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Mr. Forth: The hon. Gentleman should not let his charming paranoia completely run away with him. There is a much simpler explanation, which I remember with great clarity. When the motion to pay Select Committee Chairmen was first tabled, my right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire (Mr. Knight) tabled the amendment for an eight-year limit simply as a quid pro quo. His feeling, which was supported by the House, was that as a balancing factor to paying Select Committee Chairmen we should put some limitation on the length of time to which that should apply. It was as simple as that. There was nothing hiddenno conspiracyand most people have been happy with that situation ever since.
Andrew Mackinlay: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for clarifying the history of the matter. In any event, I remain to this day implacably opposed to the payment of the Chairmen of Select Committees. I tabled a motion, which is on the Order Paper today, although it will not be selected, to repeal that decision. It is interesting that we were able to repeal other things on our hours. I wish that we could revisit that decision because that would a sensible and fair course.
I mentioned my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich. She also intervened to pay tribute to the Chairmen of the Standing Committees. In case there is any misunderstanding, I also pay tribute to them. I recognise that they often require considerable concentration, precision and commitment to quite complicated issues. My limited experience was of chairing a special parliamentary Procedure Committee that was particularly fractious. One had to be conscious of the need to act almost in a quasi-judicial position and to ensure adequate time for the objectors to proposals to be able to articulate their case before Parliament. I found it a very demanding task.
I do not want to denigrate the skills and dedication of our colleagues who fulfil that role as the Chairmen of Committees, but I return to the point that that is their choice, their style and their approach to the office of
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Member of Parliament. Some of us approach that in different ways. I cannot for the life of me understand how, in the 24 hours in a day, they somehow pedal faster. I suppose the job is so onerous that they could be given more Heineken to make them go faster.
We are also creating new anomalies. When I intervened on the hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling), I asked about what would happen if a proposal was made to pay Opposition Members. That was a relevant question for me to ask, given that my case is to say, "Look, no further." If we go back and look at the Hansard when we debated paying the Chairmen of Select Committees, we see that hon. Members said that the next suggestion would be to pay the Chairmen of Standing Committees. How prophetic that was.
There is creep, and if the House passes these motions tonight there will be further anomalies. For instance, does the person who runs the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, the Inter-Parliamentary Union, the British-American parliamentary group or the British-Irish Inter-Parliamentary Body not work extremely hard? Incidentally, the co-chairman of the British-Irish Inter-Parliamentary Body, in which I take some interest, is paid in the Dail Eireann, so our representative sits next to someone who gets emoluments when our person does not. I am not suggesting that those people should be paid; I am just saying that new anomalies are being created at every stage.
Ministers, not Members of Parliament, carry on being paid during general elections. I understand that our colleagues who are the Chairmen of Select Committees had a hiatus in their payments. When Parliament was dissolved, their salary plummetedpresumably, after this evening, it will pick up againbut that could have an impact of pensions in certain circumstances. We are told that Ministers need compensationit is highly justified, we are told, but I do not accept thatwhen they leave office. If that principle is good for them, presumably, it will be advanced in respect of the Chairmen to whom we have already decided to pay salaries and those whose payments will probably be endorsed by the House tonight. Such creep is unhealthy, and I do not say that facetiously; I say it very seriously.
I hope that the Minister will give us some indication in his reply about the arithmetic of what proportion of Members will be paid in addition to the Back-Bench Member's salary. Almost 90-odd members of the Government are paid extra, as are the Chairmen of Select Committee, and now the proposal is to pay the Chairman of Standing Committees. That would buttress my point about the fact that the proposal represents an unhealthy growth of patronage and the development of two tiers of Members of Parliament, which diminishes our democratic responsibilities.
The other issue is the Liaison Committee, the Chairman of which has left the Chamber. I remember talking to a member of new Labour some time after the right hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) became Prime Minister. In fact, we were all new Labour, but that guy was hyper-new Labour. I told him that it would be a good idea if the Prime Minister appeared before a Select Committee. His response was, "Mackinlay, I now know that you're completely off your trolley." A few
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weeks later, the Prime Minister, to his eternal credit, said that he would appear before the Liaison Committee. That was an important departure, but, alas, people do not have ambition about providing scrutiny. I think that that Member has now received great advancementI am very pleased for himbut he could not understand that it was logical that we should make such progress. The Prime Minister, to his credit, on his own initiative, said that he would submit himself for questioning before the Liaison Committee, but that Committee is clearly not the best vehicle. We should have a smaller Committee
Andrew Mackinlay: I think that the holy spirit will not go that far. That is testing faith to the limits. The Prime Minister should appear before a smaller Committee chosen by the House, rather than by those on the Front Benches. I hope that we will look into that in the coming years. It seems a natural development that that important constitutional innovation should involve not a very large group, but a small group of senior Members, who can focus on the issues.
My final point relates to the Chairmen's Panel. My understanding is that, hitherto, hon. Members could be tested and invited to join to find out whether they could make a good stab at things. I imagine that there will be logistical problem in the future. SomeoneI do not know whether it is you, Sirinvites hon. Members to serve, but regardless of whoever makes the selection or the invitation, those selected will cross the rubicon and they will need some time to familiarise themselves. Something will be lost if new members can no longer be invited to get a feel for chairmanship, probably by chairing a less fractious Committee, and so on.
I cannot understand how the incremental scale, which I oppose anyway, is logical. If it is based on time, it does not reflect the volume or difficulty of work. I have mentioned the Crossrail Bill, which could be considered for a year. Probably, some new hon. Members will be sufficiently skilled almost immediately, like ducks to water, to preside over the Committee that considers that Bill, but that would involve a very long commitment. We will create new problems in selecting, recruiting and inviting people to preside over Committees by instituting that incremental system.
For all those reasons, although the House is not packed, I hope that I may be able to persuade some hon. Members to join me in the Division Lobby tonight to oppose the proposition that not only discriminates against my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich, in particular, but has been shown during the debate to be ill thought through, perverse and illogical. At the very least, we should send the homework back for it to be done again. We should reject the dreadful creep of creating two-tier Members of Parliament and making additional payments to some of our colleagues.
Sir Nicholas Winterton:
I respect the hon. Gentleman for the sincerity of his argument, but could he indicate how many businesses that people might enter at, say, the age of 22 or 23 will give them, after 25, 30 or 35 years' service, the same salary as is obtained and offered to someone who joins the company at the age of 22 or 23?
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Does he not believe that there should be some recognition of the responsibility and level of work undertaken by Members of Parliament?
Andrew Mackinlay: First, I do not accept the hon. Gentleman's premise that any comparison can be made between businessentrepreneurial functions, or pushing through great new innovations in the public sectorand our unique role as legislators and that of legislators throughout the world. I am open to correction, but I think that we would struggle to find any other Parliament that is setting up great differentials such as those that we are debating today.
The hon. Gentleman's second point was about pay. There was a big queue to get my job. A lot of people wanted to be the Member of Parliament for Thurrockboth Labour candidates and those who stood against me. I signed up to the job and knew the price and the ground rules, so I am not complaining about the pay and rations. It is a great privilege to be here. I do not know how the hon. Gentleman can suggest that we could translate something that happens elsewhere into our procedures.
I return to the obsession with the idea that time served here somehow creates gravitas and makes people great parliamentarians. We all have different views about our conduct and stewardship here, but none of us can escape the fact that the way in which we behave here and our enthusiasm, or lack of it, will eventually be judged not by us, but by the people at the election. They should take the decisions, and we should not give little brownie points to our colleagues here in the way suggested. I hope that hon. Members will join me in the Division Lobby to resist the measure.
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