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Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. I do not know whether the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Mr. Miller) needs my help in recognising that that is a red herring.

Mr. Miller: I almost beat you to it, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I was about to say that I believed that my hon. Friend's intervention was outside the terms of the motion, although it was interesting speculation.

Mr. Martin Salter (Reading, West): There has been much talk of independence of mind. It is a tribute to the independence of mind of Labour Members that they are prepared to defy their Whip's order.

How does my hon. Friend square the House of Commons Commission's responsibility for the staff of the House and the fact that a number of our staff are from the Irish Republic with the description by the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth), a few days ago, of people from the Republic of Ireland as

Is that an appropriate view?

Mr. Miller: On my hon. Friend's first point, I perhaps ought to seek your protection, Mr. Deputy Speaker,

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because I will not be threatened by anyone in the House over this debate--apart from your good self. I have not had a discussion on the matter with anyone currently sitting on the Treasury Bench.

My hon. Friend's second point is important to my observations about the need for the Commission to be representative of all interest groups in the House. Of course, there are people who take somewhat eccentric views by comparison with their party's norm, and their views must be accommodated. Some hon. Members represent very small minority interests. One of my near constituency neighbours, the hon. Member for Tatton (Mr. Bell), is his own Chief Whip and party leader. His views must be accommodated, too. However, I am not sure, given the kind of behaviour to which my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, West (Mr. Salter) referred, that the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst is properly equipped to do the job.

Mr. Michael J. Foster (Worcester): I feel that I must spring to the defence of the right hon. Gentleman, given my previous experience of him representing me. In judging whether he might be a suitable candidate for the Commission, the House might find the following information useful. Between 1985 and 1992, I lived in Redditch, where the right hon. Gentleman was my elected Member of Parliament. In many ways, he was an ideal representative of the Conservative party: we never saw him; we never had a leaflet or letter from him.

Mr. Miller: I fear that I shall have to pursue that point outside the Chamber, lest I suffer the wrath of the Deputy Speaker.

Several hon. Members rose--

Mr. Miller: I give way to--

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. May I repeat the advice given earlier? This is not Question Time. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will be allowed to make some progress.

Mr. Miller: Were it Question Time and were I a Front Bencher, I would be considerably better prepared than I am now.

Dr. Nick Palmer (Broxtowe): I, too, should like to defend the reputation of the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth). We know that he believes strongly that the House passes business far too quickly, without adequate debate and sometimes late at night. I suggest that the motion should be allowed to pass only when the Government have agreed to a full day's debate on the subject.

Mr. Miller: I do not think that I could keep the debate going for a full day. However, there is a serious underlying point: the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst has himself raised the issue of the process of appointments, arguing that it is unsatisfactory. We are now trying to deal with his appointment, albeit in a muddled way--[Hon. Members: "Yes."] I accept that. Hon. Members from both

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sides are asking probing questions, yet there has been no formal interview, selection process or hustings for an extremely important function.

Mr. Peter Bradley (The Wrekin): Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Miller: No, I must make a little progress and end my remarks shortly, because other right hon. and hon. Members want to contribute to the debate.

I shall draw my remarks together by referring again to the debate on Braithwaite, in which the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst raised some important issues, but acknowledged that he knew nothing about them. The Braithwaite report referred to the process of management within the House of Commons and made several important recommendations. It strikes me, not only that the Commission should be composed of right hon. and hon. Members who not only understand the sensitivities of all the parties and interest groups represented in the House, but that candidates for a position should be people who can bring a certain expertise to the complex and varied functions of the Commission.

My concern is that the right hon. Gentleman did not know what the Commission does, so we do not know what expertise he can bring to it. We can read about what he has done and we have heard him make some interesting speeches in the past, but, at this time, the House has no knowledge as to whether or not he is an appropriate candidate for the Commission. I agree that the process in which we are engaged is unsatisfactory, but it is the best one we have.

I should now draw my speech to a close because others want to speak. Irrespective of the outcome, I genuinely hope that tonight's important debate will stimulate discussion within the Commission about the process of future appointments--[Interruption.] I am pleased to see the hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire acknowledge that point.

Mr. David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire): Before my hon. Friend concludes his remarks as to the suitability of the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth), will he refer to the terms of reference of the Commission, which include responsibility for the British-Irish interparliamentary body? In the light of the right hon. Gentleman's remarks on 19 January, will my hon. Friend emphasise that when we discuss people from the Republic of Ireland we are talking not about

but about people with local connections? Given the right hon. Gentleman's remarks, is my hon. Friend convinced that the right hon. Gentleman is an appropriate person to have such a responsibility? In addition, given the Commission's demanding timetable of 13 meetings a year, does the right hon. Gentleman have the time and energy to spare from persistent filibustering to fulfil such an arduous schedule?

Mr. Miller: I honestly do not know. I described earlier the qualities that I think the right hon. Gentleman has--his charm, his humour, his tie--[Interruption.] I do not

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think his waistcoat is that charming. Beyond that, all we know about the right hon. Gentleman is that, from time to time, he tends to frustrate many of us late in the evening. Perhaps I am doing the same to him now.

As a result of this discussion, I want the Commission to consider whether we ought to review the process of appointment, and I want the House to determine, through this process of interview--which I am not allowed to call an interview--whether the right hon. Gentleman is suitable for that onerous task.

10.46 pm

Mr. Archy Kirkwood (Roxburgh and Berwickshire): I want to focus the attention of the House on the fact that the motion is important, and that this is a House of Commons matter. It has nothing to do with the Whips or with party political advantage. A vacancy that exists on the Commission must be filled. That is crucial for the functioning of the House of Commons. We are therefore right to spend some time collectively considering the people who are nominated to fill such vacancies.

The debate is good fun, but the subject is important. The hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Mr. Miller) made some good points. We must make sure that the matter remains a House of Commons matter and does not get into the hands of the usual channels and the Whips. I know; I have been there, and I know that there are better ways of dealing with it.

The debate this evening has stimulated some important questions. As a result, it is possible that, in the context of Braithwaite, the Commission will reflect on a mechanism that gives hon. Members a chance sensitively to select people in whom they have confidence. If that does not happen, the Commission cannot do the work that it is charged to do.

Let me clarify what the House of Commons Commission does and the responsibilities of the Commissioners. The Commission is a corporate body, set up, as the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston said, under the House of Commons (Administration) Act 1978. It has six members. The Chair is the Speaker. The Leader of the House is a member of the Commission by statute, and the Leader of the official Opposition has the power to nominate a third member of the Commission.

There are three remaining positions. One of them is the one that we are discussing tonight. There is another vacancy, because the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy (Dr. Moonie) has been promoted. It is important that we fill the vacancies quickly and do so in good order.

Three Members are nominated by the House to serve on the Commission. It has two principal functions. Briefly stated, it has the duty to appoint all the members of staff in the precincts of the Palace of Westminster. The number of staff, their remuneration and terms of service must be set down, considered and decided by the Commission.

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