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Ms Ward: Does the hon. Gentleman not fear that, given the power of members of the Commission to appoint members of staff in the House, the right hon. Gentleman may discriminate by not wishing to favour anyone from the Irish Republic?

Mr. Kirkwood: That is a matter for each hon. Member. I have views on the suitability of the right hon. Member

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for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth), but the decision is a matter for hon. Members. The hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston was right to refer to the Braithwaite report, because the right hon. Gentleman made an important contribution to the debate on it. Anyone who is interested in determining his views through that report is entitled to do that.

Judy Mallaber: Will the hon. Gentleman tell us whether Commissioners receive training on their employment duties, employment law and good practice? We might want to bear the answer in mind when considering the suitability of the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst.

Mr. Kirkwood: That is a sensible question. We have no training, but we have access to the Board of Management, which comprises paid professionals, who are experts. If we believe that specific questions are not within our competence, we bring in consultants. The House of Commons Commission is responsible for providing appropriate terms and conditions for modern times. It is important that we set an example and get the best advice.

Mr. John Cryer (Hornchurch): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The narrow motion applies purely to the fitness of the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) to serve on the Commission. It does not cover the Commission's functions.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: It is in order for the hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood) to refer to the Commission's functions because there is an interplay between that and the suitability of the candidate. However, I hope that he will not go into too much detail because the motion is narrowly drafted.

Mr. Kirkwood: I am not wasting time. I am trying to sketch briefly the role of a Commissioner because I want to develop my view on the qualities that are necessary to do the job properly. I cannot do that unless I explain some of the responsibilities.

The Commission consists of six Commissioners. It is chaired by the Speaker and appointed for a Parliament.

Mr. Frank Roy (Motherwell and Wishaw): As a fellow Scot, who is aware of the criticism that Scots are over-represented in the House, and even in the Cabinet, does the hon. Gentleman believe that the appointment of the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) would exacerbate that?

Mr. Kirkwood: If I followed that line, I would be ruled out of order.

I am trying, with little success, to describe briefly the Commission's responsibilities. Commissioners work with the Board of Management.

Mr. Clive Efford (Eltham): The hon. Gentleman takes a fatherly tone with the House. Perhaps he could explain exactly what we should expect from individuals who are appointed to the Commission.

Mr. Kirkwood: If people would leave me alone, I could try to do that. The six Commissioners are charged

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with the responsibility of implementing best employment practice, working with consultants and being the best possible employer. That means being open, fair, efficient, and applying equal opportunities policy. The treatment of staff is a crucial element of Commissioners' work.

Another onerous responsibility is setting the votes and estimates that are to be placed before the House. They totalled £188 million in 1998-99. Commissioners must work them out with the various domestic committees and the Finance and Services Select Committee, ensuring that all the angles are covered and making proper provision for the expansion in services that we all support. Commissioners also consider staff salaries and Members' services.

Mr. Dismore: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Kirkwood: For the last time.

Mr. Dismore: The hon. Gentleman outlined some of the onerous duties of members of the Commission. I see from the last annual report that it met on 13 occasions in the year in question. How long did the average meeting last and how long would he expect the average meeting to last should the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) be appointed, bearing in mind his reputation for, I would not say filibustering, but a degree of prolixity?

Mr. Kirkwood: The hon. Gentleman should know that the Speaker is the Chair of the House of Commons Commission. If it comes to a contest between the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst and the Speaker about how long a meeting takes, I know who my money is on--every time.

I described the background and the sort of duties and overall responsibilities that the six of us have to discharge on the collective behalf of hon. Members. I think that it is important for me to share my experience of the past two years. To be a successful Commissioner, one has to understand that the Commission works best as a small, closely knit team. Team working is a crucial part of the operation. Also one needs to accept a fair amount of advice from professional advisers. Members of the Commission need to be able to trust one another implicitly. To work well, the Commission needs to proceed with almost a Quaker-like consensus. Diplomacy and understanding are important for effective service and a need to co-operate on an active and continuing basis would also help.

The timing of the vacancy is also important. Three extremely serious issues confront the Commission. One is the Braithwaite report, which gives us a chance to reconfigure and modernise the structure of the House of Commons. It is important that that process should not be delayed.

Secondly, Portcullis house has still to be commissioned. It is important that that public space, which has been the subject of some controversy, is put into the service of hon. Members and their constituents as soon as possible without any further delay.

Finally, I would gently advise hon. Members that they may not be aware that the Commission is involved in some detailed legal negotiations--in actions in the civil courts. Elements of commercial sensitivity are involved and the protection of the reputation of the House.

Mr. David Taylor: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Kirkwood: No, I am about to sit down.

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Let us consider the importance of trying to develop a system in which hon. Members feel that the three Commissioners they nominate, one of whom is in front of us this evening, have the confidence of the whole House. This is not a party political matter. They require consensus from both sides of the House. The work is important and the House would be well advised to consider with great care all new nominations.

10.58 pm

Angela Smith (Basildon): I welcome the opportunity to speak to the motion and will try to be brief. I appreciate that many other hon. Members want to contribute.

I greatly appreciated the contribution made by the hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood), which helped to put the debate in context. I was shaken by some of the facial expressions of the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth).

Mr. David Taylor: They were all the same.

Angela Smith: I must correct my hon. Friend, as there were several expressions. Sometimes, the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst seemed quite put out at the depth and breadth of the qualities needed.

It was helpful to be given an idea of the scope of the work and what the appointment is all about. All hon. Members will agree, I think, that any appointment to an important body needs widespread support from and the confidence of both sides of the House.

You may be aware, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that during the debate on the Braithwaite report, it was said that hon. Members knew little if anything about the work of the Commission. I hope that tonight's debate will put those fears to rest. The contribution from the hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire should do so and I can see many copies of the report around the Chamber, so hon. Members have clearly done a great deal to remedy that position and ensure that they know a lot more about the work of the Commission. Those hon. Members who are relatively new to the House will have been surprised at the scope of the Commission's work and the fact that it was established in 1978.

In defence of the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst, it should be said that he has a reputation in the House for the forensic examination of legislation. That may be a quality that the Commission would find useful. His assiduous attendance on Fridays, particularly when the House considers private Members' Bills, will be known to many.

Mr. Michael J. Foster: With regard to the assiduous nature of the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth), when the hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Luff) defeated the right hon. Gentleman in a selection contest, the right hon. Gentleman decided not to hold any further surgeries in his constituency. Would such a person be suitable--

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