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Pete Wishart (North Tayside) (SNP): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Luff: Not before I have finished the credits: screenplay by the right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir George Young), who formalised the proposal; produced by the Committee Chairman, the hon. Member for Blaydon (Mr. McWilliam); and directed, I am glad to say, by the Leader of the House and his able deputy. On that note, I give way.

Pete Wishart: This is clearly a production not to be missed. Given that it was his idea, does the hon. Gentleman believe that, as the Committee will have these increased powers, it is now appropriate that a minority party Member should also serve on it?

Mr. Luff: I would not overstate the extent to which the   Committee is being given additional powers. The
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hon. Gentleman, for whom I have great respect and affection, was instrumental in keeping me off the Committee for many weeks, while he repeatedly objected to my membership of it—not, as he said when we eventually had the debate on the Committee, because he had anything against me personally, but because it provided him with the opportunity to debate precisely the point that he has just raised. I have got news for him: were he to serve on the Committee of Selection, he would not find it the most riveting Committee in this place. I look to another of its members—my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Hampshire—with some nervousness concerning how many secrets I can give away. However, I can say that its meetings regularly take less than five minutes and are conducted on a consensual basis, with the arguments being had beforehand, although not always. I hope that the hon. Member for North Tayside (Pete Wishart) agrees that the interests of the Scottish National party and Plaid Cymru are being dealt with more effectively now that they are being looked after by the Government, instead of the Liberal Democrats. They certainly seem to be being looked after well in the Committee of Selection.

I have no objection to the nationalists joining the Committee of Selection. I thought that the hon. Member for North Tayside wanted to make the rather broader point—I suspect that he will seek to do so later—about membership of nationalist parties on other Committees. I am sorry that, because of the relative paucity of places for members of nationalist parties, he himself does not currently have the privilege of serving on any Select Committee.

Pete Wishart: I am on the Catering Committee.

Mr. Luff: I am sorry—I have been taking a cheap shot. I hope that the hon. Gentleman's attendance on the Catering Committee is rather better than that of his Plaid Cymru predecessor, who attended only one meeting out of seven in the previous Session.

Pete Wishart: I have been to them all.

Mr. Luff: I am delighted to hear that. The Catering Committee is a Committee of much greater power in this place, I am afraid, than the Committee of Selection, but I digress from my path.

The Deputy Leader of the House moved the motion in a very matter-of-fact way, and rightly so. Despite the best attempts of the hon. Member for North Tayside, I have been a member of the Committee of Selection for some two years, and I am still regularly confused as to which Committees we can and cannot nominate. I do not feel too ashamed in making that confession, because I know that the Government Whips have a similar difficultly, and it should also be admitted that the Committee Clerks experience the same difficulty sometimes. There is absolutely no logic at all to the current selection of Committees for which the Committee of Selection can select. I will not regale the House with a long list of the various Committees that can and cannot be nominated, but, for example, we can
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nominate members of the Accommodation and Works Committee and of the Administration Committee, but not of the Broadcasting Committee. I cannot think why that should be so.

One thing that I have learned in politics is that it is sometimes wise to ask the stupid question. At a meeting of the Committee of Selection, I asked why we can nominate the members of some Committees but not others and the Clerk promised to produce a note explaining the background. In my innocence, I thought that there would be a rational explanation. I expected some powerful logic to be offered as to why certain Committees come before our Committee and others do not, with the others having to be dealt with by the whole House under a motion tabled by the Government.

Of course, the Clerk's very helpful note to the Committee of Selection pointed out that there was no logic; it was just one of those accidents of history. So it was that the Regulatory Reform Committee was set up under Standing Order No. 141, the European Scrutiny Committee was set up under Standing Order No. 143, the Public Administration Committee was set up under Standing Order No. 146, the Procedure Committee was set up under Standing Order No. 147 and the Environmental Audit Committee was set up under Standing Order No. 152(a). The arrangement was just a series of accidents. It is time to put those accidents right and to give the House a better understanding of how it nominates its Committees.

I use the phrase "tidying up" with some nervousness, because the Leader of House has himself used that phrase in relation to rather more ambitious proposals for the future conduct of European affairs. But I genuinely believe that this is a simple housekeeping measure that will be of great benefit to everyone concerned in the process of nominating Committees. Having said that, I have some sympathy for the amendment tabled by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst, which would tidy up the motion even more thoroughly. Although the Deputy Leader of the House provided a brief explanation as to why certain Committees should still be nominated on the Floor of the House and not by the Committee of Selection, I did not find his reasons terribly convincing. I should be interested to hear what my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Hampshire has to say; as Chairman of the Standards and Privileges Committee, his views should carry weight in the House.

It is right and proper that we do not appoint members of the Liaison Committee, which is effectively an ex officio Committee, and obviously we cannot appoint ourselves, because as the Deputy Leader of the House said, that would be completely impossible. But I need a little more persuasion as to why the other Committees cannot be appointed by the Committee of Selection. We know that, in practice, all these Committees are negotiated using essentially the same mechanism. The involvement of the Committee of Selection would provide even greater clarity. The Committee of Selection can debate the merits of the composition of a particular Committee should it wish to do so; indeed, it did so recently in respect of a particular Standing Committee. The House could then debate such appointments subsequently if they are controversial.
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I genuinely welcome the fact that this tidying-up measure also provides an opportunity to debate all Committees, whether or not any controversy attaches to them. There have been occasions, under this Government and the previous Government, when nominations to Committees have been controversial and debates on the Floor of the House have been necessary—not just to make a point about the minority parties, but to discuss the individual Members proposed to serve on such Committees.

I welcome the motion and I am delighted that the Government have found time to table it. I am grateful for that because it will make all our lives a great deal easier, but the Government need to answer the questions raised in a little more detail than they have so far been able to. My right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst will surely offer some powerful arguments for even greater simplicity and clarity.

8.11 pm

Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall) (LD): I am delighted to follow the hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Luff). He and I worked together in real life before coming to this place, so I suppose that I should not be surprised at the cheerful effrontery with which a member of the Committee of Selection has apparently defended its right to do this job on behalf of the House—a point to which I shall return.

I am sure that the Deputy Leader of the House has read with care the Modernisation Committee's report on nominations to Select Committees. If he has not done so, I am surprised, because in the previous debate he made great play of the need for the House to listen to those who do the real work behind the scenes. He will doubtless also recall the extremely important report that the Modernisation Committee produced, under the chairmanship of the right hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook), in the 2001–02 Session, a subject to which I shall also return.

As has been said, the reason the report on Select Committee nominations was produced was that the Government made some very controversial attempts to remove key members from key Select Committees—members who were expected to take the Chair. The House literally revolted against the attempt by the usual channels to impose the Government's will, and in July 2001 the Government's attempt to make such changes was defeated—the House acted very speedily, as all Members will recall—and they had to come back within a few days with a revised motion.

As a result, the Modernisation Committee, of which I was delighted to be a member at the time, spent a long time taking evidence from members of the Liaison Committee. It examined in advance a number of reports that had considered this issue, and it produced an exhaustive examination of the most appropriate nomination process for membership of these very important Committees. On the one hand, it sought to balance expertise, special interest and special viewpoints, while on the other hand maintaining party ratios. It was a difficult job and we spent many weeks on it, but the report to which I referred offered a very careful suggestion, based on that evidence. As the Deputy Leader of the House said in the previous debate,
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we must give credit to those who do such work on behalf of the whole House, and I hope that he will recognise the validity of that examination process in his response.

At this point, I, too, should make a confession. In admitting to being a member of the Committee of Selection, the hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire was insufficiently contrite. I was a member of that Committee for four years, as my party's Chief Whip. We had weekly meetings, and I can say with truth that they were interesting—mainly for their brevity. On one occasion when, as the most senior Member present, I was in the Chair, the meeting lasted 30 seconds. That was not unusual. Indeed, over those four years, because of the way in which the business was carved up, the total amount of time that I was asked to devote to that important exercise was probably less than four hours. I can hardly say that being on the Committee took a huge amount of time.

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