Standing Orders Etc. (Energy and Climate Change)

Part of Business of the House – in the House of Commons at 11:31 pm on 28th October 2008.

Alert me about debates like this

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.

Embed this video

Copy and paste this code on your website