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That the Resolution of the House of 13th July 2005 relating to Liaison Committee (Membership) be further amended by leaving out, in paragraph (2), Constitutional Affairs, Education and Skills, Science and Technology and Trade and Industry
and inserting, in the appropriate places, Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform, Children, Schools and Families, Innovation, Universities and Skills and Justice.
EUROPEAN STANDING COMMITTEES
That Standing Order No. 119 (European Standing Committees) be amended, by leaving out in the Table in paragraph (6) (i) in respect of European Standing Committee B, Department for Constitutional Affairs and inserting Ministry of Justice; and (ii) in respect of European Standing Committee C, Trade and Industry; Education and Skills and inserting Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform; Innovation, Universities and Skills; Children, Schools and Families.
Ms Harman: This motion is to keep up to date the system of Select Committee scrutiny of the Executive. Todays business has, of course, been presented in the right order, but it would probably have been better to deal with the overall picture by debating this motion before discussing the specific case of the Home Affairs Committee. However, I shall move swiftly on.
Before I go on to explain some of the motions in detail, I would like to set them in the context of the programme of reform announced by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister in his statement of 3 July, and in the Green Paper Governance of Britain.
The Green Paper sets out proposals to give stronger accountability of the Government to Parliament, to assure greater engagement between Parliament and the people and between the Government and the people, and to build strong Cabinet Government. These motions reflect one of those central themespromoting the holding of Government to account.
Select Committees are one of the Houses key tools for holding Government and Ministers to account. Since 1979, the basis of the Select Committee structure has been that there should be a Committee to monitor the work of each principal Department. That was introduced by the then Conservative Government, and supported on all sides. The structure is enshrined in Standing Order No. 152, which is updated from time to time.
In recent months, with the establishment of the Ministry of Justice out of the former Department for Constitutional Affairs, and the more recent establishment of three new Departments, we have seen significant developments that require a number of changes to that Standing Order. Accordingly, the motion provides for new Select Committees to cover the following Departments: Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform, Children, Schools and Families, Justice, and Innovation, Universities and Skills. Membership numbers for each Committee are as set out in the motion.
Procedural provisions are included in the motion to allow continuity between the work of old Select Committees and the new ones, so far as is possible. The new Justice Committee continues the work of the Constitutional Affairs Committee, albeit enlarged in size and with a wider remit. The other Committees are, procedurally, new Committees.
I want to say something about the importance of science and technology. Overall responsibility in Government for science and innovation issues was located in the Department of Trade and Industry until the recent machinery of government changes; it now forms a core part of the new Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills. There has been great concern in the science communityI have myself received a number of representations from science organisationsabout ensuring the continuance of the work of the Science and Technology Committee, so that science issues, particularly ones that cut across Departments, will continue to be properly scrutinised. I have received representations from: the hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Mr. Willis), Chair of the Science and Technology Committee; Professor Broers, Chair of the Lords Science and Technology Committee; the Campaign for Science and Engineering in the UK; the Chemical Industries Association;
Professor Derek Burke, who was special adviser to the Science and Technology Committee between 1995 and 2001; the Genetic Interest Group; the Royal Society; the Institute of Biology; the Association of Medical Research Charities and many more. I have considered those representations carefully, and the proposal before the House aims to accommodate the key concerns effectively.
We propose that the Innovation, Universities and Skills Committee, instead of being a Committee of 11 membersas it would otherwise have beenshould have 14 members. If the Committee chooses to have a Sub-Committee covering science and technology issues, it will be able to operate that Sub-Committee, in effect, as a successor to the current Science and Technology Committee.
Mr. Phil Willis (Harrogate and Knaresborough) (LD): I very much welcome the tone of the right hon. and learned Ladys remarks. Will the Sub-Committee have the same support, in terms of staffing and other resources, as the current Science and Technology Committee? If not, it will be unable to carry out a full cross-cutting Government role.
Ms Harman: That would have to be looked at. I note that although all the representations I received very much welcomed the machinery of government changes, they absolutely did not want to lose the cross-cutting work on science that the Committee chaired by the hon. Gentleman has been undertaking.
Members will note that the motion provides for the changes to take effect at the beginning of the next Session, which is to allow the necessary membership changes to be in place before the formal start date for the new Committees. If that were not done, the Education and Skills Committee, the Science and Technology Committee and the Trade and Industry Committee would disappear without effective Committees being put in their place.
Mr. Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): Will the Leader of the House explain why membership of the Select Committee on Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform, which will replace the Committee on Trade and Industry, has been reduced in number when its responsibilities have been increased?
Ms Harman: As I shall explain in a moment, there will be a Committee whose core responsibility will be to look specifically at regulation issues and its work will run alongside the work of the Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Committee.
We do not want the existing Committees to disappear with no effective Committees to replace them. That would create a gap of some time in the pattern of accountability of Government to Committees in respect of the three Departments, which would not be right.
The 1979 departmental Select Committee structure has served the House well. The changes before the House today are necessary to allow the House to take forward effectively the valuable and continuing work of holding each Department to account. I thank the Chairs of the Committees that are being disestablished under the motionmy hon. Friend the Member for
Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman), the hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Peter Luff), and the hon. Member for Harrogateand all the members of their Committees for their work on behalf of the House. Of course, the Committee of Selection may nominate many of the same Members to the new Committees, in which case my thanks, though very sincere, may be somewhat premature.
I turn to the motion adding me to the Modernisation Committee in place of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Justice and Lord Chancellor. The inclusion of that work in our manifesto was a public indication of the importance that we attributed to it. I am pleased to see the way in which the House has changed for the better. The current departmental Select Committee system was introduced in 1979, but the pace of change has increased since then, particularly through the impetus of the Modernisation Committee.
The legislative changes that have taken place include the ability to carry over public Bills, more pre-legislative scrutiny, better information provided to Members and the public and the introduction of evidence-taking Public Bill Committees. For the first time this year, the Governments draft legislative programme has been published for consultation several months before the Queens Speech. Additional opportunities have been provided for Back-Bench scrutiny via the establishment of Westminster Hall. Written ministerial statements have replaced planted questions; notice time for oral questions has been reduced; and the Prime Minister now appears before the Liaison Committee twice a year.
A raft of measures has been aimed at improving the way in which the House engages with the public as wellwith changes to the language, improvements to the website, and increased facilities and resources available to the education unit.
I am aware that some Members feel that the Procedure Committee, which existed before 1997, was capable of carrying out such work. The Procedure Committee has done, and continues to do, valuable work, but there is still a role for a separate Modernisation Committee, which has wider terms of reference and can look beyond the practice and procedure of the House in the conduct of public business to consider issues such as engagement with the public and the working lives of Members. It is clear that, as in the past, the two Committees will need to be chaired in a way that ensures that both have the right and complementary work loads.
I know, too, that some Members continue to believe that a Committee of the House should not be chaired by a Cabinet Minister. Ultimately, that is a matter for the House and for the Committee itself, but the Committee has been chaired by the Leader of the House since its inception in 1997. The Leader of the House has a unique position both as the Governments representative in the House and as the Houses representative in the Government. The past Chairmen of the Modernisation Committee have chaired the Committee on a consensual, cross-party basis to deliver reforms to the benefit of the whole House. I made my position clear during my first business
statement, when I said that I was fully committed to continuing that tradition as Leader of the House, and I stand by that commitment.
I am grateful to the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Sir Nicholas Winterton)it says herefor his expression of support for my election as the Chairman of the Modernisation Committee. Notwithstanding the previous debate, I hope that I will be able to work with him. He is a long-standing and committed member of the Committee. I commend the motions to the House.
Mrs. Theresa May (Maidenhead) (Con): Select Committees do an extremely important job in holding the Government to account. Indeed, we should be grateful to all those who serve on Select Committees for the important work that they do. Their work brings focus to particular themes and aspects of legislation; their membership brings expertise; and in large part, their independent spirit brings an objectivity to parliamentary scrutiny, which is, of course, why we have just had such a heated debate on the previous motion.
Debating the Standing Orders that relate to changes in the machinery of government would normally be nothing more than a formality, or perhaps undertaken in a slightly different atmosphere, but on this occasion, the Standing Orders have some political significance, because they reflect the Governments continuous changes to the make-up of Whitehall. That betrays an obsession with spin and structures, a lack of delivery and a disregard for taxpayers money.
Before the Prime Ministers latest reshuffle of the Whitehall pack, the Government had already wasted £2 million of taxpayers money on changing the names of Departments. For example, the Department for Transport became the Department for Environment, Transport and the Regions, then the Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions, and then the Department for Transport again. But did it deliver? A train is cancelled every five minutes, bus use is down, and the Government have abandoned their pledge to reduce traffic congestion. Carbon emissions are rising, and council tax has doubled. I am sure the public were delighted that the Governments response to those failures was to change the Departments name three times.
One might have thought that this Prime Minister would have learned from the mistakes of the previous one, but I am afraid that he has not. He has created the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills, the Department for Children, Schools and Families, and the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform. According to written answers that I have receivedburied on busy news daysthe new Departments for Children, Schools and Families and for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform have already spent thousands of pounds on new signs and rebranding.
Whatever the worth of continuing to tinker with the machinery of Whitehall, it makes sense that the parliamentary Committees that scrutinise the new Departments should shadow them accurately. I therefore support the changes to the Committeeswith one exception. I have a strong reservation about the decision to scrap the Science and Technology
Committee. I heard what the Leader of the House said about the expansion of the number of Members on the Innovation, Universities and Skills Committee in order to enable it to have a Sub-Committee to cover that area. However, I question whether that is going to be able to provide the same degree of focus on science issues as the current Science and Technology Committeeparticularly in the light of the implications of the latest report of the Modernisation Committee, which will mean that questions to Chairmen of Select Committees will be allowed in the House and there will be more debates on Select Committee reports.
As I understand it, under the structure that the right hon. and learned Lady is setting up, questions would not be able to go to the Chairman of the Sub-Committee, whereas if we retained the Science and Technology Committee, the Chairman of that Committee, and those issues, would be able to have that focus, through questions. The Sub-Committee is no replacement for a stand-alone specialist Science and Technology Committee. Perhaps that is why, in her explanatory memorandum, the right hon. and learned Lady committed a Freudian slip and referred to the new Department as the Department for Innovation, Universities and Sciencerather than Skills.
Talking of the new education Departments and Committees, I note something that will be of interest to the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman). It seems that the term limits for Committee Chairmen will be unaffected by the changes. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman hoped that he might have the opportunity to continue to serve as Chairman of the Select Committee, so I commiserate with him. It is a poor reward for his dedicated service to successive Labour Secretaries of State for Education.
Perhaps the Government are putting this measure through because they have even more people to put on the Select Committees who they believe are going to take the Government line. That brings me to the fact that the Prime Minister thinks that it is acceptable for Parliamentary Private Secretaries to sit on Select Committees.
John Bercow (Buckingham) (Con): My right hon. Friend is developing her argument with her usual fluency, but at such a pace that I am afraid that my addled brain was not entirely able to keep up with the flow. My ears pricked up at her reference to the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman). When is his tenure to end?
Mrs. May: I believe that the hon. Member for Huddersfield has already served coming up to the length of time that one is entitled to serve as a Chairman of a Select Committee. Certainly, he would not get two further terms under the motion, which means that the incoming Select Committee on Children, Schools and Families is, in effect, the Education and Skills Committee that has existed until now.
I raised the issue of Parliamentary Private Secretaries with the Leader of the House last week in business questions. We should be absolutely clear that Parliamentary Private Secretaries work for Ministers and owe their jobs and careers to Ministers. I do not
believe that they can properly hold Ministers to account. That is a clear conflict of interest and it should not be allowed to continue. They should not sit on Select Committees.
John Bercow: I am sorry to trespass on my right hon. Friends generosityand generosity it certainly is. I put it to her, as I put it to the Leader of the House last week, that it is a question not only of the constitutional impropriety of the proposal, but of the fact that Labour Back Benchers who wish to be dedicated and independent scrutineers of Government will be crowded out if PPSs take their role. It falls to us to defend the rights of Labour Back Benchers.
Mrs. May: My hon. Friend has made his point extremely well and with his characteristic fluency and passion. He always gives a passionate defence of the rights of Back Benchers, and he is entirely right. There are two aspects to the matter. The first is that Parliamentary Private Secretaries are not likely to be assiduous challengers and scrutineers of the Government. The second is that if they are members of Select Committees, the number of spaces available to Labour Back Benchers is reduced, and I am surprised that the Leader of the Housethe defender of Members rightsis accepting the proposal, although she indicated that she would in business questions last week.
Mr. Kevan Jones (North Durham) (Lab): I support the idea of championing the rights of Back Benchers on Select Committees, but does the right hon. Lady agree that her ideas should extend to Opposition Front-Bench spokesmen? In the previous Parliament, the hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Howarth) was both a Front-Bench Defence spokesman and a member of the Defence Committee, and he had to be dragged off the Committee kicking and screaming.
Mrs. May: The point is for members of Select Committees to challenge the Government. The Select Committees challenge not Opposition policy, but the Government. The point about Parliamentary Private Secretaries is that they are effectively members of the Government, so their abilityand, I suggest, willingnessto challenge the Government may be somewhat different from that of other Members.
Mr. Jones: What the right hon. Lady says is interesting. I remember the card of the hon. Member for Aldershot, which said Shadow Minister for Defence and deputy chairman of the Defence Committee. Committee members are supposed to come to a Select Committee to listen to evidence on all sides of the argument. Does the right hon. Lady not see that there is a complete contradiction if they are also Front Benchers who argue the case for an Opposition party?
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