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Planning (Publication and Infrastructure)

Mr. Derek Wyatt accordingly presented a Bill to require applications for planning permission to be published at the time notice of the application is given; to require planning permission for new housing or business development to be conditional upon fulfilment of planning obligations relating to infrastructure; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 21 June, and to be printed [Bill 136].

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Modernisation of the House of Commons

[Relevant document: The Second Report from the Liaison Committee, HC 692, Session 2001–02, on Select Committees: Modernisation Proposals.]

Mr. Speaker: Before I call the Leader of the House to move motion 2, it may be helpful to say how I propose to proceed.

Yesterday, the House agreed to a business motion which requires me to put the questions necessary to dispose of proceedings on motions 2 to 12 not later than four hours after the start of the debate on motion 2. I propose that motions 2 to 12, and any amendments to them that have been selected, be debated together. At the end of four hours, I will put the questions necessary to dispose of motion 2. I will then call Members to move formally motions 3 to 12 and any amendments selected to them that Members wish to move. The House will have an opportunity, if it so wishes, to vote on each motion and amendment. A list showing my selection of amendments has been placed in the No Lobby and in the Vote Office. After all proceedings on motions 2 to 12 have been completed, we will move to the debate on motion 13 on the code of conduct.

3.44 pm

The President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Robin Cook): I beg to move,

The origin of this debate goes back to July last year when the House rebelled over the names put to it for appointment to Select Committees. There was feeling among a majority of the House that an injustice had been done to my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, East (Donald Anderson), who had been left off Select Committees that they had chaired until the general election. I remember that debate vividly. It was one of the more interesting afternoons that I have spent in the House, as it fell to me to propose the motions and to listen to Members' comments on them.

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During the debate, there was much criticism of the Committee of Selection, which put a list before the House without questioning it. Rightly or wrongly, it was held partly responsible for the difficulty in which the House then found itself. I promised during the debate that the procedures for how we nominate Select Committees would be one of the first matters that the new Modernisation Committee would consider. Today's debate on the first report of the Modernisation Committee fulfils the commitment that I gave the House last July.

My first point is to invite those who were unhappy with the position in which the House found itself to recall how they felt on that occasion. They should remember that they owe it to themselves to support the recommendation that is before us so as to prevent the House from ever again finding itself in that position.

Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst): I am grateful to the Leader of the House for giving way so early in his speech, but will he confirm that, even if many Members were unhappy then and look for a solution now, the proposals before us need not be the only or the right solution? The Modernisation Committee has done its work and the Leader of the House has come here with the result of its deliberation, but it is not a question of take it or leave it. If the House felt that the solution was not a proper one to the problem, it would be entitled to say no at this stage and to ask the Committee to do more work.

Mr. Cook: The right hon. Gentleman is perfectly correct. The House is always entitled to say no, and can say no in four hours from now when a vote is taken. However, this is not a new matter. We have been mulling it over for three or four years and it goes back to reports of the Liaison Committee in the past Parliament. Close on a year's study of the matter by the Modernisation Committee is before us, and there have been many ups and downs in trying to find the formula that is before us today. I have to say in all honesty and candour that, although the House is perfectly entitled to say no, I do not imagine that it will be feasible for the Modernisation Committee to come up with a better balance or one that is likely to command a greater consensus.

My second point in support of the proposal is to stress that the recommendation will improve and certainly amend the process by which the House receives nominations for Select Committees. It does not and cannot interfere with the process by which each party selects its members for those nomination lists. The measure replaces the role of the Committee of Selection in putting nominations before the House but it does not replace the initiative of political parties in resolving who should represent them on those lists.

Dr. Stephen Ladyman (South Thanet): I confess to my right hon. Friend that I have serious doubts about his proposals because I do not understand on what basis the proposed Committee of Nomination will put aside the recommendations of a party making its list. If it will not put that recommendation aside, what is the point of giving it the right to do so?

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Mr. Cook: My hon. Friend makes a point that goes to the heart of the debate that we had last July when the Committee of Selection was criticised precisely because it did not put aside two of the proposals to the House. The Committee of Nomination will not be a court of first instance and it will not have the initiative to decide who should be on the lists, but it will be a court of appeal and be there to ensure that fair play is observed in each of the parties. It would be able to intervene if, as was the case last July, there was a sense that, in two of the names on the list, there had been an absence of fair play.

Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire): I am interested in what the Leader of the House has just said. Surely there is a court of appeal now—it is the House of Commons. Although the Government faced problems last year and although my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) was once removed from a Select Committee, there have been only three occasions in the past 20 years when the system has perhaps been found lacking. Therefore, why do we have proposals for such widespread change?

Mr. Cook: Three occasions make an argument for change. Unfortunately, one of those occasions was only last year and that is why I undertook in the debate that we would re-examine the matter. If I had failed to carry out that undertaking to the House, the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues would have been among the first to criticise me for failing to do so.

I would say to the colleagues who have intervened that I am confident that any list submitted by the Labour party would stand up to robust scrutiny in the light of our new democratic process. We have changed our procedures since last July. We have made the process more democratic and put it in the hands of Labour Back Benchers. I welcome that reform. Indeed, I served on the review committee that drafted that reform. So the choice of Labour representatives now rests with Labour Members.

The choice of Conservative representatives lies with Conservative Members—or some of them at any rate. I regret to say that the Conservative party has not taken the same steps as we have taken to make the process democratic. That is not a matter of responsibility for me; I cannot remedy that by changing the rules of the House, but I can ensure that those rules provide for the fair processing of the names and for fair play in their preparation.

David Winnick (Walsall, North): Does my right hon. Friend accept that the Committee of Selection became totally discredited because, as with the previous Government and at the beginning of this Parliament, it simply approved, almost without discussion, the political party nominations? If the Committee of Nomination, which is being recommended, were to do the same, it would also be discredited. It is absolutely essential that the party Whips or the party management—hon. Members can call them what they like—on both sides of the House do not decide who will serve on the Select Committees; otherwise we will have the row that has led to the present position.

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