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Sir Peter Emery: There are always a number of ladies who are interested in what is happening in the House. Indeed, two are waiting to speak in the debate. I hope that they will prove by what they say that they really are interested in achieving greater control by the House over the Executive, but that was not evident in Tuesday's debate.
The issue of selecting members of Select Committees has taken up a great deal of time. I believe that we have to find a way of doing it other than having them nominated by the Whips. I am not saying that the Liaison Committee's proposals are perfect, but at least they are a stab at trying to get it right. If the Government feel that the proposals are too involved, let them come up with a method of their own that does not involve the Whips. If they do that, I am sure that the right hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne and the Committee will examine it thoroughly. They should not dismiss the idea of changing the system simply because they do not like the alternative that has been proposed.
If we want reform, we must get rid of the control of the Whips. We need to get away from the shadow of the black hand of the Whips, which has fallen in particular on my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton). There is no doubt that, as Chairman of the Health Committee, he was responsible for some excellent reports that were highly critical of the Government and that an excuse was found in the following Parliament to get rid of him. We all know that that is wrong.
That is not the only instance. I will now reveal something that I have kept to myself. When the Trade and Industry Committee was created, the late Sir Donald Kaberry and I were candidates for the chairmanship. He won, and he was an excellent Chairman. At the end of the first Parliament, when he was retiring, the Committee decided that it would like me to be Chairman. I had spoken to the Chief Whip and, as far as I knew, it was all agreed.
Suddenly, a new member was put on the Committee. He was rather disillusioned about not having been made a Minister, and the Whips wanted to find something for him to do. Without any consultation with me, the Chief Whip talked to Labour Members to persuade them to vote against me. My opponent had two supporters on the
Those are the real facts of the behind-the-scenes operation of what I call the black hand. I have kept that fairly quiet, but it is about time that some people realised that when they say that the Whips do not really interfere, that is a lot of baloney.
I am sorry that the hon. Member for Cannock Chase (Tony Wright) has left. He suggested that Parliament was all about Government and anti-Government, in a permanent election campaign. That is entirely wrong in one area: it is surprising how much co-operation there is among all the parties in the work of Select Committees. When they see the real facts, Select Committee members are willing to criticise Governments of their own party. In that way, Parliament has worked as people in the country would like it to work.
Ministers do not like appearing before Select Committees. They have to prepare themselves well and they know that they cannot wriggle. They are pressed time and again on the same subject, especially when they are seen to be wriggling. That is surely one of the ways in which the House can begin to have some influence on how the Executive is performing.
If that is the case, are we right to allow our Select Committees to do as little as they do at present? Some hon. Members will throw up their hands and say that they are terribly busy and cannot afford the time, but I believe that the Select Committees' influence over the Executive is much greater than that exerted by hon. Members, nine times out of 10, on the Floor of the House. Question Times do not really hold the Executive to account, and neither do most debates. What happens on the Floor of the House is regarded as the most important factor in the parliamentary process, but more often than not it is what happens in Select Committees that attracts headlines about the problems of Governments and their overriding and often overweening power.
I wonder whether we should not ask Select Committees to sit twice a week and take over more subjects. If they did so, they would have to be given the staff that they would need, and their members would have to be dedicated, as Members of Parliament, to looking after the control of the Executive. However, that control is much more likely to be exerted by Select Committees than by any other bodies involved in the work of the House.
If Select Committees were to take on more work, the recommendation of the Liaison Committee that the Chairmen of Select Committees should have a special allowance would be appropriate. Such an allowance may total, say, £10,000 a year, but as my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield and the right hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne will know, being Chairman of a Select Committee involves a vast amount of extra work.
Mrs. Dunwoody: That is quite all right, I am used to being ignored. The right hon. Gentleman is making an interesting point, but I have reservations about paying Chairmen an allowance. We can justify having extra staff with no trouble at all, because those of us who do a lot of work in Select Committees put enormous pressure on staff. That would still be the case even if their numbers were increased. However, does the right hon. Gentleman agree that a better alternative would be to ensure that we had more people to do the work necessary to assist Chairmen?
Sir Peter Emery: I do not disagree with the hon. Lady's thesis, but I do not preclude the possibility that Chairmen could receive some allowance recognising the extra work that they do for, and the dedication that they bring to, Select Committees.
However, we must be certain that such an allowance would not become an aspect of the Government payroll, and that hon. Members appointed as Select Committee Chairmen would not consider that role to be secondary. That is why I should prefer Chairmen to be appointed by the Select Committees and not by the Whips. In that way, we would ensure that appointment to the chairmanship of a Select Committee was not a placement by Government.
Mr. Nicholas Winterton: To an extent, I agree with the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody), but does my right hon. Friend agree that the recommendations in the paragraph in the report entitled "An Alternative Career" supply the answer to the problem? The right hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Mr. Sheldon) referred to them very positively. Does my right hon. Friend agree that Parliament must offer hon. Members an alternative to becoming Ministers--who, of course, do receive additional remuneration? Should we not encourage hon. Members who are prepared to sacrifice being political all the time, for the sake of democracy and the workings of Parliament? I believe that recognising the chairmanship of Select Committees as an alternative career is the best way to achieve that.
Sir Peter Emery: I am delighted to hear what my hon. Friend suggests. The records show that that suggestion first appeared in a report from the Procedure Committee that was compiled when I was its Chairman. My hon. Friend will not be surprised that I agree entirely.
Members might say that they are too busy to spend two days a week on Select Committee reports. I am concerned, as I believe that a Member of Parliament's work is here in Westminster and not in the constituency. Why do Members have to get away early on a Thursday to have constituency Fridays or Saturdays? What are they? Are they councillors, county councillors or social service officers? We already have those; that is not the role of a Member of Parliament as I believe it to be.
Sir Peter Emery: My hon. Friend speaks a great deal of truth. Pavement politics started with Mr. Lubbock, who won a famous by-election in Orpington and preached that one won seats by spending all one's time knocking on people's doors. That is not what a Member of Parliament is for.
Mr. Stunell: I know that the Liberal Democrats have had to take the blame for many things in this country, but that is the first time that we have been accused of causing the downfall of parliamentary democracy. I am delighted that my colleague, Rachel Oliver, is doing such an excellent job in the right hon. Gentleman's constituency.