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Mr. Salmond: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. McWilliam: May I finish my point? Selection is a matter for the individual parties. When I was Chairman of the Selection Committee during the last Parliament, I was perfectly happy to acquiesce with all parties—perhaps when a mistake was made in a change or something similar. I have not moved motions—sometimes late at night—in order that such things can be sorted out. Those selection processes are a matter for the individual parties.

The duty of the Committee of Selection is to ensure that the balance of the House is kept in terms of membership of Committees, that the motions for nomination are properly made and that the procedures are properly adhered to.

Lynne Jones: Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. McWilliam: Before I give way to my hon. Friend, I shall give way to the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg).

Mr. Hogg: Does the hon. Gentleman understand the dismay with which his remarks are being greeted? In fact, he is saying that the sole function of the Committee of Selection is to rubber-stamp the nominations made by those on the Front Benches of the respective parties. Surely, that is not the function of the Committee. The function of the Committee of Selection is genuinely to select names.

Mr. McWilliam: The right hon. and learned Gentleman misunderstands. I do not know what the Conservative party does, but I know that in the Labour party all the names are put before the parliamentary Labour party and are subject to its approval. I deliberately did not attend the PLP meeting last week because, when I came to chair the Select Committee, I did not want to have in my mind any debate that might have occurred. I had to be objective. Presumably, the Conservative party does it differently.

Mr. Salmond rose

Mr. McWilliam: The minority parties clearly do it differently, because the hon. Gentleman wants to intervene.

Mr. Salmond: Earlier, the Chairman of the Committee of Selection said that he assumed that there had been

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agreement between the Liberals, the SNP and Plaid Cymru. There was no such agreement. Given that fact, does the hon. Gentleman agree that the Chairman of the Committee of Selection has a special responsibility to protect the rights of parties that are not represented on his Committee and thus have no ability to represent themselves?

Mr. McWilliam: I agree with the hon. Gentleman. However, it is not a matter for me to interfere in the business of political parties, except in so far as to ensure that, if there is a debate or a problem about the nominations that are made, I speak to the people concerned. Unfortunately, until I saw today's amendments, nobody told me that there had been a problem.

Mr. Andrew Stunell (Hazel Grove): Will the hon. Gentleman take note of the fact that later in the debate I hope to address the points that have been raised? It is perhaps not appropriate to do so at the moment.

Mr. McWilliam: I thank the hon. Gentleman. I hope that hon. Members will realise that all I can do is represent the Committee of Selection and the fact that the Committee of Selection took nominations clearly and cleanly. Those nominations are being put to the House today.

Lynne Jones: I thank my hon. Friend for giving way. Can he confirm that in the last Parliament he was a member of the Liaison Committee? If so, did he support the report produced by that Committee, entitled "Shifting the Balance", which recommended changes to the way in which members of Select Committees are appointed? Will he place on record whether he agrees with that report, whether he would recommend those changes and whether they should be put to the House?

Mr. McWilliam: I acquiesced with that report, certainly. The Liaison Committee is a Select Committee and, as a good Select Committee member, I would wish, where there was not some outstanding matter of fundamental principle, to go along with a Select Committee report. I happily did so.

I do not wish to eat up any more of the time of the House, although most of the time has been taken up by interventions. I reiterate that amendment (c) to motion 9, amendment (c) to motion 16 and amendment (b) to motion 17 were tabled by members of the official Opposition and relate to members of the Government. That is interfering with private grief. It is up to the Government party to sort the matter out. Amendment (b) to motion 15, amendment (c) to motion 17 and the manuscript amendment have been tabled by the Scottish National party. It is up to the minority parties to sort themselves out, although I suspect that it is too late.

Mr. Richard Shepherd (Aldridge-Brownhills): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. McWilliam: No, I will not give way again. I am certain that hon. Members want to get on with the debate, and I do not wish to prevent them from so doing.

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I am deeply thankful to all sides of the House for the speed with which they have been able to operate. I realise that there is controversy; there always is. In the 20-odd years that I have been in the House, there has always been controversy about the matter. At least we can deal with it at a reasonable time of the evening. I commend my nominations to the House.

4.32 pm

Mrs. Angela Browning (Tiverton and Honiton): I shall not detain the House for long. This is a Commons matter, but I wish to associate my party with my opening general comments. At a time when matters that go on in Parliament are not held in great respect outside, we can all take pride in the respect in which Select Committees are held outside the House. The same applies to hon. Members who wish to serve on Select Committees and who have served on Select Committees not just to fulfil their duty, but to play a role in the scrutiny of legislation and of Government business.

It is important for the Leader of the House to recognise that, as will be evident from the debate, we need a change in the way that hon. Members are selected—or appointed, as they are now—to Select Committees. In particular, the chairmanship of those Committees is not just a prestigious appointment; it is extremely important to the way that Select Committees are run and the Executive are held to account. The Leader of the House has hinted in the House and outside that he recognises that the time has come to address the important report from the Liaison Committee. In the last Session we, the official Opposition, gave up our debating time on the Floor of the House so that the House could consider that report.

Mrs. Anne Campbell (Cambridge): I am grateful to the hon. Lady for giving way. I find her views interesting. When her Government were in power, did she make any suggestions to them about changing the way in which Select Committees were appointed?

Mrs. Browning: As I pointed out earlier from a sedentary position, since the day on which I entered the House in 1992, I have continually questioned the way in which Select Committee appointments are made. The record will show that within a few weeks of my election as a Member of Parliament, I was unhappy about what happened in 1992 with regard to the chairmanship of the Select Committee on Health.

I say to the hon. Lady and to new Members on both sides of the House that the power of the Whips Office, whether its influence is exerted by cajolement or other mechanisms, to offer Select Committee appointments and chairmanships to Members of Parliament is past its sell-by date. Such appointments should not be a matter of patronage for the Whips Office, which is part of the Executive. If we are to regain—it is now a matter of regaining—the right of democratically elected Back Benchers to hold the Executive to account, Select Committee procedures must be a fundamental consideration.

I welcome the watershed that has been reached—we have reached it because of genuine feeling on both sides of the House. Any change in the procedures of the House, including those that affect the appointment of Select Committees, needs consensus. That is why I repeat the

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remarks that I made when the official Opposition gave up half a day of our allotted time to debate the Liaison Committee report. As I said when I led that debate, it was sad that the report was presented to the House as the subject of an Adjournment motion. If it had been debated as part of a substantive motion, and if the Government could have trusted the House—this was not a matter of trusting only the Opposition or Labour Back Benchers—the tone of this debate would have been very different.

As we have a new Leader of the House, I say to him that now is his opportunity. I hope that, apart from the long list of motions dealing with individual names and Committees, he will see the big picture that is evident in this debate, which is that we want change.

Sir Teddy Taylor (Rochford and Southend, East): My hon. Friend makes a splendid point. Could not the Conservative party give the lead, as it has done on so many occasions, by introducing a system to take away the Whips' power to appoint people and to give it to hon. Members? If the Conservative party were to do that, might not the Labour party follow?

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