Select Committees

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 25 June 1979.

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Photo of Mr Norman St John-Stevas Mr Norman St John-Stevas , Chelmsford 12:00, 25 June 1979

That is a fair and valid point. It is intended that the power and influence of the House, and therefore of Back-Bench Members, should be increased by the proposal. I shall consider what the hon. Gentleman says about that Standing Order. I shall have something to say upon it later in the debate.

I believe that this Chamber is one of the great political inventions of our history. It remains, and will remain, the means by which the mind of the nation is focused on the great issues of the day. It will remain the channel through which the expressive power of Parliament is exercised. But the scrutinising function of Parliament is now too detailed to be discharged effectively by this Chamber alone. To pretend otherwise is not to exalt parliamentary Government as some hon. Members imagine. It is simply to degrade it. It is to turn what is a legitimate object of respect and reverence into some kind of irrational idol.

We believe that the motions on the Order Paper provide the coherent and systematic structure of Select Committees that the Procedure Committee considered and that the Government agree to be a necessary preliminary to the more effective scrutiny of government and the wider involvement that hon. Members on both sides of the House have sought for many years. It will provide opportunity for closer examination of departmental policy and of the way in which Ministers are discharging their understanding of the pressures and constraints under which Ministers and their Departments have to work. It will bring about a closer relationship with Ministers themselves. It will also be an important contribution to greater openness in government, of a kind that is in accord with our parliamentary arrangements and our constitutional tradition. It is in that spirit that I commend these proposals to the House.