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11.30 pm

Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst): Mr. Deputy Speaker--

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. Before the right hon. Gentleman speaks, I should say that I shall be very firm in insisting that the rules of debate are observed. He may speak purely to this motion, and to this motion alone. If he deviates from the rules, I shall quickly be on my feet to remind him of them.

Mr. Forth: I would expect no less, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I assume that you would not always assume that the House would wish to nod through any motion, no matter how routine it may seem. It would therefore be useful to the House if we were to hear just a little bit more from the Government not only about the rationale for establishing the Committee--it is, after all, a debatable motion--but about the qualifications of the Committee membership, and, perhaps more specifically, about why the person suggested in the motion to serve as the Committee Chairman should be considered to be the ideal person to serve in that capacity.

It is possible that someone who might be thought to be more neutral should be appointed to serve as Chairman of the Committee, so that it might discharge its very important responsibilities in the most even-handed manner. Some reasoning for the proposed Committee membership and nomination of Chairman would be helpful to the House.

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The other matter that would be worth clarifying in establishing the Committee is when the Committee might sit. In the past such Committees may well have sat immediately; I think that that is my recollection of such Committees.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. The right hon. Gentleman does not have to discuss that matter--the motion says "immediately".

Mr. Forth: I have a concern about that, Mr. Deputy Speaker. We have heard quite a lot recently about the need for the House to sit reduced hours. Some anxiety has been expressed--by no less a person than the Leader of the House herself--that late-hours sitting is good neither for the House nor for the quality of our deliberations.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. That has absolutely nothing to do with the motion. It is another matter, which has been put before the Leader of the House.

Mr. Forth: Mr. Deputy Speaker, you have said that the motion says that the Committee should sit immediately. I am querying that--I want to debate it--because the motion is debatable. I am seeking to enter into a debate on the advisability of the Committee meeting at this late hour, as I should be worried about the quality of the Committee's decision making if it meets at this late hour. I am setting that worry in the context of the remarks made recently by the Leader of the House. She has apparently said that she believes that the House should not sit at late hours. I assume that part of her reasoning--although we have not yet heard it in any detail--is that the House's quality of decision making might well be prejudiced if such decisions are made so late and if such Committees meet at such a late hour.

Mrs. Browning: My right hon. Friend will be aware that this debate started extremely late, as we were waiting upon the attendance of the Minister for Education and Industry, Scottish Office--

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. I have already stated that what has gone before has nothing to do with the motion. I will not have a discussion entered into about previous business that has been decided.

Mr. Forth: Indeed, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I am looking very much to the future and to the quality of decision making in the future. Looking at the clock, I see that it is a moderately late hour, so the House may wish to consider deferring the decision or deferring the setting up of the Committee until it can deliberate in a more reasoned way at a more respectable hour. These are perfectly rational points. I raise them because, from time to time, we find that apparently innocuous motions are brought before the House--perhaps not always at an hour such as this, but at a more reasonable hour--and there is an expectation that they should simply be nodded through.

Increasingly, I find that the concept of nodding motions through is a denial of the role of the House of Commons. It would be better if we were to hear more of a case put in favour of such motions. The Government Whip told the House what he was proposing in respect of the membership of the Committee, its chairmanship and so on, but we are entitled to a more in-depth explanation.

Mr. Nick St. Aubyn (Guildford): Is my right hon. Friend worried that if we simply nod through such

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motions, the credibility of the Committee's decisions will in some way be undermined in another place, and that unless we give due deliberation to the points that he has raised, in another place the Committee's decisions will not have the effect and persuasiveness that this House requires?

Mr. Forth: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making those points. He might wish to elaborate on them if he were to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker. He raises those points in the context of our not having had a full explanation of the Committee's role. It would be useful if a member of the Government were to give us more of an explanation of the role envisaged for the Committee, and how it would provide a link between the proceedings of this House and the other place. Surely, that is vital to the proper progress of the business in hand.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Lord): Order. The role of the Committee is clearly stated in the motion.

Mr. Forth: The Order Paper refers to

That does not explain to me the role of the Committee. I should have thought that those words meant that we were considering the words spoken by the Government Whip in explaining the background to the Committee, but he did not elaborate on the nature of the role of the Committee, were it to be set up at this late hour and with the membership and Chairman that he proposed.

Mrs. Eleanor Laing (Epping Forest) rose--

Mr. Forth: I shall give way to my hon. Friend the Member for Epping Forest (Mrs. Laing); then I want to conclude my remarks.

Mrs. Laing: On the point about the proposed Chairman of the Committee, given that the Reasons Committee is a Select Committee of the House, does my right hon. Friend agree that it would be more reasonable if the Chairman whom the House is about to appoint had some impartiality on the subject before the Committee? The proposed Chairman--the Minister for Education and Industry, Scottish Office--has shown himself to be anything but impartial.

Mr. Forth: Again, that is a very important point. It is perhaps not for me to elaborate on it at this stage. I see that my hon. Friends have given much thought to the motion--more perhaps than I have been able to. Perhaps they will want to expand on these points if they catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

The House might want to reconsider the chairmanship of the Committee, to which I alluded briefly when I began, for exactly the reason that my hon. Friend the Member for Epping Forest has given. I am grateful to her for bringing to my attention and to that of the House the fact that the Committee would have the status of a Select Committee. That is an important new fact. Given that a

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number of Select Committees are chaired by people other than Labour Members or Ministers, there must surely be a strong case--

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman must not embark on a dissertation on Select Committees. The motion before the House is very specific, and I would be grateful if he would address it.

Mr. Forth: I am grateful for your guidance, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but the Whip read out the proposed members of the Committee, including the proposed Chairman--the Minister for Education and Industry, Scottish Office--who took part in the debate and can hardly be described as impartial. It is just possible that, for the sake of giving the fullest credibility to the Committee, which forms a key bridge between the proceedings of the House and those of another place, the House may want to consider a different candidate for its chairmanship.

Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswold): Is my right hon. Friend aware that until his present appointment, and particularly in opposition, the Minister for Educationand Industry, Scottish Office had no educational appointments whatever--

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. Mr. Forth.

Mr. Forth: I might have guessed that the Minister had no previous educational experience, but I am grateful to my hon. Friend for confirming that.

In conclusion, the House must consider the matter seriously. We cannot take such decisions on the nod at this late hour. I am asking the Government for further elaboration--

Mr. Gerald Bermingham (St. Helens, South): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The right hon. Gentleman has been a Minister--albeit a bad one--and knows the rules. He knows full well that it is normal procedure to appoint a Committee of the House. It has always been that way, so why is he delaying the Bill's progress?

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