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Procedure Committee

Volume 488: debated on Thursday 5 March 2009

1. If she will bring forward proposals for amendments to Standing Orders to incorporate the remit of the Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee within that of the Procedure Committee and to stipulate that the Procedure Committee shall be chaired by a Back Bench. (260749)

The Modernisation Committee has made a number of recommendations in the past, on which the House has been delighted to act. The Committee has yet to complete its inquiry into recall and dissolution, but once that work is complete, I will give further consideration to the best way to take forward the modernisation of the House.

Does not the Deputy Leader of the House accept that changes to the processes and procedures of the House are best devised and put forward by Back Benchers of the House, and not by a Committee led by a Cabinet Minister? Does he not believe that the changes would carry more weight and have more support right across the House if the Modernisation Committee were merged with the Procedure Committee, and if the Procedure Committee, with those new functions, were chaired by a Back Bencher—preferably an Opposition Back Bencher?

It certainly is the Winterton show today, and it is a delight to be asked a question by the hon. Gentleman, who is the longest-standing member of the Modernisation Committee. If that does not show that the House has a sense of irony, I do not know what does. I do not entirely agree with him, however. This Government were elected on the prospectus of being able to deliver modernisation of the House, which is why we set up the Committee in the first place. Once the Committee has completed this last issue, the Leader of the House and I will look at ways of bringing forward further measures on modernisation. I agree with the hon. Gentleman on one issue, however. The work of Select Committees should, on the whole, be the embodiment of Back-Bench opinion.

What possible remaining justification is there for having a Cabinet Minister chairing a Select Committee of this House?

As I just said, the whole idea of creating the Modernisation Committee in the first place was to take forward the agenda that this Government were elected by the people to deliver. Part of that involved modernising the House. The Modernisation Committee has brought forward many proposals that have benefited Back Benchers, not least the introduction of topical questions, which I note were extremely popular just now.

But was not the absurdity of the current position emphasised when, in November, the Leader of the House wrote:

“The Government welcomes the report from the Modernisation Committee on Regional Accountability”?

As she had written the report from the Modernisation Committee on regional accountability, was it surprising that she welcomed it? If the Prime Minister means what he says about strengthening Parliament, should not the Government release their stranglehold on the Modernisation Committee by giving up the chairmanship and restoring it to the role of a Back Bencher?

I think that I have now heard three bids for the chairmanship of that Committee, but I have to say that none of them is from the most modernising Members of the House. I am not at all surprised that my right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the House agreed with a report that she had written—she is always entirely consistent in these matters. On the right hon. Gentleman’s point about Back Benchers and Select Committees, I would throw back to him the fact that the Procedure Committee has done significant and important work; I am appearing before it next week on the matter of written parliamentary questions, and I know that when that report comes forward, it will contain interesting material for the whole House to digest.