Standing Orders Etc. (Energy and Climate Change)

Part of Business of the House – in the House of Commons at 10:29 pm on 28th October 2008.

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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

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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