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Procedure Committee/Modernisation Committee

Volume 494: debated on Thursday 18 June 2009

18. If she will establish a cross-party committee to review the functions, objectives and roles of the Procedure Committee and the Modernisation Committee; and if she will make a statement. (280590)

I am sure that the whole House agrees that the starting point for the further modernisation of the House should be the reforms to deal with the loss of confidence caused by the expenses scandal. We will shortly put proposals to the House to establish the new Parliamentary Reform Committee that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister announced last week and to which the Leader of the House has just referred.

The Modernisation Committee has not met for many, many, many months. The Procedure Committee is doing good work and could easily take over the role, functions and responsibilities of the Modernisation Committee. It is chaired by a Back-Bench Member of the House, as are all other Select Committees. Does the Deputy Leader of the House accept that the Committee announced by the Prime Minister should consist of those who have experience of the Modernisation Committee? I have been on the Modernisation Committee since it was formed, chaired the Procedure Committee for two Parliaments and have been in this place for some time. It would be helpful if the Leader of the House or her deputy indicated who is to be appointed to this Committee. Why has the hon. Member for Cannock Chase (Dr. Wright) been selected? He is a member of the governing party. Would not it be better for an Opposition Member to lead the Committee?

The Modernisation Committee has not met because five of its members, from all parties represented on the Committee, have indicated their desire to leave it. It is up to the parties, through the usual channels, to re-nominate members so that the Modernisation Committee can continue. On chairing the Committee, the Modernisation Committee was aimed at taking forward the Government’s modernisation agenda, so it made sense for the Leader of the House to chair it. Notwithstanding those points, there are many Members, of whom the hon. Gentleman is one, with great experience in these matters. I am sure that they would be welcome members of the new Parliamentary Reform Committee. It is of course up to the parties to decide on nominations.

I congratulate my hon. Friend on her appointment. My understanding is that the Modernisation Committee was established to drive forward modernisation at a time when there did not seem to be a broad consensus in the House on that objective. Now that there does appear to be a consensus on modernisation and on strengthening the role of the Commons, may I suggest that my hon. Friend looks at ways of simplifying the various Committees that have been set up? There is a danger that many Committees will have difficulties getting members to sit on them to drive forward the agenda. Would not it be better if the agenda were driven by one Committee rather than a plethora of Committees that might not meet very often in some cases?

I thank my hon. Friend for his comments on my appointment. The Modernisation and Procedure Committees have secured some considerable achievements, but my hon. Friend is right, which is probably why the Prime Minister has accepted that the new Parliamentary Reform Committee should run for a defined period. It can take forward some of the excellent work done by the other two Committees. The Modernisation Committee has a piece of work to finish and will do so shortly. Following the interest shown in this topic, I hope that hon. Members will carry forward the excellent work of the two Committees and will volunteer to sit on the new Parliamentary Reform Committee. Clearly we can look at simplification later in the year.

I congratulate the deputy Leader of the House on her appointment and look forward to working with her as closely as I did with her predecessor on the best practice and business of the House.

On Committees, will the hon. Lady inform us whether the Government have any intention of establishing a Select Committee on science. There is a huge amount of pressure to set up such a Committee, not least from the Minister for Science, the noble Lord Drayson. What is the Government’s position on setting up a Select Committee to consider science policy?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his kind words. Next Thursday we will be considering House business and our aim is to bring forward proposals for the Committee structure he has talked about. We are mindful of the fact that the previous Select Committee on Science and Technology was very popular, and I am sure it would be very welcome in all parts of the House if we were to table a motion to re-establish it.

May I join other Members in welcoming my hon. Friend to her new post? Speaking as a member of both the Modernisation Committee and the Procedure Committee, I urge on her the need for us to be prepared to take forward the work that will be done by the Parliamentary Reform Committee, which, as she said, will meet only for a defined period. I urge her to recognise that the work of the Modernisation Committee and the Procedure Committee significantly overlap and could easily be merged into the Procedure Committee, so ensuring that co-ordinated progress is made.

I thank my hon. Friend for his kind words. This was a question that my predecessor, my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant), found himself answering on many occasions at the Dispatch Box, so we really must consider the question put today, and make progress.

I welcome the fact that the energy of the hon. Member for Cannock Chase (Dr. Wright) will be applied to parliamentary reform, but could we not have achieved the same objective by his taking over the chairmanship of the Modernisation Committee?

That is a difficult one for me to answer. The Modernisation Committee, which I have been reading a lot about in the past few days, has registered some great achievements, as has the Procedure Committee; we are very much looking forward to the Procedure Committee’s report on written questions. This is a new initiative, however, and it is very welcome; I do not want anybody to think that we do not very much welcome the new Parliamentary Reform Committee. It is an idea for its time, and the time is now.