There has been an extensive discussion of what is wrong, with which I broadly agree, and in the short time available, I just want to make four proposals for reform.
The first proposal is that membership of Select Committees, which are the most important channel of accountability, should not be chosen by the Whips, but should be chosen via a secret ballot of Members of the whole House. Indeed, I would go further than that. As many Select Committee reports are extremely good and deserve the attention and decision of the House, there should be a right in a limited number of cases—perhaps four or five a year, subject to prioritisation by the Liaison Committee—for a Select Committee to propose a motion for debate on the Floor of the House, with a vote at the end. That would give the House real influence in laying the foundations for future legislation and reform.
Secondly, I very much agree with the excellent speech of my hon. Friend Mr. Allen; we should have a business Committee, which would act as co-partner with the Government in determining the agenda of this House. Of course the Government, as the elected party, must have the right to take through their full legislative programme, but there are many other areas of business on which the Government have no direct electoral mandate, and they should be agreed and decided on by this House. I am thinking particularly about choosing subjects for debate in light of the occurrence of major national and international issues. It is, to say the very least, striking that the two most important issues in the past five years have not been the subject of debate with a vote at the end—I refer to the lessons of the Iraq war and the current economic meltdown—despite the fact that the latter is arguably the most traumatic international episode since the last war 65 years ago.
I come to my third proposal. Just as there are congressional hearings in the United States, there should be confirmation hearings, held by the relevant Select Committee, for all Cabinet appointments nominated by the Prime Minister—and, I would add, for the most important public sector appointments made outside the House. The Prime Minister would, of course, propose the Cabinet appointments, but it would be for Parliament to ratify them—and indeed to recall the appointee if the Select Committee thought it appropriate. There would then be dual accountability—accountability, of course, to the Prime Minister, but also to Parliament.
The fourth proposal, which I have to say is not mine but that of the Public Administration Committee and its excellent Chairman, my hon. Friend Dr. Wright, is that in cases where the Government, for whatever reason, decline to set up a commission of inquiry, this House should set up its own commission of inquiry, if it sees fit to do so. It could then investigate matters of great public concern. That is not a very radical proposal—it was actually the regular procedure of our forebears in the Victorian Parliament—but it certainly is important.
There are other proposals that I would like to make, but in deference to the wishes of the House and to your good self, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I will leave it at that. There are major issues for reform, and I very much support the Liberal Democrat party in introducing this debate, which is long overdue.
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