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Mr. Cook: I am even now compiling my reading list for my summer holiday. I shall ensure that Sir Edward's article is included.

Many complex and thoughtful proposals have of course been presented by the Liaison Committee, the Hansard Society and the Norton commission, which was established by the hon. Gentleman's party. We should reflect on many of those proposals, and see whether we can find ways of making incremental improvements to the system. I certainly agree that we should obtain the right balance between the Government's ability to secure the legislation on the basis of which they were elected, and the House's right to scrutinise that and other Government legislation.

I believe that the timetable for Select Committees with which we are pressing ahead demonstrates our good faith in that regard. As I announced earlier today, we intend to confirm nominations on Monday week, which will enable the Committees to meet before the House rises on 20 July.

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That will be the greatest speed at which any Government have set up Select Committees following the commencement of a new Parliament.

Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich): Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Cook: I will, but then I must allow the debate to proceed.

Mrs. Dunwoody: My intervention will be very brief.

We are delighted by my right hon. Friend's clear indication that he appreciates the importance of Select Committees. He will understand that we also place much reliance on his undertaking to examine some of the other aspects of the Liaison Committee's report, to which the House will wish to return in due course.

Mr. Cook: I am delighted that I gave way to my hon. Friend. I hope that I shall have her support, as well as that of others, when we return from the recess.

The commitment that we have made in regard to Select Committees reflects the importance we attach to scrutiny. It also reflects my own view that scrutiny of Government does not necessarily constitute an adversarial relationship between Executive and Parliament—certainly not through the Select Committee system.

The hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) mentioned Bernard Crick. Some time ago, Bernard Crick said that parliamentary control of the Executive was not the enemy of effective government, but the condition of effective government. I believe that we have a common interest in ensuring that we arrive at a proper, effective system of scrutiny through Select Committees, and it is in that spirit that I commend the motion. I hope that it will command consensus support.

5.18 pm

Mr. Dominic Grieve (Beaconsfield): The last words of the Leader of the House were attractive, if I may put it that way. I was happy to hear them, and happy to note the spirit in which I believe they were uttered.

All I can say on behalf of the official Opposition is that I hope the right hon. Gentleman will indeed go away and consider that reading list. I remind him that it was suggested not just by my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) but by the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Mr. Fisher), who, I seem to recall, quoted the same source in an earlier debate on programme motions. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will do that reading, because he has an opportunity to provide leadership, and because he could gain the appreciation of members of all parties for his work.

I do not want to take up a lot of the House's time. It is clear that the measures that have been proposed are very sensible. They all appear to be minor improvements on the way in which the Select Committee system runs. The measure on quorums is exceptionally sensible in enabling one to avoid making some recondite calculations, which seems to have occurred on previous occasions. Another measure may be the chrysalis of a better future for Select Committees, enabling them to link up with others and to set up Sub-Committee structures. That is a real improvement. I am grateful to the Leader of the House for having taken that on.

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I was slightly amused by the Leader of the House's comments about the need for Members to attend Select Committees. I agree, but I am sure that he will agree that people attend Select Committees in measure of their relevance and, as he rightly said, the interest that is generated. On the Select Committee on Environmental Audit, we were amused to study the way in which certain Cabinet sub-committees worked under the previous Government. One was about greening government and brought the Ministers of various Departments—the green Ministers—together. It was trumpeted as an important organ of government. We discovered after a certain amount of questioning that, although some 14 out of 16 departmental Ministers charged with responsibilities in the committee had turned up on the first day for the group photograph, thereafter they had sent along permanent officials and had not turned up. Presumably, that was a reflection of the effectiveness that they perceived the committee to have.

It must be the same thing with Select Committees. We may trumpet them as important. They may look important on paper, but if their recommendations are routinely placed in the lower tray and not looked at, if their work is not recognised, and if on top of that they are perceived ultimately to be under enormous Government control—subtle but real—they will not succeed in evolving further. After a commendable period when Norman St. John-Stevas was Leader of the House and Select Committees took off, one has the impression that they have to an extent stagnated, except perhaps in so far as the work of Committees has been extended: they can look across different Government Departments.

If things are to progress along the lines that the Leader of the House mentioned, the Liaison Committee's report of 2000 and its further report of 2001, in which it reviewed the progress of Select Committees, need to be given proper consideration. Part I, the introduction, of the report of 8 March 2001 deals with the point about Select Committee membership being under Government and Executive control. It says:

Paragraph 6 says:

Paragraph 21 states:

I am sure that the Leader of the House will have to acknowledge that there is no suggestion that that support has in any way eroded. I welcome the measures that he has introduced, but they should be the first building block towards some sensible changes.

I fully appreciate that the Executive and Government are bound to be wary of measures that give an impression that they might lose control. However, there is much good will towards looking constructively at those matters—if the right hon. Gentleman and the Government wish to do so. We are in the Government's hands, and it would be very nice if there were an opportunity for debate in the next 12 months—and not just in Opposition time, as on

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the previous occasion—in which we could start sensibly to make progress. If we do, I am convinced that the Government will ultimately benefit. As Lord Norton said, if scrutiny and transparency are improved, a good Government are the ultimate winners. Without such improvement, and however much I might welcome today's proposals, we are just tinkering at the edges.

5.25 pm

Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich): I shall not detain the House for long, as I welcome the motions.

The House of Commons does itself real credit when it takes its work seriously, but sometimes we are not perceived as doing so. There are all sorts of reasons why people outside the House do not know what goes on here. They know little about our procedures and there is no particular reason why they should. In some instances, they interpret our role as consisting solely of the work that we are seen to do in our constituencies.

The reality is that, if one makes laws, this is the place to make them. If one scrutinises the work of the Executive, this is the place to do so. It is absolutely essential that any self-confident Government should be prepared to allow that scrutiny in Select Committees, by people who have a vested interest not in causing unnecessary difficulty, but in ensuring that the truth and the responsible decisions of Government are fully and closely examined.

I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House—it is very good that we as a Government have been prepared to support the rapid setting up of the Select Committees. It is precisely because people outside see the movement away from the Chamber and into Select Committees that the Select Committee on Liaison decided that it was time to produce a report. The report is important, and I hope that we shall return to it and examine it closely.

This is one of the few Parliaments in the world in which close examination of the Executive is carried out by people selected by their own Government. We can argue about the niceties of how people become members of Select Committees, but a great deal of control is still exercised over who is selected for which role and when.

I happen to think that the House of Commons is now quite a grown-up institution, and can trust all its Back Benchers. It is the consensus at which they arrive, the work that they do together and the evidence that they take which inform their Select Committee reports. That is absolutely essential to the good working of the Government. A good Government are confident enough to answer for their decisions in public and to trust Members of Parliament to say things that are not always comfortable or flattering. A good Government are determined enough to ensure that their work can be examined with care, because they know that they have taken the right decisions to protect the rights and interests of the electorate.

This Government can set an important precedent by giving the House of Commons such trust. I and my colleagues on the previous Liaison Committee were privileged to serve, and to have the chance to talk to the Leader of the House and the Chief Whips about what we

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wanted to achieve. Only when such scrutiny is available, and there is such confidence between the Executive and individual Members, will we get change.

This place evolves—it changes all the time—from a position of confidence. I know that Her Majesty's Government will allow us to return to this matter in the autumn.

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