HL Deb 18 June 1992 vol 538 cc288-90

3.25 p.m.

The Lord Privy Seal (Lord Wakeham)

My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.

Moved to resolve, That this House confirms the existing procedures for the nomination of the United Kingdom delegations to the parliamentary assemblies of the Council of Europe and the Western European Union. —(Lord Wakeham.)

Lord Kirkhill

My Lords, I wish to intervene for a moment to say that I understand the reasoning behind the Lord Privy Seal seeking to move the resolution and ultimately I do not object to his so doing. However, he should give some consideration to recent difficulties at the parliamentary assembly of the Council of Europe. At its last plenary session held in Strasbourg in May the credentials of the British delegation were challenged. The British delegation then virtually stood down while the Rules and Procedure Committee of the Council of Europe considered the basis of the challenge.

The basis of the challenge was that those members who represent the British Parliament are not each of them necessarily elected by the individual constituent bodies of that Parliament. Within the Labour Party those who are delegates stand for election but that is apparently not necessarily the case in the other parties concerned. Additionally, at the time of the plenary session in Strasbourg not every member of the then British delegation was a member of either House.

I put those matters to the Leader of the House. It placed the United Kingdom delegation in serious difficulty. It would be fair to say that the Rules and Procedure Committee ultimately cobbled together a typical European solution to the problem by a measure of reasonable co-operation among all concerned. I should emphasise that the issue was not party political. However, the United Kingdom delegation did not stand in good stead at that plenary session and it is a matter which the Government should consider seriously.

Lord Wakeham

My Lords, I do not quarrel with much of what the noble Lord has said. There was a difficulty at the last plenary session of the parliamentary assembly of the Council of Europe. He is correct that the credentials of the UK delegation were challenged. Indeed, the purpose of my Motion is to rectify what was thought to be the deficiency in our procedures. I believe that it does that. A similar Motion was passed by another place and this Motion was discussed and agreed through the usual channels. I hope that it meets with your Lordships' approval.

Lord Bruce of Donington

My Lords, can the noble Lord reveal to the House the origins of the challenge? Who made the challenge?

Lord Wakeham

My Lords, I am not a great expert on the proceedings of the Council of Europe, but my understanding is that it was a member of the Labour Party in the House of Commons who made the challenge. His original grounds were that the Labour Party was under-represented. I believe that that matter has been resolved.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

My Lords, I am glad that the Government have resolved the matter for the present. However, the committee making the study enjoined the British Government to look at the method of selection. Will the Government study further the recommendations of the committee in the Council of Europe?

Lord Wakeham

My Lords, we shall study all these matters. The resolution that I have tabled today is to confirm existing procedures, and those are the procedures which were agreed by all the parties in the House and indeed by the convener of the Cross-Benches.

Lord Hughes

My Lords, when I was a member of that delegation—until about four years ago—the position was that the British delegation always consisted of people who were Members of either House of Parliament. Will that be the position with the delegation which is to be nominated this time or will we take advantage of the procedure in the way that some other countries did, which means that when a person ceases to be a Member of either House he can continue as a member of the delegation for a period of perhaps up to six months afterwards? To put it another way, is every member of the delegation to be either a Member of the other place or of this House? Also, when does a Member of this House actually become a Member? Is it when he or she receives a title in the Honours List or when a person takes their seat?

Lord Wakeham

My Lords, I believe that that may be entering an area which could keep lawyers and others much more experienced than I in work for a great length of time. As regards the delegation, the members are nominated and normally announced by the Prime Minister in another place. He would not think it right for me to anticipate what he may decide.

Lord Tordoff

My Lords, nevertheless, can the noble Lord assure us that people who cease to be Members of this House will not continue to attend the Council of Europe as delegates for six months after that?

Lord Wakeham

My Lords, I am tempted to say that I need notice of that question.

Lord Hughes

My Lords, I can assure the noble Lord the Leader of the House that even in the Council of Europe there is no provision for resurrection!

Lord Kirkhill

My Lords, by leave of the House, I wish to make one point. I am attempting to be helpful. I accept the Motion as it stands. But in the longer term I do not believe that it will necessarily serve the Government's purpose. I make that point because one of the key issues which was debated at length by everyone is that there is not a universal ballot within this parliamentary system for Members to attend the council.

Lord Wakeham

My Lords, in the spirit of the noble Lord's question, perhaps I may say to him that if the two Houses were to change to another system certain difficulties would arise in maintaining a proper balance between the two Houses and the parties' interests. I suspect that, long before I had anything to do with the matter, that is why the issue was discussed by what I have known for years as the usual channels in order to find something which was acceptable to everybody. I agree that it is possible to find an alternative way of doing it, but we have to think very carefully before we do so. We might end up with a system which produced a less satisfactory result.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

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