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Liaison Committee

Volume 798: debated on Monday 1 July 2019

Procedure Committee

Membership Motions

Moved by

Liaison Committee

That, as proposed by the Committee of Selection, Lord Bradley and Lord Tyler be appointed members of the Select Committee, in place of Lord Foulkes of Cumnock and Baroness Garden of Frognal.

Relevant document: 1st Report from the Committee of Selection

Procedure Committee

That, as proposed by the Committee of Selection, Lord Bew, Lord Eames, Baroness Falkner of Margravine, Lord Mancroft and Viscount Ullswater be appointed members of the Select Committee, in place of Lord Powell of Bayswater, Lord Rowe-Beddoe, Baroness Humphreys, Lord Brabazon of Tara and Lord True.

Relevant document: 1st Report from the Committee of Selection

My Lords, I beg to move the first two Motions standing in my name on the Order Paper. As many noble Lords will be aware, the House operates a rotation rule in respect of most Select Committees, which requires that any Member who has been appointed to a Select Committee for three successive Sessions may not be reappointed in the following two Sessions. The rotation rule is based on the duration of a Session being approximately 12 months. The current Session began on 21 June 2017 and has therefore lasted for 24 months so far.

In 2014 the House approved a report from the Procedure Committee which stated that, in the event of a Session lasting significantly longer than 12 months, the Committee of Selection should be asked to consider whether any ad hoc adjustments should be made to the operation of the rotation rule. Accordingly, at its most recent meeting, the Committee of Selection agreed that the rotation rule should be applied today, 1 July, in order to ensure a degree of turnover in committee membership.

As a result of the exceptional duration of the current Session, many current Select Committee members have sat on their committees for four years, which is significantly longer than the usual term length. We value their service, but it is only right that now, more than two years after the current Session began, we look to refresh the membership and allow other Members of the House the opportunity to contribute to the important work of our committees. I beg to move.

My Lords, I wonder whether the Senior Deputy Speaker could help me and the House. What would happen to the rotation if there were to be a general election later this year?

My Lords, I hope that I am not jumping the gun but, as the Senior Deputy Speaker has raised the issue, and speaking as chairman of the Economic Affairs Committee, perhaps I may thank the Senior Deputy Speaker for the excellent work he has done in looking at the composition of the committees and considering reforms. I know that he is not responsible for this, but no fewer than six members of the Economic Affairs Committee—that is, half the committee excluding the chairman—are required to leave the committee, and are being replaced by six excellent good men and true, but they are all men. As chairman of a public company, I am expected in appointments to the board to take account of diversity and gender balance. I am also expected to look at the board as a whole and consider the skills that are present. While we are telling the rest of the world to adopt procedures that are perhaps more in line with modern corporate governance, our own procedures do not allow for this.

I am not in any way criticising the Senior Deputy Speaker or any of the names suggested for the Economic Affairs Committee, all of whom are excellent, but the fact is that these names emerge from party sources and there is no consideration of the overall balance or the range of skills being provided—or indeed the impact on the committee of losing six very good people all at once. In the case of my committee, that impact is considerable. Now, we are where we are, but we do need to look at this in the longer term.

My Lords, I support my noble friend, Lord Forsyth, with whom I do not always agree but I do emphatically on this occasion. I am troubled by one or two issues here. First, as the Senior Deputy Speaker has pointed out, we should be doing this at the beginning of a new session. This session has gone on and on and has certainly earned a place in the history books, even though it has not perhaps earned its place for parliamentary excellence. I am very troubled by all the talk about Prorogation. I would like an assurance from someone on the Government Front Bench—not, of course, the Senior Deputy Speaker, who is not in a position to deal with this point—that the present Government have absolutely no intention of bringing this Session to an end at a time that would be convenient for the Government but not for Parliament.

This is a very important constitutional issue that reaches to the top. I had intended to speak briefly on the third group of Motions that the Senior Deputy Speaker will move. However, because my noble friend Lord Forsyth talked, entirely reasonably, about his committee, which appears in the third group, it would clearly be for the convenience of the House if we had one brief debate. I will raise just two issues.

First, what is the point of clearing out the European affairs committee? Surely an exception should have been made there. With all the talk of 31 October and a clear desire to move towards Brexit, it is surely wrong to dispose of the services of those who have served faithfully on the committee for some years and to replace them, perhaps for a matter of two or three months, with new people who are not so conversant. This point should be taken seriously.

My second point in respect of the third group of Motions—my noble friend Lord Forsyth has touched on it—is to ask how these committees are selected. “By the usual channels”, somebody murmurs sotto voce behind me. Have we not reached the stage where your Lordships’ House, which prides itself on its expertise and experience, should be able to choose Members to sit on its committees in a rather different manner? The other place has moved over to electing not only the chairmen of Select Committees but all their members. I suggest that the time has come when perhaps there should be a committee, presided over by the Lord Speaker, which is not just the usual channels but has the chance to cast its eyes a little wider than is sometimes the case and to avoid the sort of anomaly to which my noble friend Lord Forsyth referred when he said that he had six good men and true. I am sure that they are, but it does not reflect the diversity of your Lordships’ House and it does not reflect modern practice. I hope that the Senior Deputy Speaker will feel able to take these points on board, because they are worthy of consideration.

My Lords, the Senior Deputy Speaker has been asked quite a lot of questions to answer today, but I want briefly to express support for the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, on how selection is carried out in terms of the balance of gender—and diversity, if I may add to his list.

When the European affairs committee was appointed in 2015, we discussed the lack of gender balance on it. I carried out in the service of the committee an analysis of the number of men and women on each sub-committee. I see that some of those issues remain, four years later. At the time, we were assured that greater efforts would be made by the political parties to achieve balance not just in gender but in diversity.

The noble Lord, Lord Cormack, pointed out that from a total membership of some 73 or 74 members—I must say that I am affected, but I do not speak in my own interest; I should make that clear and perhaps I should be speaking on this at all—a European Union Committee facing 31 October will lose 34 members in one fell swoop. That will undoubtedly have an impact on its principal work, which is considering how we will deal with either a managed Brexit or a no-deal Brexit.

My final point to the Senior Deputy Speaker is that our understanding of the way in which the composition of Select Committees is determined is that Front-Benchers in the political parties will not be assigned additional roles as members of Select Committees, yet we notice in the list before us today that Front-Benchers are being appointed. My understanding from many years ago was that the rotation rule was put in place to allow more Back-Bench Members of the House of Lords to participate in the extremely serious and important work of Select Committees. That seems to be being eroded and I wonder what the answer to that is. It may be a point of principle, but perhaps that is what a convention is.

My Lords, I am sure that all the new committee members will be quite excellent, but I wonder whether my noble friend Lord Forsyth has a point: these committees are concerned with ongoing work. I also endorse the work of the Senior Deputy Speaker, who has been excellent in trying to develop a new shape for our committees for the new age in which we live. These committees have ongoing work, some of it complex and needing some continuation. Might it not be more useful, and possibly a courtesy, for the chairmen of such committees, including the outgoing chairman—which happens to be me in one case—to be consulted and possibly allowed to exchange advice on the shape of the new membership and who might best contribute? Would this not be to the advantage of the committees and of your Lordships’ House generally?

May I put forward a counterview and declare an interest in serving on one of the sub-committees? It is interesting to note that in the House of Commons not only are elections taking place, as my noble friend said, but the maximum rotation is, I think, five or 10 years. A balance has to be reached and I think the balance that has been reached in this House is about right. I am someone who has yet to serve on a Select Committee, yet I was introduced in 2015, and there will be many others in that position, who have yet to have an opportunity to contribute. This is not to detract from the arguments my noble friend Lord Forsyth has put forward, but we would like the opportunity to serve. There has to be an opportunity to look at how we can enhance the experience of those who have recently served on a Select Committee, and enhance the recent experience of those who have yet to serve on a Select Committee, so that everybody feels that they have a role to play.

My Lords, I thank noble Lords for their various comments. To the question of the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, I have a simple answer: thankfully, that is not within my remit. It is for others to say when a general election will be.

I did not ask the Senior Deputy Speaker to say when the general election will be—heaven forbid. What I asked was: if there is a general election later this year, how does that affect the principle of rotation?

If the noble Lord looks at what this document says about members appointed today, on 1 July, he will see that their membership up until the next general election is not included. The rotation rule will kick in after the next general election.

My apologies—after Prorogation. So the term that the members will serve until Prorogation will not count: their term on a committee will start thereafter.

The noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, mentioned the EU Committee. The Committee of Selection looked at the EU Committee but felt that since the rotation rule has not been applied since 2017, it was appropriate to apply it now. As for gender, I was very grateful to the noble Lord for discussing this with me last week. The Committee of Selection has looked at gender in the past. I recognise that the position varies between committees, with some having a 50:50 split and others falling some way short of that. Across committees as a whole, around 30% of the membership is female. For comparison, women make up just over 26% of the membership of the House. However, I recognise from my conversations with Members that there is much more to do there and I undertake to keep raising awareness of this among the usual channels.

The noble Lord, Lord Cormack, mentioned the EU Committee. I cannot add to that, but, as mentioned, I am undertaking a review of the committees and a number of issues have come before the committee. We hope to produce a report reasonably soon on that, and these points have been studied by the review of committees. That is all I can say at the moment.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Howell, for his chairmanship of the International Relations Committee, which has been quite outstanding. On the issue he raised about outgoing chairmen being consulted, one of the proposals put to the review of committees was that a chairs’ forum would be established with the Senior Deputy Speaker—me—as its chair. It would be an informal committee but it would take soundings. It would ensure that, where there was any overlap in committee work, any problems would be ironed out. It would look to the future. That is an area where something could be done. The noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, made the other point that one of the issues before the Committee of Selection is ensuring that more Members get opportunities to serve on these committees.

My Lords, could the noble Lord clarify the issue of a general election? I believe—he will correct me if I am wrong—that if there were to be a general election then it would mean the end of the entire Parliament, not just the end of the Session, and that, therefore, all the committees would have to be reappointed. However, there would be nothing at that moment to prevent current members of committees being reappointed to those committees if they had not served the requisite number of sessions by that time. Can he clarify that?

What I can do is refer to the paper that the Committee of Selection put out —this takes in the point of the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, as well. The Committee of Selection,

“has agreed that, for newly appointed members of committees, service in the remainder of this session will not be counted towards the rotation rule, unless the session extends beyond 1 January 2020”.

As for a general election, the noble Baroness is correct that membership would be done anew from there.

Can the noble Lord deal with the issue of how it was generally the practice for Back-Benchers to be appointed to committees, but it appears that a number of Front-Benchers are now being appointed? Is that a change of practice and, if so, is it a good idea?

May I make it clear to the House that it is not our practice to appoint Front-Benchers to any of these committees?

Motions agreed.