possible to avoid disappointing some of our colleagues, but the good news is that they can, if they wish, make proposals in future years. In the mean time, I hope that the House will agree that the committee’s recommendations cover a wide range of subjects, which will make excellent use of the talents of the Members of this House, which we are so fortunate to have.

The committee unanimously agreed the following proposals: first, an ad hoc committee on the long-term sustainability of the National Health Service; secondly, an ad hoc committee on sustaining the charity sector and the challenges of governance; and, thirdly, an ad hoc committee on financial exclusion and access to mainstream financial services. We agreed also to recommend an ad hoc post-legislative scrutiny committee to consider the Licensing Act 2003, which colleagues will recall covers a wide range of important matters.

I believe that it is widely acknowledged that Select Committee activity is one of the greatest strengths of this House. The expansion of this activity in the 2010-15 Parliament, with the growth in the number of ad hoc committees from one each Session to three, together with the introduction of a post-legislative scrutiny committee, have been very productive. Your Lordships will also remember that the committee agreed to establish an international relations committee at the start of the next Session, and the report mentions some safeguards in relation to the work of that committee.

I end on the note of thanks with which I began. Both the process that led to the committee’s report and the agreeing of it have been a delight. I commend the report to the House. I beg to move.

My Lords, I am sure that the House will warmly welcome the committee’s recommendations, but perhaps the Chairman could take this opportunity to explain to the House just how items get on the agenda of the Liaison Committee. For example, I think that he will be aware that there is a common view that the proposals in the Strathclyde report may well best be answered by a Joint Committee of both Houses, because they matter for both Houses of Parliament. Is that a matter for which the Liaison Committee could take responsibility?

My Lords, the position is very clear. Everybody has an equal opportunity. Every Member of the House has the opportunity to put forward topics for discussion. As the report indicates, we had a large number and a wide range of topics. We considered each and every one most carefully. That, I am sure, will continue to be the way in which the system works in future.

My Lords, I understand that the gathering of signatures in support of applications to the Liaison Committee for particular ad hoc inquiries does not go down very well with the committee. Why not? If 100 Members of this House decide that they want a particular ad hoc committee to be set up, why should the committee then select some item that is perhaps supported by a very few, simply because a majority of the committee at any one time just fancied that subject? This happened when I put in an application for a further inquiry into identity cards. I was supported by a lot of colleagues, who wrote to me, who knew about the application, but I understand that it had minimal support within the committee. We need to find a way of more accurately reflecting what a large number of people in the House might wish to support.

My Lords, the committee considered the range of options that were put to us. There was a common theme on some topics; others were more individual. We considered each of them on their merits and we have reached the conclusion that we now commend to the House.

My Lords, I have been able to give brief and informal notice to the Chairman of Committees of my intention to query the wisdom of the selection of our new ad hoc committees. Let me say again, and in agreement with the noble Lord, that the findings of your Lordships’ ad hoc Select Committees are one of the most valuable contributions of your Lordships’ House to British public life. The experience and knowledge that resides in your Lordships is perhaps unsurpassed by that in any other community in the United Kingdom.

However, at least three of the four selected ad hoc committees, if not all of them, fall into a rather similar category of inquiry, which one could loosely describe as social science. This appears to be at the expense of other important topics. I do not have time to go into all of them, but there is the hugely important and possibly catastrophic subject of antimicrobial resistance, proposed by the former Secretary of State the noble Lord, Lord Lansley. There is better regulation as proposed by the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, which would have gone to the heart of our democracy and how it is working or, rather, how it is not working, with the resultant disillusion among the voting public.

Above all, I would single out the problem of Islamism and the spread of Sharia law in this country, so forcefully and tragically brought home to us yet again this morning in Brussels. I submit that it is wrong of our Liaison Committee not to have picked one of the three proposals to examine this perhaps greatest threat to our present culture. We could, for instance, have had an inquiry proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, on global jihadist movements and the international fight against terrorism. There was a proposal from the noble Baroness, Lady Berridge, for an inquiry into our Prevent strategy, whether it is working and, if not, what perhaps can be done about it. Perhaps most simple of all, we could have had from the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel, a committee to examine the spread of Sharia law in communities in the United Kingdom and to assess its social consequences. I feel that the noble Lord and his committee owe the House something more of an explanation as to why these and other committee inquiries were not chosen from the very large number of suggestions that were put forward.

Noble Lords would of course be disappointed if against this background I did not once again protest at the fact that we have no fewer than seven committees looking into our relationship with the European Union, in the form of one main committee and six sub-committees. I know that Europhile noble Lords will say that these committees are hugely valuable and that the reports that they produce are treated with awe and admiration in the corridors of Brussels, but I have to say that I see no evidence of this. In fact, if we take even the influence of the British Government in the deliberations of the Council of Ministers, we can see that since 1996 the Government have opposed 55 legislative measures in the Council of Ministers and were defeated on every single one of them. If the Government have such little influence in Brussels, I would have thought that the reports of your Lordships’ Select Committees have even less. Even if they do have influence, can it be right for us to fund seven of these committees when all these other subjects need to be looked at by your Lordships with the wisdom and authority that our committees bring to bear on every subject that they address?

My Lords, perhaps I may say a few words, since my name has been mentioned. Indeed, I have received a commendation from a rather unexpected quarter—I am not sure that it is all that welcome, but it is interesting. The topic mentioned by the noble Lord that I put forward was one of six that I suggested, none of which was accepted by the committee—and I am a member of that committee. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Laming. The members of the committee are all constructive and thoughtful and I go along completely with committee’s recommendations. The noble Lord, Lord Laming, conducted the discussion exceptionally well. He allowed full consideration of all aspects. There was no dissent. It was perhaps one of the most constructive ways of coming to a consensus that I have ever experienced in any committee in this House. I hope that the House will accept the recommendations of the noble Lord, Lord Laming.

My Lords, I am extremely grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes. The fact that he made a number of recommendations and none was accepted is an indication of the thoughtfulness of the committee and the way matters were approached. We were not intimidated by his presence.

The noble Lord, Lord Pearson, does the committee a great service because he illustrates that we received a range of serious topics and each was very carefully considered. I would not wish in any way to give the impression that the committee thought that some of the topics that have not been recommended today were not worthy matters. That was not the case. The committee took the matters very seriously.

I may be able to give the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, some comfort in that the House has agreed to look again at the committee structure in 2017-18 and it may be that there will be opportunities then to look at some of the matters that he has raised. Although I have never had the privilege of serving on the EU Committee or its sub-committees, I have received consistently good reports about their work and the impact that they have, not only in this country but in Europe and beyond. I hope very much, that said, that noble Lords will be willing to accept this report. I beg to move.

Motion agreed.