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3.16 pm

Mr. Kevin McNamara (Hull, North): First, when the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler) reads the Committee's report, he might want to reconsider his argument. Secondly, my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, East (Jean Corston) was elected as Chairman of the Committee on the nomination of Lord Lester of Herne Hill, who, I understand, takes the Liberal Democrat Whip. Moreover, she was unanimously re-elected.

Mr. Tyler: Will the hon. Gentleman confirm that that decision was taken before the hon. Lady became chairman of the parliamentary Labour party?

Mr. McNamara: I think that the decision was taken after that. My hon. Friend was elected as chairman of the PLP at the start of this Session, before the Select Committees had been re-established. She was then elected as Chairman of the Joint Committee. I am sure that my chronology is correct; if it is not, I apologise to the House.

I have some sympathy with the point about the size of the Committee, but no amendment has been tabled to that effect. The House must think very carefully about whether Members serving on the Joint Committee will have greater demands made of them than of those serving on an ordinary Select Committee. Three members out of 11 is just over 25 per cent. If the motion is not passed, we shall be demanding 50 per cent. of the Members of this House who are members of the Joint Committee to attend its sittings. I am certain that that is unfair and in many ways improper. It is right that we should agree the motion.

On the point about the logic of deliberating with such a small number of members, I see no difficulty in an amendment to that effect. I hope that the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) tables such an amendment, and that if he does not do so, my hon. Friend the Minister will. In demanding that there are four members to reach a conclusion, we are in any event asking for one more than that required in any Select Committee. Where is the logic in such a suggestion?

I would go further: I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will think in terms of establishing Sub-Committees of the Joint Committee because there is

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a great deal of work before it. That would enable us to consider specific pieces of legislation that cover a variety of fields in which different Members have an interest. People have various interests and expertise, including criminal law, health law, housing and a whole range of issues, and could report back to the full Committee. We are told that that can be done informally, but that is not the proper way of dealing with the matter; we have to have proper Sub-Committees.

Mr. Forth: The hon. Gentleman is arguing, not unreasonably, on the basis of consistency across Committees. Does he agree that we should increase the quorum on Commons Committees so that Members take them more seriously? If their work was regarded more seriously, that might counter the view that a tiny rump of member can be expected to do the work of an entire Committee.

Mr. McNamara: I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will deal with the Committee attendance of Conservative Members. I would be happy if he suggested that we increased the Commons representation on a Joint Committee to match representation on other Committees, which would help even more to deal with Sub-Committee work. If he did so and if we maintained the quorum that we have in the Commons, that would be acceptable.

As a member of the Joint Committee, I believe that we should support the motion. It is important that the amendment to the Standing Order is agreed. As the hon. Member for North Cornwall suggested a moment ago, we should not denigrate the work of Select Committees, whether their membership is drawn from the Commons, the Lords or both Houses.

3.22 pm

Mr. Stephen Twigg: First, I reiterate the point made by a number of Members by paying early tribute to the work of the new Joint Committee. I know that some Members did not support the passage of the Human Rights Act 1998 and the incorporation in British law of the European convention on human rights, but that had overwhelming support in both Houses.

The establishment of the new Joint Committee is important. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, East (Jean Corston) and her colleagues in all parties in this House and the other place for moving quickly so that it could begin work. I have no doubt that if the fifth motion on the Order Paper is passed, the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) will be a valuable addition to the Committee. Having served alongside him on the Select Committee on the Modernisation of the House of Commons, I know that he is an assiduous and articulate Committee member; I am sure that he will make a positive contribution to the work of the Joint Committee.

From the Government's point of view, it seems that we cannot win. We have had a cross-party request from a Committee. Had we resisted that proposal or suggestion, we would have been criticised by the Opposition for obstructing Committee work. Instead, we have offered the House a sensible proposal, for which we have been attacked. As my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House has said on several occasions, the Government believe that good scrutiny makes for good government; our

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proposal attempts to provide a sensible balance, as has been said by those of my hon. Friends who are members of the Joint Committee. I particularly welcome the fact that our proposal has clear cross-party support within the Committee; that is especially true of Lords members. Our proposal is about making the Joint Committee work and ensuring that it can succeed.

There have been a number of Joint Committees; some have had quorums of three members from each House, others a standard quorum of two. We are not proposing such a standard quorum; we are simply proposing that a quorum should exist for the purpose of evidence taking. When decisions are considered by the Committee, the quorum will be larger, as originally agreed when the Committee was established. There is no question of casting votes in the Joint Committee. If such a Committee is to be successful, it is important that it works by consensus. If five votes were cast against five, or six against six in the Committee, that would suggest that it was not progressing as originally envisaged.

I took note of what my hon. Friend the Member for Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) said about Sub-Committees; we shall probably wish to return to that matter later. For all that we have heard from the Conservative and Liberal Front Benchers this afternoon, this is a sensible and modest change that will enable the new Joint Committee to work more successfully. On that basis, I commend it to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Madam Deputy Speaker: As the next item of business is set down for 4 o'clock, I suspend the sitting until that hour.

3.26 pm

Sitting suspended.

City of London (Ward Elections) Bill

4 pm

On resuming—

Order read for resuming adjourned debate on Question [7 November],

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Sir George Young (North-West Hampshire) rose

John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. It is impolite of me to raise a point of order without giving you notice, so may I say that there is a range of points of order relating to compliance with the Human Rights Act 1998, the publication of the statement by the promoters, the declarations of interest relating to the Bill and the hybridity issues in relation to any changes in the Bill that I will not raise today because I have not given you notice but which, if the Bill proceeds, I will raise at a later date?

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord): I have noted the points that the hon. Gentleman has made.

Sir George Young: As hon. Members who were present for the debate—or rather, the debates—in the previous Parliament will know, the Bill has an element of the controversial about it. Those debates were replied to, with great wit and courtesy, by Peter Brooke—now Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville—the City's MP in the last Parliament. I have to say to my hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Field), his successor, that sponsoring a measure such as the City of London (Ward Elections) Bill is not the best initiation for any hon. Member, however able, in his first parliamentary Session.

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