Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Andrew Mackinlay : The Minister knows that I was implacably opposed and remain opposed to the paying of Chairmen of Select Committees, but I invite him to consider that his proposition is absurd and will create new anomalies. For instance, there has been a row about Ministers who get compensation money when they cease to be Ministers. Next that will apply to former Chairmen of Committees. It implies that some Members pedal faster than other Members. To suggest that there should be some compensation for sitting in the Chair, as skilled as that is, and presiding over Committees, and that Chairmen should get more than other Members, is unhealthy in a democracy. As the Minister has kindly agreed to refer some matters to the Modernisation Committee, will he do the same with this suggestion—that every Member should be expected to take a turn at presiding over a Standing Committee? That is what happens in the Congress of the United States. It would be healthy for us all to get a slice of the action and we all continue to get the basic pay, consistent with democratic norms. The proposal is extraordinarily dangerous and foolhardy in the extreme.

Mr. Hoon: I do not intend to debate with my hon. Friend the principle, which has previously been established on the basis that there should be an alternative career route for Members who choose not to become Ministers or prefer to serve the House in different ways. [Interruption.] I chose my words carefully.

The proposition that we should not recognise the considerable skill required to chair a Committee effectively is wrong. I served on a number of Finance Bill Committees when I first came to the House. Chairing the Committee was an extremely difficult and delicate task that required a considerable understanding of the rather complex proposals contained in the Bill. We need to give some recognition to those who serve the House in that way. It is not a task that gets any kind of public approval or even respect, as it is highly unlikely that members of the public would appreciate the substantial amount of time given over to those responsibilities by a relatively limited number of Members.

The proposal is consistent with the previous decision taken by the House in relation to recognising the contribution that Members make. In some ways, it is more important than the remuneration offered to Select Committee Chairs, because they at least get public
13 Jul 2005 : Column 855
recognition and a degree of public exposure for the work that they do. That cannot be said of members of the Chairmen's Panel.

Mr. Forth: I entirely agree with what the right hon. Gentleman has just said in that regard. As he develops his argument on the motion, could he tell us what precedent there is for someone not going on to the full rate of pay when they are appointed to a position either in the Government or in the House? That might be helpful. Could he also explain why he believes the motion does not reflect the fifth recommendation in the SSRB report, which states:

It seems that whereas the Government make great play of adhering to and reflecting SSRB recommendations, in this case they have gone in an entirely different direction.

Mr. Hoon: I sought to explain to the House the reason for that. I suggested to the Chairman of Ways and Means that he would have to work fairly hard to persuade me that I should depart from the recommendation of the SSRB, but I emphasised to the House the very strong conviction that he has. He has some responsibility for managing the Chairmen's Panel and he believes strongly that this is the best way of achieving the objective that he requires. I have accepted his advice and I am not in any way retreating from it. If the right hon. Gentleman reads further in the SSRB report, he will see that the board does not rule out, and indeed would accept, a more tiered arrangement.

On the right hon. Gentleman's first proposition, it is important that in ensuring full respect for the decision of the House, if the House accepts the principle and puts it into practice, that there is a clear connection between the amount of work and time that individuals devote to their duties as part of the Chairmen's Panel, and the remuneration that they receive. For the moment there are some members of the Panel who, for perfectly proper reasons, I am sure, are not able to devote the appropriate amount of time to the work, in which case it is not inappropriate that they should be more modestly rewarded. I want to demonstrate that the arrangement is designed to ensure a consistency between the amount of time that is devoted to the task and the appropriate reward.

Mr. Gordon Prentice : An observation, then a question: it is absurd to pay people such vastly different rates on the basis of length of service, when they are doing essentially the same job. Can my Friend remind the House how Members get on to the Chairmen's Panel, what the criteria for selection are, and if Members are ever rejected?

Mr. Hoon: On length of service, if the House accepts the proposition that the responsibility requires skill and ability, that skill and ability are acquired in the course of doing the job. It is not a task that is easy to learn about, other than by chairing the relevant Committees. There is
13 Jul 2005 : Column 856
therefore a proper connection between length of service, and skill and ability. I am assured by the Chairman of Ways and Means that he will be able to take account of length of service in the decision that he takes as to which member of the Panel is appropriate to serve on which Committee. In those circumstances, I believe that is the best way forward.

Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich) (Lab): I can happily make comments, as I have not been a member of the Chairmen's Panel for some time. Would my right hon. Friend emphasise that the job is exhausting and boring, and if it is properly done it requires a considerable amount of time? Chairmen do not get recognition of the extra hours that they put in. Perhaps he will make it clear to the House that if we want to continue to have an important and sensible tradition of using our own Members to chair our Committees, we ought to make sure that we treat them with respect, if nothing else.

Mr. Hoon: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for her practical observations and her experience of dealing with these matters. She reflects exactly my admiration for those who choose to serve on the Chairmen's Panel, particularly those who put in a considerable amount of time which, as she says, is not properly recognised—it is generally not recognised at all outside the House. That is the underlying purpose of the proposal—to ensure that that recognition is given.

Dr. Ian Gibson (Norwich, North) (Lab): Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the payments to the Chairs of Select Committees also allow them to have better pension emoluments at the end? Will the new awards that he proposes be part of the pension scheme, so that Chairmen would inherit them for life, as it were?

Mr. Hoon: I am not sure about my hon. Friend's last proposition, but the emoluments are pensionable and will continue to be pensionable so long as they are in payment. I am not sure that I entirely take his last point, but his basic proposition is correct.

The motion provides for a tiered structure: those who have served for five years or more, irrespective of any breaks in service, will be eligible for an additional payment of £13,107, the same amount that applies to Select Committee pay. Those who have served for at least three years but less than five will qualify for an additional £9,960. Those who have served for at least one year but less than three will qualify for an additional £7,340, and those in their first years will qualify for £2,615. Those amounts will be uprated annually in line with Members' pay. The pay will be pensionable, and the necessary regulations will be introduced as soon as possible. The overall cost of the proposal, which is estimated to be some £400,000 a year including national insurance and pensions contributions, will depend on the experience of the Panel at any given time.

The right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst has tabled an amendment that would provide an alternative grading structure. Amendment (b) provides for a two-tier structure, with half pay for those with less than two years' service. The appropriate system is a matter for the House to decide, but the amendment would obviously increase the overall cost.
13 Jul 2005 : Column 857

The SSRB recommended that the question of Chairmen's interests and payment for outside activities should be considered before payment is introduced. I hope that the Standards and Privileges Committee is willing to consider that issue and to produce guidance, as it did for Select Committee Chairmen, and an implementation date of 1 November has therefore been proposed with that in mind.

Whether to introduce pay for Standing Committee Chairmen in the form proposed is a matter for the House to decide. Some hon. Members may feel that service on the Panel is honour enough or that it is wrong to reward some aspects of an hon. Member's work and not others. As I have said, however, I believe that it is right to recognise the considerable commitment made by Standing Committee Chairmen, which involves not only time in the Chair, but time for preparation and the requirement to keep available time that may not be required. Chairmanship offers little in terms of public profile—indeed, it requires hon. Members to stay quiet on Bills that they Chair. I hope that hon. Members agree that that contribution should be recognised—

Next Section IndexHome Page