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Mr. Cook: My right hon. Friend's statement is very encouraging. I recall that when I appeared before the Liaison Committee last week, it was repeatedly put to me that the problem about Committees with 15 members was that not everyone would be able to put a question to the witness. I think that that argument must apply with even greater force to a Committee of 34 members. He and his colleagues would be wise to address that point as a matter of urgency.
Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield): Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that I was not unsupportive of him in the Liaison Committee last week? If the Select Committees are to undertake their core tasks, all of which are very valuableI refer not least to proper scrutiny of estimates and expenditureI am concerned that it may be necessary for Committees to increase their membership from 11 to 15. They may have to do so if they are to undertake their essential tasks of scrutinising legislation and holding the Government of the day to account.
Mr. Cook: The hon. Gentleman deserves a mention in dispatches as the only member of the Liaison Committee who supported me on the increase in size, but regrettably he and I together do not a consensus make.
I wish to refer to one last point from the report before I conclude. We have given the House the opportunity to reach a decision on whether the Chairs of Select Committees should be paid. We made no recommendation to the House on thatindeed, the Modernisation Committee was split on the issuebut we agreed unanimously that it was right that the matter should be put to the House to enable hon. Members to reach a conclusion. That is why there are two alternative motions. The only point of argument that I would make is that if the House were to vote for salaries for Chairs of Select Committees, that would give extra force to motion 7, which provides that no Chair should remain in office for more than two Parliaments.
Mr. Forth: For those of us who believe that the matter should be looked at in a wider contextsadly, amendments in my name that would have reflected that were not selectedit would be helpful if the Leader of the House could indicate whether, if the House were to approve the motion on Select Committee Chairmen and additional pay, his Committee would be prepared urgently to consider the wider issue of whether additional pay might be appropriate for other Members with additional responsibilities. I, for one, would be reluctant to single out Select Committee Chairmen, despite their great worth and distinction, then leave it at that, because othersfor example, the Chairmen's Panelmay deserve similar treatment. Can the Leader of the House help me on that matter?
Mr. Cook: The Modernisation Committee considered Chairs of Standing Committees, but concluded that they did not have the same weight of responsibility and administration that falls on Chairs of Select Committees. The decision before the House is therefore limited to Chairs of Select Committees.
Andrew Bennett: Before my right hon. Friend finishes, will he give a little more thought to term limitation? One or two Select Committees are not over-popular. For example, there is not a great queue of Members wanting to get on to the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments. Having served on it for 28 yearsfor half that time making it clear to the Whips that I would be pleased to be replacedit seems a little unfair to penalise someone who is serving on one of the less popular Select Committees.
Another difficulty is that of the changing names of Select Committees. Presumably, Members who have chaired the Committees covering matters that are dealt with by the Department with responsibility for the environment would not be covered by the amendment.
Mr. Cook: I am familiar with the problem to which my hon. Friend refers. He has done sterling work on the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments. In retrospect, it is perhaps a pity that there is no amendment on the Order Paper that would enable us to confine the effect of the motion to those on the investigative Select Committees, who we had in mind when making the proposal on salaries. I assure my hon. Friend that I will be happy to revisit the matter in the event of the motion being carried, so that we can protect his position before another 28 years have passed.
Mr. Martin Salter (Reading, West): Will my right hon. Friend remind us of the other non-ministerial appointments that draw a salary from the public purse? I understand that the Opposition pairing Whip is currently paidfor what, I do not know. Clarification would be useful.
Mr. Cook: I understand that, apart from members of the Executive, those who receive a salary are: members of the Speaker's team, the Leader of the official Opposition and, I believe, the Opposition Chief Whip and the Opposition pairing Whip. It is for every hon. Member to consider whether that constitutes the most rational choice of priorities. [Interruption.] The right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst obviously regards it as rational.
Mr. Cook: Hon. Members will consider a motion on the payment of Chairs of Select Committees. I regret that the right hon. Gentleman's amendment on the subject was not selected. It is well beyond my capability to fix that on his behalf, and it has obliged me to remove a whole five minutes from my speech. I apologise for that. However, to cheer him up, I am prepared to accept his surviving amendment on term limits. It would provide for a maximum period of service of two Parliaments or eight years as a Select Committee Chair. I offer that to the right hon. Gentleman as a modest consolation prize.
Will my right hon. Friend make it clear that Chairmen who oppose payment do so because we believe that the strength of Select Committees is that all members are equal? They all work together and appoint their Chairmen, and we strongly believe that payment would make Select Committee chairmanship another office of patronage under whatever arrangements prevailed.
Mr. Cook: My hon. Friend is right to say that there are strong and sincerely held views on both sides of the question. It is fair to say that the majority of the Liaison Committee favoured payment when it was last discussed. That is not necessarily a self-serving perspective. As the
Mr. Mullin: I agree with my right hon. Friend, but emphasise that the nettle must be grasped if we are serious about Select Committees. Otherwise we are destined to watch the best and brightest continually seduced away by office or its prospect. Some members of my Select Committee have lasted as long as two months before becoming someone's Parliamentary Private Secretary. The only hope of reversing the trend is increasing the status of Select Committees by some of the methods that my right hon. Friend suggested.
Mr. Cook: In fairness to my hon. Friend, the House should know that he was seduced away from the Executive to be the Chair of a Select Committee. He makes the fair point that hon. Members must tackle the issue and make a clear decision. I warn hon. Members that if motion 5 is carried, motion 6 cannot be put. Those who share my hon. Friend's view must therefore defeat motion 5 and carry motion 6.
We have taken the opportunity of the debate to implement several agreed recommendations on other matters from the Liaison Committee, the Procedure Committee and various Joint Committees. They are expressed in motions 8 to 12, none of which is controversial, and I hope that hon. Members can accept them formally.
The other measures add up to the biggest package for strengthening Select Committees since they were established 20 years ago. They stand alongside the historic decision of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister to give evidence twice a year to the Liaison Committee. It is the first time that any Prime Minister has agreed to be questioned by any investigative committee. Taken together, the measures demonstrate our commitment to working with the House to make the Select Committee system a success.