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Donald Anderson (Swansea, East): Is not another danger of those illustrative examples the fact that the agenda will be set by the Executive, not the legislature? The legislation to be examined in advance is Government legislation; public appointments to be examined are by definition appointments made by the Government; the examination of Green Papers is, again, an Executive initiative. If, with the limited time available, a Committee followed slavishly the tick list of examples, there would be little time left for initiatives by the legislature itself.
Jean Corston (Bristol, East): My right hon. Friend will know that the Joint Committee on Human Rights, which I chair, has in the past 18 months undertaken to examine all legislation, as published on Second Reading, for compliance with various human rights instruments. It is difficult to do that under current parliamentary procedure, given restraints both on time and the opportunity for right hon. and hon. Members to absorb the lessons of pre-legislative scrutiny.
Mr. Cook: I am very much aware of the challenges to the Select Committee that my hon. Friend chairs. She and I have discussed the issue before, and we have sought to be helpful to the Committee. I entirely endorse her point. The more we produce Bills in draft, the more it will be possible for all the various investigative and scrutiny Committees to make their contribution, including the Joint Committee on Human Rights.
It must be right that the people who perform that pre-legislative scrutiny of a draft Bill are the Members with the specialist interest and knowledge whom we find on the Select Committees. That is why we propose in the first instancenot always, but in the first instancethat pre-legislative scrutiny should be a duty on the Select Committees.
Taken together, the package will strengthen the Select Committee system. It has been warmly welcomed by the Liaison Committee. Indeed, in its press release about the paper from the Modernisation Committee, the Liaison Committee described it as "excellent"a view that, I hope, will last at least as long as the debate this afternoon.
There was one issue to whichI must be frank with the Housenearly all members of the Liaison Committee objected violently: our proposal that the size of Select Committees be increased to 15. The proposal was born of the problems of last July, when we discovered that far more hon. Members wanted to get on to a departmental Select Committee than there were places for them. Even now, 186 Beck Benchers are not on any investigative Select Committee. Our proposal to increase the membership of departmental Select Committees to 15 would have provided an additional 50 places for those hon. Members.
At my meeting last week with the Liaison Committee, I was exposed to strong arguments to the contrary. In particular, the Chairs of the Select Committees expressed their worry about the danger of a loss of cohesion if the Select Committees became larger, and the problem of making sure that there was consensus among a greater number. I was struck by the force of the point from the Chair of the Select Committee on Public Administration, who told me that his recent report on House of Lords reform would not have been unanimous in a larger Select Committee.
Given that discussion and those views, I have reached a compromise with the Liaison Committee that is expressed in the motions before the House, in which the decision to increase the size of a Select Committee will be in the hands of each Select Committee. If the Committee decides to increase its size, it is free to do so up to 15, but it is not under any compulsion to do so. I hope that that sensible, permissive compromise will command general agreement in the House.
Conversely, I proposed a reduction in the size of the Liaison Committee. In the Committee's response, I found that, unfortunately, that proposal was almost as unwelcome as my proposal to increase the size of other Select Committees. I am therefore not proceeding with it tonight, but many on the Liaison Committee recognise that there is a problem with the size of the Select
My hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda has tabled another amendment that addresses the issue. I regret to say that on this occasion I cannot help my hon. Friend by commending it to the House. Its narrow effect would be, for instance, to leave out of the Liaison Committee the Chair of the Public Accounts Committee, which I do not think would be right. However, I agree with my hon. Friend that there is a problem, and I very much hope that the Liaison Committee will be willing to consider it and propose a solution.
Pete Wishart (North Tayside): Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that Select Committees need a minimum of 15 members, to ensure that we in the minority parties are represented? At present, Plaid Cymru and the Scottish national party have no place on a non-regional departmental Select Committee, and we find that unacceptable.
Mr. Cook: I am not sure that the hon. Gentleman has found the argument that would most commend itself to hon. Members on the Benches behind me. As he is aware, I understand that the parties to which he refers did not receive the best allocation of places last time round, when they were represented in the discussions by the Liberal Democrat party. As he knows, we have addressed that issue and those parties are no longer represented by the Liberal Democrat party; indeed, many hon. Members in other parts of the House would wish to commend them on their freedom from the Liberal Democrats. Over time, we shall see what remedy there may be, but I do not think that the House is likely to vote for an increase to 15 members simply because of the position of those who representif I may be frank4 per cent. of the total membership of the House.
Kevin Brennan: On the size of the Liaison Committee, while I accept the point that my right hon. Friend makes about the amendment tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Mr. Bryant) and I, does he recall that I raised the matter in business questions last week? Does he agree that when the Prime Minister appears before the Liaison Committee, the House will be as much under the spotlight as the Prime Minister is? If the Committee has 34 members, including those from the domestic Committees, the House will not be seen in the modern light in which we would like it to be shown.
Mr. Cook: I agree that there is an issue that must be addressed. I am happy to say that when I spoke to the Liaison Committee last week, it volunteered the fact that it will be as much under examination as the Prime Minister when he appears before it. I hope that the
Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall): Will the Leader of the House indicate to the Liaison Committee that a degree of self-interest seems apparent on that issue? Is it not somewhat ironic that a Committee of 34 members thinks that it is impossible for other Committees to come to a sensible conclusion with only 15 members, while its own membership of 34, which is already in place, is apparently entirely logical?
Mr. Cook: The hon. Gentleman makes an entirely fair point with great force and eloquence. As I am seeking hard to build the maximum possible consensus, he will forgive me if I do not endorse what he suggests on this occasion, but the whole House will have heard it.
Mr. Williams: I speak in the spirit of good will that emanates from my right hon. Friend and in recognition of the fact that I am the poor man who will have to chair a Committee of 34 members trying to carry out an investigation. The Liaison Committee indicated in response to the Modernisation Committee that it did not see any point in removing representation of the domestic Committees because such a change would reduce its membership by only six and because we are not an interrogatory Committee. It is only in the past three weeks that we have taken on an interrogatory role like that of other Committees. Therefore, our judgment was made in one context, but we are being criticised in another.