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Mr. Hoon: I think that the short answer is probably "deliver", but that may be a little frank for someone who inhabits the Whips Office. My predecessors as Leader of the House have served on the Modernisation Committee and have seen their recommendations through the House. It is important that that momentum is maintained.
Mr. Forth: If it is true, as the Leader of the House has disgracefully claimed, that the Modernisation Committee can deliver where, he says insultingly, that the Procedure Committee cannot, could that be because the Modernisation Committee is, disgracefully, chaired by a member of the Cabinet?
Mr. Hoon: I am sorry that the right hon. Gentleman has put that spin on my remarks. There was no intention on my part in any way to criticise any other Committee or the way that it operates. I was making it clear that there was a real feeling among Members on both sides of the Housenot only on the Government Benchesthat it was necessary to bring our practices and procedures into the 20th century, if not the 21st century. That has meant that the work of the Committee has been reflected in practice. Other Committees may work in slower time, but there was a degree of urgency felt by Modernisation Committee members of all political parties that are represented in the House, and that urgency has been reflected in the fact that it has been prepared to deliver.
Sir George Young (North-West Hampshire) (Con): On the question of delivery, did not the right hon. Gentleman's predecessor as Leader of the House and Chairman of the Modernisation Committee, the right hon. Member for Neath (Mr. Hain), fail to deliver changes in how we appoint Select Committees?
Mr. Hoon: There was a debate in the House and a vote, and in its wisdom the House chose to reject the proposals of the Modernisation Committee. I do not pretendI am sure that the right hon. Gentleman, who is greatly experienced in the ways of the House, will agreethat all recommendations of all Committees will always be accepted on the Floor. On that occasion, they were not.
Sir Nicholas Winterton: I am sure that the Leader of House will accept that his chairing of the Modernisation Committee gives it the power to deliver; no other Select Committee has a Cabinet Minister as Chairman. Does he agree that the House works best when Committees that are concerned with the way in which the House operates and scrutinises legislationthe Procedure Committee and the Modernisation Committeeco-operate? Is that not the best to way to proceed? That is why I have chosen again to serve on the Modernisation Committee, having been one of its founding members way back in 1997.
I have always been thoroughly impressed by the hon. Gentleman's work, both generally in the
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range of activities that he pursues in the House on behalf of his constituents, and specifically in the excellent way in which he has chaired the Procedure Committeenot a Committee on which many right hon. and hon. Members volunteer to serve. He has done so with great distinction and that has informed the work of the Modernisation Committee.
I still believe that there are times in the House when speedy change is required. Perhaps the Modernisation Committee moves more quickly simply because it has the benefit of the Leader of House as its Chairman. That is obviously a matter for the House. However, given the proposal that is before the House, I hope to be re-elected as its Chairman in due course and to be able to continue its excellent work. Crucial to that is the knowledge and experience that Members can bring to bear on its work. If the House so decides, I look forward to the hon. Gentleman again making a valuable contribution to the Committee's work.
Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): Notwithstanding the importance of the Leader of the House chairing the Modernisation Committee, does my right hon. Friend accept that in broad measure it is vital that Select Committees should be Back-Bench Committees? If we are to achieve the cross-party working on which most Select Committees rely, it is important that Opposition Members do not keep on switching between Front-Bench and Back-Bench responsibilities, by being Front Benchers and yet serving on Select Committees. Sometimes, that is used for partisan reasons.
Mr. Jack: The Leader of the House will be aware of exchanges in the previous Parliament involving the Liaison Committee following the Hutton inquiry's access to information of a broad-ranging nature. Subsequently, in meetings with the Liaison Committee and others, the Government indicated a more flexible and open approach to the provision of information to Select Committees. Is the right hon. Gentleman yet in a position to be able to define that greater openness and access to information, so that new Chairmen of Committees might be fully apprised of what they can expect when they call for papers in the context of inquiries?
Mr. Hoon: I had hoped that the practice had already improved. I was not aware of any serious complaints from Chairmen of Select Committees. I hope that if there are problems about access to papers, the right hon. Gentleman will write to me about them, and I shall deal with that in the usual way.
The Osmotherly rules, I am informed, will be issued tomorrow. Perhaps we can have a debate on that rather complex subject if one is required. At one stage in my previous career I studied those rules with considerable care. No doubt my hon. Friend will be able to refer to that in due course.
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Andrew Mackinlay: As the question of Osmotherly rules has come up, can we place in Hansard the advice that the Clerk of the House of Commons gave to Lord Hutton that the Osmotherly rules were not agreed between the Government and Parliament? We need to reaffirm that, particularly as coincidentally the rules are to be published tomorrow. There should be no misunderstanding; to these Houses of Parliament, they are not worth the paper that they are written on. They have been handed down like tablets of stone by the Executive. I will certainly not be signing up to them, and judging from the mood the House, I do not think that it will be signing up to them either.
I was referring to the contribution that the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst makes to any reference to modernisation. The work of Conservatives members of the Modernisation Committee has been extremely valuable in taking forward changes in the House, and I look forward to the right hon. Gentleman's observations on the Committee's work during this Parliament.
Mr. Allen: I commend my right hon. Friend for congratulating the Modernisation Committee on its very good although sometimes glacially slow work. I ask him not to be unkind to the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth), because by his obstruction, by his keeping up colleagues late at night and by his using the rules as he did, he has caused more modernisation in this Chamber than virtually any other Member. My right hon. Friend should congratulate him on doing that.
Mr. Hoon: The right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst has made a distinctive contribution to the work of the House, as he did to the European Parliament. I first met him when he was an enthusiastic Member of the European Parliament, which he has tried to live down ever since. We all have records to defend, and at some stage we will be able to debate European matters, but I need to make progress.
I return to the fascinating subject of the terms of reference of the Modernisation Committee, which Members will have noticed are slightly changed from those in the previous Parliament. The function of the Committee will be to consider how the House operates and to make recommendations for modernisation, rather than being limited to the consideration of the practices and procedures of the House. That is intended to ensure that the Modernisation Committee is not constrained in its field of inquiry. It would, for example, be able to consider matters touching on the administration of the House.
Motion 34 provides for the membership of the Liaison Committee. As in the past, it will include the Chairmen of all Select Committees. In addition, as in the previous Parliament, the motion nominates the Father of the House, my right hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, West (Mr. Williams), in anticipation of the
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fact that the Committee might wish to appoint a Chairman who does not also represent the interests of a particular Committee.
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