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Select Committees

Volume 122: debated on Tuesday 10 November 1987

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Q3.

To ask the Prime Minister what representations she has received about the establishment of Select Committees to monitor Government Departments.

I have received a small number of representations, including one from the hon. Member.

Does the Prime Minister agree that the inability to bring forward and to find time on the Floor of the House for a given number of reports from Select Committees that are meant to oversee Government Departments weakens the accountability of the Government in the parliamentary process? Will she make representations to her hon. Friends to bring forward the recommendations of the Procedure Committee to ensure that Select Committees have a proper place in our parliamentary process?

As the hon. Gentleman is aware, there were motions on the Order Paper about Select Committees which were objected to yesterday, and which are still on the Order Paper today. Select Committees have an important role. They have a considerable number of days allocated to them for debate, but if the hon. Gentleman thinks that that is not enough he should have a word with his Front Bench to secure more of the Opposition's days.

Does my right hon. Friend accept that the Ombudsman committee already does an excellent job in overseeing Government Departments? Will she consider extending the jurisdiction of that committee to include the Police Complaints Authority?

Any such questions should be addressed in the first place to the Leader of the House. I am wary about saying anything about Select Committees without first consulting my right hon. Friend, for very good reasons.

When the Prime Minister considers the establishment of Select Committees to monitor Government Departments, will she consider a Select Committee to monitor the progress of the Anglo-Irish Agreement? Does she agree with the Government of the Republic of Ireland that, with the Government of the United Kingdom, we can use the agreement to put behind us the tragic events of Sunday and seek peace, stability and reconciliation for the whole of Ireland?

I believe that the Anglo-Irish Agreement offers the best chance that we have of enhancing security co-operation with the Irish. My right hon. Friend will be having further urgent talks with Irish Ministers about security. Perhaps the statement that we had yesterday and the universal expressions of opinion from both sides of the House spoke volumes more than any Select Committee could.

Will my right hon. Friend also bear in mind that quite a number of hon. Members on both sides of the House think that we are getting on rather well without Select Committees? Bearing in mind the excesses of some of the Select Committees in the last Parliament, will she not be in a hurry to see that they are re-established?

As my hon. Friend knows, motions on the membership of most of the Select Committees were put before the House yesterday and objected to. They remain on the Order Paper and the House will have an opportunity to consider them in the normal way.

I have heard what my hon. Friend has said about the Select Committees. The House decided that they should monitor each Department, and we therefore do not have anything like a Science and Technology Committee. If I am allowed to have a personal opinion, I must say that I have always rather regretted that.