HC Deb 16 July 2001 vol 372 cc35-90 4.16 pm
Mr. John McWilliam (Blaydon)

I beg to move, That Mr. Tony Banks, Mr. Harold Best, Tom Brake, Derek Conway, Keith Hill, Mr. Patrick McLoughlin, Albert Owen, Anne Picking and Syd Rapson be members of the Accommodation and Works Committee.

Mr. Speaker

I understand that with this it will be convenient to discuss motions 4 to 29.

Mr. McWilliam

Thank you, Mr. Speaker, for the thoughtful way in which you have organised the debate, which might otherwise have become messy. Your wise decision will enable us to reach a conclusion in an orderly, considered and sensible fashion.

I also thank hon. Members of all parties for their co-operation on the Committee of Selection. We were under enormous pressure to recommend the names for membership of the Select Committees before the summer recess so that they can meet to set their programmes, and hon. Members have enabled us to do that. We faced a great challenge simply because this time we had a month less in which to do that. The fact that we are discussing the motions in prime time is a testament to everyone's hard work.

Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst)

How many changes did the Committee of Selection make to the recommendations made by the representatives of different political parties?

Mr. McWilliam

None. I reasonably thought that the representatives of the various political parties had sorted the recommendations out with their members before they put them to the Committee. The parties have different systems for doing that.

Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan)

The Chairman of the Committee of Selection says that he assumed that the various political parties had sorted out the recommendations before they were given to the Committee, but how does that apply to the minority parties which are not represented on the Committee of Selection?

Mr. McWilliam

The hon. Gentleman asks a reasonable question. Traditionally, the minority parties are represented by the spokesperson for the Liberal Democrats who takes soundings to produce an agreement. That arrangement has always worked effectively. The Government, the official Opposition and the minority parties have their respective systems and they are intended to work.

Tony Wright (Cannock Chase)

I am getting a little confused. If the Committee of Selection does not select, what does it do?

Mr. McWilliam

My hon. Friend makes a fair point. The Committee of Selection recommends to the House who the Committee members should be. He might be slightly confused because the Committee of Selection comes under the Standing Order for private business, not public business, and was established with a completely different function.

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire)

Is there really any point in having the Committee?

Mr. McWilliam

There is a huge point. If the Committee did not exist, another Committee of a similar nature would have to be found to do the job.

Mr. Mark Fisher (Stoke-on-Trent, Central)

Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. McWilliam

No. I should make some progress—[HON. MEMBERS: "Give way."] Let me make a couple of points first, then my hon. Friend can decide whether to intervene.

I served with the hon. Member for South Staffordshire (Sir P. Cormack) on Select Committees for several years after the new system of Select Committees was first implemented. I was a member of one Select Committee or another from 1979, when I entered the House, until it became apparent that my duties as Deputy Speaker in Westminster Hall meant that I was unable to fulfil my duties on the Select Committee on Defence. In short, I have served on Select Committees of the House for more than 20 years and it has been an honour and a privilege to do so.

Select Committees acquit themselves extremely well. I have found all the Members of Parliament with whom I have served, whatever party they represent, to be unfailingly courteous and helpful. The Committees tend to develop an independent existence. They are a huge advantage and are of great benefit to the House in its considerations. I am not saying that they are perfect—they are not; nor do I think that they have all the powers that they should have, but I am not allowed to go further in that vein.

Mr. Fisher

Does my hon. Friend not understand from the tone of the House that our complaint is not about the existence of the Committees, but about the fact that they are dominated by the Government? Select Committees are parliamentary Committees, not Government Committees. He says that it is a difficult task to make all the selections, but how many minutes did the Committee of Selection sit when carrying out its considerations?

Mr. McWilliam

My hon. Friend is missing the point. I sat on Select Committees from the 1979–80 Session onward and I have to tell him that, regardless of the complexion of the Executive, Government Members have been quite happy to go along with Select Committee reports that challenge the Government of the day. That will continue and it is an entirely good thing.

Mr. Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton)

Does my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Mr. Fisher) believe that failing to challenge the Government includes the Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport asking the Government to prevent the scrapping of HMS Cavalier—the Minister for the Arts at the time neither agreeing not to scrap it nor even going to see it; the Committee recommending the saving of HMS Cavalier against the policy of the Government, and the Committee succeeding?

Mr. McWilliam

My right hon. Friend is right. I remember when the Select Committee on Education, Science and Arts, on which the hon. Member for South Staffordshire and I had the privilege to serve, said that student fees should not be introduced. Select Committees have a long and honourable history of challenging the Executive. It is the job of Members of Parliament to scrutinise the Executive; Select Committees are merely a system for doing that.

We have 26 Select Committees to appoint this evening. There are six amendments, which fall into two groups.

Sir Brian Mawhinney (North-West Cambridgeshire)

The hon. Gentleman says that there are 26 Select Committees to appoint. I might have misread the Order Paper, but there does not appear to be a Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs. Will he explain why not?

Hon. Members

It is there.

Mr. McWilliam

The right hon. Gentleman has missed it—it should be on the Order Paper.

Lynne Jones (Birmingham, Selly Oak)

It is not there.

Mr. McWilliam

The right hon. Member for North-West Cambridgeshire (Sir B. Mawhinney) is quite right—it is not there. He has asked a very sensible question and I shall find out the answer. [HON. MEMBERS: "It is motion 30."] I am sorry—it is motion 30, which is not in the group that we are considering.

The President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Robin Cook)

Perhaps I can help my hon. Friend. It is my understanding that it has not so far been possible to draw up a list of nominations to go before the Committee of Selection. I hope that we shall be successful in time for this Wednesday.

Sir Brian Mawhinney


Mr. McWilliam

May I say a few words before I give way to the right hon. Gentleman? My understanding of Standing Orders is that it is not in order to intervene on an intervention—such as my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House was making. I give way to the right hon. Member for North-West Cambridgeshire.

Sir Brian Mawhinney

Having established that we shall not be appointing a Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs tonight, may we have an assurance at some point from those on the Front Bench that such a Committee will be appointed?

Mr. McWilliam

I can deal only with the items that have been before the Committee of Selection. That is what I am attempting to do.

As I was saying, the six amendments fall into two groups. Amendment (c) to motion 9, amendment (c) to motion 16 and amendment (b) to motion 17 were tabled by members of the official Opposition in an attempt to make changes in the Labour membership of Select Committees. Amendment (b) to motion 15, amendment (b) to motion 19 and the manuscript amendment to motion No. 17 seem to relate to disagreements between the Scottish National party and the Liberal Democrat party as to how many SNP or Liberal Members should appear on Select Committees.

My granny told me that it was a bad idea to intrude on private grief. That seems to be what is being attempted this evening in respect of various parties. I return to my original point: the question of how individual parties make their selections and whom they select is surely a matter for them.

Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Salmond

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. McWilliam

May I finish my point? Selection is a matter for the individual parties. When I was Chairman of the Selection Committee during the last Parliament, I was perfectly happy to acquiesce with all parties—perhaps when a mistake was made in a change or something similar. I have not moved motions—sometimes late at night—in order that such things can be sorted out. Those selection processes are a matter for the individual parties.

The duty of the Committee of Selection is to ensure that the balance of the House is kept in terms of membership of Committees, that the motions for nomination are properly made and that the procedures are properly adhered to.

Lynne Jones

Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. McWilliam

Before I give way to my hon. Friend, I shall give way to the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg).

Mr. Hogg

Does the hon. Gentleman understand the dismay with which his remarks are being greeted? In fact, he is saying that the sole function of the Committee of Selection is to rubber-stamp the nominations made by those on the Front Benches of the respective parties. Surely, that is not the function of the Committee. The function of the Committee of Selection is genuinely to select names.

Mr. McWilliam

The right hon. and learned Gentleman misunderstands. I do not know what the Conservative party does, but I know that in the Labour party all the names are put before the parliamentary Labour party and are subject to its approval. I deliberately did not attend the PLP meeting last week because, when I came to chair the Select Committee, I did not want to have in my mind any debate that might have occurred. I had to be objective. Presumably, the Conservative party does it differently.

Mr. Salmond


Mr. McWilliam

The minority parties clearly do it differently, because the hon. Gentleman wants to intervene.

Mr. Salmond

Earlier, the Chairman of the Committee of Selection said that he assumed that there had been agreement between the Liberals, the SNP and Plaid Cymru. There was no such agreement. Given that fact, does the hon. Gentleman agree that the Chairman of the Committee of Selection has a special responsibility to protect the rights of parties that are not represented on his Committee and thus have no ability to represent themselves?

Mr. McWilliam

I agree with the hon. Gentleman. However, it is not a matter for me to interfere in the business of political parties, except in so far as to ensure that, if there is a debate or a problem about the nominations that are made, I speak to the people concerned. Unfortunately, until I saw today's amendments, nobody told me that there had been a problem.

Mr. Andrew Stunell (Hazel Grove)

Will the hon. Gentleman take note of the fact that later in the debate I hope to address the points that have been raised? It is perhaps not appropriate to do so at the moment.

Mr. McWilliam

I thank the hon. Gentleman. I hope that hon. Members will realise that all I can do is represent the Committee of Selection and the fact that the Committee of Selection took nominations clearly and cleanly. Those nominations are being put to the House today.

Lynne Jones

I thank my hon. Friend for giving way. Can he confirm that in the last Parliament he was a member of the Liaison Committee? If so, did he support the report produced by that Committee, entitled "Shifting the Balance", which recommended changes to the way in which members of Select Committees are appointed? Will he place on record whether he agrees with that report, whether he would recommend those changes and whether they should be put to the House?

Mr. McWilliam

I acquiesced with that report, certainly. The Liaison Committee is a Select Committee and, as a good Select Committee member, I would wish, where there was not some outstanding matter of fundamental principle, to go along with a Select Committee report. I happily did so.

I do not wish to eat up any more of the time of the House, although most of the time has been taken up by interventions. I reiterate that amendment (c) to motion 9, amendment (c) to motion 16 and amendment (b) to motion 17 were tabled by members of the official Opposition and relate to members of the Government. That is interfering with private grief. It is up to the Government party to sort the matter out. Amendment (b) to motion 15, amendment (c) to motion 17 and the manuscript amendment have been tabled by the Scottish National party. It is up to the minority parties to sort themselves out, although I suspect that it is too late.

Mr. Richard Shepherd (Aldridge-Brownhills)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. McWilliam

No, I will not give way again. I am certain that hon. Members want to get on with the debate, and I do not wish to prevent them from so doing.

I am deeply thankful to all sides of the House for the speed with which they have been able to operate. I realise that there is controversy; there always is. In the 20-odd years that I have been in the House, there has always been controversy about the matter. At least we can deal with it at a reasonable time of the evening. I commend my nominations to the House.

4.32 pm
Mrs. Angela Browning (Tiverton and Honiton)

I shall not detain the House for long. This is a Commons matter, but I wish to associate my party with my opening general comments. At a time when matters that go on in Parliament are not held in great respect outside, we can all take pride in the respect in which Select Committees are held outside the House. The same applies to hon. Members who wish to serve on Select Committees and who have served on Select Committees not just to fulfil their duty, but to play a role in the scrutiny of legislation and of Government business.

It is important for the Leader of the House to recognise that, as will be evident from the debate, we need a change in the way that hon. Members are selected—or appointed, as they are now—to Select Committees. In particular, the chairmanship of those Committees is not just a prestigious appointment; it is extremely important to the way that Select Committees are run and the Executive are held to account. The Leader of the House has hinted in the House and outside that he recognises that the time has come to address the important report from the Liaison Committee. In the last Session we, the official Opposition, gave up our debating time on the Floor of the House so that the House could consider that report.

Mrs. Anne Campbell (Cambridge)

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for giving way. I find her views interesting. When her Government were in power, did she make any suggestions to them about changing the way in which Select Committees were appointed?

Mrs. Browning

As I pointed out earlier from a sedentary position, since the day on which I entered the House in 1992, I have continually questioned the way in which Select Committee appointments are made. The record will show that within a few weeks of my election as a Member of Parliament, I was unhappy about what happened in 1992 with regard to the chairmanship of the Select Committee on Health.

I say to the hon. Lady and to new Members on both sides of the House that the power of the Whips Office, whether its influence is exerted by cajolement or other mechanisms, to offer Select Committee appointments and chairmanships to Members of Parliament is past its sell-by date. Such appointments should not be a matter of patronage for the Whips Office, which is part of the Executive. If we are to regain—it is now a matter of regaining—the right of democratically elected Back Benchers to hold the Executive to account. Select Committee procedures must be a fundamental consideration.

I welcome the watershed that has been reached—we have reached it because of genuine feeling on both sides of the House. Any change in the procedures of the House, including those that affect the appointment of Select Committees, needs consensus. That is why I repeat the remarks that I made when the official Opposition gave up half a day of our allotted time to debate the Liaison Committee report. As I said when I led that debate, it was sad that the report was presented to the House as the subject of an Adjournment motion. If it had been debated as part of a substantive motion, and if the Government could have trusted the House—this was not a matter of trusting only the Opposition or Labour Back Benchersy—the tone of this debate would have been very different.

As we have a new Leader of the House, I say to him that now is his opportunity. I hope that, apart from the long list of motions dealing with individual names and Committees, he will see the big picture that is evident in this debate, which is that we want change.

Sir Teddy Taylor (Rochford and Southend, East)

My hon. Friend makes a splendid point. Could not the Conservative party give the lead, as it has done on so many occasions, by introducing a system to take away the Whips' power to appoint people and to give it to hon. Members? If the Conservative party were to do that, might not the Labour party follow?

Mrs. Browning

Yes. Not only did I make that commitment when we debated the Liaison Committee report, but my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) has said at the Dispatch Box that he supports in principle the recommendations of the Committee. There is consensus across the House. If the Leader of the House were minded to make the changes, there would not be such an acrimonious feeling about the way in which this particular tranche of Select Committee appointments is being made.

Mr. William Cash (Stone)

Does my hon. Friend accept that there is a logical conclusion to these proposals? I do not want to press her too hard about it, because she sits on the Front Bench and it requires careful consideration. In the past three or four debates on these matters, I have pointed out that, if we want to achieve the objectives that we have set with regard to restrictions on the Executive, new Standing Orders will be required to ensure that any hon. Member or Minister of the Crown who attempts to interfere with a free vote will be in contempt of the House. Such a change would put teeth into the restrictions. I do not want to push her hard on that proposal, as it needs much consideration, but I fear that, without it, the whole thing will become an illusion.

Mrs. Browning

I share my hon. Friend's concern. He will know that I pressed the Leader of the House during last Thursday's business questions to confirm that there would be a free vote in this debate on the Front and Back Benches. He gave his confirmation and I am sure that a free vote will occur.

I should like to make one or two points about the motions. Perhaps it is unusual for a Conservative Member to pick up on the matter, but it is noticeable that, of the names recommended for Select Committees, no women are proposed for the Standards and Privileges Committee, the Public Accounts Committee or the Deregulation and Regulatory Reform Committee. However, seven are proposed for the Modernisation Committee. I flag that up because it would be a great shame if some Committees were deemed to be boys' matters and others girls' matters. My name is down for the Modernisation Committee, but, in a spirit of co-operation, I would willingly give up my place to a man if one would like to sit on that Committee.

We heard from the hon. Member for Blaydon (Mr. McWilliam), who chairs the Committee of Selection, that it clearly does not have an overview. It does what it is told and simply acts as a rubber-stamp. That is a weakness in the conduct of our proceedings. If the Committee genuinely considered balance, the imbalance in the proposed membership of the Select Committees would not exist. It is appalling that no women have been proposed for the Public Accounts Committee.

Mr. McWilliam

Would the hon. Lady like it if the Committee of Selection decided that it did not like the names that the Opposition had proposed for a specific Committee, and switched them around?

Mrs. Browning

I am trying not to move power from the Whips to the Committee of Selection, but to give it to hon. Members, to those who are democratically elected, not appointees who rubber-stamp what the Whips Office of any party deems to be the right way forward. That is not democratic; it does not help Back-Bench Members, and it keeps power and patronage in the hands of the Executive. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman does an honourable and difficult job but he described a rubber-stamping exercise when he outlined the conduct of the Committee of Selection.

Mr. McWilliam

It may help the hon. Lady if I stress that it is not the first time that I have questioned nominations from not only the Government party but the Conservative party and the minority parties because I do not want willing horses flogged to death. I take that duty seriously.

Mrs. Browning

We are hearing confirmation from all parties of unhappiness with the current system, which needs to be changed.

I want to consider the amendments that we shall debate and especially the chairmanship of the Transport, Local Government and the Regions Committee and the Foreign Affairs Committee. Like many other hon. Members, I received an e-mail from the right hon. Member for Swansea, East (Donald Anderson). It states: It is essential for our democracy that watchdogs are allowed to bark and occasionally to bite. I agree. Any Government must accept that Select Committees will scrutinise and sometimes criticise. As the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) pointed out on "Woman's Hour" today, that helps to create the checks and balances in our democratic procedures.

It does not matter from which party a Chairman comes, we all respect the neutrality of Select Committee Chairmen. There is a feeling of great sympathy on both sides of the House for the right hon. Member for Swansea, East and for the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich.

The hon. Lady does not need me as an advocate. She is a doughty fighter. I know that because I fought her in Crewe and Nantwich in the 1987 election. Having come into the House in 1992, like many other Members on both sides of the House, I have great respect for her as a parliamentarian. There are too few people in this place whom we can call great parliamentarians, but the hon. Lady is one. I pay tribute to her as a parliamentarian. It would be to the detriment not only of the Transport Sub-Committee but of the reputation of the House if her expertise and dedication to this place as a parliamentarian were denied us in her capacity as Chairman of that Committee.

I urge all Members, old and new—if I may put it that way—to ignore the ways in which the Whips and others go about their business trying to influence them. It is not true that if one does not do as one is told one never gets ministerial office or the job of Parliamentary Private Secretary.

Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)

Yes, it is.

Mrs. Browning

No, it is not at all. I shall conduct counselling sessions for hon. Members later if it would be helpful.

Like many other Members, as a Parliamentary Private Secretary, I voted in a certain way when it was not the wish of my party that I should do so. Ultimately, over the period of years that we all hope to spend as parliamentarians, we cannot afford as individuals simply to buckle down because of one single personal issue, when there are greater issues at stake. I want to say to all Members that this is a free vote and, in deciding how they are going to vote, they should vote for what is right for this place, and not for its history but for its future.

The House needs its reputation to be restored. The only people who can do that are the people who sit here on these green Benches: Back Benchers and Front Benchers. That is why I say to the Leader of the House, for whom I have great respect, that this is his opportunity to hear what is being said by Members behind him and across the Dispatch Box. The way in which we deal with Select Committees now—never mind what went on in the past—could be a watershed in terms of how the House is perceived in future.

4.47 pm
The President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Robin Cook)

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Mrs. Browning) for the tone of her speech. She asked whether I would be reviewing the system by which nominations come forward, and perhaps it would be helpful if I were to say at the outset that I will address that matter in my speech. Indeed, it will make up the bulk of my speech.

I am also grateful to the hon. Lady for pointing out that there were seven women on the Modernisation Committee, which confirms how forward-thinking the women in the House are. As a member of that Committee, I will endeavour to make it clear that modernisation is a matter for men, too. However, I hope that the hon. Lady will reconsider her offer to give up her seat on that Committee to a man on her side of the House, because were she to do so, it would leave the Committee without a single Tory woman.

The debate today will ensure that the Select Committees are up and running before the summer recess, which will fulfil the commitment that I gave the House on that issue. Assuming that the motions before the House are approved tonight, Select Committees will be able to meet from tomorrow. That will set a new record for the speed with which Select Committees have been created. We will have set up the Select Committees in this Parliament within four weeks of the Queen's Speech. That compares with the five months that it took in 1987, and almost three months in 1992, under the Conservative party.

I was sorry to hear my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Jeremy Corbyn) complain earlier of unreasonable haste in bringing forward the nominations. When we returned after the election, at the time of the Queen's Speech, there was broad agreement—indeed, I think I can say that there was enthusiasm—that we should get the Select Committees set up before the recess, so as not to delay the important work of scrutiny. I am pleased that the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton), who came to discuss this with me, agrees that that was the priority attached to the matter in all quarters of the House at the time.

Andrew Bennett (Denton and Reddish)

On that point, may I firmly congratulate my right hon. Friend on getting a move on with this issue? However, will he confirm that if the House were to decide tonight that one or two of the motions should not go through, the Committee of Selection could meet again on Wednesday, and it would be possible to put different names before the House later in the week to ensure that the Select Committees could still be set up before the recess—or at least, that they could meet in the first week of the recess?

Mr. Cook

I am happy to tell my hon. Friend that it is our intention to hold a meeting of the Committee of Selection this Wednesday. Indeed, that will be necessary, partly because of the point that has already been raised: we have still to complete the selection for the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, the Catering Committee and the Science and Technology Committee. That meeting could, of course, consider other matters that were appropriate.

I would need the co-operation of the House if we had to resolve matters on Thursday, which would be the one remaining full day before the recess, but technically, what my hon. Friend says is correct. He is also correct to say that the Select Committees have the power to meet in the recess. The House does not have to be sitting for them to meet.

I am accused of having acted in haste, but despite that haste, we have provided for additional flexibility and freedom for Select Committees. For the first time, every Select Committee has the right to decide for itself whether it wants to appoint a Sub-Committee. Every departmental Select Committee will also have the right to set up a Joint Committee with any other Select Committee. That freedom represents a response to the principle expressed by the Liaison Committee report in the last Parliament, that joined-up government requires joined-up scrutiny. We have provided for Select Committees to decide for themselves how to go about that.

I will not disguise from the House the fact that this debate has turned out to he more controversial than I would have wished. Some comments that I have read about the nominations before the House have been a bit overdone. My hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Andrew Mackinlay) is living proof of the willingness on this side to reappoint even the most—how shall I say it?—irrepressible Members of the previous Parliament. Nevertheless, I recognise that concern has been expressed on both sides about the lists before the House. A number of amendments address those concerns.

I confirm to the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton that on this side of the House the votes on all the amendments will be free votes. I hope that they will be free votes on her side as well. As I said to the House on Thursday, this is a matter on which all Members, whether they are in government or not, must exercise their discretion. This matter is for the House, not for a collective decision by the Government.

Mr. Cash

Will the Leader of the House give way?

Mr. Cook

On this occasion, but then I must make progress.

Mr. Cash

I am most grateful to the right hon. Gentleman, who will have heard my earlier intervention. In view of the reforming zeal with which he is applying himself to his job, will he consider—I put it no higher than that at the moment—changing Standing Orders to make it a contempt of the House for any Member to try either to prevent another Member from exercising a free vote or to interfere with another Member in the exercise of his conscience or the fulfilment of his duty? After all, any such change would depend on the Government and their vote.

Mr. Cook

I listened with the greatest interest when the hon. Gentleman made his earlier intervention. I suggest to him that it might be wise on my part to try to achieve reform of the House by flanking manoeuvres rather than by hanging myself out on the barbed wire in a full frontal assault on one of the strongest strongholds in the House. I heard what he said and I hope that the Opposition Whips listened to him carefully.

Jeremy Corbyn

Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Cook

On this occasion, but then I must deal with how we are to address the question of changing the system.

Jeremy Corbyn

I thank the Leader of the House for giving way. Before he completes his contribution, will he say what thought he has given to the Liaison Committee report "Shifting the Balance", which is about the future appointment of Select Committees and appointments to vacancies that might occur in this Parliament? Does he accept its recommendation that those should be taken out of the power of the Whips Offices of all parties?

Mr. Cook

If my hon. Friend lets me proceed, he will find that the rest of my speech addresses precisely those questions.

Regardless of the outcome of tonight's votes, a wider issue must be addressed and I shall address it now. To get the Select Committees up and running before the summer recess, it was necessary to adopt this procedure. If we had embarked first on making major changes to the procedure and amended Standing Orders, there would have been no prospect of the Select Committees being established until October or November. Even with no such changes, only in the last week before the recess have we been able to put nominations to the House.

I have repeatedly said that it was my intention to review in the autumn the system by which nominations to Select Committees are made. I would be the first to agree that the events of the past few days have given greater urgency to the search for a more transparent system. I intend to invite the Modernisation Committee, when it meets for the first time on Wednesday, to make the system of nominations to Select Committees the first priority for its programme.

The Modernisation Committee can address the procedures of the House, but it cannot make any recommendations about the internal process by which political parties decide which of their members to put forward.

Jean Corston (Bristol, East)

Does my right hon. Friend agree with me that within the Labour party this matter should be referred in the first instance to the parliamentary committee, so that we can come up with a process that is transparent and has the confidence of all Members?

Mr. Cook

I welcome what my hon. Friend has said, and I welcome the commitment to a review of procedures in the parliamentary Labour party by the parliamentary committee. I particularly welcome the fact that the parliamentary committee will carry out that review, because half its members are elected by Back Benchers. One of the options that it will wish to consider is whether it should make the initial choice of which members of the Labour party should serve on which Select Committees.

Mr. Kevin McNamara (Hull, North)

Am I right in saying that members of the Government serve on the parliamentary committee?

Mr. Cook

I said that half the members of the parliamentary committee were elected by Back Benchers—and members of the Government have no vote in that election.

Mrs. Anne Campbell

I welcome my right hon. Friend's support for the review that will be conducted by the parliamentary committee. In view of the concern about a number of people who are on several Committees, how quickly will the review be set up, and how soon will the new selection procedure be able to review the membership being proposed today?

Mr. Cook

I hope that two separate reviews will commence this week: one by the Modernisation Committee on the procedures of the House, and the other by the Labour party's parliamentary committee on procedures in the Labour party. I give my hon. Friend an undertaking that that will be the timetable for the start of the reviews. The timetable for the conclusion of those reviews will depend in part on how quickly it is possible to build consensus on change. I hope that we will be able to return to this issue early in the autumn.

Mr. Hogg

Will the right hon. Gentleman help the House? If the Modernisation Committee comes up with a new system for appointing Select Committees, will he come to the House with a new set of proposals for membership of those Committees—one that reflects the mechanism agreed by the Modernisation Committee?

Mr. Cook

I do not honestly think that I would have any alternative. There is no way in which changes to the system can be put in place without the agreement of the House. This is a matter for the House. Although I undertake to ensure that any agreed system is put to hon. Members, it must be the House that decides, not me.

Mr. Hogg

The right hon. Gentleman has misunderstood me; I am sure the fault was mine. Once we have a mechanism for choosing the membership of Select Committees, as agreed by the Modernisation Committee, can we consider the whole question again, so that we can choose new members in accordance with the procedure recommended by the Modernisation Committee?

Mr. Cook

No, I cannot give the right hon. and learned Gentleman that assurance. The large number of hon. Members who may be appointed to Select Committees tonight would not want to begin their work on those Committees with the clear and explicit expectation that membership would be reviewed and we would start again in November. There may be opportunities to review and to change membership of Committees in the future, but it would be unwise of us to say that in three months' time we will sack those whom we appoint today.

Mr. Salmond

Notwithstanding what the right hon. Gentleman has said, does he accept that there is a problem with the numbers in the lists before us, and with the principle of how minority parties are represented on the Committee of Selection?

Mr. Cook

I agree that there is an issue to be addressed. I accept that in terms of the strict arithmetical division of Committee members, the minority parties have not been represented to reflect their full strength in the House. It is a difficult balancing act, but I recognise that there is a problem.

When we debated the changes to Standing Orders 10 days ago, I said that one of the issues that I would like to re-examine in the autumn was the size of Select Committees. There have been proposals for them to be larger, and given the number of Labour Back Benchers who have sought membership, there is an added case for considering that matter. It is for the House to make the decision, and there are also arguments on the other side of the balance sheet, but if we decided to make the Committees larger that would, I think, help to address the problem identified by the hon. Gentleman, and possibly some of the other problems identified on the Order Paper.

Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich)

May I ask my right hon. Friend to give one simple undertaking—that whatever machinery is proposed to the House, the method by which all Select Committee members are chosen will not only be spelt out in considerable detail, but be absolutely transparent?

Mr. Cook

I assure my hon. Friend that I see no point in our making a change unless it introduces greater transparency. I entirely agree that that should be our priority. Fortunately, we are not short of advice on how to make the process more transparent.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield)


Mr. Stunell


Mr. Cook

I will give way later, but I hope that hon. Gentlemen will forgive me if I do not do so now. I really must make some progress.

A number of texts are available to give us guidance. A good starting point for the Modernisation Committee's review would be the Liaison Committee's report "Unfinished Business", produced during the last Parliament. I am pleased to note that I seem to have anticipated what the hon. Member for Macclesfield was going to say.

Mr. Winterton

indicated assent.

Mr. Cook

In that report, the Liaison Committee recognised that at the start of a Parliament it was not possible for it to clear nominations. As it consists of the Chairs of other Select Committees, by definition it cannot exist in advance of those Committees. "Unfinished Business" proposed that, after the new Parliament had sat for eight weeks, the task of nominating replacements should pass to the Liaison Committee. Because the report was published in the spring shortly before Parliament was dissolved for the general election, there was no time for the Government to produce a response. I therefore think it appropriate for the Modernisation Committee to begin its review of the system with that report.

In the last Parliament, there was a turnover of more than 50 per cent. in the membership of some Select Committees. I hope that in this Parliament there will be more stability.

Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock)

Don't promote members to be Ministers, then!

Mr. Cook

I will faithfully note my hon. Friend's observation, and ensure that that does not happen to him in the current Parliament.

I agree with the Liaison Committee that the success of Select Committees depends on members giving commitment and priority to the work of those Committees. Notwithstanding my hon. Friend's objection, however, there will inevitably be a number of changes to Committee membership during this Parliament, and it is therefore important for us to identify an alternative system of nomination as soon as possible. We should consider whether that new system could provide a specific role for the Liaison Committee to clear nominations for future vacancies, and to be responsible for putting those nominations to the House.

That was, of course, only one of the Liaison Committee's recommendations for reform; there were many others. The Committee mentioned, for instance, the importance of discussing Select Committee reports in the Chamber while their subject matter was still topical—possibly in a weekly half-hour slot after Question Time. It also suggested that the House should recognise an alternative career structure through the Committees, by reflecting the work of Chairs in MPs' salary structure.

I am conscious that no proposal for change is without problems or will be short of opponents, but I am willing to look afresh at any proposal for reform of the Select Committees that will support their vital role of scrutiny. "Unfinished Business" calls for constructive co-operation between Government and Select Committees. It is in that spirit that I am willing to work with the Liaison Committee on the shared principle that good scrutiny makes for good government.

Mr. Gordon Prentice

In my experience, the way forward for new Labour is to consult endlessly. I welcome the assurances that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House has given today, but how long will his consultation with the Modernisation Committee and others take? Does he have an end date in mind for bringing forward proposals—on a Government motion, not on a motion for the Adjournment—that would enable us to take a collective decision?

Mr. Cook

The proposals would have to be brought forward on a substantive motion, otherwise we would not be able to give effect to the decision of the House. My hon. Friend asks a question that in essence I have already addressed: I would like to make progress as quickly as possible. I certainly intend that the Modernisation Committee, having met on Wednesday, will meet again during the recess, in September, to discuss this and other matters.

I hope that it will be possible for us to make proposals in the autumn, but that depends in part on the extent to which I am able to command consensus for change in the House. I tend to agree with the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton that, in the light of the events of the past few days, it seems that if there has ever been a moment when we are likely to achieve consensus it is now. If the House reaches agreement, it can help me to make proposals more quickly than would otherwise be possible.

The decision on who goes on to a popular Select Committee can never be made easy. Last week, with some Committees, my hon. Friends faced the challenge of choosing a dozen or fewer members from 50 or 60 applications. Whoever makes the choice in those circumstances, and however it is done, there will always be more Members who are disappointed than those who are satisfied. But the difficulty in making the choice increases the importance of ensuring that the process is seen to be transparent, fair arid under the control of the House.

The Select Committees carry out a valuable service to this House by conducting effective scrutiny. The priority for the House now is to put above scrutiny the process by which those Select Committees are chosen. We want both press and public to have confidence in those who are nominated to exercise Parliament's role of scrutiny. We will best safeguard that confidence if we ensure that future nominations to Select Committees are seen to be fully in the hands of Members of this House.

5.8 pm

Mr. Andrew Stunell (Hazel Grove)

This is an important and significant debate that will have far-reaching implications if we get the answers right. The votes at the end of the debate will not be the measure of how successful it has been, and it is of the utmost importance that the Leader of the House presses ahead with the changes and reforms that he has mentioned, instead of letting them get bogged down in the morass of parliamentary delays that can so quickly accumulate.

Select Committees are a fundamental method of holding the Executive to account, and if they do not work effectively they cannot exercise scrutiny. They can collect and chew over evidence at leisure. They can question Ministers and, importantly, civil servants and outside experts in a way that the House cannot. They can develop an esprit de corps or, put another way, they can hunt like a pack. If they get a scent, they can follow it in a way that parliamentary debate and question times do not allow.

The hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Mrs. Browning) and the Leader of the House mentioned the Liaison Committee and the importance of its report. Much thinking is being done and we need to see some action following from it. The hon. Lady also spoke about the allocation of chairmanships, about which we have strong feelings. Many issues need to be addressed, and I hope that the Modernisation Committee and the House will have an opportunity to deal with them properly.

Whatever criticisms may be made, and there are some sharp ones, I welcome the fact that we are having this debate now and that the proposals are before the House for consideration. That promptness is largely a result of the Leader of the House pressurising his colleagues, as well as the rest of the House, to deliver a package to us. However, we deprecate the purge—the cull—of senior critics of the Government through the Committee of Selection's work.

We also regret the fact that the Leader of the House was unable to accept some of the proposals that we made a week ago to relieve the difficulties that the House faces. In particular, our proposal that the minimum size of Select Committees be increased would measurably improve the situation for Liberal Democrat and minority party candidates. It would also allow the Leader of the House to seek relief for those of his Back Benchers who are excluded under the present system.

Although the speed with which these proposals have come before us is welcome, errors may be an inevitable consequence. Some things, however, are not errors. It can hardly have been an accident that the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) was excluded from membership of the Transport Sub-Committee. That was not a clerical oversight; it was not a case of rushing into things. It was, surely, deliberate exclusion, just as the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) was deliberately excluded by his party in 1992—it was not an accident or a product of haste but a conscious decision.

In both cases, a stern and effective critic of the Government has been dealt a blow by respective Governments. Not only were they stern and effective critics in their own right but they spoke for the Committee. The Select Committee is a representative body of this Parliament. We require it to hold the Government to account; the Chairman is its representative and spokesman. An attack on the Chairman, in this way, is an attack on the House.

What could justify this cull? It is interesting that the Leader of the House did not talk about it—nor, for that matter, did the Parliamentary Secretary. The right hon. Gentleman was silent about the process that led to the outrage that led to today's debate. He made some strong points and he made some fair ones, but he forgot to mention the one thing that is exercising the House—the reason for this decision.

I set out the case for enlarged Committees last week. There is no doubt that enlarged departmental Committees would mean that many of the concerns that my colleagues in the minority parties are expressing today, by way of amendment and, later, by way of vote, would have been overcome. I made that point strongly last week. A Select Committee of 11 members has one place for the Liberal Democrats and the minority parties combined. A Select Committee of 13 or more members has two places for those third and minority parties. In making my best assessment of how minority places and Liberal Democrat places might properly be allocated, I have on many occasions been beset by the difficulties of the system. One of the quirks of the House is that, when it sees a pressing need it can often find a solution. Hence, on the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs, which has 11 members, two places are allocated to the third party and minority parties. The same applies to the Select Committee on Welsh Affairs.

I do not particularly seek to justify that relationship to the House but, just as a pressing need for special dispensation revealed itself for Scottish and Welsh affairs, so there is a case for larger departmental Select Committees. Two departmental Committees have 17 members each; we shall debate those places today. Two places on each of those Committees are within the gift of the Liberal Democrat party and minority parties. In each case, of course, one place has been given to a member of a minority party. There are serious difficulties with other departmental Committees; Plaid Cymru was offered places on the Select Committees on Welsh Affairs, on Environmental Audit and on Catering. To the best of my knowledge, having submitted names, Plaid Cymru recognised that that was an appropriate allocation.

Mr. Salmond

Does the hon. Gentleman think it unreasonable in the wholeness of things that, having examined the relative advantages of serving on a departmental Select Committee on the one hand and the Catering Committee on the other, Plaid Cymru decided that perhaps that offer did not give it or the Scottish National party full representation in the House?

Mr. Stunell

The Clerks advised me that, proportionally, two places were to be allocated to the SNP and two to Plaid Cymru. If one aggregates those places, which, I know, the hon. Gentleman is keen to do, the total number is four. It makes no difference at all to the final toll.

In introducing the debate, the hon. Member for Blaydon (Mr. McWilliam) said that perhaps it was not an occasion to parade private grief. I simply say to my colleagues in the minority parties that, for some Members, places on the Select Committee on Standards and Privileges, a Select Committee for departmental affairs in which they are interested and the Select Committees on Environmental Audit and on European Scrutiny are not to be sneezed at. In fact, they exceed the quota that I was quoted as appropriate for minority parties.

Pete Wishart (North Tayside)

On how many departmental Select Committees were places secured on behalf of Plaid Cymru and the SNP outwith the Select Committees on Welsh Affairs and on Scottish Affairs?

Mr. Stunell

None; let us be clear about that. The Committees I mentioned—the Select Committees on Standards and Privileges, on Environmental Audit and on European Scrutiny—are not departmental Committees. I would not try to persuade the House otherwise. However, a party that says that it is for Scotland in Europe but refuses to serve on the European Scrutiny Committee has, perhaps, got some questions to answer.

I regret the amendment tabled by the minority parties, as it rather misses the point of the offers made to them. It is also misses the point of the arithmetic. I do not wish to dwell on the matter, but SNP representation on Select Committees went from six members to five, and Plaid Cymru stayed at four. My own party increased its representation by five members—or six, if one goes back to the establishment of Select Committees in 1997. In plain language, the situation and the terms of trade have changed. I know that that is a difficult point for my minority party colleagues to accept.

I could also raise the issue of experience. We have tried to ensure that that experience is reflected in the allocations made in our quota, which covers the Liberal Democrats and the minority parties. I remind hon. Members that I am required to take into account not only Members who are expressing their discontent now but minority party Members from Northern Ireland, and we have done so.

Last week I deployed my case for increasing the size of Select Committees, especially of departmental Select Committees, but, sadly, no Member from any of the minority parties chose to speak in support of that proposition.

Mr. Mike Hancock (Portsmouth, South)

They were not here.

Mr. Stunell

My colleague is being a little unfair; they were here, but they chose to remain silent.

The speed of events is welcome, but it does not justify the cull of senior, experienced critics of the Government. Speed does not lead to quicker and better scrutiny if the critics are cut down. Perhaps we can accept that they are not being explicitly cut down for their own contribution; perhaps they were cut down, as used to be said, pour encourager les autres—in other words, as a warning to others. Will Labour Committee Chairmen be willing to keep their heads as high above the parapet as they should if they know that their reward at the end of their term of office is to be the same as Crewe's or Macclesfield's—victims of yet another purge?

Speed is getting in the way of reform. Whatever the outcome of today's events, it is absolutely essential to ensure that the process of reform gains pace, not loses it, as a result of such debates. We must not just let this become an opportunity to vent steam and reduce the pressure; we must use it as an occasion to stoke the fires and ensure that we get the reform that we need. I want to make it clear that my colleagues have a free vote tonight and that they and other hon. Members feel a real sense of unfairness. There is deep concern about the control freakery that the Government are now exercising. The worry is that this is yet another setback for Parliament in its long-standing struggle to hold the Executive to account, and our votes will be cast accordingly.

5.22 pm
Mr. Alan Williams (Swansea, West)

I shall be very brief. but in the unfortunate absence of the Father of the House—I know that all hon. Members wish him a very speedy recovery—I shall make a contribution that I think he would agree with, speaking as the most senior Privy Councillor in the House. I want to reflect on the current situation, based on 37 years' experience in the House, where I have been poacher and gamekeeper—depending on the role in which I was cast—with 22 years on the Front Bench and 15 years on the Back Benches. I know the pleasures of being a Minister, the miseries of being sacked and the pleasures of serving on Committees.

I want to start with a different point, which colleagues will have heard me make on several occasions in the previous Parliament, when I was fighting for more power for the Public Accounts Committee. None the less, it has to be re-emphasised. Under our system, democracy does not exist if accountability does not exist. Accountability cannot exist with the current scale of business, the scale of Departments and the volume of money unless we have a working, informed and effective Committee system. That is what this debate is all about—scrutiny.

Committees inevitably develop expertise that can match that of the Departments, so one can understand why Ministers regard them as a threat. I can remember the views that we expressed from the Opposition Benches and can compare them with what we hear from those who sit on them now. Opposition Members now understand the anguish of what seems to be the arrogance of Government, irrespective of whoever happens to be in government or in opposition at the time.

The most important role of Select Committees is to be a bulwark against ministerial diktat. I pay tribute to the Conservative party for introducing the departmental Select Committees, which I regard as the best innovation in my years in this place. They have enabled Back Benchers, in a way that the generalist Committees, such as those on the nationalised industries, did not. The old Committees were so general that they were ineffective. The precise remit of departmental Select Committees and their direct target of Ministers and the departmental civil service has made them much more effective. They are not only well directed but are expert in their subject.

The departmental Select Committee system is 20 years old and we have not made many changes to it. Resources are another matter, although perhaps not for today, but I say in passing—it will not endear me to any of the Committee Chairmen—that if money is available for Select Committees, I hope that it goes on advisers and back-up staff and not on salaries for individuals.

Members on both sides of the House must ensure that Select Committees are independent from the patronage of the Whips. It is glaringly inconsistent that the Government can appoint on any Committee the majority of their scrutineers, which can produce all sorts of nonsense. As a result of something that my assistant said, I discovered only this morning that the name of my right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field) did not appear on any of the lists. I hope that he will forgive me for mentioning this point, but I phoned him and asked, "What's happened? Didn't you apply?" He told me that he had applied to become a member of several Committees and had entered the open caveat that he was willing to serve on any Committee on which the Government wished to put him.

We are all aware of the experience that my right hon. Friend can bring to the House, but he does not have a place on any Select Committee. One of the Committees on which I sit—the Public Accounts Committee—is short of four members and it might have been one of the Committees in which he expressed an interest. I therefore hope that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, who is very fair minded and shares my regard for the work that right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead has done for Labour Members and for Parliament generally, will take the opportunity to reconsider that oversight.

The method of appointment is not just inconsistent: it will be an insult to those who dedicate much of their time and effort to the Committee structure and to Committee work if Committee chairmanships are seen as compensation for ex-Ministers. It is not very nice to lose a job as a Minister and it is not pleasant to walk into the Tea Room no longer carrying red boxes and with a car no longer waiting outside, but Ministers have had the privilege of being Ministers, and most Members go through the House without ever having that privilege. Ministers should therefore not need compensation for the. fact that they have ceased to be Ministers. It is not a job for life. We are not children. We all know that an MP's life is transient enough and that a Minister's life is even more transient. It is nonsense and outrageous that Committee chairmanships should be regarded as palliatives for injured pride.

Mr. Jon Owen Jones (Cardiff, Central)

Would my right hon. Friend not regard it as even more invidious if former Ministers were offered posts on Select Committees so as to ensure that they did not reveal what may have happened when they were Ministers? That would result in the direct opposite of what scrutiny Committees are for.

Mr. Williams

I am not sure that any ex-Minister could avoid the temptation of such an opportunity.

I want to make a point with which my right hon. and hon. Friends but not Conservative Members will be familiar. In a parliamentary Labour party meeting just before the election, the then Leader of the House said that entering Parliament must be seen as a twin-track career—that there are those who go along the ministerial path and those who take the Committee route. That is rather simplistic, as I pointed out at the time, but if it is the Government's view, it must be pointed out—it was not at the time—that that twin track is for some but not others. There was no mention of the fact that there would be a first-class coach attached for ex-Ministers.

It seems abundantly clear that, after 20 years, we need a new system to choose members of Select Committees. I welcome the suggestion made by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House of a review, but as my hon. Friend the Member for Pendle (Mr. Prentice) implied, without a time limit such a review could be seen as just a delaying tactic. I know that my right hon. Friend would not want to link his name to such a device, so I hope that he will confirm the time limit that he will set.

Mr. Hogg

I support what the right hon. Gentleman is saying. Does he agree that, if Chairmen of Select Committees are to be paid, it is even more important that nomination is made not by the Whips Office but by the House as a whole?

Mr. Williams

That is absolutely right. There cannot be independence through a system of patronage. They are mutually incompatible; those who give can take away.

Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley)

My right hon. Friend mentioned my right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field), who has specialist knowledge. As he has started naming names in this Chamber, may I mention my hon. Friends the Members for Pendle (Mr. Prentice) and for Islington, North (Jeremy Corbyn)? My hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North has a particular interest in international development and foreign affairs. His contribution in the Chamber on those subjects has been considerable over the years. Their applications to serve on Select Committees have been refused, and that has happened time and again. My right hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, East (Donald Anderson) and my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) should be reinstated, and we should not forget those who want to be ordinary members of Select Committees but are just not getting a chance in this place.

Mr. Williams

I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention but regret the fact that, unfortunately, she addressed her point to the person who is probably least able to help any of those to whom she referred.

Mr. McNamara

Is my right hon. Friend aware that, across the water in the Republic of Ireland, Chairmen of Select Committees—indeed, even the Irish Chairman of the British-Irish Inter-Parliamentary Body—receive extra parliamentary salaries, which are all in the gift of the Government or Opposition leader of the day? They are questions of patronage. Does he also agree that, inproperly—considering membership, we should also look at the powers of Select Committees? Although a Select Committee—

Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal)

Order. There is a time limit on this debate and many Members want to participate. Will Members please make interventions brief?

Mr. McNamara

Only the House can command that a person appear before a Select Committee. That power should go to the Select Committee so that it is not dependent on the Government majority of the day.

Mr. Williams

I thank my hon. Friend for his comments. I hope you will note, Madam Deputy Speaker, that the breach of my commitment to be brief is the consequence of my hon. Friends' desire to hear me speak further.

My final point is on chairmanships. Surely the logical people to choose the Chairmen are the Committee members themselves. They know the expertise and capabilities of their members, and that, too, would be a liberating factor. I urge the Leader of the House to consider that. He is in a unique position. His role provides a wonderful opportunity for anyone who wants to advance democracy and the rights of Parliament and the Back Bencher. I am sure that his heart is in the right place; I just hope that his actions will reflect his instincts.

5.35 pm
Sir George Young (North-West Hampshire)

It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Swansea, West (Mr. Williams). The House listened with respect to his balanced contribution. I shall seek to beat him for brevity if I cannot match him for wisdom.

I have three points to make. The first relates to the method of choosing the names for Select Committees. I speak as a new member of the Committee of Selection. I have attended only two meetings, but that has been enough to persuade me that it does not serve the House well. It has been captured by the usual channels, and I welcome the beam of light that is being shone on that obscure body this afternoon.

The Committee has nine members appointed by the House in the correct proportions of six, two and one. It is chaired with dispatch by the hon. Member for Blaydon (Mr. McWilliam). Of the eight remaining members, five are Whips. Had my party not generously acceded to my request to have one of our two places, six of the eight would have been Whips. There is a convention among Whips that they do not challenge the nominations of other parties. If the other side wants to put someone on a Committee or to keep someone off whose interests may be relevant but unhelpful, that is not challenged. It is no secret that I recently proposed an amendment in the Committee. Like the man in the Bateman cartoon, I was shot down in flames.

Unlike other Committees, the substance of the discussion is not circulated beforehand. We know what Committees we are going to appoint, but we do not know the nominations. They are produced like rabbits out of a hat at the meeting and agreed, usually without discussion or division. The meetings last a matter of minutes. That may be all right for the appointment of some Committees, and I am not against the involvement of the Whips. They know Members' interests, their work load on other Committees and can get a regional balance. However, it cannot be right at the beginning of a Parliament for people to be appointed to Committees for the whole of the Parliament in that way.

There needs to be a more rigorous and transparent process, leading to an output that commands greater confidence. The Committees should be better balanced, without being over-dominated by the Whips. The names of those nominated should be available in advance and there should be an expectation that they will be discussed and defended before they are put to the House. The House can certainly go over the course again, as we are doing this afternoon, but the Committee of Selection should be doing a proper job in the first place. I welcome the announcement by the Leader of the House of a thorough review of how the selection process operates.

My second point is that the nominations matter; they are vital. All the recent reports on reform of the House focus on the role of independent Select Committees. They should not be selected by the Government whom they are holding to account. Let us consider the Select Committee on Transport, Local Government and the Regions, which we are appointing tonight. One of the key political issues in coming months will be the tube—the private finance initiative, Bob Kiley, the Greater London assembly and so on. That requires no legislation. It will be covered briefly at Question Time and we can have an Opposition day on it, but that does not provide the opportunity to scrutinise the Executive. The Select Committee will be the only way in which the House can get behind the PFI for the tube.

Without being discourteous to whoever takes over from the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody), if she is not successfully reinstated, I doubt whether her successor will give the Government as hard a time. One of the weapons of the House is not quite being put beyond use, but being wheeled away from the front line. Using the alibi of mobility of membership, several independent-minded Members have been fingered and removed from Select Committees.

My final point relates to the membership of the Select Committee on the Modernisation of the House of Commons. In my view, what is needed is not so much a modernising Select Committee, but a strengthening Select Committee. Parliament's prime task is to be effective and to hold the Government to account. Yes, we should also work sensible hours, use modern technology and review antiquated procedures, all of which may well strengthen the House, but strengthening, not modernising, should be the prime purpose of the Committee.

The Select Committee that modernises or strengthens the House of Commons should not be chaired by the Cabinet Minister whose job it is to deliver the Government's often overloaded legislative programme. There could not be a clearer conflict of interest, nor an appointment more likely to short-circuit the whole machinery of accountability. The Leader of the House must be pulled two ways: between his duty to his ministerial colleagues through collective responsibility to secure the passage of their Bills, and his duty to the House to make sure that we do our job properly and have time to scrutinise the legislation.

The Leader of the House may well have radical ideas about reform of the House. I am sure that he would be a first-class witness before the Modernisation Committee. However, I say to him what I said to his predecessor: there is no role for the Leader of the House on a Select Committee of the House in charge of modernisation. It is like the Chancellor chairing the Public Accounts Committee.

Attempts to sort all these matters out at the end of the last Parliament were sadly unsuccessful. There can be no excuse for the House not getting it right now.

5.41 pm
Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich)

In the last Parliament, the Select Committee on Liaison, which consists of the Chairmen of the various Select Committees, was so concerned about how modernisation of the House was avoiding the need to develop and improve the powers of Select Committees that it produced a very balanced report in which it suggested to Parliament a way of bringing back to this place the power of scrutiny, which is what we are here for. That way was not only to improve the information and evidence-gathering techniques offered to Select Committees and the support for those who carry out the work, but to ensure that the members of the Committees were truly representative of all corners of the House of Commons.

I do not intend to detain the House long tonight, but I have to say that I am astonished by what has happened. I do not believe that I am irreplaceable on the Transport Sub-Committee: my hon. Friends the Members for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Stevenson) and for Cunninghame, South (Mr. Donohoe) have great knowledge of transport matters and either would make an excellent Chairman. The fact is that outside, the House, the current Parliament is perceived as not doing its job properly, and the Select Committees are regarded as a means of carefully examining not only what Whitehall and the Government are doing but what all the arms of government and their myriad agencies are doing. There is no other comparable form of machinery in the House of Commons. There is no other way of doing the job.

Although people do not always understand the intricacies of what we do here, they ask that the Members of Parliament who are sent here fulfil the role that voters expect them to fulfil, and that is not simply to go along with everything that the Executive propose. My commitment to the Labour party is total. My commitment to what is done in the name of the Labour party is sometimes less than total. I believe that the difference is essential. I do not undermine my Government by suggesting that they are not like the pope—infallible. I do not undermine the role of independent Secretaries of State if I dare, as a Committee member with other Committee members, to produce a report that examines their actions in detail.

What the Select Committees do matters. It matters because the House of Commons must never become a great morass of people doing what they are told not by the electorate but by the Executive. That is why it is important that we vote tonight on who serves on which Committee. That is why it is important to say to the electorate as a whole that we do a vital job. Give us more powers. Give us more support. Do not give us more money. As Chairman of a Committee, I do not want money: what I need is the right to question, to examine and to produce reports on what Her Majesty's Government are doing in the name of government.

It is because I have faith in the ability of the Labour party and a Labour Government to take just decisions that I know that they will not be frightened of the role of Select Committees in checking what they have done, what they are doing and what they intend to do. That is why I was elected. It is why we were all elected. If we forget that, the electorate will not.

5.45 pm
Sir John Stanley (Tonbridge and Malling)

I address my remarks to the composition of the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs, with special reference to the Government side. In this Parliament, as in the previous one, seven Members were nominated from the Government side. Of those Members who sat on the Committee during the last Parliament, three were proposed for renomination. Of the remaining four, two have retired from the House, and one—the hon. Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott)— did not want to serve on the Committee because of her commitments. Thus, of the previous Members of the Committee on the Government side who were willing and able to serve, only one—the right hon. Member for Swansea, East (Donald Anderson)—was sacked from the Committee.

I certainly acknowledge that there could well be occasions when it is right to dispense with the services of the Chairman of a Select Committee. It would be legitimate to do so, for example, if the Chairman did not have an adequate grasp of the subject matter before the Committee. However, as the House knows, that is most certainly not so in the case of the right hon. Gentleman. He was, of course, a professional diplomat before he entered the House. He has spent years on foreign affairs in the House, including service as a Front-Bench spokesman for his party. He is a member of the North Atlantic Assembly. He has given years of service to the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association and, throughout most of the last Parliament, he was the chairman of its UK branch. I can tell the House firmly that, of all the members of the Committee during the last Parliament, no one had a greater or deeper knowledge of foreign affairs than he did. The breadth and depth of his knowledge certainly exceeded that of most of us.

It would be right to dispense with the services of a Chairman if the Chairman was indolent. I share with the House the fact that the right hon. Gentleman was extremely diligent. If we consider the many, many informal meetings of the Committee as well as the hours spent in formal meetings, his attendance record was superior to that of any other member of the Foreign Affairs Committee during the last Parliament.

It would be legitimate to dispense with the services of a Committee Chairman if the Committee failed to deliver the goods, in terms of reports to the House. On that count, the facts speak for themselves. After a helpful tip given to me in the cafeteria by the then Chairman of the Select Committee on Home Affairs, the hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin), the Foreign Affairs Committee adopted the practice followed by the Home Affairs Committee of printing on the inside of each of its reports the full list of reports published by the Committee thus far in the Parliament. If the House looks at the final report, which we produced days before the Dissolution, it will see that the Foreign Affairs Committee under the chairmanship of the right hon. Member for Swansea, East produced in four years flat a total of 37 reports to the House, including major reports on human rights, weapons of mass destruction, the Kosovo war, European Union enlargement and several other equally important subjects. So the Committee, under his chairmanship, most certainly delivered the goods.

Finally, it might be legitimate to sack the Chairman of a Select Committee if his chairmanship skills were seriously deficient. The right hon. Gentleman will forgive me for saying that there may have been one or two occasions when his natural Welsh loquacity got the better of him and landed him in hot water, but essentially his chairmanship of the Committee was eminently satisfactory. He chaired the Committee in a way that was fair minded, consensual and patient, and that delivered the goods. The facts speak for themselves.

Regrettably, the only conclusion that one can draw as to why the right hon. Gentleman has been sacked from the Committee—a matter on which, as the hon. Member for Hazel Grove (Mr. Stunell) rightly pointed out, the Leader of the House was entirely silent in his opening remarks—is that the Foreign Affairs Committee produced a number of criticisms of the Government's foreign policy in the last Parliament.

I wish to make it clear to the House that those criticisms were not from one party on the Select Committee. They were not overwhelmingly from just part of the Select Committee. Such criticisms as there were in those 37 reports were overwhelmingly criticisms made by every member of the Select Committee and by every party on the Select Committee in reports that were unanimously agreed.

Therefore it is necessary to ask whether the House is prepared to tolerate a situation in which the Chairman of a Select Committee can be sacked for the supposed sin of having chaired a Select Committee that made criticisms of the Government. In posing that question, I say straight away that this is not an issue on which the official Opposition can make political capital. My hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Mrs. Browning), the shadow Leader of the House, was wholly right not to do so. I, like most members of the official Opposition, remember with dismay and embarrassment the events that occurred at the opening of Parliament in 1992 when, in almost mirror circumstances, my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) was not re-appointed to the Health Committee of which he had been Chairman, because that Committee had criticised the health policy of the Government of the day.

This is not an issue for party points. It is, however, an issue for House of Commons points. I state such a point, as I see it, in simple terms. If the Government are allowed to get away with the sacking of the right hon. Member for Swansea, East and the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody), the message that will be sent not only to every Chairman of a Select Committee in this Parliament but to every member of a Select Committee in this Parliament is that, if they have the temerity to criticise the Government in the course of their Select Committee's work in this Parliament, they run the risk that they will be sacked at the beginning of the next Parliament.

That is not an acceptable proposition. It is not an acceptable system of duress of this legislature by the Executive. At the end of this debate, above all debates in this Parliament, I ask that we as a House put party last and the House of Commons first. We must make it clear to the Government that the right hon. Member for Swansea, East and the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich should be reinstated to their respective Select Committees, from which they should never have been sacked.

5.56 pm
Mr. Frank Field (Birkenhead)

I, too, shall be brief. I shall make two comments, the first to the Leader of the House and the second to the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg), who I am sure will be back in the Chamber in a moment to hear my comments.

My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House has an ability with words which no other hon. Member can equal. Those who have such a gift know that it is easy for them so to wave a wand and paint a picture that we are unaware of the message that we are supposed to receive. I stress that today my right hon. Friend was extremely clear about the directions that he wishes the reform of the House of Commons to take. He was sensibly silent about the membership of a couple of Select Committees. I shall return to that in a moment.

I make a plea to my right hon. Friend. It would help the House if, at some suitable opportunity—obviously not today—he, with his considerable abilities, began to spell out for us what he and the Government see as the functions of the House of Commons. In my 22 years in this place, the Executive seem to have been terrorised by a view of the House of Commons which might have been true in the middle of the 19th century, but is no longer true today. It is not our function to make and unmake Governments, to introduce major Bills or to trip up the progress of Government Bills.

We clearly have a job of scrutiny, but the function that the monarch had in the 19th century is now ours. We have the right to be consulted, to advise and to warn, but if the Government choose to ignore us, they will probably get away with it. However, there are people outside who are attentive and who build up an image of the way in which Administrations behave and perform. One—only one—of the reasons why the Opposition are in such poor health, if I put it as kindly as I can, is that when we were unelectable, they in government thought that they could do anything. The electorate had to put up with it, but the electorate did not forget. Once we were in a position to form a Government, the revenge of the electorate was mighty, and will clearly extend over more than one Parliament—perhaps over two or three.

There is a message to my right hon. Friend. The Government might get away tonight with sacking two hon. Members who should be members of Select Committees, and they might think little of it, but in the last Parliament, and in this Parliament, sadly, they continue to present an image of what they are like which, I am sure, is totally inaccurate. The image suggests that they believe that one can ride roughshod, and grab and take anything. The impression of a belief that we rule, no matter what people say, is being marked down on our card outside. When we are in difficult times, we will find, like the shambles of the Conservative party, that it is too late to reform. The electorate will have marked our card indelibly, and when the moment comes, retribution will be visited upon us.

I hope that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House will help this place by recognising that our main function is a continuous five-year election campaign. As all the parties will be setting out their stalls and trying to create good images of themselves and bad ones of other people, it is within that interplay that our checks and balances operate. For example, if the Government get away with what they want to do, they will be playing out part of that continuous election campaign. We might agree and say that it does not matter and that the Government should have the issue. Of course, we might also say that they are beginning to build an image that will make re-election that much more difficult. We who usually want the Government to have their programme—we have been put here to ensure that it is delivered—might want to say that it is in the best interests of ourselves and Parliament for us not to let that happen. That was the first point that I wanted to make.

Hon. Members kindly said earlier that I had applied to become a member of any Committee. My first such activity in this House was back in 1979, when the then Opposition thought that Select Committee chairmanships should be used to provide a sort of restart interview for ex-Cabinet members who wished to make their way back in the House of Commons. After a couple of weeks, the Whips gave way. David Ennals was not appointed, but Renee Short gained the position that she should have assumed. Later, I had a chance to serve on a Select Committee only because the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) said that I should be on that Committee when the Whips attempted to keep me away from it.

That Committee behaved in the way that has been described by all hon. Members. It did not try to trip up the Government or to prove silly little points. We tried to begin a new agenda, and because we did so, the Government and the Opposition felt themselves to be free and secure enough to begin to rethink their position on welfare reform. In the long run, I do not believe that there is a conflict between good government and strong Select Committees. Select Committees are not in business to pretend that we are a Government in exile or that we are about 19th—century Members thinking that they can bring down Administrations. Rightly, we do not have the power to introduce Bills. If we had such characteristics, this country would no longer have responsible government. Come the elections, Governments could say, "We did our best, guv'nor, but all those Select Committees that you wanted us to establish kept defeating our programme, time after time." There is a role for Select Committees in terms of independence and setting new agendas. There is also a role for us to say—as I am now—that the Government are wrong and should think again.

I want now to make my plea to the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham, who has tabled a number of amendments. I should tonight call him my right hon. and learned Friend. By tabling his amendments, he has ignited a debate that has probably surpassed his best expectations. Obviously, he will wish to speak, but I ask him not to press his amendments. Labour Members will be loth to pick on some of our colleagues and execute them while supporting other colleagues, whom we might want to be appointed. We do not want to deal with the matter in public.

In the 1983 election, I rushed up to a house in which seven voters lived, thinking that they must be Labour supporters. I asked the woman who opened the door whether they were voting for us this time. She said, "No way." I asked, "Is your husband voting for us?" The answer was, "No way." I asked whether any of the children were voting Labour. "No way," came the answer. I then said, "Have any of you got jobs?" The woman said, "None of us." I asked whether they were all voting Tory. The woman said, "Yes; that bloody woman got us into this mess, and that woman can get us out of it." Similarly, we do not want to pick on individual Members and put others in their place. If I may say so, the Committee of Selection got us into this bloody mess and it can get us out of it. Even if the amendment that seeks to reject the membership proposals for two Committees and ensure that the Committee of Selection reports back early on Wednesday cannot be accepted, I hope that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House will note that that is the wish of the Committee.

6.6 pm

Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan)

A few moments ago, the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) said that she was not irreplaceable, but I should tell her that many hon. Members on both sides of the House wish that she had not been replaced and hope that something can be done about that in the next few hours.

I want to speak about the sub-plot that has been running in this debate. I refer to the private grief, as the hon. Member for Blaydon (Mr. McWilliam) called it, between the Liberal Democrat party and the minority parties—or certainly the Scottish National party and Plaid Cymru. I want also to make a few remarks about the composition of Select Committees in general.

In speaking to amendments (b) to motions 15 and 19, and to the manuscript amendment to motion 17, I must say that I thought that the hon. Member for Hazel Grove (Mr. Stunell) gave us a touch of candour when he said that he was beset by difficulties as a representative of the Liberal Democrats and the minority parties on the Committee of Selection. He said that he faced difficulties in deciding on certain occasions whether to nominate a Liberal Democrat or an SNP or Plaid Cymru Member in respect of a departmental Select Committee. He must have agonised about that choice. On the three such occasions that arose for him, he plumped for a member of the Liberal party.

I have some sympathy for the hon. Gentleman. I can imagine the difficulty of trying to say to the parliamentary Liberal party, "I had the opportunity of appointing one of you, but I thought that the SNP and Plaid Cymru had a better claim." I do not think that he would have been re-appointed to his current position if he had made such a remark. I do not underrate the difficulty that he faced, but I slightly resent his trying to gild the matter over and to say that it was a question only of numbers or experience. If it was a question of numbers, he has done a superb job. He has managed to get the Liberal party, which has 8 per cent. of Members of Parliament, 9.1 per cent. representation in the Committees—an overrepresentation of four hon. Members. The SNP and Plaid Cymru have an under-representation of one hon. Member both in the general and departmental Committee lists. Under- representation by one person might seem to be neither here nor there, but when a party has only two places on departmental Select Committees, one of them becomes proportionally very important.

The hon. Gentleman also said that selection was a question of experience. It is true that a large number of my hon. Friends are new Members of Parliament. However, when there was a choice in respect of the Select Committee on the Treasury between a new Member of Parliament from the Liberal party and a rather more experienced one from the SNP, he suddenly decided to give youth a chance, and nominated the Liberal Democrat. I do not mind the fact that he faced some difficulty, but I resent the humbug that is presented to the House. Its effect is such that even the Chairman of the Committee of Selection was not told about any difficulty regarding the Liberal party and others. I do not think that such behaviour does the party any credit. On the contrary, it gives me the impression that, for all the deserved criticisms that the hon. Member for Hazel Grove made of the Labour party, the outcome of the selection process would have been exactly the same if the Liberal Democrats had been in charge of it; the only difference would have been the level of sanctimony with which the selections were proposed.

Although it is true that it is generally invidious for hon. Members to consider amendments that propose replacing one Member with another, replacing a Liberal Member with a Scottish National Member or Plaid Cymru Member is justified under the current circumstances.

I have some experience of what the Leader of the House is going through. Two years ago, in the Scottish Parliament, there were three minority parties with one Member each. We had a Green Member, a Scottish Socialist and an independent. In statistical terms, such representation could not have guaranteed them places on the Committees of the Scottish Parliament. Those Committees are much more influential than Select Committees or even Standing Committees at Westminster. There was an agreement, which I helped to broker as Leader of the Opposition, to ensure that those minorities had a place on the Committees despite the statistics. That was the right decision. Instead of under-representing minorities, it would be wiser and fairer to over-represent them when possible to ensure that distinctive views are expressed. That would benefit Select Committees.

I know that the Leader of the House has an open mind on the matters that we are considering. I read his article in The Times last week and I listened carefully to his speech. I reluctantly agreed with much of what he said. He referred to Committee practice in the Scottish Parliament—and in the Welsh Assembly, which can take policy if not legislative initiatives—and I know that he will try to include some of that experience in Select Committees in the House of Commons.

I served on the Select Committee on Energy from 1987 to 1992. I therefore know that the dispatch of independent Committee members is not a new practice. That Select Committee was independent minded when it began its work in 1987. It produced a series of reports that were critical of the Government of the day. As time went on, members were selected who were described by other members as Whips' narks. On one occasion, two Conservative Members came to blows as they discussed who was informing the Whips about the various discussions in the Committee.

Mr. McNamara

Who were they?

Mr. Salmond

One of them has passed away, so I shall not identify them. None the less, a Select Committee was nobbled. It is not a new phenomenon, but I stress to any Labour loyalists who are present that that does not make it right. Just because the Tories did it does not make it right for the Labour party.

There are only two forms of checks and balances in this place. They are the revising Chamber, whose Members are increasingly appointed and is therefore the poodle rather than the watch dog of the constitution, and the Select Committee system. I hope that the role of the latter will be expanded. Select Committees constitute an early warning system of approaching trouble in legislation or Government practice. If they become neutered and their members are simply appointed, and if they are subject to intimidation and replacement, neither the early warning system nor the revising Chamber will be effective.

The Leader of the House, perhaps cleverly, as one of his hon. Friends suggested, said that he was open to change, which was inevitable. He also said that he was sympathetic to changes in the way in which all parties nominate Select Committee members. However, it would strengthen his arm in fighting for change if the House demonstrated its independence and rejected at least some of the Select Committee nominations this evening.

6.14 pm
David Winnick (Walsall, North)

We should distinguish between some of the humbug and mischief making in the first part of the debate and the genuine anxiety that many of us feel about nominations for the Transport, Local Government and the Regions Committee and the Foreign Affairs Committee. Some may say, "Look what happened in 1992. They did it." However, we would make a mistake if we repeated such actions tonight. If we support the recommendations of the Committee of Selection, we commit an action to which we strongly objected in 1992 when we were in opposition.

Moreover, such actions did not do the Tories much good. My right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field) spoke about the arrogance of the previous Government. The decision in 1992 was a relatively minor factor in their self-destruction; nevertheless, it affected the morale of Tory Members of Parliament. It would be a mistake to repeat such actions.

Let me put the argument differently. If my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, East (Donald Anderson) had been re-appointed, would any Labour Member have been surprised? The opposite is true: we would have taken it as a matter of course. We are therefore surprised that they have not been re-appointed. Several hon. Members wish to speak, and I shall briefly express three reasons why I hope that our large majority, about which I am pleased, will not be used tonight to support what is basically wrong. We have been told that we have a genuinely free vote.

First, there is no justification for not re-appointing my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich and my right hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, East. If we consider all the criteria that the right hon. Member for Tonbridge and Mailing (Sir J. Stanley) set out—ability, knowledge, attendance and conscientiousness—it is clear that they should be re-appointed. The Leader of the House has given no explanation for not re-appointing them. If the Government had at least given a reason, we could take it into account. We are entitled to an explanation; we should not simply act as a rubber-stamp. Perhaps some hon. Members believe that the decision is correct, but if we believe that it is wrong we should not rubber-stamp it.

The second reason is more important than individuals, if I may say that to my two hon. Friends. We need to reassert the authority of the House of Commons. There are many reasons for arguing among ourselves—for example, we may not like a policy—but we were elected as Labour Members of Parliament, not independents. We are entitled to stand as independents, but we know what the result would be. Like my colleagues, I want to be here only as a Labour Member of Parliament. I have no wish to sit in the House of Commons other than as a Labour Member. We therefore give the Government the benefit of the doubt on many issues, as happened in the last Parliament. Sometimes I was not happy with this or that, but on the majority of issues, I am pleased to support the Government. However, if we simply rubber-stamp a decision, which I, like many others, believe to be wrong, we act against the interests of the House and the parliamentary Labour party.

We cannot claim that there are political reasons that we should take into account. There is no general election for at least four years, no mid-term election and no crucial by-election. In those circumstances, we would say, "We'd better rally round. It would be unfortunate if the press got the impression that we were a divided party." To put it generously, we are not likely to experience difficulties from the Opposition, at least for a while. If we believe that the Government are wrong, there is no better time than the beginning of a Parliament to vote against them for all the reasons that I have expressed.

The final reason is that, if we rubber-stamp this decision tonight, this Government and other Governments in the future will say, "We got away with it, like they got away with it in 1992." The future Labour Government whom I hope will be re-elected might say that in the next Parliament. However, there has been enough of a row, and enough media difficulties—caused not by us on the Back Benches but by the Government—and if the Government do not get their way tonight, it is my humble view that that would make any Government far more reluctant to repeat what has been done.

I hope that I have not taken up too much of the House's time. For the three reasons that I have given, I hope that we will decide tonight not to approve the membership of the two Committees in question: the Transport, Local Government and the Regions Committee and the Foreign Affairs Committee.

6.20 pm
Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham)

I know that the hour is late and that many hon. Members wish to speak, so I shall be brief and make my remarks in compressed form.

The right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field) asked me not to move my amendment. With the consent of the House, I propose not to move it. However, I propose to vote against the substantive motion. We are grateful to the hon. Member for Blaydon (Mr. McWilliam) and my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir G. Young) for lifting the secrecy from the Committee of Selection. The plain truth that we must face is that that Committee does not exercise a judgment; it simply rubber-stamps the nominations of the parties. In reality, the Whips are choosing the Select Committees, and that cannot be right.

I hope that the House will forgive me for drawing on my personal experience. I was a Minister for 13 years, and have also been a Whip. During that time I never—or very rarely—found myself under pressure in the Chamber. However, I sometimes found myself under pressure when I was before a Select Committee. I believe that the Select Committees are the most important form of scrutiny that the House has, and if that is the case, we must reserve to the House the nominations for their membership.

I welcome what the Leader of the House said about the Modernisation Committee determining a new way of selecting the Select Committees. However, I hope that it will approach that task with a view to reducing the amount of control that the Executive, or any party, exercises over its own members. I must point out to the hon. Member for Walsall, North (David Winnick) that I am increasingly the enemy of party. I want to diminish the influence of party in the House. That has always been my position, although I find it rather easier to express now than I did during my 13 years in government.

May I say to the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) and to the right hon. Member for Swansea, East (Donald Anderson) that the hon. Lady's speech demonstrated why we value her so much? She and the right hon. Gentleman are parliamentarians of distinction. If one were to ask why they were not re-appointed to the two Select Committees of which they were Chairmen, there would be no sensible answer, save that they presided over Committees that expressed authoritative criticism of the Front Bench from time to time. That is what they were meant to do, and that is what I hope they will continue to do in this Parliament.

The right hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith)—who has been here throughout the debate—and the hon. Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Mrs. Ellman) will have noted that I have tabled amendments to take them off the Select Committees in question. There is nothing personal in that. I am afraid that if one is trying to put two people on those Committees, one has to take two people off. I hope that they will accept that I was not making any personal criticism of them.

Alan Howarth (Newport, East)

The right hon. and learned Gentleman says that he intends nothing personal in his amendments. Earlier, he waxed eloquent on matters of parliamentary propriety. Will he therefore apologise to the House for having tabled amendments proposing that individual Members be appointed to Committees even though he had not consulted them?

Mr. Hogg

The right hon. Gentleman may not have spotted the fact that I do not intend to move those amendments. I came to the conclusion that those hon. Members were unelectable, apart from any other reason, and that it was therefore not right for the House to consider their nominations. I therefore wished to withdraw my amendments.

The functions of the Select Committees are critical. We value the independence of the leading Chairmen that we have had. I do not want to divide—in any sense—the consensus that has been building up in the House. I hope that the right hon. Member for Swansea, East and the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich will again be able to serve on those Select Committees, and I do not want to reduce that possibility by moving my amendments. So, if the House will permit it, I shall not move them when they are called.

6.25 pm
Andrew Bennett (Denton and Reddish)

I welcome the decision of the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) not to move his amendments. That is extremely helpful.

I want to talk about the Select Committee on Transport, Local Government and the Regions, and I shall start by paying tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody). The whole House, and the nation, have made it quite clear that we all respect the knowledge that she brought to that Select Committee in the last Parliament, and we cannot understand why we are not going to be able to use that knowledge in this Parliament. It is important that the House should show its respect for the knowledge that my hon. Friend brought to that Select Committee.

Less well recorded is my hon. Friend's work rate. There were times last year when she chaired both the Transport Sub-Committee and the main Committee of the then Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions, and also attended the Environment Sub-Committee. That would be a formidable task for most people. However, in addition, my hon. Friend chaired Westminster Hall, as well as being a member of the Chairmen's Panel. She was therefore putting in far more work than many other hon. Members, and was doing so with a great deal of skill. That must be placed firmly on record. My hon. Friend would, of course, admit that she can be a little bit awkward on occasions, and she can certainly be disrespectful—but her work does the House of Commons proud, and it diminishes us all if we cannot find a place for her on a Select Committee at this time.

I am pleased that the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham decided not to move his amendments. He was a little unfair on my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Mrs. Ellman), because she was one of the people on the Select Committee who came very close to equalling the record of my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich. She has an extremely good knowledge of regional and local government, and was excellent on questions of urban regeneration. It is unfortunate that her name was picked out as someone who should come off the Select Committee. She, too, had an extremely good work rate.

If one put a report before the Committee, one would know that the amendments that my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Riverside tabled would be based on the fact that she had read the evidence and the whole of the report. There is always the temptation for a member of a Select Committee to flick through a report, find a particular page and table a few amendments, to pretend that they have been participating. In contrast, one always knew that my hon. Friend had done her homework, that she was a real participator, and one of the most skilful questioners. The House is therefore faced with a dilemma. However we get out of it, if we are not careful we shall have to take one person off a Select Committee to put someone else on. We should not run away from that fact.

How should the House move forward tonight? I plead with the Chairman of the Committee of Selection to acknowledge that, having listened to the debate, it would be perfectly easy for him not to move one or two of the particularly critical motions. He could decline to move them—the rest could be carried—and we could return to them later. if he insists on moving them, I would argue with my hon. Friends that we should vote them down. Having done so, we could then go back to the Committee of Selection on Wednesday and still get the whole process through—but it is no good our taking the easy option of voting the motions down unless we have considered the way forward.

There are ways of dealing with the matter. The first, and easiest, would be to amend Standing Orders to enlarge the membership of the two Committees in question by one, so that there would be a place for the Member concerned on each one. That would involve two resolutions, which would be easy for the Leader of the House to introduce, to amend Standing Orders to make those extra places. That, in a sense, is the simple way forward, but Opposition Members, if they are so keen to make a change, would have to put up with a slight alteration in the party percentages on those Committees.

There are other ways forward that need to be considered. One problem with the Transport, Local Government and the Regions Committee is that the Department is primarily responsible for England. Most of the issues that it covers are devolved in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales, but one proposed member represents a Northern Ireland constituency and two represent Scottish constituencies. They would consider the Committee's work even though 90 per cent. of it would not affect their constituents. There is no reason why a Member of the House who represents one part of the United Kingdom should not scrutinise events in any other part, but is the right balance struck by proposing for a Committee of 17 Members three who represent areas that are not directly affected by 90 per cent. of the Committee's work?

If Opposition parties are so keen for independent scrutiny to take place, why do they always press for their percentage on Select Committees? Why could they not consider proposing Members from other parties, particularly as in the last Parliament the Conservative party had considerable difficulty in finding Members to serve who turned up regularly? There are ways forward, and this is my plea to the Chairman of the Committee of Selection: do not move those particular motions. If they are moved, my plea to my hon. Friends will be to vote them down, on the understanding that the Committee of Selection can return to the matter on Wednesday and find a solution. There are solutions, and the Select Committees could still be set up before the recess.

6.31 pm
Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire)

Although I cannot go along with everything that the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Bennett) said, he has presented the House with a realistic solution to the dilemma facing us this evening. I hope that it commends itself to the Leader of the House and the Chairman of the Committee of Selection, who is not in his place.

The Leader of the House made an interesting speech, and I hope that it will be regarded as significant. I believe that he is genuinely anxious to improve Select Committees and their selection, and that he wants them to hold the Government properly to account. He can prove that by ensuring that the two motions are not moved. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) has done precisely the right thing, and will not move his amendments. It is invidious for the House, and for Government Members in particular, to face a choice between two Members. My right hon. and learned Friend has withdrawn one dilemma and it is up to the Leader of the House and the Chairman of the Committee of Selection to withdraw the other.

We are at the beginning of a new Parliament and the Government once again enjoy a very large majority, but I already detect signs in our debates that Government Members are conscious of the fact that huge majorities breed arrogance. I already detect a view that Government Members want to play a fuller part than they played in the last Parliament in holding the Government to account and in subjecting their actions to scrutiny.

We have heard a number of admirable speeches. The hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) made a splendid contribution, as did the hon. Member for Walsall, North (David Winnick). Both proclaimed their genuine pride in being members of the Labour party and supporters of a Labour Government, yet both called on their colleagues to consider what is proposed.

This Government are not the first to be guilty of making such proposals, and I have been in a position similar to that of the right hon. Member for Swansea, East (Donald Anderson) and the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich. In 1979 I served on the Education, Science and Arts Committee, which was chaired by a Labour Member, Christopher Price. He chaired the Committee with great distinction and authority, but lost his seat in 1983.

My party, which was in government with a huge majority—almost as big as that enjoyed by the present Government—decided that it wanted to take the chairmanship of the Committee to itself. I was the senior member, but I was considered far too dangerous and was bypassed. I was not allowed to be Chairman. I did not make a great issue of that at the time, because an ex-Minister for whom I had great personal affection was put in place, but it was wrong.

The name of the right hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith), the former Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, appears, as does mine, in the motion on the Foreign Affairs Committee. I have a great regard for him, and he knows that to be true, but it is wrong to shoehorn a former Cabinet Minister straight into the chairmanship of a Select Committee. That is not the right way to behave.

We heard an admirable speech from my right hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Mailing (Sir J. Stanley), who served on the Foreign Affairs Committee with great distinction in the last Parliament. He has personal experience, so he elaborated as perhaps no one else could on the important role played by the right hon. Member for Swansea, East in chairing that Committee. My right hon. Friend showed beyond any peradventure that removing the right hon. Gentleman was an act of malice or spite. It was not a constructive action or a recognition of his contribution to the affairs of the House.

The same can be said of the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich. She is a doughty champion of Parliament, and although she is proud to be Labour just as I am proud to be Conservative, she puts her parliamentary duties above all others. She has served not only her party but the whole of Parliament by the way in which she has discharged those duties. To have a Select Committee system—or rather, a selection system—that ejects two Members of such quality and such independence of mind and spirit is an indictment of the system itself.

I couple with the names of those two Members that of the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field). I did not know that he had sought to serve the House as a Select Committee member until I heard it in the debate. He had not even been particular as to which Committee it should be; he was happy to serve on virtually any Committee. A selection system that will not allow a man with one of the best forensic minds in the House, and whose reputation for integrity and independence is second to none, to serve the House as a member of a Select Committee is appalling. Frankly, that made me almost as angry as the exclusion of the two former Chairmen.

What would Members say if we proposed that the Crown Prosecution Service not only select the judges, but appoint the juries? They would laugh such a scheme to scorn, yet in effect, the Government—[Interruption.] Well, they may laugh, but the selection system would allow the Government to select the jury and the judge to pass judgment on their own policies. That is nonsense.

I hope that the Leader of the House will heed the wise words of my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir G. Young), the former shadow Leader of the House. As he and I have said before, it is wrong for the Leader of the House to be Chairman of the Modernisation Committee. It is right to have such a Committee—although I would prefer to call it an improvement Committee. My right hon. Friend wanted to call it a strengthening Committee. We want to strengthen and improve this place and the way in which it holds Governments to account, and it is wrong that the Leader of the House is on that Committee. Of course he should give evidence, and of course he should put papers and schemes before it, but he should not chair its deliberations.

We need to examine all our systems. The Modernisation Committee must be more demonstrably independent, and the Committee of Selection must be less demonstrably a rubber stamp. It is nonsense to have a Committee that merely receives the nominations from the two or three sets of Whips and says, "Yes, we'll have those." There should be a proper opportunity for Members to apply to a thoroughly independent Selection Committee, and to say on what Select Committees they wish to serve. I cannot think that any such independent Selection Committee would turn down applications from the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich or from the right hon. Members for Swansea, East and for Birkenhead.

Jeremy Corbyn

I endorse what the hon. Gentleman says about applications. Does he also believe that all those who apply for membership of Committees should have their names published, so that it is transparent who applied and who was subsequently appointed?

Sir Patrick Cormack

That is a perfectly acceptable suggestion. I see no harm in that, and it would encourage Members to put their names forward. Over the years, many people have paid lip service to this other ladder. Far too many people come to the House so anxious to serve on the Front Bench that they subdue their own instincts. The hon. Member for Islington, North (Jeremy Corbyn) would never fall into that category, so he has never been on the Front Bench and will find it difficult to get on to any Select Committee on which he really wants to serve.

We should have a transparent system with a proper Selection Committee and proper applications. Members of House should know who has applied, and people should be selected to serve on Committees to which they can bring proper expertise, a true interest and true diligence. The attendance record of Select Committees is not always what it should be. [Interruption.] Some hon. Members are nodding vigorously. It is important that those who are given this duty should discharge it properly, because they are acting on behalf of us all.

I shall finish where I began. The Leader of the House has gone—[Interruption.] Oh, no, he is still present. I apologise to him. I hope that he will heed what I have said, and will not press those particular motions, so that just as we have been spared having to make an invidious comparison between individual Members, we will be spared having to exclude two people of enormous worth, who have served the House in a fine manner over many years.

6.43 pm
Donald Anderson (Swansea, East)

It was Adlai Stevenson who said, "With a tribute like that, I can hardly wait to hear myself speak." Yes, I am a victim—along with my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody)—but whether I am an innocent victim will be for the House to decide. I am most grateful to all my hon. Friends who have paid tribute to me. I am deeply honoured by what the right hon. Member for Tonbridge and Mailing (Sir J. Stanley) said. He was the Opposition leader on the Committee. We have had some differences, but I have always had enormous respect for him as a parliamentarian.

When I chaired the Welsh Affairs Select Committee 20 years ago, an academic accused me of being a democrat because of the way in which I ran the Committee. I pleaded guilty to that charge, and I hope that I ran the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs in the same way.

The key factor is not the personal, but the principle. Parliament is falling into some disrepute. Coverage in the newspapers has plummeted. The public has switched off, as was shown by the apathy during the general election. What signal are we giving to the public? The last century was extremely hard on Parliaments because the professional civil service was far more expert, and because of the secrecy, the speed of events and globalisation. Select Committees are by far the best instrument for Parliament to be expert in dealing with experts. They must be seen to be independent if Parliament is to enhance its role.

My right hon. Friend has the ability to be a great Leader of the House. I have noticed, as no doubt have colleagues, that there was a difference between the tone of his admittedly positive speech to the Hansard Society last Thursday and what he said today. There was a gaping black hole in his speech last Thursday: there was no reference to what the Hansard Society and the Liaison Committee had said about the role of the Whips. Today, he grasped that nettle, and said something of significance about a review. I rejoice at that. Parliament faces a challenge, and I know that we will not fail.

6.46 pm
Sir Teddy Taylor (Rochford and Southend, East)

It is wonderful that everyone has talked of the importance of preserving our democracy and fighting for the rights of individuals. I have been in the House for a long time, and I have heard that said on many occasions, but the interesting question is what we intend to do about it. If my party feels as strongly as it says it does about this rotten and devious system of appointing Members to Select Committees merely on the instructions of Whips, what the blazes does it intend to do about it? If we really care, should not we say that we will make changes in the way in which we appoint Members to Select Committees? Nothing has sickened me more in my long time in Parliament than to hear Opposition Members shouting about what should be done when they can do something about it. If we think that democracy is at risk, we should do something about it.

If we really care, hon. Members should examine not just the chairmanship of two Committees but some of the decisions made about individuals, including the Member to whom I refer to in my amendment (b) to motion 17. For a brief period, I had the pleasure of serving on the Treasury Committee. The hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Mr. Sedgemore), with whom I do not agree on anything, was in my opinion one of its most effective members. To some degree, he was more effective than all the others put together.

The hon. Gentleman did not follow the rules. Members of the Treasury Committee do not decide what questions they ask: they are supplied to them by Clerks. At the beginning of a meeting, we had a bidding session to decide which of the named questions we wanted to ask. Unfortunately, the hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch was different from others, in that he tended to ask his own questions. He upset things totally, and was a complete rascal.

I am worried about the question of ability. The House of Commons is different from most places of work, in that for most jobs people need A-levels, O-levels or university degrees. Parliament is unique: there are no qualifications for membership. To be a Member of Parliament people do not need to be able to read, write or count. A law that was laid down back in 1864 says that peers, lunatics or convicted criminals cannot be an MP. That offers us a wide scope to choose from, but it is amazing how one or two of each of those categories slips through from time to time.

The Members who have been chucked off Committees have great ability and are being discriminated against. The hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch, with whom I hardly agree on anything, is one of the most highly qualified Members of the House. He was a successful graduate of Oxford, he is a barrister, and he has a constituency with some of the greatest social problems of the world. It made me sick to see him being chucked off while others were left on. My point is about democracy—it was not made in a party sense.

The House must wake up to the fact that, if we genuinely believe that Select Committees can achieve something and that democracy is in danger, we must make room for Members who are different, clever or on their own.

Another point, which, of course, is very much against the hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch, is that, as an individual, he did not always agree with everyone. Some members of our party do the same, and, as is probably known, there is currently a rule that we should not talk about the EEC at any time or in any way, because it is divisive and difficult. The Labour party has its rules too, and the hon. Gentleman sometimes breaks them.

The one thing we want, and it is desperately needed, is for the House of Commons to hear about democracy. We should give the Whips some idea of what we think. I believe that the right message would be conveyed if Members voted for amendment (b) to motion 17—with the agreement of the hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch, whom I consulted before I tabled the amendment. I think he was rather surprised.

There is no point in just changing round some of the clever people who talk, and who always agree on everything. What is crucial is to preserve individuals.

Much has been said about the importance of Select Committees. I feel that there is a danger of our overstating that: democracy is far more important. I therefore hope that what I have said will be considered, for if such a message is conveyed to the Whips it will, I think, do more good than anything else.

Finally and most importantly, let me say to my own wonderful party that while it is great to hear us praising democracy, we must do something rather than just talking about it.

6.51 pm
Mr. Derek Foster (Bishop Auckland)

I am grateful to be called, and very pleased to follow the hon. Member for Rochford and Southend, East (Sir T. Taylor). This has proved, as I hoped, to be an extremely important debate in terms of the relationship between Parliament and the Executive.

I am deeply embarrassed to refer to my own position, but I am one of those who have been chucked out. I was joint Chairman of the Education and Employment Committee for four years, and was dispensed with rather summarily.

Two aspects of the debate, however, have been immensely encouraging. We have heard a constructive response from the Leader of the House, and we have witnessed the death throes of a wholly discredited system—a system that I operated for 10 years as Labour Chief Whip. At the end of my tenure I concluded that the rough justice that had been meted out was no longer tenable, and it was I who advocated in the Liaison Committee that Select Committee membership should be removed from the power of the Whips. I am delighted that the Liaison Committee agreed; I am also delighted that, with their silly behaviour, my right hon. Friends have underlined the wisdom of the Committee's decision.

I think that something very good will come out of this debate. I think the Leader of the House will prove a very progressive Leader: I think he will grasp the unique and historic opportunity to advance the power of Select Committees, and really begin to restore the dignity—as well as the power—of the House of Commons.

6.53 pm
Mr. Dominic Grieve (Beaconsfield)

Once again, we have had the opportunity to engage in a serious and important debate. I am grateful to the Leader of the House for outlining possible proposals for modernisation that would address some of the criticisms advanced today. There is no doubt that if that is done he will have the Opposition's co-operation and support, as has already been made clear to him.

The fact that that is being promised, however, does not mean we should suspend our judgment on the motions. We have a right and a duty to exercise our judgment, and if what is coming from the Committee of Selection is wholly unfortunate and misplaced we should examine each motion and have the courage to reject those that appear flagrantly to fly in the face of common sense.

I hope that the House will be willing to consider particularly the motions relating to transport and foreign affairs, and decide whether the interests of the House are being properly served in the rejection of Members whose views have been valid and trusted in the past. I await some reassurance from the Minister that the problems raised by so many today are being addressed.

6.55 pm
The Parliamentary Secretary, Privy Council Office (Mr. Stephen Twigg)

I thank all who have spoken. I shall try to respond to some of their comments, but I have only five minutes in which to do so.

The hon. Member for Hazel Grove (Mr. Stunell) suggested that speed was getting in the way of reform. The Government have no desire for that to happen. As my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House has said on many occasions, we have tried to have the Select Committees up and running in time for the summer, and that is still our intention. As has been acknowledged by Members on both sides of the House, however, and as we have made clear, reform will now take place.

As my right hon. Friend said, when the Modernisation Committee meets on Wednesday—assuming that we appoint it tonight—he will want it to give priority to the way in which Committee members are appointed. I do not think we could have a clearer indication that there are no delaying tactics, and no attempts by my right hon. Friend to ensure that that speed gets in the way of reform.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field) said that there was no conflict between good government and strong Select Committees. My right hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, West (Mr. Williams) gave the House the benefit of his considerable experience, and described Select Committees as the best innovation he had seen during his time in the House. I think Members in all quarters want to ensure that that innovation is advanced, and that reform takes place.

As a number of Members said, we have benefited not just from the Liaison Committee's report—my right hon. Friend said that it would form a basis for the Modernisation Committee's consideration on Wednesday—but from the important contributions of the Hansard Society, chaired by Lord Newton, and the Norton commission, appointed by the official Opposition. All those studies and reports will contribute to the important debate that the Modernisation Committee will launch on Thursday.

The right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir G. Young) could not stay, but passed me a note to explain why. Both he and the hon. Member for South Staffordshire (Sir P. Cormack) again raised the question of my right hon. Friend's chairing the Modernisation Committee. I think that my right hon. Friend's commitment to chairing the Committee reaffirms his personal commitment to making modernisation a priority. I see no contradiction between that and saying that we want to modernise, strengthen and improve the House. What my right hon. Friend and the Government are saying by proposing that he chair the Committee is that we place reform, renewal and improvement of the House and its Select Committee system at the heart of our priorities. That is reflected in what my right hon. Friend has said today, as well as in his important speech to the Hansard Society last week. We place modernisation of the House at the head of the priorities of its Leader.

My hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) raised the question of payment of Committee Chairs. The proposal has appeared in a number of the reports to which I have referred, and we have made it clear that we will consult widely on it. It will form part of the inquiry conducted by the Modernisation Committee, and only if it enjoys wide support will it be put to the SSRB.

We have an opportunity to settle the issue, and to allow the work of the Select Committees to begin. Labour Members have a free vote. This is a matter for the House to decide, but I commend our proposals.

Question put and agreed to.


That Mr. Tony Banks, Mr. Harold Best, Tom Brake, Derek Conway, Keith Hill, Mr. Patrick McLoughlin, Albert Owen, Anne Picking and Syd Rapson be members of the Accommodation and Works Committee.

It being 7 o'clock, MR. SPEAKER proceeded, pursuant to Order [this day], to put the Questions necessary to dispose of the business to be concluded at that hour.

  1. ADMINISTRATION 30 words
  2. c76
  4. c76
  5. DEFENCE 37 words
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  10. cc77-80
  11. FOREIGN AFFAIRS 2,146 words, 1 division
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  13. HEALTH 35 words
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  15. HOME AFFAIRS 38 words
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  17. INFORMATION 31 words
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  21. SCOTTISH AFFAIRS 49 words
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  23. TRADE AND INDUSTRY 84 words
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  27. TREASURY 1,717 words, 1 division
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  29. WELSH AFFAIRS 38 words
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  31. WORK AND PENSIONS 49 words
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  37. BROADCASTING 37 words
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  39. PROCEDURE 41 words
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  45. EUROPEAN SCRUTINY 48 words
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  49. PUBLIC ACCOUNTS 41 words
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