Standing Orders Etc. (Energy and Climate Change)

Business of the House – in the House of Commons at 10:15 pm on 28th October 2008.

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Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant PPS (Rt Hon Harriet Harman QC, Lord Privy Seal), Leader of the House of Commons, PPS (Rt Hon Harriet Harman QC, Minister of State), Government Equalities Office, Deputy Leader of the House of Commons 10:15 pm, 28th October 2008

I beg to move,

That the following amendments be made in respect of Standing Orders:

A SELECT COMMITTEES RELATED TO GOVERNMENT DEPARTMENTS

That Standing Order No. 152 (Select committees related to government departments) be amended in the Table in paragraph (2) by inserting, in the appropriate place, the following item:

Energy and Climate Change Department of Energy and Climate Change 14

B LIAISON COMMITTEE

That the Resolution of the House of 13th July 2005 relating to Liaison Committee (Membership) be further amended in paragraph (2) by inserting, in the appropriate place, 'Energy and Climate Change'.

C EUROPEAN COMMITTEES

That Standing Order No. 119 be amended by inserting in the Table in paragraph (6), in respect of European Committee A, in the appropriate place, 'Energy and Climate Change'.

Departmental Select Committees are a well-respected, integral and vital part of the House's scrutiny of Government. Following the 1978 report of the Procedure Committee and their creation in 1979, they took over the role formerly performed, in a rather haphazard way, by the specially appointed investigatory committees of the House and the several topic-based committees that were set up in the 1960s under Richard Crossman as Leader of the House. The creation of departmental Select Committees is one innovation—or, dare I say, modernisation—that everyone has hailed as a resounding success. It has been the convention that each Government Department has a Select Committee to scrutinise its policies, its expenditure and its work. Consequently, whenever a new Department of Government has been created, there has been a consequential change in Select Committees.

As Members will know, on 3 October, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister created a new Department of Energy and Climate Change. The Government have wanted to move as swiftly as possible to ensure the proper scrutiny of the new Department. Its role, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State explained to the House on 16 October, is to ensure that we have energy that is affordable, secure and sustainable, to bring about the transition to a low-carbon Britain and to achieve an international agreement on climate change at the United Nations climate change conference in Copenhagen at the end of next year. Members in all parts of the House welcomed the creation of the new Department, and I hope that they will welcome the Government's swift action to establish the new Committee.

Part A of the motion creates a new departmental Select Committee to examine the expenditure, administration and policy of the Department of Energy and Climate Change. It will have exactly the same role and powers as other departmental Select Committees. The Government have proposed a membership of 14, but Mr. Yeo—who is present—supported by Peter Luff, has tabled amendment (a), which proposes the reduction of the membership from 14 to 11. I look forward to hearing their arguments during the debate.

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Photo of Michael Jack Michael Jack Conservative, Fylde

Can the Deputy Leader of the House acquaint the House with the representations received by the Leader of the House on this matter and with the Government's reasons for choosing not to respond positively to them, but to present the recommendation that forms the basis of the motion?

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Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant PPS (Rt Hon Harriet Harman QC, Lord Privy Seal), Leader of the House of Commons, PPS (Rt Hon Harriet Harman QC, Minister of State), Government Equalities Office, Deputy Leader of the House of Commons

I am not particularly aware that many representations have been made to the Leader of the House, although I have received quite a few representations myself this evening in the Chamber from Members throughout the House, and I suspect that I am about to receive another in a moment. I am happy to listen to the debate and see where we go from there.

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Photo of Angus Robertson Angus Robertson Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Defence), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Office), Shadow SNP Westminster Group Leader

The Deputy Leader of the House is right to observe that the Committee is important, and that it is important for all shades of opinion in the House to be represented on it. Will he confirm that the difference between a membership of 14 and one of 11 is that a membership of 11 would effectively mean that minority parties in all parts of the House would not automatically be represented?

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Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant PPS (Rt Hon Harriet Harman QC, Lord Privy Seal), Leader of the House of Commons, PPS (Rt Hon Harriet Harman QC, Minister of State), Government Equalities Office, Deputy Leader of the House of Commons

It depends what the hon. Gentleman means by a minority party. Obviously, the Liberal Democrats are normally included in the concept of a minority party, and I understand that it is normally up to the Committee of Selection to decide precisely who ends up on a committee. In the case of the hon. Gentleman's party, that would depend on what was advanced by the Liberal Democrats. But, as I said to Mr. Jack, I am more than happy to listen to the debate and see where we go from there.

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Photo of William McCrea William McCrea Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I thank the Deputy Leader of the House for allowing us to question him. He said that Members in all parts of the House welcomed the new Department and that it was therefore vital for all Members to have something to say about the Committee. Surely, given the importance of this issue throughout the United Kingdom, the minority parties should at least be represented on the Committee. Why should the membership be changed from 14 to 11?

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Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant PPS (Rt Hon Harriet Harman QC, Lord Privy Seal), Leader of the House of Commons, PPS (Rt Hon Harriet Harman QC, Minister of State), Government Equalities Office, Deputy Leader of the House of Commons

As the hon. Gentleman knows, the Government have tabled a proposal for a committee of 14. Two Members have already made the point that there are clear representations in favour of having the larger size, rather than a committee of 11.

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Photo of Joan Walley Joan Walley Labour, Stoke-on-Trent North

Can my hon. Friend assure Members that nothing in the arrangements for the new Select Committee will undermine in any way the cross-cutting function of the Environmental Audit Committee, which the Government set up to look at all aspects of the environment in an integrated, joined-up way?

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Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant PPS (Rt Hon Harriet Harman QC, Lord Privy Seal), Leader of the House of Commons, PPS (Rt Hon Harriet Harman QC, Minister of State), Government Equalities Office, Deputy Leader of the House of Commons

I intend to come on to that point later. My hon. Friend is a very active member of the Environmental Audit Committee. It was set up as a result of a manifesto commitment by the Labour party in 1997 and we have no intention of getting rid of it or undermining it.

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Photo of Peter Luff Peter Luff Chair, Business and Enterprise Committee

On a matter of fact, the Business and Enterprise Committee, which I chair, has 11 members, and we have one Liberal Democrat and one extremely valuable Scottish National party member, Mr. Weir, who makes a fine contribution to the Committee's work. A committee of 11 members can, therefore, accommodate both the minority groupings: the Liberal Democrats and the nationalists.

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Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant PPS (Rt Hon Harriet Harman QC, Lord Privy Seal), Leader of the House of Commons, PPS (Rt Hon Harriet Harman QC, Minister of State), Government Equalities Office, Deputy Leader of the House of Commons

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his comments, and I am sure he knows his Select Committee far better than I do. As I have said, I am happy to listen to this evening's debate and see where it takes us.

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Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Leader of the House of Commons, Party Chair, Liberal Democrats

I, too, am listening to discover the mood of the House. For both size options—for 11 and 14—how many of the places would the Government seek to have for Labour Members?

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Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant PPS (Rt Hon Harriet Harman QC, Lord Privy Seal), Leader of the House of Commons, PPS (Rt Hon Harriet Harman QC, Minister of State), Government Equalities Office, Deputy Leader of the House of Commons

I shall have to come back to the hon. Gentleman on that. It is my understanding that the number is usually six, but if I have to correct that statement later after having been more suitably informed, I reserve the right to do so. In the end, it is for the Committee of Selection to decide.

Part B provides that the Chairman of the new Committee shall be a member of the Liaison Committee. Part C provides for European Union documents falling within the Department's responsibility to be referred by the European Scrutiny Committee to a European General Committee for debate.

All departmental Select Committees operate under the same system. There are, however, two Committees of the House that have rather different functions: the Public Accounts Committee, which dates back to 1861 and is the oldest of the House's Committees, and the Environmental Audit Committee, which, as I have said, was established as a result of a Labour manifesto commitment in 1997. That Committee, chaired by the hon. Member for South Suffolk, has taken the lead in examining climate change issues across Government and has covered wider topics, for instance through its highly respected annual analysis of the environmental implications of the pre-Budget report and its work on sustainable development. I pay tribute to its members, many of whom have, both personally and from within the Committee, led the debate on these issues, as we have witnessed today in the Chamber.

Clearly, there is the potential for overlap between the Environmental Audit Committee and the new Committee that we hope to set up tonight, but that is nothing new. Both departmental and non-departmental Select Committees have always adopted a flexible approach to their terms of reference, which is a good thing as it allows for joined-up scrutiny free from the sometimes artificial boundaries of departmental responsibilities. Moreover, the Environmental Audit Committee is very much akin to the Public Accounts Committee, whose cross-departmental remit has not been obviated by the existence of the Treasury Committee. We are reluctant to abolish the Environmental Audit Committee, as we believe it still performs an effective and important role in monitoring environmental issues at a cross-departmental level. We would, therefore, like to wait and see how the two Committees work together before taking any long-term decisions about the future of the Environmental Audit Committee.

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Photo of Michael Jack Michael Jack Conservative, Fylde

Why does the Deputy Leader of the House think that only two Committees have an interest in environmental issues? The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, which I have the honour of chairing, has the job of scrutinising the Government's conduct in respect of the Sustainable Development Commission and many other associated environment issues. If the Deputy Leader of the House is to propose the case for monitoring two Committees working together, I entreat him also to include our Committee and thereby to make it three.

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Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant PPS (Rt Hon Harriet Harman QC, Lord Privy Seal), Leader of the House of Commons, PPS (Rt Hon Harriet Harman QC, Minister of State), Government Equalities Office, Deputy Leader of the House of Commons

The right hon. Gentleman has pre-empted exactly what I was about to say. Clearly, there are other Committees that have historically had an interest in the matter, but that is true in many cases. For instance, in the case of the Communications Act 2003, there were two Select Committees that had a prime interest, the Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport and the then Select Committee on Trade and Industry. There is constant interest in the House in ensuring that when there are overlapping interests, Committees work together rather than against one another.

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Photo of John Gummer John Gummer Conservative, Suffolk Coastal

Has not the Minister revealed, maybe inadvertently, that the structure of Government relating to the environment is, as we have always said, entirely out of kilter? This is an opportunity for the Government to think seriously about the situation in which three Departments are responsible for matters that most of us would see as being concerned with the environment. We really ought to reconsider how we deal with the environment. That would be a very useful thing for him and the Leader of the House to raise with the Prime Minister.

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Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant PPS (Rt Hon Harriet Harman QC, Lord Privy Seal), Leader of the House of Commons, PPS (Rt Hon Harriet Harman QC, Minister of State), Government Equalities Office, Deputy Leader of the House of Commons

Tempting as it is for me to raise such matters with the Prime Minister, I do not think that it is a very good idea. Most importantly, every Member who spoke in the House about the creation of the new Department welcomed it.

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Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant PPS (Rt Hon Harriet Harman QC, Lord Privy Seal), Leader of the House of Commons, PPS (Rt Hon Harriet Harman QC, Minister of State), Government Equalities Office, Deputy Leader of the House of Commons

The right hon. Gentleman nods sagely, so I think that he was merely trying to set me a trap, into which I have no intention of walking.

I should also mention the work of the Business and Enterprise Committee, chaired by the hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire. I know that he will be sorry to lose his energy brief, as the Committee has recently done valuable work on energy prices and on fuel poverty, matters that are often raised in the House. However, business and enterprise remains a wide-ranging brief, and given the breadth of issues that the Committee has tackled in recent years, I know that it will continue to perform an invaluable service to the House. He has tabled amendment (b), which would delay the creation of the new Committee until January. If he feels that that is necessary to allow his Committee to complete work in process and to effect an orderly transition, I am happy to listen to his arguments, should he catch your eye, Mr. Speaker.

Climate change has also been of interest to the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, chaired by the right hon. Member for Fylde. I am sorry that it has had to abandon its inquiry into international climate change policy post-2012, not least because I know that he has a long-standing interest in such issues, for which many Members have looked to him. I have no doubt that the Committee's written evidence, which it has placed in the Library, will be of interest to the Energy and Climate Change Committee when it comes into being.

The motion contains only the changes to Standing Orders that are necessary to bring the Department of Energy and Climate Change fully within the scope of the House's scrutiny arrangements. I therefore commend it to the House.

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Photo of Shailesh Vara Shailesh Vara Shadow Deputy Leader of the House of Commons 10:27 pm, 28th October 2008

The Opposition welcome the proposal for a new Select Committee. Select Committees obviously do a very important task of scrutinising both Departments and their Ministers, but, equally important, they have the control to be able to call to account other senior people in their areas.

The Deputy Leader of the House was not very convincing in dealing with the questions asked by the minority parties, with which I have some sympathy. I look forward to hearing more from my hon. Friends the Members for Mid-Worcestershire (Peter Luff) and for South Suffolk (Mr. Yeo), who are Chairmen of affected Select Committees. I hope that the Deputy Leader of the House will provide more suitable answers than we have had so far.

I would also be grateful if the Deputy Leader of the House gave a fuller reply to the important question asked by my right hon. Friend Mr. Jack. It is all very well for the Minister to say that there will be a review of the Energy and Climate Change Committee and the Environmental Audit Committee, but what are to be the criteria for that review? How long will it be, or will it simply go on and on as has happened in other instances? More precision would be most welcome. Otherwise, the Opposition welcome the proposed new Select Committee.

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Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Leader of the House of Commons, Party Chair, Liberal Democrats 10:29 pm, 28th October 2008

It is intriguing to come to this debate from outside, where it is snowing, which signifies that something is happening to the climate. Some of us believe that it is right to respond to that legislatively—indeed, most of us agreed to do so just a few minutes ago. I am grateful to the Deputy Leader of the House for the way in which he introduced the debate, which is about the logical proposition that we should set up the appropriate Select Committee.

My Liberal colleagues and I have always said that debates such as this should take place one step earlier, before a new Department is set up, so that this place can scrutinise whether it should happen. That picks up the point made by Mr. Gummer. It is a Government tradition that the Prime Minister can decide, either after long thought or little thought, to create a new Department. Departments come and go and their names change, but the reality is that they may not be justified. We have argued for a long time that, if a Government, either at the beginning of their term or at some other stage, wish to set up a new Department, it would be far better if the case for such a proposal had to be made and if this House could scrutinise whether it was made well. It is possible that, on examination, such a proposal would be found not to work well. There is a debate to be had—we have not had it today—as on how the new Department, headed by the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, whom we welcome to his post, will work with existing Departments. One of those Departments has "environment" in its title and will continue to have environmental responsibilities, as will others.

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Photo of Nick Hurd Nick Hurd Shadow Minister (Cabinet Office)

May I push the hon. Gentleman back a little in his argument? Surely it is for the Government to determine the structure of government and the structure of Departments, but it is the business of the House to determine how those Departments are scrutinised. My problem with the principle behind tonight's proposal is that we are being presented with an edict from this Government on the structure of a Committee that is being set up to scrutinise this Department, and, consequently, the three existing departmental Select Committees, chaired vigorously by members of the Opposition parties, are having their powers diluted in favour of the new departmental Select Committee, which will, presumably be chaired by a Government Member.

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Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Leader of the House of Commons, Party Chair, Liberal Democrats

I take a slightly different view from the hon. Gentleman. He argues the conventional position that the Government can create and dissolve Departments at their whim. I argue that it is for the Government to propose, and for Parliament to agree to dispose, in respect of whether the structure is right. The Executive ought to concede power to the legislature. However, when a Department is set up, the logic is that there should be a Select Committee to hold it to account. Given that we do not have the position for which I wish, whereby we have a say in what Departments exist, we have to take what we are given by the Prime Minister of the day and, thus, logically there are departmental Select Committees to deal with those Departments. That is the consequence of the current structure, though I would rather the situation were otherwise.

Given the current situation, it is right that the Deputy Leader of the House has come before the House to propose the setting up of a new Select Committee, and that that Committee should be set up tonight. The options are simple. The first choice is whether the Committee has a membership of 14 or 11—that is why I asked him the question that I did. If the Committee has 11 members, the Government would expect to have six Labour places on it, whereas if it is a Committee of 14, they would expect to have eight places. Understandably, the Government would have a majority in each case.

It does not necessarily follow that the parties from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland would not be represented on the smaller Committee. I think that on an issue such as this, it is important that Northern Ireland, where none of the three largest parties in the United Kingdom is represented, and Scotland have representation on the Select Committee. Angus Robertson, who represents the Scottish National party, knows that the arrangements are negotiated between us, but my colleagues would not wish to prevent Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales—I guess that they must sort things out between them—from being represented. That argument suggests a need for the larger Committee, rather than the smaller one. There is logic in ensuring that the Committee is as inclusive as possible.

I understand the other argument, which has not yet been enunciated, about the increasing number of Committees. Indeed, Select Committees for the English regions are to be proposed in the next couple of weeks. Given that the Government have a majority, we can assume that those Committees might come into existence, and so the work load of colleagues will grow. If Select Committees with 11 members could be accommodated across the board and if such an arrangement could be fair, that number would probably be a better norm to have. That is because opting for a smaller number of dedicated people might stretch colleagues less across all their scrutiny jobs, across all the Standing Committees and across all the other work. Given that we have not yet had the debate on regional Select Committees for England, and that we cannot assume that that will go through, it is right to prefer a larger committee in this context.

The other amendment would delay the start so that the motion does not come into effect until January. I do not know what the argument for that is—it will probably be put shortly. It may be to ensure co-ordination between the three existing Committees and Departments. That is a persuasive argument and the Minister could, at the same time as saying that he wants the motion to come into effect as soon as possible, be sensitive to the fact that many cross-cutting questions remain to be resolved. My initial instinct is to be sympathetic to that argument and hope that the House will accommodate that request from the Chairmen of existing Committees, so that the new Committee comes into operation at the beginning of the new year.

We are keen that such issues should be scrutinised, as the new Department is very important. It is right to link the energy and climate change agendas, and we wish the Secretary of State and his colleagues well in their important responsibilities. I hope that we can reach an accommodation that will find most favour with all parties. With the exception of the Labour party, all parties are minorities in this House, and in the country all parties are very clearly minorities, including the Labour party.

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Photo of Peter Luff Peter Luff Chair, Business and Enterprise Committee 10:36 pm, 28th October 2008

I beg to move amendment (b), after "Standing Orders" at end insert

', with effect from 1st January 2009'.

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Photo of Michael Lord Michael Lord Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

With this it will be convenient to take amendment (a), leave out '14' and insert '11'.

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Photo of Peter Luff Peter Luff Chair, Business and Enterprise Committee

First, I wish to recognise the courtesy that the Secretary of State is extending by attending this debate. It is greatly appreciated by all of us, and it is characteristic of him, if I may say so. His shadow is also in his place.

Those of us who have the privilege of being Select Committee Chairmen attach great importance to effective scrutiny of Departments. It would be helpful if the Executive tended to consult the Chairmen rather more about how that scrutiny should be conducted, instead of presenting the House with a fait accompli. I certainly made suggestions to the Leader's office about the structure of the Select Committees after the creation of the new Department. The Government are, of course, at liberty to disagree with me—I have no monopoly on wisdom—but it would have been good to find out that they disagreed with me, instead of having to rely on a motion appearing on the Order Paper.

The lack of consultation is disappointing. I approach this debate in a spirit of co-operation because I wish to achieve effective scrutiny, and I was disappointed that, having spoken to the Leader's office, I received no communication that the Government took a contrary view. It is also for the House to determine how it should scrutinise the Executive, not for the Executive to determine how it should be scrutinised. The motion therefore raises important issues of principle, but as I wish this to be a good-natured debate I shall put that to one side. It is just a shame that the approaches that I made to the Leader's office were not dealt with effectively.

I also wish to record my support for the new Department. Energy policy is one of the most important issues this nation faces, and the objectives of the Department are some of the most important objectives with which any Secretary of State has to contend. It is true that I personally regret the loss of energy from the responsibilities of my Select Committee—I am grateful to the Deputy Leader of the House for his comments—because I find energy policy fascinating intellectually and politically, and it is of great importance. However, it is right that we should have a separate Department for energy in the testing times that we face, especially in the context of climate change and worries about global warming.

I have concerns about how the Government have approached the setting up of the new Committee, and the lack of discussion with the Chairmen of the existing Committees, but I agree—with some reluctance—about the need for a new Department. It follows that we need a new Select Committee. This is a discussion of mechanisms, not principles.

On a question of principle, may I repeat what I said in an intervention in the speech by the Deputy Leader of the House about how much I value the contribution made by the Scottish Nationalist member of my Committee, Mr. Weir? He is an outstanding member of the Committee: he is diligent, hard-working, thoughtful and conciliatory, as well as bringing a great deal of knowledge to bear on the subjects discussed. I appreciate his contribution greatly. I see no reason why, with good will on both sides of the House, Committees of 11 could not accommodate the nationalists' aspirations to be properly represented on Committees of concern to them. The idea that we need a Committee of 14 to meet those aspirations is misguided and misplaced. I greatly value the contribution that the nationalists make to my Committee and I wish to maintain that—certainly on the Business and Enterprise Committee.

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Photo of Michael Weir Michael Weir Shadow Spokesperson (Trade and Industry), Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his kind words. Does he not remember that when the membership of the Business and Enterprise Committee was reduced, there was a problem with maintaining my place on the Committee? As a result of the reduction, another valuable Member, Mr. Bone, lost his seat on the Committee. There was a problem, and it was not simple to sort that out at the time.

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Photo of Peter Luff Peter Luff Chair, Business and Enterprise Committee

These matters are never simple, and the nature of the negotiations through the usual channels—of which I was once a part, when I was in my party's Whips Office—are often complex. I do not believe that it is necessary to impose the penalty of a Committee of 14 to achieve the desirable objective of ensuring that all parties in this House have a proper say on Select Committees.

The proposition that I put to the Leader of the House's office was that the Environmental Audit Committee, chaired so ably by my hon. Friend Mr. Yeo, should be replaced by the Energy and Climate Change Committee. I understand the concerns expressed by Joan Walley about the manifesto commitment in respect of a cross-cutting Environmental Audit Committee. The work done by that Committee is overwhelmingly in the climate change and energy area, and it will create a difficulty for all of us who will have a residual responsibility. My Committee cannot ignore the issues relating to the security of energy supply, which are of huge importance for the competitiveness of UK business. We will not ignore them.

I am sure that there will still be many issues relating to climate change and energy policy that are of concern to my right hon. Friend Mr. Jack as the Chairman of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee. Certainly, if the Environmental Audit Committee survives, my hon. Friend the Member for South Suffolk will have many issues relating to energy policy and climate change to consider. I fear that the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change could become the most scrutinised Secretary of State in the House of Commons, and he could be appearing before Select Committees on an alarmingly regular basis. The Government have not thought through the consequences of the change properly.

There is already a degree of awkward overlap between my Committee and that of my hon. Friend the Member for South Suffolk—I say this to him in the spirit of friendliness. Certainly, one or two of my hon. Friend's inquiries have caused a degree of confusion in the outside world, in particular an early one on "Keeping the lights on: Nuclear, Renewables and Climate Change", which was published in the 2005-06 Session. Overlap already exists, but this change will make the overlap even greater and more confusing for the outside world. My preference would have been for the Environmental Audit Committee to have been superseded by the Energy and Climate Change Committee, but we are where we are.

I shall come last to the substance of my amendment, but I shall now speak in support of an amendment that has not yet been moved. I hope that is in order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. On the thorny question of 11 members as against 14, I had the privilege of chairing what was then the Select Committee on Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform—which before that was the Select Committee on Trade and Industry—when it had 14 members. That is not a manageable number. It does not permit effective collegiate working of the Committee. It is too many.

I want to issue a public apology to Mr. Wright. Last week we had the Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform, Lord Mandelson, before us. The hon. Member for Great Yarmouth had questions that he wanted to ask, but even with only 10 of the 11 members of my Committee present, it was not possible to include him within the timing. I plead guilty to some mismanagement of the time, but in a Committee of 11 it is a challenge to allow all Members to have a valuable role to play in the work of the Committee. A Committee of 14 is just too big.

To be honest, I would prefer to see Select Committees made up of nine members. They would have a proper collegiateness and a sense of shared responsibility. The problems of maintaining a quorum—which, if we are honest, we must acknowledge often concern Select Committee Chairmen—would be much less with smaller Select Committees whose members would feel that they owned the Committee much more effectively. I have seen no case for a Committee of 14. A Committee of that size was a real problem to me as Chairman, in ensuring the full engagement of members of the Committee. That matters a great deal.

There is also the problem, which has been mentioned, with the increasing number of Committees. The House is casually adding yet another Committee to its total number of Committees. That has implications for two different parts of the House's work. First, Members are all under huge pressure and are often required to be in three places at the same time, sometimes four: we have Select Committees, General Committees, Westminster Hall, the Chamber of the House, meetings with constituents, and who knows what else. There are not enough Members in the House to put on the increasing number of Select Committees.

We will have that debate at greater length when the subject of the regional Select Committees comes before the House, perhaps in a couple of weeks' time. I believe that the Government are fundamentally misguided in believing that those Committees can work effectively. We do not have the time, as Members, to do that work, unless we reduce the size of existing Committees. I believe that that is a real problem.

There is also a problem for the resources of the House. Every time a new Select Committee is established, it means more public expenditure: more Clerks and more people to ensure that the Committees can work effectively. Huge expense is involved in the motion before the House, but it could easily have been avoided had we decided simply to replace the Environmental Audit Committee with the Energy and Climate Change Committee.

I move now to the substance of my own amendment—the question of timing. I am grateful to Simon Hughes for what he said from the Liberal Democrat Front Bench, and I agree that there is a need for a Select Committee to cover the Department of Energy and Climate Change. When the Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform came before my Committee last week, I urged its rapid establishment, on the assumption that it would replace the Environmental Audit Committee. I was genuinely very surprised and disappointed to discover that that was not the case.

We all have work programmes. I was very grateful to the Deputy Leader of the House for what he said from the Dispatch Box about my Committee's report "Energy prices, fuel poverty and Ofgem", but we had sittings planned to finish it off. Ofgem has published its initial probe and findings, and we had sittings planned with energy Ministers and Ofgem to wrap up the inquiry. It would be nice to be able to do that without fearing that we were treading on the toes of a new Committee.

I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Member for Fylde has similar issues with his Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, and my hon. Friend the Member for South Suffolk will soon be able to speak for himself. However, given the Government's rather surprising decision—over which I feel slightly bounced—it would be helpful to have a couple of months to finalise our work programmes. That is all that we are asking for, and it will ensure that the new Committee, when it is up and running, can do so without treading too aggressively on the toes of the other Committees.

We also need time to sort out the staffing behind the scenes of the new Committee. We have a very talented Committee specialist, Rob Cope, who was responsible in large part for writing the report to which I have referred, and I imagine that he will want to go to the Energy and Climate Change Committee. Who else will be provided to support his work with the new Committee? What new Clerks will be discovered? What will be the consequences for the work of existing Committees? Which staff will we lose? It is all a bit rushed, but it need not have been if the Government had simply replaced the Environmental Audit Committee with the new Committee.

I believe that there is a very strong case for giving us just a couple of months so that we can manage the Committee's existing work programmes and staff in an orderly fashion. I strongly support the principle of what the Government are doing: I have no problem with that, save for my belief that it would be better to replace the existing Committee rather than create an additional one. The principle behind having a new, separate Department is good, and this House must be able to subject it to effective scrutiny. I believe that that would be best served by having a smaller Committee of 11 members that can meet the legitimate needs of the nationalist parties. I think that that arrangement would allow more effective scrutiny by this House of the Committee's work.

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Photo of Tony Wright Tony Wright Labour, Cannock Chase 10:46 pm, 28th October 2008

I have no doubt that the new Department will be distinguished, or that the Minister leading it will do so in a distinguished way. The House's Select Committee system has to respond when a new Department is established, and the tradition is that a Department is matched by an appropriate departmental Select Committee, so the logic is clear.

In some ways, the challenge is for the Select Committee system, which is perhaps the most conservative part of this institution. I speak as one who chairs a Select Committee, and it is natural for us to want to defend our territory. We are not always very imaginative in thinking about how the system might work differently.

In a sense, the Government can be commended for thinking more thematically and sensibly about producing a departmental change to reflect a changing aspect of Government, but the consequence is that the House must think about how it can match that in an intelligent way. It may not be the most intelligent response simply to set up yet another Select Committee, because, as we have heard, many Committees already operate in those areas. We need a more sensible response to match the new Department, beyond inventing a new Committee simply because there is a new Department—but, as I say, that is a challenge more for the House than for the Government.

I want to say two other things briefly, although they may be less helpful in terms of what is being proposed. The first takes up a point made by Simon Hughes, and it reflects an argument—or at least a conversation—that my Committee has been having with the Government for quite some time about how machinery of Government changes should be handled. Indeed, we had my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, in his previous incarnation, before us on this matter not so very long ago.

It seemed very odd to my Committee that when dealing with other public bodies or bits of Government apart from ourselves, we insist on all sorts of consultative processes before substantial reorganisations take place. There is a good reason for that: we want to know the logic behind, and the case for, the reorganisation, and we want to evaluate the costs and benefits. There are always costs, although there may well be benefits, too. We want to do that in a calm, measured way, so that the sort of considerations that are being raised now, at the 11th hour, can be raised over a decent period. Of course, we learn things through that process; we learn whether we have got the reorganisation right.

Until we took an interest in such matters, the Government did not even issue a piece of paper describing such major changes. Now we do get a piece of paper, but nothing more than that. Parliament ought to be involved. Of course the Government will decide on such changes, but Parliament should at least be consulted on major changes to the machinery of government, just as we would expect to be consulted if other bits of the public sector were to be reorganised.

When my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change and I had an exchange on the subject, he told me that that would be highly unconstitutional, but I do not think that he really believed that, although he had been advised to say it. I have learned over the years that when things are said to be constitutionally impossible, they may on the very next day turn out to be constitutionally necessary. Parliament has to return to the issue. It would be in the interests of the Government and Parliament to ensure that the process of making large-scale changes to how the Government operate is slightly more reflective.

When we set up new Committees, as we are doing today, we have to be mindful of what it means for Parliament and the Select Committee system. When my hon. Friend the Deputy Leader of the House opened the debate, he rightly talked about the gains that have resulted from the Select Committee system in its modern form, and the general support for it. All that is true, but it depends for its vitality on the relationship between the House of Commons and the Executive. We have to be able to operate a vital Select Committee system that scrutinises what the Executive do. If the balance between the Executive and the Commons changes materially, the ability to provide that scrutiny effectively is diminished. What I am really saying is that it is easy to set up a new Select Committee system, but less easy to make sure that it becomes part of an effective system of scrutiny, because that requires the institution itself to be effective. I put the case in that way because I have a certain worry.

The Executive grows; there are now many more Parliamentary Private Secretaries. There is the issue of whether such people can sit on Select Committees. The idea would have been abhorrent at one time, because it confuses the scrutiny role with the executive role, but the problem reflects the fact that we will have some difficulty making the system work unless we compromise in such areas. There is also the new invention of unpaid Ministers—my hon. Friend the Deputy Leader of the House is one of them—and the new invention of assistant Ministers. In many respects, there is now an expanding unofficial Executive. The effect is necessarily to deplete the resources available for the scrutiny work of the House of Commons. We have to be clear about whether that is what we want when we set up a new Committee.

I am told that new regional Select Committees are to be introduced. With my understanding of how the Select Committee system works, I simply do not know how all that will be possible. The Department of Energy and Climate Change seems to be splendidly conceived and led, but it needs to be matched by scrutiny by the House of Commons. I hope that that will come about not simply through invention, but through imaginative re-ordering; that is the challenge for the Commons. I simply flag up the fact that if we are not careful, the balance between Parliament and the Executive will change in a way that diminishes the ability of the House of Commons to perform the role that my hon. Friend the Deputy Leader of the House described when he opened the debate.

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Photo of Tim Yeo Tim Yeo Chair, Environmental Audit Committee, Chair, Environmental Audit Committee 10:54 pm, 28th October 2008

I rise to speak to amendment (a) in my name, but as there seems to be a larger than usual number of hon. Members in the House at 10.54 pm, I wish to make it clear to any who are not here for the purpose of speaking that I have no intention of pressing my amendment to a vote. I am happy to give that guidance. Members who venture outside will apparently encounter snow, which is proof that we are talking not about global warming, but about climate change.

I warmly welcome the establishment of the new Department and I congratulate the Secretary of State on his appointment. Like my hon. Friend Peter Luff, I am grateful to him for remaining to listen to the debate. The shadow Secretary of State is also in his place.

I understand the logic of responding to the creation of a new Department by the establishment of a new Select Committee. That preserves the symmetry with which the House scrutinises departmental work, but the pragmatic response might have been, and there were suggestions that this could have been done, with only 19 months to go before a general election, to ask the Environmental Audit Committee to take on the role of scrutinising the new Department.

However, the Government have decided differently and I wish the new Select Committee well. Once it is up and running, I and my colleagues on the Environmental Audit Committee will, I am sure, co-operate happily with the Chairman and its members when they have been chosen. We have plenty of experience of working with other Committees in our present function, and I pay particular tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Worcestershire and my right hon. Friend Mr. Jack, with whom I have worked particularly closely in the past three years.

I shall make three brief points. The first is to emphasise what the Minister said in his remarks and the intervention from my colleague, Joan Walley. I was going to call her my hon. Friend, as we seem to work so closely together. Climate change issues are, by their nature, cross-cutting issues. Tackling climate change involves tax policy, transport policy, business policy, energy policy—a range of policies. For that reason, the Environmental Audit Committee, with its cross-departmental role, is especially well placed and equipped to consider climate change issues. I am grateful for the tribute that the Deputy Leader of the House paid to the work that my Committee has done over the years. I am well served by members from all sides on the Committee who have considerable expertise.

On certain aspects of climate change, it is clearly true that we are better able to exercise a scrutiny function than a Committee that is confined to a single Department. It was a Labour Government commitment that led to the establishment of the EAC in 1997. Its cross-departmental role is enshrined in Standing Order 152A. The logical interpretation of that role at the start of this Parliament, before I became the Chairman, was to focus on climate change and related issues as the main theme for the current Parliament, and that has been reflected in the expertise of the members, the Clerk and the staff of the Committee.

My second point is that we already have, as a Committee, like any Select Committee, a forward programme of work in hand and already announced, for which the National Audit Office, to which I also pay tribute, has done preparatory work. There is often quite a long lead time—six or nine months or even a year—when the NAO will undertake research at our request, do that study, deliver it to us and publish it before we commence our inquiry. We do not want to be suddenly blown off course in our work because a new Committee has been established.

We already have an inquiry under way into shipping, which will be followed by one on forestry. We will conduct our annual examination of the pre-Budget report and we are committed to an inquiry next year into emissions trading at a time when, I hope, the United States will have a system coming on to the statute book. We want to revisit the work that we did last year on the EU emissions trading scheme. Those are all inquiries that we intend to press on with and they will involve taking evidence from Treasury Ministers, Transport Ministers and Ministers in the Department for International Development and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, as well as the Secretary of State for the new Department, I hope.

My third point is a practical concern and reflects the amendment moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Worcestershire, who is right. Haste in setting up the new Committee will not serve its purposes well and will not help the establishment of a co-operative relationship with other Committees. It would be prudent to wait until the start of a new calendar year.

My own amendment addresses my concern about the size of Select Committees, a point already well covered by my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Worcestershire. I shall not repeat his arguments, but I should say that it is easier to chair a Committee of 11 rather than 16, which is the number of members that my Committee has; it is also easier for members of smaller Committees to make satisfying contributions. I think that the Committee of Selection will struggle at this stage of the Parliament to find 14 keen Members eager to take on the work of a new Select Committee; it will struggle even to find 11 of them. I have no doubt that the Committee of Selection will put forward 11 names, but how regularly some of those Members will attend remains to be seen.

Some months ago, I approached the Leader of the House with a request to reduce the size of the Environmental Audit Committee from 16 to 11. My approach was rebuffed, but I shall be happy to revisit the issue if I am given any encouragement to do so. There are 11 very active members of my Committee and several passengers who would be relieved if they were no longer required to carry out the duties of a Select Committee member.

Let me conclude by simply saying that the Environmental Audit Committee has played a valuable role since its establishment 11 years ago. I believe that it can continue to do so, even with another Committee alongside it that scrutinises the work of the Department of Energy and Climate Change. The members of my Committee feel strongly that they would like to continue doing our work. I am confident that if we are given the opportunity, we will work constructively and positively in co-operation with the members of the new Committee, although it would be easier to do so if the Government accepted the two amendments tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Worcestershire and me.

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Photo of Mark Durkan Mark Durkan Leader of the Social Democratic & Labour Party 11:01 pm, 28th October 2008

Mr. Yeo said that he would not press amendment (a) to a Division, and I have taken some consolation from that. However, given that a number of arguments have been made, it is important that I should deal with a few points.

I do not speak with experience of being a member of a Select Committee and there are many Members in the same position who would be interested in serving on a number of Select Committees. When a new Department is created, it is right that the House should move reasonably quickly to set up a Select Committee to scrutinise its work—and, at that formative stage, to assist it in its thinking about policy development and its relations within Government and with Parliament at large. A Select Committee formed early has a better chance of having a formative impact on the Department than one formed some time into next year, say, simply for the convenience of existing Select Committees.

An argument has been made about the possible overlap between the Environmental Audit Committee and the new Committee, but as the hon. Member for South Suffolk said, the Environmental Audit Committee's work ranges across many Committees, as any audit committee does. Its work ranges across a wide range of Departments and will often intersect with the interests of other Committees. That is why we need a good, sensible parliamentary highway code to make sure that those intersections do not result in serious clashes, accidents or undue stand-offs as to who goes where.

Perhaps we can deal with some of the arguments raised by hon. Members against the motion in the name of the Leader of the House by revisiting the number of members of the Environmental Audit Committee, especially given the existence of the new Committee. There is a case for reducing the size of the Environmental Audit Committee and a number of its members might want to switch to the new Committee, given their experience.

An argument has been made that we should wait until the new year because of the work of existing Committees. Perhaps those Committees should be allowed to continue some of their work and then hand it over in a better, more complete and more definitive state to the new Committee, which might be in a better position to receive it, having been on its own learning curve vis-à-vis the new Department and the new Ministers.

This does not need to be a debate about the Department in principle; all parties have expressed a positive view. The Committee should be formed sooner rather than later given the importance of the issues that the new Department is dealing with—the complex and moving issue of fuel poverty at a time of economic challenge, and the serious matter of initiating energy strategy on energy generation for the future, particularly in the context of environmental requirements on climate change and the various international obligations, including the new targets and treaties being negotiated at the end of next year. However, arrangements can surely be made to continue with the good work of other Committees without creating serious difficulties or disruption.

Several Members, including Peter Luff and Dr. Wright, observed that it is hard for Committees that have been doing good work on a particular issue and have developed it to a particular stage suddenly to lose it because of a change in Government. The same thing happens to Ministers and to Departments—that is the way of Government, and Parliament needs to respond. Whatever issues we might have about how the machinery of government is changed, Parliament needs to be flexible and adept in responding in a practical and straightforward way. If each time a new Department is created there is confusion about whether we have a Select Committee and we then end up with different breeds of Department, some of which have Committees and some of which do not—

Photo of Peter Luff Peter Luff Chair, Business and Enterprise Committee

It is a bit different for Parliament than for Departments. When a new Department is set up, the civil servants simply transfer to it. For Parliament, rather different issues are involved in terms of the staffing of Committees. It is much more complex for us, with our smaller and more limited resources, to respond in that flexible way, and much easier for Departments.

Photo of Mark Durkan Mark Durkan Leader of the Social Democratic & Labour Party

I take the hon. Gentleman's point. However, that is one of the reasons I suggested that if we go ahead and set up this Committee, the existing Committees—not only their members but their expert personnel—can continue to do their good work. That might allow time for parliamentary channels to review what the new Committee needs in the way of support personnel as it begins its work. Setting up the new Committee need not necessarily bring to an abrupt end the existing work of other Committees. That can continue into the new year and sensible handovers can then take place. Surely we can be practical and realistic about that.

This Department has been formed in a new context and is working on several significant challenges right across the policy range—social policy on fuel poverty and economic and enterprise policy in relation to the significance of energy policy to business and to the broader economy. There are also international and diplomatic dimensions to the quest for international standards in respect of environmental regulation and climate change. The new Department has a big task, and it may do no harm to make the Committee a bit bigger rather than a bit smaller. That would allow for a broader spread across the parties and, as suggested by Simon Hughes, for a broader geographic spread. Whether parties are big or small, the issues under discussion present different challenges in different regions. We have to take account not only of the interests of all the various Whitehall Departments but the many and varied Departments at a devolved level, as well as local government interests throughout the UK.

At this stage of the Parliament, it would perhaps be more appropriate to form a Committee of 14 rather than 11. If people say that that would involve an over-commitment of Members to Committees, then there might be a case for looking at the size of the Committee but not its role. It has been set up with a very distinct purpose that should range across environmental practices and targets in relation to all Government responsibilities and Departments. That needs to be respected and protected in the context of this debate and beyond it.

Photo of Angus Robertson Angus Robertson Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Defence), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Office), Shadow SNP Westminster Group Leader 11:09 pm, 28th October 2008

I am delighted to follow the leader of the Social Democratic and Labour party, who made a very convincing case about the impact of amendment (a), which would reduce the size of this important Committee from 14 to 11. I am pleased that it is unlikely to be pressed to a vote, but for the record it would be helpful to make a number of points that have not been made so far.

At the outset, I have to say that I have no doubt that in tabling their amendments the hon. Members for Mid-Worcestershire (Peter Luff) and for South Suffolk (Mr. Yeo) did not intend to exclude parties from Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales but, as I will outline, that would be the direct consequence of automatically reducing the number from 14 to 11, and I shall explain why in a moment.

The Deputy Leader of the House was right to remind us all of the "integral and vital part"—to use his words—that these Committees play. They oversee expenditure, the work of Departments and, in the case of energy and climate change, matters of supreme importance. The leader of the SDLP raised the point for the first time in this debate that many of the matters considered are devolved. There is shared sovereignty between Administrations in Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast, and the Ministers who hold portfolio responsibilities for this issue are not from UK-wide parties. In the case of the Welsh Assembly Government, colleagues from Plaid Cymru have responsibility for it; in the Scottish Government, colleagues from the SNP have that responsibility; and in Northern Ireland, a number of colleagues have it, not least Sammy Wilson who has the environmental responsibility in the Northern Ireland Assembly Government. If a Committee is going to look regularly at areas of policy where there is shared sovereignty, would it not make sense to ensure that there was permanent representation on the Committee that could feed that experience into the deliberations?

I turn now to the issue of guaranteed places. The hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire rightly praised the contribution of my hon. Friend Mr. Weir to the Committee on which he sits, but the hon. Gentleman will be aware that that place is not guaranteed. The minority parties do not have guaranteed places on departmental Select Committees because they have a membership of 11; the formula that is used sometimes may—just may—afford minority party Members or independents a place on those Committees. It is worth reminding the House that there is not a single Member of parties from Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland on the Committees for Children, Schools and Families, Communities and Local Government, Defence, Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Foreign Affairs, Home Affairs, International Development, Justice, Treasury or Work and Pensions. I wish to see that changed, but that is not a matter for discussion this evening.

We have a proposal before us, which I hope will not be pressed and which I hope the Government will not accept, that the Committee should have only 11 members. The result would then be down to the good will of the usual channels. No doubt colleagues who are part of the usual channels would work hard to include the views of Members of all parties, but I am sure that they would concede in private, if not in public, that as the arrangements currently stand, there is no guarantee of minority party representation on Committees with a membership of 11. For that reason, I am pleased that we have colleagues from Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales in high attendance, because we wish colleagues from the UK-wide parties to be aware how strongly we feel about the matter. The House authorities will not find it difficult to find volunteers from our parties to serve on the Committee. Hopefully, the UK-wide parties can do likewise when it sits as a Committee of 14, should the Government's sensible proposal proceed.

Photo of David Chaytor David Chaytor Labour, Bury North 11:14 pm, 28th October 2008

The representatives of the smaller parties have made several valid points and I support the comments that the Chairmen of the two Select Committees made. I especially want to reiterate the argument presented by the Chairman of the Environmental Audit Committee, of which I am a member.

In his opening remarks, the Deputy Leader of the House recognised the Environmental Audit Committee's contribution to the scrutiny of climate change in recent years. Indeed, in the current Parliament, we have made it the main focus of our activities. It is generally agreed that the overwhelming majority of Select Committee reports about climate change that the House has produced in recent years came from the Environmental Audit Committee. The Committee has not only a track record but a forward programme of inquiries on the theme of climate change. I therefore believe that there is a strong case for deferring the new arrangements and granting some time to assess how the proposal will work.

The debate has another dimension, which has not yet been mentioned. We have at best an anomaly and at worst a conflict of interest between the role of the Environmental Audit Committee and that of the new Energy and Climate Change Committee. We have so far examined the problem from the perspective of the Environmental Audit Committee's cross-departmental scrutiny role, but I want to examine the problem from a different perspective.

The new Department will have a new, cross-departmental role, which the Department that has been subsumed did not perform. That is precisely because of the Climate Change Bill, which we passed this evening. The work of the Department of Energy and Climate Change will be cross-departmental in a way that we have not previously experienced. Its impact and reach will affect the Treasury, the Department for Transport, the Department for Communities and Local Government and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. I therefore believe that there will be an extra complication because the new departmental Select Committee will, if it tracks and scrutinises the work of its Department, take on a cross-departmental role, which will bring it into conflict with the work of the Environmental Audit Committee.

Photo of Joan Walley Joan Walley Labour, Stoke-on-Trent North

The Government must pay attention to the need for the new Department to be cross-cutting, if it is truly to take on board all the issues to do with climate change. That should be reflected in not only the make-up of the Department but the scrutiny that Parliament gives it.

Photo of David Chaytor David Chaytor Labour, Bury North

I am grateful for those comments. The conclusion that I draw from the anomaly is that, while the fact that existing Select Committees have a forward programme of work in place supports the case for making no change until 1 January, we also need to review the terms of reference of all the affected Select Committees. The Deputy Leader of the House said that he wanted to review the arrangements. I hope that he will accept that, before any change is made, we need a thorough review of the terms of reference of each of the Committees that will be affected.

Photo of Michael Jack Michael Jack Conservative, Fylde 11:18 pm, 28th October 2008

Mr. Chaytor made excellent and perceptive comments, and touched on some of the central issues of the debate. I am delighted that the Secretary of State for the new Department of Energy and Climate Change is back in his place because the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee recommended on several occasions that a Cabinet Minister should have more focus on a portfolio that dealt with climate change. It is so important and, by definition, cuts across Government. Intriguingly, in providing that additional focus, the Government have married with it the other side of the equation—namely, that part of Government activity that deals with the emission of carbon dioxide. My hon. Friend Mr. Yeo made a point about his Committee being transmuted into the new Committee. Marrying energy and climate change under one departmental roof means that he could bring with him the critical faculty of a Committee that dealt with emissions and also take on a critical appraisal of issues connected with generating energy. I thought that that was a good way of counterbalancing the sometimes irreconcilable sides of the Secretary of State's new Department, which concern generating energy on the one hand and seeking to reduce CO2 on the other.

Part A of the motion before the House invites us to amend the resolution of the House of 13 July 2005 dealing with the Liaison Committee. Dr. Wright, in his as always helpful interventions on the process of government, raised the fact that the Leader and Deputy Leader of the House had effectively ridden roughshod over a mechanism of the House designed to deal with the types of issue that we have been discussing.

We are talking, first, about what the right composition of a Select Committee to shadow the new Department should be. I support that, but my hon. Friends have asked questions about the new Committee's composition by number, its starting date, existing workflows, the cross-cutting nature of its work and the avoidance of conflict when dealing with environmental issues. Would it not have been a good idea if, once the new Department had been formed, the Leader of the House had sought the view of the Liaison Committee, so that it could carry out, as it were, a review of how environmental scrutiny was conducted, so as to resolve any conflict and to present a solution that would have given best effect to the House's wishes to scrutinise the new Department? However, that option has been ignored and the only option is the one before the House this evening.

As a result, a lot of good work, including the inquiry that my Committee, the Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, was going to undertake into fuel poverty, will have to be postponed. Our Committee discussed the matter and wrote to the Leader of the House. I am sorry that the Deputy Leader of the House, who appears to be unaware of the debate going on around him, was also unaware of the letter that our Committee wrote in support of the view that the Environmental Audit Committee should take on the responsibility of monitoring the new Department, using its existing expertise, without necessarily creating a brand new Select Committee at this stage in the Parliament, for all the reasons that other right hon. and hon. Members have mentioned.

It would be nice if the Deputy Leader of the House, in the conciliatory mode in which he introduced the debate, were to stand at the Dispatch Box and say that he had listened to what had been said and that the Government would not press the matter this evening, but would take it to the Liaison Committee for a proper discussion, so that all the issues could be resolved. We could thereby move forward in a spirit of harmony and excellence of scrutiny, and on the basis of proper discussion, not the imposition of the solution before the House this evening.

Photo of John Gummer John Gummer Conservative, Suffolk Coastal 11:22 pm, 28th October 2008

The Deputy Leader of the House was mistaken in suggesting that I was leading him into a trap by trying to discuss the issue. I was in fact making a perfectly helpful comment, which I hope he listened to carefully.

We are tonight changing our ability to handle the difficult, long-term and extremely pressing issues of climate change. Far from denigrating the new Department and its Secretary of State, I am an enthusiastic supporter of the structure. However, as Mr. Chaytor said, the new Department will, by its very nature, have to have its fingers in all sorts of different pies. Indeed, the new Select Committee on climate change will, by its various decisions, recommendations and advice, help the Secretary of State to do just that. He will therefore be rather different from other Secretaries of State.

I was merely suggesting that a number of unfinished discussions still need to take place before setting up such a Select Committee to deal with the situation, some of which have admirably been mentioned by my right hon. Friend Mr. Jack, but there are others, too. For example, many of us would have liked the opportunity to discuss issues such as the fact that adaptation to climate change is dealt with by a Department other than this new Department, and that any Select Committee dealing with the new Department might want to talk about those issues.

There are many concerns about how all this has been put together. I do not mind that too much, as long as it works. I am suggesting that this is the one opportunity that the House will have to signal to the Government how much we support the new Ministry, but how difficult we perceive its new role to be and how widespread will be the responsibility of the Secretary of State. If we are not careful, we shall have a situation in which the Daily Mail runs a story every day about how the Secretary of State has disagreed with some other Secretary of State, because that is the almost inevitable result of the role that he will have to play. I personally do not want him to be in that position, because I want him to win these very important battles.

Will the Deputy Leader of the House take seriously my suggestion that this is rather more complicated than just setting up a Select Committee in this way? It would serve the needs of the House a great deal better if he felt able to say, "We will not press this matter tonight. We will talk to the Liaison Committee, and we will talk more widely than that, too." I wonder whether we need to rethink how the Committee structure might be made to suit and to sort this rather special Department. That is partly as a result of the Government's innovative decision—supported by a huge majority in the House—to set up a Climate Change Committee, whose effect on the House will be different from that of any other Committee that we have set up before.

The Government have an opportunity to be very imaginative on this matter. It is not that we do not want proper scrutiny of the new Department, but that we want that scrutiny to be carried out in a way that ensures we can help the Secretary of State to do a very tricky job. Perhaps it might therefore be better to think about this for a little longer, and to talk a little more widely before coming to a conclusion. Most of us believe that setting up the Committee before January would be difficult, given that a number of other Committees have not yet completed their work. May I request that the Minister take account of the fact that this is a special occasion, and suggest that he might not wish to rush into it in the way that he appears to have done so far?

Photo of Hywel Williams Hywel Williams Shadow PC Spokesperson (Education), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Work and Pensions), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Health), Shadow PC Spokesperson (International Development) 11:27 pm, 28th October 2008

I, too, am disappointed and a little surprised at the amendment proposing that the number of Members on the Committee should be reduced from 14 to 11. Given the universal welcome for the setting up of the new Department, and the near unanimity that we have heard tonight, the proposal strikes the wrong note. Its effect would assuredly be to squeeze out representation of the so-called minor parties on these Benches. I say "minor", but—as has already been said in Cardiff, Belfast and Edinburgh—we are parties of Governments.

Devolution is, in my opinion, an imperfect solution to the problems that face us, but we are where we are, and there is a relationship between Cardiff, Edinburgh, London and Belfast. In respect of Wales, my colleagues Ieuan Wyn Jones and Elin Jones are, respectively, the Ministers for industry and for environmental and rural affairs. They have a vital interest in seeing members of their own parties and colleagues from other parties taking part in the scrutiny of the work of the new Department. That goes without saying. If there is any difficulty in filling the seats on the new Committee, in achieving a quorum or in persuading members of the larger parties to take an interest, I can assure the House that there are plenty of people on these Benches who would be happy to take up any empty seats. That is a non-problem.

Peter Luff raised a substantial question. If I understood his intent rightly, he was referring not only to the Energy and Climate Change Committee but to the Select Committee system in general, as he believes that such Committees are too large. Having a debate at this time of night without discussion through the usual channels and within parties is not, I believe, the right way to do it. I am happy that the hon. Gentleman brought the issue up, but I am sure that there are many other ways of dealing with it in a rather more considered manner.

Photo of Peter Luff Peter Luff Chair, Business and Enterprise Committee

I wish I could agree with the hon. Gentleman. I am sure that, with good will, it would be possible to agree a system of smaller Select Committees that gave proper representation to minorities. That is a very desirable objective, but I have to say that I have detected no great willingness to secure it. I believe that we should work towards it, because smaller Select Committees work and they scrutinise more effectively. Let me ask the hon. Gentleman what is better—a bigger Committee that does not work or a smaller Committee that does?

Photo of Hywel Williams Hywel Williams Shadow PC Spokesperson (Education), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Work and Pensions), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Health), Shadow PC Spokesperson (International Development)

All I can say is that if Members on these Benches were engaged in the work of this Committee, we would be wholeheartedly engaged in it. As far as we are concerned, we would make it work, although the hon. Gentleman can speak for his own party.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Leader of the House of Commons, Party Chair, Liberal Democrats

For our part, I am keen that we do not lose sight of this issue. The Modernisation Committee, on which the Deputy Leader of the House sits, could look into reducing the size of Committees generally, while ensuring that they are properly representative so that people are not overly stretched in a way that does a disservice to the subject.

Photo of Hywel Williams Hywel Williams Shadow PC Spokesperson (Education), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Work and Pensions), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Health), Shadow PC Spokesperson (International Development)

Perhaps we should leave it there and have a proper debate on the issue at some later stage.

I finish with one further point. Reference has been made to the Liaison Committee looking further into the issue. Let me make the general point again that the minority parties would not be represented—in my opinion, quite wrongly—on this departmental Committee.

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant PPS (Rt Hon Harriet Harman QC, Lord Privy Seal), Leader of the House of Commons, PPS (Rt Hon Harriet Harman QC, Minister of State), Government Equalities Office, Deputy Leader of the House of Commons 11:31 pm, 28th October 2008

With the leave of the House, I will respond. Three key points were exemplified in this evening's debate. The first was whether there should be a stand-alone Select Committee to scrutinise the new Department or whether it should be an additional responsibility of the Environmental Audit Committee; the second was whether the new Committee should start immediately or in January; and the third was how many members it should comprise—14 or 11.

On the first point, I firmly believe that there should be a stand-alone Committee. If the Government had not come forward fairly swiftly with the recommendation to set up such a Committee, people would quickly have started calling for us to do so. I admit that hon. Members have made valid points in the debate, but I believe that, on balance, this is the right way for us to proceed. The Environmental Audit Committee is very similar to the Public Accounts Committee, in that it has a Minister sitting on it, it was deliberately set up in the same way and it has a cross-cutting responsibility. The Treasury Committee could very well say, "But you cover many of the areas that we cover, and we would like to have a cross-cutting responsibility and do away with the PAC." That, however, would be inappropriate. We know how those two Committees work together and I think that it will be possible for the departmental Committee and the Environmental Audit Committee to work together effectively.

Mr. Yeo raised an important point about the necessity of maintaining the cross-cutting responsibility. He mentioned reports that his Committee is already planning on shipping and forestry, which obviously do not fall directly to the Department. I believe that there will be a continuing role for the Environmental Audit Committee. I know that the hon. Gentleman and the Leader of the House have corresponded on the size of the Committee—an issue that we should perhaps look at again.

My hon. Friend Mr. Chaytor said that there would be a conflict of interest between these two Committees, but I do not believe that. Committees should be able to work co-operatively and I very much hope that the Chairs of the two Committees would want to do so.

I note that the right hon. Members for Fylde (Mr. Jack) and for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer) requested that I decline to move forward with the proposals this evening and refer them instead to the Liaison Committee. It has been an established principle in the House that whenever the machinery of government changes and a new Department is created, we should have a new departmental Select Committee, and I believe that we should abide by that.

On whether the Committee should start immediately or in January, my hon. Friend Mark Durkan emphasised the need for swiftness, and I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State would want to be scrutinised by the new Committee as swiftly as possible—hence his presence throughout this evening's debate.

Peter Luff made an important point about the work that his Committee is already doing, particularly in regard to fuel poverty. Incidentally, I am sorry if he felt that he had not been properly consulted. I had no idea that there had been any conversation about the issue. If at any future stage he, or for that matter any other Select Committee Chairman, wishes to discuss these matters, they are welcome to come and find me during a Division or at some other time. My hon. Friend the Member for Bury, North made another important point—about the forward programme for the Environmental Audit Committee.

I think that there has been a pretty overwhelming suggestion this evening that we should launch the new Committee in January, and I am more than happy to accept the amendment to that effect.

That leaves us with the final question of whether the Committee should have 14 or 11 members. My instinctive feeling has always been that all voices in the House should be heard in Select Committees, mainly because I believe that Select Committees do their work in a different way from the rest of the House: a somewhat less partisan way, which nearly always makes for unanimity in reports and which can mean that the House is far more effective both in its scrutiny of Government and in the face that it presents to the community outside. That is why, on the whole, I should prefer a larger Committee, and for it to be possible for smaller parties to be represented on smaller Committees.

Angus Robertson made one unfortunate slip. He kept saying that parties from Scotland and Wales were not represented. I am a Welsh Member of Parliament, and I was a member of a Select Committee. I just did not happen to represent a Welsh nationalist party.

I took account of what the hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire said about Committees of 11. It is possible for Committees of 11 to include two members from the minority parties. Sometimes that is by virtue of the generosity of the governing party, but sometimes it is by virtue of the generosity of the Opposition. However, we should be considering as a whole how we can ensure better representation.

I did not think that I would say this very often, but the hon. Member for Moray made one very good point in commending the Government's sensible proposal. I do not think I have ever heard those words from his mouth before.

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Photo of Nigel Dodds Nigel Dodds Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform), Without portfolio, Shadow Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Without Portfolio)

My colleagues and I welcome what the Deputy Leader of the House said about the importance of minority party representation on Committees, whether large or small. Can we be assured that he will follow that up, and that we will not be left with fine words but will see action? How does he propose to proceed?

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Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant PPS (Rt Hon Harriet Harman QC, Lord Privy Seal), Leader of the House of Commons, PPS (Rt Hon Harriet Harman QC, Minister of State), Government Equalities Office, Deputy Leader of the House of Commons

I have been listening to the debate tonight, so pressing me to produce an action plan now is going a little far, but this is something that I think we need to address. The hon. Gentleman will be able to judge me by not just my words but my actions at a later stage.

Hywel Williams spoke of the need for minority parties to be represented on the Committee. I am minded to resist amendment (a) if it is pressed to a Division, but I very much hope that we shall be able to set up the Committee forthwith.

Amendment (b) agreed to.

Resolved,

That the following amendments be made in respect of Standing Orders, with effect from 1st January 2009:

A SELECT COMMITTEES RELATED TO GOVERNMENT DEPARTMENTS

That Standing Order No. 152 (Select committees related to government departments) be amended in the Table in paragraph (2) by inserting, in the appropriate place, the following item:

Energy and Climate Change Department of Energy and Climate Change 14

B LIAISON COMMITTEE

That the Resolution of the House of 13th July 2005 relating to Liaison Committee (Membership) be further amended in paragraph (2) by inserting, in the appropriate place, 'Energy and Climate Change'.

C EUROPEAN COMMITTEES

That Standing Order No. 119 be amended by inserting in the Table in paragraph (6), in respect of European Committee A, in the appropriate place, 'Energy and Climate Change'.

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