Select Committee on Modernisation of the House of Commons First Report

An Alternative Career Structure

40. A number of recent reports have proposed that the quality of scrutiny and the priority attached to it could be reinforced if there was a clearer recognition that scrutiny of the Executive was as valid a career choice for Members as serving in the Government. These reports have tended to conclude that the clearest way to recognise such an alternative career structure would be through an additional salary to the chairmen of the scrutiny committees. The Liaison Committee in their report 'Shifting the Balance' first raised the payment of committee chairmen as an option. Subsequently both the Norton Commission and the Hansard Society Commission concluded that the post of chairman of a departmental select committee should be recognised as of equivalent status to the post of Minister and should therefore attract the same salary.

41. This is not a matter on which there is any consensus in the House. The Chairman of the Liaison Committee in his evidence to us was frank that the chairmen themselves of the select committees hold opposing views.[17] This difference of opinion was reflected in our own committee. We are unanimous in agreeing that the post of chairman of a departmental select committee attracts a heavy work load and a substantial responsibility. There are some, however, who attach importance to the principle that all back-bench Members should receive the same salary and believe that there would be dangers in relating pay to workload which can vary for many reasons among Members. However, a clear majority are persuaded of the case for providing an additional salary. As long as Government office is the principal Parliamentary role to be recognised by additional payment, it need not be surprising that the role of scrutiny should be regarded by the world as inferior. Accordingly we recommend that the value of a parliamentary career devoted to scrutiny should be recognised by an additional salary to the chairmen of the principal investigative committees. We envisage such committees including the departmental select committees and other major committees of scrutiny such as the Public Accounts Committee and the Public Administration Committee, together with the Deregulation and Regulatory Reform Committee, European Scrutiny Committee and Procedure Committee.

42. The appropriate body to assess what such an additional salary might be is the SSRB who make recommendations on Parliamentary pay and allowances. However, we are unanimous in our view that the decision in principle of whether or not such an extra payment should be made is a matter for the House. When the House is given an opportunity to endorse the recommendations in this Report as a whole, there should be a specific opportunity to vote on the principle of payment to chairmen.

43. There is a significant demand among back-bench Members to serve on scrutiny committees. There is also a powerful argument in principle to give more Members experience both of serving on and chairing these committees. We therefore favour the introduction of term limits for service as chairmen of committees. The case for such limits is unanswerable if chairmen are to be paid. We recommend that the House should impose an indicative upper limit of two consecutive Parliaments on service as chairman. We recognise that the House may wish to make special provision in the case of short Parliaments.

17   Q 93-94, 96 and see Ev p 45. Back

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