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: I am in very strong agreement with my hon. Friend, but I would be happy if the changes to the Osmotherly rules which we are told are about to be made included special advisers. My hon. Friend will remember that Select Committees have got into great
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difficulty when they have tried to call before them people who were not paid but who were special advisers and apparently had great influence.
Mr. Prentice: I did not make my point as clear as I should have done. When the Public Administration Committee summoned Alastair Campbell, he had ceased to be a special adviser at No. 10I was going to say he had left the Government. That is an important point.
It is very important that all political parties lodge in the Library of the House a memorandum setting out their procedures for appointing their party members to Select Committees. I would like the Labour party to do that, as I would the Liberal Democrats, the Conservatives and all the parties. I have suggested it before. When I was on the executive committee of the parliamentary Labour party, which is elected by all Labour MPs, I was constantly struck by how difficult it was to change the lists that came from the Chief Whip. A strange alchemy was used.
Mr. Prentice: I shall come on to that. If the parliamentary committee suggested any changes, we were told, "You have to watch the gender balance, which new Labour cares about." We were told that there was a regional balance or an experience balance to maintain; there was a balance between new Members and old Members, and so on. The situation was very difficult indeed.
People who had been sacked from the Government could move seamlessly to the chairmanship of Select Committees. That was not acceptable then, and it is even more unacceptable now, given that Select Committee Chairmen will be paid an additional £13,100. The situation has changed, because the new parliamentary committee elected by the PLP only a few weeks ago has asserted itself and said that no Minister who has just been sacked or who has just left the Government can transfer seamlessly to the chairmanship of a Select Committee that is monitoring their erstwhile Department. We all welcome that change by the PLP.
In most cases, Select Committee membership will increase from 11 to 14, which is too big. I think that 11 is good enough. However, we should do something about Select Committee members who do not turn up to meetings or contribute in any way. Given that some Members who would like to serve on Select Committees are unable to do so, that grieves me. Some Labour Members serve on two Select Committeesfor example, a Departmental Committee and a House Committee. Some even serve on three Committees. I hope that we will revisit that problem after six or 12 months, once the new Members have found their feet and have woken up to the fact that Select Committee membership lasts for the entire four or five-year Parliament. People who serve on more than one Select Committee should be invited to stand down in favour of colleagues who do not serve on any.
I agree with the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Sir Nicholas Winterton), who suggested that the rules on term limits were opaque. It is an incontestable fact that there are regular changes to the machinery of
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government. The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister was introduced for goodness' sake, and the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee brought together responsibilities for the environment and for agriculture. Who knows, in the course of this Parliament there may be changes in the Home Office, with justice responsibilities being hived off. Reconfigurations of Whitehall Departments feed through to Select Committees. As I have made clear, a new Select Committee is formed, but the original Chairman can continue to serve.
Finally, on the business of additional salaries, I voted against the extra money for Chairs of Select Committees, but the proposal remains. As my Friend the Member for Thurrock said, function creep is taking place. It was only a matter of time before the members of the Chairmen's Panel clamoured for recognition, and I daresay that the proposal will be agreed. It is wrong, however, to introduce gradations that are supposed to reflect experience and the fact that some members are more distinguished than others. We do not need incremental salary scales. Like the old public service trade unions in the 1960s, we are introducing incremental salary scales to reflect length of service in the House. That is wrong, and I shall join my Friend the Member for Thurrock in the Lobby to vote against the proposal.
Finally, I have always believed that the real Stakhanovites on the Chairmen's Panel would sit through Committees that last for weeks and months, keeping everyone in order[Interruption.] Is it not like that? The scales fell from my eyes when my good Friend the then Member for Burnley, Peter Pike, who has now left this place, told me that he had frantic calls to chair the Committee considering the Hunting Bill. He was told that if he did not chair it, the Bill would fall because there was no one else available from the Chairmen's Panel to chair that sitting. He realised that if he chaired the Committee, he would lose the right to vote on the Hunting Bill when it came back to the Floor of the House of Commons. Peter Pike feels as strongly as I do on the issue, but because he had been approached and the situation had been explained to him, he put his views to one side and chaired the Committee.
It is a little sad that we have to pay the Chairmen's Panel up to £13,000 to coax individuals to chair Committees. That is what is behind the proposal. The Peter Pikes of previous Parliaments are no longer available, so we have to pay people to take on the responsibility. That is unfortunate. We are creating different classes of Members and we do not need that.
John Bercow: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way so near to the conclusion of his speech. He inquired earlier, and he received no satisfactory response to his inquiry, about the basis on which Members are chosen for membership of the Chairmen's Panel or the basis on which, perhaps, they offer themselves. Has he ever offered to serveunpaid, of courseon the Chairmen's Panel?
Sir George Young (North-West Hampshire) (Con): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Pendle (Mr. Prentice). Perhaps I could pick up a point that he made towards the end of his speech, which reflected what the hon. Member for Thurrock (Andrew Mackinlay) said. They made it clear that they were opposed in principle to the payment of Select Committee Chairmen and that therefore they oppose what they call the "creep" represented by the motions on the Order Paper today. I shall try to persuade them both that what we are doing is right.
Both hon. Members are good House of Commons men. One of the problems for the House of Commons is that, as new Members arrive, they tend to get drawn by the political and financial attraction of becoming Ministers. The principle of paying Select Committee Chairmen seeks to provide some gravitational pull the other way, so that the Government do not hoover up all the talent and there is an alternative career. I very much regret that the talents that both hon. Members have displayed this afternoon have been consistently overlooked by the Government, but I hope they recognise that there is an alternative career in the House. In order to add value to that alternative career, the decision that the House took a few years ago was the right one.
I am delighted to see the newly appointed Chairman of the Committee of Selection, the hon. Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch, East (Rosemary McKenna), in her place. She has taken to her new task like a duck to water, and I welcome what the Committee has done. Apart from her, I am the only non-Whip who attends the Committee of Selection, and it is rather like an atheist turning up at the General Synod.
Perhaps I could reflect on the change of character of this debate, compared with the corresponding debate at the beginning of the previous Parliament. That was not a happy debate, as those who were there will remember. It was an animated debate and at the end the Committee of Selection's motions were overturned. Although we have taken longer than we should have this time round, the mistakes that were made in the last Parliament have been avoidedmistakes, may I say, mainly on the Government's side.
What I was looking out for from the Committee of Selection was whether any Ministers who had recently lost their job had been parachuted on to Select Committees, and the answer was no. Have the minority parties had a square deal? On the whole, they have, and they are not represented on the Committee of Selection. What has happened to what I might call the awkward squadthe independent, fearless Members? Are they still on their Select Committees? For me, the litmus test was whether the hon. Member for Thurrock (Andrew Mackinlay) was still on the Foreign Affairs Committee, and he was. As a relatively neutral member of the Committee of Selection, I concluded that it did a better job this time than last time. However, we can do even better next time by revisiting the Liaison Committee's recommendations, which involve a completely different means of choosing Select Committees. I was interested in the exchange at the beginning of the debate in which it was suggested that the Modernisation Committee might revisit that matter. In this Parliament, I hope that we have an opportunity to rerun a debate that we held in the
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previous Parliament, in which the proposition that we should move to a more independent system was narrowly lost. The Executive still have too much control over appointments to Select Committees, and the House of Commons should repatriate such decisions.
I like the idea of a timetable, which was suggested by the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath). Under his proposal, we would have a set timetable for the establishment of Select Committees. There would be no doubt about the target, which would prevent delay.
On the Liaison Committee, I support the proposition that the Father of the House should be reappointed. He skilfully chaired the Liaison Committee in the previous Parliament, when we developed a new role of interrogating the Prime Minister.
Subject to one qualification, I support the proposal that the senior hon. Member should join the Chairmen's Panel. If one examines the nominations for Select Committees, roughly half the Liaison Committee will consist of new hon. Members. There is a strong argument for continuity in the membership of the Liaison Committee as we continue to interrogate the Prime Minister. By adopting that proposal, we would achieve additional continuity on the Liaison Committee. I am pleased to hear that the Prime Minister has already been approached about finding a date in his diary to recapture the sitting that we missed in July, hopefully by holding an early meeting when we return in the autumn.
In an earlier exchange on the Modernisation Committee, the Leader of the House was asked what it can do that the Liaison Committee cannot, and his answer was illuminating"delivery". That answer is dangerous: the Modernisation Committee has delivered on measures that are sympathetic to the Government, but it has not delivered on measures that are sympathetic to the House of Commons, such as the vote in the previous Parliament on an alternative means of appointing Select Committees.
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