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Mr. Leigh : I understand that there has been no lack of recruits early on in this Parliament. In the last Parliament, the Opposition had some difficulties as a result of our relatively few numbers. Does my hon. Friend agree that it is unfortunate that Opposition Front-Bench spokesmen should serve on Select Committees? On the Public Accounts Committee, we preserved a virginal purity in that matter by having no Opposition Front-Bench spokesmen. In life one should do to others as one might have done to oneself. There will come a time when there is a Conservative Government, and will we want Labour spokesmen on defence serving on the Defence Committee? I think not. This is an opportunity for my hon. Friend to make it clear that this is not a practice that we want to carry on in this Parliament.
Chris Grayling: My view is that we should provide full opportunities for every Member of this House to play a full part in its proceedings in different ways, whether it is on the Opposition or the Government Front Benches, on Select Committees or on Standing Committees. I would not wish to be proscriptive today, but I share my hon. Friend's wish to ensure that Back Benchers who want to serve on Select Committees have the opportunity to do so.
Chris Bryant : The hon. Gentleman did not give a straightforward answer to his hon. Friend, who is, as he well knows, making a very clear pointthat there should be a principle in this House that Select Committees should consist only of Back-Bench Members because that is important to the working of those Committees. Cannot the hon. Gentleman stand up on behalf of his party and urge that important principle?
One of the reasons for the delay in appointing Select Committees is that there has been wrangling behind the scenes about who is and is not going to get which job. The Government have tried to ensure that they can use Select Committee chairmanships as a soft landing for Ministers who have
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lost office. They have also tried to ensureI see the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) in her placethat Select Committee chairmanships are not occupied by people who are more robust in their criticism of the Government.
John Bercow : I am sorry to press my hon. Friend on this point, but let me remind him that two wrongs do not make a right. I must, with great respect, ask him to give, in response to the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant), a verdict on an issue of principle. Does he agree that it is wrong in principle for an Opposition Front Bencher to sit on a Select Committeeyes or no? It is nothing to do with other issues; what is his response to that particular point?
Chris Grayling: My view is that in an ideal world we would not have people performing both roles. Speaking as an Opposition Front Bencher, most of us do not have the time to perform multiple roles. However, there are circumstances that break every rule, and I am not going to give my hon. Friend a cast-iron view that under no circumstances should it ever happen. A range of roles are open to Members of this House. Very often, two should not combine, but there may be occasions when circumstance dictate that they do. I will not give my hon. Friend an absolute answer on that now.
John Bercow: If my hon. Friend believes that there are extenuating circumstances in which an exception should apply and an Opposition Front Bencher should be allowed, or even required, to serve on a Select Committee, will he be good enough to specify such a circumstance?
Chris Grayling: My hon. Friend intends to draw me into a detailed argument that is not entirely consistent with the motions before us. I would be delighted to discuss it with him some time over a drink in the Tea Room.
Sir Nicholas Winterton : I suggest to my hon. Friend that there is an extenuating circumstance, although it is undesirable. Her Majesty's Opposition had so few Members in the last Parliament that in order to man all the Select Committees it was necessary for members of the Whips Office from time to time to act as Opposition members of those Committees. I can say from my experience as Chairman of the Procedure Committee that my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest, West (Mr. Swayne) was an extremely assiduous and hardworking member of that Committee. It is, however, an undesirable process, and I hope that my hon. Friend will be able to say that as long as we have sufficient Members that will not happen while he is shadow Leader of the House.
I share my hon. Friend's view that it is undesirable. However, there will also be times when it will be to the detriment of the work of a Select Committee to lose expertise as a result of somebody moving into a Front-Bench role. My hon. Friend will be aware that not every Select Committee deals with external policy issues; many deal with issues within this House. It would be wrong, for example, to deprive somebody who holds a junior Opposition role of the
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opportunity to sit on the Procedure Committee or the Modernisation Committee and play a role in the management and future direction of the House. Simply being a Front Bencher should not preclude one from having views on that.
Mrs. Dunwoody : I understand the difficulties that arise when there are few Opposition Members, but the House of Commons should make it clear that there is no role in the chairmanship of Select Committees for people who are Ministers and no role in the work of Select Committees for people who are spokesmen for their political parties. We get ourselves in the most frightful muddle and into very embarrassing situations when we let go of those rules without thinking about it. We have never done this in the past. It reflects no credit on any Member of this House, on whichever Front Bench they sit, if they do not maintain those lines of demarcation.
Chris Grayling: I understand the hon. Lady's point of view. She will remember, however, that when I served on her Select Committee, sitting alongside us was my hon. Friend the Member for Vale of York (Miss McIntosh), who was an assiduous and effective performer on that Committee while holding a junior role on the Opposition Front Bench in an entirely unrelated area. In my view, our Committee would have been poorer without her. I am reluctant to give cast-iron views because there are exceptions whereby Select Committees will lose out if they are deprived of expertise simply because someone has moved into a junior role in a separate area.
One reason for the delay on Select Committees is that the Government have found that the two-term rule was not quite what they thought. There is no doubt that behind the scenes there have been debates about changes that the Government sought to make but were not possible under a strict interpretation of the rules. The motion on the eight-year limit is sensible, although it is disappointing that the deadline has been set at a particular date. It would be unfortunate to reach the point where a Select Committee chairmanship expires on 22 October, or whatever the date may be, potentially in mid-report while work is still pending. I would have preferred the term of office to expire at the end of the parliamentary Session beyond the date on which the eight years is reached. I suggest that we should review how that works, and if we discover that it causes operational difficulties for Committees, let us be willing to adapt the rule so that there is not a cast-iron cut-off date but a natural termination at the end of the Session of Parliament. From my experience of Committee work, had the hon. Lady been in that position midway through an important report, it would have been a loss to the Committee.
Mr. Gordon Prentice:
I did not manage to intervene on the previous point, which was more important. However, machinery of Government changes are made
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all the timeat the beginning of a new Parliament, through departmental changes and so on. They inevitably feed through to the Select Committees. It appears to me that the eight year rule will not apply in practice to many Select Committees.
Chris Grayling: If we have the same number of departmental reorganisations as in the past few years, the hon. Gentleman will be right. It is not necessary to recast Departments every few months. After the general election, there was the bizarre situation of the Department of Trade and Industry appearing to be about to be reconstituted and then remaining as it was. Regular Committee changes have occurred because the Government have seen fit to tinker with the structure of Whitehall. If they did not do that, the circumstances would not arise.
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