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"a central part of Parliament's vital scrutiny role."
Select Committee inquiries are often topical and are increasingly becoming newsworthy. The current inquiry into "Press standards, privacy and libel" by the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee, and the Transport Committee's inquiry into "Priorities for investment in the railways" are just a couple of examples.
This morning I was asked in business questions about giving more time to debate Select Committee reports. Although time is provided to debate Select Committee reports in Westminster Hall, I suggested that topical debate requests could also be made to give more time to debate them.
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): Order. I hope that the Minister will do so briefly, as the subject of the debate is clearly the election of Members to Select Committees. Although the hon. Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. Allen) ranged a little widely, we cannot have a full-scale debate on the Wright Committee report. This debate would not be the appropriate vessel for that.
Mr. Allen: If the Minister will allow me, I would include the election of members of the proposed business committee within the subject of electing members of Select Committees generally, given that it has been proposed as one of the Committees of the House. I hope that that will allow my hon. Friend to say a little something about the business committee and how it will be composed.
Thank you. I will certainly bear your words in mind, Mr. Deputy Speaker. A number of suggestions have been made over a long period- dating back, I think, even to Lord Tyler, the then Liberal Democrat spokesman-about business committees and
how their members might be selected and then go forward. My hon. Friend touched earlier on two particular recommendations about the people serving on such committees. One recommendation is to timetable Government business, and the other is to schedule non-Government business, including topical and general debates. As to who might want to sit on such committees and who might want to be nominated for them, it has been suggested that Back Benchers from all parties should be allowed to exercise their influence on the question of what important subjects should be brought before the House for debate.
The latest proposals are part of a thorough and wide-ranging set of conclusions, but I am sure that my hon. Friend will not be surprised to hear me say that they need to be considered in detail, along with other recommendations in the report and other recent reports, of which a number have recommended various reforms.
My hon. Friend talked about public engagement-although this subject may be rather beyond the scope of our debate. As I mentioned earlier, whenever we are talking about a subject-whether that be Select Committees or anything else that we discuss-I would like us to do so in language less strange to the public than our language frequently is.
Sir Nicholas Winterton: Will the Deputy Leader of the House go a little further, specifically in relation to the appointment of Select Committees in the next Parliament? Is it not critical for members to be properly independently elected rather than being put forward by the Whips? I greatly admired the late Robin Cook, who was inspirational and focused. He knew how to return democracy to this House, but he was denied that opportunity when the Modernisation Committee's proposals were defeated by a majority of Government Members voting against them.
Barbara Keeley: That brings me back to a point I made earlier. There are some issues that need careful consideration if we are to achieve the change suggested by the report. For instance, we need to think about what will happen when we have a substantial turnover of Members and a lot of new Members come in, which is certainly going to happen, because so many Members are not standing for re-election. In a recent debate about the nomination of members to the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, the hon. Member for Broxbourne (Mr. Walker) made a strong appeal, saying that he had wanted to be considered for various Committees, but that as a Member from the 2005 intake, he had found it impossible to get nominated.
Things will be difficult when the people making the decisions are themselves new, and we need to take account of that. If we changed the system, it would not be right or appropriate for new Members of the House to have to wait a long time before anyone knew them well enough to nominate them. The hon. Member for Broxbourne made that point to those on his own Front Bench, and I hope that they were listening to him.
Does the Minister appreciate that she has set off alarm bells in my head with the concept that votes are not of equal value on the Floor of the House?
If new Members after the next general election have to vote on the Speakership, and on legislation every day of the week, does she not agree that that goes with the territory? Do elections not ask people to exercise judgment? For goodness' sake, is that not why we are sent here?
Mr. Allen: My hon. Friend touched on the question of public participation in such matters. The election of Members of the House to their own Committees would strengthen and rebuild the House. If we do not that, the House is in danger of being bypassed, which is not the intention behind e-petitioning, mass referendums and so on. If we are not fit for purpose-I hold that we are not fit for purpose currently-and if we appear reluctant to change in order to be so, the public will find means of expression other than through their elected representatives. The danger would be that e-petitioning might become mass policy making at the discretion of leading political commentators-the Simon Cowells or Rupert Murdochs of the political world. Rebuilding our internal election system so that it is trustworthy is very important. E-petitioning can then become a useful addition.
"The Government is grateful to the Committee and its Chair...for producing a thorough and wide-ranging piece of work and welcomes the report."
"We are grateful for the proposals to enable such reforms and will look to make early progress whilst needing to allow Government to continue to deliver its legislative programme and deal with emerging challenges. The Government will make time available for a debate."
"It is right for us to consider how our Select Committee system can be reformed so that it is better in the future. It is also right for us to consider how non-Government business is dealt with, and how we can improve the workings of the House."-[ Official Report, 25 November 2009; Vol. 501, c. 529.]
To conclude, the recommendations in the Committee's report are respected by the Government for their complexity and reach, and we will give them detailed and thorough consideration. As most Members would realise, however, that consideration cannot take place entirely in the first two days after publication of the report. The Leader of the House wrote to the Chairman of the Committee on the day the report was published to inform him that the Government intend to make time for a debate on this important matter. That will enable right hon. and hon.
Members who have not taken part in the Committee's deliberations to offer their views on the report. Those opinions are also valuable to our consideration.
I again congratulate my hon. Friend on securing the debate and on his work on the Committee. I thank him for his positive comments about the Whips-I am sure that that is echoed on the Front Bench. Given that I was his Whip until this June, I hope that it was not too bad-