Pete Wishart (Perth and North Perthshire) (SNP): It is a great innovation to put the Father of the House on the Liaison Committee. Does the Leader of the House think that the Liaison Committee reflects the membership of the House? There is still no minority party membership of it. If the arithmetic were applied to reflect the proportions of representation, we should have a place on the Liaison Committee. Will he work to ensure that the Committee reflects the views of all parties in the House?
Mr. Hoon: It is important that the Liaison Committee reflects the Committees of the House. It is there for a particular purpose, which is not necessarily to reflect all the political parties represented in the House. The difficulty in practice with the hon. Gentleman's suggestion is that he would have to persuade the House that the minority parties could agree on who would represent them. I expect that he would experience some problems doing so but, nevertheless, the traditional purpose of the Liaison Committee is to reflect the Committees. It is not necessarily to reflect the political parties in the same way as Select Committee membership.
That would give the minority parties an opportunity, if they served at length and with distinction on the Chairmen's Panel, to serve on the Liaison Committee. My excellent amendment, which I shall seek to move if I catch your eye, Mr. Speaker, would serve a double purpose and provide the minority parties with the opportunity for which the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) asked.
Mr. Hoon: The right hon. Gentleman has assisted the minority parties and me with his suggestion but, following the earlier mention of glacial progress, I doubt whether the minority parties would want to wait quite that long.
Mr. McLoughlin: The Leader of the House must accept that the stature of the Liaison Committee has changed dramatically. It used to bring together Select Committee Chairmen to discuss Select Committee business, but now, twice a year, it conducts a two-hour interrogation or question time with the Prime Minister. The Liaison Committee has changed substantially, so the Leader of the House ought to listen to the minority parties, particularly if they can suggest one person to represent their interests.
I remain open to sensible suggestions. I was simply pointing out that the minority parties may
13 Jul 2005 : Column 852
not agree on a single candidate, so the difficulty would then arise of how to choose between the different parties that we loosely call the minority parties.
Pete Wishart: I think that in principle the right hon. Gentleman does not object to minority parties serving on the Liaison Committee. Would he be satisfied if we produced a formula or process whereby we could share a position on the Liaison Committee?
The amendment tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton, North (Frank Cook) and other hon. Members, which proposes that the senior Back-Bench member of the Chairmen's Panel should be an additional Liaison Committee member, may have something to do with the fact that the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Sir Nicholas Winterton) may unfortunately lose his place on the Liaison Committee because of the two-Parliament rule. I have already expressed the esteem in which I hold him. His experience and independence of mind are widely respected in the House.
Mr. Hoon: There is, however, a question, as I have already suggested, about the extent to which we should continue to expand the size of the Liaison Committee. It is a practical questionif the House wishes to have a much larger Liaison Committee with, as the right hon. Member for West Derbyshire (Mr. McLoughlin) suggested, functions very different from its traditional role, it will bring that to bear in its consideration of the amendment. I accept, however, that the amendment opens the way to further membership, not least by the minority parties. I therefore have concerns about the size, functions and nature of the Liaison Committee, but it is obviously a matter for the House to decide whether to accept the proposal.
Chris Grayling (Epsom and Ewell) (Con): I am curious about the contradictions in the right hon. Gentleman's remarks. A few minutes ago, he talked about the need to expand the membership of the Defence Committee because of Members' enthusiasm to serve on it, and he has tabled a motion to that effect. He is now expressing concern that the Liaison Committee may become too big. What is the optimal size of those Committees?
I do not think that there is any contradiction in my remarks, and I do not think that the hon. Gentleman seriously believes that there is. The Liaison Committee has had a particular function for a number of years. I accept that that function has changed, but it is for the House to decide whether, as a result, a bigger Committee should perform a slightly different function, particularly in relation to the questioning of my right hon. Friend the
13 Jul 2005 : Column 853
Prime Minister. Unfortunately, however, the hon. Gentleman's argument about Members' enthusiasm to serve on the Liaison Committee probably applies to most Members, so we need a practical means to limit membership of that Committee. Traditionally, such membership has extended to Select Committee Chairmen, but it is right to add the Father of the House, because he served a particular role with great success as the Chairman of the previous Liaison Committee. Whether we wish to go further is a matter for the House.
Sir Nicholas Winterton: The Leader of the House has suggested that I may have a limited vested interest in the amendment, but does he accept that the Chairmen's Panel has an important role to play in the House? It is sensible and appropriate for a Back-Bench Member representing the Panel to have an input in the Liaison Committee. The Chairmen's Panel meets under the auspices of the Chairman of Ways and Means, but it should have direct access to the Liaison Committee. Colleagues on both sides of the House support the amendment, and we believe that it is appropriate that the senior membercurrently a Conservative, but it could be Labour Membershould have a place on the Liaison Committee because of the Panel's role and experience.
Mr. Alan Williams : The motion makes a novel proposition that has not been considered by the House before. May I suggest a compromise that could be more advantageous than a likely defeat for the motion? Would the Leader of the House be happy for my proposition to receive urgent consideration by the Modernisation Committee, which would then report to the House as rapidly as possible?
Mr. Hoon: I am grateful to the Father of the House for his suggestion. If the proposal is defeated today, I am certainly willing to consider his offer as part of the work of the Modernisation Committee, once it is established.
I now come to motions 35 to 38, which relate to pay for Committee Chairmen. Motion 35 takes note of the recent report from the independent Senior Salaries Review Body on pay for Standing Committee Chairmen, and expresses the opinion of the House that pay for Standing Committee Chairmen should be introduced. I am sure that the House will join me in thanking its chairman, John Baker, and the members of the SSRB for their careful work in preparing the report. They were asked to consider how, if the House decided that it was appropriate to give additional pay to the Chairmen of Standing Committees, that could best be achieved. They found that there was a good case for making an additional payment, at least to Chairmen of Standing Committees undertaking more substantial duties. They outlined a range of options for methods of payment. They concluded that a two-tier panel, with higher payments for members undertaking a minimum time commitment, would represent the best way to match contribution and reward, but they found that a tiered structure of payment based on length of service, as proposed by the Chairman of Ways and Means, was acceptable if the House was disposed to prefer it.
13 Jul 2005 : Column 854
I have considered those options carefully, and I have worked closely with the Chairman of Ways and Means to structure a manageable system that is both open and transparent to the House. It is the strong advice of the Chairman that a two-tier panel would be unworkable and divisive, and that a tiered system based on experience is the option most suited to the needs of the House. He has assured me that there will be a linkage between pay and work loadthe more experienced members of the Panel will be expected to do more workand performance will be properly managed. While in the past there was no reason to eject a Panel member who was able to commit only occasional hours to the Panel, this will no longer be the case. Members who are, for whatever reason, not able to contribute as expected to the Panel will be discharged and their remuneration will cease with immediate effect.