Backbench Business Committee

Part of Oral Answers to Questions — Communities and Local Government – in the House of Commons at 4:16 pm on 12th March 2012.

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Photo of David Heath David Heath The Deputy Leader of the House of Commons 4:16 pm, 12th March 2012

I shall make a little more progress. I have been reasonably generous in giving way to hon. Members, and I will no doubt be sufficiently generous again.

The Government could not have been clearer about their intentions. There has been some suggestion that the motion has been sprung on the House without notice or at the wrong time. I suggest that that contention is without merit.

When moving the motion which led to the establishment of the Backbench Business Committee on 15 June 2010, my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House pointed out that

“For the first time in over a century, the House will be given control over significant parts of its own agenda.”—[Hansard, 15 June 2010; Vol. 511, c. 779.]

That shift in control is one which this Government facilitated and to which they remain fully committed. The subjects of debate and the form that motions for debate take on the equivalent of 35 days a Session, including at least 27 days on the Floor of the House, are now properly a matter for the Backbench Business Committee. The debates chosen by the Backbench Business Committee have helped to raise the public profile of the House of Commons, and increased public awareness of the crucial role of the House in holding the Executive to account. The subjects chosen might well not have been chosen by the Government, or indeed by the Opposition, and have been challenging for us. That is part and parcel of the switch of power that the Wright Committee envisaged.

The Government are committed to the continuing role of the Backbench Business Committee, and to providing the time to that Committee in a Session of normal length which is set out in Standing Orders. The motion before us today does not affect in any way the Committee’s powers or its role.

The first change addresses an anomaly in the method of election of members of the Backbench Business Committee. At present, all members of the Committee are elected by the whole House. This is wholly appropriate for the Chair of the Committee, who represents the whole House, but it may not be appropriate for the other members. It is wrong in principle that, for example, the choice of Opposition Members on a Committee could be decided by the votes of Members on the Government Benches, who will inevitably outnumber them.

I read a comment in the electronic media earlier today—because of the anomaly, why do we not change the rules for all the other Select Committees to match those for the Backbench Business Committee? The reason is obvious. If we were to do that, the Government of the day would control who the Opposition parties put on Select Committees. The House would rightly be outraged if that were the position, yet that is the position that we currently have with the Backbench Business Committee.