Standing Orders Etc. (Energy and Climate Change)

Part of Business of the House – in the House of Commons at 11:01 pm on 28th October 2008.

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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—