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Mr. Dominic Grieve (Beaconsfield): I accept the point made by the right hon. Gentleman, but I am sure that he will agree that if towards the end of the previous Parliament better recognition had been given to the growing disquiet about the Select Committee selection systems and the opportunities that were presentedonly in Opposition timeto debate such issues had been taken, we could have made progress before the general election, which would have prevented the events that have taken place from occurring.
Mr. Cook: It is always the case that if decisions had been taken beforehand, one would not be faced with the need to take them afterwards. Starting from where we began after the election, we faced the choice that I have mentioned. It is always very nice to think that we can press the fast-rewind button and have a different set of choices, but that option was not available to us.
The Government are entitled to be given credit for meeting the timetable of setting up the Select Committees by the recess. Since Monday, 26 Select Committees have met and have started the process of appointing a Chairman and choosing a work programme. After this debate, a further three will have met, so by the recess, 29 separate Select Committees will have begun scrutinising the Government.
I entirely accept, however, that the message of the past few days is that this is not a time for the Government, having set up the Select Committees, to rest on their oars. We now must apply the same urgency that we put into setting up the Select Committees to the task of implementing a fair system of nomination to them. That
Mr. Andrew Stunell (Hazel Grove): I am delighted that the House is faced with another set of Government motions that cover substantially the points raised in debate and by the results of the votes on Monday. It is fortunate, to say the least, that we have had three opportunities in a fortnight to address the fundamental question of how the House can best hold the Government to account. We welcome the change of heart on nominations to the Select Committees on Transport, Local Government and the Regions and on Foreign Affairs. We shall support those motions unreservedly.
However, it would be a mistake to suppose that all the problems have been solved and all the difficulties relieved simply by returning to the subject today. I was pleased to hear renewed assurances from the Leader of the House that the processes of examination and reform will go ahead speedily. I say again to him that the House has debated some clear proposals that would go some way to resolving the problems. I hope that the Modernisation Committee, on which I happily serve, will make proposals that will satisfy the demands of the House.
There are even doubts and reservations among Members about some of today's nominations. The right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) referred to the International Development Committee. Some of us have concerns about the change in its membership and the implication that another Member is to be imposed on it in sequence. Whatever the ins and outs, the appointment has been disputed and difficult. It is to be regretted that revised procedures for nominations will not be established before the Committee appoints a Chairman. The Leader of the House will be well aware, too, of the difficulties over the Information Committee, which was reduced to appointing what it described as a temporary Chairman until October, while difficulties are resolved.
There is no doubt, therefore, that reform must be pursued vigorously. Nevertheless, on balance it is our view that the motions should be supported because it is of fundamental importance that the Committees be up and functioning in some form or another, even if subsequently they must be reviewed and reformed.
Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire): Enoch Powell once said to me that gratitude is a commodity in short supply in politics, and never were truer words spoken. The House owes a debt to the Leader of the House because he has responded with alacrity. He took what could have been interpreted as a defeat on Monday with charm and graciousness, and he has honoured his promise, which augurs well for his time as Leader of the House. I for one am grateful to him, as I hope are Members of all parties.
Sir Patrick Cormack: Well, I am always a little careful about what I say about my right hon. Friend, for fear of encouraging him to say more. However, he made one very good point, about the appointment of Chairmen, which was taken up and amplified by the hon. Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott)
Sir Patrick Cormack: All right, Madam Deputy Speaker; of course I accept your strictures. I urge the Leader of the House to bear those points in mind and thank him again for what he has done; I hope that we shall see some good proposals early in the autumn.
Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley): As a member of the International Development Committee, I should make the situation concerning membership clear. Obviously we accept that the Committee has been allocated to the Opposition, but perhaps we would have liked some discussion of the allocation of various Committees. I hope that in future there will not be a status quo, and there will be more movement in party ownership of particular Select Committees. In this case, the argument is not about who should have the ownership of the Committee; we accept that it is from the Conservative Members allocated to that Committee that we choose a Chairman. We have had two meetings: yesterday the group was split, five Members against five, and again today, so there is obviously deadlock. It is good for Committees to have the opportunity to question candidates for the chairmanship closely, as we did yesterday.
Mr. Forth: Is the hon. Lady aware of such a process in any other Committee? Did the Modernisation Committee, for example, quiz the Leader of the House closely on his credentials for taking an even-handed approach to the so-called modernisation of the House? I am puzzled why that process has taken place in only one Committee, as far as I know. Can the hon. Lady explain why it should happen in the International Development Committee and not, apparently, in any other Committee?
The International Development Committee deals with developing countries, and subjects such as the position of women in those countries, and poverty. The Chairman meets many people throughout the world. It is important that the Committee, on which I have served from the start, should have faith in the person who is going to become Chairman; the membership should therefore be able to decide who should hold that position. I do not want to go over the subject again, but there should not be strong intimations about who the Committee should support. The Select Committee rules say
Ann Clwyd: Thank you Madam Deputy Speaker. The role of Committee members is important. People who have served on a Select Committee for a number of years should be considered as candidates over and above people who are parachuted in because the Whips have decided who should take the chair. That is why I object to the way things are being done. The Leader of the House has made it clear that he intends to reform all that.
I think that we were all pleased that the Select Committees got under way very early, but perhaps on reflection we should not have put pressure on our Whips to set up the Committees before the beginning of the recess. On reflection, that was a mistake. We should have had more time to ponder the matter.
Mr. Tony McWalter (Hemel Hempstead): Is my hon. Friend saying that the list of members of Select Committees usually has one member who has been put in, parachuted in or whatever, and that the process of compiling the membership of a Select Committee needs some attention?