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Pete Wishart: Does the hon. Gentleman believe that that was enough time, given the onerous and difficult responsibility of the Committee of Selection to ensure that we have the right placements for departmental Select Committees? I am shocked and amazed that it could sit for only 30 seconds to consider some of those matters.
Mr. Tyler: If the hon. Gentleman had been present when we debated the report of the Modernisation Committee he would have heard me make the same comment. That is precisely why I and the Select Committee of which I am a member, under the then leadership of the right hon. Member for Livingston, proposed to take that responsibility from the Committee of Selection, open the process up and make it more transparent and more responsive to the House, instead of occupying a small Committee Room for 30 seconds or so each week for that important exercise.
I agree with the hon. Gentleman, and that is why I have real doubts about the recommendation. To hear the hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire say that this is simply housekeeping and tidying up fills me with alarm. I hope that it will not be thought to be a permanent and satisfactory answer to a real problem.
Mr. Luff: Is the hon. Gentleman not confusing two separate issues? At present we have a system of selecting Committees that worksI think that it works well and the hon. Gentleman does not, but that is a different point. However, he is now discussing a different issue, which is whether the way in which we choose Committees should be changed. So long as we have the present system, is this not a tidying up and an improvement?
That may or may not be so, but the motion invites us to consider the whole issue of the nomination of Select Committees. The hon. Gentleman may choose to interpret that in a certain way, but if he looks at the Order Paper he will find that the motion is described as relating to the "Nomination of Select Committees". That is why I intend to refer to the extremely important debate that took place in May 2002, based on the report published by the Modernisation Committee in February 2002.
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"The controversy provoked by this episode"
"made it clear that the current method of nomination, which gives a central role to the Committee of Selection, no longer enjoyed the confidence of the House".
It clearly did not, and for us to return to this subject again two years later without facing the issue seems at worse perverse and at best an ill-advised attempt to tinker with a system that is so plainly wrong that we should be more radicalif I may dare to use again the word that the hon. Gentleman so enthusiastically endorsed.
There were then many proposals made to improve the situation. I am sure that the Deputy Leader of the House knows the report backwards, because he could not have attempted to introduce the debate without a full briefing on it from his civil servants; it is the critical report on the basis of which all this should be conceived.
"The Committee of Selection has come to interpret its role as limited to confirming the proposals put to it by the front benches on both sides".
"This may be understandable in view of the Committee's main function of nominating Members to the standing committees on bills where party discipline is directly engaged, but has produced criticism that the Committee of Selection is no longer an appropriate mechanism to guarantee the independence of the nominations to the committees of scrutiny. Any new method of nomination needs to be independent, authoritative, transparent and able to command the confidence of the House on both sides. We endorse Lord Sheldon's comment in his evidence to us: 'the Executive, via the Whips, ought not to select those members of select committees who will be examining the Executive, that is crucial.'"
That is the Select Committee that has considered the issue; it is not the Committee of Selection saying that it would like to do more and does not understand the current rationale. It is a Committee of this House saying that the use of the Committee of Selection is not an appropriate way to undertake the job.
The report continues by saying that a recommendation could be made to the House that met the necessary requirements of balance and of parliamentary party involvement in the exercise, but which also provided a form of appeal. That is exactly what was discussed, and the recommendation in paragraph 12 says:
"In our judgment what is required is not an alternative to the party process but a fail-safe mechanism to ensure fair play and to provide a court of appeal."
Anybody who has served on the Committee of Selection knows that there is never an application from any individual member saying, "I've been maligned. The party Whips don't like me because I have difficult views.
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They've kept me off this Committee because they feel I would not be a supportive member of my party." In those circumstances, it is clearly absurd that the Committee should be given that responsibilityunder this motion the extended responsibilityof appointing members to Select Committees.
I shall not attempt to read out the whole report, because that would be boring at this point, but I remind Members that we came up with a perfectly workable solution to the problem of the difficult balanceto have a new Committee of nomination that would be representative of the whole House, not just of a few people who happened to be Whips in their respective parties. Effectively, that would have taken the issue away from the usual channels.
I believe that the hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire was in the Conservative Whips Office at the time, and I am not sure that the Deputy Leader of the House might not have been in the Government Whips Office, too. Sadly but significantly, on the evening of that debate in May 2002, when the proposals were put to the House by the right hon. Member for Livingston in an impassioned speech on behalf of the whole Housethe Back Benchers, people who have real concerns and interests, and specialist knowledge that they could bring to the Select Committeesthey were defeated.
The proposals were defeated by an unholy conspiracy of the Conservative and Labour Whips Offices, which worked together because they saw the power being taken away from them. I have been the Chief Whip of my party, but I never regarded this issue as an appropriate one on which the Whips Offices should dominate the way in which the House fulfils it duties to the electorate. I always considered that inappropriate and, sadly, that evening, it was only too evident that those who had a special interest in retaining their power base were determined to retain it.
Since then, that power of patronage has increased, because the House has decided to pay Select Committee Chairmen an extra salary. With a number of my colleagues, I opposed that, and members in all parts of the House had doubts about it. Now the Whips have a greater power over who should go on and who should stay off those Select Committees. I have great respect for the great majority of Select Committee Chairs, but if there is anything to be said for the power of moneyI occasionally hear from both sides of the House that money, such as pension rights and so on, is important in such mattersit is undoubtedly true that that influence is even greater. Such patronage reverts to the 18th century level, which I believe to be entirely inimical to the good governance of this place.
It was a sad evening when a relatively small majority defeated that proposal. Tonight here we are again, apparentlythe hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire used the phrase "tidying up", but all we are doing is giving more influence to that inadequate mechanism, the Committee of Selection. It will now be able to nominate more members to more Select Committeesbut the Committee does not actually do that job. The Committee, in fact, merely accepts recommendations from the Whips.
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Mr. Woolas: The hon. Gentleman is making an impassioned speech against the usual channels, but does not the motion simply cover the Committees not covered by the Standing Orders for the Committee of Selection? This is not a conspiracy, but a tidying-up exercise.
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