HC Deb 01 February 1995 vol 253 cc1101-2 4.29 pm
Sir Roger Moate (Faversham)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I seek your guidance on a matter of some importance—the selection of Members to serve on the Channel Tunnel Rail Link Bill Select Committee. I understand that it has always been the custom, if not the rule, of the House that such Committees be seen to be as objective as possible. That is presumably why Members representing Kent, for instance, were told that they could not serve on the Committee, even though their constituencies were not directly affected.

I have learnt to my surprise, however, that the hon. Member for Hampstead and Highgate (Ms Jackson)—I notified her that I would be mentioning her name; I also notified the other hon. Member whom I shall mention later—had been appointed to the Committee, even though she stated, clearly and frankly, on Second Reading that her borough was directly affected by the high speed rail link. One can imagine the embarrassment that would be caused if a petition was received from her borough. She will not be seen as totally objective. No doubt she would be a splendid member of the Committee, but her membership of it hardly seems to conform with my understanding of the traditions of the House.

Even more surprisingly, another Member has been appointed to serve on the Committee, even though on Second Reading he spoke robustly about certain points relating to important aspects of the Bill that are likely to be the subject of petitioning. I refer to the hon. Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape). We all know him to be a splendid Member of the House, but on this subject he is about as impartial as I am. He certainly does not seem capable—on this issue—of fitting the mould of independence, impartiality and open-mindedness that has long been required by the traditions of this House.

It seems to conflict with the customs, if not the rules, of the House that the hon. Member for West Bromwich, East should be a member of the Select Committee. Decisions of the Committee of Selection are not debatable on the Floor of the House, so presumably the rules have been observed—if not the practice and custom.

I therefore seek your guidance, Madam Speaker, on what steps can be taken to ensure that the Committee is selected on the usual criteria of the openmindedness and objectivity that we have come to expect in respect of all private and hybrid Bills.

Madam Speaker

I have listened carefully to what the hon. Gentleman has had to say, and have done so with great interest. I am afraid, however, that I am not in a position to assist him.

In the first place, the hon. Member for Hampstead and Highgate was appointed to the Committee by the decision of the House last Friday, 27 January. It was at that time that an objection could have been raised.

The hon. Member for West Bromwich, East was appointed by the Committee of Selection at its meeting last Wednesday. The House has delegated this power to the Committee of Selection, and such appointments do not subsequently come before the House for confirmation. I am therefore unable to take the matter further, as the House gives me no authority in these matters to do so. But I take the hon. Gentleman's point seriously; I shall give it some thought for future occasions.

Mr. Andrew Rowe (Mid-Kent)

Further to that point of order, Madam Speaker.

Madam Speaker

No, I am sorry: I cannot take a further point of order. I have ruled the point of order already. I know that the hon. Gentleman is equally concerned, but once I have given a ruling, it is not my intention to go further. I have done the best I can. I shall not let the matter rest there, but I want to give it further consideration.

Mr. Paddy Tipping (Sherwood)

On a different point of order, Madam Speaker. What advice can be given to witnesses who come before Select Committees? I have in mind Sir lain Vallance, who yesterday told the Select Committee that he worked harder than junior doctors do. He then immediately retracted the remark outside the House. Does he not owe an apology to the Select Committee, and more particularly to the junior doctors?

Madam Speaker

I hope that the gentleman in question worked extremely hard when he appeared before the Committee, and that the Committee made him sweat.