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Committee of Selection

Volume 524: debated on Thursday 3 March 2011

2. What recent discussions he has had with the Chair of the Committee of Selection on the operation of that Committee. (43620)

I have occasional discussions with my hon. Friend the Member for The Cotswolds (Geoffrey Clifton-Brown) on the work of his Committee. The House’s arrangements for the appointment of Select Committee members and Chairs have been significantly strengthened by changes introduced at the beginning of this Parliament.

Having spent the last month doing my best to scrutinise the Localism Bill, I find it quite remarkable that hon. Members with specific expertise or knowledge can be prevented from serving on particular Bill Committees by the Committee of Selection. In May 2009, the Prime Minister said:

“There are far too many laws being pushed through, with far too little genuine scrutiny from MPs.”

Does the Leader of the House agree with those comments, and will he explore ways to make the Committee stage of Bills more open and effective?

I welcome the important work that the hon. Lady is doing on the Localism Bill. It quite often happens that there are more people wishing to serve on a Public Bill Committee than there are places available, and the Committee of Selection then has to make difficult choices. In light of the exchange that took place at business questions a few weeks ago, it has revisited its procedure and believes that it was correctly followed in the case in question. I believe that the Committee and its Chairman will always be open to discussing how it works with Members of all parties.

As somebody who is currently serving on the Health and Social Care Public Bill Committee, may I just—I apologise, Mr Speaker, I will have to sit down.

If my hon. Friend was going to say that there is not enough medical expertise on that Public Bill Committee, I say to him that I have looked at its membership and seen that my hon. Friend the Member for Central Suffolk and North Ipswich (Dr Poulter) is on it, who is a specialist registrar in obstetrics and gynaecology. The hon. Member for Oldham East and Saddleworth (Debbie Abrahams) is a public health expert and a former chair of Rochdale primary care trust, and my hon. Friend the Member for North Warwickshire (Dan Byles) served as a major in the Royal Army Medical Corps, so it seems to me that there is adequate medical expertise on that Public Bill Committee. Indeed, if anyone on the Committee were feeling unwell, they would be in very good hands.

Given how the Committee of Selection was used in recent Parliaments by the previous Labour Government as a means for keeping Select Committees in what is euphemistically known as “a safe pair of hands”, has the Leader of the House made an assessment of the functioning of those Committees under this Government, when members and Chairs are elected and not selected?

My hon. Friend makes a powerful point. I was a member of the Committee of Selection when the Labour Whips tried to deselect Gwyneth Dunwoody and Donald Anderson from the Select Committees that they had chaired with magnificent independence. It was partly because of that outrageous performance that this Government moved towards the Wright Committee recommendations. I am delighted to say that the new procedure is working very well, and that Chairs of Select Committees have an independence that they did not have before.