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Queen's recommendation having been signified—


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Select Committees

5 pm

The President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Robin Cook): I beg to move,

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Mr. Speaker: I understand that with this, it will be convenient to discuss motion No. 8:

European Standing Committees

That the following amendments be made to Standing Order No. 119 (European Standing Committees):

In the Table, in the column 'Principal subject matter', leave out 'Agriculture, Fisheries and Food', and insert 'Environment, Food and Rural Affairs'.
In the Table, in the column 'Principal subject matter', leave out 'Environment, Transport and the Regions', and insert 'Transport, Local Government and the Regions'.
In the Table, in the column 'Principal subject matter', leave out 'Scottish, Welsh', and insert 'Scotland, Wales'.
In the Table, in the column 'Principal subject matter', leave out 'Social Security', and insert 'Work and Pensions'.
In the Table, in the column 'Principal subject matter', leave out 'Education and Employment', and insert 'Education and Skills'.

Mr. Cook: It may be convenient for the House, especially as so many hon. Members are heading in that direction, if I say that an explanatory memorandum is available in the Vote Office that details the terms and significance of the motion. During last Thursday's debate on programming, the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) suggested that an explanatory memorandum would have been valuable. I am pleased to say that we have been able to respond, and I hope that colleagues who read that testimonial to him will appreciate it. For technical and legal reasons, we have not yet resolved whether we can put it on the Order Paper, but we shall continue to consider that.

I can be brief, because I believe that the motion reflects a broad consensus in many quarters of the House, although I may not carry everyone with me on that. I discussed the motion with the three senior Members appointed by the Liaison Committee in the previous Parliament to continue the work of preparing for the Select Committees and, save for one modest change of detail, the motion fully implements the table and schedule that they presented to me. I hope that the motion will achieve consensus and gain the support of the House.

The motion has two main consequences. First, it will reconfigure the departmental Select Committees so that they track the departmental changes in Whitehall. I anticipate no disagreement with that, especially given the modest attendance. Plainly, those who remain fully understand such matters and know perfectly well that there is no point in having departmental Select Committees that reflect the Departments of the previous Parliament rather than those of this. I hope that hon. Members will support that.

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The motion's second main consequence is several modest but important steps that will give Select Committees more freedom and flexibility over their arrangements in two principal ways. First, Select Committees will have the freedom to appoint Sub-Committees. Until now, we have specified by a decision of the House which departmental Select Committees can form a Sub-Committee. Given the importance and stability of Select Committees, that is now unnecessary and old fashioned. We are leaving it to Select Committees to decide for themselves whether forming a Sub-Committee at a particular time and on a particular issue would be of value. That must be right.

Secondly, we are giving every Select Committee the right to form a Joint Committee with any other Select Committee. Again, hitherto, a specific decision of the House was required to enable a Select Committee to form a Joint Committee. Last year, Liaison Committee reports drew attention to the fact that the evolution of government towards joined-up government had created cross-cutting initiatives that were difficult for a Select Committee to track in isolation. They advocated more flexibility in enabling Select Committees to track joined-up government through Joint Committees. The motion gives Select Committees the freedom to form Joint Committees.

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