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Departmental Select Committees

Volume 210: debated on Tuesday 30 June 1992

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

Before we begin the debate on the motion on Select Committees, it might be helpful to the House if I described the procedure to be followed.

We shall begin with a general debate on the motion and the issues raised by the amendments. This may continue for one and a half hours, and as a number of Members wish to speak, it would be helpful if speeches were limited. At the conclusion of the debate, the Chair will first give an opportunity for the selected amendments to be moved formally—that is to say, amendment (f) on a Northern Ireland Committee in the name of the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Molyneaux) and amendment (h) on an Energy Sub-Committee in the name of the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson). The Question will then be put on the motion itself.

8.59 pm

The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons
(Mr. Tony Newton)

I beg to move,

some of the others that we have heard deployed with such skill by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Social Security, who has left the Chamber.

The right hon. Gentleman is looking older.

I do not know how to respond to this badinage from the Liberal Democrats Bench. If the hon. Gentleman is saying that I look as if I am having even more problems than I had with social security, I have to say, especially as I launch this debate, that I have a sense of some satisfaction in moving a motion that large parts of the press, and perhaps an even larger part of the House, told me they did not think I would be able to deliver before the summer recess.

Bearing in mind your remarks, Madam Speaker, I shall speak briefly. It is clear that, despite the relative modesty of the motion, the proposals that I am putting before the House have attracted a good deal of interest, and a number of Members wish to speak in the debate. At this stage, it will probably be for the convenience of hon. Members if I explain the motion quite quickly.

The revisions to Standing Order No. 130 that are reflected in the motion introduce the changes to the Select Committee system required by the post-election changes in the machinery of government. I think it can be said that they reflect the Government's continuing commitment to the basic principle that the Committee structure should shadow the various Departments of State. The motion provides for two new Committees to be set up, to shadow the Department of National Heritage and the Office of Science and Technology, both of them with the usual, maximum number of 11 Members and with a quorum of three.

The new National Heritage Committee will look at all the functions of the new Department, including the former responsibilities of the Office of Arts and Libraries and have responsibility for broadcasting, the built heritage, sport, tourism, film, export licensing of works of art and, in due course—subject to the passage of the necessary legislation—the proposed national lottery and millennium fund.

So far as science and technology is concerned, the proposal is to set up a full Committee to oversee the work of the new Office of Science and Technology, bearing in mind the importance attached to science and technology matters by the House over a long period, which was reflected in the Procedure Committee's report on the working of the Select Committee system in 1990. In the circumstances of the last Parliament, that report recommended either that there should be a joint Committee with the House of Lords or that two additional Members should be provided for the Education, Science and Arts Committee, with power to form a Sub-Committee on Science and Technology. The House approved the latter option in amendments to the orders of reference last July.

The appointment of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster to take responsibility at Cabinet level for science and technology demonstrates very clearly the Government's commitment to the importance of these issues, and that is reflected also in our proposal for a Select Committee. As the new Office of Science and Technology is within the Cabinet Office, we could have proposed to transfer the power to form a Sub-Committee, and the additional members to do this, to the Treasury and Civil Service Select Committee.

That would have placed an additional burden on that busy Committee, which already makes use of the power to form a Sub-Committee on civil service matters.

Instead, my right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Duchy have readily agreed to my proposal that the Office of Science and Technology should have its own Select Committee. Other functions of the renamed Office of Public Service and Science, including civil service matters, the citizens charter, and "next steps", will fall, as before, to the Treasury and Civil Service Select Committee.

Provision for the Education, Science and Arts Select Committee to set up a Committee to look at science matters, as set out in the first four lines of the current Standing Order, is therefore removed. That is the purpose of the last amendment in the motion. In other words, the former Education, Science and Arts Select Committee will now look solely at education issues and will revert to the normal maximum membership of 11, with a quorum of three.

Does the Leader of the House accept from me, as a member of the first Science and Technology Select Committee set up in 1966 under the chairmanship of Arthur Palmer, that there are real problems here? If the House of Commons is to scrutinise science policy, even under the new ministerial arrangements, because of the nature of the problems that it faces it must be involved to some extent in the Department of Education, certainly in the Department of Health and the Department of Trade and Industry and possibly in the Scottish Office and Welsh Office. My direct question is: will the new Select Committee have the authority to roam over the responsibilities of other Departments that are not covered by the Office of Science and Technology?

The direct answer is that that is conceived in relation to the basic proposition that the House go down the path of departmental Select Committees. Therefore, the Committee's remit is the work covered by the Office of Science and Technology. I hope that that is a sufficiently direct answer to the hon. Gentleman's question.

Obviously, the hon. Gentleman is free to make a case for a Committee that is more along the lines of a House of Lords Committee, and I suspect that he intends to do so. The basic proposition has been made that the work of departmental Select Committees should match that of Departments. I acknowledge that that is the basis on which this proposal is put before the House.

The Select Committee on Procedure report in 1978, which looked forward to the present system of departmental Select Committees, argued that Select Committees should be primarily, but not exclusively, based on Departments of State. Given the fact that energy constitutes 20 per cent. of the United Kingdom's gross domestic product, is there not a strong case for a Select Committee on Energy to cover that important aspect of the nation's life? Does the Leader of the House really believe that that huge Department, covered by a huge Committee in the Department of Trade and Industry, will be able to deal adequately with energy issues?

The hon. Gentleman is advancing arguments which I suspect will crop up in various forms during the debate. Amendment (h) on that subject adopts a different tack from that proposed by the hon. Gentleman, who suggests a separate Committee. It suggests tacking energy on to the Select Committee for the Environment, creating a different kind of multi-departmental conglomerate. I should like to hear arguments developed on that subject before I comment further. My present purpose is to make a brief introductory speech, recognising that the hon. Gentleman and others will wish to make a number of points later.

I was about to comment on the energy issue, which now falls to the Trade and Industry Select Committee, with the exception of energy efficiency, which is the responsibility of the Department of the Environment and would therefore fall to the Environment Select Committee. For that to happen, no amendments are required to the Standing Orders that govern either of those Committees, which may reflect the House's long-standing policy. I cannot pretend that I see a case for retaining the Energy Select Committee, given that the Energy Department has disappeared. I emphasise what I said in business questions last Thursday, that that is in no sense a reflection on the Members who have served on the Energy Committee since the current system was set up. They have done a good job in respect of their duties.

Yes, indeed. I was about to refer to the distinguished Chairman, who led the Committee in its excellent work, along with whom I represent, as Member of Parliament, the borough of Chelmsford.

My right hon. Friend said that, as Select Committees will shadow Departments of State, he saw no reason to have a Select Committee on Energy. Perhaps he would agree with the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) that energy constitutes 20 per cent. of gross domestic product. As, according to his logic, there can be a Select Committee only if there is an appropriate Department of State, does he agree that it was inappropriate to abolish that Department of State?

I regard my hon. Friend's suggestion as a temptation, which I shall avoid, to comment on decisions that are fairly and squarely for my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, as they relate to the machinery of government. Mine is the relatively humble role of seeking to match the operation of the House of Commons to the consequences of those decisions.

As I said in business questions last week, although the matter is touched on in the motion in only one limited way, I am happy to say that the Government firmly intend to establish a Select Committee on Scottish Affairs. The relevant change to the Standing Order does not need to provide for a Committee. It simply provides for its membership to be 11 rather than 13, and its quorum to be three rather than five, to put it on a par with all the other Select Committees. That will ease the way to the setting up of the Committee, which I believe is the general wish of all hon. Members.

The House is well aware that I am relatively new to the job. One lesson that I have quickly learnt is that it has, at least in one way, a good deal in common with my social security post. Whatever advance one proposes, the applause is muted and quickly replaced by cries of "M ore, more." In this case, the manifestation of "More, more" is the range of amendments on the Order Paper to which it is clear a number of hon. Members wish to refer in their speeches. Perhaps it would be rash of me to excite hopes and say that I will feel able to invite the House to go beyond what I propose, but I look forward to hearing what is said and, with the leave of the House, to responding later.

9.12 pm

It is nice to be able to begin with one or two words of welcome. I start where the Leader of the House left off, and give a particular welcome to the establishment at long last of the long overdue Select Committee on Scottish Affairs. Without wishing to sound churlish, it falls to me to remind the House that the Government have been in breach of Standing Orders for more than five years by not acting on that matter. There is no doubt that that has constituted a serious gap in the proper parliamentary scrutiny of Government business. Much as I welcome the fact that a Select Committee is at long last being set up, I regret that its membership has been reduced. I am sorry, as are many of my hon. Friends, that it is to be a smaller Select Committee, but better smaller and late than never.

There are other aspects of the motion that are to be welcomed. I and my hon. Friends strongly support the establishment of a Select Committee to shadow the Department of National Heritage. Although it has been designated the "Ministry of Fun" for obvious reasons, it has some extremely important issues to consider. We are seeing an almost daily steady decline in the standards of public service broadcasting as the Thatcherite—I use that somewhat outdated word as the ethos still prevails—view of broadcasting is imposed on the industry and morale is at an all-time low.

We are slipping slowly and inexorably towards a United States system of broadcasting. Only last week, a report commissioned by the Policy Studies Institute said that there had been a savage decline in the amount of time given by the BBC to features, documentaries, current affairs, sport and children's programmes. That will no doubt continue, and that is something that the Select Committee emphatically needs to look at.

I make no apology for being populist, if that is how it is seen, in saying that I hope that the Select Committee will look sooner rather than later at the way in which we are being denied the right to see live sporting events on our terrestrial screens. About 96 per cent. of our constituents have access to BBC and ITV, on which they could previously watch world cup cricket and now can watch league football. Due to the magic of the free enterprise market system, only 13 per cent. will be able to watch premiere league football next season. I say "the magic of the market system", but it is a system which bewilders me, because the company BSkyB, which has managed to take over the exclusive right to premiere league football, reported a loss of £759 million in the 37 weeks to the end of June last year. If that is the operation of market forces, it is very strange. Clearly those are issues that we hope will be scrutinised by the Select Committee on National Heritage.

We also welcome the Select Committee on Science and Technology. However, I come now to a couple of points of criticism. The Select Committee on Science and Technology will exist basically to shadow much of the work that is the responsibility of the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, but not all that work because, as the Prime Minister emphasised, one of his key jobs is to oversee the famous citizens charter and its operation. On no less an occasion than the debate on the Loyal Address, the Prime Minister said:
"The citizens charter will be at the centre of the Government's decision-making"—[Official Report, 6 May 1992; Vol. 207, c. 66.]
It is the job of the House to be there at the sharp end with its Select Committees at the centre of the Government's decision-making. I should like to know which Select Committee will be responsible for overseeing the operation of the citizens charter.

Would my hon. Friend go any way towards accepting that, if the object of the Select Committee on Science and Technology is to consider the Government's science policy, if the Select Committee cannot at its discretion consider the work of the Ministry of Defence and the Board of Trade, let alone the work of the Department of Education and the Department of Health, that Committee is a sham?

I should not be quite as critical as my hon. Friend. There is a good deal of overlap in practice in a lot of what the Select Committees do. There is often a dispute about whether a particular subject should be covered by one Select Committee or another. But there is no doubt that overall—that is the only way in which we can judge these things—the establishment of the Select Committee is one I welcome, as I am sure does my hon. Friend.

I place it clearly on record that the Opposition were completely opposed to the ending of the Department of Energy, not least because of the tremendous importance to our economy, of the work of those in the energy industries, and, for those who listened to yesterday's debate, the unique dangers faced by people who work in the energy industries, whether in the pits or on the North sea. We very much regret the end of that Department, and that is the motivating factor behind an amendment to today's motion, which I commend to the House. I hope that the Leader of the House will consider it sympathetically.

Does my hon. Friend not agree with me that the difficulty is that, in energy, many problems confront us, not least the privatisation of coal, the rising prices of electricity and gas and the lack of a real voice for the consumer? If we look at what is happening in trade and industry, the need for an effective watchdog, the continuing recession, and the need to look at crises in the City, at Lloyd's and elsewhere, it is clear that both these subjects deserve a Select Committee. Would it not be sensible, since we all decry what the Government have done in bringing them together, that there should at least be a Sub-Committee for both, so that each can play its full role? There is no way, given the problems that confront us, that one Committee can do justice to trade and industry and to energy.

My hon. Friend makes a very telling point. I am sure that he will have seen the amendment in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson), which would specifically establish a Sub-Committee of the Trade and Industry Committee to deal with energy matters. I very much hope that that amendment will commend itself to the House.

Finally, I refer back to the debate that we had a week ago today, when the whole House strongly supported the report of the Select Committee on Members' Interests, so far as it related to Select Committee Chairmen and members. It recognised the special powers which members of Select Committees have and the special access which Chairmen of Select Committees have. That is an important Select Committee recommendation and should be the basis on which future Select Committees are established.

I very much hope that the Leader of the House will come forward with resolutions to implement the recommendations of that Select Committee, as we said in last week's debate; but I hope that, in the meantime, it will be clear from this debate and from the debate a week ago that the message from that Select Committee is one of which anyone thinking of serving on a Select Committee or acting as Chairman of a Select Committee should be extremely mindful—I put it as neutrally as that. It was the clear view of the House that that was a good Select Committee report and one that should be acknowledged and understood by all hon. Members.

With those few words of caution, I hope that the Leader of the House will respond to the points that I have made, and that this motion will commend itself to the House.

9.23 pm

I quite understand the position in which my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House finds himself tonight when he is recommending Select Committees to shadow and monitor Departments of State. The Energy Select Committee, of which I had the privilege of being Chairmen for three years until the last general election, anticipated this position. It anticipated that the Department of Energy might well disappear and be merged with the Department of Trade and Industry. In an attempt to point out to my right hon. Friend and others who make decisions regarding the House the wisdom of retaining an Energy Select Committee, we produced our report entitled "House of Commons Scrutiny of Energy Matters". It is to that that I should like to talk in the few minutes that I have at my disposal in this rather short debate.

I congratulate my right hon. Friend and welcome the creation of a Select Committee on Science and Technology, even though I accept that there are some shortcomings in that Committee, as has already been mentioned by the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell).

Is that a coded way of saying that the hon. Gentleman agrees with what I have said?

The hon. Member knows from the many years that we have shared an interest in science that we both seek to have a Committee in the House that has more interest in science than the Education and Science Select Committee had in the past. It was indeed a Committee in which education was writ large and science was writ small. Anything that improves that situation, I welcome. The hon. Gentleman and I have both been recommending for some time that there should be a Science and Technology Committee in this House as well as in the other place. If it is not perfect, this is at least a major step in the right direction.

Having sat on the Education and Science Select Committee, I join other right hon. and hon. Members in welcoming the formation of the new Science and Technology Select Committee. It means that science and technology will get a lead from this place that they have never had before.

When the Select Committee on Energy produced its reports, its members wondered to what extent they influenced Government policies and decisions. Others may say that the Committee had no influence at all and just created a series of coincidences—that, when it made recommendations, by coincidence the Government were on the same track and would have introduced some of the measures they did, even without the Committee's recommendations.

Be that as it may, as an ex-management consultant I am happy to say that, even if the Committee's reports were superfluous, it is reassuring that they pointed in the same direction as the coincidences. We obtained some satisfaction from that. We believe, however, that we did have influence.

The Committee's report on mining subsidence, for example, was followed shortly thereafter by a Bill that embraced many of our recommendations on subsidence in Nottinghamshire and South Yorkshire. When, in the early 1980s, the Committee recommended that the Government should avoid generating 15,000 MW of electricity using a series of pressurised water reactors, shortly thereafter the PWR programme was curtailed and a whole family of reactors did not get built.

The changes in North sea oil taxation that we recommended in 1983 were seen—by coincidence, design or influence—to be acted on. So it was with our 1983 recommendation to establish an Office of Energy Efficiency.

In 1985, the Committee recommended the abolition of the North sea oil corporation. Giving evidence., one Minister defended the British National Oil Corporation, even though work to dismantle it was clearly already under way. An announcement to that effect was made three weeks after that Minister's evidence was given.

Perhaps the biggest example of all was the Committee's recommendation, when electricity privatisation was under consideration, that nuclear generation should not go into the private sector. We gave a whole host of reasons. On that occasion, there were no coincidences. Instead, our recommendations were ignored and it was planned to include all nuclear generation in the privatisation. However, we were not surprised when, one year later, an announcement was made in this Chamber that nuclear generation would be taken out of the privatisation programme.

We are not sure how that influence came about. Was it a question of exerting pressure over a period of time, prompting the Department to re-examine issues that it had already considered, or of forcing Ministers to take a closer interest in matters that had interested the Committee? On many occasions, a feature of the Committee's inquiries has been that they have prompted the Department to hold its own inquiry, finishing either shortly before or shortly after our own. We believe that we prompted many inquiries, to the good of the Department, the Government, and the country.

We sought also to hold Ministers accountable, call civil servants before us to explain their actions, and to call to account those in charge of public bodies. The Committee ensured that information was made available to the House, the energy industry, the public, pressure groups, and the media. We believe that we did much to improve the transparency of information associated with the nuclear industry and others.

There is still much work to be done. Assuming that the Energy Select Committee will be abolished tonight, let me bring to the attention of whomever inherits the mantle page 5 of the report to which I referred. It reveals a catalogue of work—so much work, indeed, that I worry about whether a Committee dealing with energy only as a part-time job could undertake it all.

There is much to be scrutinised. There is the continuing evolution of the privatised electricity industry, and the future of the coal industry, which is now the subject of privatisation proposals. Who will scrutinise those proposals from a parliamentary point of view, apart from members of the Standing Committee considering the relevant Bill? There is the 1994 review of nuclear power: that should be scrutinised carefully, and Members of Parliament should give it their attention well before 1994.

We must continue to monitor the fossil fuel levy, and decide what can be done to reduce it even further. We must examine the restructuring of the gas industry through the activities of the Office of Fair Trading and, of course, the Ofgas regulator. Is the industry right to retain its present size, or should it be broken down into smaller competing parts? The depletion of our oil and gas on the UK continental shelf is a big item in itself, and it will take any Committee a long time to come up with the right proposals and to formulate appropriate policies.

There is also the need to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, which contribute to global warming, and the need to examine the Government's role in funding research and development in the energy sector. Finally, we should consider the implications for the United Kingdom of the European Commission's proposals to unify and regulate the European energy market.

As I have said, there is much to be done. Who will do it? Perhaps the Select Committee on Trade and Industry will oblige. It will be difficult to ask questions about energy in the House; on the two occasions in the current Session when Trade and Industry questions have been asked, four or five energy questions have been at the bottom of the Order Paper and some have not been reached at all. I hope that, if the Trade and Industry Committee undertake all the work, it will not turn out to be like the Select Committee on Education and Science, which has been mentioned by one or two hon. Members. It must not be 95 per cent. trade and industry and only 5 per cent. energy. I hope that it will give at least 40 per cent. of its time to energy.

If amendment (h) is accepted, an Energy Sub-Committee may be set up. I feel that that would be almost the worst of all worlds. If such a Sub-Committee is to operate effectively and thoroughly, it will have to meet almost as frequently as the main Committee, and Members of Parliament with an interest in energy will have to sit on both the main Committee and the Sub-Committee. Opposition Members who take Select Committees seriously know that they entail a great deal of work, and that sitting on a Sub-Committee means sitting on the main Committee as well. I doubt that many hon. Members will be prepared to devote themselves to the amount of work that will be required, and I therefore do not feel that a Sub-Committee is a good idea.

As the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) pointed out, energy constitutes 20 per cent. of our gross domestic product. It is a coherent and clearly defined subject. Whatever its shortcomings, in recent weeks the Select Committee has received the support of 88 Members of Parliament in an early-day motion.

Despite what the hon. Gentleman has said—much of which I should like to be able to support—will he vote for the establishment of a Sub-Committee in the belief that it would be better than nothing?

Yes, of course I believe that a Sub-Committee would be better than none at all. A full Committee would be best, but I shall vote for a Sub-Committee if that is all there is to vote for.

As I said, 88 hon. Members would like the Select Committee on Energy to remain. The chairman of Nuclear Electric indicated likewise in a letter to The Times. We have had letters from generators, oil companies and trade associations, and we know that at least one regulator would like us to remain. It seems that we may not do so. It appears that tonight may see the end of a Committee which, I believe, has served the House, the industry and, I hope, the nation well in the past 13 years. Whoever is to scrutinise energy matters, we urge them to be diligent. Whoever scrutinises energy, we wish them well.

9.34 pm

In a sense, my amendment is a re-run of that which featured in the debate on 18 July 1991. The then Leader of the House did his best to ignore the amendment, and I have no reason to believe that the Government will display any greater enthusiasm for the one that we have tabled on this occasion.

On that earlier occasion, the only contributor to oppose the creation of a Select Committee on Northern Ireland was the Government spokesman, the then Leader of the House. All other hon. Members who spoke to the amendment fully supported us. As is so often the case in this so-called democratic institution, had it been left to the hon. Members who were present, freed from the malign influence of the Whips Office, our amendment would have been carried. That malign influence will no doubt be employed today to ensure that democracy does not prevail, and the same malign influence will probably be used to give the Select Committee on Energy the chop in the same undemocratic fashion. We shall do our best to assist hon. Members of all parties who have spoken so eloquently in support of the retention of some form of Committee on energy.

In a letter to the Chairman of the Select Committee on Procedure dated 8 February 1990, I wrote:
"There ought to be a Northern Ireland Select Committee dealing with those matters for which the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland is responsible, but for which there is no counterpart in Great Britain, e.g. the implementation of the Anglo-Irish Agreement 1985, and the political direction of security."
On another occasion I went a bit further. In a letter dated 22 May, I wrote to the Chairman of the Select Committee:
"Thank you for your letter of 15 May about the proposal for a Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs"—
which, incidentally, had wide support from the Procedure Committee. My letter continued:
"such a body would be a great asset to the people of Northern Ireland, extending as it would to their affairs the same scrutiny as is provided for the rest of the United Kingdom. In our view, the establishment of a Northern Ireland Select Committee should not be delayed for the invalid reason that some day a structure of Government may be invented for Northern Ireland."

My right hon. Friend might remember that the Front-Bench spokesman for the Opposition today the hon. Member for The Wrekin (Mr. Grocott), referred to the need for a Select Committee to scrutinise at the sharp end of Government. Is it not a shame and a travesty of scrutiny in the House that, since Select Committees were established, the sharp end of Government has not been scrutinised?

Yes, and my hon. Friend will be delighted that he and I were supported by the Select Committee on Procedure in its second report, especially paragraphs 272 to 278. The report stated:

"Accordingly, whilst we do not believe that the uncertainties over the future administration of the Province can be allowed to preclude indefinitely the establishment of proper arrangements for the scrutiny by the House of the Northern Ireland Department, we accept that this will not be a sensible moment to recommend the establishment of a Select Committee on Northern Ireland affairs. Nevertheless, we consider that the Government cannot postpone dealing with this matter for very much longer and we will keep the position under review."
Then comes the key sentence:
"We may well wish to return to it once the outcome of the current talks is clear."
The earlier talks had ended two weeks before the debate on 18 July 1991. In that debate, the Chairman of the Select Committee on Procedure said, not unreasonably, that, although the talks had ended:
"there has not been enough time for us to reconsider the issue."—[Official Report, 18 July 1991; Vol. 195, c. 585.]
I do not know whether the Committee reconsidered the matter in the nine months that elapsed before entirely new talks commenced.

It is true that the new talks are currently under way. Just in case the Government have it in mind to wheel out the old device of blocking the amendment on the ground that this would not be a sensible time to establish a Select Committee, I should tell the House that all the participants in the current talks have taken the view that the establishment of a Northern Ireland Select Committee is a matter for the House of Commons and not for those participating in or engaged in the talks

The former obstacle is therefore removed: I hope that the Government will not grub around in search of another obstacle, because that would be equally unconvincing.

Is it not right to say that, if the talks succeeded, there would be matters for which the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and his colleagues would be responsible to the House? Will they never be brought into scrutiny by the House? Do they have some sort of special exemption by which the House can never question them about how they do their work or make them give an account of their stewardship of Northern Ireland?

My hon. Friend has reminded me that we now have a five-way agreement. I am glad that the Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland is here representing us and standing up for us. My hon. Friend has reminded me that we have a five-way agreement, because the Government team in the talks—we are not giving away secrets—has also agreed that there are certain matters which will remain in perpetuity the sole responsibility of the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. We have a five-way agreement that this is a matter for the House of Commons to decide tonight, minus the malign influence of the Whips Office.

I hope that the Government will not look round for another obstacle. To do so would cast a shadow over the Government's integrity in the light of the response towards the end of the debate on 18 July 1991, when the then Leader of the House declared:
"now is not the time to set up such a Select Committee. However, I assure the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley that the matter can he reviewed again at appropriate times, and that I shall be prepared to do that."—[Official Report, 18 July 1991; Vol. 195, c. 602–3.]
The present Leader of the House was informed last week of our intention to press for a decision this evening. I know that he understands our reason for asking to be included with the other countries in the United Kingdom. It is simply to enable the Government to demonstrate that their philosophy of open government shall apply to all parts of the United Kingdom, in line with the assertions and undertakings given by the Prime Minister in the heat of the last week of the general election campaign. Those facilities and benefits should not be withheld from one part of the kingdom which has suffered greatly from being different simply because the Government insist on making it different.

The establishment of a Select Committee would be a stabilising factor. It would not compete with the current talks, but would be an injection of confidence which could and would assist all of us who are currently engaged in the talks and trying hard to agree on a more effective method of governing Northern Ireland. It would be a prize that would cost the Government nothing. Because it is a benefit that the House of Commons has the power to bestow, it would restore faith in the willingness of the House of Commons to extend that protection to the interests of majorities and minorities alike.

9.44 pm

The text for this evening's debate was presented by the Leader of the House when he referred to the relative modesty of the motion. Never have truer words been spoken. I am very disappointed by the modesty of the proposals and I cannot allow the debate to proceed much further without expressing as a Back Bencher my profound sense of dissatisfaction. I have been a member of the Select Committee on Defence since 1979, and as I believe in the potential of Select Committees as the jewel in the crown of our legislature, I cannot believe that we are going to wait so long before our Select Committee system is reactivated.

Staff are sitting on their hands through no fault of their own and areas of policy desperately require the scrutiny that qualified Select Committee members can provide.I do not want to discuss where the blame lies—whether with the Government or with the Opposition. However, next time round and after the next general election, we should try to do things better than we have managed after every election since the Select Committees were established in 1979.

The Select Committees were set up in 1979, although it took many months before they were activated. After 13 years, I had hoped that we would have been able to reflect on the performance of Select Committees and decide how they should operate in future. I am disappointed by the modest proposals in the Procedure Committee's report.

The key to understanding why our Committee system is one of the weakest in the western world is that we have a combination of members of the Executive who can set the ground rules for the way in which the legislature operates in the same way as corrupt boxing promoters can choose the contenders, the boxing board and even the referee. The procedure is a sad reflection on this House and on the way in which the Executive operate.

While I can understand why the Government want to abolish the Department of Energy, although I disagree with that, the case for a Select Committee on Energy is overwhelming. Why should the Executive determine the form of scrutiny in the House? I hope that hon. Members will have the guts to vote against the motion. However, we fail not simply because of the overbearing dominance of the Executive, who have ruled this House for generations, but also because we have been too supine.

Hordes of hon. Members around the building are doing their correspondence as they watch television. They will not have heard the arguments, and if there is a vote, they will support the Government. They will not have heard the arguments why there should be Energy and Northern Ireland Select Committees or stronger Sub-Committees. Why should the Executive tell a Select Committee that it cannot set up a Sub-Committee because that will cause too much work for the Executive and be costly?

We need only consider the Standing Committees and Select Committees of the House to discover what scrutiny costs the taxpayer. The Select Committee of which I have had the privilege to be a member is scrutinising a labyrinthine Department which is probably the most devious in the western world. I should like to know whether there is a more devious Department than the Ministry of Defence—

I think that the Ministry of Defence is the most devious.

We must consider how much is spent on scrutiny compared with what we are scrutinising. We are scrutinising £20,000 million of taxpayers' money. Compared with that sum, the expenditure devoted to Select Committees is puny. We should not feel remotely guilty about wanting more power and better staffing, but we did not ask for that in the Procedure Committee report and we shall not get it.

The date 25 June 1979 should have been a crucial date in 20th-century parliamentary history, because that is when my Select Committee was set up. Lord St. John of Fawsley set the Committees up and, for his pains, was sacked shortly afterwards. He spoke of a change in the balance of power between the legislature and the Executive. On reflection, that was rather a pious hope.

The history of parliamentary reform is deeply unimpressive. Changes have been many—mostly to the advantage of the Executive in running this place—but reforms have been few. One of the few reforms that we can record in the 20th century is the establishment of the Select Committee system. Regrettably, it has been downhill all the way before and since.

The Stevas reform slightly slowed down the further decline in the power of the House, but unless we provide more power of parliamentary scrutiny by Committees, the Executive will become even more dominant. The motion merely shuffles the deckchairs around on the sinking Titanic. That is all that we are doing today. We are considering whether to add a little Committee here and remove a Committee there or whether to set up a Sub-Committee here or there. We are not discussing the powers of the Committees. That does not reflect well on the way in which we operate.

My principal criticism is not of the Leader of the House, whom I admire, but of my colleagues. I intend no disrespect to them, but recommendation xxvii of the report, "The Working of the Select Committee System", says:
"We do not consider that new or additional powers for Select Committees are necessary or would be workable."
That is an appalling admission.

What should we be doing? We should not be messing around considering which Select Committee to set up. We should be asking why the Select Committees cannot play a role in the budgetary process. Why is ours virtually the only committee system in the democratic world which is excluded from the budgetary process? In the Defence Select Committee we have amiable seminars on the defence estimates, but we do not have a real budgetary role.

The Select Committee ought to have some role in the budgetary process. We ought to be able to set up sub-committees. When one is dealing with a Department like the Ministry of Defence, one must strike across a wide variety of areas of policy, administration and expenditure. That is why we need Sub-Committees and, in some cases, more than 11 members. That follows on from the points that have been made.

The Foreign Affairs Select Committee had an Overseas Aid Committee, which was busted. What has happened subsequently to overseas aid? Once a Select Committee cannot set up a Sub-Committee, its role has declined. I believe that Sub-Committees are important. The Defence Select Committee should have a role in the procurement process, but we do not have such a role because we operate within a culture of ministerial secrecy.

In conclusion, the Select Committee's lack of power is partly our fault. The establishment of the Select Committees was an attempt to rationalise a hotch-potch of Committees which had evolved over decades, indeed, centuries. It was an attempt to make those Committees rational by simply setting up Committees to match Government Departments. But while the Executive has sought to overcome departmentalism and to break down the difficulties of running Governments exclusively through watertight Departments, we have made no commensurate effort to do so. We, the members of the Select Committees, guard our pitches jealously. We should have the power to establish Joint Committees.

Why should we not have set up a Joint Defence and Foreign Affairs Committee on the Falklands, the Westland affair or the Iraqi dispute? The Select Committee on Trade and Industry examined the super-gun affair. The Public Committee has poached consistently. It has been a classic case of divide and rule. So long as we fight against each other, the Executive remain relatively unscrutinised.

I fully sympathise with the splendid argument that the hon. Gentleman advances on behalf of Back Benchers, but I hope that he will not forget, for example, that in the last Parliament the Health Select Committee and the Social Security Select Committee undertook a joint inquiry into the level of fees for private residential and nursing homes. The lead Committee was the Social Security Committee. If Select Committees are determined to do things, they have the power to do so within the authority of the House. The hon. Gentleman is right that the Select Committees have notched up a problem by not necessarily doing precisely what the House wanted. They are not prepared to stand up for their authority and perform the duties that they can undertake with the authority of the House.

I appreciate that that is true, but the fact that the hon. Gentleman gave an example of a joint inquiry that is unique illustrates my point. Those two Committees were one and, at least in the short term, had the habit of working together. However, the Select Committee on Defence would no more run a joint inquiry with the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs than the Americans would have gone to the moon with the Russians 10 years ago.

Is there not a crisp answer to my hon. Friend's question, "Why?" It is simply that party comes before Parliament in the House of Commons. Unlike the American legislature, we are a so-called pool of talent from which both the Executive and the legislature are selected. It was a crying shame that the House of Commons was not far tougher with Leon Brittan, as it ought to have called Lady Thatcher before it.

As a member of that Committee, I can reinforce what my hon. Friend says.

While travelling around eastern Europe to help—or hinder, as some people might say—to set up legislatures and committees, I recall a bizarre occasion when I spoke in Bulgaria at a conference on the control of intelligence services. I confess that the section on United Kingdom intelligence in my presentation was not protracted.

One must bear in mind the fact that many of the countries which we accused of having rubber-stamp legislatures of no consequence have jumped over our heads and achieved a level of legislative scrutiny of their Executive that should put us to shame. We are in danger of moving from being a reactive to a rubber-stamp legislature.

Select Committees, which are functioning and financed properly, with the powers and respect that they deserve, could help to redress the inexorable decline of the legislature. If we simply allow the Government to get away with telling us what to do and tinkering with the existing system, we shall deserve to slip even further into political impotence—and we shall fully deserve that unless we fight against it.

9.56 pm

I can do no better than follow the general constitutional argument that the hon. Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George) advanced so well. It is vital to democracy that the legislature scrutinises the Executive—whoever they are—effectively. The logic of that is that, as soon as a new Government are formed, Parliament should set up its own Select Committee structure automatically, within a matter of days. If it does not, it is not merely a question of wasting the resources of people who are ready to do the job of serving Members. The Government make decisions from the day that they take office, and Parliament should be scrutinising those decisions and asking questions from that day onwards.

Obviously, some elements of the motion are welcome, some are logical and some overdue. With the setting up of a new Department of National Heritage, a Select Committee to shadow it is welcome. I heard and agreed with the remark made by the hon. Member for Rochford (Dr. Clark) and the intervention by his hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, North (Mr. Thompson), as I welcome a Select Committee to shadow the Government on science and technology matters—it is long overdue. It is not possible to contemplate a progressive democracy in which acute thinking, observation and discussion occur in relation to huge areas of great importance without such a Select Committee. The Select Committee on Education and Science was 90 per cent. education and 10 per cent. science. It was not wrong to spend that time on education—far from it—but it was wrong that we did not spend the appropriate time on science and technology. So that is progress.

Clearly, there has been no progress over a series of matters which are the subject of the amendments which were selected and those tabled but not selected. My hon. Friends and I share the view enunciated clearly by the former Chairman of the Energy Select Committee, the hon. Member for Rochford—there is all-party support for it—that it is not realistic or appropriate for energy matters to be subsumed within the Department of Trade and Industry.

Whatever the argument about the logic of the disappearance of the Department of Energy, it does not follow automatically that Departments must be mirrored absolutely by the House. The reasons are obvious: first, the decision as to how to monitor Government should be for the House; and, secondly, practical questions arise about the enormity of the work load. However, the energy policy of this resource-rich country and the agenda of issues, adequately enunciated by the former Chairman of the Select Committee on Energy—as evidenced by the work of that Committee over the years—logically point to the need for one group of people to continue to concentrate on energy.

Questions put in this debate have already shown that it will not be possible for a Committee to straddle the portfolios of the Department of Trade and Industry and the Department of Energy. The Committee will probably do justice to neither, let alone to both. We support the idea that energy should be looked after by a separate Committee. We believe that that attitude will be vindicated by a decision taken by the House in the future, if not tonight.

My right hon. and hon. Friends and I tabled an amendment to provide the logical second-best to a separate Select Committee on Energy. If one must put energy anywhere, it should, logically, be considered with other natural resources—water, Iand and air. That is why we tabled our amendment to include the energy portfolio in the Department of the Environment's brief. That is the logical approach adopted by other countries.

My hon. Friend the Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood), our Chief Whip, has also put his name to the amendment calling for a Select Committee on Northern Ireland, on which we shall vote. We support the argument of the leader of the Ulster Unionists that it is ludicrous that the House does not have such a Select Committee. That is unfair to the people of Northern Ireland. The United Kingdom is made up of four separate entities, and it is unfair that the people of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are denied the ability to scrutinise legislation.

The current arrangement is even more illogical when one considers the way in which we handle Northern Ireland legislation in the House. We have all been here when such legislation, which is parallel to a Bill that is debated at length on Second Reading, in Committee, on Report and on Third Reading, is put through the House, by order, in an hour and a half or three hours. That system for primary Northern Ireland legislation makes the argument for a Select Committee even stronger. My colleagues and I want to make it as clear as possible that that system is unfair to the people of Northern Ireland, their parliamentary representatives and to the House.

I welcome the hon. Gentleman's support for the new Select Committees that will be established. Does he agree that there is some duplicity on the Government's part? They argue that they need those new Select Committees because it is policy to shadow each Department, but they withhold their support for a Select Committee to shadow the Northern Ireland Office.

I entirely agree. The Scottish Office, the Welsh Office and the Northern Ireland Office are responsible for a range of issues and, therefore, if one intends to cover all relevant business, the argument for a Select Committee to shadow each Department is keen.

If matters are put to a vote, my right hon. and hon. Friends and I will support the amendment selected. The second amendment, which relates to Sub-Committees, is the second best option. If the amendments are not carried, we will, reluctantly, support the motion, but it, too, is a second best option. We hope that the House will change its procedures sooner rather than later, so that we can do the proper job for which we are elected to this place.

10.5 pm

Hon. Members have argued the case strongly, though they have been soft on the Leader of the House, who has let down the House by the way in which he dealt with the issue tonight.

I have no doubt that consultations took place through the usual channels. But in a matter such as this, the Leader of the House would have done well to remember that Back Benchers are not part of the usual channels, nor are the vast majority of political parties represented in the House. Had that consultation gone more widely, we might not be faced with a situation in which there can be a Select Committee report in favour of retaining the Select Committee on Energy, and a motion signed by 88 Members, yet the House does not have the opportunity tonight even to vote on the specific question of whether there should be a Select Committee on Energy to scrutinise energy policy.

Most disgraceful of all, the Leader of the House does not have the guts to allow the matter to be decided by a free vote. After all, the issue is about the rights of Back Benchers to scrutinise Government. Not only do the Executive want to control the vote to decide how they are scrutinised, but they will not let the matter be decided by those who are present and taking part in the debate. In all those matters, the Leader of the House has not served himself or the House well.

The arguments in favour of having a Select Committee on Energy are extremely powerful. The Leader of the House is not in a strong position—given the experience of not having a Select Committee on Scottish Affairs for the last five years—in saying that Select Committees must inevitably parallel Government Departments. If, over the past five years, the Government were prepared to have a Department and no Select Committee, they can hardly now argue that we cannot have a Select Committee and no Department.

It would be a simple matter to have a Select Committee on Energy without a Department of Energy. The disappearance of the Department does not mean that the areas to be scrutinised disappear with it. As the hon. Member for Rochford (Dr. Clark) ably demonstrated, those areas remain and the work of the Select Committee remains to be done. Safety in the nuclear, coal and offshore oil industries and the consequences of electricity privatisation remain to be scrutinised by the House of Commons, yet we will not have the ability, because of the abolition of the Select Committee, to scrutinise them properly.

I agree that a Sub-Committee of the Select Committee on Trade and Industry would be only a second-best answer. Let us be under no illusions about how limited the ability of such a committee would be to scrutinise energy matters. The hon. Member for Warrington, North (Mr. Hoyle), a distinguished member of the Select Committee on Trade and Industry, will recall that, towards the end of the last Parliament, that Select Committee had to meet twice a week to conduct its business, and that happened before the President of the Board of Trade had expanded the powers of the Department of Trade and Industry.

In those days the President of the Board of Trade was called the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry. I pointed out in an intervention the difficulty that will confront us if, in addition to the matters that will have to be looked into by the Select Committee on Trade and Industry, other items concerned with energy must be addressed. I am glad that the hon. Gentleman is underlining my earlier remarks and is reinforcing what was said by the distinguished Chairman of the Select Committee on Energy. One hopes that our words will be taken into account, particularly by Conservative Members, should the matter go to a vote.

Many hon. Members will be looking forward to the President of the Board of Trade grandstanding it in front of the Select Committee on Trade and Industry. It is to be hoped that that Committee will be able to prick that bubble somewhat when it examines his policies. As we know, that Select Committee was overworked in the last Parliament. It will not now, either of itself or by way of a Sub-Committee, be able to give adequate scrutiny to energy matters.

We have already had the example of how, at Trade and Industry Question Time, energy questions have been relegated to fewer than a third of the questions answered.

The best that can be hoped for from the Select Committee on Trade and Industry is a similar percentage of time going to energy issues. Who will do the work that was done in the last Parliament by the Select Committee on Energy?

The Leader of the House was kind enough to say that the Select Committee on Energy had been successful. That hardly seems a reason for abolishing it—except of course that it might be convenient for the Government to abolish successful committees of scrutiny. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman meant that the Energy Select Committee, its members and its able Chairman were far too successful for their own good, for the sake of their own survival. But it is parliamentary scrutiny that will be lost. Anyone looking at the history of decision-making and energy policy will realise that that will have an impact on Government decisions. The Government themselves will be losers as a result of clumsy and careless decisions not being adequately scrutinised by an Energy Select Committee.

Although I am not unsympathetic to the excellent argument that the hon. Gentleman is deploying, may I ask him whether he accepts that the system that we have operated since 1980 is based on a report of the Procedure Committee in 1978? The new Government of 1979 acted on that report, and the new departmental Select Committees came into being in 1980. The present system is based on recommendations of a Committee of the House. I accept that those proposals resulted in Government recommendations, but ultimately it is up to the House to decide what sort of Select Committees it should have. If the House is prepared to exercise its authority—it could if it so chose—the argument that the leader of the Scottish National party is advancing might well be implemented.

I am familiar with the report to which the hon. Gentleman referred—indeed, I mentioned it in an intervention. The hon. Gentleman, as an experienced parliamentarian, will have scrutinised the Energy Select Committee's report on this question. We faced this point directly and pointed out that in 1978 the Select Committee on Procedure argued not that Committees need monitor Government Departments exclusively but that they should do so "primarily". Most certainly it did not seek to prohibit the flexibility for which we are now calling in respect of this issue of energy policy, which is sufficiently distinctive and important to have a distinctive scrutiny Committee.

Unfortunately, given the procedures of the House, there does not seem to be a method of forcing the matter to the vote, even if only for the satisfaction of being outvoted by people who are currently engaged in watching the tennis, sitting in the tea rooms or giving constituents the benefit of their assistance. We shall not even have an opportunity to make a last stand—no doubt a gallant but futile stand—on behalf of the Energy Select Committee. So much for Parliament, when we do not even give ourselves the ability to make a declaration about what should be done.

The Energy Select Committee was one of the very few bodies which took very seriously the positions of both Northern Ireland and Scotland, areas that did not have Select Committees in the last Parliament. Although the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. McAllion) and I were committed in advancing the Scottish cause, we would not have been able to have so many Scottish subjects brought forward for examination had it not been for the willingness shown by other members of the Committee.

The Energy Select Committee also took on the job of scrutinising electricity privatisation in Northern Ireland. I thought that it was disgraceful that, although every Northern Ireland Member, from whatever political party, was against, or at least had grave doubts about, the direction of electricity privatisation, they did not themselves have the ability to question and scrutinise in respect of that vital policy matter. It was the Energy Select Committee that stepped into that breach.

I want to make a final appeal to the Leader of the House. I hope that in his summing up he will have the imagination to show that he realises that something rather important is about to be lost unless he is prepared to make a concession to the House of Commons to show that he is aware of the strength of feeling among members of every political party represented in the Chamber. The Energy Select Committee has performed a vital function. and it should be allowed to continue to do so.

10.14 pm

I did not intend to speak in this debate, but, having been called, I shall be brief.

I am very grateful to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the house for moving the motion and for the way in which he responded to the appeals that were made to him during business questions in successive weeks. Having said that, I have to point out that we have a very unsatisfactory situation. Parliament will resume in October after the summer recess, so, realistically, it will be November before any Select Committee is fully operational and engaged in scrutinising the work of its Department.

Hon. Members from all parties will accept that a Government who are not scrutinised are liable to go wrong. It is the legislature's duty to scrutinise the Executive—not to carp or criticise unnecessarily, but to examine, monitor and sometimes assist. It is wrong that this Parliament, which was elected on 9th April, met for the first time on 27 April and had its state opening on 5 May should be considering this motion on 30 June. There must be another way in another Parliament.

I believe that we should think of a mechanism. After all, we have four or five years in which to do so. The first step that a Parliament takes is to chose its Speaker. Immediately after the Speaker has been elected, Deputy Speakers are appointed. We then have four people whom the House trusts to balance debates. The responsibility lies with Madam Speaker and her Deputies to decide who will speak in debates, to try to ensure that all arguments are properly advanced and that every point of view, however unpopular, has an opportunity to be heard. All of us, individually and collectively, have great confidence in our Speaker and those who assist her.

It may be appropriate, in a new Parliament, for Madam Speaker, assisted by her Deputies and the Chairman of the Selection Committee—if he or she has been returned to Parliament—immediately to sit down within a stated time limit of 28 days after the first meeting of Parliament and set about choosing those who will serve on Select Committees. Obviously, they will take advice from people in the usual channels. I do not suggest that the usual channels do not have a proper part to play—they do—but I believe that the status, standing and stature of the Select Committees can only be increased if they are chosen by a Committee presided over by the Speaker.

We should consider this matter along those lines during the life of this Parliament, so that when a new Parliament is elected we do not have that long and, frankly, potentially dangerous gap. It is wrong that several months should go by before Ministers can be asked to give evidence, civil servants can be summoned and those in other walks of life can be called to give evidence. I earnestly commend to the House a reconsideration of the process so that there is a strict time limit and Select Committees are fully operational within a couple of months of Parliament meeting—28 days for selection and then they get down to work. I commend a procedure along those lines to hon. Members on both sides of the House.

10.18 pm

I wish to ask the Leader of the House questions about the Science and Technology Select Committee, about which my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) has already asked. I hope that the Committee does not suffer from the disadvantages that my hon. Friend fears. The list of ministerial responsibilities defines the Chancellor of the Duchy as being

"also responsible for the Office of Science and Technology, which, in addition to responsibility for government policy on science and technology, is responsible for the science budget and the five Research Councils".
He is responsible for the science and technology policy of the Government, not just for its co-ordination or over-view.

Select Committees are bound by their terms of reference, but page 618 of Erskine May states clearly:
"The interpretation of the order of reference of a select committee is, however, a matter for the committee."
There are ample precedents for that being exercised in the past.

The chief scientific adviser already sees all the Government Departments when they prepare their public expenditure estimates for research and development, and has subsequent meetings with the Chief Secretary to the Treasury to review departmental proposals on research and development. Presumably it is open to the Chancellor of the Duchy to take over that role from his chief scientific official. Certainly officials of the Departments of Trade and Industry and of Education, and the Ministry of Defence, could be summoned to the Select Committee on Science and Technology, as I am sure that they will be. If that Committee conducts itself properly, other Ministers may ask to appear. I am not sure whether it would be wise for the Committee to allow them to do so.

For example, an inquiry by the Royal Society into the epidemiology of bovine spongiform encephalopathy may come up with damning proposals which make the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food squirm. It would be for the Committee on Agriculture to deal with him, but the objective evidence on what is happening in the epidemiology of BSE should be clearly spelt out by the Select Committee on Science and Technology. That Committee has a valuable additional role to play. I am sure that it will carry it out and that hon. Members from all parties will be able to contribute to it.

10.22 pm

I wish to make some brief comments on the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs. I am sure that I need not remind the House that there have been problems in the past; we should not ignore them because we do so at our peril.

It is important when selecting members of a Select Committee to ensure that they recognise their responsibilities to the House. They are Members of the House and their duty is to the House. A Committee member should not be—certainly the Chairman of the Select Committee should not be—an individual whose policy is clearly to challenge the authority of the House and the authority of a Department to carry out the Government's policies. That is an important principle.

I believe that the House should think carefully before it once again finds itself with people who are more determined to break up the United Kingdom than to present reports to the House.

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. May I ask for your guidance? Surely we are discussing not who should be on Select Committees, but whether there should be Select Committees.

The way in which Select Committees work is of interest and is associated with the motion and the amendments.

I am speaking about the structure and personnel of the Select Committees. We face problems in different parts of the United Kingdom where there are forces afoot who make no secret of the fact that they wish to break up the United Kingdom and to remove from this Parliament its authority over their part of the United Kingdom. We must address that issue, which is a House of Commons matter and not a Government responsibility. That is why I am addressing the House today.

On the subject of those who wish to break up the Union, until now the Government's position on Northern Ireland has been that they will make no decision until the present inter-party talks have made progress and reached a conclusion. The Leader of the House is probably aware that political parties participating in those talks—be they for or against the Union—have agreed that the decision on a Select Committee is not for them, but for the House of Commons. That changes the scene and puts the responsibility right back on the shoulders of the Leader of the House. Does the hon. Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker) therefore agree that we should have a Select Committee on Northern Ireland?

It is not my job to answer for the Government, and I shall not do so. My views on how Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales should be treated in this unitary Parliament are well known and I shall not change them. I believe that we should treat all parts of the United Kingdom alike—and that includes Select Committees and everything else.

10.24 pm

I entirely accept that it is not the task of my hon. Friend the Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker) to answer on behalf of the Government. The problem is that I now have little time left in which to do so and I hope that the House will therefore understand if I rattle along.

Some of the remarks made by the hon. Members for Walsall, South (Mr. George), for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) and, perhaps most strikingly, for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond)—I well appreciate why they were made—were a little grudging when we are proceeding to the establishment of Select Committees significantly faster than after either of the previous two general elections and when I hope and expect that we have paved the way to breaking the log jam on the setting up of the Scottish Affairs Select Committee. The remarks of the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan were a little ungenerous, and I hope that he will not mind my saying so.

There seems to be some misunderstanding. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that, if the Committee of Selection settles down to the job, there is still time to set up the Select Committees before the recess so that they can elect their Chairmen and fix their programmes before we rise?

One of the awkwardnesses of my position, as the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan has just said, is that today's debate is not about the appointment of members or Chairmen, which is for the Committee of Selection and not something in which I should intervene. But there are at least two more normal meetings of the Committee of Selection, if not three, before the House rises for the summer recess. I am not aware of any deliberate blockage in the usual channels to prevent action being taken following the approval of the motion today. That will represent significantly faster progress than in either of the previous two Parliaments. I would not wish to exaggerate the claim, but contrary to some of the comments that have been made, that is not a bad record.

I must comment briefly on some of the points that have been made, particularly on energy matters and Northern Ireland. In passing, I acknowledge the remarks made by the hon. Member for Motherwell, South (Dr. Bray) who rightly drew attention to the width of the responsibilities of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster in respect of science.

I fear that, as the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Molyneaux), would expect, I can say little more to him than that the Government's position on the establishment of a Northern Ireland Select Committee is well known. In principle, a Select Committee concerned solely with the work of the Northern Ireland Office and the Northern Ireland Departments may be desirable, but we believe that the right way to carry forward consideration of that matter is in the context of the talks which are continuing—[interruption.]—and their outcome. The fact that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has been present during the debate is an acknowledgment of the strength of feeling which exists, but I am not in a position today to add to what my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and others have said on a number of occasions.

I paid tribute earlier to the work of the Energy Select Committee, but the question is whether it is appropriate, on an ad hoc basis, to depart from the central core of the foundation on which Select Committees have operated in the House for well over a decade. I cannot recommend that we should do that today; nor can I recommend to the House that it would be appropriate to set up a Sub-Committee. Some compelling arguments against that were put by my hon. Friend the Member for Rochford (Dr. Clark). I entirely accept that energy is important and I hope that the Trade and Industry Select Committee will afford it the importance that it deserves in balancing consideration of the subjects that it should choose for inquiry. I am not convinced, however, that the interests of energy, the House or the Select Committee on Trade and Industry would be served by giving it the Sub-Committee power proposed in the amendment.

I cannot recommend either of the amendments, but I hope that the House will approve the motion and let us get on with the job of setting up the Select Committees.

Amendment proposed: (f) in line 14, at end insert—

'by inserting the words—
" Northern Ireland Northern Ireland Office 16 6".'.—[Mr. Molyneaux.]

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The House divided: Ayes 28, Noes 201.

Division No. 46]

[10.28 pm


Adams, Mrs IreneMolyneaux, Rt Hon James
Barnes, HarryPaisley, Rev Ian
Beggs, RoyRobinson, Peter (Belfast E)
Beith, Rt Hon A. J.Salmond, Alex
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE)Smyth, Rev Martin (Belfast S)
Clarke, Eric (Midlothian)Taylor, Rt Hon D. (Strangford)
Forsythe, Clifford (Antrim S)Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Kennedy, Charles (Ross, C & S)Trimble, David
Kilfedder, Sir JamesTyler, Paul
Kirkwood, ArchyWalker, Bill (N Tayside)
Llwyd, ElfynWatson, Mike
Lynne, Ms LizWinterton, Nicholas (Macc'f'ld)
McAllion, John
McKelvey, William

Tellers for the Ayes:

McMaster, Gordon

Mr. William Ross, and Mr. Simon Hughes.

Maginnis, Ken


Aitken, JonathanConway, Derek
Alison, Rt Hon Michael (Selby)Coombs, Anthony (Wyro For'st)
Allen, GrahamCoombs, Simon (Swindon)
Amess, DavidCope, Rt Hon Sir John
Ancram, MichaelCurrie, Mrs Edwina (S D'by'ire)
Arbuthnot, JamesDavies, Quentin (Stamford)
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham)Davis, David (Boothferry)
Arnold, Sir Thomas (Hazel Grv)Deva, Nirj Joseph
Ashton, JoeDevlin, Tim
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham)Dorrell, Stephen
Baldry, TonyDouglas-Hamilton, Lord James
Bates, MichaelDuncan, Alan
Bayley, HughDurant, Sir Anthony
Bellingham, HenryEggar, Tim
Blackburn, Dr John G.Elletson, Harold
Boateng, PaulEvans, David (Welwyn Hatfield)
Boswell, TimEvans, Nigel (Ribble Valley)
Bottomley, Rt Hon VirginiaEvennett, David
Bowis, JohnFishburn, John Dudley
Brandreth, GylesForman, Nigel
Brazier, JulianForsyth, Michael (Stirling)
Bright, GrahamForth, Eric
Brown, M. (Brigg & Cl'thorpes)Foster, Derek (B'p Auckland)
Burns, SimonFowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman
Burt, AlistairFox, Dr Liam (Woodspring)
Butcher, JohnFox, Sir Marcus (Shipley)
Carrington, MatthewFreeman, Roger
Cash, WilliamGale, Roger
Chaplin, Mrs JudithGallie, Phil
Clappison, JamesGarel-Jones, Rt Hon Tristan
Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford)Gill, Christopher
Clarke, Rt Hon Kenneth (Ruclif)Gillan, Ms Cheryl
Connarty, MichaelGolding, Mrs Llin

Goodlad, Rt Hon AlastairMoate, Roger
Goodson-Wickes, Dr CharlesMonro, Sir Hector
Greenway, Harry (Eating N)Morley, Elliot
Greenway, John (Ryedale)Moss, Malcolm
Grocott, BruceNeedham, Richard
Gunnell, JohnNelson, Anthony
Hague, WilliamNeubert, Sir Michael
Hamilton, Rt Hon ArchieNewton, Rt Hon Tony
Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)Norris, Steve
Hanley, JeremyOttaway, Richard
Hanson, DavidPage, Richard
Hargreaves, AndrewPaice, James
Harris, DavidPatnick, Irvine
Hawkins, NicholasPatten, Rt Hon John
Hayes, JerryPattie, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey
Heathcoat-Amory, DavidPeacock, Mrs Elizabeth
Hendry, CharlesPickthall, Colin
Hill, James (Southampton Test)Portillo, Rt Hon Michael
Hogg, Rt Hon Douglas (G'tham)Powell, William (Corby)
Hoon, GeoffRedwood, John
Horam, JohnRiddick, Graham
Howard, Rt Hon MichaelRifkind, Rt Hon. Malcolm
Howell, Rt Hon David (G'dford)Roberts, Rt Hon Sir Wyn
Hughes Robert G. (Harrow W)Robertson, Raymond (Ab'd'n S)
Hunt, Rt Hon David (Wirral W)Robinson, Mark (Somerton)
Hunter, AndrewRoche, Ms Barbara
Hurd, Rt Hon DouglasRowe, Andrew (Mid Kent)
Hutton, JohnRyder, Rt Hon Richard
Jack, MichaelSackville, Tom
Jackson, Robert (Wantage)Sainsbury, Rt Hon Tim
Janner, GrevilleScott, Rt Hon Nicholas
Johnson Smith, Sir GeoffreyShaw, David (Dover)
Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)Shephard, Rt Hon Gillian
Jopling, Rt Hon MichaelShepherd, Colin (Hereford)
Keen, AlanShersby, Michael
Key, RobertSkinner, Dennis
Kirkhope, TimothySmith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
Knight, Greg (Derby N)Soames, Nicholas
Lait, Mrs JacquiSpencer, Sir Derek
Lamont, Rt Hon NormanSpink, Dr Robert
Lang, Rt Hon IanSproat, Iain
Leigh, EdwardStephen, Michael
Lennox-Boyd, Hon MarkStewart, Allan
Lester, Jim (Broxtowe)Sweeney, Walter
Lewis, TerrySykes, John
Lidington, DavidTaylor, Ian (Esher)
Lightbown, DavidTaylor, John M. (Solihull)
Lilley, Rt Hon PeterThomason, Roy
Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Loyden, EddieThurnham, Peter
Luff, PeterTipping, Paddy
Lyell, Rt Hon Sir NicholasTownend, John (Bridlington)
MacKay, AndrewTrend, Michael
Maclean, DavidTwinn, Dr Ian
McLoughlin, PatrickWaldegrave, Rt Hon William
McNamara, KevinWalden, George
Mahon, AliceWaller, Gary
Maitland, Lady OlgaWardle, Charles (Bexhill)
Malone, GeraldWells, Bowen
Mandelson, PeterWhittingdale, John
Mans, KeithWiddecombe, Ann
Marshall, John (Hendon S)Wilshire, David
Martin, David (Portsmouth S)Wood, Timothy
Martin, Michael J. (Springburn)Yeo, Tim
Mawhinney, Dr BrianYoung, Sir George (Acton)
Merchant, Piers
Milburn, Alan

Tellers for the Noes:

Miller, Andrew

Mr. Nicholas Baker and Mr. Sydney Chapman.

Mills, Iain
Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling)

Amendment accordingly negatived.

It being more than one and a half hours after the commencement of proceedings on the motion, MADAM SPEAKER, pursuant to Order [26 Junel, put. forthwith the Questions which she was directed to put at that hour.

Amendment proposed: (h), in line 39, at end add 'and in line 19, after the word "Committee", by inserting the words—

"the Trade and Industry Committee (in respect of matters relating to energy)".'.—[Mr. Grocott]

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The House divided: Ayes 67, Noes 179.

Division No. 47]

[10.40 pm


Adams, Mrs IreneMcAvoy, Thomas
Allen, GrahamMcCartney, Ian
Barnes, HarryMcKelvey, William
Bayley, HughMcMaster, Gordon
Beggs, RoyMcNamara, Kevin
Beith, Rt Hon A. J.Maginnis, Ken
Blunkett, DavidMahon, Alice
Boateng, PaulMandelson, Peter
Bradley, KeithMartin, Michael J. (Springburn)
Bray, Dr JeremyMaxton, John
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE)Milburn, Alan
Clarke, Eric (Midlothian)Miller, Andrew
Connarty, MichaelMolyneaux, Rt Hon James
Dixon, DonMorley, Elliot
Forsythe, Clifford (Antrim S)Paisley, Rev Ian
Foster, Derek (B'p Auckland)Pickthall, Colin
George, BrucePike, Peter L.
Golding, Mrs LlinPowell, Ray (Ogmore)
Grocott, BrucePrimarolo, Dawn
Gunnell, JohnRobinson, Peter (Belfast E)
Hall, MikeRoche, Ms Barbara
Hanson, DavidRoss, William (E Londonderry)
Hinchliffe, DavidSalmond, Alex
Hoon, GeoffSkinner, Dennis
Hoyle, DougSmyth, Rev Martin (Belfast S)
Hughes, Simon (Southwark)Taylor, Rt Hon D. (Strangford)
Hutton, JohnTaylor, Matthew (Truro)
Janner, GrevilleTipping, Paddy
Jones, Barry (Alyn and D'side)Trimble, David
Kennedy, Charles (Floss, C & S)Tyler, Paul
Kirkwood, ArchyWatson, Mike
Lewis, Terry
Llwyd, Elfyn

Tellers for the Ayes:

Loyden, Eddie

Mr. Robert N. Wareing and Mr. Ken Eastham.

Lynne, Ms Liz
McAllion, John


Aitken, JonathanChapman, Sydney
Amess, DavidClappison, James
Ancram, MichaelClark, Dr Michael (Rochford)
Arbuthnot, JamesClarke, Rt Hon Kenneth (Ruclif)
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham)Conway, Derek
Arnold, Sir Thomas (Hazel Grv)Coombs, Anthony (Wyre For'st)
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham)Coombs, Simon (Swindon)
Baldry, TonyCope, Rt Hon Sir John
Bates, MichaelCurrie, Mrs Edwina (S D'by'ire)
Bellingham, HenryDavies, Quentin (Stamford)
Blackburn, Dr John G.Deva, Nirj Joseph
Boswell, TimDevlin, Tim
Bottomley, Rt Hon VirginiaDorrell, Stephen
Bowis, JohnDouglas-Hamilton, Lord James
Brandreth, GylesDuncan, Alan
Brazier, JulianDurant, Sir Anthony
Bright, GrahamEggar, Tim
Brown, M. (Brigg & Cl'thorpes)Elletson, Harold
Burns, SimonEvans, David (Welwyn Hatfield)
Burt, AlistairEvans, Nigel (Ribble Valley)
Butcher, JohnEvennett, David
Carrington, MatthewFishburn, John Dudley
Cash, WilliamForman, Nigel
Chaplin, Mrs JudithForsyth, Michael (Stirling)

Forth, EricMonro, Sir Hector
Fowler, Rt Hon Sir NormanMoss, Malcolm
Fox, Dr Liam (Woodspring)Needham, Richard
Fox, Sir Marcus (Shipley)Nelson, Anthony
Freeman, RogerNeubert, Sir Michael
Gale, RogerNewton, Rt Hon Tony
Gallie, PhilNorris, Steve
Garel-Jones, Rt Hon TristanOttaway, Richard
Gill, ChristopherPage, Richard
Gillan, Ms CherylPaice, James
Goodlad, Rt Hon AlastairPatnick, Irvine
Goodson-Wickes, Dr CharlesPatten, Rt Hon John
Greenway, Harry (Ealing N)Pattie, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey
Greenway, John (Ryedale)Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth
Hague, WilliamPortillo, Rt Hon Michael
Hamilton, Rt Hon ArchiePowell, William (Corby)
Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)Redwood, John
Hanley, JeremyRiddick, Graham
Hargreaves, AndrewRifkind, Rt Hon. Malcolm
Harris, DavidRoberts, Rt Hon Sir Wyn
Hawkins, NicholasRobertson, Raymond (Ab'd'n S)
Hayes, JerryRobinson, Mark (Somerton)
Heathcoat-Amory, DavidRowe, Andrew (Mid Kent)
Hendry, CharlesRyder, Rt Hon Richard
Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L.Sackville, Tom
Hill, James (Southampton Test)Sainsbury, Rt Hon Tim
Hogg, Rt Hon Douglas (G'tham)Scott, Rt Hon Nicholas
Horam, JohnShaw, David (Dover)
Howard, Rt Hon MichaelShephard, Rt Hon Gillian
Howell, Rt Hon David (G'dford)Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)
Hughes Robert G. (Harrow W)Shersby, Michael
Hunt, Rt Hon David (Wirral W)Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
Hunter, AndrewSoames, Nicholas
Hurd, Rt Hon DouglasSpencer, Sir Derek
Jack, MichaelSpink, Dr Robert
Jackson, Robert (Wantage)Sproat, Iain
Johnson Smith, Sir GeoffreyStanley, Rt Hon Sir John
Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)Stephen, Michael
Jopling, Rt Hon MichaelStewart, Allan
Key, RobertSweeney, Walter
Kilfedder, Sir JamesSykes, John
Kirkhope, TimothyTaylor, Ian (Esher)
Knight, Greg (Derby N)Taylor, John M. (Solihull)
Lait, Mrs JacquiThomason, Roy
Lamont, Rt Hon NormanThompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Lang, Rt Hon IanThurnham, Peter
Leigh, EdwardTownend, John (Bridlington)
Lennox-Boyd, MarkTrend, Michael
Lester, Jim (Broxtowe)Twinn, Dr Ian
Lidington, DavidWaldegrave, Rt Hon William
Lightbown, DavidWalden, George
Lilley, Rt Hon PeterWalker, Bill (N Tayside)
Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)Waller, Gary
Luff, PeterWardle, Charles (Bexhill)
Lyell, Rt Hon Sir NicholasWatts, John
MacKay, AndrewWells, Bowen
Maclean, DavidWhittingdale, John
McLoughlin, PatrickWiddecombe, Ann
Maitland, Lady OlgaWilshire, David
Malone, GeraldWinterton, Nicholas (Macc'f'ld)
Mans, KeithWood, Timothy
Marshall, John (Hendon S)Yeo, Tim
Martin, David (Portsmouth S)Young, Sir George (Acton)
Mawhinney, Dr Brian
Merchant, Piers

Tellers for the Noes

Mills, Iain

Mr. David Davies and Mr. Nicholas Baker.

Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling)
Moate, Roger

Amendment accordinglt nagatived.

Main question put and agreed to.


That Standing Order no. 130 (Select committees related to government departments) be amended:

In the Table:
by leaving out the words—
5'3. Education, Science and ArtsDepartment of Education and Science; Office of Arts and Libraries133'
and inserting the words—
'3. EducationDepartment for Education113'
10by leaving out the words—
'5. EnergyDepartment of Energy113'
by inserting the words—
'. National HeritageDepartment of National Heritage113'
15by inserting the words—
'. Science and TechnologyOffice of Science and Technology113'
in the third and fourth columns of the entry relating to Scottish Affairs, by leaving out '13 5' and inserting '11 3'
20by leaving out the words—
'14. Treasury and Civil ServiceTreasury, Office of the Minister for the Civil Service (but excluding the drafting of bills by the Parliamentary Counsel Office), Board of Inland Revenue, Board of Customs and Excise113'
25and inserting the words—
30'. Treasury and Civil ServiceTreasury, Office of Public Service and Science (but excluding the Office of Science and Technology and the drafting of bills by the Parliamentary Counsel Office), Board of Inland Revenue, Board of Customs and Excise113'
35In paragraph (3): by leaving out lines 14 to 17.


Wyther Park Primary School, Leeds

10.51 pm

I present a petition that is the result of the work of the Wyther Park primary school in my constituency. The pupils carried out an environmental project, tested the quality of the water in the River Aire and found it to be badly polluted. They joined 12 other schools in the Kirkstall Valley area and, to their great credit, organised a petition of well over 5,000 signatures.

The petition reads:

Wherefore your Petitioners pray that your honourable House insists that the money paid to Her Majesty's Government and to Yorkshire Water by the people of Leeds, be used immediately to ensure that the water is clean and safe as it runs through the Valley and the City.

To lie upon the Table.