HC Deb 06 March 2001 vol 364 cc149-50
44. Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham)

What representations she has received from hon. Members since 17 February on the first report of the Liaison Committee, "Shifting the Balance". [150780]

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


Mr. Bercow

That deficiency must now be made good. As an admirer of the talents of the right hon. Lady, I urge her to shift the balance in her own work by recognising that she is not only the Government's representative in the House but the House's representative in the Government. Given that the right hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Mr. Sheldon) has acknowledged that the Government have a hand in picking the Committees that scrutinise their work, why does not the right hon. Lady cease to defend the indefensible and resolve to scrap a system which is a charter for Back-Bench sycophancy and Front-Bench skulduggery, and replace it with one based on independence, transparency and accountability?

Mrs. Beckett

I take seriously my governmental responsibility for the House, which is one reason why I have some anxiety about some proposals in the report to which the hon. Gentleman alluded. [Interruption.] My hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) is quite right; many Members on the Conservative Benches share those anxieties. There is a danger that such proposals may introduce a system that would have effects other than those expected, which could damage the conduct of the House.

I am forcefully struck by the fact that further representations on the matter are not the only area of silence. In our many discussions on the Liaison Committee proposals and on the advice that some means should be sought to provide a more open process of appointment, to which there would be input, we have repeatedly described the system that operates in our own party. It is by no means perfect, but it includes many of the features recommended by the Liaison Committee. Yet no Opposition party has made it plain that its procedures match those standards. If the Opposition want to put matters right, I suggest that they start with their own parties rather than meddling with the whole House.