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Lord Marsh: My Lords, I have some difficulty in disagreeing with the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, not on the basis of his approach to this matter, but because he sums it up by saying that we need to know what the committee will do. One can understand that another place is fairly relaxed about this. It has massive resources compared with anything available to this
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Chamber. We are short of accommodation for committees, as is well known. We are short of people to staff the committees. Cases are put to the proper authority to seek time for select committees which are turned down for no other reason than that we lack the resources to deal with them.
One looks at what the committee sets out to do. It will not conduct investigative or scrutiny inquiries nor adopt substantive Motions or make reports. We do not know what it is going to do. It is being set up because some Members found it slightly embarrassing not to be able to continue the arguments they were having with the existing committees. I accept everything that the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, said. I do not believe that it makes any sense to establish a body of this kind, which is going to have a quorum of two on each side, and which sets out quite clearly not to get involved in any reports, substantive Motions or inquiries. There are many things which could be subjected to reports and substantive inquiries. It is foolish to put them on one side while we make up our minds what we will do.
Lord Naseby: My Lords, I shall not repeat some of the points which have been made: I agree with all of them. I come from a pro-European background. I suggest to noble Lords that after last Thursday's elections both Houses should reflect very seriously about Europe and how we handle it. It does not seem to me that this very thin schedule of proposals reflects what the country at large wants both Houses to do. Therefore, I certainly have great reservations about what is proposed here.
Lord Tordoff: My Lords, freed from the shackles of office, I can say what I think personally about this, but I shall not. I go along with the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, in his remarks. It is also important that we are absolutely sure that this matter comes back to the House for a definitive debate on which we can make a decision. I take the point which the noble Lord, Lord Marsh, made. The committee should be given the power to allow statements from and questions to European Commissioners and other EU officials. But not to report on those meetings seems ludicrous.
I would not want anything I say today to appear as any reflection on our colleagues in another place. Mr Jimmy Hood and I worked very well together in tandem over seven years when we were chairmen of our appropriate committees. Certainly, the point that we have always made is that the two committees do totally different things. They are complementary. The idea that you can somehow put them together and find some synergy or something totally different seems to me very strange indeed.
I am glad that a low quorum is recommended because the first thing that crossed my mind when I heard about this matter was that one of the problems with these Joint Committees was the somewhat erratic membership of the Commons. Recently I watched rather an old programme on the Parliament Channel. It was obvious that when Mr Pat Cox was being interviewed by a joint group from both committees,
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this House was well represented. The Commons was represented by Mr Jimmy Hood until the last few minutes when one of his deputies came in. I do not criticise the Commons for that. Its Members have jobs to do and very often they cannot spare the time. In this House noble Lords who sit on the Select Committee and its sub-committees dedicate their time to doing that, and they do it extraordinarily well in my experience. However, the idea that there should be a quorum greater than two might wreck the whole process.
I personally would be willing to go along with this stage of the proceedings provided that most of the recommendations are agreed to and that the measure comes back to this House for detailed discussion at a later stage. Then we can decide whether or not we want to go ahead with it. However, it would be a mistake to suggest that by failing to go ahead with it we are in some way insulting the Commons or trying to stop Parliament working appropriately on European matters.
Lord Renton of Mount Harry: My Lords, like my noble friend Lord Marlesford I am a member of the European Union Committee chaired so ably by the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell. I am also chairman of Sub-Committee D that is involved with the environment and agriculture.
I should like to assure my noble friends and the noble Lord, Lord Marsh, who have spoken against the formation of this Joint Committee, that all the arguments that have been aired in the past few minutes were discussed very thoroughly in the Select Committee. Many of us were very doubtful about this proposition, but in the end we came to the same conclusion as that put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell; namely, that there may be things to be gained by having a Joint Committee with the Commons, particularly whenI stress this as my own viewover the next year or two European Union matters will clearly be of very great importance, and interest and will be discussed by all of us. Against that backgroundwhether we discuss the European constitution, the reform of the CAP or the handling of the new membersthe more that we can share information with the other place, the better.
During the years that I spent in the other placeI was in the other place for quite a few yearsI realised that our attempts to look very closely at European legislation were, to say the least, pathetic. Some noble Lords will remember that my noble and learned friend Lord Howe of Aberavon set up Standing Committees particularly to consider European legislation. Frankly, they failed due to a lack of people turning up. The noble Lord, Lord Marsh, with some humour made the point that the quorum is only two on either side. All of us made that point in the committee chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell. However, I do not see that as an argument for not moving forward with this proposal at the moment. It is right for us to have as many Joint Committees with the Commons as is possible and reasonable. It is good for them to get to know us better and for us to get to know them better. It is particularly
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relevant at the present time when there is so much of interest and of great importance happening within the EU.
The noble Lord, Lord Marsh, and my noble friend Lord Marlesford asked what would be the added value of the committee. It is perfectly true that we do not know that yet, but we shall not know unless we try it and see. It is arguable that it could have added value. The fact that it has been given a two-year period in which to prove itselfsomething for which we all askedis in itself a safeguard. I very much stress the two points that the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, made; namely, that all of us on the Select Committee would like to see genuine equal alternate chairmanship and equal membership as between the other place and this House. If the committee were run on that basis it would represent a step forward at a very important time. I hope, therefore, that we shall support what the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, said and, despite the fact that my noble friend Lord Marlesford is one of my oldest friends, that we shall not go along with what he suggested.
Baroness Thomas of Walliswood: My Lords, I agree with all the comments made by the previous speaker. I merely wish to add one other on the subject of added value. As a member of Sub-Committee E, I am aware, as are all the committee members and many who are not, of the very detailed inquiries that all the committees make into important pieces of legislation, and of how valuable that is. However, it does not attract public attention. The general public are left completely cold by that level of investigation. By having more of a debating approach to these matters and by occasionally having a distinguished member of the European Commission or someone else address the committee or give evidence, one could make a contribution to the public debate on European matters.
Lord Armstrong of Ilminster: My Lords, I speak as a former member of one of the European Union sub-committees serving under the chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Tomlinson, the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, and the noble Lord, Lord Radice.
It seems to me that there are two questions to which we need answers, and that we do not have those answers as yet. The first question concerns what the new Joint Committee would do, and whether it would do any more than the extra wheel, which appears to have no contact with the road at all, that you see on gargantuan lorries. Secondly, would the creation and the work of a new Joint Committee detract from the value and the reputation of what our own European Union committees do? I stress the word "reputation" because, as the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, said, the work of the House of Lords European Union committees has a very high standing not only, no doubt, in this country but also in Europe itself. It would be very regrettable if any new committee were to detract from that value or the good work that those committees do. I hope that if the proposal goes
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forward to the next stage, when we debate the subject again we shall be given assurances that cover both those questions as we really do not have sufficient information as yet.
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