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Several hon. Members rose--

Mr. Miller: I give way to my hon. Friend the Member for Chorley (Mr. Hoyle).

Mr. Hoyle: I assure my hon. Friend that it is not just the Whips who think that he is tiresome and boring. Will he take up a relevant point and tell us what benefits the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) could bring to that most august body, the Commission? That is most important. Hon. Members seem eager to condemn the right hon. Gentleman, but I am sure that my hon. Friend will be able to explain the benefits as he continues his speech.

Mr. Miller: I can think of a number of benefits that the right hon. Gentleman would bring--his wit, his humour and his snappy dressing, including his choice of ties. Whether they would benefit the House is another matter.

Mr. Tom Levitt (High Peak): The question of how representative the right hon. Gentleman might be has been raised. His title shows that he is a member of the Privy Council, so he is therefore among the minority in the Chamber. Does my hon. Friend consider that the right hon. Gentleman's membership of the Privy Council is the closest that he has ever got to being "PC" in his life?

Mr. Miller: I see you move forward, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and I know that I would be straying dangerously

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from the terms of the motion if I considered my hon. Friend's point. I shall resist the temptation to consider it now. I shall speak to him outside the Chamber.

Several hon. Members rose--

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. If we have so many interventions immediately after one another, there will be no flow to the hon. Gentleman's speech.

Mr. Miller: I give way to my hon. Friend the Member for Amber Valley (Judy Mallaber).

Judy Mallaber (Amber Valley): Does my hon. Friend agree that, as the Commission has important functions in respect of the employment of staff, it would be incredibly helpful if, before the end of the debate, the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) let us know what experience he has of staff employment practices? Would he be prepared to undertake equal opportunities training in terms of selection and recruitment and what is his attitude to an important issue that concerns many Members: child care facilities for Members and the staff employed by the House?

Mr. Miller: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that point. I would not want to pursue the right hon. Gentleman too far along that line, because the public record shows that his views are extremely clear.

The functions of the Commission need to be considered with much care. As I said earlier, issues such as communication with the outside world are important. However, when we discussed the Braithwaite report on 20 January, there were interesting exchanges in which the right hon. Gentleman acknowledged that he was out of his depth. Perhaps, in a year's time, after he has mugged up and read line by line the reports of the hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire--the right hon. Gentleman laughs but he has to read them--and developed a fuller understanding of the role of the Commission, the House should take a different view.

Innovations are important to the House. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Amber Valley that child care is important as are the development of broadcasting, the development of Hansard on the web and the improvement of facilities for members of the public. I hope that I am not using an unparliamentary expression, but the signs are that the right hon. Gentleman is something of a luddite on such matters.

Mr. Brian White (Milton Keynes, North-East): Those of us who were present for the Braithwaite report debate heard the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) argue passionately for elections to bodies such as the Commission. Given those comments, is it not strange that he should allow his name to go forward in this way?

Mr. Miller: As I said earlier, I might stray out of the terms of the motion if I responded in too much detail to the alternative methods that could be pursued. However, it is on the public record that the right hon. Gentleman believes that the process of appointment on the nod--we are certainly not doing that tonight--is not an ideal mechanism. Appointments should be subject to detailed scrutiny.

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Mr. Michael Fabricant (Lichfield): Does the hon. Gentleman agree that a Member of independent mind is needed? Does he further agree that my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) is not only of independent mind but, unlike those on the green swathes opposite, he is not one of the Whips' apparatchiks? He will stand up for the rights of Parliament, and more importantly, he will stand up for nursing women employees of the House. [Interruption.]

Mr. Miller: I see that the right hon. Gentleman has appointed the hon. Gentleman his campaign manager--and a powerful speech he made too. The hon. Gentleman is wrong, of course, because he said that his right hon. Friend would stand up for Back Benchers. The right hon. Gentleman might stand up for the totally independent Members who have views that are out of touch with those of the majority in the House.

Mr. Fabricant: The Whips.

Mr. Miller: I do not know about the Whips. I have not seen any sign from them that I should shut up or do anything else, and I am not looking their way in case I get the wrong guidance.

The Commission should represent minority views, including those of minority parties. It is particularly important that the House take into account all the parties represented here.

Mr. Fabricant: On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. With the cheering, the hon. Gentleman may have misheard me. I referred not to minority views of the House, but to independent views.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): I see that the hon. Gentleman has not lost his touch.

Mr. Miller: I shall make my point to the hon. Member for Lichfield (Mr. Fabricant) a little clearer. Minority parties must be properly represented by the Commission, and someone who is so independent-minded that he does not take into account the consensus that must be achieved to make the Commission work is inappropriate for this post.

It is possible that I am entirely wrong about the right hon. Gentleman, because the Opposition Whip, the hon. Member for West Derbyshire (Mr. McLoughlin), may over time have given him advice and guidance. Perhaps what we perceive as the actions of a man of independent mind are in fact those of the independent mind of the hon. Member for West Derbyshire. That puts paid to the observations of the hon. Member for Lichfield.

Ms Joan Ryan (Enfield, North): Does my hon. Friend agree that whether or not the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) is of independent mind, it is extremely important that someone who seeks to sit on a Commission with such an important role in employment in the House make a full and firm commitment to legislation on employment terms and conditions, in particular the national minimum wage?

Mr. Miller: I honestly do not know, off the top of my head, what is the right hon. Gentleman's view on the

2 Feb 2000 : Column 1157

national minimum wage, other than that he traipsed through the Lobby to vote against it. However, I would stray slightly from the motion if I developed that point.

My hon. Friend makes an important point about the issues that members of staff face from time to time when the day's programme of business is so severely disrupted that it causes them domestic disruption, particularly if they are low paid or have a family. That point needs to be considered carefully.

Several hon. Members rose--

Mr. Miller: I shall give way in a moment.

If the man of independent mind is independently causing that disruption, that is not a good reason for appointing him to the Commission.

Spurious debates that are dragged out for the hell of it by the right hon. Gentleman are costing the taxpayer a ridiculous sum of money. I have been probing the hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire on the matter, although I must say that I have yet to get a satisfactory answer from him. I remind the right hon. Gentleman that that was precisely his point at column 1079 on 20 January. So, we have a man who acknowledges that he does not understand the Commission's role and believes that taxpayers' interests should be taken into account, but who seems to be acting independently--or perhaps with the guidance of the hon. Member for West Derbyshire, the Opposition Whip--in dragging out proceedings, which costs the House a lot of money.

Mr. Andrew Dismore (Hendon): The right hon. Gentleman has very clear views on the issues of Europe. Bearing in mind that much of our employment legislation, such as that on the limit on working hours and parental leave, emanates from European directives, what assurances does my hon. Friend think the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) would be able to give the House on his willingness and ability to act within the spirit as well as the letter of that legislation?

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