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Mr. Tyler: Members on both Front Benches have now referred to a tidying-up exercise, so there clearly is a conspiracy. The Minister, I fear, does not convince me: two wrongs simply do not make a right. The fact is that the present mechanism is wrong and that if we add more to it, giving more power to the people who make proposals, we will simply make it even more wrong.

The right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir George Young) serves on the Committee of Selection, among his many other onerous responsibilities in the House. I shall be interested to hear whether he agrees with my assessment of how that Committee operates. It may be that it has changed since my time and that there is now intensive debate about the relative merits of those put forward to serve on Committees. If that is so, it is not evident from outside. The right hon. Gentleman is, I think, the sole independent Member on the Committee—

Mr. Luff: There are two.

Mr. Tyler: I am corrected. It may be that those two Members are regularly lobbied by Back Benchers such as the hon. Member for Pendle (Mr. Prentice), who may say that he has great expertise on a particular issue but has been overlooked by the Whips because, just occasionally, he tends not to follow their advice. It may be that he has, on occasion, been able to lobby the right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire and has managed to gain a place on a Select Committee to which he would bring great expertise and great distinction. If so, it has not been evident. Certainly, in my own experience, on no occasion during my four years on the Committee was any alteration whatsoever made to the recommendations brought by the Whips. It is, in effect, a Whips' carve-up, and the way in which the Modernisation Committee has referred to it is interesting.

Mr. Luff: The hon. Gentleman makes an impassioned speech but is building his argument on foundations of sand. I have some sympathy for what he says about other means of selecting Committees, particularly Select Committees, but how does he imagine that the Regulatory Reform Committee, the European Scrutiny Committee and the Public Administration Committee are currently selected? They are selected by the Whips, who choose their members behind closed doors with no opportunity for debate. At least the Committee of Selection provides an opportunity for debate. The
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motion opens the process up a bit—not much, I agree, but a bit—and I fear that the hon. Gentleman's arguments are completely wrong.

Mr. Tyler: I hear what the hon. Gentleman says but he is completely wrong himself. As I said to the Deputy Leader of the House, two wrongs do not make a right. If the hon. Gentleman can persuade me that there have been regular debates in the Committee of Selection—half an hour or an hour of discussion of the relative merits of different people being placed on Committees—I shall be convinced, but I do not believe that to be the case; in fact, I know that it is not. We cannot simply pass the motion without recognising the trenchant criticisms made of the process by all members of the Modernisation Committee, particularly of the way in which the Committee of Selection does its work.

Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle) (Lab): Would it not be sensible for all political parties to lodge in the Library of the House of Commons a copy of the procedures that they use to propose names for Select Committees? I raised that point with the Leader of the House a couple of months ago but it did not find favour. If the process were transparent and public, it would be encouraging.

Mr. Tyler: That is a valuable point, and I am glad that the hon. Gentleman is here to make it. The Modernisation Committee recognised that point but did not think it could impose on the parliamentary parties a rule about how they should act, even if transparency requires that the process by which nominations are made should be evident to all, not least for the benefit of members of particular parties, since it is not always entirely clear, even to them, why members are selected for nomination or deselected or not nominated. The Modernisation Committee said:

The point is that if it were self-evident that there was an effective process by which names came forward, it would strengthen the way in which members of Committees were nominated.

I should turn briefly to the amendment. It is difficult to respond to an amendment before it has been moved; I have been in the position myself of not having done so. I have some sympathy with the point identified in the amendment about the exclusions, particularly the temporary exclusions. I hope that the right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire, as chairman of the Standards and Privileges Committee, will explain his position, and I am prepared to await his views before I make a judgment. However, there cannot be a very good case for treating temporary Committees any differently from permanent ones. I can see no logic to that, and I hope that the Deputy Leader of the House will come back on the point.

The motion is not a tidying-up exercise but a bit of tinkering when what we need is radical reform of the way in which we appoint Members to extremely important Select Committees. It is unfinished business, and I hope in due course that the relatively new Leader
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of the House and his deputy will return to the point so that we can do properly the job of persuading the House, which we unfortunately failed to do last time.

8.31 pm

Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst) (Con): I beg to move, To leave out from first 'Committee' to end and add

Whether the motion is tinkering or tidying, it would appear that the argument is finely balanced. What is fascinating is the extent to which my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Luff) and the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler) have lifted the lid on what is supposed to be one of the most secret of our activities—the way in which the House nominates Members to Committees. It is supposed always to have been a great mystery, but now we know more about it than is perhaps healthy.

If the debate has done nothing else, it has shed some light, though, frankly, to our shame. I must agree with the thrust of what has been said so far. I am drawn to the conclusion that the motion is a slight improvement on a very unsatisfactory process. My only hesitation is that when speakers from both Front Benches say that they agree with a motion, I wonder whether the rest of us should. On this occasion, and rather unusually, my judgment, on balance, is that the motion is a tiny step forward.

Mr. Woolas: Does the right hon. Gentleman have the good grace to accept that the Government have given time to debate the issue, which is hardly consistent with not wishing to bring transparency?

Mr. Forth: That is chutzpah, if ever I heard it. The only reason why the motion is before us today is that it was originally objected to—when the hope was, as often, that it would quietly slip through. My amendment probably helped a little in the process. For the Government to claim that it is thanks to them that we are having this debate is a bit of a try-on, to put it mildly. I accept that we are here at last and having this debate—for that I should be slightly grateful—and if I could extend my speech for another hour and 27 minutes, the damn thing would not make any progress at all. However, I am not quite in that mood tonight, and that is not my intention. I am glad that we are having this debate.

I shall press my amendment, when necessary, because I want it to be considered. I am encouraged in that, so far, my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Worcestershire has said that my amendment is sensible, and the hon. Member for North Cornwall has echoed that view. I am grateful to them for that. I agree that the Minister was unduly and briefly dismissive of the amendment without providing any proper reasons. I shall say just a few words about it, because I do not wish to delay the House on this occasion.

My feeling is that what lies before us today is a very small advance on a rather unsatisfactory position. For that reason, I believe that we should give it our support. I was mystified when the argument was initially
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advanced that the Liaison Committee and the Committee of Selection were the only ones to be excluded. That is only common sense, as the Liaison Committee is effectively a by-product or an ex officio body, and, as has already been said, a Committee of Selection cannot select itself, but I cannot for the life of me see why all the other Committees should be excluded from the process that we are now being invited to endorse.

I accept that the views of my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir George Young) will be crucial, because of the important role played by the Standards and Privileges Committee. If he said that he believed that his Committee should also be brought within the ambit of the Committee of Selection, I would argue, as the amendment does, that all the other Committees should, too. If my right hon. Friend is in an expansive and lid-lifting mood, he may reveal a little of what goes on in the Committee of Selection. At least it provides an opportunity for debate and deliberation by Members other than what we call "the usual channels"—in other words, the Whips. It should give us all a tiny degree of comfort to know that it is not the Whips who are carving everything up and that at least someone else has the opportunity to intervene in the process and to speak for the Back Benchers or Members who may not be nominated. That provides at least a ray of hope—I put it no more strongly than that.

All in all, I am prepared to support the measure, but I urge the House to support my amendment, which I will press at the appropriate point. Unless the Deputy Leader of the House can give a much more persuasive and cogent reason why my amendment should not be accepted, I believe that it would strengthen the purpose and allow us to move a little further forward. That is the rationale of my amendment. What it says is self-evident and a good reason should be provided for why it should not be accepted rather than the other way round. For all those reasons, I hope that the House will accept the motion, as amended.

8.37 pm

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