HC Deb 31 January 2002 vol 379 cc445-6 1.31 pm
Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You know better than anyone the contents of Standing Order No. 152 relating to Select Committees, in which it says that they shall have power … to send for persons, papers and records". You will similarly know that Erskine May says on page 647, among other things, that when a select committee has the power to send for persons, that power is unqualified". Flowing from that, could you remind the House and the Leader of the House that very few people are exempted from the powers that we—the House of Commons—have given Select Committees? Among the very small groups exempted, as it happens, are Members of the upper House, which makes one wonder whether the Prime Minister selected a Member of the other House to be a special adviser on transport precisely to give him that peculiar immunity—but that is a matter not for you, Mr. Speaker, but for the Prime Minister.

I ask you to clarify one important matter. The Leader of the House, no less, appeared to imply in one of his earlier statements that in some mysterious way special advisers and unpaid advisers to the Government should not and may not be summoned to appear before Select Committees. Will you confirm that the contents of Standing Order No. 152 and of Erskine May entitle and empower Select Committees to summon anyone other than Members of this House and the House of Lords to appear before them to give evidence?

Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. You will be aware that a Select Committee of this House is currently examining precisely what role Select Committees should have. In view of the concern among members of all parties that Select Committees should be allowed to do their job properly and to scrutinise the work of Government, will you take it on yourself to tell the Modernisation Committee that, if there are loopholes in the Standing Orders, as implied a few minutes ago, they should be assessed again in order to ensure that the views expressed by the Chairman of the Select Committee concerned and of members of all parties are urgently considered?

Is it not clear that although the witness concerned may not be able to give the Select Committee the results of his study, he should at least be able to appear before that Committee to indicate his remit, the advice and support that he has received, and what job he is doing, especially bearing in mind the fact that the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions has indicated that the purpose of the exercise is just to keep Lord Birt occupied?

Mr. Speaker

The Chairman of the Select Committee concerned will have heard the hon. Gentleman's comments.

I say to the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth), the shadow Leader of the House, who gave me some notice of his point of order, that a Committee's power to send for persons other than Members of either House is not limited in this way. Generally, of course, witnesses attend Committees without compulsion, sometimes after discussion. Full details are set out on page 646 of Erskine May and later pages.