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6.25 pm

Andrew Bennett (Denton and Reddish): I welcome the decision of the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) not to move his amendments. That is extremely helpful.

I want to talk about the Select Committee on Transport, Local Government and the Regions, and I shall start by paying tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe

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and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody). The whole House, and the nation, have made it quite clear that we all respect the knowledge that she brought to that Select Committee in the last Parliament, and we cannot understand why we are not going to be able to use that knowledge in this Parliament. It is important that the House should show its respect for the knowledge that my hon. Friend brought to that Select Committee.

Less well recorded is my hon. Friend's work rate. There were times last year when she chaired both the Transport Sub-Committee and the main Committee of the then Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions, and also attended the Environment Sub- Committee. That would be a formidable task for most people. However, in addition, my hon. Friend chaired Westminster Hall, as well as being a member of the Chairmen's Panel. She was therefore putting in far more work than many other hon. Members, and was doing so with a great deal of skill. That must be placed firmly on record. My hon. Friend would, of course, admit that she can be a little bit awkward on occasions, and she can certainly be disrespectful—but her work does the House of Commons proud, and it diminishes us all if we cannot find a place for her on a Select Committee at this time.

I am pleased that the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham decided not to move his amendments. He was a little unfair on my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Mrs. Ellman), because she was one of the people on the Select Committee who came very close to equalling the record of my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich. She has an extremely good knowledge of regional and local government, and was excellent on questions of urban regeneration. It is unfortunate that her name was picked out as someone who should come off the Select Committee. She, too, had an extremely good work rate.

If one put a report before the Committee, one would know that the amendments that my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Riverside tabled would be based on the fact that she had read the evidence and the whole of the report. There is always the temptation for a member of a Select Committee to flick through a report, find a particular page and table a few amendments, to pretend that they have been participating. In contrast, one always knew that my hon. Friend had done her homework, that she was a real participator, and one of the most skilful questioners. The House is therefore faced with a dilemma. However we get out of it, if we are not careful we shall have to take one person off a Select Committee to put someone else on. We should not run away from that fact.

How should the House move forward tonight? I plead with the Chairman of the Committee of Selection to acknowledge that, having listened to the debate, it would be perfectly easy for him not to move one or two of the particularly critical motions. He could decline to move them—the rest could be carried—and we could return to them later. If he insists on moving them, I would argue with my hon. Friends that we should vote them down. Having done so, we could then go back to the Committee of Selection on Wednesday and still get the whole process through—but it is no good our taking the easy option of voting the motions down unless we have considered the way forward.

There are ways of dealing with the matter. The first, and easiest, would be to amend Standing Orders to enlarge the membership of the two Committees in question by

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one, so that there would be a place for the Member concerned on each one. That would involve two resolutions, which would be easy for the Leader of the House to introduce, to amend Standing Orders to make those extra places. That, in a sense, is the simple way forward, but Opposition Members, if they are so keen to make a change, would have to put up with a slight alteration in the party percentages on those Committees.

There are other ways forward that need to be considered. One problem with the Transport, Local Government and the Regions Committee is that the Department is primarily responsible for England. Most of the issues that it covers are devolved in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales, but one proposed member represents a Northern Ireland constituency and two represent Scottish constituencies. They would consider the Committee's work even though 90 per cent. of it would not affect their constituents. There is no reason why a Member of the House who represents one part of the United Kingdom should not scrutinise events in any other part, but is the right balance struck by proposing for a Committee of 17 Members three who represent areas that are not directly affected by 90 per cent. of the Committee's work?

If Opposition parties are so keen for independent scrutiny to take place, why do they always press for their percentage on Select Committees? Why could they not consider proposing Members from other parties, particularly as in the last Parliament the Conservative party had considerable difficulty in finding Members to serve who turned up regularly? There are ways forward, and this is my plea to the Chairman of the Committee of Selection: do not move those particular motions. If they are moved, my plea to my hon. Friends will be to vote them down, on the understanding that the Committee of Selection can return to the matter on Wednesday and find a solution. There are solutions, and the Select Committees could still be set up before the recess.

6.31 pm

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire): Although I cannot go along with everything that the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Bennett) said, he has presented the House with a realistic solution to the dilemma facing us this evening. I hope that it commends itself to the Leader of the House and the Chairman of the Committee of Selection, who is not in his place.

The Leader of the House made an interesting speech, and I hope that it will be regarded as significant. I believe that he is genuinely anxious to improve Select Committees and their selection, and that he wants them to hold the Government properly to account. He can prove that by ensuring that the two motions are not moved. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) has done precisely the right thing, and will not move his amendments. It is invidious for the House, and for Government Members in particular, to face a choice between two Members. My right hon. and learned Friend has withdrawn one dilemma and it is up to the Leader of the House and the Chairman of the Committee of Selection to withdraw the other.

We are at the beginning of a new Parliament and the Government once again enjoy a very large majority, but I already detect signs in our debates that Government Members are conscious of the fact that huge majorities

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breed arrogance. I already detect a view that Government Members want to play a fuller part than they played in the last Parliament in holding the Government to account and in subjecting their actions to scrutiny.

We have heard a number of admirable speeches. The hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) made a splendid contribution, as did the hon. Member for Walsall, North (David Winnick). Both proclaimed their genuine pride in being members of the Labour party and supporters of a Labour Government, yet both called on their colleagues to consider what is proposed.

This Government are not the first to be guilty of making such proposals, and I have been in a position similar to that of the right hon. Member for Swansea, East (Donald Anderson) and the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich. In 1979 I served on the Education, Science and Arts Committee, which was chaired by a Labour Member, Christopher Price. He chaired the Committee with great distinction and authority, but lost his seat in 1983.

My party, which was in government with a huge majority—almost as big as that enjoyed by the present Government—decided that it wanted to take the chairmanship of the Committee to itself. I was the senior member, but I was considered far too dangerous and was bypassed. I was not allowed to be Chairman. I did not make a great issue of that at the time, because an ex-Minister for whom I had great personal affection was put in place, but it was wrong.

The name of the right hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith), the former Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, appears, as does mine, in the motion on the Foreign Affairs Committee. I have a great regard for him, and he knows that to be true, but it is wrong to shoehorn a former Cabinet Minister straight into the chairmanship of a Select Committee. That is not the right way to behave.

We heard an admirable speech from my right hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Sir J. Stanley), who served on the Foreign Affairs Committee with great distinction in the last Parliament. He has personal experience, so he elaborated as perhaps no one else could on the important role played by the right hon. Member for Swansea, East in chairing that Committee. My right hon. Friend showed beyond any peradventure that removing the right hon. Gentleman was an act of malice or spite. It was not a constructive action or a recognition of his contribution to the affairs of the House.

The same can be said of the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich. She is a doughty champion of Parliament, and although she is proud to be Labour just as I am proud to be Conservative, she puts her parliamentary duties above all others. She has served not only her party but the whole of Parliament by the way in which she has discharged those duties. To have a Select Committee system—or rather, a selection system—that ejects two Members of such quality and such independence of mind and spirit is an indictment of the system itself.

I couple with the names of those two Members that of the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field). I did not know that he had sought to serve the House as a Select Committee member until I heard it in the debate. He had not even been particular as to which Committee it should be; he was happy to serve on virtually any Committee. A selection system that will not allow a man with one of

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the best forensic minds in the House, and whose reputation for integrity and independence is second to none, to serve the House as a member of a Select Committee is appalling. Frankly, that made me almost as angry as the exclusion of the two former Chairmen.

What would Members say if we proposed that the Crown Prosecution Service not only select the judges, but appoint the juries? They would laugh such a scheme to scorn, yet in effect, the Government—[Interruption.] Well, they may laugh, but the selection system would allow the Government to select the jury and the judge to pass judgment on their own policies. That is nonsense.

I hope that the Leader of the House will heed the wise words of my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir G. Young), the former shadow Leader of the House. As he and I have said before, it is wrong for the Leader of the House to be Chairman of the Modernisation Committee. It is right to have such a Committee—although I would prefer to call it an improvement Committee. My right hon. Friend wanted to call it a strengthening Committee. We want to strengthen and improve this place and the way in which it holds Governments to account, and it is wrong that the Leader of the House is on that Committee. Of course he should give evidence, and of course he should put papers and schemes before it, but he should not chair its deliberations.

We need to examine all our systems. The Modernisation Committee must be more demonstrably independent, and the Committee of Selection must be less demonstrably a rubber stamp. It is nonsense to have a Committee that merely receives the nominations from the two or three sets of Whips and says, "Yes, we'll have those." There should be a proper opportunity for Members to apply to a thoroughly independent Selection Committee, and to say on what Select Committees they wish to serve. I cannot think that any such independent Selection Committee would turn down applications from the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich or from the right hon. Members for Swansea, East and for Birkenhead.

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