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Mr. Stunell: The serious point is that the career structure for Members of Parliament is a notional dream world, which is so subject to the laws of chance that it almost seems obscene to suggest that we should have a structure that is carefully designed via the Select Committee system.
There is a great difference between status and power. One may gain status by becoming a Select Committee Chairman, but whether one has power is another matter, and is perhaps part of today's debate. Select Committee Chairmen might be given a few extra thousand pounds, but that might not make them more powerful, more influential or more able to do the job. These are wide-ranging issues that are not easily resolved.
There is a good case for making sure that people of real quality are drawn into the Select Committee system and are prepared to devote a substantial chunk of their lives to that work. However, to suggest that the right hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Mr. Sheldon) is not such a person, is offensive to him and demeans the House. The system does draw in high-quality people. However, if we are to have 33 Select Committees, a drawing through of Members and people finding that they are promoted or taken out of the system for one reason or another, we must ensure that there is sufficient incentive for people to come forward. Money may be part of that, but what is more important than being paid to do the job is whether hon. Members think that the work they do is effective, appreciated by the House and influential in the development of policy.
Mr. Desmond Swayne (New Forest, West): If payment is to become an issue, surely that would require some reform of the selection procedures. If not, it merely becomes another means by which the patronage of the Treasury Bench is increased.
I want to comment on what I understand to be an annual audit of outstanding Select Committee recommendations. That is an excellent idea. It should not just be an accumulation of recommendations that have not been implemented, but there should be proper scrutiny of those unresolved recommendations and a proper report to the House on what has been done. Following on from that, we could and should expect a full and proper response from any Government to the outstanding recommendations so that the House could judge the effectiveness of the system as it is described in the report and the effectiveness of the Government in dealing with such matters.
This is a revealing debate on a thoroughly useful Select Committee report. I hope that, after thinking about it more carefully, the Government will feel able to take a more positive attitude to what I believe could be one of the great steps forward for the House in this decade.
Tony Wright: Indeed, they were the two formidable Leaders of the House, from different parties, who were decisive in driving forward the process of reform, particularly the strengthening of scrutiny, and that is what is important.
Tony Wright: I am grateful for that--although I have only rarely been accused of being starry-eyed. Richard Crossman was a bully and a rather disagreeable man in a variety of ways. Nevertheless, I am grateful to be reminded that, unfortunately, there is no correlation between great reformers and great characters.
We are engaging in some modernisation of the House, but the question is whether we are engaging in parliamentary reform. The point about the Crossman reforms all those years ago is that they were reforms in the round. The reforms came not only with a package of modernisation measures--he wanted morning sittings, more sensible hours and timetabling of legislation--but with the commitment to strengthen Parliament in relation to the Executive. It was a genuinely reforming package of measures.
In the current reforms, we are taking a rather different approach. I think that it is a source of great regret that, at the beginning of this Parliament, the Modernisation Committee did not take a view in the round on what parliamentary reform required. To do so, one would have to determine one's own view on the role of the House of Commons and on whether there is a case for shifting the balance--as the report says--between the House and the Executive. If one believes that there is such a case, one should say what proposals flow from that conclusion.
At the beginning of this Parliament, it would have been possible to integrate proposals on sittings, more sensible hours and timetabling with measures to strengthen scrutiny and the Commons's power in relation to the Executive. Unfortunately, that did not happen, and, consequently, we have no benchmarks. We do not know to what purpose and in what direction we are modernising, and we are suffering greatly as a result.
I have enormous regard for the Leader of the House, and we are well served by the fact that she clearly very much believes in the view that she is expressing--which is a challenging presentation of an alternative position. Although she did not do it today--unlike previously, in other settings, when faced with such proposals--she is wont to ask, "Why ask us to make the change? Why are they asking us to do it? They never asked anyone else to do it." Those are very fair questions. However, one of the axioms of parliamentary reform is that Oppositions are enthusiastic about reform and Governments are cool towards it. That is clearly the case now, and it has always been the case. They are, however, not questions that trump the argument.
We are being asked to make the change because it is right to make it. The balance needs to be shifted, and we now have the opportunity to do it. If we always ask where the balance of party advantages lies, we will never make progress. As my hon. Friend the Member for Eltham (Mr. Efford) said, and as Opposition Members have shown in this debate, the instincts of all hon. Members is to look for party advantage, to see whether easy political points can be scored even in an argument about the rights of Parliament as a whole. It is the default option into which we all relapse almost immediately.
Mr. Nicholas Winterton: Does the hon. Gentleman accept that the group of 30 Chairmen who have signed the early-day motion seeking change to shift the balance back to the House of Commons and away from the Executive is dominated by Government supporters who serve with distinction as Select Committee Chairmen? Change is supported also by various Opposition Members who certainly do not seek to score any party political advantage at all, but wish merely to enhance the role of Parliament.