§ Madam Speaker
Before we proceed with motions 11 to 26, it might be helpful to the House to indicate the procedures to be followed on the 16 motions for the nominations to Select Committees. First, there will be a joint debate on the motions and selected amendments, which may last for one and a half hours. The amendments selected are to motions 17 on health and 18 on home affairs.
At the conclusion of the debate, I shall put separately the question on each motion. Before putting the main question on motions 17 and 18, there will of course be an opportunity for the amendments to be moved formally and to be decided upon. In each case, the amendment to leave out a name will be decided first, because it is obvious that, unless a vacancy is created, a new name cannot be proposed.
§ Mr. Bill Walker (Tayside, North)
On a point of order, Madam Speaker. You gave a ruling earlier today. Does that ruling apply to all the names on the Order Paper this evening? Should everyone have been consulted as per your ruling?
§ Madam Speaker
We have to proceed on the assumption that all Members have been asked, in accordance with the Standing Order to which I referred earlier.
§ Sir Marcus Fox (Shipley)
I beg to move,That Mr. Richard Alexander, Mrs. Angela Browning, Mr. Christopher Gill, Mr. Ieuan Wyn Jones, Mr. Martyn Jones, Mr. Paul Marland, Mr. Eric Martlew, Mr. Colin Pickthall, Mr. George Stevenson, Mr. Jerry Wiggin and Mrs. Ann Winterton be members of the Agriculture Committee.
§ Madam Speaker
As I said, with this it will be convenient to discuss the next 15 motions on the Order Paper:That Sir Nicholas Bonsor, Mr. Menzies Campbell, Mr. Churchill, Mr. Michael Colvin, Mr. Frank Cook, Sir Nicholas Fairbairn, Mr. Bruce George, Mr. John Home Robertson, Mr. John McWilliam, Mr. Neville Trotter and Mr. Peter Viggers be members of the Defence Committee.That Sir Paul Beresford, Mildred Gordon, Mr. David Jamieson, Mrs. Angela Knight, Lady Olga Maitland, Mr. Edward O'Hara, Mr. David Porter, Dr. Robert Spink, Mr. Gerry Steinberg, Sir Malcolm Thornton and Mr. Dennis Turner be members of the Education Committee.That Mr. Ian Bruce, Mr. Sebastian Coe, Mr. Ken Eastham, Mr. Oliver Heald, Mr. Greville Janner, Mr. Ron Leighton, Mr. Iain Mills, Mr. Andrew Robathan, Mr. Ernie Ross, Mr. Richard Spring and Mr. David Young be members of the Employment Committee.That Mr. John Battle, Mr. Andrew F. Bennett, Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown, Mr. Barry Field, Helen Jackson, Mr. Robert B. Jones, Mr. Tom Pendry, Mr. Eric Pickles, Mr. Nich Raynsford, Mr. Gary Streeter and Mr. Roy Thomason be members of the Environment Committee.That Mr. Dennis Canavan, Mr. Mike Gapes, Mr. David Harris, Mr. David Howell, Mr. Michael Jopling, Mr. Jim Lester, Mr. Ted Rowlands, Mr. Peter Shore, Sir John Stanley, Mr. David Sumberg and Mr. Robert N. Wareing be members of the Foreign Affairs Committee.That Mr. Roland Boyes, Mr. James Clappison, Mr. David Congdon, Mr. David Hinchliffe, Mrs. Jacqui Lait, Alice Mahon, Mrs. Marion Roe, Mr. Roger Sims, the Reverend Martin Smyth, Mr. Michael Trend and Audrey Wise be members of the Health Committee.That Mr. David Ashby, Mr. Gerald Bermingham, Mr. Hartley Booth, Mr. Peter Butler. Mr. Edward Gamier, Mr. 914 John Greenway, Mr. Chris Mullin, Mr. Mike O'Brien, Mrs. Barbara Roche, Mr. Keith Vaz and Sir John Wheeler be members of the Home Affairs Committee.That Mr. Joe Ashton, Dr. John G. Blackburn, Mr. Gyles Brandreth, Mr. Jim Callaghan, Mr. Paul Channon, Mr. Patrick Cormack, Mr. Bryan Davies, Mr. John Gorst, Mr. Alan Howarth, Mr. Gerald Kaufman and Mr. John Maxton be members of the National Heritage Committee.That Mr. Spencer Batiste, Dr. Jeremy Bray, Mr. Malcolm Bruce, Mrs. Anne Campbell, Cheryl Gillan, Mr. William Powell, Sir Giles Shaw, Sir Trevor Skeet, Dr. Gavin Strang, Sir Gerard Vaughan and Mr. Alan W. Williams be members of the Science and Technology Committee.That Mr. Peter Atkinson, Mr. Eric Clarke, Sir Nicholas Fairbairn, Dr. Liam Fox, Mr. Phil Gallie, Mr. Robert Hughes, Mr. George Kynoch, Mr. William McKelvey, Mrs. Ray Michie, Mr. Raymond S. Robertson and Mr. Andrew Welsh be members of the Scottish Affairs Committee.That Mr. Michael Bates, Mr. Jeremy Corbyn, Mr. Stephen Day, Mr. David Faber, Mr. Frank Field, Mr. Clifford Forsythe, Tessa Jowell, Mr. Ian McCartney, Mr. Patrick Nicholls, Mr. David Shaw and Mr. David Willetts be members of the Social Security Committee.That Mr. John Butterfill, Mr. Richard Caborn, Dr. Michael Clark, Mr. Jim Cousins, Sir Anthony Grant, Dr. Keith Hampson, Mr. Doug Hoyle, Mr. Adam Ingram, Mr. Cranley Onslow, Mr. Stanley Orme and Mr. Barry Porter be members of the Trade and Industry Committee.That Mr. Robert Adley, Mr. Jack Aspinwall, Mr. Matthew Banks, Mr. Peter Bottomley, Mr. Terry Dicks, Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody, Mr. Alan Haselhurst, Mr. Keith Hill, Mr. John McFall, Mr. Andrew Mackinlay and Mr. David Marshall be members of the Transport Committee.That Ms. Diane Abbott, Sir Thomas Arnold, Mr. A. J. Beith, Mr. Nicholas Budgen, Mrs. Judith Chaplin, Mr. Quentin Davies, Mr. John Garrett, Mr. Barry Legg, Mr. Giles Radice, Mr. Brian Sedgemore and Mr. John Watts be members of the Treasury and Civil Service Committee.That Mr. Alex Carlile, Mr. Jonathan Evans, Mr. Roger Evans Mr. David Hanson, Mr. Jon Owen Jones, Mr. Elfyn Llwyd, Mr. Peter Luff, Mr. Rod Richards, Mr. Mark Robinson, Mr. Walter Sweeney and Mr. Gareth Wardell be members of the Welsh Affairs Committee.
§ Sir Marcus Fox
For the benefit of our new colleagues, I must explain that it is nothing new for me to be standing here occupying a bed of nails. Since I took over about eight years ago, it has been just that—[Interruption.] Opposition Members have helped to make it worse.
May I remind hon. Members—[HON. MEMBERS: "Get on with it."] I do not mind going on for an hour and a half, Madam Speaker.
§ Madam Speaker
Order. I mind very much. We have only one and a half hours for this debate. Let us proceed in good order.
§ Sir Marcus Fox
To illustrate my remarks, I shall take hon. Members' minds back to a similar occasion on 2 December 1987 when we were faced with exactly the same situation. I shall quote my own remarks because they are relevant for those hon. Members who suggest that we have somehow introduced a new idea by thinking that there should be a time limit. I said:I shall describe how the Committee works. Select Committees are a nightmare".for those of us who have to do the selection. The Members who volunteer are many.
Without any doubt, there is a surplus of possible members. It is impossible to give people their first choice. Many excellent colleagues are listed on the Order Paper. There may be more brilliant ones who have not been successful this time. We have to strike a balance between acknowledging the experience of certain hon. Members and giving other colleagues an opportunity to serve … When we make our recommendations, the choice rests absolutely with my four colleagues and myself. We represent the Government 915 party on the Committee and we take full responsibility for our nominations … In November 1979, my predecessor, Sir Philip Holland, said, as recorded in 'Erskine May'—that`the Committee enjoyed full discretion and was under no obligation to consult, to take advice or to indicate any criteria of choice.'It followed, therefore, that the Committee was procedurally free to choose whom it liked on whatever basis it thought applicable, subject to the eventual verdict of the House".—[Official Report, 2 December 1987; Vol. 123, c. 1042.]
§ Mr. Gerald Malone (Winchester)
It would be helpful if my hon. Friend were to clarify a point early in the debate. During the weekend there was much talk about conspiracy theories. Can my hon. Friend confirm that on the Committee of which he is Chairman there serve the Labour deputy Whip, the Labour pairing Whip and the Liberal Whip, but no Government Whips?
§ Sir Marcus Fox
I confirm what my hon. Friend has said. The fact that we do not need that sort of advice makes the Opposition suspicious.
We can make changes of this type only immediately after a general election, and we do so by means of motions such as those on today's Order Paper. Between now and the next general election in four or five years' time, we shall be unable to make any changes, other than as a result of promotion, the creation of PPSs or resignations for other reasons. It is therefore important that we should establish, once and for all, why we have seen fit to operate as we have.
§ Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan)
I should like the Chairman of the Committee of Selection to address a particular case. By what process of debate, discussion and agonised thought did the Committee come to the conclusion that the hon. and learned Member for Perth and Kinross (Sir N. Fairbairn) should be on not one Select Committee but two?
§ Sir Marcus Fox
The answer is quite simple: he is a man of considerable ability. And, just as important, he happens to be a friend of mine. It is obvious that, with interventions like this, we shall make good progress.
There is confusion in many areas, but particularly in respect of Select Committees. We are repeatedly blamed for the membership of Committees for which we have no responsibility. We do not mind if people serve on the Public Accounts Committee, the Select Committee on Members' Interests or the Liaison Committee; we are concerned purely with the 16 departmental Committees. Some people have suggested that we should have crossed the names of some colleagues off the list, having added up alll the other Committees for which the Whips have responsibility. If there is such confusion, if people do not understand the Committees for which we are responsible, it is not surprising that they imagine that outside influences are brought to bear on us.
§ Mr. Frank Field (Birkenhead)
Is the confusion in our minds or in the hon. Gentleman's own? He says that the Committee of Selection is not concerned with certain Committees. Presumably he means that he is not tonight moving a motion about the process of selection. Can he confirm that the membership of the Committees to which he has referred comes before the Committee of Selection and that a motion setting out their composition appears on the Order Paper?
§ Sir Marcus Fox
No. Unusually, the hon. Gentleman has got it entirely wrong. Apart from the Standing Committees that deal with Bills, the only ones in respect of which I have responsibility for vacancies are the departmental Committees.
§ Sir Marcus Fox
I am awfully sorry. I accept, of course, full responsibility for Committees on Bills, statutory instruments and all the others. We were given the departmental Select Committees and the other, older Select Committees were left with the Whips. Those Committees are nothing to do with me, I have a big enough cross to bear as it is. I am glad that the issue about those Members who were supposed to serve on those Committees was not pursued.
I must assure the House that there is a clear distinction between the two types of Select Committee—some seek to blur it, for obvious reasons. I want to make it clear that the Government names on the motions are the total responsibility of my four colleagues and myself. I understand that there is a phrase going around—I think that it is a figment of the press's imagination—called the "Whips' rules", which is something to do with only serving in three Parliaments. That is not how it happened. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] I notice that a quality newspaper said that the Whips' influence meant that three new Members who had applied to serve on Select Committees were kept off them because they had signed the anti-Maastricht early-day motion. I have checked early-day motion 174 and guess what? Nine colleagues on the 16 Select Committees signed it. Now, if the Whips had control, do hon. Members think that any of those Members would have been on those Select Committees?
In 1987, we considered introducing a time limit on how long one could serve on a Select Committee. We decided not to do so, for the simple reason that one could argue whether a term of eight years was long enough to justify a change. We thought not. Five years on, however, there are many good reasons why we should say that 13 years is long enough and that someone else should take part.
§ Mrs. Ann Winterton (Congleton)
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his wisdom. Could he tell us whether the entire Select Committee on Selection consider whether that rule should be introduced? Was that matter discussed? Was there a vote? Was it unanimous? If it was not, why does this co-called ruling, which my hon. Friend now denies, apply only to those on the Government Benches?
§ Sir Marcus Fox
My hon. Friend is also under a misapprehension. The Government always have the Chair of the Committee of Selection. The way in which the Opposition select their members of the Select Committees is entirely a matter for them. I repeat that it is entirely a matter for the five Conservative Members of the Committee of Selection as to how we select people. The quote that I read out from December 1987 made it clear—obviously some colleagues do not listen—that we do not have to explain our procedures. [Interruption.] I take it from the Opposition that there is never any question about their hon. Friends who serve on those Select Committees.
§ Mrs. Ann Winterton
The Committee of Selection does not need to explain its procedures because we can guess at them. Is my hon. Friend a Chairman of a Select Committee, because he is telling the House that he is only responsible for the Government Members on the Committees? If so why does the Committee of Selection not have a joint Chairman to represent the Opposition parties?
§ Sir Marcus Fox
My hon. Friend must read up on that Committee of Selection. When Norman St. John Stevas introduced the system in 1979, it was fully explained that the Government would have the Chair of the Committee but that each party would operate independently in nominating Members. The point that I was making was that, if Members could object to nominations to a Standing Committee on a Bill and we had to produce a reason for choosing one Member rather than another, we would never get a Committee set up.
In spite of the rulings that I have given, I pay tribute to those five colleagues who, whether Chairman or Members of those Select Committee, have made an outstanding contribution during those years. What we are trying to do takes nothing away from their contribution.
§ Mr. Bill Walker
I have no wish to attack my hon. Friend for his integrity. Will he assure the House that, as per the Speaker's ruling given earlier today, all those hon. Members named on the Order Paper were consulted before their names were tabled?
§ Sir Marcus Fox
Certainly—they are volunteers. On the Government's side of the Committee, all hon. Members under the motions in my name notified me that they wished to serve.
The real principle is whether those Committees were set up with the intention that Members should continue to serve year after year without limit. Is it fair to exclude those who are just as anxious to share that work? We came to the conclusion that we must at least create some vacancies because there were more than 200 applications for 96 vacancies on the Government side. Surely 13 continuous years on a Select Committee must be sufficient to bring about change.
§ Mr. Peter Fry (Wellingborough)
Is my hon. Friend trying to say that it is wrong to be on one Select Committee for 12 to 13 years, when one would presumably gain expertise in a subject, but perfectly right to serve 12 to 13 years on a number of Select Committees consecutively? Many people feel strongly about that. If people are to be told that they must leave a Select Committee after 12 to 13 years, the same should apply to anyone who serves 12 to 13 years consecutively on a number of Select Committees.
§ Sir Marcus Fox
If my hon. Friend would like to give me an example of a Member who has served 13 years consecutively on two departmental Select Committees, I shall discuss it with him.
§ Mr. Frank Field (Birkenhead)
I wish to speak to my amendment, but first, may I apologise to the hon. Member for Broxbourne (Mrs. Roe) for choosing her name to be the one deleted from the Order Paper? It was not, as some hon. Members said it should have been, because the hon. Lady was a Minister, and ex-Ministers should play no part in the affairs of Select Committees. That is not a valid rule. 918 Back-Bench Select Committees give us an opportunity for a career structure in the House as an alternative to being on the Government or Opposition Front Bench. It was because the hon. Lady has been in the House for a considerable time, is known and respected and has a considerable number of friends in the House. As two new Conservative Members were on the Health Committee, I thought it proper that we should remove the name of the person in a more powerful position rather than that of a new Member without the hon. Lady's following. Using that procedure meant that we had to choose a name.
Let me begin by dealing with some of the—in my view—allacious arguments that have been advanced since it became known that an amendment would be tabled. It has been suggested, for instance, that I am merely doing the bidding of the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton), because on a previous occasion he tabled a motion to include me on what was then the Social Services Committee. It is true that, since Freud, none of us know ourselves fully, and perhaps I am kidding myself; but I have not moved the amendment simply as a pay-off for a kindness that was done to me—although, if that were the case, I should have moved it for reasons of friendship and loyalty, and I do not think that the House should discount such values.
More important issues are at stake, however. Although the amendments are linked to certain names, they are not about the hon. Member for Macclesfield. His name features, but we are dealing with more important questions than his fate. I hope that hon. Members will vote not on the basis of whether the hon. Gentleman is liked or disliked, popular or unpopular, but on the basis of the debate that they will have heard about the role of Select Committees and their development in our constitution.
§ Mr. Spencer Batiste (Elmet)
Does the hon. Gentleman consider it desirable for Opposition Members to seek to determine Conservative membership of the Select Committee? Would he find it acceptable for Conservative Members to try to interfere with Labour selections?
§ Mr. Field
I think that we have already heard the answer this evening. I was somewhat shocked by what the hon. Member for Shipley said about putting his friends on to the Committee, and about the votes that he controlled. I think that on some issues it is necessary to take a view for the House of Commons itself, rather than a strict party view. As taking a non-strict party view sometimes gets me into trouble with my hon. Friends, it is interesting that that stick should now be wielded on the Conservative Benches.
We heard an extraordinary introduction to the debate from the hon. Member for Shipley. He explained a great deal about the working of the Committee of Selection, which will give many people a lot to think about. None the less, I cannot but contrast the performance of the brave sparrow who would regularly appear on the "Today" programme when running for chairmanship of the 1922 Committee, assuring Tory Members who might be listening that he was the man to stand up to the establishment and to ensure that their views were represented, with the performances that we have heard in private and again tonight.
If someone who has colleagues around him in the Committee of Selection can behave in that way and then present a report as we have heard this one presented tonight, the Patronage Secretary clearly will not have 919 many problems when the Chairman of the 1922 Committee comes to represent the views of Conservative Members. The man who told Brian Redhead that he was a man of great integrity who would fight Back Benchers' battles, protect their privileges and ensure that their views were known, rolled over at the first hurdle, and the Patronage Secretary managed to tickle his chest.
When hon. Members build up reputations and then do not quite live up to them, the convention of the House is to draw a curtain around the matter and not to dwell on it. Perhaps we should do that with the performance of the hon. Member for Shipley.
I come now to what appears to have gone on. Long before the final meeting of the Committee of Selection, we heard that the hon. Member for Macclesfield would be "got" because he had not written a letter asking to be on the Committee. I believe that the hon. Gentleman then wrote his letter. So another rule had to be found. Someone quickly discovered that the hon. Member had served in three consecutive Parliaments. Clearly, no further homework was done at the time; had it been, the other motions on the Order Paper tonight taking off Conservatives—we understand that the Chairman is not worried about Opposition Members; he is concerned only with policing his own hon. Friends—would not have been necessary.
So following the failure of the "get Nick" campaign and the failure of the letter rule, another rule had to be thought up: the three consecutive Parliaments rule. Instead of voting on the hon. Member for Macclesfield tonight, we should vote on whether we want the Government or the Chairman of the Committee to introduce motions at some later date taking our views on this matter into account.
For instance, I should like the House to consider the consequences of the three-Parliament rule. It will not operate only in this Parliament. If the hon. Member for Shipley is still here in the next Parliament, and if he remembers his rule, it will presumably operate against a certain party; and it will have a cumulative effect with each passing Parliament. The rule of the hon. Member for Shipley will de-skill our Select Committees. Those who have built up expertise on them will walk the plank—at the end of three terms, their time will be up.
For this and other reasons, the House should agree to our amendment. If this limitation is operated, it will destroy one of the main reasons given for the Select Committees in the 1979 Parliament—that they offer an alternative career structure for those not in government and for Conservatives who will not never have a chance to hold office. We shall curtail that career structure with no compensating curtailment on the careers of those who hold office.
§ Sir Marcus Fox
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that, come the next general election in five years' time, some Members on the Committees will have served 18 years but only six will be affected, if the Committee takes the same view then?
§ Mr. Field
Only six! Six people with the most experience will have to walk the hon. Gentleman's plank into oblivion.
920 This rule, arbitrarily dreamed up when other rules to "get Nick" failed, will weaken our democratic process. The role of the House of Commons has changed. is changing and will continue to change. In the past century, our job as Back Benchers was to make and unmake Governments. The party systems were in their infancy then, and there was a large number of smaller parties. As we moved into this century, our role changed. Since 1931 at any rate, the function of the House of Commons has not been to make and unmake Governments, although Prime Ministers can certainly be made or unmade by Members in this Chamber.
Rather, the House has witnessed the unfolding of general election campaigns. Both sides have set out their wares over four or five years, trying to present to the voters what the issues at the next election will be. [Interruption.] I am pleased to note that I have the attention of the former Chairman of the Select Committee on Defence, the hon. Member for East Hampshire (Mr. Mates), who may laugh and joke during this debate. He would be walking the plank under this parliamentary rule if he had not gained Government office.
The major opposition party has failed to win in four general elections, and there is now a question mark over our ability to win. That changes the function of the House. [Interruption.] I hope that those who so readily agree with me will join me in the Lobby. If the normal crucial check on Government—the fear of losing an election—appears not to have worked, at least for the moment, it is crucial to build up other checks and balances to prevent the Government from becoming arrogant and arbitrary in their use of power. None of us can sec clearly now where that evolving debate will lead, but in it the Select Committees have a crucial part to play.
§ Mr. Mark Robinson (Somerton and Frome)
Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that the Select Committee system should make up for the deficiencies of the Opposition?
§ Mr. Field
No. I welcome the hon. Gentleman back to the House. Plainly, he performed better at the hustings than he is performing in the debate.
I do not argue that by itself any one move makes good that crucial check in our constitution. Governments become fearful of losing their power and influence and their red boxes and cars. I say that it is one crucial check. I shall not move the amendment with the idea that the House could do without Whips because, without a whipping system, the House could not operate. But sometimes the Whips are insensitive to the needs of the House. Because they are anxious to complete the day's business, they inevitably take a short-term, day-to-day view rather than a year-to-year or a five-year parliamentary view.
When we vote, I hope that the House, unlike the Whips, will decide that it wishes to see the Select Committees develop with the help of the Whips but not controlled by them. I hope that, when we face the electorate at the next election, the Select Committees will have reached that crucial next stage in their development. That stage begins with tonight's vote.
§ Mr. Terence L. Higgins (Worthing)
I welcome the fact that at long last these measures have appeared on the Order Paper. That is a tribute to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, who has been anxious to ensure their appearance. We have made it by the skin of our teeth. That means that it will be possible for the Select Committees to meet before the recess, elect Chairmen, arrange a programme and provide work for the Clerks. At least we have done somewhat better than in the last two Parliaments.
There is no reason why the negotiations could not have been concluded earlier. We have not succeeded in achieving the time limit suggested by the Procedure Committee. We should consider a mandatory time limit for the future so that we do not get into the situation of the past few weeks. At all events, we have made progress.
I am deeply concerned about the way in which hon. Members appear to have been, or are said to have been, selected for the Select Committees. That brings me to the role of the Whips. It is a feature of our departmentally related system that the usual channels must be involved to some extent; otherwise, with a Government majority on all the Committees, one would be unlikely to have any Opposition Chairmen. That has always seemed to me to be an important all-party aspect of the system.
That having been said, choosing the Chairman must be a matter for the Committee concerned. It is wrong that the Whips should become involved, as they have increasingly become involved in the past 10 years, in the question of who is selected to serve on the Committees. I take the point that the Committee of Selection includes two Opposition Whips and one from the Liberal Democrats, but Whips should not be involved in the way they are. Furthermore, it is important that the Committee should act as a Committee of the House, representing all parts of the House. The party division suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Sir M. Fox) undermines the basic all-party nature of the Select Committee system.
This brings me to the controversy of the past few days, and to the fact that we were told that there is a rule that members should not serve on a Select Committee for more than a limited period. It is wrong that this rule should have been announced to the media rather than to the House of Commons. However, it is not surprising that that is so, because there is no such rule. The device has been invented at the last minute to justify a series of selections. The traditional practice, where the Committee of Selection gives no reasons for its selection, is the right way to set about it; whether it has any internal view as to how it should set about its task is a matter for it.
The effect of applying that rule—although there is no such rule of the kind described—has been to remove some choice. For example, my hon. Friend the Member for Westminster, North (Sir J. Wheeler) is clearly the best candidate for Chairman of the Select Committee on Home Affairs. In all events, the Committee should have the right to decide whether it wishes to continue to have him as Chairman. The Committee of Selection has removed a desirable degree of flexibility as to who is chosen. It is tying the Committee's hands by the kind of announcement that has been made by my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley.
922 Of course it is important that Committees should have a balance between new Members of Parliament and Members with greater experience, but we should not necessarily circumscribe the question of who those Members with experience are. I am in favour of more ex-Ministers and more members of the Opposition Front Bench teams serving on, or becoming members of, Select Committees. That would give the Committees greater weight in the inquiries that they carry out. The crucial point is that we get the right person for the job. Imposing the kind of rule suggested will not allow that flexibility.
We are moving in the opposite direction from the United States, which is sometimes taken as a model and where the seniority rule is supreme. If we are to have this rule, it must be determined by the Procedure Committee, debated and examined in length, and the House should be able to decide whether it wants such a rule. I have consulted my hon. Friend the Member for Honiton (Sir P. Emery), who was Chairman of the Procedure Committee in the last Parliament, and I gather that in the elaborate discussions that the Committee had on the matter there was not even a suggestion that there should be any such rule—still less had the Committee considered the matter or made any such recommendation.
I am deeply concerned about the way in which the matter has been handled. It is difficult for us to express our concern other than in this debate and the Divisions that will follow it. One of the reasons why this is of great importance to the House is the fact that, in the past 10 years or so, we have seen a major change in the constitutional position of the House. That is reflected in the Committees, and the importance that the House attaches to them is one of the reasons why it is a matter of concern to the Whips. It is important that these matters should not be handled in such a way. Instead, they should be dealt with on an all-party basis. I hope that, in the light of the debate, we shall consider what should best be done in future. At present, it is wrong to suggest that there is a rule which has determined decisions. As I have said, these matters should not be handled in such a way.
§ 11.5 pm
§ Mr. Archy Kirkwood (Roxburgh and Berwickshire)
I wish only briefly to contribute to the debate. First, I should confess that I am a member of the usual channels and serve under the chairmanship of the hon. Member for Shipley (Sir M. Fox) on the Selection Committee. I was unable to attend the Committee's meeting last week because—luckily, perhaps—I was ill in bed. I saw the difficulty coming, and I took fever from the fright.
There are important issues at stake, and they have been set out at some length by the hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field). As I am a member of the usual channels, I think that it is important that it is clear in our own minds that in our own parties and in our own ways we have means of bringing forward names to serve on departmental Select Committees. I am not especially interested what Members are put up by the other Whips on the Selection Committee, as that is a matter for the parties whom those Whips seek to serve.
There should be grave concern, however, if suggestions have been made by the 1922 Committee to produce the names of Conservative Members who have been put forward for the Select Committees. Surely that is a mistake. As the right hon. Member for Worthing (Mr. 923 Higgins) has said, a ludicrous claim has been made that a rule exists when it does riot, but if names have been put forward by the 1922 Committee for the Conservative party, that is not something that would have caused any opposition—even though the decisions may have been mistaken—from myself or any other representatives of the minority parties. As a shop steward for those parties, I speak on their behalf to the best of my ability.
We must understand that, at the end of the day, it is the Executive, through the Whips, who come along with names. That is exceptional, wholly wrong, disreputable and objectionable, and a substantial breach of the procedure as I understand it.
§ Mr. Higgins
I apologise to the hon. Gentleman for interrupting his speech. I wish only to make my own position clear if I failed to do so earlier. I did not wish to continue to be a member of the Select Committee on the Treasury and Civil Service. That is important lest what I said a short while ago is considered to be special pleading on my behalf.
§ Mr. Kirkwood
I wish it to be understood that, from a minority party point of view and from my own position, I feel that the Government have not handled the nominations in the right way. At the same time, the House should recognise that the Whips have a function in bringing forward their party recommendations to the Selection Committee. If they did not do so, the Committee's job would be difficult, if not impossible, to sustain.
As a shop steward for the minority parties, I think that it is wrong that the Select Committees should consider setting up machinery to monitor eight principal Departments, including the Home Office, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Departments of the Environment and Employment, without having a member of the minority parties within it. There are precious fewoccasions in debate on the Floor of the House when that is the position. The minority parties have only about 40 Members in the House and we suffer from overstretch, but we try to the best of our ability to submit names for Standing Committees. We try as a group to play our full part in the House, yet we are denied places in major departmental Select Committees. That is something that will have to be considered.
§ Mr. Kirkwood
No. I do not have time to give way.
There are amendments in the names of the hon. Members for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble) and for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) that my colleagues will support simply to make the point about the minority parties being denied places in major departmental Select Committees. It is right that we should do so.
It is also right that Select Committees are an important part of the procedures of this place. They are an evolving scene and the new Members nominated to serve on them have an important job in protecting the interests of the House in their deliberations. I hope that they will discharge their duties well, and I wish them every success.
§ 11.9 pm
§ Sir John Wheeler (Westminster, North)
I am glad to have the opportunity to speak in this short debate and I shall certainly try to be brief. I understand that my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Sir M. Fox) has invented a new rule, which we have just heard about tonight. It comes as a surprise to me and, had I known about it, as an honourable Member of this House I would not have put my name forward for membership of the Home Affairs Committee.
§ Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North)
My hon. Friend is making exactly the point to which we should all pay attention. Should not the rule have been laid down, in an authoritative way, before hon. Members were invited to offer themselves to serve on any particular Select Committee?
§ Sir John Wheeler
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his comments.
I was glad to find my name on the Order Paper on 9 July. In accordance with my expectations, and I think I may say fairly the expectations of many other hon. Members, I fully expected to resume my duties as a member of the Home Affairs Committee. My hon. Friend the Member for Shipley telephoned me at 12 noon on 9 July to say that a mistake had been made and that my appointment was to be cancelled; hence the amendment on today's Order Paper in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey (Sir G. Shaw). Incidentally, I sincerely congratulate him on his nomination to the Science and Technology Committee. I am sure that he will serve with distinction.
All that I can say about the rules of my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley is that they remind me of the unfortunate occasion when one steps on bubble gum deposited on the footway—tacky, sticky and lingering long after the event. I remind the House that, if we agree to motion 27, which refers to the interests of Chairmen and members of Select Committees, the proposed composition of the Home Affairs Committee will mean that nine of its lawyer members will not be able to inquire into such subjects as legal aid or the Crown prosecution service, as they would have a conflict of interest. I remind the House that, by a resolution of the last Parliament, that Committee has a responsibility for the Lord Chancellor's Department.
It is a privilege to serve the House as a member of a Select Committee. Any hon. Member who is selected for that service, which is quite properly unrewarded in any sense, undertakes an enormous burden of extra work, which it is a privilege to do. It has been my privilege to serve as a member of the Home Affairs Committee for 13 years, from 1979 until the general election this year. During my period of service, I was Chairman of the Sub-Committee since February 1980 and of the main Committee since 1987. It has been an immense privilege for me to make a contribution to the work of the Home Office and the Select Committee system.
Since the Committee was established, it has produced 67 reports, averaging 64 paragraphs in length. It is difficult for me to single out just one significant contribution to public policy, but I am especially proud of my work in 1981, in the aftermath of the inner-city riots, when the Sub-Committee prepared a substantial report on racial 925 disadvantage. I like to think that the report made an important contribution to policing and good race relations in this country.
More recent reports have included one of the British racing industry which, to my delight, has resulted in the Jockey Club and others proposing to establish a more broadly based committee for racing which will help to take that industry forward to a more successful future. Many of the Committee's recommendations and ideas on the structure and management of the police have been accepted or are in the course of being accepted.
No Select Committee and no Chairman could be successful without the wholehearted commitment and enthusiasm of the Clerks of the House. I know that they do not like to be referred to in debates in the Chamber. However, I have been fortunate to have worked with 10 splendid people during the time in which I have served on the Home Affairs Select Committee. All have been magnificent in their devotion to the work of the Committee and I am sure that it is right to thank the Clerks for their service during my chairmanship.
I am glad to be able to tell the House that the conclusion of my service was not apparently occasioned by any perceived lack of zeal on my part, by any lack of enthusiasm for the duties I voluntarily accepted or by my lack of attendance at meetings. I am proud to tell the House that, since my first appointment in 1979, I am recorded as having attended 489 meetings of the Committee and its Sub-Committee, with only 13 absences. Two were occasioned by illness and 11 by overseas duties. it is a record of service which I believe may stand comparison with that of any other hon. Member. I take this opportunity to wish every success to hon. Members who are privileged to be selected for that service. I shall observe the continued progress of the Select Committee with much interest.
I want the House to know that my name is on the Order Paper tonight and that I have neither sought nor canvassed any opinion on my behalf, as I should think that improper. I am content to leave the matter to the judgment of the House. I am satisfied that, over the 13 years in which I have had the privilege to serve on the Home Affairs Committee, I have done my duty to the best of my abilities.
§ Mr. Bruce Grocott (The Wrekin)
Those of us who are used to addressing debates on Select Committees in the House with gatherings of 10 or a dozen are delighted to see the intense interest this evening, including a massive attendance by members of the Government. I have spotted four or five Cabinet Ministers, and I hope that that augurs well for interest in such debates in the future.
We all know what the debate is about. In intruding from the Opposition Front Bench, there is an element of feeling that I am intruding in what is essentially a private matter for the Conservative party. From what we have heard so far this evening, there will be considerable interest in the votes that take place later. There should be no apology from any Opposition Member who takes part in the debate because at has been most noteworthy for the heroic, but failed, attempt by the hon. Member for Shipley 926 (Sir M. Fox) to reconcile the irreconcilable—his responsibilities to the Committee of Selection which he chairs with his responsibilities to the Conservative party.
I welcomed the contribution by the hon. Member for Shipley if only because he coined the memorable phrase that 13 years is quite long enough. That apart, he failed to make any convincing case which any hon. Member could understand for the new three-term doctrine. That is the best way in which to describe it. As he was speaking, I wondered whether the three-term doctrine accounted for the departure of Lady Thatcher, or whether it will apply to members of the Government in future. Will their time be up after they have served for three terms? Or is this—as we know it is—a device in the Conservative party to deal with a particular local difficulty which has nothing to do with constitutional principle?
§ Mr. Barry Porter (Wirral, South)
As I gather that the hon. Gentleman objects to the rule, does he also object to the rule, apparently between the usual channels, about who should be Chairman and which party should chair a particular Committee, or has that rule been thrown out of the window as well?
§ Mr. Grocott
The hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that the oddity about the rule enunciated by the hon. Member for Shipley (Sir M. Fox) is that he enunciated it as a member of a Committee, but it applies only to certain members of the Committee. It is not for me to determine how Members should vote on an issue of this kind.
§ Mr. David Marshall (Glasgow, Shettleston)
With regard to the points made by the hon. Member for Wirral, South (Mr. Porter) and by the right hon. Member for Worthing (Mr. Higgins), who was a very fair and excellent Chairman of the Liaison Committee, the right hon. Member suggested that the chairmanship of Select Committees should be left for the members of those Committees to decide for themselves. Does my hon. Friend agree with that? If so, would that be advantageous for the House, because it would put an end to the trading that goes on behind the scenes?
§ Mr. Grocott
If my hon. Friend reads the debate on the Select Committee that took place two weeks ago, he will know how much I admired his work as Chairman on the Select Committee on Transport in the last Parliament. That was spelt out in Hansard two weeks ago.
§ Mr. Grocott
No, I will not give way again. I intend to speak for five minutes, which is five minutes longer than the Leader of the House.
§ Madam Speaker
Order. The hon. Member for The Wrekin (Mr. Grocott) has made it clear that he is not giving way.
§ Mr. Grocott
I want to use my remaining minute to refer to the report of the Select Committee on Members' Interests which referred to Select Committees and their Chairmen. That will be the subject of a motion later tonight, but it relates strongly to this debate.
I put it to the Leader of the House and to the Government that it is clear from earlier debates that the House believes that the rules governing the interests of 927 members of Select Committees, and particularly of Chairmen of Select Committees, need tightening and strengthening. There should be orders for that to obtain.
Given that the later resolution may go through on the nod, it is absolutely essential that newly appointed members of the Select Committees should, before a decision is taken about their Chairmen, be given clear information by the Leader of the House and the Government to ensure that they know the new rules that have been agreed by the House before they decide who their Chairmen should be. That is an important development and the House should recognise it, even though there have been no formal resolutions in that respect.
I will not be voting on the resolutions concerning the changes in Select Committee membership, although I doubt whether I will manage to convince many of my hon. Friends on that. I will not be voting because, so far as I am concerned, the membership that the Tory party proposes for its Select Committees is a matter for the Tory party. I do not apologise for giving the Tory party little lectures on democracy. In my view, we in the Labour party do things in a far more democratic way than the Tories.
§ Mr. Grocott
No, I will not give way.
When the Labour party argues about members of Select Committees, we do it on the basis that each individual Bank-Bench member of the party puts forward their preferences. Preferences are determined partly on the basis of geography and partly on the basis of seniority, and then the whole matter—this is anathema to Conservative Members, but they can listen to it none the less—is put before a full meeting of the parliamentary Labour party and is subject to debate and reference back if necessary. That seems to me to be a dramatically better way of dealing with matters than Conservative Members' method.
I hope that we reach a conclusion on this matter fairly rapidly tonight. I hope that the Chairman of the Committee of Selection has learnt a few lessons from tonight and from his dual responsibilities. I hope that, when they are established, the Select Committees do the proper job of scrutinising the Government, which they will do much more effectively now that there are far more Labour Members on them.
§ Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield)
I rise with a very heavy heart and with considerable sadness to contribute to this important debate, which is really about the future effectiveness of this House of Commons. The Select Committees were set up to enable the House to monitor and scrutinise the Departments of government—the major Departments of government. It is indeed quite correct that the usual channels have a part to play in the allocation of chairmanships, but for the reasons advanced by hon. Members, once that decision has been taken., the usual channels should have no part whatever to play in relation to those who serve on the Committees and the person whom each Committee chooses to be Chairman from the party which has been allocated the chairmanship.
The Select Committee system is the only effective form in which this House can effectively monitor the Executive. At Question Time, one has only one question; statements, 928 again one question; private notice questions, really only one opportunity to come back to the Minister. The only effective way to hold Ministers, civil servants and others to account is the Select Committee system, which primarily involves Back Benchers of this House.
I believe that that is very precious. In fact, I go so far as to say that the Select Committees of this House are the last bastions of the defences of the country against excessive government. Perhaps I can say that from the Conservative side of the House after nearly 14 years of Conservative government, because I believe that, year after year, government can create an arrogance which can lead to dictatorship. I believe that that is what is happening in this House.
I am afraid, too, that the Committee of Selection has been severely compromised by what has occurred during the past week. I say to the Chairman of the Selection Committee that he now lacks credibility and integrity, and the sooner he is gone the better. The Chairman of the Selection Committee is supposed to chair the Committee and decide, of all those who apply to him and to his Committee, who should go forward and be appointed. I know from the contact that I have had with the Whips Office that that did not happen. I know that a list was submitted by the Deputy Chief Whip to the Selection Committee and that that list went through undiscussed, unamended and without debate, in less than a quarter of an hour.
I can only say that the Selection Committee Chairman is wrong. He talks about those who have served on a Committee for 12 years or three Parliaments. I wonder whether he is aware that the Health Select Committee has been in existence for only two years—not 13 years or 12 years. Indeed, I say to the House, as I say to the Chairman of the Committee of Selection, that I have served on Select Committees of the House for 18 years, and I am proud of it.
Like my hon. Friend the Member for Westminster, North (Sir J. Wheeler), I am proud of the contribution that I have made as a member of the Select Committee. Unlike my hon. Friend, I chaired the Health Select Committee for only some 15 months, but it is an experience that I shall never forget. [Interruption.] If the House cannot forget it either, I have succeeded in my job.
§ Mr. Winterton
No, I shall not give way to my hon. Friend.
My sadness is not that, by some devious, unfair, undemocratic strategems, I and other have been deprived of our places on Select Committees. My sadness is that I have made great friends with members of that Committee over the years and I shall miss their comradeship, their support and their co-operation.
Like my hon. Friend the Member for Westminster, North, I pay tribute to the staff of the Health Select Committee and its predecessor Committee. I wish to name Helen Irwin, who now serves another Committee. She was a wonderful Clerk to the Select Committee on Health and Social Services. I also name the current Clerk, Paul Evans, the Assistant Clerk Fergus Reid, and the Assistant Mike Clark as well as Carol Auchterlonie, the Committee specialist assistant and researcher. They are wonderful 929 staff. The relationship between the members of the Committee and the staff proves that the Select Committees work, and work as a team.
If I have anything to say tonight which I hope will be heeded, it is that the Committee of Selection of the House has made a real mess of the selection of people to serve on the departmental Select Committees. It has done so because it has succumbed to the blandishments and pressure of the Government Whips Office. That does no service to the House and no service to parliamentary democracy. Increasingly it appears to me that an independent view and freedom of speech are gradually being squeezed out of the House. I am sure that you, Madam Speaker, as the safeguarder of the privileges of Back Benchers, agree that that surely cannot be a good thing for the people of Britain.
I leave the House with three quotations. Two are from my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, with whom I entered into correspondence in February 1991 about Select Committees, the way in which Chairmen were chosen and the interference of the Whips. My right hon. Friend said in reply:I was grateful to you for letting me know the terms in which you propose to conduct the Chairmanship of the Health Select Committee. I have no doubt"—he underlined those words in his own writing—that you will bring your own skill, knowledge and commitment to that task and that you will do it excellently.Clearly, knowledge and experience and doing a job well have no further part to play in this place.
My second quotation from my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is important. I have about one minute to go. He said:Every Member of a Select Committee is free to vote for the person of his or her choice if a vacancy arises for the chairmanship. That has always been the case and will continue to be so.I am delighted to see my distinguished Friend the Chairman of the Select Committee on Procedure, my hon. Friend the Member for Honiton (Sir P. Emery) in his place. His Committee reported:Committees should be left to elect whichever Member from the designated party they see as best fitted to discharge the responsibility of Chairman".I hope that in the future the House of Commons will exercise its authority over the Select Committees,which are its only way of monitoring and scrutinising the Executive.
§ Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan)
I shall make three brief points. First, I hope that the hon. Member for Shipley (Sir M. Fox) will forgive me for saying that I found his explanation for why the hon. and learned Member for Perth and Kinross (Sir N. Fairbairn) was serving on two Select Committees simultaneously rather unconvincing. I know that attendance in Select Committee is not always as high as it should be, but presumably they are set up with a view to trying to give Members the opportunity to attend. I should have thought that the hon. and learned Member for Perth and Kinross will find it very difficult to do justice to both the Select Committees on Defence and on Scottish Affairs simultaneously.
I do not know how many Conservative Members wanted to serve on the Defence Select Committee. I presume that it was quite a few. I imagine that that 930 Committee was over-subscribed. I should have thought that fewer wanted to serve on the Scottish Affairs Committee, but none the less, if the widespread suggestion that a place on the Defence Committee was the price of the hon. and learned Member for Perth and Kinross for serving on the Scottish Affairs Select Committee is true, it does the Committee of Selection no credit whatsoever.
If the Committee of Selection and the Government Whips have to go to such lengths to preserve an artificial Government majority on the Scottish Affairs Select Committee, does the hon. Member for Shipley not think that it would have been better to abandon the idea that the Government must have a majority, rather than having the ridiculous spectacle of projecting the hon. and learned Member for Perth and Kinross on to two Committees simultaneously, as he will not be able to do either any justice?
The Liberal spokesperson, the hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood) mentioned my second point—the rights of minority parties in the House. When the arithmetical balance was being drawn for Select Committees, the Government's numbers in the House did not justify their having an automatic majority in each Committee. They needed an extra six Government places to guarantee a voting majority on every Select Committee, their argument being that each Committee must give the Government a majority and must reflect the balance of the House of Commons.
If that argument is being pursued, there can be no defence for not having a Member of one of the six minority parties in the House on each Select Committee.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley (Antrim, North)
Does the hon. Gentleman not find it strange that the Democratic Unionist party, which has the same number of Members in the House as his party, has been left out altogether, even though it made strong representations to the Chairman of the Committee of Selection? Will he remember that, on the proposal of the Chairman, the House voted me and a colleague of mine off the Selection Committee? I understand that the member appointed instead attended one meeting of that Committee.
§ Mr. Salmond
I take the hon. Gentleman's point. The Democratic Unionist party is entitled to representatives on Select Committees. I also believe that the Social Democratic and Labour party is entitled to representatives. The amendment in the name of the hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble) and myself is not for any individual party, but to enable the six minority parties in the House, which collectively represent 7 million voters after the recent election, to have the basic entitlement of one representative on each departmental Select Committee. That does not seem to be an unreasonable request to make to the majority parties in the Chamber.
According to the Government's rules, if a Select Committee is to reflect the balance of opinion in the House, surely it must have a minimum of one representative from the minority parties.
Thirdly, anyone who has followed the interchange, or what has been going on in the Lobby, will know that it has been an exercise in total and utter fantasy. Two lists are available—a Government list and an Opposition list. Without exception, the Committee of Selection, chaired by the hon. Member for Shipley, has accepted those two lists, supplied either directly or indirectly by the Whips Office. 931 That is the reality of what we are debating. Therefore, I and the other representatives of the minority parties will take the opportunity to vote against Committees that do not have a minority representative.
§ Sir Peter Emery (Honiton)
I had no intention of speaking in this debate, and I shall take up only a very short time. There are certain facts that ought to be put before the House, as there are probably 300 Members who were not here when the departmental Select Committees were originally set up in 1979–80.
The first fact is that, until that time, the Committee of Selection appointed Members only to the Standing Commitees. The membership of all Select Committees was arranged through the usual channels, and the motions were tabled in the name of the Leader of the House. It was to get away from that, to try to ensure that the Members appointed to the departmental Select Committees were representative of all sections of the House and were not nominees of the Whips, that the appointments were given to the Committee of Selection. What has happened since then is history, but it is proper that the facts of the intention of the House when the departmental Select Committees were set up should be recorded.
The second important matter, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) referred, is that once it has been decided, through the usual channels, which party the Chairman of each Committee should come from, it should be left to the Committee to decide which member of that party should be the Chairman. The appointment should not be arranged before the first meeting of the Committee. In fact, that was recorded. When the Procedure Committee was reviewing the work of departmental Select Committees it received clear evidence that this had not happened in the past. The Procedure Committee therefore made the situation perfectly clear.
§ Mr. Bill Walker
Would my hon. Friend care to comment on the fact that the Scottish Affairs Select Committee will have no option but to select and elect the individual nominated by the Labour party for the chairmanship, even if that person questions the right of the House of Commons to have its way in Scotland?
§ Sir Peter Emery
I do not wish to comment. I am merely trying to set out for the House the facts of the recommendation or of the procedure recommended. It seems to me that these things ought to be known to the House before it votes on any of the motions.
§ Dr. John Gilbert (Dudley, East)
One can be a little too squeamish about thuggery by the Whips. I speak as one who was sandbagged off a Select Committee at the beginning of the previous Parliament—a matter in respect of which I bear absolutely no malice towards my Chief Whip. We had a very pleasant conversation on the subject, and I found myself on another Committee, which was very congenial. Lest it be thought that I, like the right hon. Member for Worthing (Mr. Higgins), am on my feet because I am not to be on a Select Committee on this occasion, let me assure the House that that was the result of further consultation with the Chief Whip.
§ Mr. Higgins
In an earlier intervention I sought to clarify the situation. I have made it quite clear that I did not wish to be renominated for membership.
§ Dr. Gilbert
The right hon. Gentleman has not been listening very carefully. What he has just said was understood by me. It is for precisely the same reason that I am not to be on a Select Committee in this Parliament.
In these matters, neither side is without blemish. I take the point that it is unfortunate that Opposition Whips are on the Committee of Selection, and it is unconscionable that the Chairman of the 1922 Committee is Chairman of the Committee of Selection. I do not endorse all the propositions that have been put forward tonight on either side of the House. There is no reason why Conservative Members should not choose their Select Committee members by rules and conventions that seem fit and proper to them. Whether they discuss the subject among themselves is a matter for them, and not for the Opposition.
§ Mr. Gorst
There is a big distinction between the Whips in the opposition parties having a hand in selection and the Government Whips having a part. Select Committees monitor and scrutinise what the Government do and, therefore, because we are not examining what the Opposition do, the Opposition Whips do not commit a foul. It is quite a different matter when the Government are not only the culprit, but act as judge and jury by influencing membership of those Select Committees.
§ Dr. Gilbert
The hon. Gentleman makes an interesting point, which should be referred to the Committee of Selection. Realistically, the Whips will always have a hand in such matters, whether they are on the Committees or not.
I do not understand all the fuss about who should be selected to be Chairmen of the Committees. It is totally within the power of any Select Committee to choose any of its members to be Chairman on any occasion. It may change that choice during any Parliament. We can only blame ourselves if we complain that the Whips choose the Chairmen for us. It is entirely in the hands of Members on both sides of those Committees to decide who shall be and who shall remain the Chairmen of them.
I agree with the right hon. Member for Worthing about the shoddiness and ineptness displayed in the selection process on this occasion. I was totally unimpressed by the remarks of the Chairman of the Committee of Selection, and I am equally unimpressed by the half acre of green Bench where the Government Chief Whip normally sits. If he seriously thinks that he can delude the House into thinking that he has no responsibility for what has gone on in the past few days, he must take us for complete idiots. We know perfectly well what has happened and it brings no great credit to the House.
I have never thought that longevity was a reason for staying on a Select Committee. Intelligence, application, diligence and ability to prosecute a line of inquiry are far more important characteristics of a successful Committee member than experience. However, I hope that, if any rule about senior Labour Members of Committees, such as that which has been put forward by the Conservative party, were put to my colleagues, they would consider it thoroughly obnoxious.
933 The way in which this matter has been handled can only pander to those who take a most cynical view of our affairs. I sincerely hope that the Select Committee on Procedure will consider it with dispatch and diligence.
§ Mr. Patrick Cormack (Staffordshire, South)
The last thing that I want to do, Madam Speaker, is to add to your burdens and duties, but it seems to me that you may have a future role to play in this matter.
The way in which the system has worked till now does not fill us with confidence. I believe that the Selection Committee should be chosen in the same way as the panel of Chairmen, who preside over Standing Committees on Bills, are chosen. The Whips do not play a part in that system. Doubtless they make comments, as they are fully entitled to do, but the choice of Chairmen lies with you, Madam Speaker, and your deputy. Because the House has total confidence in your independence and utter impartiality—if it did not, you would not be in the Chair—those whom you choose to do the job are more likely than others to share that reputation.
We must be realistic and accept that we cannot change the system until the new Parliament. However, when we go through the rigmarole again, the process should be under your jurisdiction, Madam Speaker, or, in the sad event of your not being in the Chair, your successor. If the Selection Committee were appointed by the Speaker, everyone could have total confidence in the system and the result.
§ Mrs. Audrey Wise (Preston)
Some hon. Members are cynical about Select Committees. I used to be in that camp until I had cause to change my mind. One of the reasons for doubting whether an effective monitoring job can be done is the remarkable fact that the Committees set up to monitor the Government contain a majority of Conservative party members.
I changed my mind because it was demonstrated to me that in the process of Select Committee work—the taking of evidence, the cross-questioning of Ministers and civil servants, and the bringing of other expert voices into the House—useful and interesting things happen. The process is extremely valuable, partly because we publish the evidence. No Select Committee member likes to think that his or her report will look like rubbish alongside the evidence.
The disciplines imposed on Select Committee members work well, but the whole process is brought into disrepute by what has happened on this occasion. It is all very well for my hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin (Mr. Grocott) to say that Tory Members are a matter for the Tory party, but I disagree, because it is a question not of the Tory party but of the Government. I do not believe for a minute that the Tory party is responsible for those machinations; the Whips acting as agents for the Government are responsible. That calls into question whether Select Committees can do an honest monitoring job in future.
It is remarkably politically inept of the Government because it gives the Opposition a weapon—to ask what is going to happen to the national health service between 934 now and the next general election which makes the Government feel that they cannot stand honest scrutiny and must try to fix the Select Committee membership.
§ Mr. Terry Dicks (Hayes and Harlington)
Will the hon. Lady explain to the House why the Labour party Whips took the chairmanship of the Transport Committee away from the hon. Member for Glasgow, Shettleston (Mr. Marshall) and the poor chap did not know about it until the day after they did it although the Conservatives knew about it?
§ Mrs. Wise
I am not responsible for any Whips. Although I may hold views about that chairmanship matter, the Labour Whips have not removed a person from a Select Committee. The hon. Members for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) and for Westminster, North (Sir J. Wheeler) will be removed from the Committee altogether. They will have no role to play because, we are told, they have served for too long. Long service may not be a sufficient qualification for membership, but I cannot believe that it is a sufficient qualification for removal either. Surely it is not a disqualification for membership.
The hon. Member for Shipley (Sir M. Fox) made it seem as though the membership of those Committees is set in concrete. Anyone who has served on a Select Committee knows that vacancies frequently arise as Members resign or go on to their respective Front Benches. Those vacancies could be taken by newer Members. The hon. Member for Shipley proved that there are few long-standing Select Committee members when he said that, at the end of this Parliament, only six people would be disqualified. That is six out of a large number of Select Committee members—96 on the Government side. That surely suggests a lack of long-standing expertise rather than a surplus, so what the hon. Member for Shipley has said is—not to put too fine a point on it—baloney.
The best speech in support of the amendment was made by the hon. Member for Shipley himself, because his speech treated the House with contempt. I prefer to believe that the House does not deserve such treatment, and I hope that many hon. Members who value the role played by Back Benchers will join me in the Lobby.
§ Sir Giles Shaw (Pudsey)
I wish to speak to amendments (a) and (b) motion 18, which stand in my name, on behalf of the Committee of Selection. It gives me no pleasure to do so.
As hon. Members will know, at the time of its proceedings last week the Committee was not aware of the long service given to the Select Committee on Home Affairs by the hon. Member for Westminster, North (Sir J. Wheeler). It had been told that he had joined the Committee in 1983; only after the meeting was it discovered that he had joined in 1979. His long service is beyond price and, as he himself recognized—
§ It being one and a half hours after the commencement of proceedings on the motion, MADAM SPEAKER proceeded to put the Questions which she was directed to put at that hour, pursuant to Order [3 July].
§ Question agreed to.
That Mr. Richard Alexander, Mrs. Angela Browning, Mr. Christopher Gill, Mr. Ieuan Wyn Jones, Mr. Martyn Jones,
Mr. Paul Marland, Mr. Eric Martlew, Mr. Colin Pickthall, Mr. George Stevenson, Mr. Jerry Wiggin and Mrs. Ann Winterton be members of the Agriculture Committee.