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Mr. Andrew Tyrie (Chichester) rose

Joan Ruddock: I have no time to give way.

I believe that there should be a limit, and I think that the Committee's proposal of eight years is both modest and generous.

Finally, let me put down a marker. One matter was not raised in the Committee, but I think it will need to be raised in the future. The House has environmental and financial audit, but what does not exist for all Departments, Government institutions, quangos and so forth is any auditing of equality. We need an equality Select Committee to consider issues of gender, race and disability. Ours is a fundamentally unequal society, and even now our Government have not been able to address all the inequalities.

That is for another day, however. I appeal to my colleagues to support the whole package presented by the Modernisation Committee, both because of its intrinsic value and because it represents the start of real modernisation. The opportunity will not occur again in the near future.

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6.42 pm

Sir George Young (North-West Hampshire): I shall observe your injunction, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and try to speak with exceptional brevity.

There has been a transformation in mood and tone since a similar debate during the last Parliament, less than a year ago. Many who are present now have taken part in debates on "Shifting the Balance", and will note that transformation. There are many reasons for it—the pioneering work of the Liaison Committee, the personality of the new Leader of the House, but also, I think, the growing appetite of Back Benchers for the reclaiming of some of the power they have lost. That, I believe, is why this is a much more consensual, constructive debate than its predecessors.

The steam escaped at the beginning of this Parliament, at the end of July, during the debate on the Committee of Selection. What happened in 1992 gave that Committee the yellow card, and what happened in July this year gave it the red card. The system was bust, there was no way the House would accept it, and those outside who take an interest in the House would have been astounded if a discredited system had remained.

My Select Committee was not one of the those for which payments were proposed, and I do not want to be paid, but I think Chairmen of investigative committees should be paid. I take the points made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Skipton and Ripon (Mr. Curry) and the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) about the risk of damage to cohesion and integrity if Committee Chairmen were paid, but I do not agree. I think that if the House decided that the hon. Lady and my right hon. Friend should be paid, their Committees would work every bit as effectively as they do now. I do not think integrity or cohesion would be damaged if the House decided it was in the interest of building an alternative career structure for Chairmen to be paid.

I do not, however, buy the argument that that generosity should be extended to the shadow Cabinet. What we are trying to do is offer an alternative career path. The advantage for members of the shadow Cabinet is that one day they will be paid as Ministers. It would confuse the issue to start paying them on the back of the argument for remunerating Select Committee Chairmen.

Nor am I persuaded by the eight-year rule. If we are trying to offer an alternative career, why should we place an eight-year restriction on that career when there is no eight-year restriction on a ministerial term? Are we really saying that, had the hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin) not taken the Queen's shilling, he should not have been eligible to chair the Home Affairs Select Committee? Should a young man be cut off in his prime? The key question, surely, is this: which member of that Select Committee would best chair it, and best hold the Executive to account? We should ask not how long the Chairman has done his job, but whether he is the best at it.

Mr. Greg Knight: Can my right hon. Friend tell us how many Ministers of the Crown have served for more than eight years since the second world war?

Sir George Young: I plead guilty, and I would have been very distressed if after eight years John Major had said "I am very sorry, George, but you have had your eight years; that's it".

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The key question for the Prime Minister is the question I have just posed: who is best able to discharge the portfolio? My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke) was a Minister for some 18 years. He would say that he was just warming up at the end of that period, and ready for more challenges.

I want to make two final points, the first of which is about the size of Committees. I understand the argument that every Member should have an opportunity to display his or her talents by serving on a Select Committee, and I understand the argument about representation of minority parties, but I do not think that those are the key questions. The key question, in this context, is this: at what size can a Select Committee operate most effectively? What is the right size to enable it to hold the Executive to account? I think Committees should have about 11 or 13 members. The more members are added, the greater the diminishing returns. Each time the membership is increased from five to seven, from seven to nine and from nine to 11, value is added and the value of the extra member is significant, but as soon as it is increased from 11 or from 13 the diminishing returns begin.

I accept the arguments of nearly all members of the Liaison Committee. They argue that they can do their job more effectively with a smaller Committee. There is another point, which has not been mentioned: if more people are appointed to a Select Committee, they are not doing nothing else. It is not a nil sum game. If more people are asked to spend more time on Select Committees, they will probably spend less time in Westminster Hall and on Standing Committees.

My last point is about Prime Minister's Question Time, which I think is a disaster area. It is the worst possible way of holding the Prime Minister to account. It is most unusual to get any information out of the Prime Minister, but, even worse, Question Time gives people an entirely wrong impression of what politics is about. They assume that the House of Commons is always like that. That is one reason why people are switched off politics: they assume that that is what we are like. I think that there is an appetite for a less adversarial, more constructive, more strategic approach to questioning the Prime Minister.

I do not envy my right hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, West (Mr. Williams) his task of chairing the Liaison Committee, but I am sure he will do it well. Perhaps the House will learn from what the Committee does, and the format of Prime Minister's Question Time on the Floor of the House may change if the House discovers that there is a better way of holding the Government to account.

Yes, the balance is shifting; but the momentum needs to be maintained if the House is to return to what should be its position.

6.49 pm

Mr. Andrew Dismore (Hendon): Although many of the Committee's proposals are good—more resources for Select Committees, the debating of reports, and so forth—I have severe reservations about two or three aspects of them. I shall begin with the question of Committee size, as that is where the right hon. Member for North–West Hampshire (Sir George Young) left off.

Arguing that the size of Committees should be increased to provide more people with more jobs is not very attractive reasoning. It would not make Committees

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more effective; indeed, evidence from the Liaison Committee and the comments that we have heard today have overwhelmingly demonstrated the opposite. Not only would there be less participation by each Committee member, and therefore less time to pursue particular lines of inquiry, but it is less likely that unanimity would be reached. One of the great strengths of the Select Committee system is the ability to produce unanimous cross-party reports. The greater the number of members, the greater the risk of party political division, and the less cogent the reports would be.

The first solution is to ensure that existing members of Select Committees actually turn up. If they fail to turn up without good reason, they should be replaced. That is the answer to the quorum question, and I am pleased that the Modernisation Committee report deals with it to some degree.

Another solution is to consider the configuration of existing Committees. We have heard about the great work load of some of the bigger Committees. If the work of some groups is sufficiently discrete, they could perhaps be divided into full Select Committees in their own right, rather than being split into Sub-Committees. My hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) may have a view on whether transport should have a full Select Committee in its own right. The creation of giant Departments is perhaps linked to the current anomaly, as well as to some of the transport problems that we face.

We have considered the creation of new Select Committees. Some Government Departments do not have their own Select Committees. For example, the Lord Chancellor's Department and the Law Officers' Department are lumped in with the Home Office for Select Committee purposes, and it is clear that they do not get the scrutiny that they deserve. Perhaps we should consider establishing a separate Committee to scrutinise those Departments. The same is true of the Cabinet Office; if we genuinely want to achieve joined-up government, perhaps we should establish a Committee that examines it per se.

We already have cross-departmental Committees such as the Joint Committee on Human Rights, the Science and Technology Committee and the Environmental Audit Committee. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Joan Ruddock) that we should perhaps establish a Select Committee on equality that can examine such issues across government. In establishing whether the configuration of Committees is right, perhaps we could also create the necessary additional jobs and improve the effectiveness of the scrutiny of Government, rather than simply providing more jobs on existing Committees, thereby potentially weakening their effectiveness.

My other main reservation concerns the Committee of Nomination. I agree with the approach adopted by the right hon. Member for East Yorkshire (Mr. Knight). Do we need it, and if so, why? The argument in favour of the Committee of Nomination is that it would ensure fair play and provide a court of appeal, but in what way? Such decisions will be taken by the parties, and it has been accepted that parties will produce their own lists, much as they already do. We seem to have overlooked the fact that since last summer's spat the Labour party has reformed its procedures, thereby almost certainly ensuring that such problems will not arise again.

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My concern is that complaints already heard in the parliamentary Labour party, and, ultimately, on the Floor of the House, could be heard in yet another forum. We are told that that would happen only in exceptional circumstances, but three such circumstances have occurred already. The danger is that we will create a sledgehammer to crack a nut. Today's proposals certainly do not recognise the changes that the parliamentary Labour party, at least, has already made to its procedures.

I am worried about the possibility that we would be creating a whinger's charter. People who could not convince their own colleagues that they ought to be put on a particular Select Committee would be able to run and tell tales to a group of more senior, unelected Committee members—who, as the Liberal Democrats have pointed out, would have the power not only to accommodate the whinger, but to remove someone who did enjoy the confidence of the party in question. Their acquiring such power would be a natural consequence of the proposal.

The report says that we must come up with a structure that enjoys the confidence of both sides of the House. It is bad enough that a minority of Opposition Members could decide on Government appointments. For example, they would have the power to examine the Labour party's papers, demand explanations of our party's decisions and overturn recommendations. Do the Opposition seriously want a Committee with a Government majority—albeit one that might operate in a non-party political way—to take decisions on their appointments? That surely cannot be good for scrutiny. In fact, it would give a Committee with a Government majority the right to get rid of Opposition appointees and replace them with people more to its liking, which would give rise to potential for great mischief.

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