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Mr. Forth: There is another way of looking at that, which would involve calling it a probationary period. I asked the Leader of the House whether he could give me any examples of this being done before, but he was unable to do so. Ministers get full pay as soon as they are appointed, as do Select Committee Chairmen and even Deputy Speakers of the House. Does it not therefore seem anomalous to my hon. Friend that the Chairmen's Panel should be picked out uniquely for this rather odd gradation of probationary treatment?
Chris Grayling: Serving on the Chairmen's Panel is hard work, and sitting in the Chair of a long Standing Committee is a challenging task. Those who do the job have an extremely important role to play. They should beand, indeed, aresome of the most respected senior colleagues in the House. We should treat them as such.
Mr. Gordon Prentice: May I invite the hon. Gentleman to answer a question that I put to the Leader of the House earlier, to which the Leader of the House did not respond? How do Members get on to the Chairmen's Panel? What are the criteria for selection? Are Members ever turned down or rejected?
Chris Grayling: I hate to disappoint the hon. Gentleman, but I cannot answer the Leader of the House's questions for him. I suggest that he puts his question to the Deputy Leader of the House at the end of the debate.
Andrew Mackinlay: I wish the hon. Gentleman a long time in the House. Will he give a personal undertaking that if and when there is a proposal that Members on the Opposition Front Bench should be paid an additional stipend, he will oppose it?
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): Order. The hon. Member for Thurrock (Andrew Mackinlay) is an experienced Member of the House. He knows that he must not conduct a debate from a sedentary position.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) makes an important point. The Leader of the House does not get a pay rise when he has been in his job for a year, and neither do the Speaker, the Deputy Speakers, Select Committee Chairmen or MPs. So this proposal represents a new dimension in regard to pay in the House, and I am not entirely comfortable with it.
A paid environment requires a formal commitment of time by members of the Chairmen's Panel. The SSRB is quite clear about that. Indeed, certain elements that are missing from the Government's proposals include two specific recommendations by the SSRB, which have perhaps been addressed implicitly, although not explicitly. Its recommendation No. 6 states:
"However in this case it will in our view be important for the House to be clear, before payment is introduced, what administrative or other measures . . . are to be put in place to ensure that the different levels of reward are correlated as far as possible with the different contributions of Panel members."
Mrs. Dunwoody: When I entered the House, there was a long and honourable tradition among some well-known Chairmen of sleeping happily through the most complex of Standing Committees, particularly on the Finance Bill. So far as I know, they were never removed from the Chairmen's Panel. Once we get involved with these proposed gradations, we shall get into the most terrible mess. That is why I opposed the proposals for paying Select Committee Chairmen. Would it not be sensible just to say, "Pay the gentlemen"?
Chris Grayling: I well understand the fatigue of those Chairmen that the hon. Lady describes. Having sat through Standing Committees myself, I have enormous admiration for the Chairmen who manage to stay alert and involved in certain debates, important though they are. The hon. Lady is right; we should simply pay them. My anxiety about the motion is that it over-complicates what should be a straightforward situation.
In relation to motions 37 and 38, I absolutely agree with the Leader of the House. The Committees concerned are important and should not be separated from the work done by others in terms of the way that they are seen by the House, the way that they are treated or the way that their Chairmen are remunerated. He has our support on those motions.
Today's set of proposals will undoubtedly prompt comment from the Back Benches. Broadly speaking, they are package with which I and my colleagues are comfortable. Above all, however, such motions are not for the Front Bench but for the House. I wait with interest to hear the contributions of Members on both sides of the House to the debate. The House will make up its mind in due course.
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Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD): Before I start my comments on the motions, may I welcome the Leader of the House's announcement about the book of condolences, which will be much appreciated by Members in all parts of the House? I am grateful to him.
We are dealing with a rather belated process of appointing Select Committees, which has been eagerly anticipated by Members in all parts of the House and by many people outside. I detect a huge degree of enthusiasm from Members who are about to be appointed to Select Committees, some of them for the first time. I read in The Times about one of our new colleaguesI do not think that he is in the Chamber at the moment, and I will certainly not identify himwho was so enthusiastic that he sent out a press release saying that he was delighted to have been appointed to the "powerful" and "much sought-after" Education and Skills Committee. He has pre-empted the view of the House a little, but many Members will share his enthusiasm about participating in the work of "powerful" and "much sought-after" Select Committees.
Mr. Heath: I have the greatest esteem for the hon. Gentleman, who was my Chairman when I served on the Science and Technology Committee, and who I presume is alluding to what the Leader of the House referred to as the principles of the Labour party. I am certainly not in a position to comment on the principles of the Labour party, other than to say that they appear to take a particularly long time, especially in the case of the Science and Technology Committee, of which he was a distinguished Chairman who took the Committee to a new level of respect for its work.
As the hon. Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. Allen) suggested, we need to consider again the process of selection. There are innate difficulties in relation to a simple election process, and he would be the first to recognise that. Clearly, if we are to ensure that all parts of the House are represented properly on Select Committees, and that there is not a majoritarian view as to who is the appropriate person to sit on a Committee, safeguards must be built into the process. I accept, however, that a simple process by which it appears that it is those on the Front Bench, or worse, solely the Whips, who determine who sits on Committees, for their own advantage in terms of patronage or discipline, is not the way for the House to choose who sits on Select Committees. I hope that we can arrive at a better system.
Mr. Forth: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that, first, Select Committees should have equal numbers of Government and non-Government Members, and secondly, that after a proper allocation of chairmanships by party according to the numbers in the House, each Committee could then elects its own Chairman, given the party distribution and given an equal representation of non-Government Members on Committees? Would that not be a step forward?
I hear what the right hon. Gentleman says. Certainly, I was one of those who urged, when we
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were considering the difficulties with regard to the Standards and Privileges Committee, that for self-evident reasons it was not in the interests of that Committee to have a Government majority. Equally, I feel that there needs to be a regard for the composition of the House. Given the strong position of Chairmen of Select Committees in carrying forward the business of the Committee and given the status that they hold, the composition of the House must be a factor in that regard, too. The difficulty, which we need to address, is how to balance those two objectives, which are equally valid but not easy to reconcile. That is why I support the view that we need to consider this matter again.
It would also be greatly to the House's advantage, and would avoid what has happened this year, were we to have a clear timetable, set out before a general election, for the completion of the process. It has taken far too long this time, and the fact that the Welsh Affairs Committee and the Science and Technology Committee will not be in a position to meet before the recess means that the lack of scrutiny will extend from March until October. It does not take a mathematical genius to work out that that is too long for the Government's work, which continues during that period, not to be scrutinised, whether or not there are departmental Select Committees.
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