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It does not necessarily follow that the parties from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland would not be represented on the smaller Committee. I think that on an issue such as this, it is important that Northern
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Ireland, where none of the three largest parties in the United Kingdom is represented, and Scotland have representation on the Select Committee. The hon. Member for Moray (Angus Robertson), who represents the Scottish National party, knows that the arrangements are negotiated between us, but my colleagues would not wish to prevent Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales—I guess that they must sort things out between them—from being represented. That argument suggests a need for the larger Committee, rather than the smaller one. There is logic in ensuring that the Committee is as inclusive as possible.

I understand the other argument, which has not yet been enunciated, about the increasing number of Committees. Indeed, Select Committees for the English regions are to be proposed in the next couple of weeks. Given that the Government have a majority, we can assume that those Committees might come into existence, and so the work load of colleagues will grow. If Select Committees with 11 members could be accommodated across the board and if such an arrangement could be fair, that number would probably be a better norm to have. That is because opting for a smaller number of dedicated people might stretch colleagues less across all their scrutiny jobs, across all the Standing Committees and across all the other work. Given that we have not yet had the debate on regional Select Committees for England, and that we cannot assume that that will go through, it is right to prefer a larger committee in this context.

The other amendment would delay the start so that the motion does not come into effect until January. I do not know what the argument for that is—it will probably be put shortly. It may be to ensure co-ordination between the three existing Committees and Departments. That is a persuasive argument and the Minister could, at the same time as saying that he wants the motion to come into effect as soon as possible, be sensitive to the fact that many cross-cutting questions remain to be resolved. My initial instinct is to be sympathetic to that argument and hope that the House will accommodate that request from the Chairmen of existing Committees, so that the new Committee comes into operation at the beginning of the new year.

We are keen that such issues should be scrutinised, as the new Department is very important. It is right to link the energy and climate change agendas, and we wish the Secretary of State and his colleagues well in their important responsibilities. I hope that we can reach an accommodation that will find most favour with all parties. With the exception of the Labour party, all parties are minorities in this House, and in the country all parties are very clearly minorities, including the Labour party.

10.36 pm

Peter Luff (Mid-Worcestershire) (Con): I beg to move amendment (b), after “Standing Orders” at end insert

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord): With this it will be convenient to take amendment (a), leave out ‘14’ and insert ‘11’.

Peter Luff: First, I wish to recognise the courtesy that the Secretary of State is extending by attending this debate. It is greatly appreciated by all of us, and it is characteristic of him, if I may say so. His shadow is also in his place.

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Those of us who have the privilege of being Select Committee Chairmen attach great importance to effective scrutiny of Departments. It would be helpful if the Executive tended to consult the Chairmen rather more about how that scrutiny should be conducted, instead of presenting the House with a fait accompli. I certainly made suggestions to the Leader’s office about the structure of the Select Committees after the creation of the new Department. The Government are, of course, at liberty to disagree with me—I have no monopoly on wisdom—but it would have been good to find out that they disagreed with me, instead of having to rely on a motion appearing on the Order Paper.

The lack of consultation is disappointing. I approach this debate in a spirit of co-operation because I wish to achieve effective scrutiny, and I was disappointed that, having spoken to the Leader’s office, I received no communication that the Government took a contrary view. It is also for the House to determine how it should scrutinise the Executive, not for the Executive to determine how it should be scrutinised. The motion therefore raises important issues of principle, but as I wish this to be a good-natured debate I shall put that to one side. It is just a shame that the approaches that I made to the Leader’s office were not dealt with effectively.

I also wish to record my support for the new Department. Energy policy is one of the most important issues this nation faces, and the objectives of the Department are some of the most important objectives with which any Secretary of State has to contend. It is true that I personally regret the loss of energy from the responsibilities of my Select Committee—I am grateful to the Deputy Leader of the House for his comments—because I find energy policy fascinating intellectually and politically, and it is of great importance. However, it is right that we should have a separate Department for energy in the testing times that we face, especially in the context of climate change and worries about global warming.

I have concerns about how the Government have approached the setting up of the new Committee, and the lack of discussion with the Chairmen of the existing Committees, but I agree—with some reluctance—about the need for a new Department. It follows that we need a new Select Committee. This is a discussion of mechanisms, not principles.

On a question of principle, may I repeat what I said in an intervention in the speech by the Deputy Leader of the House about how much I value the contribution made by the Scottish Nationalist member of my Committee, the hon. Member for Angus (Mr. Weir)? He is an outstanding member of the Committee: he is diligent, hard-working, thoughtful and conciliatory, as well as bringing a great deal of knowledge to bear on the subjects discussed. I appreciate his contribution greatly. I see no reason why, with good will on both sides of the House, Committees of 11 could not accommodate the nationalists’ aspirations to be properly represented on Committees of concern to them. The idea that we need a Committee of 14 to meet those aspirations is misguided and misplaced. I greatly value the contribution that the nationalists make to my Committee and I wish to maintain that—certainly on the Business and Enterprise Committee.

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Mr. Mike Weir (Angus) (SNP): I thank the hon. Gentleman for his kind words. Does he not remember that when the membership of the Business and Enterprise Committee was reduced, there was a problem with maintaining my place on the Committee? As a result of the reduction, another valuable Member, the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Bone), lost his seat on the Committee. There was a problem, and it was not simple to sort that out at the time.

Peter Luff: These matters are never simple, and the nature of the negotiations through the usual channels—of which I was once a part, when I was in my party’s Whips Office—are often complex. I do not believe that it is necessary to impose the penalty of a Committee of 14 to achieve the desirable objective of ensuring that all parties in this House have a proper say on Select Committees.

The proposition that I put to the Leader of the House’s office was that the Environmental Audit Committee, chaired so ably by my hon. Friend the Member for South Suffolk (Mr. Yeo), should be replaced by the Energy and Climate Change Committee. I understand the concerns expressed by the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North (Joan Walley) about the manifesto commitment in respect of a cross-cutting Environmental Audit Committee. The work done by that Committee is overwhelmingly in the climate change and energy area, and it will create a difficulty for all of us who will have a residual responsibility. My Committee cannot ignore the issues relating to the security of energy supply, which are of huge importance for the competitiveness of UK business. We will not ignore them.

I am sure that there will still be many issues relating to climate change and energy policy that are of concern to my right hon. Friend the Member for Fylde (Mr. Jack) as the Chairman of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee. Certainly, if the Environmental Audit Committee survives, my hon. Friend the Member for South Suffolk will have many issues relating to energy policy and climate change to consider. I fear that the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change could become the most scrutinised Secretary of State in the House of Commons, and he could be appearing before Select Committees on an alarmingly regular basis. The Government have not thought through the consequences of the change properly.

There is already a degree of awkward overlap between my Committee and that of my hon. Friend the Member for South Suffolk—I say this to him in the spirit of friendliness. Certainly, one or two of my hon. Friend’s inquiries have caused a degree of confusion in the outside world, in particular an early one on “Keeping the lights on: Nuclear, Renewables and Climate Change”, which was published in the 2005-06 Session. Overlap already exists, but this change will make the overlap even greater and more confusing for the outside world. My preference would have been for the Environmental Audit Committee to have been superseded by the Energy and Climate Change Committee, but we are where we are.

I shall come last to the substance of my amendment, but I shall now speak in support of an amendment that has not yet been moved. I hope that is in order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. On the thorny question of 11 members as
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against 14, I had the privilege of chairing what was then the Select Committee on Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform—which before that was the Select Committee on Trade and Industry—when it had 14 members. That is not a manageable number. It does not permit effective collegiate working of the Committee. It is too many.

I want to issue a public apology to the hon. Member for Great Yarmouth (Mr. Wright). Last week we had the Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform, Lord Mandelson, before us. The hon. Member for Great Yarmouth had questions that he wanted to ask, but even with only 10 of the 11 members of my Committee present, it was not possible to include him within the timing. I plead guilty to some mismanagement of the time, but in a Committee of 11 it is a challenge to allow all Members to have a valuable role to play in the work of the Committee. A Committee of 14 is just too big.

To be honest, I would prefer to see Select Committees made up of nine members. They would have a proper collegiateness and a sense of shared responsibility. The problems of maintaining a quorum—which, if we are honest, we must acknowledge often concern Select Committee Chairmen—would be much less with smaller Select Committees whose members would feel that they owned the Committee much more effectively. I have seen no case for a Committee of 14. A Committee of that size was a real problem to me as Chairman, in ensuring the full engagement of members of the Committee. That matters a great deal.

There is also the problem, which has been mentioned, with the increasing number of Committees. The House is casually adding yet another Committee to its total number of Committees. That has implications for two different parts of the House’s work. First, Members are all under huge pressure and are often required to be in three places at the same time, sometimes four: we have Select Committees, General Committees, Westminster Hall, the Chamber of the House, meetings with constituents, and who knows what else. There are not enough Members in the House to put on the increasing number of Select Committees.

We will have that debate at greater length when the subject of the regional Select Committees comes before the House, perhaps in a couple of weeks’ time. I believe that the Government are fundamentally misguided in believing that those Committees can work effectively. We do not have the time, as Members, to do that work, unless we reduce the size of existing Committees. I believe that that is a real problem.

There is also a problem for the resources of the House. Every time a new Select Committee is established, it means more public expenditure: more Clerks and more people to ensure that the Committees can work effectively. Huge expense is involved in the motion before the House, but it could easily have been avoided had we decided simply to replace the Environmental Audit Committee with the Energy and Climate Change Committee.

I move now to the substance of my own amendment—the question of timing. I am grateful to the hon. Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes) for what he said from the Liberal Democrat Front Bench, and I agree that there is a need for a Select Committee to cover the Department of Energy and
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Climate Change. When the Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform came before my Committee last week, I urged its rapid establishment, on the assumption that it would replace the Environmental Audit Committee. I was genuinely very surprised and disappointed to discover that that was not the case.

We all have work programmes. I was very grateful to the Deputy Leader of the House for what he said from the Dispatch Box about my Committee’s report “Energy prices, fuel poverty and Ofgem”, but we had sittings planned to finish it off. Ofgem has published its initial probe and findings, and we had sittings planned with energy Ministers and Ofgem to wrap up the inquiry. It would be nice to be able to do that without fearing that we were treading on the toes of a new Committee.

I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Member for Fylde has similar issues with his Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, and my hon. Friend the Member for South Suffolk will soon be able to speak for himself. However, given the Government’s rather surprising decision—over which I feel slightly bounced—it would be helpful to have a couple of months to finalise our work programmes. That is all that we are asking for, and it will ensure that the new Committee, when it is up and running, can do so without treading too aggressively on the toes of the other Committees.

We also need time to sort out the staffing behind the scenes of the new Committee. We have a very talented Committee specialist, Rob Cope, who was responsible in large part for writing the report to which I have referred, and I imagine that he will want to go to the Energy and Climate Change Committee. Who else will be provided to support his work with the new Committee? What new Clerks will be discovered? What will be the consequences for the work of existing Committees? Which staff will we lose? It is all a bit rushed, but it need not have been if the Government had simply replaced the Environmental Audit Committee with the new Committee.

I believe that there is a very strong case for giving us just a couple of months so that we can manage the Committee’s existing work programmes and staff in an orderly fashion. I strongly support the principle of what the Government are doing: I have no problem with that, save for my belief that it would be better to replace the existing Committee rather than create an additional one. The principle behind having a new, separate Department is good, and this House must be able to subject it to effective scrutiny. I believe that that would be best served by having a smaller Committee of 11 members that can meet the legitimate needs of the nationalist parties. I think that that arrangement would allow more effective scrutiny by this House of the Committee’s work.

10.46 pm

Dr. Tony Wright (Cannock Chase) (Lab): I have no doubt that the new Department will be distinguished, or that the Minister leading it will do so in a distinguished way. The House’s Select Committee system has to respond when a new Department is established, and the tradition is that a Department is matched by an appropriate departmental Select Committee, so the logic is clear.

In some ways, the challenge is for the Select Committee system, which is perhaps the most conservative part of this institution. I speak as one who chairs a Select
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Committee, and it is natural for us to want to defend our territory. We are not always very imaginative in thinking about how the system might work differently.

In a sense, the Government can be commended for thinking more thematically and sensibly about producing a departmental change to reflect a changing aspect of Government, but the consequence is that the House must think about how it can match that in an intelligent way. It may not be the most intelligent response simply to set up yet another Select Committee, because, as we have heard, many Committees already operate in those areas. We need a more sensible response to match the new Department, beyond inventing a new Committee simply because there is a new Department—but, as I say, that is a challenge more for the House than for the Government.

I want to say two other things briefly, although they may be less helpful in terms of what is being proposed. The first takes up a point made by the hon. Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes), and it reflects an argument—or at least a conversation—that my Committee has been having with the Government for quite some time about how machinery of Government changes should be handled. Indeed, we had my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, in his previous incarnation, before us on this matter not so very long ago.

It seemed very odd to my Committee that when dealing with other public bodies or bits of Government apart from ourselves, we insist on all sorts of consultative processes before substantial reorganisations take place. There is a good reason for that: we want to know the logic behind, and the case for, the reorganisation, and we want to evaluate the costs and benefits. There are always costs, although there may well be benefits, too. We want to do that in a calm, measured way, so that the sort of considerations that are being raised now, at the 11th hour, can be raised over a decent period. Of course, we learn things through that process; we learn whether we have got the reorganisation right.

Until we took an interest in such matters, the Government did not even issue a piece of paper describing such major changes. Now we do get a piece of paper, but nothing more than that. Parliament ought to be involved. Of course the Government will decide on such changes, but Parliament should at least be consulted on major changes to the machinery of government, just as we would expect to be consulted if other bits of the public sector were to be reorganised.

When my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change and I had an exchange on the subject, he told me that that would be highly unconstitutional, but I do not think that he really believed that, although he had been advised to say it. I have learned over the years that when things are said to be constitutionally impossible, they may on the very next day turn out to be constitutionally necessary. Parliament has to return to the issue. It would be in the interests of the Government and Parliament to ensure that the process of making large-scale changes to how the Government operate is slightly more reflective.

When we set up new Committees, as we are doing today, we have to be mindful of what it means for Parliament and the Select Committee system. When my hon. Friend the Deputy Leader of the House opened the debate, he rightly talked about the gains that have resulted from the Select Committee system in its modern
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form, and the general support for it. All that is true, but it depends for its vitality on the relationship between the House of Commons and the Executive. We have to be able to operate a vital Select Committee system that scrutinises what the Executive do. If the balance between the Executive and the Commons changes materially, the ability to provide that scrutiny effectively is diminished. What I am really saying is that it is easy to set up a new Select Committee system, but less easy to make sure that it becomes part of an effective system of scrutiny, because that requires the institution itself to be effective. I put the case in that way because I have a certain worry.

The Executive grows; there are now many more Parliamentary Private Secretaries. There is the issue of whether such people can sit on Select Committees. The idea would have been abhorrent at one time, because it confuses the scrutiny role with the executive role, but the problem reflects the fact that we will have some difficulty making the system work unless we compromise in such areas. There is also the new invention of unpaid Ministers—my hon. Friend the Deputy Leader of the House is one of them—and the new invention of assistant Ministers. In many respects, there is now an expanding unofficial Executive. The effect is necessarily to deplete the resources available for the scrutiny work of the House of Commons. We have to be clear about whether that is what we want when we set up a new Committee.

I am told that new regional Select Committees are to be introduced. With my understanding of how the Select Committee system works, I simply do not know how all that will be possible. The Department of Energy and Climate Change seems to be splendidly conceived and led, but it needs to be matched by scrutiny by the House of Commons. I hope that that will come about not simply through invention, but through imaginative re-ordering; that is the challenge for the Commons. I simply flag up the fact that if we are not careful, the balance between Parliament and the Executive will change in a way that diminishes the ability of the House of Commons to perform the role that my hon. Friend the Deputy Leader of the House described when he opened the debate.

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