HL Deb 22 July 1975 vol 363 cc274-313

8.37 p.m.

The PRINCIPAL DEPUTY CHAIRMAN of COMMITTEES (Baroness Tweedsmuir of Belhelvie) rose to move, That this House takes note of the Second Special Report of the Select Committee on the European Communities. The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I beg to move that this House takes note of the Second Special Report of the Select Committee on the European Communities. This House enjoined the Select Committee, and I quote: to review the scope of its functions in the context of its terms of reference and to report to the House after a year's experience.

That year ended, of course, in the month of May, but owing to the referendum we thought it wise to postpone finishing our Report and having this debate until after the result was known.

I feel it an honour to present this Report on behalf of the 18 members of the Select Committee. They have, together with the 32 co-opted Members of this House, done an immense amount of work, and they have done so during a time when ever more serious economic difficulties crowd upon this country and inevitably upon each individual. But despite all this, the work of the Select Committee has been undertaken with energy, with skill and, I believe, with real interest. Whatever our political views—for we represent all Parties and none in this House—we have worked as a very happy team, and that has meant a great deal to their chairman. I should like to thank every noble Lord for his cheerful support.

Last November I inherited the excellent arrangements made by the noble Lord, Lord Diamond, of five Sub-Committees. I added a sixth. Perhaps the House may not always realise the responsibility which is placed on Sub-Committee chairmen. This includes studying the documents first, arranging the programme of work and the taking of evidence. During the year, three chairmen have left for other work: the noble Lords, Lord Drumalbyn, Lord Walston, and Lord Lloyd of Kilgerran. They have been succeeded by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Diplock, the noble Earl. Lord Selkirk, and the noble Lord, Lord Raglan. The European Parliament then claimed the noble Lord, Lord Bethell, who was succeeded by the noble Lord, Lord Pritchard. I should like to say, on behalf of all noble Lords who have worked with us, that we could not have done without the unstinted work of many people in this House We knew that we were short of staff. We knew we could not remedy it before the referendum, and many officers of this House have added our work to their normal duties; and to them, on behalf of the Committee, I should like to express our most deep gratitude.

I understand that it is the custom of this House that officers of the House should do all kinds of work. Nevertheless, I do not think it can continue to the same extent. Therefore, I am grateful to the Offices Committee for considering this problem this afternoon, and also to the Clerk of the Parliaments for the way in which he has so well tried to reallocate some of the duties within the staff of this House. I should like to say to the noble Lord the Leader of the House how glad I am that he is going to reply to this debate, because he has consistently been very helpful—maybe because he was a distinguished member of the Maybray-King Committee. But it has meant a great deal to us. I should like also to thank the Government as a whole and their Departments in work which, after all, has been novel to us all. Not that we have not had our problems—and where the Report lists them it is only because Parliament wished us to become as efficient as possible.

As chairman, I have had the task of sifting all the documents which come to us from the Commission. I have tried to exercise my judgment as to those documents which are of political or factual importance. These have been listed under "B." The others are listed as "A." I have added another category which is, B for information, where I do not wish the Sub-Committee to study the problem in depth, but I think they certainly should be aware of it.

From November, when this Committee was reconstituted in this Parliament, until 24th June, which is our cut-off date, there have been sifted 700 documents. Those which have been sifted as "B"—in other words, should be studied by the Sub-Committee—total 33.9 per cent. There are left for the Committee under consideration now 33 documents. The House will be aware that we have overcome the backlog and therefore we study the documents rather more closely and take wider evidence, and we have been helped from time to time with advice and research of five specialist advisers. It is not always easy to achieve the right balance between what is called in modern terms, I think, a study in depth and an appreciation of the broad political, legal and practical consequences of proposals.

For example, there is now sitting a Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution whose work will probably take about two years. When a proposal on an environmental question comes before us from the Commission, in a Regulation which is binding on this country or a Directive that we must carry out, or a Consultative Document which gives us the thinking for the future, we must remember that, however expert the knowledge which is available to us, we must try not to become too involved in the specialist detail but to study the Parliamentary and political consequences in the United Kingdom of the proposal and to make a report and recommend it either for information or debate. In the time from November until 24th June, the Select Committee have recommended for information 47 documents to this House; and for debate, 17.

When it come to debate, luckily it is possible to group some of these Reports together. But is it a tribute to the usual channels that we have discussed every single Report, except three. One is a very important document on energy, which is to be debated in the autumn; one is a long-term document from Lord Diamond's Committee which is on the harmonisation of VAT, and the other is on the budgetary powers of the European Parliament, which will be discussed together with an Affirmative Order which will be laid before the House by the Government.

We have been lucky in having the noble Lord, Lord Chelwood, as a former member of the European Parliament, to be a member of our Committee. He had hoped to speak tonight but simply cannot come here due to other engagements. Nor indeed can the noble Lord, Lord Hill of Luton, the chairman of Sub-Committee C, who I regret to say is unwell. But we have been fortunate in that we have managed to co-opt to our service the noble Lord, Lord O'Hagan, who has only so recently left the European Parliament. And, of course, whenever we are fortunate to have members of the Parliament with us such as the noble Earl, Lord Bessborough, they are very welcome to our Committees, as indeed are all Members of this House, who have the right to attend and to speak but not of course to vote. We manage to exchange the documents from the European Parliament so that we know what is being discussed in committee there; and I believe it is true to say that sometimes we have been in advance of some of debate which has happened in the European Parliament at Strasbourg.

When it comes to debates, I think I should like to draw the attention of the noble Lord the Leader of the House to a recommendation made in the Maybray-King Report—and he will recall this as a member of that Committee—that we should have certain Motions placed before the House from the Select Committee to approve certain documents; not only to take note, which is what we do now, but to approve the opinion of the Committee, because our terms of reference are wide enough not only to make a recommendation but also to express an opinion. There are occasions when it may well be that we shall need to have short urgent debates. I do not know how widely known it is that any noble Lord can put down a Motion for debate at the end of Business and it can be taken. I think it is rather interesting to recall that on three days in April we rose before 6 o'clock, on one day in June, and on one day in July. That is not taking into account the times when we rise before seven or before eight. Therefore there really is more time available, perhaps, than everybody realises.

It is incumbent on me to say about our terms of reference that we are content with them. We found them wide enough. We want no change. We should however like to have a larger number of members on our Select Committee. At the moment we are allowed to have about 15, which means 18 in practice. We should like to have about 22. Sometimes there are occasions when a member of the main Committee cannot attend a Sub-Committee and it would be very useful if we could have this number enlarged. We hope also that the Procedure Committee will consider a measure of continuity of the Committee. This was recommended in the First Special Report by the noble Lord, Lord Diamond. He recommended that it should be for the duration of a Parliament because then it avoids delay in setting up the Committee at the start of each Session. I understand that similar arrangements were proposed for the Committee in another place and these have been already granted.

Many people who do not serve on our Committees may think: "How is it that there is a Committee in another place and a Committee in this House? Surely, they are merely overlapping and doing the same work." I hope that one day we shall indeed have a Joint Committee, but I do not see it happening in the immediate future. Therefore, I should like to tell the House what it is that we are trying to do. We exchange all documents and there is therefore a tacit agreement not to duplicate if possible.

If, for example, we have taken evidence on some subject, another place will not take that evidence. And, of course, there are certain subjects, which are tacitly left to each Committee. For example, there is the Budget. That is discussed by another place, although we do now study the Budget as background to the economic decisions. However, if you take company law, some very far-reaching proposals are now being studied very carefully indeed by both Sub-Committee E, the Legal Committee, and Sub-Committee A, the Economic and Financial Committee. Therefore, I think that without saying so the study of company law is largely left to us.

There are, of course, some subjects which are of interest to both Houses. For example, both Houses have had debates on the stock-taking of the Common Agricultural Policy and no doubt both Houses will have further debates on energy. We have had freedom of establishment debates in Sub-Committee C, and we shall consider the Treaty of Lome and through it our relations with the developing countries in the Commonwealth—I hope in a general debate on this subject. This is studied by Sub-Committee B. Indeed, they are about to undertake a study of the different types of treaties which come before us. The Legal Committee is presided over by my noble and learned friend Lord Diplock. We in this House are extraordinarily fortunate to have him here and I would recommend every noble Lord who is genuinely interested in our future in Europe to read Annex C to our Report which was written by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Diplock, and which is termed "The Legal Structure of the EEC. Theory and Reality." It is on this that the future role of Parliamentary scrutiny is based in Part 2 of our Report. We are also very fortunate in having as Counsel to the Select Committee, Sir Charles Sopwith. I do not know whether it is realised that every document which conies from the Commission is studied by Sub-Committee E. We owe a very great deal to Sir Charles Sopwith for the enormous work he has undertaken. Our recommendations include some which are the responsibility of the Council and the Commission. When the United Kingdom takes on the Presidency, I hope it will be able to manoeuvre something to improve the procedure. However, some recommendations do, of course, involve the Government. I am glad to see that the recommendations we have made are the same as those which are recommended by the Select Committee on Procedure in another place. Therefore, I hope that in both Houses this will have an effect.

The noble Lord, Lord GoronwyRoberts, when winding up the debate on the First Report, said this in col. 636: It is a major aim of Her Majesty's Government to ensure that the views of Parliament can be brought to bear before British Ministers subscribe to decisions.

As a former Minister at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, I felt, and still feel, that to be effective scrutiny must involve Parliamentary debate on important matters before the Ministers take decisions in the Council. However, I feel also that it is important that Ministers should not have their hands tied in Council to the irritation of their colleagues and the possible postponement or even loss of a decision. It follows, therefore, that if scrutiny is to work certain definite things must be done. First, one must take early warning of what is to come. The Maybray-King Report said, and I quote: Scrutiny should be carried out as early as possible.

In other words, we should be prepared before the formal document comes to us from the Commission. We do not ask to be involved in a formal way in what is colloquially known as the Avant-Projet strategy. We do not think this is our job but we do know that when the Commission has a working document which it circulates to all Nine Member countries it consults not only the civil servants of those countries but also the interested specialist organisations. Of course, members of the Select Committee and those who are co-opted are often members of these specialist committees. I do not think it is right that they should go to a meeting of a committee outside Parliament to find that there is a working document under study of which they are not aware. Therefore, I suggest that the Government should informally advise us of what is in the mind of the Commission and of what is being circulated in this country so that we are prepared in time for the arrival of the formal document.

So far as documents are concerned, I believe that the Explanatory Memorandum has been of very great help, but I suggest that added to it there should be the financial implications which are important for us and also details of the organisations which are consulted and what they said—not only that so-and-so was consulted but what their view was—because we shall have to find it out somehow, anyway. Perhaps it is most important to recall that the Maybray-King Committee recommended that the Select Committee on the European Communities should follow up any document which they had studied and recommended for debate—in other words, the important documents. When they reach the Council of Ministers, the Council often say: "We do not like this. We should like the working groups of the Council to look at it and to amend it". Often the result is that the document upon which a decision is made is, in fact, quite different from the document which came before us in the first instance. We have an extremely efficient organisation in Brussels and many members of my Committee and I are grateful to them for what they have done whenever we have visited Brussels. However, I suggest that it would not be difficult to have a document amended and brought up to date without revealing the negotiating position of the other Governments concerned.

There is a new procedure which is creeping into the European Communities. This is referred to by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Diplock, in Annex C to the Report. It is that we now have meetings of the Summit—it is called the European Council—which were not foreseen in the Treaties and, indeed, meetings of Foreign Ministers four times a year. Often they give guidelines on policy or else instruct the Commission that this and that should be done. Where there are major subjects like this, I suggest that the Government should inform us of what is going on. After the Referendum we now live within the political realities of the European Community. The object of the Select Committee is to take away some of the burden from this House. It follows that our evolving procedures should be as efficient as possible and I believe that as a member of the Community there will be more for us to do.

I submit that it may be that some of the methods of work of European scrutiny could be applied to the study of our domestic legislation as Parliament is forced to reform itself to cope with the pressures of a modern State. One day the European Parliament will no doubt take on our work after direct elections, but it may well be that even then the United Kingdom Parliament will still wish to have some insight into legislation proposed in a European context that will affect our daily lives. Until then, while scrutiny is directed to the interests of our national Parliament, I submit that the effect of working in this Select Committee is to acquire in a natural way the "feel" of a European dimension. So that in many ways it becomes clear where the interests of the national and the European dimensions can merge, and to that end I believe the work of the Select Committee is worth the doing and will grow now that we are firmly a member and can share in shaping our European future. I beg to move.

Moved, That this House takes note of the Second Special Report of the Select Committee on the European Communities.—(Baroness Tweedsnutir of Belhelvie.)

9.0 p.m.


My Lords, I should first like to express the gratitude and thanks of my noble friends and myself to my noble friend Lady Tweedsmuir of Belhelvie for the remarkable work that she has carried out as Chairman of the Select Committee on the European Communities. Similarly, the whole House is, I am certain, grateful to all those noble Lords and noble Baronesses who are either members of the Select Committee itself or were co-opted on to one of its Sub-Committees, for without the tremendous effort that they have put into the running of the Scrutiny Committee it would not have achieved its objectives so successfully, and the mass of Regulations, Directives, secondary legislation and other documents emanating from Brussels would not have been examined with so much detail and thoroughness.

I believe that it is a testament to the Select Committee's work and selectivity that this House has been able to debate all except three of the Reports that the Committee has recommended for debate this Session. The bright prospects hinted at in the Select Committee's First Special Report, which the House debated last November, have certainly been borne out by this Second Special Report. While I recognise that it was not, and quite rightly so, within the Scrutiny Committee's terms of reference to get involved in the pro- and anti-Common Market divisions within the country, the result of the referendum has, as the Report states in paragraph 47, "removed one of the major obstacles to effective scrutiny". But of possible equal importance to the removal of the uncertainty about Britain's membership of the EEC was the decision by the Labour Party to take up its share of the seats available to it at the European Parliament. Perhaps in the future, with more Members of this House with a dual mandate, attendance at the Select Committee and its Sub-Committees will increase.

The ability of noble Lords who are also Members of the European Parliament to attend the Select Committee other than rarely was raised in the Report. I think the fact that they are unable to go as often as one might wish is a shortcoming, and it would be useful to the Committee as a whole to have another source of information and opinion. Furthermore, in view of the growing power and influence of the European Parliament in relation to the other EEC institutions, especially the Commission, it is not before time that this country decided to send a complete delegation to the Parliament at Strasbourg.

There are a number of points which I should like to raise on the Report itself. I personally feel that this document is an excellent summary of the workings of, and the problems faced by, the Select Committee during the last year, and many of these problems will be there next Session. I am glad that the Select Committee is working in close liaison with its opposite number in another place, and that there is a free exchange of information. However, it is important to remember that the remits of each Committee are not identical, since the Select Committee in this House deals with more than just secondary legislation. Consequently, it would be regrettable, to say the least, if the wider responsibilities of our Select Committee suffered because the financing and the staffing tended to be concentrated on the more limited remit of the Committee in another place. This was a point that I felt was being alluded to in paragraph 18 of the Report. Within this context, I hope that the noble Lord the Leader of the House will look at the facilities being offered by the Library of this House to see whether any improvements need to be made in this area.

Another problem that seems to have raised its head throughout the Report is the question of the effective dissemination of information, whether it is between the Select Committee and the public at large, or between the European Community and the Select Committee in this House via the Government. The Report is right when it states in paragraph 34: The Committee consider that it is important that both Parliament and public should be provided with fullest information about the European Communities. The Committee have been impressed during their work with the considerable lack of public understanding of the EEC. Efforts should be made in particular by the Government to overcome this lack of information. So far as the public are concerned, much is dependent upon the willingness of the mass media to publicise the proceedings of the Scrutiny Committees in both Houses. Perhaps the mass media itself will look at the emphasis it places upon those proceedings.

The introduction of a broadsheet to be distributed to those noble Lords who request it has certainly helped so far as this House is concerned, and removed one of the criticisms that was raised in the November debate last year. Part of the problem, as the Report states in paragraphs 32(c) and 36, results from the interminable delay in the translation of Community documents into English and the printing of Select Committee Reports and evidence. For example, the Government have made time available this evening to debate this Second Special Report, and yet I was unable to get a copy of it from the Printed Paper Office until last Friday morning. Thus for many noble Lords who do not come to the House on Fridays unless it is sitting, for all intents and purposes the Report was not available until yesterday morning. I really do not think that 24 hours is enough time to give the Report the proper study that it merits and deserves. Thus I should be grateful if the noble Lord the Leader of the House could look into this problem and see whether any of the procedures of this House need to be changed in the light of this problem.

While the Committee expresses its appreciation to the Government for the speed with which it supplies the EEC proposals and explanatory memoranda, it appears from paragraphs 39 to 42 that it is at Government level that many of the real shortcomings have to be solved. Unless there is proper and continual provision of information from the Government at all stages of the passage of EEC and secondary legislation, from its inception by the Commission to its adulthood as Community law, effective scrutiny becomes more difficult. The early warning mechanism suggested in paragraph 40, and mentioned also by my noble friend, would, I believe, be of great benefit to the Select Committee, especially if it was coupled to an early and late scrutiny procedure as recommended both in the Maybray-King and the Select Committee Reports. This would necessarily involve an increased burden upon Government Departments, since it would require more than the current provision of documents and memoranda being provided. Even the divulgence of more information on an informal basis would be an improvement, and a necessary one, in view of the tendency to alter secondary legislation after it has been scrutinised by this House. However, I should like to hear the views of the noble Lord the Lord Privy Seal on this point.

My Lords, I do not feel in my own mind that there is any real doubt about the need for better and more substantial information about the work being carried out by the Council of Ministers and at the more informal Summit meetings. This point was raised by my noble friend. However, the Government showed that their heart is in the right place when they stated in their White Paper, Membership of the European Community. A Report on Re-negotiation, The Government intend to continue to develop these arrangements "— in other words, for Parliamentary scrutiny of EEC proposals— so as to make them more effective and to enable Parliament to express its views on draft Community legislation in the most appropriate way. I hope and trust that the Government live up to these very worth while intentions.

In paragraph 44, the Report once again raises the question of the continuity of the Committee and advocates the appointment of the Committee for the duration of a Parliament, rather than just for one Session. An alternative solution might be to adopt the same procedure as that used for the appointment of members of the European Parliament from this House; in other words, the House would appoint the Committee until it decided otherwise. Thus, the disadvantages raised by the dissolution of the Committee at the end of each Session, and also the disadvantages which would equally apply if it was dissolved at the end of each Parliament, would be removed by this procedure, since the Committee could be extended over from one Parliament to another. I feel there are very convincing reasons for altering the present procedure. Perhaps the noble Lord the Leader of the House can say what consultations he has had on this question, and with what results. Perhaps he could also say what his attitude happens to be on this point.

My Lords, lastly I should just like to express once again the gratitude of those on this side of the House to those noble Lords and noble Baronesses, and the officials and experts who have assisted them, for their exceptionally hard work in making this Select Committee a viable and valuable entity.

9.13 p.m.


My Lords, may I, first of all, thank the noble Baroness, Lady Tweedsmuir of Belhelvie, for the admirable way in which she has introduced this debate, and for giving us a chance of directing our attention to this Report of the Select Committee. More important, may I say how great a pleasure it has been to me to have the privilege of sitting under the firm, wise and benevolent chairmanship of the noble Baroness, and how admirably she has filled the gap left by my noble friend Lord Diamond. We have been lucky indeed in our two chairmen. For me, it is very much a source of sorrow that I am no longer a member of the Committee of the noble Baroness.

My Lords, in the broadest terms the general objectives of this Select Committee are to look at Community legislation, and to give this House the opportunity of discussing all legislation being proposed in the Community which appears to be of significance, and by so doing to enable our discusions in this Chamber to influence Government policy, and to give guidance to our Ministers when they go to Brussels as to the way this House is thinking—and, to a large extent, I believe, the country.

I believe that in the relatively short time that the Select Committee has been in existence it has done its job well. That does not mean to say that it has done a perfect job. It does not mean to say that its job cannot be improved. I am quite sure it can be improved and I am quite sure it will be improved. It is especially important that this should be done now that the referendum is behind us, now that we have confirmed our membership of the European Economic Community, and more than that, because we are now embarking on the second stage of the development in the Community; that is, towards direct elections to the European Parliament and with those direct elections the increased power, the increased authority of that Parliament.

I believe very strongly that the deliberations in both Houses of Parliament in this country will increase in importance as the powers of the European Parliament increase. So we cannot look back and say, "Soon we will have done our job. There will be a European Parliament and there is no more for us to do". We must say, "We have yet more jobs to do, yet more responsibilities to fulfill, and during this time we must perfect our organisation to see that we can do these jobs properly". Already I believe that the deliberations of the Select Committee have had some influence on the Government, but in order to enable us to exert yet more influence there are various things that are needed. They have already been mentioned by the first two speakers, but there are one or two of them I should like to emphasise and take up.

First, the Committee must have quick information as to what is being proposed and what is being carried out in Brussels by the Commission in their deliberations. There must be quick information so as to give the Select Committee and its Sub-Committees time to examine, time to take evidence, time to deliberate, and, after all those things have taken place, time for your Lordships here to debate the recommendations of the Committee. We must not fool ourselves; whatever influence the Select Committee may have in its recommendations, that influence is small compared with the influence of a consensus of your Lordships' opinion as expressed in full debate in this Chamber.

I believe, in addition to that, there is need, as the noble Earl, Lord Cowley, said, for increased public involvement in all our activities here. We already have a very considerable amount of involvement on the part of interested parties, trade associations and so on, who are well aware of what is happening in Brussels, what the proposals are, and are only too ready to give evidence before the Select Committee and its Sub-Committees on matters affecting them. But it is not only those with special interests who should be involved in this; it is the public at large.

There is still a feeling, a very understandable feeling, that the Community is run by faceless bureaucrats who issue edicts from their ivory tower in Brussels to which the whole of the country has to submit. But we know that is very far from the case. What we must do is to make sure that the ordinary people who are affected by this legislation not only know that we are at work here in this House, that the Select Committee is at work investigating all these proposals, but that they have the opportunity not only to come to listen to these deliberations but to participate, by giving evidence, expressing their own views. If that is done, if it is known that that can be done, there will then be no reason for people to think that it is the faceless bureaucrats who are controlling their lives; they will realise that they are participating in the legislation.


My Lords, if I may interrupt the noble Lord, would he not agree that it is extremely sad that his last few sentences, which are so very important to all the people in this country, are most unlikely to be given even one line in any national newspaper tomorrow?


My Lords. I could not agree more with what the noble Lord has said. I frequently feel that it is very sad that the pearls of wisdom which drop from my lips and those of other noble Lords are ignored by all except the very select body who are in this Chamber tonight. In addition to this public involvement—the public at large—there is also, and must be increasingly, the closest possible contact with our British Government officials who are concerned with all aspects of Community legislation; those in Whitehall. and those in Brussels. It can be said that admirable contact has been established with them in the past, and for that we should all be grateful. That concept must be fostered and developed, because it is by an understanding of what is going on in their minds, what they understand is going on in Brussels, and by their understanding of the way that we think, that we can get the most effective results of our labours. I apologise: I say "our" the whole time as though I were still a Member of this Select Committee, but I should not do that and I shall try to be more accurate in my speaking.

There must also be closer liaison than in the past with the Commission in Brussels. As the noble Baroness said, there have been visits of herself and others of her colleagues to Brussels, and these have proved extremely valuable. It is not only what one has learnt in going there, but the personal contacts one has made which can, and must, develop over the months ahead, so that there can be the possibility of relying not only on official communication but on the sort of understanding which so often exists in any large organisation which can short-circuit occasionally some of the official methods of communication and bring about the right sort of co-operation and working together, which is the only way that can lead to full success.

There must also be an increasingly close liaison with the members of the European Parliament from this country. I am very new, and so I can speak with no experience whatsoever, but I have learned enough to know that the job of being a member of the European Parliament—and the noble Earl, Lord Bess-borough, will undoubtedly bear me out—is an arduous one, and it gives little time for attendance at the Select Committee and its sub-committees. But I am quite sure that, wherever possible, that should be done by members of the European Parliament. Even when it is not possible for them to attend at the meetings, to have understandings and conversations on a purely personal basis between Members of the Select Committee and Members of the European Parliament would be of enormous importance.

In addition to all these different ways of contacts and co-operation between the various people involved, it is important for the Select Committee to have as much forewarning as possible of what is in the minds of the Commission, or in the minds of those who are responsible for promulgating new legislation. I know that it is not strictly within the terms of reference of the Select Committee to attempt to influence legislation in the early stages; it is, strictly speaking, to report on that legislation which already has been promulgated. But undoubtedly the job of the Select Committee will be made much easier, and the efficacy of the objectives of the Committee—in other words, the control as much as possible by the Parliament of this country of its own destiny subject to legislation of the European Community—will be made very much easier if we know what is likely to happen and can be forewarned, and in that way forearmed, and discuss the matters before they actually become projects.

What I personally should like to see is the introduction of something on the lines of our own Government's Green Papers, so that we can debate in the early stages—first, in the sub-committees, then in the Select Committee, and then, if it is of sufficient importance, in this Chamber—the projects at the Green Paper stage, or the White Paper stage, before they come to be incorporated in a Bill.

My Lords, I repeat that I believe the Select Committee in its short life has done a good job. I am quite sure that it is a very important job, and I believe that under the wise guidance of its chairman and with the co-operation of all those concerned, it will continue to advance in its importance and significance so that at the end of the day, or even half way through the day, there will be every prospect of being able to say that the influence of the British Parliament on Community legislation—whether or not that be a directly elected Parliament—is sufficient to satisfy all of us who believe that we have a lot to offer to the proper workings of the European Economic Community.

9.26 p.m.


My Lords, there is one respect in which I should wish to correct the balance of the Report on the activities of the Committee given by the noble Baroness who moved this Motion. She omitted to tell this House how much the work of that Committee owes to her chairmanship. A Committee can be as good as its Chairman; it cannot be better. The possibility of the Committee working as efficiently as it can has been due very largely indeed to her efforts.

In a debate which starts at 8.30 in the evening I am sure that this House would be grateful if I restricted myself to the one point arising out of this Report which I think is the most important. It is dealt with on page 11 of Annex C, the Child's Guide to the Common Market and deals with the question of enactment. One of the most important distinctions between Community and domestic legislation is that Parliament, largely by the Luxembourg Accord, can influence Community legislation before the legislation is made, but that exhausts its influence. It cannot secure subsequent amendment of that legislation if it has made a mistake. There is the difficulty of initiation, the difficulty of getting the consent of all the other Member-States.

There are two stages in Community legislation. The first stage—the proposal by the Commission, the consultation with the European Parliament—is legislation in public. We have no difficulty about that. The documents are there, we can consider them, criticise them or approve them. But in practice, after that stage, important amendments may be made, and frequently in the most important and difficult legislation are made, in the Council working groups. The danger is that these amendments are legislation in secret, and I regard as the most vital requirement that the Scrutiny Committee should have an opportunity to consider and report on these amendments before they finally come before the Council for decision. The problem, which we have to solve, is to ensure that that information gets to the Scrutiny Committee in time for it to be reported and for a debate if necessary to be held in this House.

The difficulties I understand, but they are, I believe, fairly easy of resolution. The working groups are really a combination of the Committee stage of a Bill in domestic legislation, and the negotiation of an international commercial convention and, as a result of the working group's activity, there emerges a document which contains two matters; first, all the amendments which have been proposed by any Member-State during the course of the working group's debates; and, second, indications of the bargaining stance or attitude of the various Member-States. That second part, the haggling that is going on, is rightly confidential and not to be disclosed, but on the first part, the amendments that have been proposed which are going before the Council and will be discussed and voted on then, there can be no objection to informing the Scrutiny Committee of what they are.

I have made inquiries of the legel services of the Community, and I understand that there is no objection—certainly, there ought not to be any objection—to disclosing what amendments are going before the Council and, generally, there would be no practical difficulty in the Government producing not confidential documents, of course, but simply the amendments that will come before the Council when it meets, so that there can be information and, if necessary, a debate on them because they make great differences to the original Commission's proposals. The procedure rules of the Community require that there should be at least 10 days between the Committee of Permanent Representatives, which is where the working group's document eventually gets before it gets to the Minister, and the Council meetings. It is important that we should not, by introducing this procedure, delay decisions in the Council, because such delays have accounted for a good deal of trouble and tension in the past.

One must bear in mind that it may be important, because the meeting of Ministers concerned—agriculture, or whatever it may be—will take place in the next 12 days or so, and if that meeting cannot be caught it may be delayed for another two or three months. So we must be careful not to cause that sort of delay. But I understand from the inquiries I have made that before—and indeed, some time before—the matter finally gets to Coreper, to use the acronym common in the Community, the Government representative on the working group would be able, without much difficulty, to provide a list of those amendments which were likely to go forward to the Coreper meeting and thence on to the Council. In the ordinary way, this would not be necessary because there would be time enough when it got to Coreper, but it might be necessary in some cases.

I would stress to the Government—for this seems to be the most important lesson I have learned during the nine months I have been a member of the Committee—that unless we can get some machinery for doing this we shall fail in the task that this House and another place ought to be carrying out in the Community structure, and which is necessary if the Community is to be a success; because to be a success it must carry the consent of the peoples of its Member-States as manifested through their Parliaments. I urge the noble Lord the Leader of the House to consider very carefully whether this can be done.

9.36 p.m.


My Lords, as the hour is late, I shall try to obey the Egremont rules, but I felt that I could not leave the Chamber without congratulating my noble friend Lady Tweedsmuir on a most lucid and useful Report, of which I have carefully read every paragraph, and I nearly got through Annex C of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Diplock, while he was speaking. I was of course particularly interested in paragraph 20 regarding the Committee's relations in the European Parliament. It is true that members of the European Parliament have not so often been able to attend meetings of the Select Committee or its Sub-Committees. By a curious chance, when the Select Committee was first set up I was on certain occasions able to attend meetings which dealt with my particular specialities. Fortunately, they happened to fall on days following meetings of Committees of the European Parliament in Brussels, but recently the dates of these meetings have not dovetailed in very well. If it were possible—which I suppose would be very difficult—to arrange for meetings of the relevant Sub-Committees here to be on days when we were not in Brussels, Luxembourg, Strasbourg or elsewhere, I believe that the whole system could work more happily both at a European and a national level.

There is no doubt that members of the European Parliament can sometimes act as a useful early warning system. There are no Council officials or national Government officials present at European Parliament Committees when the Commissioners and/or their officials address us in great detail and answer our questions off the record. That brings me to the very valid points which the noble and learned Lord, Lord Diplock, has just made. In his Annex, I see that he says that in so far as the Parliament is concerned, co-operation with the Council is less close. I believe that what he has said in regard to the Council Working Parties and the ability of the Scrutiny Committees to monitor their work is not impossible and I would strongly endorse what he has said. I hope the Government will take this matter up.

Of course, when it comes to a disagreement between the European Parliament and the Council, then we have the conciliation procedure that we are not monitoring at those points between the Commission proposals going forward and becoming adopted by the Council. At all events, so far as Parliament is concerned, I hope it will be possible to arrange a schedule of meetings which might enable members in our place on the Continent to come to meetings here more frequently. I hope the point made by my noble friend Lord Cowley will prove correct in so far as we now have more Peers—and I see some of them here tonight—who will be going to Brussels, Strasbourg and Luxembourg and therefore perhaps between us, on whichever side of the House we sit, we might be able to keep my noble friend's Select Committee and her Sub-Committees more frequently informed of thinking within the European Community institutions.

The flow of information must be two-way. I may say that in the case of one committee, as my noble friend mentioned, they have been so successful in catching up with the backlog, indeed, running neck and neck with a similar committee in Brussels, that in one case they were even ahead of us and I was able on a Monday or Tuesday to listen to evidence given by the competent officials from the Department concerned in one of the noble Baroness's Sub-Committees and then go to Brussels the next day and be able to take part in a similar debate on the same subject more intelligently and, I hope, more effectively.

My Lords, I am particularly glad that the Lords' Sub-Committees can meet in confidence without a transcript. This must facilitate a two-way flow of opinions and, I think, make the meeting more useful. Perhaps there should be more private meetings or meetings with the chairman of a Sub-Committee off the record. I think it important that the members of the electorate in this country should recognise that they can make representations on EEC Commission proposals through either their national or the European Parliament or through both.

My Lords, I am glad that the Select Committee have noted the informal new procedures which are evolving within the EEC without any formal modification of the Treaty: the Summit meetings, the D'Avignon procedure and the conciliation procedure which I have already mentioned. One criticism in the Select Committee's Report that I strongly endorse—and it also applies to the Committees of the European Parliament—is that the Commission proposals are sometimes presented to the Council at such short notice before the Council meets that the relevant Committee of the European Parliament and the relevant committee here often have insufficient time to give their opinion. This is a somewhat different case from that cited by the noble and learned Lord. Often we have insufficient time to give our opinion which certainly the European Parliament must do—and I underline the word "must"—under the terms of the Treaties.

I found this to be particularly so in regard to my own report on Energy Research and Development actions which the noble Earl, Lord Lauderdale, knows well. I was asked to get out the comments of my Committee on very first reading, even without a draft before me. We had to agree what our reactions were to these proposals. This was quite inadequate, almost ridiculous. In fact, due to the referendum, the Council did not hold its earlier meeting, as it thought it would, and the European Parliament's Committee could have taken more time over it. However, the Council have now adopted that programme and accepted certain suggestions by the European Parliament and its Energy Committee which will now be monitoring the programme closely as it is continuously reviewed.

I strongly endorse what the Select Committee says in paragraph 32 about the burdens laid on the staff of this House and the problems connected with printing requirements, and, if I may so describe it, the Byzantine folly of the four different sets of EEC reference numbers; namely, those used by the Commission, by the Council and the two adopted by the European Parliament. Now we even have a new number when the document comes to this House. This is ludicrous, and I strongly support the Committee's suggestion that Her Majesty's Government should seek to initiate on the Council a review of this situation. I hope that the Government will take this up as a matter of urgency.

However—and I come towards the end—by far the most interesting part of this Report is the beginning of Part II, pages 16 and 17 on the future role of the Parliamentary Scrutiny Committee and the analysis of the balance between the collective interest of the Community that is to say the "European dimension" and the possible conflicting interests of individual Member States, that is to say, the "National dimension". It is, of course, the responsibility of the Commission and, I would judge, the members of the European Parliament, to preserve the European dimension, not over-influenced by pressure from national Governments or national Parliaments, leaving it to that country's representative on the Council to safeguard national interests.

This, in my view, is the heart of the Report and is of very great interest. It poses the fundamental question as to whether European union is likely ultimately to develop into a federation or confederation of States, with the European dimension becoming more important than the national. In history nation States have retained considerable influence for many years before they have yielded powers to federal Governments. We remember how the Troubetskoys held out against the Tzars in Irkutz; how the Texans resisted, and perhaps to some extent still resent, incorporation into the United States. We know, too, that those federations created since the war have not been conspicuously successful. As Mr. Chase, the American Chief Justice, said in 1869: Federalism looks to an indestructible union composed of indestructible States". For Europe I do not know what the ultimate framework will be. Whatever it is, whether on the lines of the Bertrand and Patijn proposals which have been adopted by the European Parliament, or on the lines of the Commission's own proposals recently published, which are federalistic in their nature, or something different, I cannot tell.

On these questions we must await the report of Mr. Tindemans, the Prime Minister of Belgium to the Council. Whatever the tenor of the Tindemans Report, I feel sure the European Community will remain a fairly loose union of States for some time, a loose union consisting—if I may put it this way—of dispersed power centres which safeguard individual, local and national liberties. In this way the national dimension referred to in my noble friend's Report may well remain for years as important as the European dimension. But in this age of rapid communications, it could be that the European dimension will expand faster than perhaps it has historically done, and that therefore federalism, or confederalism, may come about sooner than some of us might have expected.

After two and a half years in the European Parliament, I have now become, like my leader Mr. Kirk, a convinced European federalist. I feel that Europe must become more organically united than it is at present if we, the Western Europeans, are to have that influence in the world which the electorate, judging by our recent Referendum, appears to desire. It may be true that during the Referendum, federalistic aspects of European Union were to some extent played down, but in addressing many audiences up and down the country I found that the young certainly wanted us to go faster than the old and that there were many ardent federalists among them. I would not deny them this prize, for the future really belongs to them. That is why I think it is so important that in designating Members to the European Parliament we should send as many young persons as possible, for it is they and not the older Members who will see the achievement of that union which I believe a clear majority in the country have called for.


My Lords, before the noble Earl sits down, I wonder whether he can explain to the House how he thinks the Commission is able to work without continuing criticism from bodies such as the Select Committee of this House? The noble Earl may agree that in some respects the Commission has shown itself remarkably inept at producing policies which are adequate for the situation. This can be very serious for the future. Can the noble Earl give us any indication of how he thinks the Commission can be brought to face its duties more effectively?


My Lords, I have already broken the Egremont rules. I apologise to the House, but if I may comment quickly on what the noble Lord has said, I think the arrival of this country within the European Community has already been very beneficial. I think it will be seen that some of the Commission's proposals—and I agree with the noble Lord that they are sometimes inadequate and not very well put together, which is largely due to translation difficulties—will gradually improve, particularly as British officials consult with Commission officials at a fairly early stage, as well as during later stages. I agree that the quality of the documents and the way in which they are produced is often quite inadequate, as compared with the official documents produced by our own Government.

9.53 p.m.


My Lords, I hope it will not appear to be too incongruous if, in the light of the history of Party political attitudes and involvement in Europe, I rise from the loneliness of these Benches, so committed are the Liberals to the European idea, to make a brief contribution to this debate at this late hour. In a personal capacity, I should like to say what a privilege it has been to serve on the Select Committee under the remarkable Chairmanship of the noble Baroness. Lady Tweedsmuir. If I may echo her words, it has been a privilege to me in a very small way to help this House, however inadequately I may have done so, to acquire the "feel" of the European dimension, to use words more apt than any I could myself think of.

In adding my congratulations on the work of the noble Baroness, may I direct your Lordships' attention to the word "sifting" which appears throughout this Report. Sifting is done by the noble Baroness, and she certainly undertakes a remarkable amount of work in looking at all these documents and preparing papers for the rest of us to consider. She also participates in the work of many of the Sub-Committees; and it is indeed a remarkable Chairman that we have guiding this Select Committee.

I wish to make only two points very briefly. I should like to take the words of the Report and urge the Government, first of all, regarding recommendation (b) on page 23: up-dated memoranda should be provided by the Government in the case of proposals substantially amended in the Council. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Dip-lock, has dealt fully with that matter, and I shall listen with great interest to what the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, has to say about it.

My last point is that I should like also to draw attention to the Committee's recommendation (d) on page 24: the staffing of the Committee should be considered by the Offices Committee"— and may I add, "as soon as possible"? Those of us who have worked particularly on Committee F, under the brilliant chairmanship of the noble Earl, Lord Lauderdale, will know what a remarkable amount of work is done by the members of the staff of that Committee in assisting all its members. Without that devotion and work of the staff, the work of this Committee would be brought to an end. My contribution to this debate, my Lords, is merely to ask the Government to pay urgent attention to recommendations (b) and (d).

9.57 p.m.


My Lords, whatever else may be said about the Select Committee, it at least answers Emerson's adage that in politics and in trade bruisers and pirates are of better promise than talkers and clerks. If our Select Committee has won any acclaim, it is due entirely to our lady chairman In 1714 Mrs. Manley wrote that politics is not the business of a woman: but I have heard it said by a noble Lord in this House that behind every successful man there stands an astonished woman. As Chairman of one of Lady Tweedsmuir's Sub-Committees it would be churlish of me to say a word without first of all thanking my colleagues; thanking our clerical staff, and thanking our specialist advisers, all of whom have worked hard, have been steady under fire, and assiduous in their attention. It would also be churlish not to take this opportunity of thanking my noble friend Lord Bessborough for his attendance from time to time despite the difficulties of his dual mandate.

There are constitutional issues and I do not believe it serves any purpose to obscure them. The Tammany representative Timothy Campbell wrote to President Cleveland in 1885: "What's the constitution between friends?" But the first constitutional issue has already been dealt with by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Diplock. This is the question of information about what goes on in the secret closets of the Council of Ministers. I ask the question whether it is quite sufficient to say, as we have suggested in this Report, that we should rely on the Executive, on our own Government, to provide the information. Parliament's success in acquiring Parliamentary power down the centuries has derived from Parliament's insistence that the Executive should not just get away with things. We have had an experience recently, which will be fresh within the recollection of this House, when some questions were raised by others as well as myself, for example, about the Executive's treatment of Parliament in the choice of our European Parliamentarians. But without delving further into that, and without covering again the ground covered by Lord Diplock, may I ask this question? I hope that the noble Lord the Leader—I was just going to say "the noble Shepherd"—Lord Shepherd, may be able to tell us when we may expect that council resolutions are listed in a recognisable numbered reference system on the yellow list. This has been asked for earlier.

The second constitutional aspect relates to the Maybray-King Report. May I draw your Lordships' attention to paragraph 139A of that Report which states that: Ministerial statements on Community matters have not always been entirely satisfactory". The Report goes on to recommend in the following terms: The Committee recommend that it should be open to any Lord to propose that such statements should be referred to the Select Committee". While it is perfectly possible for any noble Lord at any time to put down a Motion on the Order Paper drawing attention to a Ministerial statement and proposing that it should be referred to the Select Committee, what is needed and what, in fact, was intended, in my view, by the Maybray-King recommendation was a right for noble Lords without notice, at the time that a Ministerial Statement is made, to move that it be referred to a Select Committee. It would be for the Select Committee to take it seriously or not and to go into it or not, but the right of any noble Lord in this House, at the time a Statement is made, to move without notice that the Statement should be referred to a Select Committee is one which has been slurred over hitherto and which should, I believe, be looked at by the Procedure Committee as a first step.

There is another aspect which has not come through the careful and courteous wording of this Report that is, the quality of evidence sometimes offered by our friends in Whitehall Departments to Sub-Committees of the main Committee. One would not wish to dot i's and cross t's in any disagreeable fashion but when sitting in the chair one has sometimes been reminded of Samuel Butler's words that: Learned nonsense has a deeper sound Than easy sense. And goes for more profound". I know of an instance when a Minister came to give evidence on a document which not only clearly he had not read, but on which quite clearly he had not been properly briefed. That is not yet a sufficiently serious performance in relation to what the standing of a Select Committee of this House ought to be. When the Minister was questioned, he showed some irritation that the questions went beyond the list of questions that had been sent to him in advance purely as a matter of courtesy. He had imagined that he could get away with written answers to those questions. One almost felt him saying under his breath with Byron: I loathe that low vice of curiosity". It is a late hour. However, there is an astonishing situation which I must mention regarding evidence that was given to our Sub-Committee on wind-screen safety glass in motor cars. The Government memorandum told us that industry did not want the safety glass that the Community were recommending. In those early days we were just coming out of our innocence and thought we had better make a double check. Therefore, we got hold of the industry which said the very opposite. Is that really worthy content for a Government memorandum which was sent in all seriousness to a Select Committee of your Lordships' House?

Several noble Lords, notably the noble Earl, Lord Cowley, and the noble Earl, Lord Bessborough, have referred to another matter which I believe to be of constitutional importance, and that is the constriction of our work through printing delays. We are well aware that this is a delicate field for a whole host of reasons, but how can members of the Select Committee be asked to work against the clock, to work at weekends, to work without the help even of secretarial staff at weekends to get Reports out if they are then hung up by the printers for a couple of months? Eventually people tire of the endeavour. Parliament has encountered the printing problem in other respects. Already as Parliament we have our own workshops: is there any reason why we should not have our own print shop, and this as a service to Parliament as a whole? Minor points I will not stress, but as to the Government memoranda which come with these documents, some of them are so anodyne that they really compel one to read the document itself.

The Scrutiny Committee is still opening up new areas of Parliamentary and constitutional experience. I believe that in our attitude to the Executive and to its backup land in Whitehall we should indeed be "suaviter in modo, fortiter in re" in Lord Chesterfield's phrase—firm in our resolve, but meantime perhaps philosopically good humoured and not too carping in our approach. After all, a little nonsense now and then is relished by the wisest men.

10.8 p.m.


My Lords, as compared with the noble Lords who have preceded me in this debate, I occupy an extremely humble position in that I am no more than a co-opted member of Sub-Committee F and speak only from my narrow experience within that Committee, but there are two points to which I should like to draw your Lordships' attention. The first, I think, underlines a point which I believe the noble Baroness, Lady Tweedsmuir, made when she introduced the debate and which was again made by the noble Lord, Lord Walston. Although I no longer have any business connections with the electricity supply industry I am on one of their independent committees which advises them on research. In that capacity I receive certain publicity and broadsheet information which they circulate, including documents from their overseas relations branch. Among those circulars is one which aims to keep the electricity supply industry informed of the proceedings and decisions of the European Economic Community.

Surprisingly, from time to time I find that this document contains information which relates to the work of Sub-Committee F but which, so far as I know, has not been made available to that Sub-Committee. I am making inquiries about the sources of this information, but so far as I can see at present it comes from frequent visits to Brussels, from personal contacts and through the various international organisations which aim to keep the energy industries of different countries in touch with one another. But, if I am right in believing that the electricity supply industry is better informed than your Lordships' Sub-Committee, it seems to me that this is a matter which might be looked at.

The second point I should like to raise is whether sufficient expert consideration is given to the papers which are prepared by the Commission for submission to the Council, while those papers are still at the drafting stage. At one of the meetings of Sub-Committee F, a witness from one of the Government Departments, who. I would point out, was most helpful and clear in his evidence, was asked about the preparation of a document that we were considering. He had sat on the committee which had prepared that document. His answer was that the committee had been made up of so-called experts. He was asked what a so-called expert was, and with very great frankness he said, "Well, they are people like myself. I am an administrative civil servant. Like me, they have been told to specialise on a specific subject and, like myself, they have made themselves as familiar with it as possible."

My Lords, I do not for one moment want to denigrate the work of men like that who represent us in Brussels, but I get the impression that many of the proposals which came before Sub-Committee F would not have been made if they had been considered by those real experts who have had a lifetime's experience on the subject under review. I wonder whether it might not ultimately save time and trouble if real experts could be called in by the Commission to give practical advice when technical proposals are being prepared.

10.13 p.m.

The Earl of SELKIRK

My Lords, may I say a word or two in place of the noble Lord, Lord Chelwood. Many extremely powerful, colourful and appropriate remarks have been made about the noble Baroness who chaired the Committee. I am left in doubt as to which of the many remarks is most suitable and which of them I would myself like to adopt. The noble Lord, Lord Lloyd of Kilgerran, expressed it very well, if I may say so, but by only a very narrow margin. Many other very fine and appropriate remarks have been made.

My Lords, I shall speak for only a short time on one thing. We are going into an astonishing experiment, and none of us knows quite how this will work out. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Diplock, pointed out that the theory and practice have already shown quite a wide separation. I have myself been surprised at the measure of flexibility which the Treaty of Rome has shown already. I do not know how much wider it will go, but it is not going to work out precisely as it was originally intended that it should.

Of course, there are many very curious matters which have to be sorted out, and translation is one. I am afraid that a kind of language is growing up in Brussels which I think we must stop before it goes much further. Things are getting just a little dangerous, and we must try to kill it. But there are certain things, I believe, which are fundamental to this. Of course we must watch what has happened, but, more important, we must remember that we should give this country confidence in what is happening in Brussels. The only way to do that is to know what is happening. This is one of the tasks which falls directly to the Select Committee. A second point is that we must remember that the Member-States are the source of power—power in the most raw and blunt sense of the word. Brussels is close to it, and it is very dangerous to separate Government from power. We must remember this point when we are thinking about going into this organisation.

My Lords, the third point I would make is on the subject of personal responsibility. I believe that the success of the Constitution of this country is our personal responsibility. We can charge the noble Lord the Leader of the House with a notional responsibility for every blessed thing the Government do it may be notional, but still we can charge him with it. This is one of the strong points of the way in which our Constitution has evolved. Let us be quite frank: there is no one in Europe we can charge with responsibility for these things. These are all points we have got to watch if we are to make this a success, and I believe these are points which this Committee has perhaps begun, in these initial stages, to formulate in the correct way. I am very glad to have served on this Committee. I must admit that when we started, under the chairmanship of Lord Diamond, I wondered how we were to start, and I feel that under two chairmen quite considerable and important progress has been made.

10.16 p.m


My Lords, I am very happy to reply to tonight's debate for two reasons First of all, I served with the noble Earl, Lord Lauderdale, and the noble Lord, Lord Brooke (who was in his place a few moments ago), on the Maybray-King Committee, the Committee which your Lordships' House set up to decide what framework we should have for scrutiny of EEC legislation. I am delighted to say that the recommendations that we made, which were accepted by your Lordships' House, have been successful. I believe that with our system we need not be too worried, too concerned in comparison with another place. I think we succeeded because we looked at the problem in very considerable depth.

My second pleasure is to be able to join with other noble Lords in praising the noble Baroness, Lady Tweedsmuir, for her chairmanship. I have a feeling that the praise that is given to her could equally be borne by myself. I well remember—and the noble Earl will recall—in the days when we were considering the Scrutiny Committee, we asked what we should look for in a chairman. There were some who thought we should look for someone who would be a smooth coordinator. I took the view—and I think the noble Earl shared my view—that we needed somebody with political flair, and that if the person who was chairman had not got political flair he would not survive very long in this matter of high politics. Therefore, I was delighted that my noble friend Lord Diamond was appointed initially, and I think great credit must be given to him for the way in which the machinery of scrutiny was started.

When, unfortunately, my noble friend left, I was able, as Leader of the House, to use a certain amount of influence with the Front Bench opposite. I said there was one person I wanted, and that was the noble Baroness, because she really has political flair. She has also got drive, and I must say that when the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd, talks about staffing, I do not think there is any problem where the noble Baroness is concerned; there is no—I nearly said depth—to which she would not go in order to see that the framework and the support for her Committee are achieved. I would say to the noble Lord. Lord Lloyd, that this is a matter that has already been through the Offices Committee today, and I think it was favourably received; although I think it would be fair to say to the noble Lord, and to the noble Baroness, that we are living in a period of constraint; we have really got to look at not just this committee but the whole framework of government. I do not believe we can go on taking on staff solely because there is a need; I think we have got to look, in some degree, at our priorities here.

I have read this Report, and, like the noble Earl, Lord Cowley, I only saw sight of it properly at the weekend. Some criticism has been made in terms of the printing of this and other Reports of the Committee. We have to face the fact that Her Majesty's Stationery Office and the printing department that supports it, particularly at this time of the year, are pressed to nearly insufferable proportions. Parliament increasingly places tremendous demands upon them. I have direct responsibility for this side of the printing, and I know that HMSO have done a great deal and that a great deal of ingenuity is being used here. But Parliament places increasing demands on them, and I fear that unless we increase capacity the sort of problem that has arisen will continue to arise.


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. Would he not agree, as someone who has been in Parliament for many years, that the appalling inconvenience to which we have recently been subjected through these interruptions and delays in our printing is something that is comparatively recent? Something must lie at the bottom of it, and it cannot just be an increase in work and workload. It is something to look into.


My Lords, I can only say that if you were to look at the lists of Amendments to Bills, tabled, shall we say, on Friday night for consideration on Monday, you would see the tremendous pressures that are laid on our printing to meet the demands of your Lordships' House and of another place. These are matters which give me considerable anxiety, and if there are ways and means of overcoming them I shall be happy to adopt them.

The noble Baroness and noble Lords have drawn attention to a number of recommendations in the Report. On the terms of reference, I am glad that this does not need change. It caused difficulty when the noble Baroness was in office, and equally it caused me difficulty, too. But I think that the Select Committee have used a degree of wisdom and restraint in not exercising the very wide powers given by their terms of reference, and I hope that this will continue. In regard to the size of the Select Committee, no one can dispute the amount of work that is involved, and I should have thought that the recommended increase is one that ought to be accepted; but this is very much within the competence of the Committee of Selection, and I would hope that this is a matter that could be referred to them quickly.

In regard to the period of appointment, this raises some problems. I know that there is pressure from the Back-Benches that there should be a continuing flow of membership to the House Committees, and there is a degree of reluctance to appoint committees for too long a period. On the other hand, I believe that this is a Committee on which there ought to be continuity. Since this is very much a House judgment, we ought to refer it to the Procedure Committee, and I suggest that we so do immediately after the Recess.

Several noble Lords stressed the recommendation in paragraphs 27 to 29, listed as (b) in the Summary of Conclusions, that the Government should inform the House and the Select Committee of significant amendments proposed in the course of the discussion of proposals in Council working groups. There are genuine difficulties here, of which the noble Baroness will be fully aware. The procedures at the Council are unlike our own, where one can identify particular stages in the process of consideration, but this is something that we should look at and I believe that another place is giving anxious thought to this matter. And as this is something which is of importance to the two Houses, I will refrain from saying anything more here, except to comment that the Government fully appreciate the spirit in which this recommendation was put forward, and if it is possible we will seek to overcome the genuine and real difficulties that now exist.

In paragraph 43, the Select Committee raises the very interesting question of the balance between reports for debates and reports for the information of the House, and I was asked whether it would be right and proper on occasion to have Motions for approval of a Select Committee report. Personally, I feel that the "take note" Motion, particularly if it is a Motion being introduced by the chairman of a sub-committee, is the right formula, and I think it would be wrong if we were to have a form of confrontation between the Government and the chairman of a sub-committee. These debates are mainly to provide information to the House as a whole and to influence the Government, but also to hear from the Government their views on the matter; and I feel that if one were to get on to a Motion of approval, one could reach the stage when the close relationship between the Executive and the Select Committee could be placed in some jeopardy. If there were a Motion of approval, I feel that it should come from a member of the Back-Benches, not a member of the subcommittee; in other words, it should come from the private initiative of a Member. But I should have thought that the present processes have, certainly from the Government's point of view, done all that we would wish.

I think it would be wrong to believe that a report has been taken note of only when one has debated a Motion. I have made a number of inquiries in the last few months about the way in which Departments have taken note of reports and I can assure the House that they have been very helpful indeed and have been well received. I understand that the noble Earl, Lord Lauderdale, expresses his wrath from time to time about some civil servant producing a piece of paper which he thinks is a load of nonsense—


May I interrupt the noble Lord?


My Lords, let me just add that the noble Earl is not the only one who, inside or outside Ministerial office, feels that what is offered is not always quite what is required, but I feel that taken as a whole—and that was the spirit of the Report—the Committee genuinely believes that the Government and our Civil Service have sought to render a full contribution to the Select Committee.


My Lords, I am only surprised that the noble Lord should think that I am ever wrathful. It is the last thing I am. But this might be an opportunity to let him know about one piece of delay which was due to some files of evidence on energy being sent to the Commons Committee on Violence in Marriage. Sometimes things do go astray.


I suggest that the noble Earl should improve his handwriting! My noble friend Lord Walston asked that the Government should provide a full explanation in cases where there are fast-moving proposals for which no adequate time for scrutiny at this end has been provided. I have been advised that the Departments are already working on this and I hope we shall be able to see solid improvement in the service.

The noble Earl, Lord Lauderdale, asked whether we could have a consolidated list of Community proposals which are in progress and that this should be provided for the information of Parliament. I gather that this is a proposal which has been raised by the Procedure Committee in another place and I understand that contact has already been made between officials and the House authorities to explore the practicalities of this.

The noble Earl, Lord Bessborough, said that the Government should seek to initiate a common reference system for EEC proposals. We shall give this interesting suggestion very careful consideration. I should think that there is a lot to be said for it, but it is often difficult to persuade even Departments to change their reference numbers.

My noble friend Lord Walston and the noble Baroness, Lady Tweedsmuir, said that the Government should informally give information to the Committee about important proposals before publication. This is a matter which is very close to my heart, as the noble Baroness will remember when I was in Opposition. However, there are difficulties here, but difficulties may be overcome. I shall look into the matter and communicate with the noble Baroness.

The noble Baroness also asked that the details of important consultations undertaken by the Government on EEC proposals should be given in an explanatory memorandum. The Departments already include information about outside bodies which they have consulted. The memoranda are mainly produced at an early stage. Therefore, they may not be fully complete. However, I feel that there is difficulty—apart from giving the names of those whom we have consulted—in giving a report as to what advice the Government may have received from those bodies, because much of that advice is naturally given in confidence. The noble Baroness also suggested that steps should be taken to provide fuller information about Council decisions and that an improvement in Council procedures should be sought. We shall look at this. We are always in favour of improvements in Council procedures, provided that they do not rob the Council of the necessary flexibility in dealing with urgent matters.

I must say to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Diplock, that I was very impressed with his speech and with that part of the Report which the noble Baroness attributed to him. I do not intend to reply to him this evening. I should much prefer to look at this and many other matters in the Report in some detail and with some care. If the noble and learned Lord agrees, I should like to have the opportunity of discussing his paper with some of my officials, in order to get the full benefit of the advice he has given and, perhaps, some of the advice which he has decided not to disclose at this stage.

I join with the noble Baroness in paying sincere tribute to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Diplock. It is a very great feature of this House that a Lord of Appeal who, heaven knows! must have enough problems and work, should give so much of his time to Parliamentary matters. These words must equally apply to other noble Lords who serve on these Committees and also to those who, like the noble Lord, Lord Hinton of Bankside, are co-opted. I think one of the great strengths of our Select Committee procedure is that we keep the numbers of regular members fairly small but have this power to co-opt. This, more than anything else, gives us a degree of flexibility.

There is much else in this Report that I could deal with and there may be much in this debate to which I have not replied. But we can all take pride that in a relatively short period of time—some 18 months—we have set up a completely novel procedure in this House, a procedure of scrutiny of legislation within the European Economic Community. As the noble Earl, Lord Lauderdale, will remember in our discussions in more convivial places than this House during our examinations of this matter under the chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Maybray-King, I felt that if this procedure were a success it might be a procedure that we could well adopt in domestic affairs. I believe that in this way we can really get to the heart of problems with a real understanding and deal with some of the problems that confront us.

But that is of the future. A great deal has been achieved and we should all be very grateful to all those who have taken part in this particular venture. I should not like to think that this Report and this debate bring this particular era to an end. I know that if I thought so I should quickly be disillusioned by the noble Baroness. I should like to suggest that, perhaps in three months' or six months' time, when the Report has been properly digested, and when as a consequence lessons have been learned and greater co-operation established, the noble Baroness will go through her recommendations as though she were the pilot of an aircraft, doing "checks", and then come to me, if I should still he here as Leader, to see what progress has been made and to see what the difficulties are and whether we could overcome them.

My Lords, this is the beginning of a new exercise, a new function. I think it has been extraordinarily successful. Much still could be done, but I believe it will be done more by co-operation behind the scenes than in debate in this House, despite its great worth. So far as the Government are concerned, we are happy with the way in which this Committee has worked. If it has been a gain to the House, it has been a gain to the Government. I hope it will continue and we will certainly help to the best of our ability. We are grateful to the noble Baroness and all noble Lords who served on this Committee.

10.30 p.m.


My Lords, it falls to me in replying briefly to this debate to thank all noble Lords who have taken part. There have been no less than five present or former Chairmen of Sub-Committees taking part. There has also been a distinguished member of the European Parliament and a very distinguished member of sub-Committee F. I should like to thank my noble friend Lord Cowley for his contribution on the question, above all of information. I think this has been the theme of many speeches that we have listened to tonight. I myself found it almost impossible to convey information to the public on what we do. Therefore, it is for the Government to devise ways by which this can be done.

I am grateful to the noble Lord the Leader of the House for the very helpful response that he has made to some very important points, notably membership of the Committee and its continuity, and for the promise he gave the House that he would look at this important question on how we are to get at the amended documents in the Council working groups, which was referred to by many noble Lords who have spoken. I should like to take up his invitation to come in three to six months' time—if we are all still alive in this economic situation!—and discuss with him how the various recommendations have been carried out, and how we can improve the working of our Committee. I feel that the Leader of the House, as a member of the Maybray-King Committee, has his heart in this exercise. He wants to succeed, and he has the same enthusiasm about it as is so evident in the members who give so much of their time to the Select Committee. Therefore, we have made a good start and with his help, and those of the members of the Committee, I hope we shall continue to do so. I should like to thank all those who have taken part in this debate.

On Question, Motion agreed to.