Annual Report and Accounts 2000-01


BUSINESS OF THE HOUSE

European Communities Committee

24.  The Committee published 25 reports during the year. Lord Tordoff remained Chairman until his appointment as Chairman of Committees on 29 March, when he was succeeded by Lord Brabazon of Tara. Major reports included those on the European Union Charter of Fundamental Rights, the Common Fisheries Policy, e-Commerce, and the Common European Policy on Security and Defence. The Committee operated primarily through its six sub-committees, but itself completed an enquiry into the 2000 Intergovernmental Conference and began an enquiry into proposals for a European Second Chamber.

Science and Technology Committee

25.  The Committee published seven reports. Those on Complementary and Alternative Medicine, Air Travel and Health and Human Genetic Databases attracted extensive media interest. When the Committee on Stem Cell Research was appointed in March 2001, it was agreed by the House that, in order to make available the necessary resources, the number of sub-committees of the Science and Technology Committee should be reduced from two to one for the duration of the enquiry.

Procedure

26.  Following detailed examination by a sub-committee of the Procedure Committee, a new edition of the Companion to the Standing Orders, comprehensively revised and in improved format, was published. This was followed by a new pocket-sized guide to the essential elements of procedure and conduct in the House, intended, in particular, for new Peers.

27.  A procedure was agreed to ensure the accuracy of the register of hereditary Peers who wish to stand in any by-election to fill a vacancy occuring among the 90 elected hereditary Peers. Those hereditary Peers who were not members of the House before the passing of the House of Lords Act 1999 will be required to petition the House to establish their right to be included in the register[4].

28.  Amongst the other matters considered by the Procedure Committee was the practice of moving an Address seeking the Consent of the Crown before the introduction of a private member's bill. If such a motion were successfully opposed - as happened in the case of Lord Forsyth of Drumlean's Succession to the Crown Bill in 1999[5] - the House would, in effect, be rejecting a bill before seeing and debating it. It was agreed that the Government should seek Queen's Consent on behalf of a private member and, if it were granted, this would be announced to the House before second reading.

Judicial Business

29.  The number of Lords of Appeal in Ordinary has remained at 12. In June 2000 Lord Bingham of Cornhill (formerly Lord Chief Justice) succeeded Lord Browne-Wilkinson as senior Law Lord and Lord Slynn of Hadley was named second senior Law Lord. Lord Phillips of Worth Matravers was appointed Master of the Rolls following the conclusion of the public enquiry into BSE of which he had been Chairman, and was replaced as a Lord of Appeal by Lord Scott of Foscote. Lord Saville of Newdigate continued his chairmanship of the enquiry into the events of 'Bloody Sunday' and continued to be unavailable to sit judicially in the House.

30.  Statistics on appeals and petitions for leave are given in Part II (page 34). Notable appeals included a case which removed barristers' immunity from negligence suits; a decision to allow DNA evidence taken from a suspect for a crime for which he was later acquitted to be used in evidence for a later charge; and the final settlement of the case involving the Equitable Life Assurance Society which left the Society liable to the respondent for guaranteed annuities on a life insurance policy, thus leading to considerable financial difficulties for the Society.

31.  The first two challenges under the Human Rights Act 1998, involving the possibility of declarations of statutory incompatibility, were heard: one concerned the Secretary of State for the Environment's role in planning applications and the other the admissibility of evidence of previous sexual history in rape trials. Judgment was awaited in both cases at the end of the year to which this report relates.

32.  For the first time, the Law Lords sitting on a particular appeal[6] introduced the practice of issuing a single statement of the law (in the form of a report from the Appellate Committee) rather than individual opinions. It is the Law Lords' intention that this practice should be adopted whenever they make a statement of the law with a single voice.

33.  In October, four legal assistants - two recently called barristers and two recently qualified solicitors - were appointed to carry out research for the Law Lords in connection with appeals and other duties. These appointments are on an annual basis.

Register of Interests and Standards of Conduct

34.  The updated Register of Lords' Interests was reprinted in February 2001 and, as usual, the continuously updated Register was available for consultation in the House and on the Internet. The Sub-Committee of the Committee for Privileges on Lords' Interests met once in November 2000.

35.  The Committee on Standards in Public Life, chaired by Lord Neill of Bladen, QC, (ìthe Neill Committeeî) published the report of its enquiry into standards of conduct in the House of Lords in November 2000[7]. The Committee made 23 recommendations for rules of conduct that would be accessible, transparent and consistently applied. The Committee stressed that these were necessary not because of any evidence of wrong-doing by Members of the House but because of expectations that those in public life should be able to give clear undertakings on conduct and potential conflict of interests.

36.  The existing regulatory regime in the House of Lords is based on personal honour and the principle that Members should never accept any financial inducement as an incentive or reward for exercising parliamentary influence. The Neill Committee recommended that these principles should be incorporated in a code of conduct for Members. The code should also incorporate the seven principles of public life previously set out by the Committee. The Committee further recommended that the registration of all relevant interests - whether financial or non-financial - should be made mandatory. While Members of the House should continue to be allowed to hold parliamentary consultancies, subject to the existing prohibition on paid advocacy, a consultancy or any similar arrangement should be deposited with the Registrar of Lords' Interests so that it could be available for public inspection.

37.  In January 2001 the then Leader of the House appointed a Group of six members of the House, chaired by the then Deputy Leader, Lord Williams of Mostyn, to report on the Neill Committee's recommendations. The Group reported in April[8]. It was not able to reach unanimous agreement and the areas of disagreement were identified in the report[9].

Overseas Relations and International Assemblies

38.  The House of Lords has a wide range of contacts with overseas parliaments and international assemblies.

39.  The Lord Chancellor was represented by Lord Tordoff, then Principal Deputy Chairman of Committees, at the biennial Conference of Council of Europe Speakers in Strasbourg in May 2000 and at the Conference of European Union Speakers - now an annual event - held in Rome in September 2000. He was represented by Lord Boston of Faversham, Chairman of Committees, at a worldwide Conference of Speakers held to mark the millennium under the auspices of the Inter-Parliamentary Union at the United Nations in New York from 30 August to 1 September 2000.

40.  The annual Commonwealth Parliamentary Conference was held in London and Edinburgh in September 2000 at the invitation of the United Kingdom Branch of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association. Several members of the House participated in the Conference, and staff of the House, together with Commons' staff, assisted the host Branch.

41.  Visitors from overseas included the Asantehene (King of the Ashantis, Ghana), the President of the Senate of Lesotho, the Leader of the Canadian House of Commons (Hon. Don Boudria) and many other members and staff of overseas parliaments.

42.  Overseas visits by Lords as representatives of the House included participation by four women peers in a Euro-Mediterranean Conference of Women Parliamentarians held in Malta in March 2001.

43.  Members continued to serve on UK delegations to international assemblies: seven serve on the Parliamentary Assemblies of the Council of Europe and the Western European Union, one of whom, Lord Russell-Johnston, continued as President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. A House of Lords representative (Lord Bowness) and an alternate (Baroness Howells of St Davids) also attended the Convention established to prepare a European Union Charter of Fundamental Rights. The United Kingdom Government's representative in the Convention was also a member of the House, Lord Goldsmith.

44.  The Clerk of the Parliaments completed a three-year term as President of the Association of Secretaries General of Parliaments and attended meetings of the Association in Amman in May 2000 and Jakarta in October 2000.


4   Under Standing Order 10A. Back

5   HL Deb, 2 Dec. 1999, col 917. Back

6   Regina v. Forbes (Appellant) (on appeal from the Court of Appeal (Criminal Division)). Back

7   Cmnd 4903. Back

8   HL Paper 68, session 2000-01. Back

9   The House adopted a Code of Conduct (based on the majority report) on 2 July 2001. Back


 
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