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Mr. Cook: I am happy to tell my hon. Friend that it is our intention to hold a meeting of the Committee of Selection this Wednesday. Indeed, that will be necessary, partly because of the point that has already been raised: we have still to complete the selection for the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, the Catering Committee and the Science and Technology Committee. That meeting could, of course, consider other matters that were appropriate.
I would need the co-operation of the House if we had to resolve matters on Thursday, which would be the one remaining full day before the recess, but technically, what my hon. Friend says is correct. He is also correct to say that the Select Committees have the power to meet in the recess. The House does not have to be sitting for them to meet.
I am accused of having acted in haste, but despite that haste, we have provided for additional flexibility and freedom for Select Committees. For the first time, every Select Committee has the right to decide for itself whether it wants to appoint a Sub-Committee. Every departmental Select Committee will also have the right to set up a Joint Committee with any other Select Committee. That freedom represents a response to the principle expressed by the Liaison Committee report in the last Parliament, that joined-up government requires joined-up scrutiny. We have provided for Select Committees to decide for themselves how to go about that.
I will not disguise from the House the fact that this debate has turned out to be more controversial than I would have wished. Some comments that I have read about the nominations before the House have been a
I confirm to the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton that on this side of the House the votes on all the amendments will be free votes. I hope that they will be free votes on her side as well. As I said to the House on Thursday, this is a matter on which all Members, whether they are in government or not, must exercise their discretion. This matter is for the House, not for a collective decision by the Government.
Mr. Cash: I am most grateful to the right hon. Gentleman, who will have heard my earlier intervention. In view of the reforming zeal with which he is applying himself to his job, will he considerI put it no higher than that at the momentchanging Standing Orders to make it a contempt of the House for any Member to try either to prevent another Member from exercising a free vote or to interfere with another Member in the exercise of his conscience or the fulfilment of his duty? After all, any such change would depend on the Government and their vote.
Mr. Cook: I listened with the greatest interest when the hon. Gentleman made his earlier intervention. I suggest to him that it might be wise on my part to try to achieve reform of the House by flanking manoeuvres rather than by hanging myself out on the barbed wire in a full frontal assault on one of the strongest strongholds in the House. I heard what he said and I hope that the Opposition Whips listened to him carefully.
Jeremy Corbyn: I thank the Leader of the House for giving way. Before he completes his contribution, will he say what thought he has given to the Liaison Committee report "Shifting the Balance", which is about the future appointment of Select Committees and appointments to vacancies that might occur in this Parliament? Does he accept its recommendation that those should be taken out of the power of the Whips Offices of all parties?
Regardless of the outcome of tonight's votes, a wider issue must be addressed and I shall address it now. To get the Select Committees up and running before the summer recess, it was necessary to adopt this procedure. If we had embarked first on making major changes to the procedure
I have repeatedly said that it was my intention to review in the autumn the system by which nominations to Select Committees are made. I would be the first to agree that the events of the past few days have given greater urgency to the search for a more transparent system. I intend to invite the Modernisation Committee, when it meets for the first time on Wednesday, to make the system of nominations to Select Committees the first priority for its programme.
The Modernisation Committee can address the procedures of the House, but it cannot make any recommendations about the internal process by which political parties decide which of their members to put forward.
Jean Corston (Bristol, East): Does my right hon. Friend agree with me that within the Labour party this matter should be referred in the first instance to the parliamentary committee, so that we can come up with a process that is transparent and has the confidence of all Members?
Mr. Cook: I welcome what my hon. Friend has said, and I welcome the commitment to a review of procedures in the parliamentary Labour party by the parliamentary committee. I particularly welcome the fact that the parliamentary committee will carry out that review, because half its members are elected by Back Benchers. One of the options that it will wish to consider is whether it should make the initial choice of which members of the Labour party should serve on which Select Committees.
Mrs. Anne Campbell: I welcome my right hon. Friend's support for the review that will be conducted by the parliamentary committee. In view of the concern about a number of people who are on several Committees, how quickly will the review be set up, and how soon will the new selection procedure be able to review the membership being proposed today?
Mr. Cook: I hope that two separate reviews will commence this week: one by the Modernisation Committee on the procedures of the House, and the other by the Labour party's parliamentary committee on procedures in the Labour party. I give my hon. Friend an undertaking that that will be the timetable for the start of the reviews. The timetable for the conclusion of those reviews will depend in part on how quickly it is possible to build consensus on change. I hope that we will be able to return to this issue early in the autumn.
Mr. Cook: I do not honestly think that I would have any alternative. There is no way in which changes to the system can be put in place without the agreement of the House. This is a matter for the House. Although I undertake to ensure that any agreed system is put to hon. Members, it must be the House that decides, not me.
Mr. Hogg: The right hon. Gentleman has misunderstood me; I am sure the fault was mine. Once we have a mechanism for choosing the membership of Select Committees, as agreed by the Modernisation Committee, can we consider the whole question again, so that we can choose new members in accordance with the procedure recommended by the Modernisation Committee?
Mr. Cook: No, I cannot give the right hon. and learned Gentleman that assurance. The large number of hon. Members who may be appointed to Select Committees tonight would not want to begin their work on those Committees with the clear and explicit expectation that membership would be reviewed and we would start again in November. There may be opportunities to review and to change membership of Committees in the future, but it would be unwise of us to say that in three months' time we will sack those whom we appoint today.
Mr. Salmond: Notwithstanding what the right hon. Gentleman has said, does he accept that there is a problem with the numbers in the lists before us, and with the principle of how minority parties are represented on the Committee of Selection?
Mr. Cook: I agree that there is an issue to be addressed. I accept that in terms of the strict arithmetical division of Committee members, the minority parties have not been represented to reflect their full strength in the House. It is a difficult balancing act, but I recognise that there is a problem.
When we debated the changes to Standing Orders 10 days ago, I said that one of the issues that I would like to re-examine in the autumn was the size of Select Committees. There have been proposals for them to be larger, and given the number of Labour Back Benchers who have sought membership, there is an added case for considering that matter. It is for the House to make the decision, and there are also arguments on the other side of the balance sheet, but if we decided to make the Committees larger that would, I think, help to address the problem identified by the hon. Gentleman, and possibly some of the other problems identified on the Order Paper.