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Mr. Peter L. Pike (Burnley): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Could you clarify that while it has been said that the amendment will be accepted for debate, it has not yet been moved?

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Lord): That is correct. The amendment has not yet been formally moved.

Mr. Forth: That is excellent, because if it is not moved, I shall not have to oppose it. However, as it was implied that an amendment had been accepted, it is in order for us to debate it now. I am trying to do that.

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We do not know whether the number of specialists that can be recruited at taxpayers' expense will be limited. I presume that there is no such limit. We have no idea who they might be or in what capacity they may be recruited. We do not know whether they will be able to travel with the Committee on its extensive travels or whether they will be restricted to meetings that take place here when the Committee sits--probably rather rarely--in London.

I am mystified about just what role the specialists will be able to play. We should give some thought to whether those specialists, if they are to be of use to the Committee, will have to travel with it when it is out and about and adjourning from place to place. Unless I were much more satisfied about the limits to be imposed on what is at present an open-ended provision, I for one would oppose the manuscript amendment were it to be moved.

I find the motion utterly unacceptable. Its form and procedures are unacceptable, and the House has not been given enough time to consider it. Although I welcome the precedent set by the manuscript amendment, we have no time in which to give it proper consideration. We are having to take part in the debate unguided, because we do not know what lies behind the proposal. We do not know whether there are any limitations or qualifications, what it might cost, or anything else.

At this stage, I intend--and I hope to persuade others to join me--to oppose the measure, and the amendment if it is moved. I want the Government to take the proposal away, and bring it back in a much more acceptable form.

12.21 am

Mr. Bruce George: In response to popular demand, I beg to move the manuscript amendment, in line 7, at end add

I do so with some anxiety, trepidation and regret, because I had hoped that the amendment would be considered seriously.

I am not a devotee of the Chamber, having decided long ago that it was far better to involve oneself in the Select Committee system, in which I am delighted to have participated since 1979 when it was adopted. Having listened to the debate, I must say that I am pleased with the wisdom that I employed then: it is indeed far better to confine oneself to the Select Committee system than to indulge in debates that are artificial and irrelevant, and will hardly lead to any improvement in the public's estimation of the House.

We are discussing serious issues. We are discussing the procedures of the House, the control of the House by the Executive and why we should fight against it, and a range of important matters affecting our armed forces, including discipline, the future of the forces, and their relationship with their employers and with each other. It demeans the armed forces and the procedures of the House when--

Mr. Forth: How pompous.

Mr. George: Labour Members do not have a monopoly on pomposity. I have listened to some amazing

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pomposity. Let us do a deal: I will stop being pompous and be brief, if the right hon. Gentleman will stop being pompous and decide to be brief. That is a fair exchange.

I tabled the amendment with a reasonable intention. My motives were simple. I have been a member of three Select Committees considering Armed Forces Bills. I did not volunteer to serve on the Committee on this Bill because the Chairman of the Defence Committee has a busy agenda. Moreover, following 25 years of campaigning, a Government have introduced legislation to regulate the private security industry, and I want to be on the Standing Committee that considers that Bill. I therefore excluded myself--although that may have been superfluous, because the Whips excluded all members of the Defence Committee anyway, so even if I had wished to be a member there is no guarantee that I would have been.

Why did I table the amendment? An Opposition Member asked with some indignation why the Government had not included the ability to appoint an adviser to the Select Committee on the Armed Forces Bill. An adviser has never been attached to that Select Committee, and it has shown. I thought that it was time--even though I was not going to be on the Select Committee--for it perhaps to have one additional weapon in dealing with the overbearing Executive, which would help, if not to rebalance the relationship, at least to give Back Benchers on the Select Committee the opportunity of hearing advice that was independent of the Ministry of Defence.

Although I have rarely found an occasion on which the MOD has lied, it regularly withholds information; it has withheld information for as long as I have been on the Defence Committee. As we know, the MOD can be economical with the truth. Therefore, the idea of relying on the MOD, however competent civil servants and Ministers are, is profoundly unwise.

Select Committees on the Armed Forces Bills have gone, if not into competition, into an impossible relationship with the Executive. By definition, the Executive will win because the Whips are able to put their men and, occasionally, women on to the Committee. They have a near monopoly of information because the subjects that they are putting before the House in legislation are not aspects of defence that we can all rabbit on about to our heart's content after a morning read of The Daily Telegraph and The Guardian providing us with more than enough information, allied to a natural ability to spin out nothing to endless length.

The issues within the Bill are beyond that level of inventiveness. They require an enormous amount of expertise and knowledge. An enormous amount of time needs to be spent studying the matter even before the first Committee sitting. Then we come up against the MOD, which has spent the past five years gathering the information. It drafts the legislation. It steers it through. Against that formidable adversary is a group of hand-picked individuals who are not always known for their interest in defence. It is a grossly unequal task.

I had no wish for an army of advisers, as we have on the Defence Committee.

Mr. Brady: I am following the right hon. Gentleman's argument and am sympathetic to his case. Does he not accept that, given the composition of the Committee and

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the fact that the payroll vote dominates it to such an extent, there is little hope of specialist advisers being appointed who are genuinely independent and who can undertake the scrutiny that he would like?

Mr. George: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. I do not think that he was here earlier when I argued strongly that the composition of the Committee was, frankly--let me choose my words carefully--appalling, and should never ever be repeated. Any legislature worth its salt would not allow a Committee to be composed on that basis. Rather than making silly points, we should spend some of our time doing something to reverse the inexorable decline in which the House has acquiesced over the past 50 years. If we had wanted the legislature to be a proper legislature, we would not have connived in our decline into semi-superfluity. In a tiny way, the amendment is an attempt to provide a Committee that is better composed.

Regrettably, the adviser will be in an invidious position because the Committee will be dominated by sets of executives: the actual Executive, the supporters of the Executive and those who aspire to be the Executive. If that poor adviser is ever appointed, he or she will be joining a Committee on which there is likely to be little chance of genuinely acting on any advice that may be given.

Mr. Robathan: I have a high regard for the right hon. Gentleman and I agree with everything that he is saying. I am not making a partisan point. To a large extent, I agree with his amendment, but, from everything that he has said, he must agree that we cannot accept the motion because, as he said, it is appalling for the Executive to try to foist such a Committee on the House. It is a denial of democracy. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman agrees with that.

Mr. George: Hon. Members on both sides of the House connived at this because Government members were chosen by Government Whips and the smaller number of Opposition members were chosen by the Opposition's methods. As a consequence, my calculations show that there is only one genuine Back-Bench Member on the Committee, and that is my hon. and good Friend the Member for Stockton, South (Ms Taylor). Somebody thought that there were no female members of the Committee. In fact, there are two including the Chairman. Perhaps the hon. Member who did not notice that there were two females should do what I will be doing and start cleaning his glasses.

Mr. Gerald Howarth: Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

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