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Jeremy Corbyn: I endorse what the hon. Gentleman says about applications. Does he also believe that all those who apply for membership of Committees should have their names published, so that it is transparent who applied and who was subsequently appointed?

Sir Patrick Cormack: That is a perfectly acceptable suggestion. I see no harm in that, and it would encourage Members to put their names forward. Over the years, many people have paid lip service to this other ladder. Far too many people come to the House so anxious to serve on the Front Bench that they subdue their own instincts. The hon. Member for Islington, North (Jeremy Corbyn) would never fall into that category, so he has never been on the Front Bench and will find it difficult to get on to any Select Committee on which he really wants to serve.

We should have a transparent system with a proper Selection Committee and proper applications. Members of House should know who has applied, and people should be selected to serve on Committees to which they can bring proper expertise, a true interest and true diligence.

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The attendance record of Select Committees is not always what it should be. [Interruption.] Some hon. Members are nodding vigorously. It is important that those who are given this duty should discharge it properly, because they are acting on behalf of us all.

I shall finish where I began. The Leader of the House has gone—[Interruption.] Oh, no, he is still present. I apologise to him. I hope that he will heed what I have said, and will not press those particular motions, so that just as we have been spared having to make an invidious comparison between individual Members, we will be spared having to exclude two people of enormous worth, who have served the House in a fine manner over many years.

6.43 pm

Donald Anderson (Swansea, East): It was Adlai Stevenson who said, "With a tribute like that, I can hardly wait to hear myself speak." Yes, I am a victim—along with my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody)—but whether I am an innocent victim will be for the House to decide. I am most grateful to all my hon. Friends who have paid tribute to me. I am deeply honoured by what the right hon. Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Sir J. Stanley) said. He was the Opposition leader on the Committee. We have had some differences, but I have always had enormous respect for him as a parliamentarian.

When I chaired the Welsh Affairs Select Committee 20 years ago, an academic accused me of being a democrat because of the way in which I ran the Committee. I pleaded guilty to that charge, and I hope that I ran the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs in the same way.

The key factor is not the personal, but the principle. Parliament is falling into some disrepute. Coverage in the newspapers has plummeted. The public has switched off, as was shown by the apathy during the general election. What signal are we giving to the public? The last century was extremely hard on Parliaments because the professional civil service was far more expert, and because of the secrecy, the speed of events and globalisation. Select Committees are by far the best instrument for Parliament to be expert in dealing with experts. They must be seen to be independent if Parliament is to enhance its role.

My right hon. Friend has the ability to be a great Leader of the House. I have noticed, as no doubt have colleagues, that there was a difference between the tone of his admittedly positive speech to the Hansard Society last Thursday and what he said today. There was a gaping black hole in his speech last Thursday: there was no reference to what the Hansard Society and the Liaison Committee had said about the role of the Whips. Today, he grasped that nettle, and said something of significance about a review. I rejoice at that. Parliament faces a challenge, and I know that we will not fail.

6.46 pm

Sir Teddy Taylor (Rochford and Southend, East): It is wonderful that everyone has talked of the importance of preserving our democracy and fighting for the rights of individuals. I have been in the House for a long time, and I have heard that said on many occasions, but the interesting question is what we intend to do about it. If

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my party feels as strongly as it says it does about this rotten and devious system of appointing Members to Select Committees merely on the instructions of Whips, what the blazes does it intend to do about it? If we really care, should not we say that we will make changes in the way in which we appoint Members to Select Committees? Nothing has sickened me more in my long time in Parliament than to hear Opposition Members shouting about what should be done when they can do something about it. If we think that democracy is at risk, we should do something about it.

If we really care, hon. Members should examine not just the chairmanship of two Committees but some of the decisions made about individuals, including the Member to whom I refer to in my amendment (b) to motion 17. For a brief period, I had the pleasure of serving on the Treasury Committee. The hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Mr. Sedgemore), with whom I do not agree on anything, was in my opinion one of its most effective members. To some degree, he was more effective than all the others put together.

The hon. Gentleman did not follow the rules. Members of the Treasury Committee do not decide what questions they ask: they are supplied to them by Clerks. At the beginning of a meeting, we had a bidding session to decide which of the named questions we wanted to ask. Unfortunately, the hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch was different from others, in that he tended to ask his own questions. He upset things totally, and was a complete rascal.

I am worried about the question of ability. The House of Commons is different from most places of work, in that for most jobs people need A-levels, O-levels or university degrees. Parliament is unique: there are no qualifications for membership. To be a Member of Parliament people do not need to be able to read, write or count. A law that was laid down back in 1864 says that peers, lunatics or convicted criminals cannot be an MP. That offers us a wide scope to choose from, but it is amazing how one or two of each of those categories slips through from time to time.

The Members who have been chucked off Committees have great ability and are being discriminated against. The hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch, with whom I hardly agree on anything, is one of the most highly qualified Members of the House. He was a successful graduate of Oxford, he is a barrister, and he has a constituency with some of the greatest social problems of the world. It made me sick to see him being chucked off while others were left on. My point is about democracy—it was not made in a party sense.

The House must wake up to the fact that, if we genuinely believe that Select Committees can achieve something and that democracy is in danger, we must make room for Members who are different, clever or on their own.

Another point, which, of course, is very much against the hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch, is that, as an individual, he did not always agree with everyone. Some members of our party do the same, and, as is probably known, there is currently a rule that we should not talk about the EEC at any time or in any way, because it is divisive and difficult. The Labour party has its rules too, and the hon. Gentleman sometimes breaks them.

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The one thing we want, and it is desperately needed, is for the House of Commons to hear about democracy. We should give the Whips some idea of what we think. I believe that the right message would be conveyed if Members voted for amendment (b) to motion 17—with the agreement of the hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch, whom I consulted before I tabled the amendment. I think he was rather surprised.

There is no point in just changing round some of the clever people who talk, and who always agree on everything. What is crucial is to preserve individuals.

Much has been said about the importance of Select Committees. I feel that there is a danger of our overstating that: democracy is far more important. I therefore hope that what I have said will be considered, for if such a message is conveyed to the Whips it will, I think, do more good than anything else.

Finally and most importantly, let me say to my own wonderful party that while it is great to hear us praising democracy, we must do something rather than just talking about it.

6.51 pm

Mr. Derek Foster (Bishop Auckland): I am grateful to be called, and very pleased to follow the hon. Member for Rochford and Southend, East (Sir T. Taylor). This has proved, as I hoped, to be an extremely important debate in terms of the relationship between Parliament and the Executive.

I am deeply embarrassed to refer to my own position, but I am one of those who have been chucked out. I was joint Chairman of the Education and Employment Committee for four years, and was dispensed with rather summarily.

Two aspects of the debate, however, have been immensely encouraging. We have heard a constructive response from the Leader of the House, and we have witnessed the death throes of a wholly discredited system—a system that I operated for 10 years as Labour Chief Whip. At the end of my tenure I concluded that the rough justice that had been meted out was no longer tenable, and it was I who advocated in the Liaison Committee that Select Committee membership should be removed from the power of the Whips. I am delighted that the Liaison Committee agreed; I am also delighted that, with their silly behaviour, my right hon. Friends have underlined the wisdom of the Committee's decision.

I think that something very good will come out of this debate. I think the Leader of the House will prove a very progressive Leader: I think he will grasp the unique and historic opportunity to advance the power of Select Committees, and really begin to restore the dignity—as well as the power—of the House of Commons.

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