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Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con): I am extremely honoured to follow the right hon. Member for Swansea, West (Mr. Williams) and I hope that the House will heed his very wise words. If our parliamentary democracy is to remain respected and trusted by the electorate, the House as a whole must be able to scrutinise a Government's performance, legislation and management of the country as fully and effectively as possible.
In my experience, the Select Committee system is the only way to achieve that. Therefore, the usual channelsthat is, the Government and Opposition Front Benchesshould not have a major patronage function when it comes to appointing members of Select Committees. I think that the hon. Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. Allen) is trying to achieve that, although I am not sure that I go along with the procedure that he proposes. In the previous Parliament,
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the Modernisation Committee put forward proposals that could have achieved what many Back-Bench Members want but, sadly, those proposals were rejected by the House by a narrow majority.
Shortly, the Leader of the House will be elected Chairman of the Modernisation Committee. I hope that he and the shadow Leader of the House will review the appointments of hon. Members to Select Committees so that those Committees can fulfil their functions on behalf of the House.
My contribution to the debate will be brief, but I wish to reiterate a point that several hon. Members have already made, which is that the Government of the day have a duty to appoint Committees as quickly as possible after a general election, so that the House can properly monitor and scrutinise legislation and the performance of the Government.
I remain somewhat confused by the explanation that the Leader of the House provided to other hon. Members on the question of term limits for Chairmen of Select Committees. It appears that there is an eight-year rule, but that that period could be extended to 12 or 13 years. I am sure that that cannot be right or fair in any situation. The period should be two Parliaments or eight years. If someone is appointed in the middle of a Parliament, the three years of that Parliament should not be entirely ignored so that they can go on to serve as Chairman of a Select Committee for a further two Parliaments.
Sir Nicholas Winterton: I am not sure that that is a helpful intervention in terms of the confusion that I am expressing. The Leader of the House gave contradictory answers to the questions that were put to him. I hope that the shadow Leader of the House will clarify the matter in his inimitable way, because it is very important. I am likely to be affected by motion 6 in due course, which I suspect will be passed later tonight, and I have some concern about the rule and the inflexible systems that it would impose. Perhaps because of the time that I have spent in the House, I believe that experience is important, especially in matters relating to how the House operates and its procedures, including modernisation proposals. Great experience of the House is very helpful in such debates and in deciding what proposals should be put to the House.
Whether it is appropriate or not, I wish to pay tribute to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for the role that you have played in the issue of pay for Standing Committee Chairmen. The role of Standing Committee Chairmen is critical. Those Members who undertake it often work long hours, as the Leader of the House said, unappreciated and without publicity, depriving themselves of other activities in the House, including perhaps speaking in the Chamber and receiving media exposure as a result.
The House cannot do without the Standing Committee Chairmen. I do not subscribe to the view that many of the Committees that I have had the privilege of chairing have been dull, because I happen to
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be hands-on and I enjoy the job. I have done it for nearly 20 years and I am happy to continue to do it as long as Mr. Speaker and his Deputies ask me to continue to serve on the Chairmen's Panel. It is rewarding work. I am delighted that the Senior Salaries Review Body has been involved and that the Leader of the House and others have brought pressure to bear so that the House will decide whether Standing Committee Chairmen should be paid, at the highest rate, at a rate equal to Select Committee Chairmen.
I shall not enter the debate about graduated or non-graduated pay structure. I say only that those who have put forward proposals have done so in the knowledge of what is involved. I respect the Chairman of Ways and Means for the views that he has expressed, because he has an intimate knowledge of the experience that is needed and the time that is taken up to do the job that the House expects of the Chairmen of Standing Committees.
I pay tribute to the work of the Liaison Committee, because of the amendment that indirectly involves me. I would point out to the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) that it is possible for Members on either side of the House to bring a non-party political influence to bear on debate and discussion, especially when it relates to the way in which the House of Commons operates, deals with legislation and its procedures to ensure proper scrutiny. Towards the end of the last Parliament, for example, the Procedure Committee, which I chaired, produced a well-balanced report on programming, which recommended changes to programming to make it more acceptable to all parties in the House. That shows that Members who could sit on the Liaison Committee could bring a non-party political experience and knowledge to bear on some of the important matters that the right hon. Member for Swansea, West mentioned in what I consider to be a keynote address in this debate.
Mr. Heath: I do not doubt any of the points that the hon. Gentleman has made. Indeed, it is essential, especially in matters of procedure, that Members take a quasi-judicial view of matters. What I cannot understand is how that fits with the work of the Liaison Committee. The point that I wanted to make was that the Liaison Committee has two rolesan organisation role, in which the Chairmen's Panel is not involved, and an interrogatory role with regard to the Prime Minister, in which the Chairmen's Panel should not be involved.
Sir Nicholas Winterton:
I accept that, and a member of the Liaison Committee has no need to take part in the questioning of the Prime Minister if he or she thinks that it is inappropriate to do so. However, I also remind the hon. Gentleman that in the last Parliament, the Liaison Committee produced two excellent reportsas I am sure the right hon. Member for Swansea, West remembers, because he chaired the Committeeon how Parliament could better scrutinise legislation and hold the Government to account. The reports also addressed the role of Select Committees. That had nothing to do with party politics, and it is important that the Liaison Committeeone of the most powerful Committees, if not the most powerful, in the House of Commons,
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because it is composed of the Chairmen of all the other Committeesshould have a non-party political input into matters relating to the way in which the House undertakes its work. The reports published by the Liaison Committee were very important, but they were not heeded sufficiently by the Government. I hope that in the future such reports will receive better attention and a more sympathetic hearing from the Government of the day.
I hope that the amendment tabled by the hon. Member for Stockton, North (Frank Cook), my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) and other distinguished Members on both sides of the House will receive a little more sympathy from the Deputy Leader of the House than, sadly, it received from the Leader of the House. It offers a constructive way of bringing an element of continuity in the Liaison Committee from one Parliament to another. As the hon. Gentleman will, I am sure, work out, there will be many new members of the Liaison Committee, so an element of continuity will do no harm. I do not make that point out of any particular preference for myself, but in future the senior Member on the Chairman's Panel could add usefully to the work, knowledge and experience of the Liaison Committee.
In the main, I warmly support the motions that the Government have tabled today. It is important that the Select Committees be set up, and I was extremely encouraged that the right hon. Member for Swansea, West indicated that the Liaison Committee would meet before we break for the summer recess. That is a fantastic gesture and I hope that it will be taken up and that it will prove possible to hold that meeting.
Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock) (Lab): Before I aggravate anybody, I commend motion 15 to the House. I have a selfish interest as I want to be a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee. I extend thanks in good measure to the Government Chief Whip and, I suspect, to the elected Members of the parliamentary Labour party who worked hard to draw up the list of Labour nominees. Sometimes, I think that the holy spirit may have intervened, as I understand that it was a close-run thing as far as I was concerned, so I am grateful to be on the list. However, the process gives rise to questions about the way that Select Committees are set up, as other Members have pointed out.
My hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. Allen) is not in the Chamber, unfortunately. I disagree with his proposal, although I share his objective in taking decisions on all these issues away from Front-Bench Members. We should be looking ahead four years, and the negotiations on the apportionment of Chairmen between the political parties and the size of Committees should be determined by the chairman of the parliamentary Labour party, the chairman of the 1922 executive and/or an appropriate officer and appropriate representatives of the other political parties. There are two reasons for that. First, it would remove, or reduce, the feeling that there is patronage, especially when the payment of Chairmen is involved. Secondly, it would help in the expedition of business. With the best will in the world, after a general election Government and Opposition Whips are preoccupied with other things.
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After a general election, all Members could indicate to their parties which Committees they are interested in from day one, and the necessary processing would be expedited if it was dealt with by the party secretariat and Back-Bench representatives of the political parties rather than the Whips, which only delays things and creates jealousy and suspicion about patronage.
I confess to emotional swings as I listened to the debate, especially the speeches of the two Front-Bench speakers. At one point, I thought that I had my whole career before me, but then I swung the other way and thought that my wilderness years were going on for rather a long time. There would be so many people who would have the opportunity of receiving enhanced payments and so many distinguished people who would have to find a role. I am confused. We are elected to this place as Members of Parliament and it is part of our job to decide how we discharge that duty. I can understand that the principal Officers of the House and senior members of the Government should receive substantial payment, but the whole drift towards extra payments is unhealthy for democracy. There is vast disparity in the pay of Ministers and we are aggravating that situation by paying Chairmen of Select Committeesand we now propose to extend that further. That is unhealthy. We should be working towards a situation where every Member of Parliament is deemed equal. He or she should defend stewardship of their office before the electorate when they seek re-election. There should be no additional payments such as those we instigated in the last Parliament and are likely to extend this evening. That will make things extraordinarily difficult.
Nobody has noticed that one aspect of government on which we are not setting up a Select Committee is security and intelligence, for which there is no parliamentary oversight. We must be unique among democracies in not having a parliamentary Committee providing such oversight. There is a Committee made up of parliamentarians, appointed by the Prime Minister, who is in charge of the security and intelligence services, but it is not a parliamentary Committee. Indeed, I can make a double whammy and draw attention to the perversity of the fact that that Committee, which I do not recogniseindeed, the Clerk of the House made clear to Hutton that it is not a parliamentary Committeehas a Chairman, my right hon. Friend the Member for Torfaen (Mr. Murphy), who will not be paid a penny. He cannot be paid, because if he were, it would be an office of profit under the Crown and there would have to be a by-election in Torfaen. Nobody seems to have thought about such ridiculous anomalies. As we are only doing half our job, perhaps we should propose a motion setting up a parliamentary Committee on security and intelligence. If there are payments for Select Committee work then no doubt the Chairman of that Committee could receive payment, too. There is a big void in our scrutiny arrangements.
People pray in aid the Senior Salaries Review Body. Has there ever been an occasion when a reference to that body met with the reply that not a penny extra should be paid? Of course not. Its members are the great and the goodthe glitteratiwho enjoy being part of that body. When they are invited to make a recommendation they always do so. I can give no credence to the fact that the SSRB has said that there should be payments. In any case, who are they to say that? They are not Members of
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Parliament. They do not know what goes on here or what the duties of a Member of Parliament arethe diligence, dilatoriness or otherwise of individual Members.
My hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) is not in the Chamber, but she is relevant to the debate. Motion 6 is absurd. Its genesis goes back to when the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Sir Nicholas Winterton) was a constant irritant to the Thatcher Government. The convention of service for two Parliaments was instigated at that time, but I cannot escape the conclusion that the Labour Government found the conduct and stewardship of my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich an irritant, too. We should not go about things as the motion proposes.
Soon there will be a casual vacancy of Chairman of a Select Committee in this Parliament. The expectation is that this Parliament will run for a long time. I am an optimist and I hope that after the next two elections Labour will win and that the next two Parliaments will be for four or five years. The person who fills the first casual vacancy as a Chairman could continue in office for 14 or 15 years.
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