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Mr. Allen rose—

Mr. Hoon: I sense that I am risking reopening this debate.

Mr. Allen: I am delighted that the Leader of the House has moved the debate on. As he mentioned my name, I felt obliged to make a contribution on this issue. To answer the hon. Member for Windsor (Adam Afriyie), the process has been relatively fast compared with previous occasions when it sometimes took six or seven months before Committees were set up. The way forward is, again, to remove the power from the Government and the alternative Government, and make it part of Mr. Speaker's duties to convene Select Committees within a given period after a general election. The delay, which is to the benefit only of the Government, would not then occur. Members of Parliament would take control of their own Committees.

Mr. Hoon: I knew that I had made a mistake earlier on, but I am grateful to my hon. Friend for continuing the debate.

I shall conclude that debate by dealing with the fifth motion on the Order Paper, which concerns the Finance and Services Committee. The motion makes minor changes to the order of reference of that Committee consequential to the establishment of the new Administration Committee. It also reflects changes in how we refer to the House Administration and the administration estimate.

Motion 5 modifies the operation of the two-Parliament rule for Select Committee Chairmen. Standing Order No. 122A was agreed in May 2002, following the recommendation of the Modernisation Committee. It was not popular with all Members—I recognise that some members of the Liaison Committee, in particular, felt that limiting their term served to reduce the effectiveness of Select Committees—but the majority of the House felt that there was merit in a degree of turnover: Select Committees should not become the established responsibilities of a few senior Members.

The purpose of the motion today is not to reopen that debate but to ensure that the rule achieves its intended purpose. When the House agreed the rule, it agreed an amendment adding the words

in case of very short Parliaments, as in 1974, for example. As a result, I believe unintended by the House, a Chairman who has served for two full Parliaments could be re-elected for a third if the date of his re-election fell just within eight years of his first election. The proposed change would mean that if a Chairman were elected for a third term, the chairmanship would cease at the expiry of eight years from first election.

Mr. Gordon Prentice : What happens if the terms of reference or remit of a Select Committee are changed to reflect the departmental configuration of Whitehall? Is it a new Committee?
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Mr. Hoon: It is clear that it is a new Committee, and the term would then begin with the commencement of that new Committee.

Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock) (Lab): It may sound old-fashioned, but I do not think that the proposal is fair. I would like the Leader of the House to consider my amendment, which would mean that those people who were incumbent Chairmen as at the general election would not be disadvantaged. If my right hon. Friend is convinced of the merits of his new rule, it should operate so that my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody), for example, is not disadvantaged in this Parliament by the rules being changed, and the goalposts moved, during this Parliament. The clock started ticking for her period as Chairman of the Transport Committee in the last Parliament.

Mr. Hoon: I do not anticipate that I will betray any confidences if I indicate to my hon. Friend that I have had some serious conversations with my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody), in which she made her views known with, it is fair to say, considerable force. I make it clear, however, that the amendment does no more than give effect to what the House intended. There was an unintended consequence of the amendment made when this position was first established in the Standing Orders of the House which would allow, for example, someone who had by chance been elected on 21 July 1997 to continue in office for a further full term of Parliament if the relevant meeting happened to take place on 22 July 2005. That was not intended by the House. The House was clear as to its wish, which was to allow right hon. and hon. Members to serve as Select Committee Chairmen for two terms or for eight years, whichever happened to be the longer. The amendment simply gives effect to that; it does no more than that. It is not intended in any way to overturn the previous rule; it simply clarifies that rule and gives effect to what the House originally intended for its Standing Orders.

Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough) (Con): Does the right hon. Gentleman think that this very desirable rule should be applied to other office holders in and outside government?

Mr. Hoon: Term limits are common practice in many parts of the United States. There is a term limit for the President of the United States, and I lived for a time in Kentucky, where governors were allowed to serve only one term. That appeared to have something to do with the history of the office and the opportunities that it afforded to its incumbent—I am sure that that is no longer the case. However, term limits are fashionable in some constitutions. Generally speaking, they have not been considered appropriate in the United Kingdom, save for the wish of the House of Commons to ensure a turnover from time to time in the occupancy of the chairmanships of Select Committees—

Andrew Mackinlay: And save for our having had seven Ministers for Europe in seven years.

Mr. Hoon: It is probably wise to move on to the next fascinating motion. Motion 7 relates to the size of some
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Select Committees. It proposes that the size of the Defence, Foreign Affairs, Home Affairs, Trade and Industry and Treasury Committees should increase from 11 to 14 members, reflecting the considerable interest in serving on those Committees. It proposes that the size of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee should reduce from 17 to 14 members and that the size of the Regulatory Reform Committee should reduce from 18 to 14.

I appreciate that when the Modernisation Committee recommended a slightly larger increase in the size of the departmental Select Committees in 2002, there was some opposition from the Liaison Committee on the ground that it would inhibit Committee cohesion. The reason for proposing a modest increase today is simply that the interest of Members in serving on some of the Committees is very great. I believe that there is value in ensuring that more Back Benchers are given the opportunity to be involved in the important work of scrutiny that the departmental Select Committees undertake.

Motion 8 makes minor changes to the Standing Orders to reflect the establishment of Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs. Motions 9 to 31 are nominations to Select Committees in the name of the Chairman of the Committee of Selection. I appreciate that these motions have taken a little time to come before the House—longer than I would have liked—but it is very much to be welcomed that most of the Select Committees will, subject to the agreement of the House today, be up and running before the summer recess.

For the first time, as I have said, those nominations are the product, in the Labour party at least, of a transparent party process, and it is inevitable that this should have taken a little time. We hope that the Committee of Selection will be able to bring forward motions to nominate the Science and Technology, Welsh Affairs, and Finance and Services Committees as soon as possible.

I remain committed to strengthening the Select Committee system. Since 2002, there has been a significant increase in the staff resources available to Select Committees and their activity has increased greatly. I will not pretend that this activity is always welcomed by Departments, but that is as it should be. It is widely recognised that the Select Committees now play an important part in our democratic life: they are a crucial check on the work of Government. I pay tribute to the work of Members who served on Committees in the last Parliament, and I anticipate continued vigorous activity in the Parliament ahead.

Motion 32 makes provision for the first meeting of the Joint Committee on Human Rights. Motion 33 provides for the re-establishment and nomination of the Modernisation Committee. The Committee has done valuable work since 1997, but I believe that there remains much more that it can usefully look at. Although I know that some Conservative Members are not enthusiasts for modernisation—

Mr. Forth: That is putting it mildly.

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