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Mr. Cook: I have a lot of sympathy with that point. My hon. Friend identified the nub of the matter, which is that

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Committees of Parliament, appointed by Parliament to scrutinise the Executive, should be free from party influence, particularly the party representing the Executive. The decision should be taken by Parliament, and it should be ultimately in the hands of Parliament and those whom it trusts to take an impartial decision. That is why we welcome the agreement of the Chairman of Ways and Means to act as the convener of the Committee of Nomination.

Mr. John McFall (Dumbarton): My hon. Friend knows that the parliamentary Labour party has changed its position on this matter. He has lauded its democratic structures and the fact that it is in the hands of Back Benchers. In exceptional circumstances, could the Committee of Nomination overturn nominations from the PLP, or indeed those from the Conservative party or the Liberal Democrat party? I should like that aspect to be clarified.

Mr. Cook: I am happy to confirm the fact that, of course, the Committee of Nomination, as the body responsible for putting the nominations on the Order Paper, will have the right to query the nominations of any party in the House. Indeed, we stated in our report that if it were unhappy with any list of nominations—for example, if it found itself in the position that the House found itself in last July—it would, in the first instance, refer back that list for the party to think again. I would imagine that, in those circumstances, almost every party in the House would indeed think again.

Mr. Andrew Dismore (Hendon): Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Cook: Perhaps I could finish answering the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Dumbarton (Mr. McFall). I shall then happily give way to my hon. Friend.

I am personally very confident that now that we in the Labour party have a more open, transparent and democratic system its nominations will survive scrutiny by any fair-minded and impartial Committee.

Mr. Stephen McCabe (Birmingham, Hall Green): I wish to make the same point. Will my right hon. Friend tell the House what gives him such confidence that seven individuals will provide a fairer and more democratic system than the rules agreed by the PLP or the committee of appeal that the House currently affords us?

Mr. Cook: I have to tell my hon. Friend that I am not suggesting for a minute that the Committee of Nomination would supplant the PLP process. The PLP process is a very important basis on which to decide who the Labour party wants to occupy the Labour places on the nomination list. The role of the Committee of Nomination will be to transfer those lists into nominations to put before the House and, in doing so and considering

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nominations from any party, including the Conservative party, to ensure that there is fair play. We can safely say, with hand on heart, that fair play was done.

Mr. Simon Thomas (Ceredigion) rose

Mr. Dismore rose

Mr. Cook: I have multiple opportunities, but I shall give way to the hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mr. Thomas) because I fear that I shall be unkind to him later.

Mr. Thomas: At the risk of alienating the Leader of the House even more from his Back Benchers by giving him some support, may I say that the difference between the previous system and what he proposes is that the Whips controlled the party lists and then the Whips approved the lists in the Committee of Selection? He proposes a far more open and accountable process for the House and all its Members. It is time to blow away the cobwebs that cause confusion and hide the processes of the House from the public.

Mr. Cook: The hon. Gentleman provides a fair and accurate précis of the basis of many of the speeches to which I listened last July when the House was unhappy with the proposals before it. That is why we proposed the remedy offered on this occasion. I recall some of my hon. Friends sharing the criticism that the hon. Gentleman has just made.

Mr. Dismore: Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Cook: If my hon. Friend will forgive me, I have been generous in giving way, and I owe it to the House to treat it to a speech, not just a series of answers.

I was grateful to the Chairman of Ways and Means for having agreed to act as convener of the Committee of Nomination. In our report, we identified as the criteria for the Committee of Nomination that its members should have

No one will better fulfil those criteria than the team of Chairs whom we elect to oversee our proceedings. [Interruption.] I remind my hon. Friends that we elect all of them. One of the advantages of having the Chairman of Ways and Means to convene the Committee is that, if we want to move quickly, he is one of the few people in office immediately after a general election. The Chairman of Ways and Means would therefore bring to the role of convening the Committee of Nomination the authority of having been freshly elected with the confidence of the House.

It is, of course, important that the Chairman of Ways and Means should be kept free of party influence, and should also be kept free from great controversy, which I hope will be of reassurance to those who are apprehensive that the Committee of Nomination might meddle too much. The Committee of Nomination will not needlessly seek controversy, and will not needlessly interfere with the list submitted to it unless it feels that there are compelling grounds of an absence of fair play. It is best considered as a court of appeal, representative of

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Parliament not of party. In many ways, it would provide a forum for Members who felt that there had not been fair play, so that the matter could be rectified prior to it coming before the House.

Barbara Follett (Stevenage): Does my right hon. Friend agree that, although it has not exercised it, the Committee of Selection has the right to overturn a party nomination, in much the same way as the proposed Committee of Nomination?

Mr. Cook: It is perfectly true—[Interruption.] I am unable to participate in the discussion taking place among my hon. Friends, but it is perfectly true that the Standing Orders provide that the Committee of Selection could vary a nomination coming before the House. In practice, as the House heard when this was debated last July, the Chairman of the Committee of Selection made it perfectly clear that he would regard it as improper to vary the list submitted by party Whips. That is precisely what prompted the search for a body that would be impartial and would not meddle or interfere unduly, but which would apply judgment when considering whether there had been fair play in the preparation of those lists.

Mr. John McWilliam (Blaydon): I merely wish to intervene to support my right hon. Friend. He is quite right. There was a Division in the Committee of Selection on this matter, which the right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir George Young) initiated. A vote was taken, and the motion was overturned.

Mr. Cook: My hon. Friend spoke at length at the start of our debate last July. His speech influenced the view that emerged about the need for another process to handle the matter. My hon. Friend was vigorous, robust and frank, on all of which he is to be congratulated, in making plain that he did not regard it as the job of the Committee of Selection to change the party lists that were submitted to it.

Mr. McLoughlin: Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Cook: I have given way to the hon. Gentleman once already, and I have given way several times during my speech. If I may, I shall make progress.

The Liaison Committee has endorsed the proposal that I am putting before the House. It says that it is a sensible new mechanism that is worth trying, and I agree with that. It appears, however, that in seeking to provide a Committee of Nomination to remove the controversy from nomination of Select Committees, I have not removed the controversy from the nomination of the Committee of Nomination. I understand the force of view of those who argue that the formula appears to reward gravity rather than to encourage freshness. [Interruption.] I am not sure on which side the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) places himself, but I am grateful for his concurrence.

My initial proposal to the Modernisation Committee was that, as Leader of the House, I should nominate its members. The Committee decided that I was a suspect partisan source for a Committee that is not meant to be partisan, and I bow to its collective wisdom—hence the

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formula before the House which removes the basis of nomination to the Committee of Nomination from any party political influence.

I recognise, however, that many of the newer Members think that the balance in the formula possibly rewards too heavily those who were here before them, so I propose to accept the amendment tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Central (Mr. Lloyd), which has the effect of re-balancing the membership of the Committee of Nomination and appointing to it two Members from each side—four in total—who were elected in the preceding Parliament. That would allow one third of the Committee of Nomination to be Members who were elected in 1997.

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