HC Deb 27 January 2003 vol 398 cc677-88 10.33 pm
The Parliamentary Secretary, Privy Council Office (Mr. Ben Bradshaw)

I beg to move, That — (1)Standing Order No. 152 (Select Committees related Government departments) be amended as follows: In the Table Item 7, column 2, leave out from 'Office;' to 'and administration' in line 7 of that item; After item 8 insert—

'Lord Chancellor?s Department Lord Chancellor's Department (including the work of staff provided for Department the administrative work of courts and tribunals, but excluding consideration of individual cases and appointments) 11';
the Order of 5th November 2001 relating to Liaison Committee (Membership) be amended as follows: Paragraph (2), after 'International Development' insert 'Lord Chancellor's Department'.

With the leave of the House, I should like to introduce this simple motion, which seeks to establish a new departmental Select Committee to scrutinise the Lord Chancellor's Department. Paragraph (2) provides that the Chairman of the new Committee will be a member of the Liaison Committee. I commend the motion to the House.

10.34 pm
Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst)

That is all very well, but I think that the motion deserves more attention from the House than that. Of course, a case can be made for an additional Select Committee—I am sure that hon. Members will agree that the work of our Select Committees is of great importance—but it should not be so straightforward. Setting up a new Select Committee is not merely an administrative whim, but something of importance to the House and the taxpayer—a point that I shall touch on in a moment.

The case for setting up the Committee is relatively straightforward. One has only to glance at the list of ministerial responsibilities to appreciate the extent of those of the Lord Chancellor's Department. They cover matters as diverse as the constitution, criminal justice and the courts. When we talk about courts, we immediately involve our constituents. Although the Lord Chancellor, who presides over the Department, is a Member of the other place, he has responsibilities that bear directly on the constituents of all hon. Members.

I was surprised that the Electoral Commission was listed as one of the responsibilities of the Lord Chancellor's Department. Why the Lord Chancellor, magnificent though he undoubtedly is, should preside over the Electoral Commission, which deals with elections and is, one would think, our responsibility, is a subject on which we might want to dwell, perhaps not now but on another occasion. Perhaps that could the first subject that the Select Committee considers.

Perhaps even more surprisingly, the Department is responsible for party funding. The responsibilities of the Lord Chancellor and his Department cover a remarkably wide range of activities, many of which are of direct interest to hon. Members and our constituents.

Mr. Desmond Swayne (New Forest, West)

It is not so surprising that the Department is responsible for party funding. My right hon. Friend will recall that the Lord Chancellor has been intimately involved with that subject.

Mr. Forth

I hope that my hon. Friend will expand on that in the debate, for which, unusually, we have unlimited time. There is therefore ample opportunity for hon. Members to examine such aspects of the Lord Chancellor?s responsibilities in detail.

There is adequate rationale for the House to try to become involved through a Select Committee in the Lord Chancellor's Department. However, the remit is even wider, because the motion contains a teasing reference. In describing matters that the Select Committee covers, it refers to Lord Chancellor's Department (including the work of staff provided for the administrative work of courts and tribunals, but excluding consideration of individual cases and appointments)". I assume that that is origin of the intriguing piece in The Times today, which is headed, "Tribunal move to double Irvine's empire". It explains that the Lord Chancellor's Department, which is currently an astonishing 12,000 strong, will increase to some 25,000 by 2006–07. That provides a further rationale, if we needed it, for establishing the proposed Select Committee. The remit of the Lord Chancellor's Department will apparently be expanded to cover all tribunals in the country, with a staff of no fewer than 25,000 souls. It is difficult to imagine 25,000 people at the beck and call of the Lord Chancellor; that is a scary thought.

Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury)

My right hon. Friend eloquently outlines the destruction of the local basis of much of our business. The decision, which the Select Committee will doubtless examine early, to centralise all the staff who are currently employed by local magistrates courts committees will take the vital filter for advice to our local magistrates service away from the committees and hand it over to a central bureaucracy.

Mr. Forth

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making point. It shows that, for all the Government's rhetoric and spin about decentralisation and local responsibility, the reality is different. My hon. Friend gives a classic example. Huge and growing central bureaucracies are being created and they are reaching out with their tentacles to every aspect of local life and our local communities. The worst aspect of all is that the Lord Chancellor will be at the head of one of those gigantic bureaucracies. That is another clear-cut case of why we in the House should have a Select Committee to examine the proceedings of the Lord Chancellor's Department.

Peter Bottomley (Worthing, West)

My right hon. Friend will have seen on page 38 of the list of ministerial responsibilities, the Law Officers' Department—that of the Attorney-General and the Solicitor-General. Will my right hon. Friend invite the Minister to say whether the responsibilities of that Department are to be scrutinised by this Select Committee, another Select Committee or no Select Committee at all?

Mr. Forth

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I hope that the Minister might seek to catch your eye, Madam Deputy Speaker, and, with the leave of the House, respond to the debate, as he was obviously reluctant—embarrassed, probably—to go into too much detail about why the proposal has been introduced. I hope that, through your good graces, he might answer the question that my hon. Friend has just put. There is a genuine question whether there is a Select Committee covering the Law Officers' Department, although I shall make a few comments on the desirability of increasing the number of Select Committees per se.

In passing, I utter a word of warning to the House. In this case there is, as I have suggested, ample justification for the new Select Committee. However, we voted last year to pay Select Committee Chairmen—I support that, and I think I am right in saying that the matter is with the Senior Salaries Review Body, which will, I expect, report to the Leader of the House in the foreseeable future—so taxpayers might be forgiven a touch of cynicism if they were to think, although I hope that none would, that we are in the business of increasing the number of Select Committees in order to increase the number of chairmanships in order to pay ourselves or some of our lucky colleagues higher salaries. That, of course, would not and could not be the case, but it might just flit across the odd taxpayer's mind, hanging as they are on every word of the debate.

Mr. Swayne

Given the breadth of responsibilities that the Committee will encompass, has my right hon. Friend given some thought to the large number of travel opportunities that could arise?

Mr. Forth

I was just about to come to that point. I am probably giving away a trade secret in saying this, so I shall lower my voice in the hope that it does not travel too far: recently, there has been a request for an increase in the Select Committee travel budget. One reason given for that is that we are increasing the number of such Committees. The logic, I suppose, is in some ways inexorable—more Committees, more need for travel. One begins to see a picture building up of a House of Commons voting itself more Select Committees with more Members wanting to travel more to more countries around the world for more fact finding.

I would have thought that those colleagues who are familiar with e-matters know that people can surf to their heart's delight, chat in ghastly rooms and do all sorts of other e-things and that that virtually eliminates the need for Select Committee travel. But not at all. Even those colleagues who are cyber freaks, familiar with the e-world, seem still to feel the need to travel extensively to do their fact finding, but that is a matter for another day.

Mr. George Osborne (Tatton)

A visit to the Lord Chancellor's apartment so that its members may see how public money was spent on the wallpaper would be a relatively cheap travel opportunity for the Select Committee. Given that the Leader of the House is such a good friend of the Lord Chancellor, he could arrange it.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal)

Order. The scope of the debate does not extend as far as the hon. Gentleman might wish.

Mr. Forth

Fortunately, Madam Deputy Speaker, I was not going to talk about wallpaper, as that is perhaps a matter for another day. I hope, however, that the House pays at least some attention to the point I am making. We want to be careful about how far we go in the direction that we are now taking. It will be important to justify each new Select Committee strictly on its merits and to give no hint that we are creating it for any other reason.

Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough)

There is one serious and worrying point to make. There is a question of possible interference by the new Committee in judicial appointments. It is axiomatic in our constitution that Parliament should not become involved in judicial appointments. Has that concern flitted across my right hon. Friend's mind?

Mr. Forth

It would have, but for the fact that the motion says that the Committee's work will be including the work of staff provided for the administrative work of courts and tribunals, but excluding consideration of individual cases and appointments". I hope that that covers my hon. Friend's point. I would share his concern if there were any hint that Members of the House, even under the aegis of a Select Committee, would seek to involve themselves in the sort matters to which he referred. I hope, and believe, at this stage, that the motion's wording gives sufficient security against that.

As far as I know, we only ever increase the number of Select Committees. I do not think that we seek ever to reduce it. There may well be a good case for increases, as there is on this occasion, but is this a one-way process? Can we only ever increase the number of Select Committees? Might there not, with the passage of time, be occasions on which we would be justified in saying that the work of a Committee was otiose or redundant, or that one Committee could be readily combined with another? In that way, we could reduce the number of chairmanships and the amount of travel and give the taxpayer some relief.

Mr. David Wilshire (Spelthorne)

Along those lines, does my right hon. Friend agree that one answer might be to use the same solution that the Government have available to them when it comes to deciding how many Ministers they may have and pay? Would not putting a ceiling on the number of paid Chairmen of Select Committees meet my right hon. Friend's point?

Mr. Forth

That is a possible approach. Putting an arbitrary statutory limit on the number of Select Committees and having to prioritise within that number might well be the way forward.

I am worried that we have a tendency only ever to expand our role and the institutions, and therefore costs, of the House of Commons. It would be more responsible to look at ourselves much more critically. We are, after all, the custodians of the taxpayers' purse. We represent taxpayers and are supposed to be here to scrutinise not only the Government's expenditure but our own. In that spirit, although I believe that there is ample justification for the setting up of the Select Committee proposed tonight, I hope that such an action will not be seen as automatic, axiomatic or something that can be put through simply on the nod.

I recommend the motion to the House and to my colleagues but add that we must be ever vigilant against further suggestions that we should increase the number of Select Committees. Someone, somewhere—perhaps the Liaison Committee—will have to take a good look at that.

Mr. Leigh

I want to explore further the point that I raised earlier. Although the new Select Committee may not become involved in the appointment of a judge, we constantly receive complaints about judges, which we refer to the Lord Chancellor's Department. He often replies telling us that he cannot interfere in judges' work, and our constituents write back to us again. Might not Parliament try to become more involved in what judges do in their courts, and does that not worry my right hon. Friend?

Mr. Forth

My hon. Friend is on to an important point. I was satisfied that the Select Committee could not interfere in the appointment of judges, but given that the Lord Chancellor is ultimately responsible for our judicial system, there is a distinct possibility that it will inevitably become involved in cases in which, for example, there have been complaints about judicial matters or other matters that should be strictly for the courts. I am not sure that I know the answer. Perhaps we should have foreseen that and sought to amend the motion. The best that I can offer my hon. Friend is that we, as a House of Commons, will have to keep a close watching brief on the Select Committee and how it conducts itself to guard against any temptation to do what he suggested might happen.

Mr. Swayne

I sense that my right hon. Friend wants to move on, but he has urged us to support the motion. In view of what he said earlier about the ratchet effect, can he reassure me in respect of the Select Committee on Public Administration—

Madam Deputy Speaker

Order. We are not debating the Public Administration Committee.

Mr. Swayne

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Would it be in order to draw attention to the fact that some of the responsibilities taken on by the Lord Chancellor's departmental Committee, as proposed, are currently matters that come before the Public Administration Committee?

Madam Deputy Speaker

That is not a point of order for the Chair.

Mr. Forth

If what my hon. Friend states were the case, I am sure that the Chairman of the Public Administration Committee either would have sought to amend the motion or would have been here to take part in the debate. Since neither event has happened, I must assume that he is content.

Mr. Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight)

I return to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh), with which my right hon. Friend was inclined to agree. Would it not be more appropriate for a Committee of this House to scrutinise judicial appointments than to leave them wholly in the hands of the Lord Chancellor?

Mr. Forth

My hon. Friend is getting into some interesting territory. That is the kind of matter that may well emerge in a different form from the debates about the reform of the House of Lords and the role that the Law Lords play. There is undoubtedly a case for having a separate supreme court. Following that, there may well be a case for considering the election of judges rather than their appointment, and so on. But, Madam Deputy Speaker, this is not the occasion for that debate. I detect from your demeanour that were we to pursue this matter at all—never mind much further—we would get into some trouble. I take a certain pride in the fact that I am rarely called to order; I do not say that it never happens, but it happens relatively rarely, even when I am tempted by my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Turner).

Mr. Robert Syms (Poole)


Mr. Forth

I hope that my hon. Friend is not going to tempt me to stray, but I will give way to him. Then I really must sit down.

Mr. Syms

As the Lord Chancellor's Department is responsible for the judicial system in England and Wales, will my right hon. Friend consider whether the membership of the Committee should consist only of English and Welsh Members rather than those from, say, north of the border?

Mr. Forth

You know better than I, Madam Deputy Speaker, that there will be a separate motion to consider membership. It is not a matter for today and my hon. Friend might like to consider the sensible point that he has raised in the context of that further debate. I believe that there is an amendment on the Order Paper that will allow him to deal with that very matter, since it touches on what he suggests.

Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock)

I have listened to this claptrap, which is demeaning Parliament, particularly since so many Conservative Members are great travellers. On this point, the Lord Chancellor does not cover Scotland, but he certainly covers Northern Ireland, where he makes all the judicial appointments.

Mr. Forth

The hon. Gentleman's charm school refresher course does not seem to have done him much good. In trying to be helpful to my hon. Friend the Member for Poole (Mr. Syms), I said that a future debate would touch on the matter that he raised and allow it to be aired in a more relevant way. If the hon. Gentleman is going to get so tetchy at this time of night, he should go home earlier.

I hope that I have made the case for supporting the establishment of the new Select Committee, but I hope equally that, in future, we shall be careful not to rush too far, too readily or too frequently in such directions.

10.55 pm
Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall)

I am sure that the House will be relieved to hear that I shall speak briefly.

When I saw the motion on the Order Paper, I had a hunch that the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) would want to speak. No doubt he has been wrestling with the temptation all day. The right hon. Gentleman has a Pavlovian reaction; the magic words "until any hour", especially at 10 o'clock, always encourage him to be in his place, although he may not be there earlier in the day when we are discussing matters that require longer and more careful scrutiny.

The Parliamentary Secretary, Privy Council Office, must feel that, given the terms in which the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst has just expressed his support, it would have been preferable to have the right hon. Gentleman's opposition —it might have been shorter. However, I hope that the whole House will support the motion. I notice that the Conservative ranks have suddenly diminished, so perhaps an advantage of my speech is that I have cleared them out of the House.

We are delighted that the Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department, is in the Chamber this evening. The key issue is that there is a lacuna at present. The Lord Chancellor's Department has taken on important responsibilities. It is extremely important that when a Department of State has a wide range of responsibilities, there is a corresponding Committee of the House that can monitor its activities.

As the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst pointed out, in addition to its judicial responsibilities and its responsibilities for the law offices, the Department has important responsibilities for the way in which our constitution operates and for its future. The Electoral Commission and party funding are just part of that remit. It is thus extremely important that the Department has the attention of Members of the House through the scrutiny that only a Select Committee can give. Hitherto, the Select Committee on Home Affairs had most of the responsibilities in this field and its Chairman, the hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin), suggested that given the Committee's responsibilities to the Home Office, it was time to deal with the omission as regards the Lord Chancellor's Department.

We strongly support the motion and recommend its acceptance. We hope that the Select Committee will be up and running shortly. Through no one's fault, we have had a long wait for it. Since the last general election and certainly since the last reshuffle, which gave the Lord Chancellor's Department new responsibilities, it has been suggested that there should be a Select Committee. We believe that the new Select Committee has an important duty to perform on behalf of the whole House.

10.58 pm
Peter Bottomley (Worthing, West)

The agencies of the Lord Chancellor's Department, such as the Land Registry, the Public Record Office, the Court Service and the Public Guardianship Office deserve attention from a Select Committee —not in opposition to the Government but to raise some of the issues that Members of Parliament and their constituents face when dealing with the systemic success or failure of parts of the Department.

We should recognise that some of the ministerial responsibilities of the Lord Chancellor and the Parliamentary Secretaries merit the attention of the Select Committee—in which I have an interest—in terms of either support or questioning. The Committee could get Ministers and their leading officials to justify their approach to matters that affect people the length and breadth of the land.

One might make a series of party political points, but they would not be appropriate at present. It is important to realise that all Departments, including the Lord Chancellor's Department, and Government agencies have serious responsibilities.

To refer to one of the remarks made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth), we have too many Departments and it is not sensible to load responsibility for matters such as information technology on to Under-Secretaries in each Department. It is not sensible to tie such responsibilities to a junior Minister, when we do not get a cross-cutting Government report on what is happening with IT across the board. Such a report need not be in great depth, but just enough depth so that people can understand. One could take up various issues if there were a way to use perhaps the Liaison Committee to talk to the Prime Minister about unpacking some of the public relations spin that the Government put out.

This motion is overdue. Although the Select Committee may not be the most exciting in terms of the television cameras and the microphones, there will be possible benefits to the population. If the Lord Chancellor's Department and its agencies are helped to carry out their responsibilities, the public at large will benefit. There are degrees of justice and injustice in the Department's purview that deserve attention, which is why I hope the House will support the motion.

11 pm

Mr. Mark Francois (Rayleigh)

I should like to make just a few points in contributing to the debate. First, the proposed Select Committee will have a particular responsibility, because it will attempt to shadow a Department, the principal Minister of which is based in the other place and therefore unable to answer questions on the Floor of the House. Apropos of that, it is worth recalling that in last week's debate on House of Lords reform, a very interesting suggestion was made: that it might be possible to change the arrangements of the House. The hon. Member for Thurrock (Andrew Mackinlay) is nodding. In fairness, he may have made that suggestion.

Andrew Mackinlay

It was one of my good ideas, which will not be implemented in my lifetime—

Madam Deputy Speaker


Mr. Francois

If I recall correctly, to do the hon. Gentleman justice, he suggested that it might be possible to change our arrangements, by mutual agreement between both Houses, to allow Ministers in another place to come here occasionally to answer questions. I presume that that would be reciprocated in turn. That interesting suggestion bears further examination, and it is worth putting it on record again in the context of this evening's debate, perhaps to try to keep the suggestion alive, as it could be valuable.

Secondly, I should like to reiterate some of the points made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) about the dangers of the so-called ratchet effect. We are not here this evening to debate the economic condition of the country, but having read the business pages of the national newspapers, it is fair to say that the economic conditions are now turning a little more difficult than they were a year or so ago—

Madam Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman is right: we are not here to discuss the economic conditions of the country. Perhaps he will return to the mot ion under discussion.

Mr. Francois

Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I am pleased that we both agree. However, the point is that at a time when people will be looking more closely at how we in Parliament spend their money, it is very important that we can justify to all our constituents that we spend it effectively. If they see more and more Select Committees taking more and more overseas trips—in effect, ultimately, at their expense—there is a risk that they will grow increasingly irritated.

It is fair to say that the Select Committee might be tempted to travel the world to see other judicial systems in action—perhaps those in Europe, the United States and Asia to cite three examples off the top of my head —to compare them with our own. The Select Committee, if it is established, will therefore have to show restraint in that regard. May I say briefly in my own defence that the Select Committee on which I serve—the Environmental Audit Committee—has been particularly abstemious in that regard. We have had one overseas trip—

Madam Deputy Speaker

Order. Once again, I remind the hon. Gentleman that the motion relates to the proposed Select Committee's terms of reference.

Mr. Francois

Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. In that case, I shall not mention that the Environmental Audit. Committee spent two nights in Germany at very small public expense.

Another issue is that the Chairman of the proposed Select Committee will, of course, be a member of the Liaison Committee. That will give its Chairman a right to ask the Prime Minister questions at the sittings that will be arranged from time to time. The practical issue is that I am given to understand that there is some friendly competition and jockeying of position among the various Committee Chairmen about who gets the chance—

Madam Deputy Speaker

Order. We are not discussing the membership of the Committee, but merely the establishment of it.

Mr. Francois

I shall abide by your stricture, Madam Deputy Speaker. My sole point was that there would be more competition over who got to ask the question.

On modernisation, since the introduction of the changes, there has been tremendous pressure on all of us—even more than previously—to be in two or even three places at once. I notice that that issue even cropped up in the national press over the weekend. Establishing yet another Select Committee, on which some Members will wish to serve, increases the pressure on Members across the House to be in even more places at once. That additional pressure results from the introduction of changes by the Leader of the House, and the establishment of this Committee will impose an additional burden.

Mr. John McWilliam (Blaydon)

Is the hon. Gentleman arguing that we should not have another Select Committee to scrutinise public expenditure that has not heretofore been scrutinised?

Mr. Francois

I am attempting to make the point that if we create an additional Select Committee, and we appoint Members to it, that will increase the pressure on those Members to be in different places at once during the week. All Members are experiencing that pressure as a result of the changes.

Madam Deputy Speaker

Order. Once again, we are not this evening discussing the membership of the Committee.

Mr. Francois

I was simply doing my best to respond to the question that was asked of me, Madam Deputy Speaker. I am riot responsible for the questions that are asked.

Peter Bottomley

If my hon. Friend looks at the list of ministerial responsibilities on page 41, he will see that one Under-Secretary—not one on the Front Bench now—has responsibility for freedom of information. If Members were criticised for not being in the House, would it be fair for that Under-Secretary to be on the Bench the whole time, while the number of MPs, journalists—

Madam Deputy Speaker

Order. That intervention is not relevant to this debate, either.

Mr. Francois

I know that this question is close to the heart of the Leader of the House because of the close and fraternal relationship that he enjoys with the Lord Chancellor. I am therefore sure that he will read our deliberations with tremendous interest in Hansard tomorrow morning, and that he will be forever grateful for everything that we have had to say about his noble Friend.

11.8 pm

Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough)

I want to refer specifically to the motion. It refers to consideration of individual cases and appointments". Thus it specifies "individual cases", but does not qualify "appointments". The value of these debates comes from Parliament doing its duty: we are trying to tease out from the Minister exactly what the Select Committee will do. I am sure that the Minister will be able to assure me that although the word "appointments" is not qualified, the Committee will not be allowed to consider individual appointments. I think that he is nodding, but he can take up the matter when he makes his speech. Does that mean that the Committee can consider the question of judicial appointments in general? That would be a way in for the Committee, as it could argue that it is considering a certain type of person. There has been a lot of criticism from certain parts of the House about judicial appointments in relation to background and being out of touch. It is therefore important that the House knows exactly what is the Committee's remit in relation to appointments, as the Minister's words will be scrutinised with great care.

Secondly, as my right hon. Friend the shadow Leader of the House has said, the motion also refers to the administrative work of courts and tribunals". Will the Minister also lay down the ground rules clearly in relation to that when he replies? On reading that, one will think that it is absolutely clear: the Committee will not become involved in appointments; it will not become involved in what the judges are deciding in their courts; it will be involved only in administrative work.

However, I put to the Minister the point that I put to my right hon. Friend: our constituents write to us and complain about judges; we reply "I'm sorry. Parliament cannot interfere in the discretion of judges." I am in a long-running correspondence in which my constituent says "I'm complaining not about the judge's decision, but about his demeanour. He was out of touch. He wasn't listening to the arguments."

Therefore, I should like a clear steer from the Minister that the Committee really will be concerned with the pure administrative work, and that nothing in the wording of the motion will give a lead for it to start interfering in the way in which judges are running their own courts.

11.10 pm
Mr. Bradshaw

With the leave of the House, Madam Deputy Speaker.

I am tempted to agree with the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler) that, although no one has spoken against the motion, one reason why we are here has more to do with the withdrawal symptoms of the shadow Leader of the House from his previous late-night sittings—

Mr. Tyler

Something of the night.

Mr. Bradshaw


It might be helpful if I reminded the House why this matter is before us. It is because of a unanimous recommendation of the Home Affairs Committee. Much of what the right hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends have said this evening has been about the powers—some of them real and some of them imagined, some of them possibly in the future—of the Lord Chancellor's Department. But are they suggesting that those powers should not receive proper parliamentary scrutiny? No, they are not, because the right hon. Gentleman himself said that he supported the setting up of the Committee. Indeed, the hon. Member for Worthing, West (Peter Bottomley) said, I think rightly, that it was overdue. Therefore, I think that we can all agree on the importance of setting up the Committee. We are not here to discuss setting up any other Select Committees or the Committee's membership. It is a simple motion.

I should like to address the point raised at the end of the debate by the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh). I am assured by the Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster, Central (Ms Winterton), who is with me on the Front Bench, that he is right. The Committee will not be scrutinising the appointment of individual judges, but, in as far as the Lord Chancellor's Department oversees the work of the Appointments Commission, it may have a role in scrutinising overall the work of the Commission in terms of how the Lord Chancellor's Department already does so.

There is nothing more I need add to delay the House further.

Peter Bottomley

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker.

I hope that the microphones carried the question of my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) to the Minister about whether the Select Committee that we are debating, or any other, oversees the work of the Law Officers.

Madam Deputy Speaker

That is not a point of order.

Mr. Bradshaw

I am happy to respond, Madam Deputy Speaker. I am told that that competence remains with the Home Affairs Committee.

Question put and agreed to.