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Lady Hermon: May I ask the hon. Gentleman to reflect on the unique position of Northern Ireland? This Government—and I am very pleased that it was this Government—entered into the Belfast agreement and guaranteed the constitutional position of Northern Ireland within the United Kingdom unless and until a majority of people voted otherwise. Surely, then, it is essential, in fulfilling the obligations of that agreement, that the main nationalist parties—the Social Democratic and Labour Party and the Ulster Unionist party—are represented in this House in all its aspects, including Select Committees?

Pete Wishart: The hon. Lady makes a very good point which demonstrates why minority parties should be included in the membership of Select Committees. Let us start to unravel what we mean by minority parties. I represent the Scottish National party—the principal Opposition party in the Scottish Parliament and the second party of Scotland which is quickly becoming established as the first party. My hon. Friends in Plaid Cymru are the second party and the principal Opposition party of the National Assembly for Wales. The right hon. and hon. Members who sit on the Benches behind me, along with SDLP Members, are the effective Government of Northern Ireland. We have a massive constituency—we represent millions of people. Because of the electoral system and the way in which votes are cast, we unfortunately do not have the number of Members that our votes deserve, but we hope that that will change in the not-too-distant future.

I think that all right hon. and hon. Members will agree that the House must represent all shades of opinion in the country. Indeed, the House should make every effort to ensure that that happens. The Scottish Parliament includes single Members of three minority parties. They have been given Select Committee places way beyond what the basic arithmetic would suggest. That is a good example, which the House would do well to follow.

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Our amendment would include the leaders of all the minority parties—or if not the leaders, the Whips. That is a significant achievement. I hope that right hon. and hon. Members consider that when they vote tonight, because we will certainly push the amendment to a vote.

We also tabled an amendment to include a minority party member in the new Committee of Nomination, but unfortunately it was not selected. We believe it important that a voice from the minority parties should at least be given the opportunity to put the case for minority representation on Select Committees. We might not be successful, but at least we should be given the opportunity to put the case.

After the breakdown of our relationship with the Liberal Democrats—an arrangement that all minority parties found unsatisfactory—the minority parties came together. We now deal directly with the Government—an arrangement that has proved very satisfactory. We agree among ourselves who should be nominated for Committee places and present the names weekly to the Government, who then put our case at the Committee of Selection. Although that has been a satisfactory arrangement, it is no substitute for putting our case directly. However, I must say that our new arrangements with the Government and, indeed, the Opposition Whips have been useful, constructive and even friendly. The Government have put our case well and we have managed to secure most of the places that we have sought. Sometimes I wonder where the Whips' fearsome reputation comes from: I found them the most congenial bunch of gentlemen, with whom it has been a pleasure to work.

We reject the composition of the Committee of Nomination not only because we will continue to be frozen out but because it is the same old story. Having seven members of the Chairmen's Panel is fair enough, as the Chairmen's Panel is the first port of call in finding people to fill the new Committee. However, the Committee will also consist of the four most senior members of the governing party, the two most senior members of the principal Opposition party, and one member of the Liberal Democrats. It sounds like the same old arithmetic.

Mr. Salmond: The same old gang.

Pete Wishart: The same old gang, as my hon. Friend says.

In addition, the Committee will include the most senior Government Back Bencher and the most senior Opposition Back Bencher. That looks like our best way in: if, by sheer willpower, we could outlive everybody else on the Opposition Benches, we might secure a place on the Committee of Nomination. I will be inquiring daily as to the well-being and health of my hon. Friend the Member for Banff and Buchan and doing all that I can to persuade him to remain in this House so that we can secure our place on the Committee of Nomination.

All the places on the Committee will once again be taken by the three mainstream United Kingdom parties, and the minority parties will be shut out. I hope that right hon. and hon. Members will agree that it is important that all opinions are represented in the Committees and structures of the House, and that they will support our amendment.

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7.27 pm

Ms Julia Drown (South Swindon): My hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes, South-West (Dr. Starkey) and I are not pressing the amendments in our name in favour of those tabled by my hon. Friends the Members for Manchester, Central (Mr. Lloyd) and for Rhondda (Mr. Bryant).

There is a controversy over how we move forward on the Committee of Nomination, and real lessons can be learned from this debate. The House is finally beginning to accept that longevity of Members in this place should not count. All MPs—all Back Benchers—should be equal in this place. The attitude has been that every year people spend here adds to their wisdom so that their views count more than those of others. We frequently see such people called to speak first in debates and at Question Time, but there is no basis for that. There were great talents in the 2001 intake of MPs, just as there were in earlier intakes. The views of the 2001 intake and others are equally valid; I see them as equally intelligent. Their constituents deserve to be heard just as much as the constituents of Members who have been in this place longer.

The longevity rules have created a bias against young people, yet we hear increasingly that young people are not involved in democracy. If young people do not believe that they have an equal say in this House, that will continue.

The system also creates a bias against marginal constituencies because, by their very nature, the Members who represent them will have spent less time here. Their constituents—the people in constituencies where there has been more of a political debate—will not be heard so much, whereas constituencies where the votes have been weighed for centuries will continue to have a louder voice.

Parliament has changed too slowly in the past and is still changing too slowly. We need to change dramatically if we are to catch up and bring the British public with us. When I discussed my amendment with colleagues, the pervasive view was that perhaps the 1997 intake should be considered, but not the 2001 intake—because "They won't know how Parliament works." However, it is the job of colleagues and Officers of the House to ensure that even if a Member has been here only for a day they can play a full part as a Back Bencher; they can make sensible judgments. In relation to the Committee of Nomination, Members from the 2001 intake could bring the freshest and most independent views.

I regret that the gender balance allowed for in the Modernisation Committee's original report is no longer included. We could now end up with a Committee of 11 men and only two women. If we want women to be more interested in politics and more willing to come forward, we need to ensure that they are more visible.

We must make dramatic moves forward, although I share the consensus expressed in the House today. We are moving further and faster than we have done in the past. I congratulate the Leader of the House on listening to Back Benchers and look forward to further developments.

7.31 pm

Mr. Andrew Tyrie (Chichester): In the three minutes allowed me, I want to make two points. First, the most fundamental change for Parliament in the long run will come from the fact that the Prime Minister will start to

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appear before Select Committees. I have long supported that proposal; in fact, I first discussed it a long time ago with John Major when he was Prime Minister. He was not enthusiastic about the idea.

I am pleased that the current Prime Minister has grasped the fact that there is something in it for him and that scrutiny is not a zero-sum game. I would add only that the hon. Member for Cannock Chase (Tony Wright) is not quite right to suggest that we can rely on precedent. Between the wars, Prime Ministers made only four such appearances; four times in 20 years is not remotely enough.

Mr. Bryant: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Tyrie: I do not have time.

My second point is that at the heart of the Select Committee system must be the quality of and the respect accorded to the Chairmen. Chairmen should be elected by secret ballot by the whole House. We should first go through the normal horse trading to decide which Committees go to which party and then nominations should go forward from us for election to Select Committee chairmanships. I support most of the proposals in the report, and that is the only major proposal of mine that has not appeared even as a point for further discussion.

That proposal would fundamentally alter the position of Select Committee Chairmen. If they were elected, they would have a position of great authority in the House and that would bring them far greater media attention. More than any other measure, that would tilt the balance between the Executive and the legislature. The Leader of the House has done a marvellous job so far and I warmly commend him. I hope that I do not damage his career by saying that. He has done a remarkable job and I urge him to reconsider this proposal.

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