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Mr. Michael Jack (Fylde) (Con):
The hon. Member for Bury, North (Mr. Chaytor) made excellent and perceptive comments, and touched on some of the central issues of the debate. I am delighted that the Secretary of State for the new Department of Energy and Climate Change is back in his place because the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee recommended on several occasions that a Cabinet Minister
should have more focus on a portfolio that dealt with climate change. It is so important and, by definition, cuts across Government. Intriguingly, in providing that additional focus, the Government have married with it the other side of the equationnamely, that part of Government activity that deals with the emission of carbon dioxide. My hon. Friend the Member for South Suffolk (Mr. Yeo) made a point about his Committee being transmuted into the new Committee. Marrying energy and climate change under one departmental roof means that he could bring with him the critical faculty of a Committee that dealt with emissions and also take on a critical appraisal of issues connected with generating energy. I thought that that was a good way of counterbalancing the sometimes irreconcilable sides of the Secretary of States new Department, which concern generating energy on the one hand and seeking to reduce CO2 on the other.
Part A of the motion before the House invites us to amend the resolution of the House of 13 July 2005 dealing with the Liaison Committee. The hon. Member for Cannock Chase (Dr. Wright), in his as always helpful interventions on the process of government, raised the fact that the Leader and Deputy Leader of the House had effectively ridden roughshod over a mechanism of the House designed to deal with the types of issue that we have been discussing.
We are talking, first, about what the right composition of a Select Committee to shadow the new Department should be. I support that, but my hon. Friends have asked questions about the new Committees composition by number, its starting date, existing workflows, the cross-cutting nature of its work and the avoidance of conflict when dealing with environmental issues. Would it not have been a good idea if, once the new Department had been formed, the Leader of the House had sought the view of the Liaison Committee, so that it could carry out, as it were, a review of how environmental scrutiny was conducted, so as to resolve any conflict and to present a solution that would have given best effect to the Houses wishes to scrutinise the new Department? However, that option has been ignored and the only option is the one before the House this evening.
As a result, a lot of good work, including the inquiry that my Committee, the Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, was going to undertake into fuel poverty, will have to be postponed. Our Committee discussed the matter and wrote to the Leader of the House. I am sorry that the Deputy Leader of the House, who appears to be unaware of the debate going on around him, was also unaware of the letter that our Committee wrote in support of the view that the Environmental Audit Committee should take on the responsibility of monitoring the new Department, using its existing expertise, without necessarily creating a brand new Select Committee at this stage in the Parliament, for all the reasons that other right hon. and hon. Members have mentioned.
It would be nice if the Deputy Leader of the House, in the conciliatory mode in which he introduced the debate, were to stand at the Dispatch Box and say that he had listened to what had been said and that the Government would not press the matter this evening, but would take it to the Liaison Committee for a proper discussion, so that all the issues could be resolved. We
could thereby move forward in a spirit of harmony and excellence of scrutiny, and on the basis of proper discussion, not the imposition of the solution before the House this evening.
Mr. John Gummer (Suffolk, Coastal) (Con): The Deputy Leader of the House was mistaken in suggesting that I was leading him into a trap by trying to discuss the issue. I was in fact making a perfectly helpful comment, which I hope he listened to carefully.
We are tonight changing our ability to handle the difficult, long-term and extremely pressing issues of climate change. Far from denigrating the new Department and its Secretary of State, I am an enthusiastic supporter of the structure. However, as the hon. Member for Bury, North (Mr. Chaytor) said, the new Department will, by its very nature, have to have its fingers in all sorts of different pies. Indeed, the new Select Committee on climate change will, by its various decisions, recommendations and advice, help the Secretary of State to do just that. He will therefore be rather different from other Secretaries of State.
I was merely suggesting that a number of unfinished discussions still need to take place before setting up such a Select Committee to deal with the situation, some of which have admirably been mentioned by my right hon. Friend the Member for Fylde (Mr. Jack), but there are others, too. For example, many of us would have liked the opportunity to discuss issues such as the fact that adaptation to climate change is dealt with by a Department other than this new Department, and that any Select Committee dealing with the new Department might want to talk about those issues.
There are many concerns about how all this has been put together. I do not mind that too much, as long as it works. I am suggesting that this is the one opportunity that the House will have to signal to the Government how much we support the new Ministry, but how difficult we perceive its new role to be and how widespread will be the responsibility of the Secretary of State. If we are not careful, we shall have a situation in which the Daily Mail runs a story every day about how the Secretary of State has disagreed with some other Secretary of State, because that is the almost inevitable result of the role that he will have to play. I personally do not want him to be in that position, because I want him to win these very important battles.
Will the Deputy Leader of the House take seriously my suggestion that this is rather more complicated than just setting up a Select Committee in this way? It would serve the needs of the House a great deal better if he felt able to say, We will not press this matter tonight. We will talk to the Liaison Committee, and we will talk more widely than that, too. I wonder whether we need to rethink how the Committee structure might be made to suit and to sort this rather special Department. That is partly as a result of the Governments innovative decisionsupported by a huge majority in the Houseto set up a Climate Change Committee, whose effect on the House will be different from that of any other Committee that we have set up before.
The Government have an opportunity to be very imaginative on this matter. It is not that we do not want proper scrutiny of the new Department, but that we want that scrutiny to be carried out in a way that ensures we can help the Secretary of State to do a very tricky job. Perhaps it might therefore be better to think about this for a little longer, and to talk a little more widely before coming to a conclusion. Most of us believe that setting up the Committee before January would be difficult, given that a number of other Committees have not yet completed their work. May I request that the Minister take account of the fact that this is a special occasion, and suggest that he might not wish to rush into it in the way that he appears to have done so far?
Hywel Williams (Caernarfon) (PC): I, too, am disappointed and a little surprised at the amendment proposing that the number of Members on the Committee should be reduced from 14 to 11. Given the universal welcome for the setting up of the new Department, and the near unanimity that we have heard tonight, the proposal strikes the wrong note. Its effect would assuredly be to squeeze out representation of the so-called minor parties on these Benches. I say minor, butas has already been said in Cardiff, Belfast and Edinburghwe are parties of Governments.
Devolution is, in my opinion, an imperfect solution to the problems that face us, but we are where we are, and there is a relationship between Cardiff, Edinburgh, London and Belfast. In respect of Wales, my colleagues Ieuan Wyn Jones and Elin Jones are, respectively, the Ministers for industry and for environmental and rural affairs. They have a vital interest in seeing members of their own parties and colleagues from other parties taking part in the scrutiny of the work of the new Department. That goes without saying. If there is any difficulty in filling the seats on the new Committee, in achieving a quorum or in persuading members of the larger parties to take an interest, I can assure the House that there are plenty of people on these Benches who would be happy to take up any empty seats. That is a non-problem.
The hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Peter Luff) raised a substantial question. If I understood his intent rightly, he was referring not only to the Energy and Climate Change Committee but to the Select Committee system in general, as he believes that such Committees are too large. Having a debate at this time of night without discussion through the usual channels and within parties is not, I believe, the right way to do it. I am happy that the hon. Gentleman brought the issue up, but I am sure that there are many other ways of dealing with it in a rather more considered manner.
Peter Luff: I wish I could agree with the hon. Gentleman. I am sure that, with good will, it would be possible to agree a system of smaller Select Committees that gave proper representation to minorities. That is a very desirable objective, but I have to say that I have detected no great willingness to secure it. I believe that we should work towards it, because smaller Select Committees work and they scrutinise more effectively. Let me ask the hon. Gentleman what is bettera bigger Committee that does not work or a smaller Committee that does?
Hywel Williams: All I can say is that if Members on these Benches were engaged in the work of this Committee, we would be wholeheartedly engaged in it. As far as we are concerned, we would make it work, although the hon. Gentleman can speak for his own party.
Simon Hughes: For our part, I am keen that we do not lose sight of this issue. The Modernisation Committee, on which the Deputy Leader of the House sits, could look into reducing the size of Committees generally, while ensuring that they are properly representative so that people are not overly stretched in a way that does a disservice to the subject.
I finish with one further point. Reference has been made to the Liaison Committee looking further into the issue. Let me make the general point again that the minority parties would not be representedin my opinion, quite wronglyon this departmental Committee.
Chris Bryant: With the leave of the House, I will respond. Three key points were exemplified in this evenings debate. The first was whether there should be a stand-alone Select Committee to scrutinise the new Department or whether it should be an additional responsibility of the Environmental Audit Committee; the second was whether the new Committee should start immediately or in January; and the third was how many members it should comprise14 or 11.
On the first point, I firmly believe that there should be a stand-alone Committee. If the Government had not come forward fairly swiftly with the recommendation to set up such a Committee, people would quickly have started calling for us to do so. I admit that hon. Members have made valid points in the debate, but I believe that, on balance, this is the right way for us to proceed. The Environmental Audit Committee is very similar to the Public Accounts Committee, in that it has a Minister sitting on it, it was deliberately set up in the same way and it has a cross-cutting responsibility. The Treasury Committee could very well say, But you cover many of the areas that we cover, and we would like to have a cross-cutting responsibility and do away with the PAC. That, however, would be inappropriate. We know how those two Committees work together and I think that it will be possible for the departmental Committee and the Environmental Audit Committee to work together effectively.
The hon. Member for South Suffolk (Mr. Yeo) raised an important point about the necessity of maintaining the cross-cutting responsibility. He mentioned reports that his Committee is already planning on shipping and forestry, which obviously do not fall directly to the Department. I believe that there will be a continuing role for the Environmental Audit Committee. I know that the hon. Gentleman and the Leader of the House have corresponded on the size of the Committeean issue that we should perhaps look at again.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bury, North (Mr. Chaytor) said that there would be a conflict of interest between these two Committees, but I do not believe that. Committees should be able to work co-operatively and I very much hope that the Chairs of the two Committees would want to do so.
I note that the right hon. Members for Fylde (Mr. Jack) and for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer) requested that I decline to move forward with the proposals this evening and refer them instead to the Liaison Committee. It has been an established principle in the House that whenever the machinery of government changes and a new Department is created, we should have a new departmental Select Committee, and I believe that we should abide by that.
On whether the Committee should start immediately or in January, my hon. Friend the Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan) emphasised the need for swiftness, and I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State would want to be scrutinised by the new Committee as swiftly as possiblehence his presence throughout this evenings debate.
The hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Peter Luff) made an important point about the work that his Committee is already doing, particularly in regard to fuel poverty. Incidentally, I am sorry if he felt that he had not been properly consulted. I had no idea that there had been any conversation about the issue. If at any future stage he, or for that matter any other Select Committee Chairman, wishes to discuss these matters, they are welcome to come and find me during a Division or at some other time. My hon. Friend the Member for Bury, North made another important pointabout the forward programme for the Environmental Audit Committee.
That leaves us with the final question of whether the Committee should have 14 or 11 members. My instinctive feeling has always been that all voices in the House should be heard in Select Committees, mainly because I believe that Select Committees do their work in a different way from the rest of the House: a somewhat less partisan way, which nearly always makes for unanimity in reports and which can mean that the House is far more effective both in its scrutiny of Government and in the face that it presents to the community outside. That is why, on the whole, I should prefer a larger Committee, and for it to be possible for smaller parties to be represented on smaller Committees.
The hon. Member for Moray (Angus Robertson) made one unfortunate slip. He kept saying that parties from Scotland and Wales were not represented. I am a Welsh Member of Parliament, and I was a member of a Select Committee. I just did not happen to represent a Welsh nationalist party.
I took account of what the hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire said about Committees of 11. It is possible for Committees of 11 to include two members from the minority parties. Sometimes that is by virtue of the generosity of the governing party, but sometimes it is by virtue of the generosity of the Opposition. However, we should be considering as a whole how we can ensure better representation.
I did not think that I would say this very often, but the hon. Member for Moray made one very good point in commending the Governments sensible proposal. I do not think I have ever heard those words from his mouth before.
Mr. Nigel Dodds (Belfast, North) (DUP): My colleagues and I welcome what the Deputy Leader of the House said about the importance of minority party representation on Committees, whether large or small. Can we be assured that he will follow that up, and that we will not be left with fine words but will see action? How does he propose to proceed?
Chris Bryant: I have been listening to the debate tonight, so pressing me to produce an action plan now is going a little far, but this is something that I think we need to address. The hon. Gentleman will be able to judge me by not just my words but my actions at a later stage.
The hon. Member for Caernarfon (Hywel Williams) spoke of the need for minority parties to be represented on the Committee. I am minded to resist amendment (a) if it is pressed to a Division, but I very much hope that we shall be able to set up the Committee forthwith.
That the following amendments be made in respect of Standing Orders, with effect from 1st January 2009:
A SELECT COMMITTEES RELATED TO GOVERNMENT DEPARTMENTS
That Standing Order No. 152 (Select committees related to government departments) be amended in the Table in paragraph (2) by inserting, in the appropriate place, the following item:
Energy and Climate Change
Department of Energy and Climate Change
B LIAISON COMMITTEE
That the Resolution of the House of 13th July 2005 relating to Liaison Committee (Membership) be further amended in paragraph (2) by inserting, in the appropriate place, Energy and Climate Change.
C EUROPEAN COMMITTEES
That Standing Order No. 119 be amended by inserting in the Table in paragraph (6), in respect of European Committee A, in the appropriate place, Energy and Climate Change.
That the draft Police Appeals Tribunals Rules 2008, which were laid before this House on 22nd July, be approved
That the draft Police (Performance) Regulations 2008, which were laid before this House on 22nd July, be approved.
That the draft Police (Conduct) Regulations 2008, which were laid before this House on 7th October, be approved. [Claire Ward.]
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