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People's Peers

44. Paul Flynn (Newport, West): What assessment he has made of the selection process for people's peers; and what plans he has to amend the forthcoming roadshow. [57424]

The President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Robin Cook): The Appointments Commission has brought new transparency to the selection of independent peers. As part of that process of transparency, there was a presentation in a number of cities before the first round of appointments. I am not aware of any plans that the commission may have for a forthcoming roadshow. The whole point of the Appointments Commission is to be an independent body, and Ministers are not involved in the way in which it conducts its business.

Paul Flynn: The reason offered last time for the selection of seven knights and three professors was that if a waitress or a bus conductor had been selected, they would not have had the confidence to address the House of Lords. One in three of the new peers have spoken only once, in their maiden speech. As a former bus conductor married to a former waitress, may I assure the House that people from humble professions are likely to speak more often than the professors and the knights, and possibly to greater effect?

Mr. Cook: I wholly endorse what my hon. Friend says about what he calls humble professions, and I fully agree

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that the evidence in this Chamber is that the Members from those professions speak at great length and at as much length as any other Member. However, I am not sure that my hon. Friend does justice to those who were appointed. They did, after all, include the chief executive of Centre Point, a former chief executive of Childline and a trustee of Oxfam, and those personalities would not necessarily have been appointed under the previous arrangement. The Government deserve credit for having given up the right of patronage so that independent peers could be appointed, and for ensuring that they are appointed independently of Government.

Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall): Will the Leader of the House give an undertaking that he and the Government will not seek to replicate that system of appointment if and when the second Chamber is revised and reformed? Is he aware of the grilling that was given to the Chairman of the Appointments Commission on 24 January by the Public Administration Committee, during which he admitted not only that a number of those appointed as so-called people's peers had never spoken, but that some of them never even turned up?

Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock): Yes!

Mr. Cook: I notice that my hon. Friend supports that point.

On the question of the future after reform, the Appointments Commission will have to be placed on a statutory basis as part of any law reforming the second Chamber, and it will be for the House to resolve, in the course of that, what basis it wants the Commission to have. I say to the House, however, that Members appointed under this system have played a full part in debates on immigration, child poverty and equal opportunity in public services such as education. Their contribution to the House is as good as the average contribution of the Cross Benchers in the second Chamber.

Andrew Mackinlay: Will the Leader of the House, when he leaves the Chamber, ask his assistants to dig out the Hansard record of the first Prime Minister's Question Time after the general election? He will see there that I drew the Prime Minister's attention to the fact that Sir Herman Ouseley was part of the selection process for the chairman of that wonderful, independent and transparent selection panel, but he was also an applicant, and by enormous coincidence he was selected out of the 3,000 people who applied to be a people's peer.

The House, the press and everyone else, including, I suspect, the Prime Minister, would be acutely embarrassed by a wholly irregular, wholly non-transparent and, I dare say, rather corrupt system of selecting Members of Parliament. No one should come here and make the nonsensical suggestion that the selection process was a good thing; it was rotten to the core, and we ought to be prepared to say in this House that we will never repeat that rotten scenario.

Mr. Cook: My hon. Friend was never one to mince his words, and he has spoken with the candour that earned him a place in this Chamber. He expresses a view for which I have much sympathy—we require root and

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branch reform of the second Chamber. The Government have acted to make sure that Parliament is in the driving seat and can decide the route of that reform.

I point out to my hon. Friend that Sir Herman Ouseley was very active in race relations, he has strong expertise and he is part of the process by which we have ensured that, in our appointments to the House of Lords, there is a higher proportion of ethnic minorities than we have ever yet secured in this, the first Chamber of Parliament. Sir Herman Ouseley has certainly earned his place by his contribution to race relations.

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East): Is it not a fact that the scheme was sold to the country on the basis that ordinary people from everyday walks of life would be elevated, independently, to the upper House? Is it not also a fact that the sort of people who have been put there as people's peers under the scheme are simply those who would normally be put there under the usual category of Labour party cronies?

Mr. Cook: I have no evidence that the chief executive of Centre Point or the former chief executive of Childline are, as the hon. Gentleman puts it, Labour cronies. They earned their appointment by their contribution to British society and to the voluntary service; I should have thought that he would respect that.

The House has to make up its mind. If we want an independent process of appointment, we cannot then invite the Government to be responsible for those who are appointed. We decided that an Appointments Commission should handle the matter independently. It has done so and I have no grounds for criticising it, but there is no point in blaming the Government for what emerges from an independent process.

David Winnick (Walsall, North): May I make a constructive suggestion? In view of the newspaper stories, accurate or otherwise, that Mick Jagger may be knighted, might it be possible to make Mr. Jagger one of the people's peers—if only for his outstanding performances, which are an encouragement to all of us of a certain age?

Mr. Cook: I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for his constructive suggestion, which I suspect has done nothing to dampen speculation—for which there is, as far as I am aware, no basis—that Mick Jagger is about to be knighted and may be put in the House of Lords.

Electronic Equipment (Standing Committees)

45. Mr. Michael Jack (Fylde): What proposals he will make to the Select Committee on Modernisation of the House of Commons on the matter of the use of electronic equipment in Standing Committees of the House. [57425]

The President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Robin Cook): The Modernisation Committee currently has a heavy programme, but I am aware of concerns about the use of electronic equipment in Standing Committees and will keep them in mind for the future, while bearing in mind also the clearly expressed views of the Chairmen's Panel.

Mr. Jack: I am grateful to the Leader of the House for bearing the matter in mind for future work by the

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Modernisation Committee. Currently, the rules are unclear about what electronic equipment may or may not be brought into a Standing Committee. On the other hand, Ministers mention websites and refer hon. Members to them, even though the rules mean that there is no way that we can use modern electronic equipment to communicate with the outside world from a Committee Room. I urge the right hon. Gentleman to sort the matter out. The House has invested heavily in information technology, and we should be able to use portable computers in Committee to help us to hold the Executive to account.

Mr. Cook: I understand the right hon. Gentleman's concern. He has raised the issue before during oral questions, and it is one that the Modernisation Committee must address when it has time. However, I put it to him that there is not only one simple conclusion or one simple set of arguments. The members of the Chairmen's Panel have considered the issue on several occasions and they are reluctant to admit portable laptops and other electronic equipment to Committee proceedings, for the simple reason that once they have been introduced it is not possible to be sure that they are being used to further an interest in those proceedings, rather than an interest in other things going on in the world, such as English football and the World cup.

Kevin Brennan (Cardiff, West): I hesitate to mention the word e-mail because I know that it is not popular these days, but should we not try to emulate bodies such as the National Assembly for Wales—

Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst): No.

Kevin Brennan: In the Assembly and the other new devolved bodies, that sort of technology is freely available to Members in meetings, so that they can check statistics and facts and communicate with the outside world. Incidentally, both the right hon. Member for Fylde (Mr. Jack) and I attended the Standing Committee on the Finance Bill this morning; no one there was seeking England football team results, but a number of text messages relating to the Ireland football team were passed around.

Mr. Cook: My hon. Friend's last sentence confirms the point that I made earlier. I am all in favour of our using e-mail when it can speed up a process, and I hope that the forthcoming report of the Procedure Committee will open the way to our using e-mail in the tabling of questions. That will enable those hon. Members who wish to use modern communications to do so, and leave the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) and others who do not wish to do so entirely free to use a pencil and yellow paper.

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