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Mr. Salmond: One of them has passed away, so I shall not identify them. None the less, a Select Committee was nobbled. It is not a new phenomenon, but I stress to any Labour loyalists who are present that that does not make it right. Just because the Tories did it does not make it right for the Labour party.
There are only two forms of checks and balances in this place. They are the revising Chamber, whose Members are increasingly appointed and is therefore the poodle rather than the watch dog of the constitution, and the Select Committee system. I hope that the role of the latter will be expanded. Select Committees constitute an early warning system of approaching trouble in legislation or Government practice. If they become neutered and their members are simply appointed, and if they are subject to intimidation and replacement, neither the early warning system nor the revising Chamber will be effective.
The Leader of the House, perhaps cleverly, as one of his hon. Friends suggested, said that he was open to change, which was inevitable. He also said that he was sympathetic to changes in the way in which all parties nominate Select Committee members. However, it would strengthen his arm in fighting for change if the House demonstrated its independence and rejected at least some of the Select Committee nominations this evening.
David Winnick (Walsall, North): We should distinguish between some of the humbug and mischief making in the first part of the debate and the genuine anxiety that many of us feel about nominations for the Transport, Local Government and the Regions Committee and the Foreign Affairs Committee. Some may say, "Look what happened in 1992. They did it." However, we would make a mistake if we repeated such actions tonight. If we support the recommendations of the Committee of Selection, we commit an action to which we strongly objected in 1992 when we were in opposition.
Moreover, such actions did not do the Tories much good. My right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field) spoke about the arrogance of the previous Government. The decision in 1992 was a relatively minor factor in their self-destruction; nevertheless, it affected the morale of Tory Members of Parliament. It would be a mistake to repeat such actions.
Let me put the argument differently. If my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, East (Donald Anderson) had been re-appointed, would any Labour Member have been surprised? The opposite is true: we would have taken it as a matter of course. We are therefore surprised that they have not been re-appointed. Several hon. Members wish to speak, and I shall briefly express three reasons why I hope that our large majority, about which I am pleased, will not be used tonight to support what is basically wrong. We have been told that we have a genuinely free vote.
First, there is no justification for not re-appointing my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich and my right hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, East. If we consider all the criteria that the right hon. Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Sir J. Stanley) set outability, knowledge, attendance and conscientiousnessit is clear that they should be re-appointed. The Leader of the House has given no explanation for not re-appointing them. If the Government had at least given a reason, we could take it into account. We are entitled to an explanation; we should not simply act as a rubber-stamp. Perhaps some hon. Members believe that the decision is correct, but if we believe that it is wrong we should not rubber-stamp it.
The second reason is more important than individuals, if I may say that to my two hon. Friends. We need to reassert the authority of the House of Commons. There are many reasons for arguing among ourselvesfor example, we may not like a policybut we were elected as Labour Members of Parliament, not independents. We are entitled to stand as independents, but we know what the result would be. Like my colleagues, I want to be here only as a Labour Member of Parliament. I have no wish to sit in the House of Commons other than as a Labour Member. We therefore give the Government the benefit of the doubt on many issues, as happened in the last
We cannot claim that there are political reasons that we should take into account. There is no general election for at least four years, no mid-term election and no crucial by-election. In those circumstances, we would say, "We'd better rally round. It would be unfortunate if the press got the impression that we were a divided party." To put it generously, we are not likely to experience difficulties from the Opposition, at least for a while. If we believe that the Government are wrong, there is no better time than the beginning of a Parliament to vote against them for all the reasons that I have expressed.
The final reason is that, if we rubber-stamp this decision tonight, this Government and other Governments in the future will say, "We got away with it, like they got away with it in 1992." The future Labour Government whom I hope will be re-elected might say that in the next Parliament. However, there has been enough of a row, and enough media difficultiescaused not by us on the Back Benches but by the Governmentand if the Government do not get their way tonight, it is my humble view that that would make any Government far more reluctant to repeat what has been done.
I hope that I have not taken up too much of the House's time. For the three reasons that I have given, I hope that we will decide tonight not to approve the membership of the two Committees in question: the Transport, Local Government and the Regions Committee and the Foreign Affairs Committee.
The right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field) asked me not to move my amendment. With the consent of the House, I propose not to move it. However, I propose to vote against the substantive motion. We are grateful to the hon. Member for Blaydon (Mr. McWilliam) and my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir G. Young) for lifting the secrecy from the Committee of Selection. The plain truth that we must face is that that Committee does not exercise a judgment; it simply rubber-stamps the nominations of the parties. In reality, the Whips are choosing the Select Committees, and that cannot be right.
I hope that the House will forgive me for drawing on my personal experience. I was a Minister for 13 years, and have also been a Whip. During that time I neveror very rarelyfound myself under pressure in the Chamber. However, I sometimes found myself under pressure when I was before a Select Committee. I believe that the Select Committees are the most important form of scrutiny that the House has, and if that is the case, we must reserve to the House the nominations for their membership.
I welcome what the Leader of the House said about the Modernisation Committee determining a new way of selecting the Select Committees. However, I hope that it will approach that task with a view to reducing the amount
May I say to the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) and to the right hon. Member for Swansea, East (Donald Anderson) that the hon. Lady's speech demonstrated why we value her so much? She and the right hon. Gentleman are parliamentarians of distinction. If one were to ask why they were not re-appointed to the two Select Committees of which they were Chairmen, there would be no sensible answer, save that they presided over Committees that expressed authoritative criticism of the Front Bench from time to time. That is what they were meant to do, and that is what I hope they will continue to do in this Parliament.
The right hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith)who has been here throughout the debateand the hon. Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Mrs. Ellman) will have noted that I have tabled amendments to take them off the Select Committees in question. There is nothing personal in that. I am afraid that if one is trying to put two people on those Committees, one has to take two people off. I hope that they will accept that I was not making any personal criticism of them.
Alan Howarth (Newport, East): The right hon. and learned Gentleman says that he intends nothing personal in his amendments. Earlier, he waxed eloquent on matters of parliamentary propriety. Will he therefore apologise to the House for having tabled amendments proposing that individual Members be appointed to Committees even though he had not consulted them?
Mr. Hogg: The right hon. Gentleman may not have spotted the fact that I do not intend to move those amendments. I came to the conclusion that those hon. Members were unelectable, apart from any other reason, and that it was therefore not right for the House to consider their nominations. I therefore wished to withdraw my amendments.
The functions of the Select Committees are critical. We value the independence of the leading Chairmen that we have had. I do not want to dividein any sensethe consensus that has been building up in the House. I hope that the right hon. Member for Swansea, East and the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich will again be able to serve on those Select Committees, and I do not want to reduce that possibility by moving my amendments. So, if the House will permit it, I shall not move them when they are called.