HC Deb 12 February 2001 vol 363 cc80-128
Madam Deputy Speaker (Mrs. Sylvia Heal)

I inform hon. Members that Mr. Speaker has selected the amendment in the name of the Prime Minister.

7.15 pm
Mrs. Angela Browning (Tiverton and Honiton)

I beg to move, That this House believes that the First Report of Session 1999–2000 from the Liaison Committee, Shifting the Balance: Select Committees and the Executive, HC300, provides the right basis for the further development of the Select Committee system as a means of increasing the scrutiny and accountability of Government; and invites the Liaison Committee and the Government to bring forward the necessary Standing Orders for detailed consideration by the House. The motion has been tabled in the names of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, of me as shadow Leader of the House, of three Select Committee Chairmen and of the Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee.

The debate is unusual for two reasons. First, the Conservative party has been concerned that hon. Members on both sides of the House have been denied the opportunity to vote on the substantive motion on the Liaison Committee report, which seeks to shift the balance of power from the Executive, especially from the party Whips, to democratically elected Members who are not part of the Executive.

Secondly, the motion is not party political. Its wording comes from the second Liaison Committee report of 20 July 2000: it appears in the recommendation in paragraph 76. During business questions last Thursday, the Leader of the House said: Of course it is for the Opposition to determine topics for debate on Opposition days, and it is for the country to judge whether the Opposition's priorities reflect public concern."—[Official Report, 8 February 2001; Vol. 362, c. 1075.] I suspect that tonight's debate is not necessarily the subject on which many people outside the House will be focused, but it is of great importance to the democratic rights of the people who represent them: Members of the House.

It is surprising that the Leader of the House should have said that because, in May 1997, when things could only get better, the Government said in their manifesto: We believe the House of Commons is in need of modernisation and we will ask the House to establish a special Select Committee to review its procedures. There was no asking. I and other Conservative Members believe that the Committee that was established by the Government undermines the role of the Leader of the House.

A Conservative Government will expect three things. First, we will expect the Leader of the House to reflect the views of hon. Members on both sides of the House in respect of House matters and Standing Orders. Secondly, we will expect a genuinely free vote on such a motion—not just lip service, but an opportunity for hon. Members to exercise a vote on House matters such as the Liaison Committee report.

At last week's business questions, the Leader of the House pointed out to me the vagaries of the free vote. She said less than a week ago: I point out that not all her colleagues will enter the Lobby to support the report if they are given a free vote.—[Official Report, 8 February 2001; Vol. 362, c. 1071.] Let me say immediately that I not only accept but respect that. That is what the Leader of the House or shadow Leader of the House is expected to recognise.

Thirdly, under a Conservative Government, a Conservative Leader of the House will respect Back Benchers. It was a Conservative Government who introduced Select Committees, and it is a Conservative Opposition who are giving the House the opportunity to vote today. After the next general election, it will be a Conservative Government who will shift the balance.

I do not intend again to go through all of the Liaison Committee report, which we debated on the Adjournment on 9 November 2000. The report is the considered view of no fewer than 33 hon. Members, from all parties, many of whom are eminent Chairmen of Select Committees. Their views are very clearly stated and have already been debated by the House.

Mr. John Healey (Wentworth)

The hon. Lady has just told us that 33 very senior Members support the report. Does she accept that, when the Liaison Committee considered the report, only 22 of the 33 Chairmen were present? Is she saying that the report is fully supported—to a man and to a woman—by the 11 Chairmen who were not there and did not vote on it?

Mrs. Browning

I am not aware of a minority report. The usual procedure of Select Committees is that, when there are clear dissenting voices, those whose names are not listed as supporters of the report issue a minority report stating their views. Conservative Members on the Modernisation Committee have done precisely that in this Parliament. Although I realise that the hon. Gentleman is a relatively new Member, I hope that he will recognise that those Members had every opportunity to dissent from the report, had they wished to do so.

On 11 May 2000, the hon. Member for Pendle (Mr. Prentice) drew to the attention of the Leader of the House the fact that he had 203 signatures for his early-day motion 476, which stated:

[That this House warmly welcomes the first report of the Liaison Committee, published on 2nd March, which observes that the membership or select committees is effectively under the control of the Whips and that this has led on occasion to long delays in setting up committees at the start of a parliament and in replacing members thereafter and that members have been kept off committees because of their views; agrees that this is wrong in principle; and believes the implementation of the report's recommendations would strengthen parliamentary scrutiny of the Executive to the positive benefit of both.]

Mr. John Redwood (Wokingham)

I am glad that my hon. Friend has already reached the subject of the Whips. Has she noticed that the Government Whip on duty has twice scoffed at her remarks—when she said that we are debating not a party political matter but a House of Commons matter, and when she said that the House would be treated with more courtesy by a different Government? Will she bear it in mind that that is why Whips are not suited to making those appointments?

Mrs. Browning

The very reason that we are having this debate—[Interruption.] Regardless of which party is in office, the system in this place has to change and become more democratic.

Mrs. Lorna Fitzsimons (Rochdale)

Will the hon. Lady give way?

Mrs. Browning

Yes, but I want to make it clear that I do not intend to give way many times. As the hon. Lady will know, I usually give way frequently. As today's debate is for Back Benchers, I shall say what I have to say and then give hon. Members an opportunity to catch the eye of the occupant of the Chair.

Mrs. Fitzsimons

In the light of the intervention of my hon. Friend the Member for Wentworth (Mr. Healey), does the hon. Lady appreciate the incredulity of some new Labour Members when listening to her remarks? Although Conservative Members had 18 years in government to make those changes, it is only now that they are in opposition that, suddenly, they allegedly see the light.

Mrs. Browning

The hon. Lady was rather self-effacing by saying that she is a new Member, which she is. I remind her that it was a Conservative Government, under the great Margaret Thatcher, who established Select Committees in 1979.

The President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mrs. Margaret Beckett)

The hon. Lady should be a little more accurate. She might be right about the structure of departmental Select Committees, but they go back much further than that.

Mrs. Browning

I am sorry that the right hon. Lady is still in the same mood as she was in last Thursday. I hope that, by the end of today's debate, she will recognise the importance of Select Committees, and the fact that the previous Conservative Government demonstrated that we wanted to make them more accountable to ensure that hon. Members can use the Select Committee structure to call the Executive to account.

Mr. Dale Campbell-Savours (Workington)

Will the hon. Lady give way?

Mrs. Browning

As it is the hon. Gentleman, who is an assiduous member of various Select Committees, I shall give way just once more.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

The hon. Lady talks about making Select Committees more accountable, but does she remember what happened to the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton)? He was Chairman of the Health Committee, but the previous Tory Government removed him because he objected to Government policy. How can she make such a speech when her party is riddled with hypocrisy on these matters?

Mrs. Browning

On the contrary, my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) has signed today's motion. I have made it very clear that I do not care which party is in office, but I want democratic change to the way in which Whips and the Executive control Committees of the House. [Interruption.] That is the whole purpose of this debate.

The Government have been pressed by hon. Members on both sides of the House, especially by the hon. Members for Pendle (Mr. Prentice) and for Thurrock (Mr. Mackinlay) and my right hon. Friend the Member for North-East Hampshire (Mr. Arbuthnot), to allow the House to have a vote on this very important report.

The Government's response to the Liaison Committee report was very critical. They had clearly not spent much time on it. Indeed, on the Cabinet Office press release, the Liaison Committee itself was prompted to say that its description of the contents and effect of the Government Reply was remarkably selective … this was presentation, but not of a type which the Government should employ in its relations with Parliament. If today's debate is about anything, it is about the relationship between the Executive and Parliament.

The hon. Member for Thurrock has been quite assiduous in raising the issue. One sensed his frustration, however, at his not being given a vote on the report. Earlier, I heard the Government Whip accuse me of duplicity. Perhaps he will listen to the words of the hon. Member for Thurrock. Last year, in a question to the Leader of the House, he said: Has my right hon. Friend heard the cruel and callous rumour, which is full of calumny, that the Government might try to kick into touch any consideration in Parliament of the Liaison Committee's report 'Shifting the Balance'? Can she give the House an assurance that, despite the fact that there are varying views on the report's contents and recommendations, the Government intend to bring the matter to a head and allow hon. Members a free vote..?"—[Official Report, 25 July 2000; Vol. 354, c. 897.] Later, when I deal with the matter of a free vote, we shall see where the duplicity lies.

As I said, I do not intend to deal again with all the contents of the Liaison Committee report, which we debated on 9 November 2000. Despite the overwhelming response of hon. Members on both sides of the House to today's debate and vote, we did not receive an assurance that there will be a free vote. Although the wording of our motion is not party political, Labour Members will still not be allowed a free vote on it. The wording has been presented to the House by members of the Liaison Committee, on which all parties are represented.

Today's debate should send warning signals that although the Prime Minister says that there will be a free vote the Government will twist and turn to deny one. Is he not the same Prime Minister who has promised the people of the United Kingdom a free vote on keeping their own currency?

Last July, in an exchange with my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, the Prime Minister claimed on the Floor of the House—as hon. Members have reminded the Leader of the House on many occasions—that there would be a free vote on the report. However, the Government have taken every opportunity to ensure that hon. Members are denied the opportunity to exercise that right.

Fortuitously, earlier today, on a ledge in the House, I noticed a bright pink piece of paper showing this week's Labour Whip. I notice that, far from having a free vote tonight, Labour Members are subject to a three-line Whip at 10 o'clock.

Mr. Kevin Hughes (Doncaster, North)

It is an Opposition day.

Mrs. Browning

Interestingly, the Whip on duty says more from a sedentary position to defend the Whips Office and the Executive, than I have heard a Whip say in many previous debates.

Conservative Members expect the Prime Minister's word to be his bond. As the Whip has pointed out, this is an Opposition day debate, so the Prime Minister's promise to hon. Members does not count any more. When the Prime Minister said that there would be a free vote, he did not mean on an Opposition day. That was not pointed out last summer. That promise does not count today, even though the motion is not an Opposition motion but one from the Liaison Committee. The Prime Minister's word does not hold good.

That begs the question, when does this man's word ever hold good? I hope that not only hon. Members but people outside will learn the lesson. We have seen how the Government have twisted and turned to deny their Back Benchers a free vote. How much easier will it be to twist and turn to deny the people of this country a free vote when it matters?

Is not this the Government who, under the chairmanship of a Cabinet Minister, forced changes to the Standing Orders of the House under the guise of modernisation? Is not this the Government who espouse the philosophy of the right hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Mandelson) and Mr. Alastair Campbell—that the days of democratic representation are coming to an end? Is not this the Government who hold their own Back Benchers in contempt, including those who hold office as Select Committee Chairmen? Is it not time for a Conservative Government to restore democracy to the Benches of this House?

7.32 pm
The President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mrs. Margaret Beckett)

I beg to move, To leave out from "House" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof: notes the First Report from the Liaison Committee, Session 1999–2000, Shifting the Balance: Select Committees and the Executive, HC300, and the Government response thereto, Cm 4737; considers that the Select Committee system has proved its worth as a means of increasing the scrutiny and accountability of Government, endorsing in particular the Liaison Committee's judgment of the value of Select Committees (in particular paragraphs 4, 5 and 24 of the Committee's First Report); commends the initiatives already taken by the Government and by the Select Committee on Modernisation of the House of Commons to improve the accountability of Ministers to Parliament, including the provision in Westminster Hall of the opportunity for some 200 extra back bench debates each Session, and over 20 debates on Select Committee reports; but does not believe that concentrating patronage in the hands of three senior Members of the House would increase the transparency or effectiveness of the Committee system.". The Opposition motion invites the House to agree that the Liaison Committee report should form the basis of changes in the way in which the House approaches its Select Committee work. As the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Mrs. Browning) said, this is the second opportunity the House has had to discuss these issues: the first was a debate on the Adjournment held last November to give the House a preliminary opportunity to examine the report and consider its implications. Unfortunately, by the time that debate took place, the Leader of the Opposition had already committed his party, as a party, to accepting the report. He seemed to do so on the grounds—here I paraphrase—that the Government exercise unprecedentedly large power and so must face unprecedented restrictions on that power: restrictions never placed on any Conservative Government.

Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate)

Tonight I have a free vote, as printed on the Whip issued by the shadow Chief Whip, my right hon. Friend the Member for North-East Hampshire (Mr. Arbuthnot). I do not believe that that is true of Labour Members. Given that the terms of the motion are precisely those issued by the Liaison Committee, should that not be the case if the Prime Minister's word is to be his bond?

Mrs. Beckett

I think that the hon. Gentleman was in his place at business questions on Thursday, and he will have heard that question put to me repeatedly. He will also have heard my answer: this is Opposition business, not House business, and Opposition business is whipped.

Mr. James Paice (South-East Cambridgeshire)

Will the right hon. Lady give way?

Mrs. Beckett

If it is on the same point, I will not. I can come back to it later if the hon. Gentleman wishes, but I want to make a little progress.

I shall come in a moment to the substance of the report and its proposals, but first I want to dispose of the canard that in some way the Government are unprecedentedly abusing power and so must be unprecedentedly restrained. There are some things that are unprecedented about this Parliament; one is that, sadly, so few Members on the Conservative Benches have any experience whatsoever of Opposition.

When that is coupled with a collective bout of total amnesia about the record of past Conservative Governments, it leads to the repetition of a series of claims levelled without reference to the facts—claims about the size of the Government's programme, the length of recesses and the number of guillotines. Claims are made about all manner of House business, which are all claimed to be unprecedented when, in fact, none of them are.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham)


Mrs. Beckett

All right, "is"— if the hon. Gentleman wants to be picky about the grammar.

One of the interesting aspects of recent genuinely thought-provoking debates on these issues has been the assertion by Opposition Members that we should return to a time when the Government did not set the agenda for the House. When challenged, most admit that such a time has never existed and that what they demand today are fetters on us that were never placed on them. To be fair, in November, the hon. Member for Hertford and Stortford (Mr. Wells) did identify a golden age when, he claimed, Parliament was truly sovereign. It was apparently during the Cromwellian period, some 350 or so years ago. I am no historian but I presume that that was before Cromwell just dismissed a Parliament. It was certainly before any of us would even have had the vote, which rather dampens my enthusiasm for the parallel.

Let us be perfectly clear: the proposals contained in the Liaison Committee report are certainly interesting, but they are not modest, they are not simple and they do not return us to anything at all. They are profound, they are complex and they carry the potential for a substantial change to our constitution; and, far from taking us back to a lost idyll, they take us forward into completely uncharted waters.

The proposals seem to me to fall into four broad categories. There are those that are already within the power of the Committees themselves or of the Liaison Committee. Many relate to best practice and, although the Government are sympathetic to them, they do not require us to act. Where they impact on Government, such as in the review of Select Committee recommendations, we have issued guidance to ensure that Government Departments co-operate.

There are uncontroversial suggestions that the Government are happy to agree for better practice on our part—suggestions for more effective dialogue between Government and Committees, for how we carry out pre-legislative scrutiny, for joint working or for secondments. Again, here we have common ground.

There are then two other sets of proposals where there are differing views: first on how members of Select Committees are appointed and, secondly, on expanding in a number of ways the roles the Committees exercise. It is in these two areas that we see some proposals that are without precedent.

The acceptance has always been hitherto that the role of Select Committees is to scrutinise the work of the Government, yet in the report we begin to see proposals to substitute their judgment for that of the Government. In this Parliament, members of the Executive must be Members of Parliament. Their accountability for what they do as Ministers is direct and personal, in their capacity as members of this body. They are not apart, or separate.

However, the report proposes, for example, that by statute we set up confirmation hearings for public appointments. Where such appointments are made by Ministers, accountability to the House is through the Minister, not the individual; the appointee is responsible to the Minister and the Minister to the House. It is not clear, at least to me, what the line of responsibility will be if a Committee has a statutory role.

The report suggests a substantial expansion of control over the agenda of the House; for example, extra days on the Floor for Select Committee debates, a takeover of the Tuesday slot for ten-minute Bills now available to Back-Bench Members—thus relegating Back Benchers to Mondays—debates on Select Committee reports to be on substantive motions; and the ability to change the context for other debates by deciding to tag to them specific Select Committee reports. That includes debates initiated by the Opposition or by Back Benchers in Westminster Hall. All that is in the context of the call for a more specific career structure and role for members of Select Committees—a role intended to carry with it greater powers and interest than that of an ordinary Back Bencher.

Mr. Bercow

I would like to probe the right hon. Lady on the Liaison Committee's recommendations on the appointment of members of Select Committees.

Whips are like sewers—they perform an important function, but they should not be idolised. In inviting the right hon. Lady to stand back, just for a moment, from her usual role of democratic centralist, which she performs in exemplary fashion, I ask her to say why members of Select Committees should not be appointed by independent persons rather than by the agents of patronage.

Mrs. Beckett

With deep respect to my hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster, North (Mr. Hughes), I have never heard of anybody idolising the Whips. The hon. Gentleman's intervention is timely, but perhaps marginally premature, as I was about to come to precisely that point. I refer to the fourth area, on which I have the greatest reservations about the effect, as opposed to the intention, of the report's proposals.

Let me first do what the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton did not, and remind the House of what is proposed. Three Members, said to be characterised by their seniority and impartiality, shall, at the outset of a Parliament, be chosen by the House. Those three will then appoint every member of every Select Committee. They will seek self-nomination, as we do in the Labour party. The hon. Lady was silent on the procedures followed in her party. They will have regard to experience and to interest, but they will choose the names that they put to the House.

From those so chosen, each Committee will elect its Chair and they will join the initial three as the Select Committee Panel. A smaller group from among them will form an executive of that Committee. They may seek more detailed day-to-day control of the whole budget for Committees, not just of travel. They will administer discipline, appoint replacements to fill vacancies, and so on. The Chair of the Committee will, after the Queen's Speech, advise the Government what legislation he or she feels the House should see in draft, thereby exercising an influence on the timing and hence the content of the legislative programme.

Mr. Robert Sheldon (Ashton-under-Lyne)

On the selection of the members of Committees, the panel would suggest names in a more meaningful way than at present, when the Whips decide. It would be for the House to decide to accept any recommendation. I suggest that that acceptance would be much more meaningful because Members could vote against it. They would be voting not against the Government but the panel, however it was constituted.

Most important, is it not wrong for the Government to decide the members of Committees that are set up to criticise and examine the Government? Should the Government decide the appointments of people who are to scrutinise the work of the Government?

Mrs. Beckett

My right hon. Friend knows that I hold him in great respect and esteem.

Mr. Bercow

The right hon. Lady was born there.

Mrs. Beckett

The hon. Gentleman is right: I was born in my right hon. Friend's constituency, of which he is a distinguished servant. However, I say to him with the greatest respect that, certainly in our party, the Whips do not decide who is appointed. I cannot speak for the Conservative party, and I notice that nobody does on this point.

I take my right hon. Friend's point that it would be wrong for the Government to appoint those who scrutinise them. The Government do not appoint; they do not appoint, for one thing, members from other parties. They do not even appoint members from their own party.

Our procedures are imperfect, of course; they are open to question, of course. However, it is open to members of our party to self-nominate, not least when there are vacancies, but even at the outset of a Parliament. Those names go to the parliamentary Labour party and have to be agreed within that party. Only then are they put forward by the Whips. It is not a matter of the Whips choosing the names that they will put forward—at least, not in our party.

Mr. Dominic Grieve (Beaconsfield)

Will the right hon. Lady give way?

Mrs. Beckett

If the hon. Gentleman is about to tell me how the Conservative party appoints members of Select Committees, I shall be most interested to hear from him.

Mr. Grieve

I seek some clarification from the right hon. Lady. She told us a moment ago that this was a serious constitutional change, yet in her answer to the right hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Mr. Sheldon), it became apparent that it was a minor change of procedure, with no constitutional significance. Will she explain why she said earlier that it was a major constitutional change?

Mrs. Beckett

Indeed. First, I think that the hon. Gentleman might have misunderstood me. The constitutional change to which I referred is twofold, but I accept that the most significant part is that to which I have already referred—substituting the judgment of Select Committees for that of the Government rather than their scrutinising matters. However, I do not regard the changes proposed to the way in which we handle the appointment of membership as a matter of triviality. I notice that, yet again, the hon. Gentleman failed to say how Select Committee members are appointed in the Conservative party. Given that we had this discussion in November, and everybody waxed very eloquent about the virtues of the proposed system, they have had plenty of time to change the system in the Conservative party. I take it from the silence on the Conservative Benches that they have not done so, which casts an interesting light on the sincerity with which the motion has been moved.

Dr. Phyllis Starkey (Milton Keynes, South-West)

I thank my right hon. Friend for reiterating what is in the Liaison Committee report about the way in which the Chairman of Committees and the two Deputy Chairmen would be appointed. Can she also clarify whether the two Deputy Chairmen would be allowed to be Chairmen of Select Committees?

Does my right hon. Friend agree that there is an incestuous aspect to the relationship? To be elected as Chairman and Deputy Chairmen, candidates would presumably have to solicit the votes of Back-Bench Members of Parliament who would be likely to ask what they would get in return. Far from independence, there would be a network that would favour Members of Parliament who had been present in the previous Parliament rather than those, of any party, who had only just arrived and were not involved in the highly developed networks among existing Back Benchers.

Mrs. Beckett

My hon. Friend makes an interesting point. One aspect of the proposals on which I had not previously focused is the fact that the three who were elected would all chair Select Committees and presumably, at a later point, it would be decided which Select Committee they would chair.

I repeat that I genuinely hold my right hon. Friend the Member for Ashton-under-Lyne in affection and esteem, and I am sorry that he is retiring from the House. We shall miss him. I know that he will not take it personally when I make two observations on these proposals. First, not even into his hands would I casually give the proposed powers. Secondly, as he is retiring, this may be the last occasion on which, if the original motion were carried today, Members might feel wholly free to challenge the exercise of power by the Chair of the Liaison Committee.

A couple of days after his election, Mr. Speaker, with the kindly smile with which we are all becoming so familiar, assured an hon. Gentleman who raised an issue that he was sure that he intended no offence. "Everybody", he said, "likes the Speaker." With regard to these proposals, everybody will like the Chair of the Liaison Committee and his or her two senior colleagues. They will be beset by friends. They will control membership—choosing, if they wish, a pro or anti-European majority for the Treasury or Foreign Affairs Committees. They will have the capacity to punish non-attendance. They will control travel, they could control funding, they could control staffing, and they could control time in the House as well as in Westminster Hall. As in the United States, seniority would bring with it not only respect but real and lasting power.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes, South-West (Dr. Starkey) said, such a structure would require information to assist in reaching a judgment on members. There will be channels of information; there will be channels of advice. It is said—my right hon. Friend repeated it—that the system would be more transparent than it is now because the relevant motions would come before the House and could be amended, but those are the procedures in place now. It does not happen often, but amendments can be moved, and have been during the time in which the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton and I have been in the House.

Mr. Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock)

In 1992, I was appointed by patronage to be a member of the Select Committee on Transport. By a revolt against pressure by the Labour Whips, Labour Members supported the late Robert Adley as Chairman of that Committee—and how right we were. The point is that undue pressure was placed on me and my colleagues to abide by a grubby carve-up between those on the two Front Benches. The power that my right hon. Friend refers to would be power for Parliament, taken away from the choreographers of the Opposition and the Government, who are both to blame and both the same in this matter.

Mrs. Beckett

With respect to my hon. Friend, who knows that I have genuine respect for him, he has just made a point opposite to that which he intended. As he has just said, it is, within the structures that exist at present, open to the House to overturn any recommendation from any quarter. Given that Robert Adley, a most distinguished and skilled Member of Parliament, was a Conservative, it was presumably the Conservative party—the born-again devotees of democracy sitting opposite me tonight—who wanted Mr. Adley's nomination to be opposed.

Mr. Bercow

We were not all here then.

Mrs. Beckett

The hon. Gentleman is quite right; some of them were not here.

Mr. William Cash (Stone)

Will the right hon. Lady give way?

Mrs. Beckett

If the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, I must press on.

Mr. Cash

The right hon. Lady has given way twice to those on her own side.

Mrs. Beckett

How shocking.

Mr. Cash


Mrs. Beckett

The hon. Gentleman is being a little silly given the well-known views of my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Mr. Mackinlay).

Mr. Campbell-Savours

Would my right hon. Friend care to make it a third time?

Mrs. Beckett

How can I resist?

Mr. Campbell-Savours

Many of us want reform, as my right hon. Friend knows. We want to strengthen the powers of Select Committees and to give them a greater element of independence. However, who will measure the basis of qualifications and suitability? Who will measure work commitment? Are the three people to take it on themselves to decide such critically important issues? What knowledge would they have? The recommendation is nonsense, and the Select Committee should start over. The objective is excellent, but the route is rubbish.

Mrs. Beckett

My hon. Friend makes a powerful point, and he is well known not as a born-again devotee of either democracy or the rights of Back Benchers, but as one who has pursued both assiduously for a long time.

Mr. Cash


Mrs. Beckett

I will give way to the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Cash

I am deeply grateful to the Leader of the House, after all that.

The right hon. Lady said that it would be possible for a person to be chosen to chair a Committee or be a member of a Committee on the basis of pro or anti-European views. Although I make the point with humour, I intend it seriously when I ask how, during the whole time since the European Communities Act 1972 was enacted, chairmanship of the Select Committee on European Scrutiny—previously the European Legislation Committee—was always in the possession of the Opposition until it came into the possession of the present Government? Why and how did that happen? I mean no disrespect to the present Chairman of the European Scrutiny Committee by saying that, whether the Government, the Whips or someone else decided that that should happen, it undermined scrutiny by the House.

Mrs. Beckett

As the hon. Gentleman said, no one disputes the way in which the European Committees operate, and no suggestion has been made that scrutiny has diminished. I remind the hon. Gentleman that one change made by my Government is a substantial expansion of the role of the Select Committee on European Scrutiny. There is no longer one Committee, but three. [Interruption.] With respect to Opposition Members, that is the point. Under the previous Government, which the hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) supported, many areas of European business were excluded from scrutiny by the House. In particular, the by no means insignificant area of legislation initiated by the Commission and the proposals that came from the pillars of, say, justice and home affairs, were all excluded from scrutiny by our Committees. This Government brought those matters under scrutiny.

Mr. Richard Page (South-West Hertfordshire)

Will the right hon. Lady give way?

Mrs. Beckett

If the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, I must make progress. I have given way a great deal, and, like the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton, I do not want to take too much time so that there is time for Back-Bench speeches.

Mr. Bercow

But we are enjoying it.

Mrs. Beckett

I am delighted to hear it.

I tell the House bluntly that, whatever claims may be made for the new system, within a short period—perhaps as little as six weeks—of such a structure being set up, no one who has failed to achieve the appointment that he or she sought will believe in its transparency. All the talk will be of who is friendly with whom, and of who has the ear of the Chair. Before anybody claims that those arguments are heard now—I fully accept that that is so—let me remind the House of one simple, and perhaps to some unpalatable, fact. Whips come and go. Chief Whips come and go. Prime Ministers come and go. All of them come and go with much greater frequency than Chairs of the Liaison Committee.

It is only because my right hon. Friend the Member for Ashton-under-Lyne is retiring that we shall shortly have a third Chairman of the Liaison Committee—if he were staying on, I doubt that anyone would imagine but that he would hold the position for another 10 years. During the terms of office of the last two people to chair the Committee, we have had eight holders of the office of Government Chief Whip.

Mr. Grieve

Will the right hon. Lady give way?

Mrs. Beckett

With respect, I must get on.

That brings me back to how the three original wise persons will be chosen. They will be chosen by a motion before the House. It appears in the report to be assumed that three suitable candidates will emerge, and that the motion or motions will be put and can be amended. I surely cannot be the only person who notices a strong resemblance to the method by which we have in the past chosen a Speaker.

No doubt I shall be told that that is just a basis, and that each major party could choose its own candidate and would choose an acceptable person. However, I mean no discourtesy to the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth)—I am sorry that he is, uncharacteristically, not in his place; I have considerable respect for his skills as a parliamentarian—when I say that it is by no means inconceivable that a majority in his party might regard him as a suitable candidate to be one of the three wise persons; or his party might consider some other senior Member, such as the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg).

Mr. Grieve

Will the right hon. Lady give way?

Mrs. Beckett

With respect, no. The hon. Gentleman will have a chance to make his points later.

I understand and sympathise with the wish—I am at one on this with my hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours)—to see the work of Select Committees being esteemed and influential. I remind the House of the improvements that the Government have already made. As I have already said to the hon. Member for Stone, the remit of the Committees charged with scrutiny of EU business has been expanded, so that all business can be covered—no ifs, no buts, but a permanent change.

While the Liaison Committee was discussing the proposals in the report, and before it had had a chance to reflect on them, the Modernisation Committee was proposing extra sittings in Westminster Hall, and those have since been expanded still further. That is an experiment, but it is not the Government side that doubts the worth of the experiment. We believe that experiments have value and provide something on which we can build.

Mr. Page

Will the right hon. Lady give way?

Mr. Graham Brady (Altrincham and Sale, West)

Will the right hon. Lady give way?

Mrs. Beckett

I will give way to the hon. Member for South-West Hertfordshire (Mr. Page) because he has been standing for ever.

Mr. Page

I am grateful to the right hon. Lady. She has spent most of her speech addressing the issues in the Liaison Committee report and making it abundantly clear that she, on the Government's behalf, is opposed to the report. Bearing in mind that she and the Prime Minister offered a free vote on the substance of the report, and given that the Government are not providing Labour Members with a free vote on that tonight, should we assume that the Government decide their position not on the content or substance of a motion, but according to who moves it?

Mrs. Beckett

The hon. Gentleman merely reiterates a point that has already been made. In my remarks tonight, I suggest to the House that the right course for us to follow is to continue and build on those experiments; they already give Select Committees greater power and more time.

I urge the House—not least some of my right hon. and hon. Friends, such as my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock—not to fall into the poll tax trap, with which Conservative Members will be painfully familiar: to make the leap from perceived flaws in what we do at present to the assumption that absolutely anything would be better, especially if that anything is described in terms as attractive as "independence" and "transparency".

Our Select Committee system enjoys justified respect. Let us strengthen it where we can by giving much greater time to the debate of its reports. To leave those reports languishing and undebated can only be much less effective. Let us see how we can build on the strengths of the system to contribute to pre or post-legislative scrutiny. Let us see how we can adapt its structures to cross-departmental working—sadly, the Liaison Committee report said little about that. However, let us not rush to bind the House to new processes and procedures whose consequences might be much more far-reaching than Conservative Members are likely to claim today.

8.1 pm

Mr. Robert Maclennan (Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross)

If the Leader of the House had a case, she seriously overstated it. The suggestion that the Liaison Committee proposal is revolutionary and unprecedented is no more unprecedented than was the initial decision—taken more than 20 years ago—to set up Select Committees.

If the Leader of the Opposition and his colleagues had introduced the motion in a partisan spirit and a contentious manner, one might have had more sympathy for the right hon. Lady's knockabout reply. However, the motion is extremely serious; it relates to recommendations made by some of the most experienced parliamentarians among us—many of whom have held high Government office. Most of them have Front-Bench experience and are not unaware of the needs of the Executive.

In the stand that she has taken today in her attempt to control the House, the right hon. Lady reverts to the worst centralism. That runs right against much of the Government's constitutional programme during this Parliament. It could surely be said that the devolution of power from this place to Scotland and Wales was without precedent; but, in most quarters, it is regarded as a great success. The argument that something is unprecedented is not an argument against its weight.

The right hon. Lady seems to exaggerate when she suggests that the Liaison Committee's recommendations on how Select Committee members should be appointed would tend to substitute the judgment of Parliament for that of the Government. That is not a necessary consequence of the recommendations. She overstates the constitutional doctrine when she suggests that the Government propose and that Parliament disposes—or that, inevitably, the Government must always have their way without regard to the views of Parliament.

Normally, the Government command majority support for their point of view. Party loyalties are strong in this place. However, on some occasions, it is helpful to the Executive to hear the voice of the Chamber and to hear the voice of Select Committees that have deliberated carefully on the matters under their scrutiny.

During the 35 years that I have served as a Member of the House, I recall several occasions when the House as a whole has voiced a view that modified that of Executive. For example, the report of the Roskill committee on the treatment of serious fraud cases proposed that certain matters should be decided in court by a judge and assessors instead of being dealt with by a jury trial. The then Government were minded to accept that recommendation and said so publicly. However, during a debate in the Chamber, 10 of the 11 Members who spoke were against the proposal, so the Government dropped it and it never resurfaced. That was not an attempt by Parliament to substitute its judgment for that of the Government; it was an attempt by Parliament to advise the Government as to how to proceed. That is what this place is about.

The difficulty with proffering advice in this place, however, is that so many of our debates are of a generalised nature. They may well conclude with the comments, "We have heard many points of view. Thank you all very much indeed. The Government will do what they intended to do in the first place." The attraction of the Select Committee system is that it contains the possibility of focusing debate sharply on issues of concern to Members of Parliament and to members of the public.

If we took the advice of the Liaison Committee that Select Committees should be allowed to put substantive motions to the House, we could even more effectively target debates and give the House a much clearer opportunity to express its views. Not only is that bound to be of direct assistance to Governments, by helping them to avoid traps that they may not have seen; it would also sustain the reputation of the House, which, as the Government not infrequently remind us, is in some disrepair.

Some of the issues considered in the Liaison Committee report were canvassed earlier in the debate. They are extremely modest proposals. One, which has not figured large in the debate so far, is that a half-hour debate should be held following the publication of a Select Committee report that has urgency and immediacy. Such reports should not be considered long after the event, but as soon as the findings have been published.

The right hon. Lady produces no significant argument of substance against that proposal. She suggests that, by moving ten-minute Bill debates from a Tuesday to a Monday, one is taking a shocking constitutional step. I cannot understand that at all. To downgrade Mondays rather than Tuesdays is a novel constitutional doctrine.

Mrs. Beckett

The right hon. Gentleman may not have been able to be present when we last debated those issues—I do not criticise him for that. On that occasion, I said rather more on my views on that aspect of the Liaison Committee's proposals. I do not want to be repetitious, but I make two brief points.

First, as the right hon. Gentleman must be perfectly well aware, half an hour on the Floor of the House in prime time is not at all insignificant. Half an hour of such time each week takes up time that could otherwise be occupied by a whole piece of Government legislation. That is not unimportant for Government business managers.

Secondly, prime time on a Tuesday afternoon is available to Back-Bench Members at present. Given that the report has so many references to strengthening the role of Back Benchers, it is not insignificant that it is they who will lose out if those debates are moved.

Mr. Maclennan

First, I did read what the right hon. Lady said and, even more importantly perhaps, I also read what she said in detailed response to the Liaison Committee's views on the subject, and I am bound to say that it was distinctly unpersuasive. She seemed to take the view, which she is repeating to an extent today, that half an hour of Government business is, ipso facto, of greater importance than the deliberations of a Select Committee. If we were talking about the procedure every day of the week in prime time, frankly, she might have a point, but half an hour on Tuesday? Her objection calls in question the peroration of her speech, in which she suggested that the Government are seriously interested in what Select Committees have to say in their reports.

As a former, long-serving member of the Public Accounts Committee, I believe it very important that such debates are held soon after the completion of the original inquiry. The problem with the annual Public Accounts Committee debate is that it is not so attached in time or immediate and, therefore, it does not receive hon. Members' focused attention; nor can it be so sharply pointed as the departmental Committee reports, because it suffers, too, from the defect of which I have already spoken—the one-day debate involving, to an extent, a tour d'horizon.

Acceptance of the proposals will give real substance to the Liaison Committee's recommendations and show the country that detailed matters of policy are being considered in a detailed and responsible fashion. That does not necessarily mean that the proposals are hostile to the Government's interests or necessarily adversarial in their approach; nor does it mean that the Minister will be required to give an instant response. If the issues raised are complex, it may be necessary to allow some time for proper consideration.

On the nomination of members, I am bound to say that a fair amount of humbug has been spoken by the Leader of the House about how they are chosen and the beauties of the present system. It appears to be quite plain that the Whips and the usual channels play a controlling part in those nominations. To some extent, the beans were spilled by the former Conservative Member of Parliament for Brigg and Cleethorpes, Mr. Michael Brown, who now writes in The Independent. In an article, he said: I certainly recall, as a government whip, doing my utmost, when a new vacancy occurred on a select committee, to nominate only MPs who knew nothing about the subject and who simply wanted to be 'helpful' to the government. I would even successfully persuade them, against their will, to go on a committee in which they had absolutely no interest. My desire, on behalf of my superiors, was simply to block far more effective and knowledgeable MPs. I have no reason to believe that Labour Government whips do not behave in precisely the same fashion.

Mrs. Beckett

With respect, that is a disgraceful assertion. I am happy to say that I have no knowledge of how the Conservative party chooses members of Select Committees—although I have a good idea—but such comments cast some light on Conservative Members' honesty in this debate. As the right hon. Gentleman ought to be aware, there is a proper structure of nomination in the Labour party. That structure has to be approved by the parliamentary Labour party. Indeed, the parliamentary Labour party rules state: For all Select Committees, the Chief Whip shall consult the Chair of the PLP, the Front-Bench Spokesperson if appropriate, the Chair of the appropriate Departmental Committee"— the Back-Bench Committee— and prepare from the records kept by the secretary … a list of names to go forward to the House, or the Committee of Selection, as appropriate. The lists of suggested nominees should be placed before the PLP in good time before any decision is made by the Committee of Selection or Motion taken by the House. Of course, it is in order for that to be referred back or amended. I simply tell the right hon. Gentleman that that procedure may not obtain in Liberal Democrat party or in the Conservative party, but why should we change the rules of the House because those parties' procedures are totally undemocratic?

Mr. Maclennan

I simply make two points in response to that somewhat lengthy riposte; its very length suggests that the right hon. Lady is a little sensitive on the point. First, the words that she quotes refer to the Labour party's Front-Bench spokesmen. That suggests an oppositionist attitude, which does not reflect the reality of the Labour party in government. No doubt, the person who decides who sits on the respective Select Committee is the very Cabinet Minister whose work will be examined after the event. She makes precisely the argument for not following the, procedure.

Mrs. Beckett

I simply say that it is perhaps time that the right hon. Gentleman ceased to make suggestions about the way in which the Labour party's structures work. What he says is totally incorrect. There is no question whatever of the Cabinet Minister of the day suggesting who should sit on Committees. Does he think that my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Mr. Mackinlay) would be on a Select Committee if that were the case?

Mr. Maclennan

I am more interested in examining the constitutional procedures of the House than the internal affairs of the Labour party, but I was merely referring to what the right hon. Lady had said. She referred to the Labour party's Front-Bench spokesmen. If their selection does not involve Cabinet responsibility, perhaps we might invite her to tell us who is involved; we should be delighted to hear. Is the Whip answerable to the Cabinet Minister involved? Is she suggesting that that interposition in some way distances the appointee from the control of the Executive? The answer is fairly clear to the House: the Government simply wish to ensure that such matters are managed by the party business managers.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

If the hon. Gentleman is so sure of what he says are facts, why has there been a string of reports from Committees with Labour majorities, attacking Government policy during recent months? Last week, the Treasury Committee produced a critical report. A couple of weeks ago, the Home Affairs Committee report on asylum seekers was also critical of the Government. Labour-dominated Committees have repeatedly criticised the Government, so what is the problem?

Mr. Maclennan

Members of the Committee, when appointed, exercise a certain healthy, robust independence. Perhaps, in some cases, the Government are simply making assurance doubly sure by seeking to appoint their friends, or those whom they want to satisfy.

Several hon. Members


Mr. Maclennan

I had better make a little progress, as this is, to an extent, a Back-Bench debate.

One of the most attractive arguments in the Liaison Committee report is the notion that there should be a separate career for Members, which would be distinct from the route to high Executive office. That is what the report is most likely to result in if it is implemented, and the House ought to grasp that.

I very much regret that the Government have not yet given us the opportunity to vote on such matters in the normal way. It is unsatisfactory that such matters have been debated on an Opposition day, but I do not blame the Conservative party for that; it is the Leader of the House who has failed to take earlier opportunities to table substantive motions to reflect the wishes of the Liaison Committee. Indeed, in evidence to that Committee she said that those opportunities were likely to be provided in last year's spill-over period. That undertaking has not been met, which is why we are debating the matter tonight. Whatever the outcome of tonight's vote—I profoundly hope that the House does not simply split along party lines—these issues test the sincerity of the Government in seeking to modernise Parliament and make it more effective in its scrutiny and control of the Executive.

The House will have to return to these matters time and again. I hope that, before too long, the recommendations are accepted and that what the Government perceive to be revolutionary will be taken as the natural way for a modern legislature to proceed.

8.19 pm
Mr. Robert Sheldon (Ashton-under-Lyne)

The right hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (Mr. Maclennan) was right to draw attention to Norman St. John-Stevas and the epoch-making role that he played in bringing about the departmental Select Committees. The idea was put forward by John Mackintosh, who unfortunately died rather young, and David Marquand. Eventually, Norman St. John-Stevas was able to introduce them in the early years after a change of Administration. That is the best time to act, and we might have been better placed if we had made further changes in the early years of this Administration.

My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House of Commons quite rightly said in The House magazine on 29 May last year that she would like to go down as a reforming Leader of the House. I hope that eventually she will. However, it saddens me to disagree with her, because she has a love and affection for Ashton-under-Lyne that equals mine, and I have admired her work greatly in the various roles that she has played.

I am sorry that the debate is taking place on an Opposition Supply day. By its very nature, it will be a party political debate and it would have been much better if the Government had tabled the substantive motion that we asked for again and again.

We are trying to show that Back Benchers have a role to play when they enter the House. However, many who come here have no role outside the House in the way they did when I first came here many years ago. They therefore try to find a role for themselves, and that is not easy. However, the Select Committee provides such a role; and it is a rewarding task to be able to go into the detail of policies in a way that it is not possible in the Chamber. One can discover all sorts of things that are not easy to discover here.

In particular, members of Select Committees can return to a question again and again until they receive an answer. I remember the best question I ever heard was asked in the Public Accounts Committee by the current Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. Back in the mid-1960s, when I was one of the first members of the Committee, serving on it was not a very attractive job. In fact, its members were pressed men and women—and nearly all men—because the Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee ran the show.

I became the Committee's Chairman because I wanted to ensure that the National Audit Office got off to a good start, and I limited my role. However, the NAO's existence enabled us to generate greater interest in the Committee's work and as, the right hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross knows, I limited the speeches of members of the Committee to 15 minutes. They were shown a card to let them know when their time was up.

The present Secretary of State for Northern Ireland was pursuing a question under that system and was repeatedly being blocked by an astute civil servant. Finally, my right hon. Friend—the House knows his character so it will appreciate this point—banged the table and said, "I've only got one minute; I am going to get an answer. Yes or no?" "Yes", came the reply—my right hon. Friend had got his answer. The Select Committee system can provide answers. Committee members can become knowledgeable on the detail, and the House does not normally give one the chance to do that. We want to improve the system so that Members can obtain the answers and become much more knowledgeable.

All of the more than 600 reports produced by the Public Accounts Committee were unanimous. They were genuinely unanimous—not fudged. It is the task of a Select Committee to face the facts. Its members start off bound by their own political dogma, or whatever it may be. However, as time goes on, the Committee's Chairman must make sure that its members begin to respect each other. That means that, when they look each other in the face, they must not resort to the dogma of political life but be determined to discover the facts. That produces something that is really worth while—politicians considering the facts and coming out with them in their reports.

As soon as a Select Committee report is published, there should be an input. That is why the idea of a half-hour debate is one good way—if not the only way—of providing such input. The Chairman would be able to present the report—five minutes is all he needs—and the Minister could take five minutes to give the Government's official reaction. That reaction very often appears in the press, but there is no reason why it cannot be given in the House. A few comments would be made and, although no decisions would be taken, the issues would be given an airing at a time of maximum interest.

The detail is what counts. The eighth report of the Public Accounts Committee considered a decline in the standards of probity in relation to regional health authorities in the west midlands and the Welsh Development Agency. We drew attention to that decline, but the then Prime Minister was not very enthusiastic about the report that we produced. However, he later became enthusiastic, because he realised the value of a Select Committee considering detail outside the Government machine. Civil servants are mired in Whitehall, but ordinary Members of the House, with their knowledge of their constituencies and their understanding of ordinary people, are able to examine the detail. As a result of their greater understanding, they are able to produce a valuable report that is different from the type of report that the Government machine would produce.

My right hon. Friend the Member for North Durham (Mr. Radice) introduced some good changes to the system—for example, confirmation hearings. Although they have no power, they mean that someone who is appointed by the Government has to come before a Select Committee and justify himself. That is a useful weapon in ensuring that minimum standards are maintained. In addition, weekends when the members of a Committee bond together are also enormously important. They mean that its members begin to respect each other. When they have respect for each other, they tend to have respect for the facts and the truth. That is another great advantage of the system.

Mr. Blunt

I, like almost every Member of the House, have great respect for the right hon. Gentleman. He is making a decent and courteous case for his Committee's reports. He put to the Leader of the House the words of Peter Riddell, a cheerleader of the Blairite project, who said in response to the first report of the right hon. Gentleman's that it was "arrogant, mendacious and contemptible". In putting this case so decently, is the right hon. Gentleman not frustrated that he is dealing with an "arrogant, mendacious and contemptible" Government?

Mr. Sheldon

I do not know about that, but it is important that Select Committees acquire such information in a different way from the Government machine.

If the Committees are going to act as outside bodies that gather facts and information and put their opinions in a concerted form, with Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrat Members reaching agreement, then their members must be free from Government interference. It is clearly wrong that the Government should choose Committee members whose purpose it is to examine the Government. My right hon. Friend is right; it is possible to deal with such issues in a less direct manner, but perception is important. There needs to be a greater remoteness from the Government machine.

The issue is not without importance. I hope that the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) will contribute to the debate. He was a distinguished Chairman of the Health Committee. As a result of his outspokenness, his party devised a system to debar hon. Members from spending more than two terms in post. I was Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee for four Parliaments and was pleased that the contagion did not spread from the Conservative Benches.

Labour Whips are not bad people, but they have a role that could be carried out by the House as a whole. Perhaps we need to consider the system in a different way. That is just an idea. However, as my hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) said, the crucial consideration is the objective, which must be that the House should detennine the composition of the Committees. There needs to be an alternative career for people who are not going to get into government. That is especially relevant when the Government have a large majority. I understand that hon. Members believe they are most fulfilled when they are invited to join the Government, even at a lowly level. I am sorry about that, because we lose some good people. However, hon. Members who stay as Back Benchers should have a means of influencing the way the country is run.

Select Committees will monitor the work that has been done. Every year the National Audit Office tells the PAC how far it has succeeded in influencing the change in Government procedure. We want Select Committees to participate in similar monitoring. I can see no real objection to the many changes that we are suggesting. They might need to be modified and perhaps different methods of approach should be considered, but they are all possible.

Mrs. Browning

The right hon. Gentleman says that modification might be necessary. Does he recognise that the motion suggests that both the Government and the Liaison Committee introduce proposals for discussion by the House? Even with the reservations that the Leader of the House expressed, that gives them the chance to work in partnership with the Committee to iron out some of the differences.

Mr. Sheldon

I have no objection to the wording of the motion, but the debate is taking place on an Opposition Supply day. Perhaps I have been in the House too long, but such days have a certain connotation for me. Although I shall not be able to vote for the motion, I shall not vote against it either. I hope that early in the next Parliament we will reconsider the issues in a more relaxed manner, so that we can manage to get closer to the Liaison Committee's recommendations.

8.32 pm
Mr. Peter Brooke (Cities of London and Westminster)

Twenty years ago, the right hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Mr. Sheldon) and I went to China together. When the general election comes, we will sail into the sunset together. That will be as much a pleasure as it is to follow him in the debate.

I have various interests to declare. I am a signatory of the motion and a member of the Liaison Committee. In light of the observations made by the hon. Member for Milton Keynes, South-West (Dr. Starkey) about how people become members of the Committee, I should explain that I was a perfectly innocent and ordinary Back-Bench member of the Health Committee, minding my Ps and Qs, when I was put in an armlock by the Front Benches on both sides of the House and frogmarched into the Chair of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee. Not all of us get on a Committee by the processes that she described.

I was a member of the Norton commission and, once, a Whip. Without idolising me, my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) said that I was the best pairing Whip he had ever experienced—[Interruption]—up to that moment. As the Leader of the House alluded to the number of people on the Conservative Benches who have been in opposition before, I should declare another novel interest: I was one of them. As she led with her chin, I recall when I won a place in that antique ballot for speaking on the Consolidated Fund in the middle of the night. She was Under-Secretary of State, Department of Education and Science at the time, and dispatched her private secretary to ask me to withdraw from scrutinising the Executive at that inconvenient hour.

The Leader of the House's speech tonight leads me to recall the episode of Winston Churchill shooting at Blenheim. The gamekeeper said to him, "Mr. Churchill, that hare four fields away, at which you are taking aim, is really outside your range." Churchill replied, "I just wanted that small animal to feel that it had some part to play in our proceedings." A number of the targets that the right hon. Lady selected tonight were the same distance from the agenda of the motion as the hare was.

I spoke in the debate on 9 Noveinber, to which allusion has already been made. I shall quote the final sentence of my speech. The House will realise that my speech was foreshortened because it was the last before the wind-ups, and was therefore somewhat elliptical. I said: I wanted to say something about the influence of the Whips on the composition of Select Committees, and specifically about the disappearance of the hon. Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone) to be Mayor of London and the fact that he was not replaced by someone of comparable political views—the use of the Whips is extremely dangerous when it excludes people who could make a contribution to the Committee—but as we are pressed for time, I shall now sit down."—[Official Report, 9 November 2000; Vol. 356, c. 535.] I am in the debt of my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Mrs. Browning), because by securing this debate she has enabled me to say what I would have said if I had had slightly more time. The Clerk of the Liaison Committee, on which I serve, implied that he had the sense that I was participating in a serial story in a ladies' magazine, and that it would be necessary to wait for the next instalment.

The next instalment is what I would have said if I had had slightly longer. I want to dwell on the loss of only one member of the Select Committee: the hon. Member for Brent, East, who left to seek the mayoralty of London. I congratulate the Government Whips on having appointed him. He added enormously to the Committee, because the nature of his views on Northern Ireland widened the spectrum of views on the Committee and gave much greater authority to the Committee's views. His appointment could be argued as proof that, as paragraph 9 of the Government's response to the Liaison Committee's first report says, the Government are not seeking to ensure a docile set of Select Committees. Four Labour Back Benchers have been appointed to the Select Committee since the hon. Gentleman left. I remark neutrally that, individually admirable though they have been, and of course they are ornaments of the Committee, none has replaced the hon. Gentleman and thus restored to the Committee the authority that he conferred on it. That is why I want the Whips' role to be removed.

The late Ward McAllister decreed that since only 400 guests could be accommodated in Mrs. Astor's ballroom, there were only 400 people in New York. Whatever the result of tonight's Division, let no one in the Government Whips Office imagine that, on a free vote, the result would be the same as will be secured tonight by the law of Mrs. Astor's ballroom. On free votes, and the Government's commitment to them, the Leader of the House and the Prime Minister remind me of the man who returned to a car park, where, in his absence, his car had been damaged, to find a note on his windscreen that read, "As I write this, there is a large crowd gathering around me. They imagine that I am writing down my name and address, but you and I know different, don't we?"

I offer the Leader of the House, through her deputy, the advice of Mark Twain: Always do right. This will gratify some people, and astonish the rest. If we cannot have a free vote tonight, let us have one before the general election while the members of the Liaison Committee that made these proposals still sit in the House.

8.39 pm
Mrs. Lorna Fitzsimons (Rochdale)

I congratulate my fellow north-west MP, my right hon. Friend the Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Mr. Sheldon), the Chairman of the Liaison Committee, on his work and on restoring to the debate the tone that is needed for the discussion of the Committee's report. I agree with him that if Opposition Members wanted Labour Members to enter into the debate, they should not have tabled it as an Opposition Supply day debate, with all the connotations that a Member of his lineage has identified.

Mrs. Browning

Will the hon. Lady give way?

Mrs. Fitzsimons

No, I shall make some progress first.

My right hon. Friend has been prayed in aid as someone who has given many years of service to the House. He has noted that if more genuine comments were wanted rather than partisan politics, the issue should not have been handled as it has.

Mrs. Browning

Perhaps the hon. Lady will tell me how I might have tabled a substantive motion. We tabled a motion on the Adjournment of the House. What else is open to the Opposition if we are to have a debate that is not in Opposition time?

Mrs. Fitzsimons

Opposition—I hope that the hon. Lady gets used to being in opposition.

I have listened to many Members who have been in this place much longer than I have. I speak from the experiences that I have had so far in the House. I concur with the idea of an alternative career route. It would provide an alternative way of dedicating ourselves to the service that we are elected to undertake in this place. There are great merits in increasing the resourcing of Select Committee Chairs and Select Committees themselves.

The Government should be given some credit for increasing the access that Select Committees have to parliamentary time through Westminster Hall and other means since 1997. It is now possible to refer to many more Select Committee reports than hitherto. The reports were obscure and there were few references. It is cynical of the Opposition suddenly to jump, as though on a life raft, on the Liaison Committee's report. In 18 years of government, they did not advance the agenda. Some Opposition Members are slightly cynical.

It is incumbent upon us to be honest. The motion suggests that we swap one form of patronage for another. Three wise men would preside over the selection process—those Members would probably be men because men constitute the majority in this place. The majority of Chairs of Select Committees are men. There is no more democracy in that process than in the present system.

The bottom line currently is that the House decides. The usual channels, based on the numbers proportionately of Government Members and Opposition Members decide on the allocation. As my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House said, the matter goes first to the parliamentary Labour party for reference, and it is then put to the House. The Conservative party nominates Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats and Unionists, for example, decide who they will nominate. Thereafter, the Labour party decides who it will nominate through our democratic processes. There can be objections. There have been many debates about who should serve on Committees and who should be selected as Chairmen. Some Back-Bench Members will be aware of that. I hope that the Conservative party and the Liberal Democrats have had similarly vigorous debates. Some of my hon. Friends will have memories of the PLP and vigorous debate.

Mr. Brady

Are not Select Committees supposed to decide for themselves who will be their Chairmen? The hon. Lady has given a revealing insight into the extent to which the parliamentary Labour party tries to control the appointments of Chairmen.

Mrs. Fitzsimons

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that there is agreement on both sides of the House through the usual channels. Why do you think that we have Opposition Chairs? The Select Committee on Social Security is one example. There is agreement and you know that and I know that.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Lord)

Order. The hon. Lady keeps using "you". She must try to use correct parliamentary language.

Mrs. Fitzsimons

I beg your pardon, Mr. Deputy Chair—I am sorry, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

The Opposition are trying to suggest that the Government have sought to manipulate and belittle Select Committees and have given Back-Bench Members fewer rights on them. That belittles the truth since 1997. Any member of a Select Committee will be aware that, with pre-legislative scrutiny and extra sittings in Westminster Hall, there is, rightly, far more ability to publicise a Select Committee's work than there ever has been before. I come back to my point about patronage. The bottom line is that it is disingenuous itt the extreme to suggest that nominations by the Chairman and two Deputy Chairmen, as proposed in the Liaison Committee report, would be more democratic or more fair.

Mr. Grieve

Is there not the following distinction? When patronage comes from Back-Bench Members, I accept that there will be some patronage in all cases. However, it would be much more open to the House than it is at present to challenge decisions collectively if it was not satisfied with the way in which the system was being conducted. Effectively, the buck currently stops with the Executive, who control the whole decision-making process.

Mrs. Fitzsimons

That is simply not true. If the House wishes to object, it can do so. In talking about the usual channels abusing the position, we could refer to the debate in which my hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Mr. Miller) objected to the recent appointment of a Parliamentary Commissioner. Members who objected to the usual channels' nominations decided to debate them. The rules as they stand therefore allow Parliament and Back Benchers to object. The fact that we choose not to do so, for most of the time, is down to Members. Within the parliamentary Labour party, there have been debates about the way in which Members are selected and the balance on Select Committees.

To suggest that three wise people, as proposed in the report, would be more democratic and have less patronage is wrong, misleading and cynical. People outside who are watching our debate and are not familiar with the strange proceedings of the House of Commons may think that the proposal includes more democracy than the current arrangement. I contend otherwise. I am pleased that my right hon. Friend the Member for Ashton-under-Lyne agreed that the proposal needed to be developed; he said that it contained flaws, but was a suggestion or start. I am worried that the report does not make provision, as there currently is, to hold Members to account for nominations and the process of membership of Select Committees.

Mr. Bercow

Will the hon. Lady give way?

Mrs. Fitzsimons

No, I have been generous and other Members wish to speak. I have given way to several Conservative Members.

Because of the cynical way in which the subject has been introduced in an Opposition day debate—

Mr. Bercow

How else?

Mrs. Fitzsimons

None the less, it was done that way.

I agree with the worthy intent at the heart of the Liaison Committee report to increase the expertise on Select Committees by inducing Members to stay with a Select Committee, rather than take the only way out currently available to Members seen to be doing a good job—the ministerial route. There is great merit in that. However, the matter has been introduced in a partisan way, with scant consideration for the past 18 years and the previous Government's blatant disregard for Select Committees. As has already been suggested, the Opposition changed the rules on how long one could be a Chairman because they disagreed with the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton), who is Chairman of the Select Committee on Procedure, on which I serve. It is therefore extremely cynical to use the matter in a partisan manner.

Only a few other things need to be put on the record concerning my disagreement with the motion and decision to vote against it.

Mr. Bercow

Will the hon. Lady give way?

Mrs. Fitzsimons

No, I will not.

At the end of the day, it is worrying that the administering of discipline was slipped into the report. I find it worrying that there is suddenly reference to other bodies apart from Parliamentary Commissioners having responsibility for discipline. Perhaps there is more than meets the eye in the intention of some to pursue the report. Perhaps they are seeking to set up a patronage substructure that would undemocratically suggest the membership of Committees and seek to discipline members. No reference is made to how that would happen and by what criteria.

I cannot support the motion because, as I said, it is an Opposition motion, and also because we would be adopting a form of patronage that would be less representative than the system that we have.

8.50 pm
Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield)

When I first learned that the matter was to be debated this evening, I was tremendously encouraged. Hon. Members on both sides of the House will appreciate my commitment and dedication to the House of Commons. I felt that this would be a cross-party House of Commons debate—not a debate with the Opposition seeking to score points off the Government, not an occasion for the Government to score points off the Opposition, but an occasion when hon. Members could debate restoring to the House power, authority and integrity, to enable the House to hold to account the Government of the day, of whatever party, and to monitor the Government and their policies.

The right hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Mr. Sheldon), who chairs the Liaison Committee with great distinction, will recall that following a Liaison Committee meeting last week, before the business of the House had been announced, I advised him that it was my understanding that the debate on the Select Committee reports, entitled "Independence or Control?" and "Shifting the Balance", would be the second debate on the Opposition Supply day today. I said that I hoped that the right hon. Gentleman might be able to support the motion and be a signatory to it.

I also approached the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody), who chairs the Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Committee. She, too, was tremendously encouraged that the debate was to take place. I approached the hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood), who chairs the Select Committee on Social Security, so that there would be cross-party support for a debate in the House on a matter that is of considerable importance to the House.

I did not want to score political points. I wanted to put to the House ways of restoring its power and authority so that it would be meaningful, acting as we are on behalf of the people, in holding the Government of the day to account and monitoring their progress and policies.

I am grateful to the right hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne for indicating that he will not vote against the motion. I believe that the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich, likewise, will not be in the Lobby tonight. These right hon. and hon. Members who chair Select Committees have been leading members of the Liaison Committee and appreciate what they put their name to. It would be utterly wrong and dishonest if they voted down a motion to which they had agreed in the report that was sent to the Government and presented to the House.

The hon. Member for Rochdale (Mrs. Fitzsimons) is a hard-working, assiduous member of the Select Committee on Procedure, which I have the honour to chair. May I tell her that there are very few ways in which the Opposition can table subjects for debate, other than on Supply days? That is the only opportunity that Her Majesty's Opposition and other Opposition parties have to raise issues. The Leader of the House has frequently said from the Dispatch Box that the Opposition have an opportunity to bring before the House matters that they consider to be important, and that they should use their Supply day debates to do so. That is precisely what we are doing today.

I have the greatest regard for the Leader of the House, but I do not think that in the future she will be proud of the speech that she made in this debate. She added little to the debate. Many of her arguments were disingenuous and, I believe, inaccurate as they referred to matters that were not even discussed in the Liaison Committee reports, and she sought to misrepresent some proposals.

As one or two Members have said already, the motion asks the Government to work with the Liaison Committee to introduce new structures to the House along the lines that we suggest. We do not expect every recommendation to be accepted, but we believe that the House, rather than the Government exercising their influence through a three-line Whip, should have an opportunity to decide whether the report "Shifting the Balance" provides a case on which the Government and the House should negotiate. I believe that it does and hope, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Brooke) said, that we can still have a full debate on a substantive motion before the end of this Parliament so that the whole House, on a free vote, can decide whether the decision of the Liaison Committee is acceptable not to the Government, but to the House of Commons.

One or two Members have referred to my experience. I say to the hon. Member for Rochdale in particular that I became a member of the Health Committee when it was established in 1990, following the splitting of the Social Services Committee between social security and health. The right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field) took the Chair of the Social Security Committee; I took the Chair of the Health Committee. I did that against the votes of my party, but with the support of the Labour and Ulster Unionist parties and through my own vote.

My party would have preferred a good friend of mine, Sir David Price, who was a member of the Social Services Committee and in his last Parliament, to chair the Health Committee, but the Committee decided that it wanted me. I enjoyed the job and my work on Select Committees has been the most rewarding work that I have done in the House.

Of course, in 1992, when the Select Committees were reappointed, the Whips Office—the usual channels of my party—in collusion with the Labour Whips decided not to reappoint me for the reason, right or wrong, that it did not like me doing the job that the House of Commons wanted me to do. A Select Committee Chairman who undertakes an inquiry must base his report on the written or oral evidence that he is given and must not allow personal prejudice to prevail. That did not suit my party, which was in power. I think that it was wrong and that that decision brought it a great deal of unpopularity.

Mr. Bercow


Mr. Winterton

I thank my hon. Friend. The decision did bring my party some discredit.

I say to the Parliamentary Secretary, Privy Council Office that I believe that my party has learned from that, which is why we have used this opportunity to introduce a debate on a substantive motion on restoring to the House of Commons its integrity and its independence. I repeat that the second report, which comments on the Government's reply to our first report, is entitled "Independence or Control?". If I asked each Member in the Chamber, "Do you want Select Committees to be controlled by the Government or be independent and representative of the views of the House?", every single one would say, "We want Select Committees to be independent of the Government of the day." That is what the two reports are about.

Mrs. Fitzsimons

Will the hon. Gentleman reflect on the point that my right hon. Friend the Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Mr. Sheldon) made? If Select Committees are not independent, why have so many of their reports in recent months criticised the Government? If the hon. Gentleman's assertion is correct, why are Select Committees so publicly critical of the Government? Their reports are also debated in Westminster Hall, which the hon. Gentleman chairs, so there is greater opportunity to criticise the Government.

Mr. Winterton

Fortunately, a majority of Select Committees have been prepared to base their reports on the evidence given to them. There is nothing they can do if the evidence is critical of either a Conservative or a Labour Government. They are obliged to publish their reports accordingly, and to reflect that criticism in their conclusions and recommendations.

Mr. Cash

The shenanigans of the Select Committee on Education and Employment the other day suggest that some Select Committees sometimes go deeply off-message.

Mr. Winterton

I have quite a few jobs in this place, and I have not been following the shenanigans—as my hon. Friend puts it—of the Education and Employment Committee, but I shall certainly read its report with interest when it is published.

Membership of Select Committees must be taken out of the hands of the Whips and the usual channels. The Chairman of Committees and two Deputy Chairmen would have the integrity, experience and ability to nominate members to Select Committees and, if necessary, to advise, but each Committee would appoint its own Chairman. The nominations made by the Chairman of Committees and two Deputy Chairmen would have to be confirmed on the Floor of the House. At present, a motion is tabled by the Chairman of the Committee of Selection, which sadly is dominated and influenced by the usual channels. The recommendation is that a motion would be tabled by the Chairman and two Deputy Chairmen to the House, and Members could decide on a free vote who they wanted and could confirm the membership of a Committee.

Mrs. Fitzsimons


Mr. Winterton

I shall not give way again, as the hon. Lady has spoken and 1 want to finish my remarks.

Some hon. Members have talked about the co-ordination of departmental Select Committees. I can tell the right hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne, who chairs the Liaison Committee, that we dealt with that issue in paragraphs 64 to 69 on joined-up Committees. We recommended a structure that I believe would be ideal to handle this situation, and I ask the Government to give it serious consideration.

I am a House of Commons man. I have been in the House for almost 30 years. I have never been on the Government or Opposition Front Bench, although on two or three occasions when we were in opposition between 1974 and 1979 I spoke from the Front Bench, as part of the agriculture team, late at night on milk orders and other such issues. I have never been a Front Bencher, and I suspect that, sadly, I never will be. I am keen that the House should provide an alternative career structure for some Members, most of whom will be long-serving Back Benchers, but some of whom will have had service on the Front Bench, such as the right hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne, who was a distinguished Treasury Minister. That would enable those Members to have a meaningful career that is recognised by right hon. and hon. Members in this place. That is highlighted in paragraphs 29 to 34 of the report.

I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary, Privy Council Office will admit that it is about time that those who serve this place should be given a role. My hon. Friend the Member for South Staffordshire (Sir P. Cormack), who is sitting next to me, has given tremendous service in this place. We should not have to stoop and creep to become Ministers. We should be honourable Members standing up for the integrity of the House of Commons.

9.4 pm

Mr. John Healey (Wentworth)

I had not intended to speak, but I was disturbed by the speech of the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Mrs. Browning). I was disturbed in the same way when I listened to the exchanges that opened the debate on 9 November. Moreover, I consider this issue to he fundamental to all Members.

I have another reason for wishing to speak. Like the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton), whom I am pleased to follow, I have served on the Employment Sub-Committee of the Education and Employment Committee. I must say that this is one of the most worthwhile things I have done during my short time in the House. We developed a specialist knowledge of our subject, dealt in detail with issues presented to us on the basis of hard evidence, expressed criticism and were able to push the Government further.

There were, I think, two hallmarks of our success. One was able chairmanship, for which I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Foster); the other was constructive cross-party co-operation, for which I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale, West (Mr. Brady). I am glad to see that that provided a launch pad for a further step in the hon. Gentleman's career, and that he is now on the Opposition Front Bench.

This is an important report, featuring a number of dimensions with which I find myself in strong agreement. It sets out effectively the need to reinforce the place of pre-legislation scrutiny, and proposals to make joint—or joined-up—Committee working easier. It also presents an effective argument for the need to improve presentation, publicity and the provision of public information. The problem of slow or superficial Government responses to Select Committee reports needed to be criticised, and is criticised forcefully in the report The case for better back-up resources seems unarguable to me.

When I checked the sessional returns for 1998–99—the last available—I was staggered to find that the entire work of our Select Committees was supported by 77 members of staff, not counting out-and-out secretarial staff, and that the total cost was only £4.6 million. That is £300,000 less than the Short money that we paid to Opposition parties last year. I leave Members to make up their own minds about which is better value for money.

Let me return to the debate that took place on 9 November. I was dismayed by the way in which it was dominated by the Chairs of Select Committees who were responsible for the report. I note from the sessional returns that in 1998–99 no fewer than 388 Members served on Select Committees. I was disappointed then—I am slightly less disappointed now—that more Members did not choose to become involved in the debate on these matters. As my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House said on 9 November, the proposals that we are debating would impinge on the role of every individual Member in the House".—[Official Report, 9 November 2000; Vol. 356, c. 480.] There are, however, two major points on which I have some disagreement with the Liaison Committee's report. The first relates to the selection of Committee members. It must be said that, if the report's recommendations on the Select Committee panel were accepted, a very small number of people would be given formidable powers in relation to parliamentary appointments and the business of the House. I strongly object to the proposal that three Members, however senior and however wise, should decide Select Committee membership, should largely determine the distribution of Select Committee chairmanships and should largely control replacements when vacancies arise.

The report does not make the case for that step; and it is not self-evident that three people, rather than the Liaison Committee, will produce a process that is more transparent, less susceptible to patronage or more likely to lead to more effective operation of Select Committees. Simply asserting this, as paragraph 20 does, is no substitute for arguing the case. The report fails to do that.

Mr. Bercow

I have a high regard for the hon. Gentleman, but he is repeating the point that was made by the hon. Member for Rochdale (Mrs. Fitzsimons). Does he accept this proposition? Although, inevitably, a panel of independent persons will be subject to attempts by the unctuous and sycophantic to get on to Committees, it will be able to resist that pressure. The key difference between the panel of independent persons and the Whips as the determinant of the composition of Committees is that the panel will have no interest whatever in a Member of Parliament's record of being malleable and in whether that person intends to be malleable in future. That is how it is distinctive from and to be preferred to the Whips for that purpose.

Mr. Healey

My concern about the proposal is that it would replace, as my hon. Friend the Member for Rochdale (Mrs. Fitzsimons) said, one form of patronage with another. It is likely to be less transparent and it will not necessarily lead to more effective Select Committee work. I appreciate the concern about the independence of Select Committees, which underlies the recommendations and the hon. Gentleman's intervention. That is important to our Select Committee system, but I am still not convinced that the problem of independence is of a scale that the report's sledgehammer proposal suggests.

Mr. Cash

Having listened to a great deal of the debate—time is getting on—I would like to pose one question. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that there is only one way to deal with the power of the Whips and patronage? Having been at the rough end of that in the Maastricht debates and on many other occasions, perhaps I have some authority to speak on the matter. If Standing Orders made it a contempt of the House for a Whip, or any other person, to seek to influence an hon. Member in the conduct of, for example, his role on a Select Committee, it would sort the matter out once and for all. Without doing that, venality, patronage and the desire for appointment or otherwise will always prevail.

Mr. Healey

The hon. Gentleman suggests an even larger sledgehammer to crack the problem, which I am not convinced is on the scale that even the Committee's recommendations warrant. I notice that even the hon. Member for Macclesfield winced a little when he made his point. The Select Committee corridor is some distance from the Whips room. In my experience, the knowledge and expertise that Select Committee members build in taking and sifting evidence gives strength to the judgments that are reflected in reports. A number of notable all-party reports have criticised Ministers and Government policy. That belies the idea that Select Committees are falling far short in their duty to subject Government to independent scrutiny.

The proposals on the selection of Committee members ignore one of the fundamental realities of our Parliament and its Select Committee work. The Liaison Committee report acknowledges that in paragraph 9, which says that operating within the political framework, select committees are to some extent affected by party loyalty and organisation, which structure the way in which Parliament and its institutions work. We cannot escape that reality, to which the Committee directs our attention.

I turn to the opportunities for the House to pick up on the work of Select Committees in reinforcing the scrutiny that they conduct on our behalf. The Committee and the report make some very real points on that matter.

Just before the November 2000 debate, I asked the Library to analyse the number of Select Committee reports that were published and the number of reports that were debated in the House, excluding reports from the Public Accounts Committee, the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments and the European Scrutiny Committee. In 1997–98, 157 reports were published, but only 16—about 10 per cent—were debated. In the following year, 182 reports were published, but only 26 were debated. I am not including the reports—comprising about 17 per cent. of the total—that were dealt with by being "tagged" as relevant in other motions.

Westminster Hall has certainly been helpful by allowing a detailed and deliberative airing of some of the issues raised in Select Committee reports, but what counts is not the general link with the House but the specific link with this Chamber. Debate is not the best format to ensure enhanced scrutiny of Government. Paragraph 40 of the report recommends weekly half-hour debates after Question Time. However, not only is half an hour too short for a decent debate, but a debate is the wrong method to use if we are more effectively to hold Ministers to account.

I propose that, instead, we have a half-hour Question Time in which we deal with reports and the Government's response to them on major issues. A Question Time could give priority to Select Committee members, but would also allow other hon. Members to exercise their scrutiny function. It would also rightly raise the profile of the work of Select Committees.

In conclusion, I pray in aid part of paragraph 8 of the report. I agree strongly and fundamentally with the assertion that After two decades—and especially in the present climate of constitutional change—we think it is time for some further reform and modernisation. I believe that it will be more important in the next Parliament for the Government to grasp the challenge of reinforcing the scrutiny role of Select Committees. I urge my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary and my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House not simply to pick out the parts of the report with which they can agree and react to the specifics, but to accept the general challenge of maintaining the Government's modernisation initiative and consider their own proposals in the areas in which there is a well-founded case for strengthening the work of our Select Committee system.

9.17 pm
Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire)

The hon. Member for Wentworth (Mr. Healey) made a very thoughtful speech, and his suggestion to have a half-hour Question Time rather than debate is well worth considering. Indeed, it fits entirely with the motion that we are debating, which states that the report provides the right basis for … further development". We are asking the Government to give serious, positive and constructive consideration to a very thoughtful report. I well understand why the right hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Mr. Sheldon) feels unable to vote today. Although I greatly regret that and know that he will be with us in spirit in voting for the motion, I realise why he feels that it is essential to sit on the Bench while we vote. Nevertheless, I join him in saying that it is a great pity that we have had to use what is still commonly called an Opposition Supply day to debate the report. Although I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Mrs. Browning) on choosing the subject for today's debate and am delighted that she did, it is a damning indictment of the Government that the Opposition have had to find time for it.

Although I have a personal regard for the Leader of the House, which the Parliamentary Secretary knows to be genuine and true, and I dislike criticising people in their absence, I think that she made a shoddy and shallow speech today that did not do her or her office any credit whatsoever. She did not face up to the issues that the House is addressing. The way in which she dismissed the suggestion for half-hour debates was in marked and shameful contrast to what we have just heard from the hon. Member for Wentworth. On balance, I would still prefer a half-hour debate, but he has made a suggestion that is well worth considering. It is the first time that I have heard it and I would like to reflect on it.

I am absolutely convinced that when colleagues—the 388 who, according to the hon. Member for Wentworth, have served on Select Committees in this Parliament—have worked hard on Select Committees, investigating crucial subjects in depth and reporting thoughtfully to the House, normally on the basis of a unanimous, cross-party report, it is appalling that their reports are pigeonholed.

I accept that that has not happened only under this Government. I have suffered from the malign influence of the Whips Office in the past. My hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton)—who, as always, made a very good and rumbustious speech—at least did get to Chair a Select Committee. I served on the first Select Committee on education in 1979, as what was called the ranking Tory Member. When the chairmanship changed—Christopher Price lost his seat in 1983—I had certain expectations. I knew that I was not going to be climbing the ministerial career ladder and I thought that being Chairman of that Committee would be rather agreeable.

I was told by one of the Whips, in no uncertain terms, that I was not reliable enough. We had approved a number of reports that were mildly critical of Government policy. Sir William van Straubenzee, who had not sat on the Committee, was asked whether he would come in. I did not challenge that, because I had such a genuine affection for the late Bill van Straubenzee—who served with great distinction in Northern Ireland—that I did not wish to find myself in conflict with him. I withdrew from the Committee.

That illustrates the power and influence of the Whips in a Select Committee. The Leader of the House protested far too much tonight when she brought out her rule book and read chapter and verse what the Labour party does and does not demand. Everybody knows that the Whips have a very real influence and that that is where patronage truly lies.

I disagreed with the first part of the hon. Member for Wentworth's speech, in which he spoke of an alternative patronage. If there is an alternative patronage, I would much rather that it were exercised by independent-minded senior Members on both sides of the House—

Mr. Campbell-Savours

People like you.

Sir Patrick Cormack

Yes, people like me, and people like my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield and the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours). The three of us would certainly decide without fear or favour who were the most suitable people. We would take into account the credentials and CVs of those who wanted to serve on Select Committees so that we did not have the absurd situation in which somebody with a detailed knowledge of, say, transport was kept off the Transport Select Committee, as happened in the past.

I have a real regard for the hon. Member for Wentworth, but I say to him that it is far better to have that patronage exercised in House of Commons matters by House of Commons men and women—who are answerable to this House for their every action and their every recommendation—than by the Whips Office. Just as I will rethink my support for debates in favour of questions, I ask him to rethink his support for Whips' patronage in favour of a different sort of patronage.

Much has been made of the three wise men or women making decisions. However, it does not have to be three, as my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton agrees. If, after consultation, it were decided that this would be far better done by a wholly independent selection committee of six or eight, my hon. Friend would accept it, I would accept it and I strongly suspect that the Chairman of the Liaison Committee would accept it.

Mr. Sheldon

indicated assent.

Sir Patrick Cormack

The right hon. Gentleman is indicating as much as I speak.

We are concerned not about how many there will be, or even who they will be, but about how the appointments are to be made. If Select Committees are to maintain their tradition of independence and to provide the alternative career ladder that is so important, we need to reform the manner in which appointments are made.

There was a time when to come to this House was the summit of most men and women's ambitions. To represent a constituency in this kingdom was an honour than which there was no greater. Far too many people now come at a very young age. One remembers the quote about every private having a field marshal's baton in his knapsack. Members behave as if the briefcase in the boot of their Ford Cortina were a ministerial red box—or a ticket to exchange it for one. They come here with ministerial ambitions and are often rather muted in their criticism of their party, whether in government or in opposition, because they have aspirations.

I would like to see more people coming to this House who merely want to serve here, but of course they want to exercise their talents, develop their gifts and progress. There is no better way of doing that than via the Select Committee system, particularly as the Chairman of a Select Committee.

I believe that this report, "Shifting the Balance", creates the opportunity for that to happen. The final paragraph of the Liaison Committee's second report, "Independence or Control?" says: There has been much discussion about shorter sitting hours, and more family-friendly scheduling of business in the House. This may be all very well; but any real modernisation of Parliament must provide better accountability and tougher scrutiny of the Government of the day. This is our aim. We believe it is the test by which the public will judge the effectiveness and value of Parliament. This is not something that will go away. What wise words. The Leader of the House talked rather disparagingly of this debate in business questions last week. She should have read those wise words.

There is no more important subject for the health of the body politic than the effectiveness of the parliamentary system, and particularly of the place of this House within it. It is extremely important that the Government attach importance to those words.

The Prime Minister may shortly decide that he will not complete the five years that he said he would complete. He may decide to cut and run and hold an election. If he does, he will hope to come back with another majority. We shall to our best to ensure that he does not. However, if he is ever in a position of authority again, he should recognise that the strength of a Government is measured not by the size of their majority but by the quality of their legislation. The quality of their legislation and their actions is largely determined by the effectiveness of scrutiny in this place. It is crucial, therefore, that we give to Select Committees—which are, of all bodies, the best equipped to scrutinise—a new and revived authority.

I am delighted that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition has, for all the inconvenience it may cause him, pledged himself to accept this report. Even at this late stage, I urge the Minister, when he winds up the debate, to say that he will tell the Leader of the House that we have had a debate in which only one Member has supported her line uncritically. The House of Commons demands to be heard and it wants, before the election, free votes on substantive motions in Government time on these issues.

9.29 pm
Mr. Derek Foster (Bishop Auckland)

I am delighted to follow the hon. Member for South Staffordshire (Sir P. Cormack). I had not intended to speak, but it struck me that this is one of the most crucial debates in which someone who loves the House of Commons can take part.

I inhabited the sewers of Westminster for 10 years as Opposition Chief Whip. I had to do many of the shabby things that have been referred to, although much of what I did was entirely honourable, such as the defence of Back Benchers against the undue influence of certain members of the party leadership. If I had not done that, those Back Benchers would never have been appointed to Select Committees. That story has never been told, and may never be told or written, but one of my functions, I took it, was to ensure that every Member from my party should have the opportunity to serve on a Select Committee, no matter what the wishes of certain individuals.

One thing that I learned—very painfully—during 18 years in opposition was that most of the cards are stacked on the side of the Executive, no matter which party is in power. Perhaps under the previous Government, that was not quite so: their majority was 22 and fell to just one. At that time, the House of Commons began to take some powers.

Our dilemma is that the country often wants strong government, which means a strong Executive who can have their way most of the time. Sometimes, however, the country falls out of love with a strong Government, deciding, for example, that although it wanted Lady Thatcher to do some things, it did not want the poll tax and she had had far too much power. Indeed, many say the latter of the present Prime Minister. They ask why the House of Commons does not use its powers to bring the Government more to account. It is a good question, to which we have no very good answer at present.

The Liaison Committee report, of which I am proud to be a signatory, was an attempt to shift the balance, only marginally, from the Executive and towards all the Members of the House of Commons. It is a little strange for people to argue superficially—perhaps in the hope of congratulations from the Whip on the Front Bench—that the Committee was arguing not for Back Benchers, but from some other motive. Our motive was to enhance the position of Parliament vis-a-vis the Executive, and it is important that we should achieve that.

Our solutions may not be the best possible. I strongly favoured taking the power of appointments from the Whips. I reached that conclusion after exercising that very influence for 10 years. I did not reach that conclusion before I stopped being Chief Whip. I admit, but towards the end of my tenure of that job, I concluded that one of the best ways to enhance the powers of Select Committees would be to remove appointments from the power of the Whips. That is because we want those appointments to be independent. It could well be that the Whips Office exercises its control over the appointments extremely responsibly, but there must be a perception that the people who scrutinise the Government are appointed by people who are independent of the Government. That perception is important both for the country and for Members of this place.

We may not have come up with the best solution, but the motivation is right. We want to achieve that end, and with the good will of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House and my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, Privy Council Office we could play a historic part in enhancing the power of the legislature against the Executive. With a majority of 180, the Executive have nothing to fear. That is why it is so important to take such steps during this Parliament. The Executive have nothing to fear from the enhancement of the power of Parliament.

I shall join my right hon. Friend the Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Mr. Sheldon) when we vote this evening, but I want my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Treasury Bench to realise the motivation of their colleagues in advancing and signing the report; it is not against the Government, but to ensure that the Executive, whoever is in power, are brought much more to account by Members of the House.

9.36 pm
Mr. William Cash (Stone)

I shall speak only briefly, as I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve) and the Parliamentary Secretary, Privy Council Office will make important contributions. I have little to add to the remarks that I made on the Whip system in a debate last July.

The quality of this debate has increased dramatically towards its end. I was disappointed that the Leader of the House engaged in no more than some rather unnecessary party politics. She made some good points—from her point of view—but the debate is of immense importance, as is the report of the Liaison Committee.

I was very taken with the speech of the former Labour Chief Whip, the right hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Foster). He understands that the Government will have problems in accepting the recommendations of the report, but that, if there is good will on all sides, many constructive results could emerge from it.

However much we examine the issue, it is ultimately about accountability, scrutiny and questions. The House depends entirely on the ability of its Members to call the Government to account. We can do that only by asking questions. There is a difference between debate and questioning. A debate can take the form of a question, but questions are the bottom line. If we are to ask questions of people with enormous power and influence, who know things that we do not know, and if we have to scramble about to get the answers to those questions, we need people who know what they are talking about. We need people who are prepared to dedicate their time and their lives—some call it a career, but I prefer not to do so—to ensuring that the Government are properly held to account.

The appointment of Select Committees by Government Whips, by agreement between the usual channels or by the Whips on both sides of the House is not the best way to proceed. That point is the jewel in the crown of the report. It is vital that such an important report was produced. It is an enormous pity that the House as a whole could not have had a free vote on the subject.

I have been a member of a particular Select Committee since 1985. As someone who has been excluded from its chairmanship—perhaps by virtue of my long tenure but perhaps also because of the long-standing knowledge of my views on its subject—I believe none the less that it is vital that the essence and reasoning behind the report of the Liaison Committee should be accepted by the whole House.

Lastly, as I have previously proposed, Standing Orders should exist to deal with any undue influence exerted on Members of Parliament, by Whips or anyone else inside or outside the House, so that the people who exercise that undue and unfair influence could be brought to book. I emphasise the fact that that no real distinction should be made between external and internal influences on matters that could affect the effectiveness of the House in bringing people to account. This is a debate about scrutiny, and it should not be determined by the Whips. The most astonishing aspect of this debate is that it represents a three-line attack on the House's scrutiny, and I find that a very extraordinary proposition.

9.40 pm
Mr. Dominic Grieve (Beaconsfield)

This has been a worthwhile and, indeed, fascinating debate. I find it particularly so because, looking at the pile papers on which I have noted the comments of the contributors, which I normally separate into two halves—those with whom I agree and those with whom I disagree—it is apparent at the end of this debate that, with the exception of the hon. Member for Rochdale (Mrs. Fitzsimons) and the Leader of the House, I found myself agreeing with the vast majority of speakers.

The hon. Member for Rochdale provided us with the most fascinating insight into the mindset of what appeared to be a cloned member of the parliamentary Labour party. She described a system under which agreements and decisions are taken entirely behind closed doors and how, once those decisions have been taken, the corporatist instinct involves a carve-up between the Whips. She offered us the Panglossian suggestion that this was the best approach to take in the best of all possible worlds. It was a most depressing contribution, but it simply echoed entirely that of Leader of the House, who has treated us—it was sometimes difficult to keep straight face—to a series of pronouncements on the fact that we were all taking leave of our senses by suggesting that the present system should be changed and, moreover, that what we are proposing represents a huge constitutional change. That seems rather odd, given that it comes from a party that has introduced more huge constitutional change in three years than perhaps any other, especially as, in fact, all that has been suggested are changes in the procedures of the House designed to try to enhance the way in which we work.

As for the contributions that I find it easy to support, even if I disagree with them in part, I hope that I may be excused if I start with that of the hon. Member for Wentworth (Mr. Healey), because I found his speech extremely interesting. He made a thoughtful speech and his proposals, for example, that we should have a further half-hour Question Time on Select Committee reports and the Government responses to them, made a great deal of sense. However, I disagree that the proposals for the appointment of Select Committees are like using a sledgehammer to crack a nut. I appreciate, however, that they caused him anxiety.

In response to the hon. Gentleman, first, the Liaison Committee report says that the proposals represent the basis for the future, not the detail of the future. That is what we are being asked to consider this evening. Secondly, I ask him to consider the point made by numerous of my hon. Friends—such as my right hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Brooke) and my hon. Friends the Members for South Staffordshire (Sir P. Cormack), for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) and for Stone (Mr. Cash)—that the mischief of the present system is that whenever we disagree with the way in which the Executive ultimately control such appointments, it becomes an issue of confidence in the Executive. We all know the reality; the House operates under a system of party politics. We are constantly asked to temper our views so as not to rock the boat. Indeed, the system of government could not operate unless that were the case; it is an important discipline for us. However, when the House considers issues that, frankly, do not relate to any fundamental matter at all, is not it desirable and sensible that we should alter our procedures to remove the Executive's hold and to allow more informed discussion?

Let me give the hon. Gentleman an example. Let us suppose that somebody disagrees fundamentally with the way in which a Select Committee membership has been set up. To question that if one is a Government or Opposition Back Bencher means questioning those in authority in one's own party and the discretion that they have exercised. There would be no need for that to happen if the system that has been proposed by the Liaison Committee's report were to be followed. I suggest that it would then be very much easier for anyone in the House to ask questions precisely because those questions would not touch upon a confidence in either the Government or the Opposition. That is where I see merit in the proposals that have been made.

It has been argued that the proposals will create patronage. Of course, everyone can exercise patronage; anybody who can exercise power can grant patronage. However, I would be much happier for that power to be exercised by someone whom can I question, I can team up with Opposition Members or Government Back Benchers to table a motion and criticise and, ultimately, I could remove without bringing down the whole pack of cards of government. Surely, that is a better way to proceed, and that is what the right hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Mr. Sheldon) and the members of his Liaison Committee were proposing.

I draw the House's attention to some of the Government's responses to the report. They show an extraordinarily blinkered frame of mind. The principle at the nub of our debate is the question of who does the appointing and paragraph 11 of their response to the Liaison Committee report says: The Government believe it is right that the opposition should supply the chair of some Committees, and cannot accept a system which might place this in jeopardy. I shed tears over those remarks. Do the Government seriously think that we will be concerned if the members of an independent panel, who command the trust of the House because of their personal standing, make appointments even when that might mean that, at times, the appointments of the chairmanship do not follow the hallowed processes that the Leader of the House has put forward?

I need think only of the Committee on which I sit, the Environmental Audit Committee. It has a Chairman who is an Opposition Member, but I recollect that, at the time of his appointment, some members of the Committee felt great anxiety about his appointment. However, because of his standing and the way in which he has conducted the Committee, the problem disappeared. We all know the reality: if people get on to Select Committees and do a good job and if the Chairmen are impartial, the truth is that, as numerous Members have said, we start to operate on a cross-party basis. Because the remit of Select Committees is scrutiny, they frequently tend to ask the Executive awkward questions about how they are carrying out what they say they are carrying out. The Committees do not necessarily question wider areas of policy.

As the House approaches the decision that it must take at 10 o'clock, I am mindful of the fact that this is a Supply day and this is an Opposition motion. I recognise that some Government Back Benchers might feel embarrassed about going into the Opposition Lobby, but does that not precisely illustrate the point that I have been making in the past few minutes? It is high time that we took this issue away from the realm of party politics. That is feasible.

Mr. Dennis Turner (Wolverhampton, South-East)

If the hon. Gentleman wants to take the issue out of the realm of party politics, why has he chosen to debate the matter under an Opposition day motion? Does he not think that that has done great damage to the cause that is being espoused?

Mr. Grieve

The hon. Gentleman was not here for the debate, so I have to tell him that we have had no other opportunity to hold this debate on a motion with a Division. Therefore, having asked repeatedly for such a debate, we thought it fit to bring the matter before the House. I am truly sorry that the motion is an imperfect mechanism, but it is the only one at our disposal.

I very much hope that the debate persuades hon. Members on both sides of the House to implement the proposals. I am certain of one thing—I know that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition has a deep and heart-felt commitment to restoring the ability of the legislature to scrutinise the activities of the Executive. We set that out clearly in our paper on reforming Parliament, and when we get back into office, we will do just that.

9.50 pm
The Parliamentary Secretary, Privy Council Office (Mr. Paddy Tipping)

The debate on the Liaison Committee's first report has been lively. In many respects, it parallels the previous debate in November because the arguments rehearsed then have been re-run this evening. Apart from some different shades and emphasis, it is fair to say that little new has been added. However, there is one exception: my hon. Friend the Member for Rochdale (Mrs. Fitzsimons) and my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House made clear the way in which the Labour party proposes names for Select Committees. It is a much wider process than many believe.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton


Mr. Tipping

Although I usually give way to the hon. Gentleman, I cannot tonight because time is tight.

Given the challenges of the Opposition parties, it is interesting that darkness and cloudiness surround the way in which they select names for Select Committee membership. It may well be that the role of the Whips is more prevalent and heightened in those parties.

Given the tone of the debate, I wonder why the Opposition have decided to table the motion. The debate has been about process rather than product. It has focused on the way in which we run our business instead of concentrating on the outcomes of our activities. The hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Mrs. Browning) said that the issue would not command public interest because it is a House matter. However, I suspect that the Opposition are reluctant to discuss outcomes because we have a stable and growing economy; spending per pupil has increased; infant classes are smaller and standards are rising; there is extra capital spending in the national health service and reduced waiting lists; and, since the general election, there has been a fall in crime.

Sensing that there is the possibility of embarrassment, the official Opposition have tabled a motion on a House matter. It will come as no surprise, therefore, that, in the face of mischief-making, the Government are taking a strong line against it. My right hon. Friends the Members for Ashton-under-Lyne (Mr. Sheldon) and for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Foster) clearly recognised that position.

Let me be unusually combative and tackle two fundamental issues directly. The Government do not agree with the methods that the Committee suggests to increase the independence and influence of Select Committees. We reject the notion that giving power to a small group—however senior—over whom Back Benchers have no hold will increase the status or effectiveness of Committees. I think that the Committee's premise has been distorted by people outside the House who may not understand that there is two-way traffic between Back Benchers and the Whips. To be blunt, any Whips Office that forgets the nature of this relationship is in for a shock.

A sub-theme of the debate is an understanding of how the Whips Office works. The right hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (Mr. Maclennan) referred to the former hon. Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes, who now writes for The Independent as, I should explain, a humorist. The hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) said that Whips were not idols. I agree entirely.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland confessed to being a super-sewer. He would say no more on that, but perhaps the book will be written one day. As someone who has experienced his black arts, I look forward to reading it. We consider that although there may be disadvantages to the current method of selection, it has produced Committees that are effective and independent of Government. The Liaison Committee reports are in themselves proof of that.

Although the Liaison Committee believes that greater debate on substantive motions would increase the Committee's profile and effectiveness, we believe that it would bring party politics into the heart of the Committee system. Some may consider that today's debate shows that we are right to be concerned.

More positively, although we disagree about the methods for producing an effective Select Committee system, the Government want Committees that are independent and effective. The Liaison Committee is in danger of selling the existing Committees short. The right hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross talked about sharpness of focus and my right hon. Friend the Member for Ashton-under-Lyne talked about best practice in Select Committees. The Committees can do much of what he advocated within their present remit.

We agree wholeheartedly with the Liaison Committee's basic premise that the 1979 Committee system has been a success, that it is, and should continue to be, an entrenched part of our constitution and that the Committees perform a valuable role in holding the Executive to account. We can never agree on the present proposal on appointments or on motions on the Floor of the House, but let us set those questions aside. Let us consider matters on which we do agree.

The hon. Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) and my hon. Friend the Member for Wentworth (Mr. Healey) recognised that the Liaison Committee's report contained areas of agreement. Committees should have greater resources. That is primarily a matter for the Commission, and the Government will certainly not stand in its way. I understand that there are continuing discussions on that matter.

There should be increased scrutiny. The European scrutiny system has been reformed and extended. We have accepted the Procedure Committee's recommendations on the scrutiny of treaties. Departments have been instructed to co-operate in any review of recommendations that a Committee may make. Pre-legislative scrutiny will continue. I hope that we will be able to do more, and I join my hon. Friend the Member for Wentworth in desiring that.

Committees should have more influence. The Government have accepted the Procedure Committee's recommendations that if a Committee recommends a debate on a treaty, that will normally be granted. Select Committees will win respect by the force of their arguments—that point was made several times tonight. Westminster Hall ensures that Ministers will not be able to avoid those arguments.

I have already dealt with the substantive motion. I do not believe that transferring a debate from Westminster Hall to the Chamber would increase attendance. The Liaison Committee itself notes: Debates are an extremely effective way of focusing the minds of Ministers and officials on a report, and the need to justify the Government reply. Thanks to Westminster Hall, more Select Committee reports are being debated than ever before, and that number will increase. Overall in the previous Session, 28 Select Committee reports were debated. So far in this Session, a further five have been debated. That represents debating time beyond reformers' wildest dreams. The hon. Member for South Staffordshire (Sir P. Cormack) dreams on and asks for more debating time I hope that in time we will be able to help him.

Committees should have greater powers to work together. We have undertaken that any request from the Liaison Committee for an ad hoc Committee will be seriously considered. Whenever a Committee has requested powers, we have tabled a motion to grant that request. I have been happy to speak to two of those motions. Sadly, as colleagues will have noted, there has been difficulty in getting certain business through the House. I make no complaint about that, but I regret that the difficulty that we have encountered in dealing with minor matters has meant that we have not yet been able to introduce the more radical changes to Standing Orders that I foreshadowed in my earlier speech. Only last week, the Chairman of the Liaison Committee requested a change in Standing Orders to enable a sub-Committee to be established. If he looks at today's Order Paper, he will see that we hope to oblige him.

The last time the Liaison Committee's report was debated, I said that it was important to recognise that the balance had already shifted in favour of the Committees. Indeed, it is likely to shift further in future—

Mr. James Arbuthnot (North-East Hampshire)

rose in his place and claimed to move, That the Question be now put.

Question put accordingly, That the original words stand part of the Question:—

The House divided: Ayes 170, Noes 280.

Division No. 115] [10.2 pm
Ainsworth, Peter (E Surrey) Gill, Christopher
Allan, Richard Gillan, Mrs Cheryl
Amess, David Gray, James
Ancram, Rt Hon Michael Green, Damian
Arbuthnot, Rt Hon James Greenway, John
Ashdown, Rt Hon Paddy Grieve, Dominic
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham) Gummer, Rt Hon John
Baldry, Tony Hamilton, Rt Hon Sir Archie
Beith, Rt Hon A J Hammond, Philip
Bell, Martin (Tatton) Hancock, Mike
Bercow, John Harris, Dr Evan
Beresford, Sir Paul Harvey, Nick
Blunt, Crispin Hawkins, Nick
Body, Sir Richard Hayes, John
Boswell, Tim Heald, Oliver
Bottomley, Peter (Worthing W) Heath, David (Somerton & Frome)
Bottomley, Rt Hon Mrs Virginia Heathcoat-Amory, Rt Hon David
Brady, Graham Hogg, Rt Hon Douglas
Brand, Dr Peter Howard, Rt Hon Michael
Brazier, Julian Howarth, Gerald (Aldershot)
Breed, Colin Hughes, Simon (Southwark N)
Brooke, Rt Hon Peter Hunter, Andrew
Browning, Mrs Angela Jackson, Robert (Wantage)
Bruce, Ian (S Dorset) Jenkin, Bernard
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon) Johnson Smith, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey
Burnett, John
Burstow, Paul Key, Robert
Butterfill, John King, Rt Hon Tom (Bridgwater)
Campbell, Rt Hon Menzies (NE Fife) Kirkbride, Miss Julie
Kirkwood, Archy
Cash, William Laing, Mrs Eleanor
Chapman, Sir Sydney (Chipping Barnet) Lait, Mrs Jacqui
Lansley, Andrew
Chidgey, David Letwin, Oliver
Chope, Christopher Lewis, Dr Julian (New Forest E)
Clappison, James Lidington, David
Clark, Dr Michael (Rayleigh) Lilley, Rt Hon Peter
Clarke, Rt Hon Kenneth (Rushcliffe) Livsey, Richard
Lloyd, Rt Hon Sir Peter (Fareham)
Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey Llwyd, Elfyn
Collins, Tim Loughton, Tim
Cormack, Sir Patrick Luff, Peter
Cotter, Brian Lyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas
Cran, James MacGregor, Rt Hon John
Davey, Edward (Kingston) MacKay, Rt Hon Andrew
Davies, Quentin (Grantham) Maclean, Rt Hon David
Davis, Rt Hon David (Haltemprice) Maclennan, Rt Hon Robert
Day, Stephen McLoughlin, Patrick
Duncan, Alan Madel, Sir David
Emery, Rt Hon Sir Peter Maginnis, Ken
Evans, Nigel Malins, Humfrey
Fabricant, Michael Maples, John
Fallon, Michael Mates, Michael
Fearn, Ronnie Maude, Rt Hon Francis
Flight, Howard Mawhinney, Rt Hon Sir Brian
Forth, Rt Hon Eric May, Mrs Theresa
Foster, Don (Bath) Michie, Mrs Ray (Argyll & Bute)
Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman Moore, Michael
Garnier, Edward Morgan, Alasdair (Galloway)
George, Andrew (St Ives) Moss, Malcolm
Gibb, Nick Norman, Archie
Gidley, Sandra Oaten, Mark
O'Brien, Stephen (Eddisbury) Syms, Robert
Ottaway, Richard Tapsell, Sir Peter
Page, Richard Taylor, John M (Solihull)
Paice, James Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Pickles, Eric Taylor, Sir Teddy
Portillo, Rt Hon Michael Thomas, Simon (Ceredigion)
Prior, David Tonge, Dr Jenny
Redwood, Rt Hon John Townend, John
Rendel, David Trend, Michael
Robertson, Laurence (Tewk'b'ry) Tyler, Paul
Roe, Mrs Marion (Broxboume) Viggers, Peter
Ruffley, David Walter, Robert
Russell, Bob (Colchester) Waterson, Nigel
St Aubyn, Nick Webb, Steve
Sanders, Adrian Whitney, Sir Raymond
Sayeed, Jonathan Whittingdale, John
Shepherd, Richard Widdecombe, Rt Hon Miss Ann
Smith, Sir Robert (W Ab'd'ns) Wigley, Rt Hon Dafydd
Soames, Nicholas Wilkinson, John
Spelman, Mrs Caroline Willetts, David
Spicer, Sir Michael Willis, Phil
Spring, Richard Winterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)
Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John Yeo, Tim
Steen, Anthony
Streeter, Gary Tellers for the Ayes:
Stunell, Andrew Sir George Young and
Swayne, Desmond Mr. Nicholas Winterton.
Abbott, Ms Diane Clarke, Charles (Norwich S)
Adams, Mrs Irene (Paisley N) Clarke, Eric (Midlothian)
Ainger, Nick Clarke, Rt Hon Tom (Coatbridge)
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE) Clarke, Tony (Northampton S)
Alexander, Douglas Clelland, David
Allen, Graham Coaker, Vernon
Anderson, Rt Hon Donald Coffey, Ms Ann
(Swansea E) Cohen, Harry
Anderson, Janet (Rossendale) Coleman, Iain
Armstrong, Rt Hon Ms Hilary Colman, Tony
Ashton, Joe Connarty, Michael
Atkins, Charlotte Cooper, Yvette
Austin, John Corbett, Robin
Banks, Tony Cousins, Jim
Barnes, Harry Cox, Tom
Barren, Kevin Cranston, Ross
Battle, John Cryer, John (Hornchurch)
Bayley, Hugh Cummings, John
Beckett, Rt Hon Mrs Margaret Cunningham, Rt Hon Dr Jack
Begg, Miss Anne (Copeland)
Bell, Stuart (Middlesbrough) Cunningham, Jim (Cov'try S)
Benn, Hilary (Leeds C) Dalyell, Tam
Bennett, Andrew F Darvill, Keith
Benton, Joe Davey, Valerie (Bristol W)
Bermingham, Gerald Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)
Best, Harold Davies, Geraint (Croydon C)
Blackman, Liz Davis, Rt Hon Terry
Boateng, Rt Hon Paul (B'ham Hodge H)
Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin) Denham, Rt Hon John
Bradshaw, Ben Dismore, Andrew
Brinton, Mrs Helen Dobbin, Jim
Brown, Rt Hon Nick (Newcastle E) Dobson, Rt Hon Frank
Brown, Russell (Dumfries) Donohoe, Brian H
Browne, Desmond Doran, Frank
Buck, Ms Karen Dowd, Jim
Burgon, Colin Eagle, Angela (Wallasey)
Butler, Mrs Christine Eagle, Maria (L'pool Garston)
Caborn, Rt Hon Richard Edwards, Huw
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V) Efford, Clive
Campbell-Savours, Dale Ellman, Mrs Louise
Cann, Jamie Ennis, Jeff
Casale, Roger Etherington, Bill
Caton, Martin Fisher, Mark
Cawsey, Ian Fitzpatrick, Jim
Chapman, Ben (Wirral S) Fitzsimons, Mrs Lorna
Clapham, Michael Flint, Caroline
Clark, Rt Hon Dr David (S Shields) Flynn, Paul
Follett, Barbara Mallaber, Judy
Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings) Mandelson, Rt Hon Peter
Gapes, Mike Marsden, Gordon (Blackpool S)
Gardiner, Barry Marshall, David (Shettleston)
Gibson, Dr Ian Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)
Gilroy, Mrs Linda Martlew, Eric
Godsiff, Roger Maxton, John
Golding, Mrs Llin Meacher, Rt Hon Michael
Griffiths, Jane (Reading E) Meale, Alan
Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S) Merron, Gillian
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend) Michael, Rt Hon Alun
Grocott, Bruce Michie, Bill (Shef'ld Heeley)
Hall, Mike (Weaver Vale) Milburn, Rt Hon Alan
Hamilton, Fabian (Leeds NE) Moffatt, Laura
Hanson, David Moonie, Dr Lewis
Harman, Rt Hon Ms Harriet Moran, Ms Margaret
Healey, John Morgan, Ms Julie (Cardiff N)
Hendrick, Mark Morley, Elliot
Hepburn, Stephen Morris, Rt Hon Ms Estelle
Heppell, John (B'ham Yardley)
Hewitt, Ms Patricia Morris, Rt Hon Sir John
Hill, Keith (Aberavon)
Hinchliffe, David Mowlam, Rt Hon Marjorie
Hodge, Ms Margaret Mudie, George
Hoey, Kate Mullin, Chris
Hood, Jimmy Murphy, Denis (Wansbeck)
Hoon, Rt Hon Geoffrey Naysmith, Dr Doug
Hopkins, Kelvin O'Brien, Bill (Normanton)
Howells, Dr Kim O'Brien, Mike (N Warks)
Hoyle, Lindsay O'Hara, Eddie
Hughes, Ms Beveriey (Stretford) Olner, Bill
Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N) O'Neill, Martin
Humble, Mrs Joan Organ, Mrs Diana
Hutton, John Osborne, Ms Sandra
Iddon, Dr Brian Pearson, Ian
Illsley, Eric Pickthall, Colin
Jackson, Helen (Hillsborough) Pike, Peter L
Jamieson, David Pollard, Kerry
Johnson, Alan (Hull W& Hessle) Pond, Chris
Jones, Rt Hon Barry (Alyn) Pope, Greg
Jones, Helen (Warrington N) Pound, Stephen
Jones, Ms Jenny Powell, Sir Raymond
(Wolverh'ton SW) Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E)
Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S) Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)
Jowell, Rt Hon Ms Tessa Prosser, Gwyn
Joyce, Eric Purchase, Ken
Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald Quin, Rt Hon Ms Joyce
Keeble, Ms Sally Quinn, Lawrie
Keen, Alan (Feltham & Heston) Radice, Rt Hon Giles
Keen, Ann (Brentford & Isleworth) Rapson, Syd
Kemp, Fraser Raynsford, Nick
Kilfoyle, Peter Reed, Andrew (Loughborough)
Kumar, Dr Ashok Robertson, John
Ladyman, Dr Stephen (Glasgow Anniesland)
Lammy, David Robinson, Geoffrey (Cov'try NW)
Lawrence, Mrs Jackie Roche, Mrs Barbara
Laxton, Bob Rooney, Terry
Lepper, David Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)
Leslie, Christopher Rowlands, Ted
Levitt, Tom Ruddock, Joan
Linton, Martin Ryan, Ms Joan
Lloyd, Tony (Manchester C) Salter, Martin
Lock, David Sarwar, Mohammad
Love, Andrew Savidge, Malcolm
McAvoy, Thomas Sedgemore, Brian
McDonagh, Siobhain Sheerman, Barry
Macdonald, Calum Simpson, Alan (Nottingham S)
McDonnell, John Singh, Marsha
McFall, John Skinner, Dennis
McIsaac, Shona Smith, Angela (Basildon)
McNamara, Kevin Smith, Miss Geraidine
McNulty, Tony (Morecambe & Lunesdale)
MacShane, Denis Smith, Jacqui (Redditch)
McWalter, Tony Smith, John (Glamorgan)
McWilliam, John Snape, Peter
Mahon, Mrs Alice Soley, Clive
Southworth, Ms Helen Tynan, Bill
Spellar, John Walley, Ms Joan
Squire, Ms Rachel Ward, Ms Claire
Starkey, Dr Phyllis Wareing, Robert N
Steinberg, Gerry Watts, David
Stewart, David (Inverness E) White, Brian
Stewart, Ian (Eccles) Wicks, Malcolm
Stinchcombe, Paul Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Swansea W)
Stoate, Dr Howard
Strang, Rt Hon Dr Gavin Williams, Alan W (E Carmarthen)
Suteliffe, Gerry Williams, Mrs Betty (Conwy)
Taylor, Rt Hon Mrs Ann (Dewsbury) Wilson, Brian
Winnick, David
Taylor, David (NW Leics) Winterton, Ms Rosie (Doncaster C)
Temple-Morris, Peter Wood, Mike
Thomas, Gareth R (Harrow W) Woodward, Shaun
Tipping, Paddy Woolas, Phil
Touhig, Don Wray, James
Trickett, Jon Wright, Anthony D (Gt Yarmouth)
Truswell, Paul Wyatt, Derek
Turner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE)
Turner, Neil (Wigan) Tellers for the Noes:
Twigg, Derek (Halton) Mrs. Anne McGuire and
Twigg, Stephen (Enfield) Mr. Clive Betts.

Question accordingly negatived.

Question, That the proposed words be there added, put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 31 (Questions on amendments):

The House divided: Ayes 276, Noes 164.

Division No. 116] [10.15 pm
Abbott, Ms Diane Caton, Martin
Adams, Mrs Irene (Paisley N) Cawsey, Ian
Ainger, Nick Chapman, Ben (Wirral S)
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov"try NE) Clapham, Michael
Alexander, Douglas Clark, Rt Hon Dr David (S Shields)
Allen, Graham Clarke, Charles (Norwich S)
Anderson, Janet (Rossendale) Clarke, Eric (Midlothian)
Armstrong, Rt Hon Ms Hilary Clarke, Rt Hon Tom (Coatbridge)
Ashton, Joe Clarke, Tony (Northampton S)
Atkins, Charlotte Clelland, David
Austin, John Coaker, Vernon
Banks, Tony Coffey, Ms Ann
Barnes, Harry Cohen, Harry
Barron, Kevin Coleman, Iain
Battle, John Colman, Tony
Bayley, Hugh Connarty, Michael
Beckett, Rt Hon Mrs Margaret Cooper, Yvette
Begg, Miss Anne Corbett, Robin
Bell, Stuart (Middlesbrough) Cousins, Jim
Benn, Hilary (Leeds C) Cox, Tom
Bennett, Andrew F Cranston, Ross
Benton, Joe Cryer, John (Hornchurch)
Bermingham, Gerald Cummings, John
Best, Harold Cunningham, Rt Hon Dr Jack (Copeland)
Blackman, Liz
Boateng, Rt Hon Paul Cunningham, Jim (Cov'try S)
Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin) Darvill, Keith
Bradshaw, Ben Davey Valerie (Bristol W)
Brinton, Mrs Helen Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)
Brown, Rt Hon Nick (Newcastle E) Davies, Geraint (Croydon C)
Brown, Russell (Dumfries) Davis, Rt Hon Terry (B'ham Hodge H)
Browne, Desmond
Buck, Ms Karen Denham, Rt Hon John
Burgon, Colin Dismore, Andrew
Butler, Mrs Christine Dobbin, Jim
Caborn, Rt Hon Richard Dobson, Rt Hon Frank
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge) Donohoe, Brian H
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V) Doran, Frank
Campbell-Savours, Dale Dowd, Jim
Cann, Jamie Eagle, Angela (Wallasey)
Casale, Roger Eagle, Maria (L'pool Garston)
Edwards, Huw McDonnell, John
Efford, Clive McFall, John
Ellman, Mrs Louise McIsaac, Shona
Ennis, Jeff McNamara, Kevin
Etherington, Bill McNulty, Tony
Fisher, Mark MacShane, Denis
Fitzpatrick, Jim McWalter, Tony
Fitzsimons, Mrs Loma McWilliam, John
Flint, Caroline Mahon, Mrs Alice
Flynn, Paul Mallaber, Judy
Follett, Barbara Mandelson, Rt Hon Peter
Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings) Marsden, Gordon (Blackpool S)
Gapes, Mike Marshall, David (Shettleston)
Gardiner, Barry Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)
Gibson, Dr Ian Martlew, Eric
Gilroy, Mrs Linda Maxton, John
Godsiff, Roger Meacher, Rt Hon Michael
Golding, Mrs Llin Meale, Alan
Griffiths, Jane (Reading E) Merron, Gillian
Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S) Michael, Rt Hon Alun
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend) Michie, Bill (Shefld Heeley)
Grocott, Bruce Milburn, Rt Hon Alan
Hall, Mike (Weaver Vale) Moffatt, Laura
Hamilton, Fabian (Leeds NE) Moonie, Dr Lewis
Hanson, David Moran, Ms Margaret
Harman, Rt Hon Ms Harriet Morgan, Ms Julie (Cardiff N)
Healey, John Morley, Elliot
Hendrick, Mark Morris, Rt Hon Ms Estelle (B'ham Yardley)
Hepburn, Stephen
Heppell, John Morris, Rt Hon Sir John (Aberavon)
Hewitt, Ms Patricia
Hill, Keith Mudie, George
Hodge, Ms Margaret Mullin, Chris
Hoey, Kate Murphy, Denis (Wansbeck)
Hood, Jimmy Naysmith, Dr Doug
Hoon, Rt Hon Geoffrey O'Brien, Bill (Normanton)
Hopkins, Kelvin O'Brien, Mike (N Warks)
Howells, Dr Kim O'Hara, Eddie
Hoyle, Lindsay Olner, Bill
Hughes, Ms Bevertey (Stretford) O'Neill, Martin
Hughes, Kevin (DoncasterN) Organ, Mrs Diana
Humble, Mrs Joan Osborne, Ms Sandra
Hutton, John Pearson, Ian
Iddon, Dr Brian Pickthall, Colin
Illsley, Eric Pike, Peter L
Jackson, Helen (Hillsborough) Pollard, Kerry
Jamieson, David Pond, Chris
Johnson, Alan (Hull W & Hessle) Pope, Greg
Jones, Rt Hon Barry (Alyn) Pound, Stephen
Jones, Helen (Warrington N) Powell, Sir Raymond
Jones, Ms Jenny (Wolverh'ton SW) Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E)
Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)
Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S) Prosser, Gwyn
Jowell, Rt Hon Ms Tessa Purchase, Ken
Joyce, Eric Quin, Rt Hon Ms Joyce
Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald Quinn, Lawrie
Keeble, Ms Sally Rapson, Syd
Keen, Alan (Feltham & Heston) Raynsford, Nick
Keen, Ann (Brentford & Isleworth) Reed, Andrew (Loughborough)
Kemp, Fraser Robertson, John (Glasgow Anniesland)
Kilfoyle, Peter
Kumar, Dr Ashok Robinson, Geoffrey (Cov'try NW)
Ladyman, Dr Stephen Roche, Mrs Barbara
Lammy, David Rooney, Terry
Lawrence, Mrs Jackie Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)
Laxton, Bob Rowlands, Ted
Lepper, David Ruddock, Joan
Leslie, Christopher Ryan, Ms Joan
Levitt, Tom Salter, Martin
Linton, Martin Sarwar, Mohammad
Lloyd, Tony (Manchester C) Savidge, Malcolm
Lock, David Sedgemore, Brian
Love, Andrew Sheerman, Barry
McAvoy, Thomas Simpson, Alan (Nottingham S)
McDonagh, Siobhain Singh, Marsha
Macdonald, Calum Skinner, Dennis
Smith, Angela (Basildon) Turner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE)
Smith, Miss Geraldine (Morecambe & Lunesdale) Turner, Neil (Wigan)
Twigg, Derek (Halton)
Smith, Jacqui (Redditch) Twigg, Stephen (Enfield)
Smith, John (Glamorgan) Tynan, Bill
Snape, Peter Walley, Ms Joan
Soley, Clive Ward, Ms Claire
Southworth, Ms Helen Wareing, Robert N
Spellar, John Watts, David
Squire, Ms Rachel White, Brian
Starkey, Dr Phyllis Wicks, Malcolm
Steinberg, Gerry Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Swansea W)
Stewart, David (Inverness E)
Stewart, Ian (Eccles) Williams, Alan W (E Carmarthen)
Stinchcombe, Paul Williams, Mrs Betty (Conwy)
Stoate,Dr Howard Wilson, Brian
Winnick, David
Strang, Rt Hon Dr Gavin winterton, Ms Rosie (Doncaster C)
Sutcliffe, Gerry Wood, Mike
Taylor, Rt Hon Mrs Ann (Dewsbury) Woodward, Shaun
Woolas, Phil
Taylor, David (NW Leics) Wray, James
Temple-Morris, Peter Wright, Anthony D (Gt Yarmouth)
Thomas, Gareth R (Harrow W) Wyatt, Derek
Tipping, Paddy
Touhig, Don Tellers for the Ayes:
Trickett, Jon Mrs. Anne McGuire and
Truswell, Paul Mr. Clive Betts.
Ainsworth, Peter (E Surrey) Davis, Rt Hon David (Haltemprice)
Allan, Richard Day, Stephen
Amess, David Duncan, Alan
Ancram, Rt Hon Michael Emery, Rt Hon Sir Peter
Arbutnnot, Rt Hon James Evans, Nigel
Ashdown, Rt Hon Paddy Fabricant, Michael
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham) Fallon, Michael
Baldry, Tony Feam, Ronnie
Beith, Rt Hon A J Flight, Howard
Bell, Martin (Tatton) Forth, Rt Hon Eric
Bercow, John Foster, Don (Bath)
Beresford, Sir Paul Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman
Blunt, Crispin Garnier, Edward
Body, Sir Richard George, Andrew (St Ives)
Boswell, Tim Gibb, Nick
Bottomley, Peter (Worthing W) Gidley, Sandra
Bottomley, Rt Hon Mrs Virginia Gill, Christopher
Brady, Graham Gillan, Mrs Cheryl
Brand, Dr Peter Gray, James
Brazier, Julian Green, Damian
Breed, Colin Greenway, John
Brooke, Rt Hon Peter Grieve, Dominic
Browning, Mrs Angela Gummer, Rt Hon John
Bruce, Ian (S Dorset) Hamilton, Rt Hon Sir Archie
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon) Hammond, Philip
Burnett, John Hancock, Mike
Burstow, Paul Harris, Dr Evan
Butterfill, John Harvey, Nick
Campbell, Rt Hon Menzies (NE Fife) Hawkins, Nick
Hayes, John
Cash, William Heald, Oliver
Chapman, Sir Sydney (Chipping Barnet) Heath, David (Somerton & Frome)
Heathcoat-Amory, Rt Hon David
Chidgey, David Hogg, Rt Hon Douglas
Chope, Christopher Howard, Rt Hon Michael
Clappison, James Howarth, Gerald (Aldershot)
Clark, Dr Michael (Rayleigh) Hughes, Simon (Southwark N)
Clarke, Rt Hon Kenneth (Rushcliffe) Jackson, Robert (Wantage)
Jenkin, Bernard
Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey Johnson Smith, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey
Collins, Tim
Cormack, Sir Patrick Key, Robert
Cotter, Brian King, Rt Hon Tom (Bridgwater)
Cran, James Kirkbride, Miss Julie
Davey, Edward (Kingston) Kirkwood, Archy
Davies, Quentin (Grantham) Laing, Mrs Eleanor
Lait, Mrs Jacqui St Aubyn, Nick
Letwin, Oliver Sanders, Adrian
Lewis, Dr Julian (New Forest E) Sayeed, Jonathan
Lidington, David Shepherd, Richard
Lilley, Rt Hon Peter Smith, Sir Robert (W Ab'd'ns)
Livsey, Richard Soames, Nicholas
Lloyd, Rt Hon Sir Peter (Fareham) Spelman, Mrs Caroline
Llwyd, Elfyn Spicer, Sir Michael
Loughton, Tim Spring, Richard
Luff, Peter Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John
Lyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas Steen, Anthony
MacGregor, Rt Hon John Stunell, Andrew
MacKay, Rt Hon Andrew Swayne, Desmond
Maclean, Rt Hon David Syms, Robert
Maclennan, Rt Hon Robert Tapsell, Sir Peter
McLoughlin, Patrick Taylor, John M (Solihull)
Madel, Sir David Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Maginnis, Ken Taylor, Sir Teddy
Mates, Michael Thomas, Simon (Ceredigion)
Maude, Rt Hon Francis Tonge, Dr Jenny
Mawhinney, Rt Hon Sir Brian Townend, John
May, Mrs Theresa Trend, Michael
Michie, Mrs Ray (Argyll & Bute) Tyler, Paul
Moore, Michael Viggers, Peter
Morgan, Alasdair (Galloway) Walter, Robert
Moss, Malcolm Waterson, Nigel
Norman, Archie Webb, Steve
Oaten, Mark Whitney, Sir Raymond
O'Brien, Stephen (Eddisbury) Whittingdale, John
Ottaway, Richard Widdecombe, Rt Hon Miss Ann
Page, Richard Wigley, Rt Hon Dafydd
Paice, James Wilkinson, John
Pickles, Eric Willetts, David
Portillo, Rt Hon Michael Willis, Phil
Prior, David Winterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)
Redwood, Rt Hon John Yeo, Tim
Rendel, David
Robertson, Laurence (Tewk'b'ry) Tellers for the Noes:
Ruffley, David Mr. Nicholas Winterton and
Russell, Bob (Colchester) Sir George Young.

Question accordingly agreed to.

MR. SPEAKER forthwith declared the main Question, as amended, to be agreed to.

Resolved, That this House notes the First Report from the Liaison Committee, Session 1999–2000, Shifting the Balance: Select Committees and the Executive, HC300, and the Government response thereto, Cm 4737; considers that the Select Committee system has proved its worth as a means of increasing the scrutiny and accountability of Government, endorsing in particular the Liaison Committee's judgement of the value of Select Committees (in particular paragraphs 4, 5 and 24 of the Committee's First Report); commends the initiatives already taken by the Government and by the Select Committee on Modernisation of the House of Commons to improve the accountability of Ministers to Parliament, including the provision in Westminster Hall of the opportunity for some 200 extra back bench debates each Session, and over 20 debates on Select Committee reports; but does not believe that concentrating patronage it the hands of three senior Members of the House would increase the transparency or effectiveness of the Committee system.