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I say to the Parliamentary Secretary, Privy Council Office that I believe that my party has learned from that, which is why we have used this opportunity to introduce a debate on a substantive motion on restoring to the House of Commons its integrity and its independence. I repeat that the second report, which comments on the Government's reply to our first report, is entitled "Independence or Control?". If I asked each Member in the Chamber, "Do you want Select Committees to be controlled by the Government or be independent and representative of the views of the House?", every single one would say, "We want Select Committees to be independent of the Government of the day." That is what the two reports are about.
Mrs. Fitzsimons: Will the hon. Gentleman reflect on the point that my right hon. Friend the Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Mr. Sheldon) made? If Select Committees are not independent, why have so many of their reports in recent months criticised the Government? If the hon. Gentleman's assertion is correct, why are Select Committees so publicly critical of the Government? Their reports are also debated in Westminster Hall, which the hon. Gentleman chairs, so there is greater opportunity to criticise the Government.
Mr. Winterton: Fortunately, a majority of Select Committees have been prepared to base their reports on the evidence given to them. There is nothing they can do if the evidence is critical of either a Conservative or a
Mr. Winterton: I have quite a few jobs in this place, and I have not been following the shenanigans--as my hon. Friend puts it--of the Education and Employment Committee, but I shall certainly read its report with interest when it is published.
Membership of Select Committees must be taken out of the hands of the Whips and the usual channels. The Chairman of Committees and two Deputy Chairmen would have the integrity, experience and ability to nominate members to Select Committees and, if necessary, to advise, but each Committee would appoint its own Chairman. The nominations made by the Chairman of Committees and two Deputy Chairmen would have to be confirmed on the Floor of the House. At present, a motion is tabled by the Chairman of the Committee of Selection, which sadly is dominated and influenced by the usual channels. The recommendation is that a motion would be tabled by the Chairman and two Deputy Chairmen to the House, and Members could decide on a free vote who they wanted and could confirm the membership of a Committee.
Some hon. Members have talked about the co-ordination of departmental Select Committees. I can tell the right hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne, who chairs the Liaison Committee, that we dealt with that issue in paragraphs 64 to 69 on joined-up Committees. We recommended a structure that I believe would be ideal to handle this situation, and I ask the Government to give it serious consideration.
I am a House of Commons man. I have been in the House for almost 30 years. I have never been on the Government or Opposition Front Bench, although on two or three occasions when we were in opposition between 1974 and 1979 I spoke from the Front Bench, as part of the agriculture team, late at night on milk orders and other such issues. I have never been a Front Bencher, and I suspect that, sadly, I never will be. I am keen that the House should provide an alternative career structure for some Members, most of whom will be long-serving Back Benchers, but some of whom will have had service on the Front Bench, such as the right hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne, who was a distinguished Treasury Minister. That would enable those Members to have a meaningful career that is recognised by right hon. and hon. Members in this place. That is highlighted in paragraphs 29 to 34 of the report.
I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary, Privy Council Office will admit that it is about time that those who serve this place should be given a role. My hon. Friend the Member for South Staffordshire (Sir P. Cormack), who is sitting next to me, has given tremendous service in this
Mr. John Healey (Wentworth): I had not intended to speak, but I was disturbed by the speech of the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Mrs. Browning). I was disturbed in the same way when I listened to the exchanges that opened the debate on 9 November. Moreover, I consider this issue to be fundamental to all Members.
I have another reason for wishing to speak. Like the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton), whom I am pleased to follow, I have served on the Employment Sub-Committee of the Education and Employment Committee. I must say that this is one of the most worthwhile things I have done during my short time in the House. We developed a specialist knowledge of our subject, dealt in detail with issues presented to us on the basis of hard evidence, expressed criticism and were able to push the Government further.
There were, I think, two hallmarks of our success. One was able chairmanship, for which I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Foster); the other was constructive cross-party co-operation, for which I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale, West (Mr. Brady). I am glad to see that that provided a launch pad for a further step in the hon. Gentleman's career, and that he is now on the Opposition Front Bench.
This is an important report, featuring a number of dimensions with which I find myself in strong agreement. It sets out effectively the need to reinforce the place of pre-legislation scrutiny, and proposals to make joint--or joined-up--Committee working easier. It also presents an effective argument for the need to improve presentation, publicity and the provision of public information. The problem of slow or superficial Government responses to Select Committee reports needed to be criticised, and is criticised forcefully in the report. The case for better back-up resources seems unarguable to me.
When I checked the sessional returns for 1998-99--the last available--I was staggered to find that the entire work of our Select Committees was supported by 77 members of staff, not counting out-and-out secretarial staff, and that the total cost was only £4.6 million. That is £300,000 less than the Short money that we paid to Opposition parties last year. I leave Members to make up their own minds about which is better value for money.
Let me return to the debate that took place on 9 November. I was dismayed by the way in which it was dominated by the Chairs of Select Committees who were responsible for the report. I note from the sessional returns that in 1998-99 no fewer than 388 Members served on Select Committees. I was disappointed then--I am slightly less disappointed now--that more Members did not choose to become involved in the debate on these matters. As my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House said on 9 November, the proposals that we are debating
The report does not make the case for that step; and it is not self-evident that three people, rather than the Liaison Committee, will produce a process that is more transparent, less susceptible to patronage or more likely to lead to more effective operation of Select Committees. Simply asserting this, as paragraph 20 does, is no substitute for arguing the case. The report fails to do that.
Mr. Bercow: I have a high regard for the hon. Gentleman, but he is repeating the point that was made by the hon. Member for Rochdale (Mrs. Fitzsimons). Does he accept this proposition? Although, inevitably, a panel of independent persons will be subject to attempts by the unctuous and sycophantic to get on to Committees, it will be able to resist that pressure. The key difference between the panel of independent persons and the Whips as the determinant of the composition of Committees is that the panel will have no interest whatever in a Member of Parliament's record of being malleable and in whether that person intends to be malleable in future. That is how it is distinctive from and to be preferred to the Whips for that purpose.