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Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle) (Lab): My friend will know that the parliamentary committee of the parliamentary Labour party decided that people who leave the Governmentex-Ministersshould not seamlessly transfer to take up the chairmanship of Select Committees. Does my friend agree with that?
Mr. Hoon: I have made it quite clear that, as Leader of the House, I am not responsible for the internal workings of the political parties represented in the House. I happen to have information available to me because my membership of the Labour party means that, unlike Opposition Members, I am able to attend such distinguished gatherings. However, the principle is a matter for the Labour party. It is not a matter for the House, and thus not a matter for the Leader of the House.
Bob Spink (Castle Point) (Con): While the Leader of the House is indulging in tidying up some of these matters, will he explain exactly why a motion relating to the Science and Technology Committee is not on the Order Paper today so that that Committee can be debated along with the other Committees.
Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire) (Con): Although I do not want to pry too much into the activities of the PLP, we have just been told that it has come to the decision that somehow ex-Ministers cannot automatically chair Select Committees. Does the Leader of the House think that a similar rule should apply so that if Select Committee Chairmen were invited to join the Government, they should refuse?
Mr. Hoon: The right hon. Gentleman makes an excellent point. It is important, however, that I do not go beyond my responsibilities to the House as Leader of the House. It is also important that I make a little progress.
Mr. Allen: The serious point that I was trying to put to my right hon. Friend was that if the House agrees to some of these motions today, we will have four years to consider the matter before it comes round for decision again. Will he consider whether it will be possible to have a discussion, under either his own auspices or those of the Modernisation Committee, to determine whether we can do this better next time?
I am sure that the Modernisation Committee, once established, will want to consider a range of issues, and that might well prove to be one of them. I know that my hon. Friend will pursue the matter with considerable tenacity, as he has done in the House over many years, so I look forward to receiving a letter in due course.
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John Bercow (Buckingham) (Con): If the right hon. Gentleman wants to assert to the House that his party has a relatively transparent and democratic means of determining the membership of Select Committees, it is important that the procedure should not be secret. I do not want it to be shrouded in opacity, so will he tell us exactly how the parliamentary Labour partyI am happy to debate my own party's conduct on these mattersdetermines membership of Select Committees?
Mr. Hoon: This sounds like one of those childhood games of "you show me yours first". It is not necessarily appropriate at this stage to engage in an internal debate about how political parties make decisions. I have dealt with the point already, so it is time for me to move on to deal with the fascinating question of the terms of reference of the new Administration Committee.
Mr. Alan Williams (Swansea, West) (Lab): Does the Leader of the House agree that if the whole House were involved in the selection of Committee members, it could work to the disadvantage of scrutiny because the majority in the House could impose the Committees that it wanted on the minority? All parties in the House, especially those in opposition, have the prime responsibility to have as effective a system of scrutiny as possible.
Mr. Hoon: My right hon. Friend makes an extremely good point and allows me to return to the fascinating discussion into which I was about to enter on the terms of reference of the new Administration Committee. The terms of reference will reflect those of the Domestic Committees, the only significant difference being that the function of the Committee will be to consider services provided by, as well as for, the House, which will explicitly allow it to consider services provided for the public. Improving the way in which the House communicates with the public is a crucial matter that we must address in this Parliament.
Mr. Michael Jack (Fylde) (Con): The motion indicates that the Administration Committee will make recommendations to the House of Commons Commission or the Speaker about services provided. When a Select Committee makes a report to a Government Department, it receives a written reply after a period of time to respond to the points that it raises. Under these arrangements, if the Commission decided not to provide a service that the Administration Committee had identified, would it be a requirement that a written report would have to be produced so that hon. Members would know why their Committee's recommendations had been declined?
Mr. Hoon: There will not be such a requirement, but I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman's suggestion could be considered as a part of the important scrutiny work that Select Committees do and the Government's responses to those Committees. I am sure that that procedure ought to followed as good practice.
I welcome the formation of the Administration Committee because far too often in the last Parliament we encountered the problem that Committees decided things that had to be referred to
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other Committees before progress could be made. Will the Leader of the House confirm that if the Administration Committee makes such a report, there will at least be the opportunity to ask questions about why action has not been taken on its recommendations, if that is the case?
Mr. Hoon: We will need to consider that important point after the Administration Committee has been established and has decided its working patterns. There will be changes as a result of amalgamating the Domestic Committees, so we will need to allow a little time to elapse before determining the consequences of having such a unified Committee, rather than the separate Committees that it is intended to replace.
That power is also given to the Committee itself. Does that mean that the Committee or its Sub-Committees could call members of the Commission to give evidence, precisely to address the point made by my right hon. Friends the Members for Fylde (Mr. Jack) and for West Derbyshire (Mr. McLoughlin)?
Mr. Hoon: I was at pains to try to ensure that the terms of reference of the new unified Committee reflected the terms of reference of the Domestic Committees. Having not had my current responsibilities during the period in which those Committees existed, I cannot tell the House whether the motion precisely reflects the previous situation[Interruption.] I am receiving certain indications that perhaps it does not. Nevertheless, it follows on logically from what the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) pointed out that the motion gives the Administration Committee extensive powers to call for those persons and papers that it requires. No doubt that will be one of the consequential changes that may follow the establishment of this important House Committee.
Adam Afriyie (Windsor) (Con): As a relatively new Member, I am aware that modernisation needs to take place on many Committees. However, I am surprised by how long it has taken to appoint hon. Members to Committees. Is the Leader of the House also concerned about the delay in appointing Committee members?
I intend to deal with that point when I reach the part of my speechif we ever get thereon proposals for the appointment of Select Committees. I have been asked about the matter on several occasions in the House and have made it clear, and repeated today, the importance of the role of political parties. If my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. Allen) is to be satisfied in his understandable concern about the need to respect democratic principles in the selection of Select Committee members, it is important to deal with such matters thoroughly. I have indicated that that has been the case for the Labour party. Thoroughness takes time, but that thorough approach has allowed the Committees to be appointed before the summer recess, which was an undertaking that I gave to the House, and
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allowed political parties to be involved in the necessary democratic process for the selection of their candidates. That seems to me to be a perfectly proper compromise
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