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Mr. Cook: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for reinforcing the strength of my hon. Friend's amendment to have four Members from the 1997 intake on the Committee of Nomination. I welcome the opportunity to make common ground with the hon. Gentleman on that narrow point.
My hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Mr. Bryant) has tabled sub-amendment (h) to amendment (d), tabled by our hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Central. It would insert the word "current" before "previous Parliament", thus allowing the four new Members to be drawn from the current election to Parliament in 2001, not just from those elected to the previous Parliament in 1997.
At this moment in Parliament, one year on from the last general election, the amendment is perfectly sensible. I only remind my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda that in future Parliaments, the Committee of Nomination will be one of the first Committees to be set up, one hopes within two weeks of polling day. Whether in practice in those circumstances any party would choose as its representative a Member who had only just been elected is a matter of judgment.
Mr. Cook: I am not aware that Alastair Campbell is seeking a nomination to this place. I am sure if he does arrive here, we will all await his interventions with great anticipation. I have not the slightest doubt that the House will be full to hear his first one. However, I doubt that his first ambition would be to be appointed to the Committee of Nomination.
Mr. Peter Pike (Burnley): There are many rumours about the press man at No. 10 wanting to take my place when I leave the House. He assures me that there is absolutely no truth in them, which he has made clear more than once. I am sure that he is correct in that.
Mr. Cook: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that clarification. I am, of course, open to take interventions from any other hon. Member who wishes to give a similar assurance about their constituency.
As the amendment tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda is permissive and leaves the choice open to the political parties concerned, I will be content, if my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Central is minded, to accept his hon. Friend's amendment to his amendment, which I, in turn, acceptI hope that the House is still with me. If we do accept both amendments, we will write into Standing Orders for the first time specific recognition of the right of new Members to be represented. That is another step forward for modernisation and sets a precedent that I hope the newer Members will support in the Division Lobby this evening.
The Modernisation Committee took the opportunity of its review of the nomination process to go much wider and review the present state of Select Committees and how they might be improved. The result before the House today is the most comprehensive package to strengthen the Select Committee system in the 20 years since it was set up. It offers a number of gains that Select Committees have been seeking for some years, the first of which is more resources to assist them in their work.
More specialised staff will be available to support all members of Select Committees, and there will be more administrative staff to help the Chairmen with their burden. There will be more professional help to assist with the design and layout of Select Committee reports. We want to harness the most modern technology and the most attractive design so that we can get across to the public the views of Select Committees. We have made some progress in recent months. I am pleased to tell the House that since January we have removed all Roman numerals from Committee reports. Significant though those steps are, there is a long way to go, which is why we propose that we should have available to us the best professional help in designing the reports.
In return for those additional resources, we are looking for greater focus and discipline in the way in which Select Committees approach their role. That is why we have suggested an illustrative model of the core tasks of Select Committees. I stress that it is illustrative. We are inviting the Liaison Committee to consider the model that we have proposed, to refine it further if it wishes and to make whatever changes it thinks appropriate in the light of its greater knowledge of the working of Select Committees. However, one has to start somewhere, and it is good that the Modernisation Committee has put on the table what we believe should be the core tasks and duties of Select Committees.
Mr. David Curry (Skipton and Ripon): As the Leader of the House has in the past two or three minutes removed the possibility of at least two votes, perhaps I can help by removing the possibility of a third. My concern was that the list was very prescriptive and all those tasks would be mandatory on the Committees. Given the number of weeks in the year in which we meet, even with Sub-Committees that list would constitute an intolerable burden that would be undeliverable and exclude the possibility of doing a little free thinking, which is one of the tasks of the Committees. If the Leader will make it clear that those are suggestions of the sort of agenda that
Mr. Cook: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his offer. Of course we would welcome the views of the Liaison Committee, which cannot be bound by the Modernisation Committee; indeed, we do not seek to bind it in the motion before the House, which leaves it to the discretion of the Liaison Committee how it proceeds with the list.
I believe, however, that there is a lot of common ground between the two Committees. For instance. I welcome the strong passage on financial scrutiny in the Liaison Committee's response to the report. Indeed, I thought that the Committee was possibly erring on the side of being rather stern with Select Committees when it described their performance of financial scrutiny as relatively patchy and being the fault of the Committees. That is a touch harsh. Financial scrutiny is necessarily a challenging and technical task.
What might help Select Committees with that is our recommendation, before the House today, that we take up the offer of the National Audit Office to second staff to the new unit of special advisers which we are proposing. That will make it more practical for Select Committees to carry out financial scrutiny as we suggest in our core tasks, and it may make that scrutiny more penetrating.
Mr. Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield): Following his response to the right hon. Member for Skipton and Ripon (Mr. Curry), will my right hon. Friend be a little more specific? The concern of many Select Committee Chairmen is that the flexibility of Committees is very important. My Committee, the Education and Skills Committee, recently was pleased to hold an inquiry into individual learning accounts. The prescriptive bullet points before the House do not include such inquiries. There is only so much time to do the work of the Committee, and it is important to be flexible, and not to be in a straitjacket.
Mr. Cook: I wish to be helpful to my hon. Friend. If he looks again at the list of proposed duties, he will see that his important inquiry into individual learning accounts comes squarely into the second categoryconsidering the Government's response to major emerging issues. We appoint Select Committees for a Parliament so it should be possible for all of them to touch on each of the duties that I have outlined.
Mr. McFall: I welcome my right hon. Friend's common objectives for Select Committees, but I agree with several of my colleagues on the Liaison Committee that, to date, the examination of reports on main estimates, annual expenditure plans and annual resource accounts has not been our top priority. To effect change, we need much more support. My right hon. Friend mentioned the National Audit Office. What discussions has he had with Sir John Bourn and others, and what will the central support unit consist of, as it will have an onerous, but welcome, task, if undertaken properly with adequate resources?
On the question of resources, my hon. Friend will be aware that the Comptroller and Auditor General has said that he is willing to second staff to assist Select Committeesand not just the Public Accounts Committeewith the work of financial scrutiny. I cannot think of a better source of expertise to support Select Committees, which could use NAO contacts to access the NAO's entire network. I hope that we can turn that offer into reality in the next year.
I should like to refer to one more proposed duty for Select Committees. The House will be aware that, over a period of years, I hope that the publication of Bills in draft will become the norm, rather than the exception. If Parliament wants a real influence on the shape of public Bills, it has to get in on the act much earlier than Second Reading, when party positions are already set in stone, so it needs to see Bills in draft. The report explains that pre-legislative scrutiny of draft Bills should normally be the job of the appropriate Select Committee.