Select Committee on Liaison Third Report


Report


10th November 2003

By the Select Committee appointed to advise the House on the resources required for select committee work and to allocate resources between select committees; to review the select committee work of the House; to consider requests for ad hoc committees and report to the House with recommendations; to ensure effective co-ordination between the two Houses; and to consider the availability of Lords to serve on committees.

ORDERED TO REPORT

Patient (Assisted Dying) Bill

1. The Committee has considered a proposal put forward by Lord Joffe that his Patient (Assisted Dying) Bill [HL] be committed to a Select Committee. A paper from Lord Joffe was considered by the Committee and is printed at Appendix 1. The Committee also heard Lord Joffe and Baroness Jay of Paddington in support of his proposal.

2. The purpose of Lord Joffe's Bill is to allow competent terminally ill patients to request assistance to die. It was the subject of a major debate in the House at Second Reading in June of this year. Almost ten years have elapsed since the subject was considered by the Select Committee on Medical Ethics which reported in 1994. Since then other countries have introduced such legislation and public opinion in the United Kingdom has become more engaged in the issue. We consider that a Select Committee of this House would be well placed to consider major ethical issues of this kind and accordingly we recommend the appointment of an ad hoc Select Committee upon the Bill. The Bill will have to be reintroduced in the next session, read a second time and committed to a Select Committee. Accordingly, we recommend that the Committee begin its work after the Easter recess.

Implications of withdrawal from the European Union

3. The Committee has considered a proposal put forward by Lord Moran that a Select Committee be established to consider the implications for the United Kingdom of withdrawal from the European Union. A paper from Lord Moran was considered by the Committee and is printed at Appendix 2. The Committee also heard Lord Moran, Lord Weatherill and Viscount Falkland in support of this proposal.

4. The purpose of such a Committee would be to assess the constitutional and legal position, financial, trade and investment implications, effects on foreign relations and defence, and on agriculture and fisheries. The likely positive and negative effects of partial or total withdrawal would then be assessed. We consider that such a Committee would not be timely in view of the current Inter-Governmental Conference on the draft Constitution for Europe. The establishment of such a Committee is likely to be regarded as a negative intervention in the process by this House and we doubt whether it would be possible to isolate the Committee's deliberations from wider political considerations. The resources required to conduct such an exercise would be disproportionate. We do not therefore recommend the establishment of a Select Committee on the implications of withdrawal from the European Union.

Communications

5. The Committee has further considered a proposal put forward by Baroness Howe of Idlicote for a Select Committee on Communications. A memorandum from Lady Howe was considered once again by the Committee and is printed at Appendix 3. The Committee also heard Lady Howe in support of her proposal.

6. When the Committee first considered this proposal in February 2002 it then reported:

"The proposed Select Committee would examine a subject on which the House has a great deal of expertise, and which cuts across Government departmental boundaries. We believe that it would be a good subject for House of Lords committee.

Baroness Howe's proposal is for a sessional rather than an ad hoc committee, to be appointed after the passage of the proposed Communications Bill—probably in late 2003. We would prefer the appointment of an ad hoc committee in the first instance, with a view to making it permanent if it were a success. We will return to the matter with a firm recommendation nearer the time."

We do not consider this to have been a firm commitment and we have reviewed the proposal afresh.

7. The remit proposed for such a Committee, it was put to us, might include all broadcasting media, all aspects of the internet and telecommunications, newspaper and periodical publishing, film and video, advertising, and the ownership licensing control and management thereof. In addition to the reasons for setting up such a Committee set out in Appendix 3, the forthcoming renewal of the BBC Charter, the consequences of the Hutton inquiry, and questions of foreign ownership were also cited in support.

8. We do not consider that communications has a particular claim to become the subject of a dedicated Lords Select Committee. Furthermore, many aspects of the subject matter have been debated at length recently in the context of the House's consideration of the Communications Bill and in the pre-legislative scrutiny that preceded it. The remit envisaged is also very wide and is more suited to a sessional Select Committee. Upon further reflection we doubt whether the consideration in isolation of a single communications-related subject by an ad hoc Select Committee would be useful; and we are reluctant to recommend to the House that a sessional Select Committee be set up. Accordingly, we do not recommend the establishment of a Select Committee on communications, whether on an ad hoc or on a sessional basis.

Additional Resources for the Economic Affairs Committee

9. The Committee has considered a request from Lord Peston for resources to enable the Sub-Committee of the Economic Affairs Committee on the Finance Bill to be set-up at the beginning of the new session. A letter to the Chairman of Committees from Lord Peston is printed at Appendix 4.

10. The Committee considers that Lord Peston's proposal represents a major departure from the original recommendation of the group on the working practices of the House chaired by the late Lord Williams of Mostyn and which was subsequently endorsed by the Procedure Committee and agreed to by the House itself. This recommendation was:

"When the Finance Bill is introduced into the Commons and published, the Committee should begin its work. The Committee should report when the Finance Bill finishes its Commons Committee stage, but before Commons remaining stages. The timetable of the committee's work would therefore have to be arranged to fit the legislative timetable in the Commons." (Report from the Leader's group, 2001-02, HL Paper 111).

11. While we appreciate the excellent work of the Sub-Committee on the Finance Bill earlier this session, we do not think that the arrangements agreed to by the House in 2002 should be departed from so soon, particularly in view of the sensitivities surrounding this initiative. The original proposal is due to be reviewed after two sessions and we take the view that any case for a change in the current arrangement should be considered then. It follows that we do not agree to the first limb of Lord Peston's request.

12. We recognise however that from March to late June or thereabout the Finance Bill Sub-Committee should be able to meet in parallel with the main Select Committee which will no doubt be engaged in an inquiry of its own. We therefore recommend that a Clerk and other resources be provided to allow this to happen.

Pre-legislative Scrutiny

13. The Committee took note of the memorandum from the Leader of the House (Appendix 5).


 
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