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Mr. Luff: As the hon. Gentleman knows, I have some sympathy for his view that the minorities parties are under-represented on the Select Committees, but I am trying to work out what he thinks that non-Government members of the Committee of Selection can do to put that right. I am not sure that the option rests with us. I need to think exactly what the procedure is, and I feel a little chastened by that.
Pete Wishart: There is no need to chasten the hon. Gentleman. There is a solution. I very much support what was said by the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler); we have to throw out this Committee entirely. A new Committee of Selection that is representative of the whole House and that includes members from all political parties would be entirely appropriate. We should transfer the powers not to this discredited Committee of Selection that, as we have heard, does so little, meets so little and debates so little, but to a new Committee that is fully representative of all the opinions and parties in the House. That is the solution.
It would be churlish not to acknowledge that progress has been made. As I pointed out to the hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire, I am on a Select Committee. I have now reached the dizzy heights of the Select Committee on Catering, and I am very grateful for my elevation to that prominent position. It is a position that I take seriously, and I manage to turn up week in, week out to exercise my responsibilities.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. It is news to me, and I will examine that kind invitation in
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detail and at length. I am sure that he will accept that we participate on Committees when we are given the opportunity. As I said, I am a member of the Catering Committee, and I very much enjoy serving on that. I assure him that I am a diligent member of it and take the opportunity to scrutinise the operations of the Refreshment Department of the House. That is a very important task. However, believe me when I say that questioning Mrs. Harrison about the cost of a fruit scone in the Terrace Cafeteria is not quite the same as questioning the Foreign Secretary about Government policy in Iraq. Important though
Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. We cannot have a wider debate. I have given some latitude to allow the argument to develop, but it is essentially a debate about the motion on the Order Paper. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not go too far down the line that he now appears to have adopted.
Pete Wishart: I am grateful for your guidance, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am just trying to make sure that the House understands that progress has been made. I think that the House accepts that the minority parties lack these places and that the Committee of Selection has not been particularly fair to us. We receive sympathy from both sides of the House, and I think that all political parties recognise that a bit of an injustice has taken place. If it is not an injustice, there are certainly issues to do with minority party representation on the Committee of Selection and, therefore, on departmental Select Committees.
If we had a place on the Committee of Selection, we would make sure that the minority parties were properly represented on the departmental Select Committees. However, the reason that we are not on the Committee of Selection or the other departmental Select Committees always comes back to the arithmetic. We are told that the numbers do not stack up. However, even when the numbers stack up in our favour, something else is added to the equation. I take the Liaison Committee as an example. It has been mentioned in the debate, and it is 34 members strong. Even by the crudest arithmetic, we are entitled to 1.3 places on that Committee. However, one can only be a member of the Liaison Committee if one is the Chair of a Select Committee.
Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. I say again to the hon. Gentleman that this cannot be a debate about the composition of the Committee of Selection. It is about the Committees to be chosen by the Committee of Selection.
We oppose the motion, because we very much want to ensure that we have the proper mechanism for selecting the members of departmental Select Committees. That role is currently exercised by the Committee of Selection, and that suggests that that Committee has the additional powers to look after other Committees. We must question whether the Committee of Selection should have new powers when it must effectively demonstrate that it is able to exercise its current powers.
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One of the major tasks for the Committee of Selection is to determine the membership of departmental Select Committees. We heard from the hon. Member for North Cornwall of the arithmetic that was carried out to ensure that parity was reached between all the political parties in the House. However, we in the minority parties are 23 strong and represent 3.5 per cent. of the total number of MPs. The Committee of Selection looks after 18 departmental Select Committees. Three of them are territorial, so we obviously get a place on them as national parties. That leaves 15 departmental Select Committees with 172 members. According to the arithmetic, we are entitled to 3.5 per cent. of the places, but we actually receive 1.2 per cent. The Scottish National party and Plaid Cymru are two short
Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. I have tried to encourage the hon. Gentleman to desist from that line of argument, but he appears to be sticking tightly to his script. I suggest again that he reverts to the terms of the motion.
The Committee of Selection is important. As such, it should not remain the exclusive preserve of the three main parties, which is what will happen if the motion is passed. If any Committee should be representative of all parties, it is the Committee of Selection. Something is not working, and I question whether the measure solves the problem in the Committee of Selection. The House is not representative in the way that it does business on its Committees. We are a multi-party democracy, which should be reflected in our Committees. Collectively, we represent 3.5 per cent.
Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. If the hon. Gentleman is not prepared to take the advice of the Chair, he must resume his place. I shall allow him some concluding remarks, but he has ignored my advice at least twice.
We oppose the measure because it does not address the problems and issues that we have identified. We need to ensure that the Committee of Selectionany Committee that determines the places on departmental Select Committeesis as representative of the House as possible. I ask the House to oppose the motion.
Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle) (Lab): I did not intend to contribute to the debate, but I have a couple of things to say. The Committee of Selection does not select. It is a rubber stamp. It takes what is given to it by the Whips and puts the names forward to the House. I want that to change. I want the Committee of Selection to be more deliberativeto look at the composition of the Select Committees, the merits of individual candidates and, crucially, the way in which names are proposed by the political parties, as I said in my intervention on the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler).
I was on the inside of the parliamentary committee of the parliamentary Labour Party for two years and know how the system works for Labour Members who are put
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forward for membership of such Committees. We are told that there has to be a gender balance, a regional balance and an ideological balance. The fact is that it is difficult in those circumstances to challenge any name without being caught out by some kind of balance. What is the result of that selection process? The figures for the last Session show that 65 Back-Bench colleagues in the parliamentary Labour party did not serve on a Select Committee. Some 56 Labour Members served on more than one Select Committee. Seventeen Parliamentary Private Secretaries or bag carriersit sounds pejorative but I can say it; I was one myself some years agowere members of Select Committees. Should the Committee of Selection take that into account?
What about the Liberal Democrats? Some 28 of their Front-Bench Members served on Select Committees. I understand that; it is a smaller parliamentary party. I could run through equivalent figures for the other parties
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