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Mr. John McWilliam (Blaydon): The hon. Gentleman is not exactly right. Sir Terence was Chairman of a Special Select Committee that was set up for one Parliament and died with it.

Mr. Tyler: That underlines my point that Sir Terence's special skills from previous experience were believed to be desirable.

There are two good reasons for the amendment, which is not the thin end of a slippery slope, as the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst appeared to suggest. My hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Allan) chaired the Information Committee with distinction and special expertise in the previous Parliament. Continuity of the work of that Committee affects every aspect of the work of the House. His expertise and experience recommended him as a good addition to the Liaison Committee.

Mr. Forth: I am pleased that the hon. Gentleman is revealing one of his reasons for tabling the amendment. However, the knowledge and expertise of the current Chairman of the Information Committee is legendary, and

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he will be a member of the Liaison Committee. Why do we need two e-people on the Committee? Is not one expert enough?

Mr. Tyler: That is a matter for the House. I share the view of those who are more expert than the right hon. Gentleman in such matters. He declares himself a philistine and has frequently expressed doubts about whether we should spend any time or resources on the e-revolution.

There is a better precedent for the inclusion of my hon. Friend rather than for the inclusion of the right hon. Member for Swansea, West on the Committee—the need for continuity. My hon. Friend served not only on the Information Committee but on House Committees that dealt with such matters.

Mr. Stephen O'Brien (Eddisbury): The hon. Gentleman suggests that the inclusion of the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Allan) on the Committee is justified by his previous chairmanship of a Select Committee and the need for continuity. Is the hon. Gentleman implying that every former Select Committee chairman would qualify on the same ground? How would he manage the size of the Committee?

Mr. Tyler: The House will have to decide the matter. Failure to consult about additional members of the Liaison Committee has caused anxiety about the criteria on the basis of which they can be included. The hon. Member for Eddisbury (Mr. O'Brien) nods. When we heard that the reason for the inclusion of the right hon. Member for Swansea, West was the precedent of Sir Terence Higgins, we believed that we had a good case for proposing my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hallam.

However, we have a second good reason. As the Leader of the House said, the Liaison Committee will have 32 members. The arithmetic of the House should be used as a guide to ensure a proper balance on every Committee. There is only one Liberal Democrat Member on the Liaison Committee because of a neat little carve-up between the Whips Offices of the Conservative and Labour parties and the removal of one of our Chairmen from a Committee.

To enable the House to do what it must do under Standing Orders, as my hon. Friend the Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood) has said, we should maintain proportionality and ensure continuity of experience, thus following the precedent created by Sir Terence Higgins.

6.58 pm

Mr. Simon Thomas (Ceredigion): The hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler) gave some convoluted reasoning for adding another Liberal Democrat to the Committee. He ultimately reached the real reason for the amendment—to bump up the number of Liberal Democrats on Select Committees. The Liberal Democrats are already over-represented on Select Committees, whereas the minority parties, or the smaller parties, as I would describe them, are under-represented.

Mr. Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight): Other parties.

Mr. Thomas: The hon. Gentleman is right; the other parties are under-represented on Select Committees. I am

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not making a pitch for a member of Plaid Cymru or the Scottish National party or any other party to serve on the Committee. However, if it grows much larger, we shall certainly be entitled to a member on it.

In the discussions that take place in the dark or through the usual channels, the Liberal Democrats supposedly represent the interests of the other parties. On this occasion, and some others, that has not happened. We were not consulted—

Mr. Archy Kirkwood (Roxburgh and Berwickshire): Neither were we.

Mr. Thomas: Indeed, but we were not consulted about whether we would wish to put forward an alternative name for the Liaison Committee.

The Committee should be set up speedily, because it is important for the modernisation of the House. We must accept, however, that a precedent—small though it is—has been set by the appointment of the right hon. Member for Swansea, West (Mr. Williams), however undoubted his virtues. This debate should open the eyes of all hon. Members to the reality of the way in which Select Committee membership is allocated; who is chosen by the byzantine means of the Committee of Selection; and who speaks up for whom in the selection of members and of the Chairs who then form the Liaison Committee. Those procedures should be brought into the open and changed so that all Members, from all parties, feel that they have a share and a stake in the House's work.

7.1 pm

Mr. Andrew Stunell (Hazel Grove): I agree with much of what the hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mr. Thomas) said, and I have made similar points behind the scenes since I became the Liberal Democrat Chief Whip. The minority parties and the Liberal Democrats face considerable difficulties because of the method by which the places on Select Committees are decided. Those are on top of the difficulties that all hon. Members perceive when the nominations reach the Committee of Selection. The House instructed the Modernisation Committee to make proposals to put that right and I hope that it will soon do so, because the present situation imposes an unfair burden on those who have to adjudicate such matters—and on this occasion and in relation to Select Committees, that is me.

The minority parties are also disadvantaged, because they are not directly represented on the Committee of Selection. I have made that point explicitly on every occasion when it has been necessary. All I can say to the hon. Member for Ceredigion is that his party is not treated unfairly in mathematical terms. The dispute between his party and the Liberal Democrats is not the mathematics, but the actual selection of individual Select Committee memberships. Unavoidably, political choices have to be made under the current mechanism. I agree with his concerns about the present system and I want the House to reform it, but the amendment attempts to address a different fault in the system.

When the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) was taken off the Select Committee on Transport, Local Government and the Regions, the House was able to insist that the Government reconsider the decision. The hon. Lady was put back on the Committee,

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and the decision was made through the Committee of Selection, which is answerable to the House. However, the decision on which party should offer a Chairman for a Select Committee is not the responsibility of the Committee of Selection, and it cannot be recalled or rectified by the House. Whatever problems were caused by the Committee's decision in June, the issue today is currently beyond the reach of even the Committee, never mind the whole House.

The Liaison Committee has 32 members and the Government seek to add another. Of those 33 members, one will be a Liberal Democrat and none—as the hon. Member for Ceredigion pointed out—will come from the minority parties. The House must wake up to the democratic deficit at the centre of its workings. I do not mean the elected dictatorships about which the hon. Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. Allen) has written his book, and I am not talking about whether the Prime Minister has too much power. My point is whether the House has the appropriate sense of fairness and urgency to put right its procedures by the simple but crucial step of ensuring that the Liaison Committee reflects the views and opinions in the House.

I remind the House that we expect the Liaison Committee to be a senior representative body for Back Benchers. Indeed, the Committee's report to the House has been a landmark in the House's fight to assert its rights over the Executive, and it has been much quoted. It came from a Liaison Committee whose legitimacy depends on it being seen as representative and able to balance the views of hon. Members. If the legitimacy of the Committee is to be upheld in this Parliament, it needs to take more account in its membership of the outlook, experiences and perspectives of those Members of Parliament who have been denied a reasonable share of its membership.

The amendment would not advance the case I am making. If my case were accepted, there would be four places on the Liaison Committee for the Liberal Democrats and the minority parties. However, the amendment would at least prevent the position from being worse than it was in the last Parliament. We had two representatives on the Liaison Committee in that Parliament, but it is now down to one. Our amendment would simply restore the position to two members, as in the last Parliament.

I urge the House to support the amendment, not only for the sake of the Liberal Democrats and minority Members and not even on behalf of Opposition Back Benchers, but for the sake of the Liaison Committee itself and the role that it seeks to play on behalf of the House. I urge the House to support the amendment because it would be for the benefit of the whole House.

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