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8.23 pm

Mr. Dale Campbell-Savours (Workington): I should like to make a somewhat different speech on the matter by dealing with an issue that I do not think the House has yet fully considered--the implications of the joint Committee for the work of the Intelligence and Security Committee. Perhaps I should explain that that Committee is not quite a Select Committee of the House of Commons, but was established under the provisions of the Intelligence Services Act 1994. It is essentially a Committee that is appointed by the Prime Minister, although it is not a Committee of Parliament.

When I first heard about the establishment of the joint Committee--chaired by my hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands)--on the annual report on strategic export controls, it seemed to me quite obvious--

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Lord): Order. The hon. Gentleman is slightly off the mark; he must restrict his remarks precisely to the matter of the quorum.

Mr. Campbell-Savours: I thought that, although the Intelligence and Security Committee is not a Committee of Parliament, it should have been represented on the Joint Committee--which deals specifically with issues that are relevant to the work of the Intelligence and Security Committee. I should have thought that, in ideal circumstances--were the Intelligence and Security Committee a parliamentary Committee--we should ourselves want to have a quorum of at least two people from that Committee on the joint Committee, to ensure that its proceedings are properly reported back to our Committee. Regrettably, however, that is not to be the case.

I am taking this opportunity simply to flag up once again the principle that the Intelligence and Security Committee should be a fully parliamentary Committee.

8.25 pm

Mr. Donald Anderson (Swansea, East): I am tempted to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) along the path of the Intelligence and Security Committee, and the particular problems in relation to intelligence that were raised in the Foreign Affairs Committee's inquiry into Sierra Leone, but I suspect that, were I to do so, I should be properly cut off very quickly by you, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

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I was also tempted to intervene in the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands), if only to allow him to get his breath back. However, I shall just make a general point--inwhat is, essentially, a very quorate Foreign Affairs Committee--on the peculiar problems highlighted by the quadripartite Committee.

The fact that each Department is monitored by one House Select Committee creates a certain inflexibility. We have come across that problem in dealing with Europe, for example, as we have no European Select Committee with our continental partners.

Some of us attended the joint Committee's first meeting, at which my hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydfil did extremely well in steering us through some of the pitfalls that became readily apparent. Clearly, the normal concept of one Department, one Committee cannot easily be adapted under our current Standing Orders to accommodate this new creation of a quadripartite Committee. Everyone accepts that it would be absurd if the same Minister had to appear before four separate Select Committees--the Select Committees on Trade and Industry, Foreign Affairs, Defence and International Development--to go over, in total duplication, the same ground.

It was therefore quite proper that the new creation should somehow be grafted on to our system. However, in that first meeting, it became apparent that--as the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) said--we shall have to consider very carefully the inflexibilities that have arisen in the Select Committee system. I should hope that, after a due period of experience, we shall return to a consideration of ways and means of adapting our Standing Orders to the new creation.

Let us proceed as best we can. If people of ill will wish to make life in Committee very difficult for my hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney, they will certainly be able to do so, particularly in the relationship between the newly created Committee and the other Committees, and in the agreement--or non- agreement--of its subsequent reports.

Today, however, let us give the motion a fair wind. The matter will have to return to the House--so that our Standing Orders may be reconsidered, and so that we may, through experience, ensure that the new Committee is established properly within our Standing Orders to work and to avoid duplication.

8.29 pm

Mr. John Healey (Wentworth): I welcome the motion, but regret its limitation in applying only

Two Select Committee inquiries in which Select Committees have combined forces are currently under way. The first is the joint Committee on strategic export controls--which has given rise to the motion--and the second is the joint inquiry into the single work-focused gateway by the Select Committee on Social Security and my own Employment Sub-Committee. While the Social Security Committee has the standard 11 members, the Employment Sub-Committee has only eight and in

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practice has only seven, because the hon. Member for Epping Forest (Mrs. Laing) has been promoted to the Front Bench and we have been waiting many months for a replacement.

Some may feel that we are slacking if we are unable to find three of our seven for meetings of the joint Committee, but we are also pursuing a joint inquiry with the Education Sub-Committee on access for all to further and higher education and on the barriers to employment and education for disabled people. The Sub-Committee is also concluding an inquiry into the future of the Employment Service. Tomorrow we start taking evidence from the Governor and Deputy Governor of the Bank of England on the labour market and employment implications of economic and monetary union.

Despite that work load, we were determined to undertake a joint inquiry with the Social Security Committee into the single work-focused gateway, because it is potentially the most radical step forward in welfare reform and could result in very radical changes to the way in which people experience the welfare system. It seemed proper to combine our expertise on the issue.

However, both Committees are frustrated by the Standing Orders under which we have to operate. At one of our first evidence sessions there were four members of the Social Security Committee, but only two from the Employment Sub-Committee. We had to take evidence not as a joint Committee, but as the Social Security Committee. That meant that the two of us from the Sub-Committee had to sit through the evidence session and were not allowed to ask questions. In the following evidence session there were four members from the Employment Sub-Committee and three from the Social Security Committee, but one was likely to have to leave 15 minutes before the end of the evidence session, so we were obliged to take evidence as the Employment Sub-Committee, and the three from the Social Security Committee were unable to make a contribution to the proceedings.

I appreciate that there may be a danger in reducing the quorum of a Select Committee to two, particularly as the Chairman generally has only the casting vote, which may allow the other members present to drive through whatever they want. However, that need not be a problem because most Select Committee work proceeds on the basis of consensus. It is feasible to reduce the quorum for evidence sessions only, leaving it at three when the Committee is making decisions or considering a draft report.

The predicament that has given rise to the motion is a symptom of a wider challenge for the Select Committee system. As the Government increasingly do business across Departments, the departmental Select Committees will become increasingly ill-suited to the job of scrutinising what the Executive are doing, unless we can also work more effectively across departmental boundaries. Joined-up government requires joined-up scrutiny.

The problem will recur. Any inquiry that Parliament might wish to undertake on the work of the social exclusion unit would involve contributions from the Committees on Home Affairs, Social Security, Health and Employment. The same might be true of scrutinising the work of the women's unit, drugs policies and, arguably, anything that falls within the remit of the Cabinet Office, for which Parliament has no Select Committee.

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I welcome the motion, but I urge the Government to consider a wider review of the work and Standing Orders of Select Committees through the Liaison Committee or the Privileges Committee so that we can do our work more effectively and scrutinise the Government's business properly.


Mr. Tipping: In my opening remarks I made it clear that with increasing cross-departmental co-operation there would be a need for Select Committees to work more closely together. That would necessitate a further look at the Standing Orders. That has been reinforced by hon. Members from both sides. We will look again at the issue.

Question put and agreed to.


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