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Mr. Jon Owen Jones (Cardiff, Central): Would my right hon. Friend not regard it as even more invidious if former Ministers were offered posts on Select Committees so as to ensure that they did not reveal what may have happened when they were Ministers? That would result in the direct opposite of what scrutiny Committees are for.

Mr. Williams: I am not sure that any ex-Minister could avoid the temptation of such an opportunity.

I want to make a point with which my right hon. and hon. Friends but not Conservative Members will be familiar. In a parliamentary Labour party meeting just before the election, the then Leader of the House said that entering Parliament must be seen as a twin-track career—that there are those who go along the ministerial path and those who take the Committee route. That is rather simplistic, as I pointed out at the time, but if it is the Government's view, it must be pointed out—it was not at the time—that that twin track is for some but not others. There was no mention of the fact that there would be a first-class coach attached for ex-Ministers.

It seems abundantly clear that, after 20 years, we need a new system to choose members of Select Committees. I welcome the suggestion made by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House of a review, but as my hon. Friend the Member for Pendle (Mr. Prentice) implied,

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without a time limit such a review could be seen as just a delaying tactic. I know that my right hon. Friend would not want to link his name to such a device, so I hope that he will confirm the time limit that he will set.

Mr. Hogg: I support what the right hon. Gentleman is saying. Does he agree that, if Chairmen of Select Committees are to be paid, it is even more important that nomination is made not by the Whips Office but by the House as a whole?

Mr. Williams: That is absolutely right. There cannot be independence through a system of patronage. They are mutually incompatible; those who give can take away.

Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley): My right hon. Friend mentioned my right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field), who has specialist knowledge. As he has started naming names in this Chamber, may I mention my hon. Friends the Members for Pendle (Mr. Prentice) and for Islington, North (Jeremy Corbyn)? My hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North has a particular interest in international development and foreign affairs. His contribution in the Chamber on those subjects has been considerable over the years. Their applications to serve on Select Committees have been refused, and that has happened time and again. My right hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, East (Donald Anderson) and my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) should be reinstated, and we should not forget those who want to be ordinary members of Select Committees but are just not getting a chance in this place.

Mr. Williams: I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention but regret the fact that, unfortunately, she addressed her point to the person who is probably least able to help any of those to whom she referred.

Mr. McNamara: Is my right hon. Friend aware that, across the water in the Republic of Ireland, Chairmen of Select Committees—indeed, even the Irish Chairman of the British-Irish Inter-Parliamentary Body—receive extra parliamentary salaries, which are all in the gift of the Government or Opposition leader of the day? They are questions of patronage. Does he also agree that, in—properly—considering membership, we should also look at the powers of Select Committees? Although a Select Committee—

Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal): Order. There is a time limit on this debate and many Members want to participate. Will Members please make interventions brief?

Mr. McNamara: Only the House can command that a person appear before a Select Committee. That power should go to the Select Committee so that it is not dependent on the Government majority of the day.

Mr. Williams: I thank my hon. Friend for his comments. I hope you will note, Madam Deputy Speaker, that the breach of my commitment to be brief is the consequence of my hon. Friends' desire to hear me speak further.

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My final point is on chairmanships. Surely the logical people to choose the Chairmen are the Committee members themselves. They know the expertise and capabilities of their members, and that, too, would be a liberating factor. I urge the Leader of the House to consider that. He is in a unique position. His role provides a wonderful opportunity for anyone who wants to advance democracy and the rights of Parliament and the Back Bencher. I am sure that his heart is in the right place; I just hope that his actions will reflect his instincts.

5.35 pm

Sir George Young (North-West Hampshire): It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Swansea, West (Mr. Williams). The House listened with respect to his balanced contribution. I shall seek to beat him for brevity if I cannot match him for wisdom.

I have three points to make. The first relates to the method of choosing the names for Select Committees. I speak as a new member of the Committee of Selection. I have attended only two meetings, but that has been enough to persuade me that it does not serve the House well. It has been captured by the usual channels, and I welcome the beam of light that is being shone on that obscure body this afternoon.

The Committee has nine members appointed by the House in the correct proportions of six, two and one. It is chaired with dispatch by the hon. Member for Blaydon (Mr. McWilliam). Of the eight remaining members, five are Whips. Had my party not generously acceded to my request to have one of our two places, six of the eight would have been Whips. There is a convention among Whips that they do not challenge the nominations of other parties. If the other side wants to put someone on a Committee or to keep someone off whose interests may be relevant but unhelpful, that is not challenged. It is no secret that I recently proposed an amendment in the Committee. Like the man in the Bateman cartoon, I was shot down in flames.

Unlike other Committees, the substance of the discussion is not circulated beforehand. We know what Committees we are going to appoint, but we do not know the nominations. They are produced like rabbits out of a hat at the meeting and agreed, usually without discussion or division. The meetings last a matter of minutes. That may be all right for the appointment of some Committees, and I am not against the involvement of the Whips. They know Members' interests, their work load on other Committees and can get a regional balance. However, it cannot be right at the beginning of a Parliament for people to be appointed to Committees for the whole of the Parliament in that way.

There needs to be a more rigorous and transparent process, leading to an output that commands greater confidence. The Committees should be better balanced, without being over-dominated by the Whips. The names of those nominated should be available in advance and there should be an expectation that they will be discussed and defended before they are put to the House. The House can certainly go over the course again, as we are doing this afternoon, but the Committee of Selection should be doing a proper job in the first place. I welcome the announcement by the Leader of the House of a thorough review of how the selection process operates.

My second point is that the nominations matter; they are vital. All the recent reports on reform of the House focus on the role of independent Select Committees. They

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should not be selected by the Government whom they are holding to account. Let us consider the Select Committee on Transport, Local Government and the Regions, which we are appointing tonight. One of the key political issues in coming months will be the tube—the private finance initiative, Bob Kiley, the Greater London assembly and so on. That requires no legislation. It will be covered briefly at Question Time and we can have an Opposition day on it, but that does not provide the opportunity to scrutinise the Executive. The Select Committee will be the only way in which the House can get behind the PFI for the tube.

Without being discourteous to whoever takes over from the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody), if she is not successfully reinstated, I doubt whether her successor will give the Government as hard a time. One of the weapons of the House is not quite being put beyond use, but being wheeled away from the front line. Using the alibi of mobility of membership, several independent-minded Members have been fingered and removed from Select Committees.

My final point relates to the membership of the Select Committee on the Modernisation of the House of Commons. In my view, what is needed is not so much a modernising Select Committee, but a strengthening Select Committee. Parliament's prime task is to be effective and to hold the Government to account. Yes, we should also work sensible hours, use modern technology and review antiquated procedures, all of which may well strengthen the House, but strengthening, not modernising, should be the prime purpose of the Committee.

The Select Committee that modernises or strengthens the House of Commons should not be chaired by the Cabinet Minister whose job it is to deliver the Government's often overloaded legislative programme. There could not be a clearer conflict of interest, nor an appointment more likely to short-circuit the whole machinery of accountability. The Leader of the House must be pulled two ways: between his duty to his ministerial colleagues through collective responsibility to secure the passage of their Bills, and his duty to the House to make sure that we do our job properly and have time to scrutinise the legislation.

The Leader of the House may well have radical ideas about reform of the House. I am sure that he would be a first-class witness before the Modernisation Committee. However, I say to him what I said to his predecessor: there is no role for the Leader of the House on a Select Committee of the House in charge of modernisation. It is like the Chancellor chairing the Public Accounts Committee.

Attempts to sort all these matters out at the end of the last Parliament were sadly unsuccessful. There can be no excuse for the House not getting it right now.

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