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Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst) (Con): I wish to move amendment (b) to motion 34 and amendment (b) to motion 35.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. I should point out to the right hon. Gentleman that he can only speak to an amendment that has been selected by the Speaker.

Mr. Forth rose—

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. Did I mishear the right hon. Gentleman? Does he wish to speak to amendment (a) to motion 34 and amendment (b) to motion 35?

Mr. Forth: I apologise if I said (b) instead of (a), Mr. Deputy Speaker.

The Deputy Leader of the House of Commons (Nigel Griffiths): The right hon. Gentleman is learning from experience.

Mr. Forth: Yes, I am always prepared to be taught by Members with superior experience.

I shall try to rise to the challenge posed by the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath), who quite properly asked why amendment (a) to motion 34 suggests that

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I accept that that would be a departure. However, as has been pointed out several times during the debate, the House is in an evolutionary process. Several hon. Members have identified the Liaison Committee as a developing instrument of the House and there is no doubt that the roles that it has now taken on are radically different from those that it had even a few years ago. Most hon. Members agree that that is a good thing and I am sure that the fact that we are honoured to have the Father of the House chairing the Committee adds greatly to its effectiveness. The fact that the Prime Minister now appears before it is a testament to the enhanced role that it now has.

Amendment (a) would make a modest yet important addition to the Committee's development. It reflects the different yet vital role that members of the Chairmen's Panel play in the House. Adding the senior Back-Bench member of the Chairmen's Panel to the Liaison Committee, as the amendment would do, would strengthen the Committee in several important ways.

I shall now attempt to answer directly the question posed by the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome. Members of the Chairmen's Panel have a unique and wide perspective. Anyone who has been on the Chairmen's Panel for a considerable time—the person identified in the amendment—must, by definition, have a lot of wide-ranging experience of chairing a substantial number of Committees considering Bills covering huge areas of policy. Additionally, by dint of being on the Panel, that Member would have considerable experience of procedure and many other aspects of the work of the House. Such experience would add to the effectiveness of the Liaison Committee in its deliberations and its questioning of the Prime Minister.

There need be no great fear that this particular member of the Chairmen's Panel would compromise his or her impartiality by playing a political role with a different hat on. After all, as the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome pointed out, we all have to make that distinction from time to time in our different ways, not least the members of the Chairmen's Panel, who are able—effectively, I hope—to chair Committees with complete impartiality, yet still play a role in the Chamber and elsewhere as politicians. The amendment would be a modest but important step in further enhancing the role and effectiveness of the Liaison Committee, and it is in that spirit that I and the other signatories wish to move it at the appropriate time.

Moving on to my second amendment, I should first make a declaration of non-interest. I am in the fortunate position of already being the Chairman of a Select Committee and therefore in receipt of the established payments to that chairmanship, which disqualifies me from payment as a member of the Chairmen's Panel. I therefore feel free to discuss, without embarrassment, the matters that I am about to embark on, which relate directly to payment of members of the Chairmen's Panel.

I have always taken the view that we got this the wrong way around. I was always an advocate of payment of the Chairmen's Panel rather than of Select Committee Chairmen, because I took the view that Select Committee Chairmen already had a number of tangible privileges. They have a public profile and many of them travelled extensively on fact-finding missions, globally and intergalactically. I felt that that was
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probably reward enough. The members of the Chairmen's Panel, by contrast, do their work silently, surreptitiously and without public recognition, but they do essential work in the service of the House. Having now established the payment to Select Committee Chairmen, however, I believe that it is absolutely right and proper that we now move towards recognising the work of the Chairmen's Panel.

As I understood it, the argument was about recruitment, retention and recognition of what the Panel does. In that regard, I wish that my other amendment, which sadly was not selected, was before the House, because it proposed that members of the Chairmen's Panel go straight on to the full rate of pay. As I suggested in an intervention, I am not aware of any other position, in government or in the House, where a probationary period has to be served. We do not ask Select Committee Chairman to serve on part pay before they are fully paid; nor do we ask Ministers to do that. Indeed, if I may say so, Madam Deputy Speaker, you and your colleagues did not have to serve a probationary period before you got your well merited rate of pay.

Suddenly we are moving into new territory. The argument, as I understand it, is that some measure of the effectiveness of the new Panel members has to be made before they can go on to the full rate of pay. I am not sure about the merits of that argument, but even if we accept that, I am afraid that the motion before us is a complete dog's dinner. The graduations suggested here are almost incomprehensible and would fail almost completely to meet the tests of recruitment, retention and recognition by their very definition. That is why the amendment in my name, which, happily, has been selected, recognises the probationary element—which I am reluctant to include, but inevitably, I think, have to—but makes it much simpler, cleaner and neater.

The amendment simply says that if appointed to the Panel, one would get half-pay for two years, when a judgment would be made as to one's suitability. If one was not cutting the mustard, as they say, one would be quietly dropped—sacked, dismissed or whatever. If it was deemed appropriate for one to continue in that service, one would go on to the full rate of pay. That neatly provides fairness, effectiveness and, as it is not unduly complicated, comprehensibility. I hope that the amendment will have widespread support. I am happy that recognition is being made of the important role played by the Chairmen's Panel, but I do not think that the original wording fits the purpose, and I hope that I have persuaded Members that my simple solution is in order.

I am conscious that other Members want to speak, so I shall wind up my remarks by saying a brief word about the nature of Select Committees, a subject that has been touched on several times—just to get my view on the record, for what it is worth. To make Select Committees more effective we should consider having equal numbers of Government and non-Government Members on them. That would be a major step in the right direction. Although I concede that it is proper that chairmanships to this or that Committee be allocated on a party basis,
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after that the Committee members should be able to    elect their own Chairman from among their membership.

That would go a long way to meeting the objections that many Members, such as the hon. Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. Allen), have expressed, while retaining some proper party balance across the chairmanships. I would like to think that such things will be looked at further following our deliberations, and I hope that progress will be made in that direction.

3.39 pm

Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle) (Lab): I had not intended to speak, but it has been such an interesting and engrossing debate that I thought that I would have my penny's worth. I want to pick up on what the Father of the House said.

In our system, we have very strong government and we need strong scrutiny, a point that my Friend the Member for Cannock Chase (Dr. Wright) constantly makes. If we do not have strong scrutiny, we need to do something about it. I am sure that it is not unique to this Parliament, but we have a terrible curse of patronage. The stain spreads everywhere and we must clean up our act in so far as it is possible.

On the powers of Select Committees, the Leader of the House quite casually dropped into the debate the important announcement that changes to the Osmotherly rules will be published tomorrow. Is not that amazing? The Osmotherly rules go to the very heart of our system. When my Friend the Member for Thurrock (Andrew Mackinlay) wanted John Scarlett to appear before the Foreign Affairs Committee, he was told no. When he said, "We want John Scarlett and we can meet in camera", he was again told no. Then, along came Lord Hutton, who posted everything on the world wide web so that everybody all over the world could see it. Lord Hutton said to Scarlett, "Come before me", and John Scarlett dropped everything to do so. What do the Osmotherly rules do? They set out the framework within which civil servants and those in the Government sphere appear before Select Committees. It will be fascinating to see the new rules when they are published tomorrow.

When the Public Administration Committee, on which I served in the previous Parliament and to which I have been fortunate to have been reappointed, was inquiring into Government communications, we summoned Alastair Campbell, as we were entitled to do. He said that he was on a speaking tour or some such thing and could not appear before us. We asked him to think again. I thought that that would become a great constitutional spat, but Alastair Campbell came before us and that went well. We cannot have people refusing to appear before Select Committees and we cannot have someone—whoever—telling Select Committees that people cannot appear before them, as in the case of John Scarlett.

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