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Mr. Ernie Ross: Sometimes four.

Sir Patrick Cormack: Yes; I accept that correction from the hon. Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Ross), who made a very entertaining speech, in which he said that he felt that some of his colleagues were trapped in an "obsessional loop". I am not quite sure what that means, although he will undoubtedly be able to explain what he meant by that to his colleagues in the Lobby--if they go into the same one. He also defended himself for using a certain procedural device--which was an entirely legitimate thing to do. However, I thought that it was a rather weak defence to say, "Please, your honour, it wasn't the first time in 60 years that it had been used--it was the second time." That did not seem to be a terribly strong defence.

My right hon. Friend the Member for South-West Surrey (Mrs. Bottomley)--the most elegant of gamekeepers turned poacher--spoke with quiet passion on the importance of Select Committees. I am sure that, in her new role on the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, she will prove to be an increasingly valuable member of it.

Mr. Winnick: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Sir Patrick Cormack: I have only a few minutes. I nearly always do give way, but--if the hon. Gentleman will forgive me--I want to give the Minister proper time to reply to the debate.

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My hon. Friend the Member for Hertford and Stortford (Mr. Wells) gave a very balanced assessment of Select Committees. He said that we had probably shot the fox--I think he is right--and we are glad about that. The hon. Member for Barnsley, Central (Mr. Illsley) did not agree with that, and said that we should not have chosen this debate. Yet almost every word he uttered proved that we had been exceptionally wise so to do.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Brooke) delivered, as he always does, an inimitably witty speech, full of literary allusions and cricketing analogies that had the House hugely entertained. He, too, is a great House of Commons man.

At the risk of embarrassing the hon. Member for Clydesdale (Mr. Hood)--he is not in the Chamber at the moment--I should say that the House owes him a great debt for the way in which he has presided over the European Legislation Select Committee, to which he referred.

We heard speeches also from my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Luff)--straight back from the royal show, and now Chairman of the Agriculture Select Committee--and from the hon. Member for Greenock and Inverclyde (Dr. Godman), who always speaks feelingly on these matters.

As our system of parliamentary democracy has evolved, battles have occasionally been fought with an overmighty Executive. In the 16th and 17th centuries, absolute monarchs came to realise the need of working with and then through the House. In the 18th century, the battle continued. Perhaps the most remarkable episode in that century came about in 1780, when a Colonel Dunning tabled a motion, which was passed, stating that the power of the Crown has increased, is increasing and ought to be diminished--[Interruption.]

The Leader of the House should contain herself and listen. We are debating, not the power of the Crown, but the power of an overmighty Executive. It is all very well for the Government to luxuriate in a majority of 179, but the fact is that an Executive that becomes overweening and overmighty not only sows the seeds of its own destruction but does great damage in the process.

Dr. Godman: Like the poll tax?

Sir Patrick Cormack: Yes, as we did with the poll tax. The hon. Gentleman knows what I did on the poll tax on every occasion.

Today, we do not have at our command the elegance of the 18th century wits. We no longer cite in evidence Drapier's letters; we are reduced to Mr. Draper's mobile telephone. What we--most of us, I hope--do have in common with our forebears is a passionate desire to preserve this institution. On the future of this institution the freedoms of our country still rest, and there is no more valuable part of Parliament now than our Select Committee system. We damage it at our peril and to the detriment of those who send us here and whom we seek to serve.

The Leader of the House said that she was tempted to accept the motion. We were tempted to say that we would not press it to a vote, but there is still a gap between us. We believe it is important that we should send a warning and that certain hon. Members should be given the opportunity to stand up and be counted in support of

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the Select Committee system. It is therefore with great reluctance but total determination that we shall go into the Lobbies at the end of this debate and, in so doing, feel that we are not dividing the House, but voting for Parliament.

9.40 pm

The Parliamentary Secretary, Office of Public Service (Mr. Peter Kilfoyle): It is with some pleasure that I ask the House to vote against the Opposition motion and support the amendment in the name of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. We have had a wide-ranging but not especially enlightening debate. However, it has left me in good humour, as the speeches of Conservative Members were so soporific.

I have to make at least some reference to the way in which the debate came about. I have asked myself what was the purpose of this debate. Increasingly, as the long hours have worn on, it struck me that it is something akin to a family squabble. It is as if the members of the Select Committee cannot agree among themselves and have transferred the arguments to the Floor of the House. Indeed, I often felt like an intruder in that family squabble. Hon. Members from all quarters have made the same point.

I must respond immediately to various remarks that have been made. The right hon. Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Sir J. Stanley) made a number of valuable points, which assisted my understanding of what has being going on in the Select Committee. He said that there was


I would argue that the confusion is certainly not with my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary or with his Ministers at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. The confusion has been among the members of the Foreign Affairs Committee.

The right hon. Member for Tonbridge and Malling waxed lyrical about accountability to the House. I cannot think of anyone who has striven more gallantly and valiantly to be accountable, not only to the House as a whole but to the Select Committee, than my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary.

The right hon. Member for Tonbridge and Malling said that the Foreign Secretary had been perfectly within his rights to take up successive positions, and nothing that I have heard today has persuaded me otherwise. The right hon. Gentleman also said that the Foreign Secretary had gone much further than the Pergau precedent.

The subject matter of the speech made by my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson), the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, seemed rather arcane to many of us. Nevertheless, it seems that the most appropriate place to deal with the differences of opinion that obtained in the Select Committee ought surely to be the Select Committee on Modernisation of the House of Commons. It could resolve the correct way forward, not just for the Foreign Affairs Committee but for other Select Committees. He also raised the issue of accountability and said that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary had gone much further than the Select Committee in effecting a compromise. I have to agree with him and repeat the message that the disagreement is among hon. Members. We shall deal later with the analogy used by the righthon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster

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(Mr. Brooke) when we talk about the game that is being played. My hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Ross) made a similar point.

The hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) described Sir Thomas Legg rather disparagingly, if I may say so, as a mandarin, as if that in itself were a pejorative term. Sir Thomas Legg is an outstanding public servant, and any imputation against either his impartiality or his ability to deal with a complex situation is to be deplored. He is attended by another equally eminent and impartial figure in Sir Robin Ibbs. The hon. Gentleman's entire speech was ruined by what I considered to be an attack on civil servants, whom he strangely accused of being guilty only of following the instructions of Ministers. Civil servants do follow the instructions of Ministers and they have their own code of conduct. Anyone who has experience of working with civil servants will know that their sense of probity and the way in which they conduct themselves and their careers are mainly beyond reproach, although there may be exceptions.

I agree with my right hon. and hon. Friends who said that, for us at least, the high point of today's debate was the speech by my right hon. Friend the Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Mr. Sheldon), who is well regarded as an expert on Select Committees. As he said, he has been a member of Select Committees ever since they were set up and he was certainly an eminent Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee. He said that it was a shame--and he used that word--to see a Select Committee divided. He effectively made the point that this was not the place for such divisions to be resolved.

The right hon. Member for East Devon (Sir P. Emery) is not in his place. I wish he were, because some people say that he is a little arrogant, but I disagree. I find him very arrogant. His comments about the arrogance of my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary are absolute nonsense. The right hon. Gentleman and many other Opposition Members need to divest themselves of the notion that they have some kind of political droit du seigneur in respect of who Select Committees can and cannot summon. They have not yet been able to demonstrate that Select Committees have that right. They do not. As has been said, it may be desirable. Indeed, it may be a future development, but to express the opinion that because my right hon. Friend acted in a responsible manner, he was somehow being arrogant beggars belief.

My hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West gave an honest and in my view impartial account of the problems experienced in the Select Committee when he referred to the games that some people were playing.

I am afraid that I cannot take seriously some of the comments by the right hon. Member for South-West Surrey (Mrs. Bottomley), who sanctimoniously sang the praises of the rights of Select Committees. If memory serves me correctly--and I stand to be corrected--when the right hon. Lady was Secretary of State for Health, a member of the then Select Committee, Mr. Jerry Hayes, the former Member for Harlow, leaked a report to the right hon. Lady and had to resign from the Select Committee as a result--


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