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The BBC's Andrew Marr reports
"No one predicted this"
 real 56k

Gwyneth Dunwoody
"It wasn't just a victory for us, it was a victory for Parliament"
 real 56k

Donald Anderson
"Government should not try to control the select committees"
 real 56k

Tuesday, 17 July, 2001, 15:40 GMT 16:40 UK
Reform promise after rebellion

Gwyneth Dunwoody and Donald Anderson are likely to be reinstated
The government has promised reform of the way MPs scrutinise its work following its humiliating defeat at the hands of Labour rebels in the House of Commons.

Tony Blair's official spokesman said the prime minister was "not trying to hide from the issue" of which MPs sit on and run the select committees which monitor legislation and government departments.


Parliament has roared and I hope the government will learn the lesson that it should not try to control select committees

Donald Anderson
On Monday evening Mr Blair suffered his first Commons defeat since taking power four years ago when more than 120 Labour MPs voted with the opposition.

They were protesting at the sacking of two influential - and outspoken - select committee chairmen, Gwyneth Dunwoody and Donald Anderson.

Reform will go ahead

The Downing Street spokesman said: "This was a genuine free vote.

"Parliament took a different decision, that is its right, the government respects that right."

The spokesman argued that the government had moved faster than its predecessors to re-establish the committees after a general election.

Gwyneth Dunwoody
Gwyneth Dunwoody: Seen as fiercely independent
And Commons Leader Robin Cook welcomed the "momentum for reform" built up by MPs after last night's huge backbench rebellion.

Mr Cook said: "I hope we will be able to take that reform momentum forward to achieve real reforms in both the ways the select committees are set-up and the ways in which they are able to exercise their powers."

He had already indicated that the Commons modernisation committee would begin looking on Wednesday at the way the other committees work.

On Mr Anderson and Mrs Dunwoody, the spokesman said that there was a wealth of talent on the back benches that was often overlooked.

"That is why it was thought, perhaps it was time for change, Parliament has taken a different view, that's Parliament's right.

The spokesman would not be drawn on whether Mr Blair himself had a role in the original decision to drop the pair.

Under the current system, membership of committees is decided by the committee of selection, which has a majority of party whips - effectively giving control of membership to the government.

Sir George Young, a Conservative member of the committee of selection, said it was wrong for the committee to simply rubber-stamp lists of select committee members handed to it by whips.

"There has been a gentleman's agreement that you don't challenge the people nominated by the whips of the relative party," Sir George told the BBC's World at One..

First defeat

Former Labour minister Frank Field said the prime minister must take personal responsibility for the defeat.

"His fingerprints were all over the decision," said Mr Field.

Donald Anderson
Donald Anderson: Set to be reinstated
"It will now be the engine for much wider change. The outlook for reform must now be better than it has been since the war."

Mr Anderson and Mrs Dunwoody are now very likely to be re-instated.

Mr Anderson hailed Monday's vote as a "great day for Parliament" and warned ministers that it would be "very, very unwise" to ignore the new mood among MPs.

"It really is a peasants' revolt and a great day for parliament," he said.

Withdrawing

After the vote former culture secretary Chris Smith, who had been widely expected to take over the chairmanship of the foreign affairs committee from Mr Anderson, said he was now withdrawing from the list of nominations.

He told the BBC: "I think that in asserting the rights of Parliament, MPs did the right thing."

He denied he had been put forward for the job in return for leaving the post of Culture Secretary quietly.

Former government whip Graham Allen said; "It is inconceivable that Number 10 was not consulted on who was on what committee."

He said that after a major re-shuffle as Mr Blair made following last month's general election victory, there were often "20 to 30 corpses lying around waiting to be cleared away".

Chairman of the committee of selection, John McWilliam, defended the power of the whips in making choices of committee membership but denied these were simply rubber stamped.

"There is an arrangement going back to Disraeli's time," he told the BBC.

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