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Select Committees (Membership)

Volume 512: debated on Wednesday 30 June 2010

I beg to move,

That the following amendments to Standing Order No. 152 (Select committees related to government departments) shall have effect for the remainder of the present Parliament:—

In the table in paragraph (2), in the final column (Maximum members)

(1) leave out ‘11’ and insert ‘12’, in respect of:—

(a) the Defence Committee,

(b) the Justice Committee and

(c) the Welsh Affairs Committee;

(2) leave out ‘11’ and insert ‘13’ in respect of the Treasury Committee; and

(3) leave out ‘13’ and insert ‘14’ in respect of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee.

The House will recall that the Government brought forward proposals on 15 June to increase the membership of the Defence, Justice and Treasury Committees from 11 to 16 members and of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee from 13 to 14 members. These proposals were offered in good faith, with the intention of securing proper representation for smaller parties on certain Select Committees. However, they were resisted by the elected Select Committee Chairs, who tabled amendments to remove the increases to 16 and to provide, as an alternative, a power for the Committee of Selection to increase the size of no more than three Committees by no more than two members.

The proposal was also strongly resisted during the debate on the business of the House motion by the hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd (Mr Llwyd) on the ground that it did not provide for Plaid Cymru to be represented on the Welsh Affairs Committee. The hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) also expressed reservations about the proposed motion.

We therefore undertook not to move the original motion, but to consult further and come back with new proposals. The membership of departmental Select Committees, including the party composition of the Committees, is for the Committee of Selection to propose and for the House as a whole to approve. The purpose of these changes in the maximum membership is to give the Committee greater latitude to accommodate smaller parties on the Committees concerned while still broadly reflecting the composition of the House.

The Government accept the view, expressed by the Wright Committee and the Liaison Committee, that smaller Committees are generally preferable. However, the Wright Committee also acknowledged the desirability of ensuring that smaller parties were properly represented. There is a clear tension between these two objectives, and I hope that the House can agree that these proposals represent a fair compromise between the two.

I especially wish to express my thanks to my right hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury for making efforts to secure a swift and satisfactory conclusion to negotiations.

In order to reflect our commitment to the Wright reforms, we propose that the changes should be limited to the current Parliament. No doubt the issue will need to be revisited anyway in the next Parliament, depending on the composition of the House. I hope that the House will be able to agree to the motion this evening so that the Committee of Selection can nominate members and the Committees can get on with their work.

I thank the Deputy Leader of the House for tabling this motion proposing changes to the maximum number of members of Select Committees. As I think that this is the first time that we have faced each other at the Dispatch Box, I also take this opportunity to congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his appointment as Deputy Leader of the House.

The report on rebuilding the House identified the importance of the inclusion of the minor parties and independents on Select Committees and we are grateful for the work that has been done through the usual channels to address that issue. It is now right for the House to consider the motion so that the minor parties and independents can be accommodated on those Committees, thereby ensuring their participation.

It is a pity that we have to have this motion, because it departs so markedly from the Wright Committee recommendation that, in the interests of working effectively and not making too many claims on the pool of available Members, Committees should have nine or, at most, 11 members. The elected Chairs of Committees have a strong view that we should not be departing from the Wright recommendations. Of course, when we saw the motion to increase Committee membership to 16, we thought it hard to imagine a more dramatic departure from what Wright recommended.

There has been a continuous process of modification which later led to the proposal that a series of Committees should have two extra members. That was then further modified to a motion in which only one Committee had two extra members and a number had one extra member. That was further modified on Monday night when I asked the Leader of the House to include the provision that it would apply only for this Parliament, which has been claimed as a success by my hon. Friend the Deputy Leader of the House. I genuinely welcome the willingness of the Leader of the House, his deputy and the Patronage Secretary to try to resolve this matter. However, the view of Committee Chairs is that this matter could have been resolved within existing allocations had parties been prepared to make adjustments to meet the needs of minority parties.

In fact, the Conservative party has done that, because the penultimate stage of the discussions involved an additional Conservative Member to match the fact that there was an additional Opposition Member represented by the addition of a minority party Member. Committee Chairs are generally in favour of minority party Members being on Select Committees, and I look forward to having the hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd (Mr Llwyd) on my Committee, as I understand he intends to be. He will be a very good Member to have on the Justice Committee. However, had the Labour party been prepared to give up one or two places on Committees, we might not be where we are now. None the less, I am glad that my hon. Friend the Member the Deputy Leader of the House has reasserted the importance of the Wright recommendation, and I hope that we will eventually return to the principle that we keep Committees reasonably small, with members fully involved in their work.

I am grateful to the right hon. Member for Doncaster Central (Ms Winterton) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Sir Alan Beith) for their comments. I am pleased that we are able to apply a good dollop of common sense to what was required in order to ensure that all parties can play their proper parts in the workings of this House. I commend this motion to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Business of the House


That, at the sitting Monday 5 July, notwithstanding Standing Order No. 20 (Time for taking private business) the Private Business set down by the Chairman of Ways and Means may be entered upon at any hour, and may then be proceeded with, though opposed, for three hours, after which the Speaker shall interrupt the business.—(Mr Vara.)


That, at the sitting on Wednesday 14 July, notwithstanding the provisions of Standing Order No. 16 (Proceedings under an Act or an European Union documents), the Speaker shall put the Questions necessary to dispose of proceedings on the Motion in the name of Secretary Theresa May relating to Police Grant Report not later three hours after the commencement of proceedings on the Motion; proceedings many continue, though opposed, after the moment of interruption; and Standing Order No. 41A (Deferred divisions) shall not apply.—(Mr Vara.)