Committees row grows as second Tory is removed

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Indy Politics
ANOTHER WAVE of disputes over the carve-up of select committee chairmen and membership broke out yesterday as Sir John Wheeler, the long-standing former chair of the Home Affairs Committee, was unceremoniously dumped at the behest of his own party.

Sir Marcus Fox, chairman of the committee of selection, was forced to agree to remove Sir John's name from the list of members published yesterday morning after other Tories pointed out that he had already served on the committee for three Parliaments.

This was the device invoked to rid the health committee - and the Government - of the outspoken Nicholas Winterton, whose name failed to appear on the list.

MPs of all parties said yesterday that they had never heard of the so-called 'three-term' rule until yesterday.

Sir John said last night that Sir Marcus had told him that the committee of selection had decided to change the rules to exclude anyone who had served since 1979.

Unlike Mr Winterton, who was a thorn in his own party's flesh, Sir John was viewed as a much more amenable conduit of government thinking. 'I have had the privilege of serving for 13 years,' he said. 'I am obviously very much embarrassed.'

Women Labour MPs, meanwhile, complained bitterly to party whips over the absence of any female representation on the employment committee, in odd contrast to the female secretary of state, Gillian Shephard.

They have secured a promise from the whips' office that a woman candidate will be sought when a vacancy next occurs.

Fury continued among Labour and Conservative members over the trading of Labour's former chairmanship of the transport committee for that of the trade and industry committee.

John Prescott, Labour's transport spokesman, who was not consulted, was said yesterday to be 'hopping mad' at the decision. David Marshall, who chaired the last session's committee, was likewise not informed of the intention to trade the chairmanship. 'The way it was done was absolutely disgusting,' he said. 'Transport has always been very important to the Labour movement. The impending privatisation of British Rail and the deregulation of London buses requires someone to look objectively at those measures.'

Sir Anthony Grant, Dr Keith Hampson and other Tories on the trade and industry committee look increasingly likely to seek to block a chairmanship by Labour's Stan Orme or Doug Hoyle.

'We are so annoyed by this so- called deal that we will certainly be considering the position,' Sir Anthony said, adding that his view was shared by many MPs outside the committee system.

Labour transport committee members are likewise contemplating attempting to vote in a chairman of their choice.

Sir Anthony plans to raise a general complaint about the system when MPs debate the list on Monday night. He said he understood the need for some behind- the-scenes organisation but said: 'I think it must be handled more sensitively, more sensibly, and with more consultation.'