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Mr. Sheerman: In fairness, those us who have served on the Liaison Committee even for a short time would have to say that the content of the Committee's two reports, much of which is attributable to the now Lord Sheldon, have to be part of the reason why we are discussing this important topic today. I very much admire the work that the Leader of the House has done, but Lord Sheldon was a moving force in making the Liaison Committee a campaigning Committee to change the business of the House.
Mr. Tyler: I was just about to make that point. We have built on the work that had already been undertaken, but we would not have done so but for the fact that the Government Whips ignoredlet us be honest about itall the signs that the House had already given that hon. Members were no longer prepared to put up with the incestuous way in which Select Committees were appointed. The point that I want to make is that, if it had not been for last summer's incident, the Liaison Committee's work, frankly, would have gone by the board.
It has already been said that attempts have been made under previous Governments to nobble Select Committees, to ensure that trouble makers were kept off and trustees were put on, but it would be fair to say that the Conservative party has tended to be more disciplined, or perhaps more devious, than the Labour party was last summer. Whichever it was, the fact of the matter is that all this has now come out into the open.
I now make my confession: I served on the Committee of Selection for four years. I was, ex officio, a member of that Committee, and I can tell the Houseif I am breaking some dreadful convention, I shall no doubt be locked up in the Towerthat most of our meetings took less three minutes. On one occasion, when I was in the Chair as the senior member, a meeting took half a minute. That is not a proper way to take important decisions.
The right hon. Member for East Yorkshire referred to a previous regime in that Committee when he said that some of the Whips' nominations were turned down. I think that he will agree that they were not nominations to Select Committees; they were nominations to Standing Committees. There is all the difference in the world between serving on a Select Committee and having that responsibility for scrutinising the Government, perhaps for a whole Parliament, and serving on a Committee that considers a specific Bill. So the House should be fully aware that I know of no oneoutside the usual channelswho wants to return to that regime.
We must be very careful this evening that we do not untangle the whole package by pulling it to bits. If we do that, the only winners will be the two main Whips Offices. I have to exclude my hon. Friend the Member for Hazel Grove (Mr. Stunell)he is not here at the momentbecause my party has been excluded from those discussions all too often in the past.
The consensus is that we have to make some improvements, but let us recognise the fact that the improvements will be experimental by their very nature. Everything that we do in the House is evolutionarywe can return to the issue if the proposals do not work sufficiently wellbut we must make progress tonight; otherwise we shall be in real difficulty.
I have no great problem with the proposals for the new Committee of Nomination, except to say that the amendments are excessively complicated. We may well have to consider the issue after the next election. If the two Opposition parties, whichever of the current three they may be, were extremely similar in size, perhaps differing by one or two Members, the arithmetic clearly would not work; nor would it work iflet us suppose that this could happenwomen made up 60 per cent. of the House after the next general election, as these gender balance arrangements would be obviously nonsensical. Let us be clear: the proposal is for this Parliament, but we must establish the principle that the House makes the decision rather than having it made for it by Government Whips in collusion with the main Opposition party Whips.
I must say to the Chairman of the Liaison Committee in all sincerity that I am somewhat suspicious of the way in which the Committee approached the issue of numbers. It represents the establishment, the insiders, the people who have got there. As the hon. Member for Stafford (Mr. Kidney) said, we are in danger of wasting good talent
Mrs. Dunwoody: I wish that the hon. Gentleman would do us the honour of accepting that, if the Committee one is chairing has 17 members, as is frequently the case, it is not fair to any of the members concerned. They do not have the opportunity to ask enough supplementary questions or to pick up a point made by another member, and it simply becomes a question of the Chair trying to get everybody in. That is not how a really effective Committee should work. Unless there is a basis for the objection, under all these rules, I will never sit on another Select Committee. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will accept that what I say about Select Committees is governed by that. It is not possible to chair an investigative Committee effectively if the number of members goes beyond 15.
Mr. Tyler: I entirely understand the hon. Lady's point. As she says, however, the problem comes when the number of members goes beyond 15. No one suggests in the document that we are discussing that the number should go beyond 15. That is now entirely a matter for the Committee to decide. I think that I am right that some of the best work that the hon. Lady's Committee did in the last Parliament was done in Sub-Committees. It is important that there are enough members to sit on those Sub-Committees. There is also the issue of full representationlet us not dodge that. We must try to make sure that Select Committees are fully representative of the House as a whole.
Mr. Kidney: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way and for mentioning my contribution, which is why I want to speak. There are enough places on Select Committees for about 40 per cent. of Members of the House. Does the hon. Gentleman recall that, in Canada, nearly all Back Benchers serve on a Committee; in Australia two thirds of Members do so; and in New Zealand 80 per cent. of Members do so? Is not the Committee's recommendation to add 50 Members modest in the light of that information?
Mr. Tyler: In my view, it is. If we are to undertake the kind of responsibilities that the Committee wishes to place on Select Committeesthe Liaison Committee wishes to do so, and several Chairmen of Select Committees have already taken the point that our list is illustrative and needs to be developed furtherthere will be a need for more Sub-Committee work. In relation to financial mattersor, dare I say it?going abroad, it is not necessary for the whole Committee to go to, say, Australia. It is perfectly possible for three or four members, suitably representative, to do a proper job and come back with a report. If that is why the Liaison Committee is apprehensive about an increase in numbers, I suggest that it is in its own hands to exert a little self-discipline.
The only substantial issue on which I disagree with the majority on the Liaison Committee and on the Modernisation Committee is that we should somehow pick out the Chairmen of Select Committees as worthy of
Apart from those who are in the Chair or have ministerial office, Members of Parliament are here to serve their constituents. We all have different ways of doing that. I have personal crusades in which I believe passionately that have nothing to do with my constituency. I also have a responsibility to my party. Above all, however, I am here as a Member of Parliament for my constituency and as a member of this national assembly. In that context, I find it difficult to justify singling out Chairs of Select Committees as special people who need to be provided with a new career path. All that Members who sit as Back Benchers on the House of Commons Commission get are knocks; they do not get plaudits or the opportunity to lead a Select Committee. Why should we not pay them? If it comes to it, why should we pay the pairing Whip for the Conservative party when pairing is almost out of the window?
Mr. Greg Knight: Can the hon. Gentleman clarify what he is saying? Is he saying that he is against the motion because it proposes payment only for Select Committee Chairmen and that he would support it if it was more widely drawn; or is he against additional payment for any Member of Parliament who is not a Minister?