Mr. Mark Harper (Forest of Dean) (Con): I want to make one point, which, given the time that we have left, I hesitate to dwell on. I would be grateful if the Minister elaborated on the term limits for Chairmen. As a new Member, I am still not entirely clear on exactly the period that one can serve. We need to clarify when in a Parliament that period starts so that we are clear about the exact time that someone can serve.
That point highlights another contradiction in a number of the motions: the concept of having term limits for Chairmen and paying members of the Chairmen's Panel. On the latter motion, one of the arguments for paying Standing Committee Chairmen was that with time served in the House came experience and wisdom. If that is true, it seems a little foolish artificially to limit the period for which one can serve as a Chairman of a Select Committee, as it would seem that the same argument should apply to the wisdom and experience gained in that role over time.
The main point that I want to make concerns the importance of scrutiny in the House. The hon. Member for Pendle (Mr. Prentice) said that it was incredibly important that the House took scrutiny seriously. It is true, I think, and it may be sadthe hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) said that it was disappointingthat Members of the House are not prepared to take on duties and chair Standing Committees. We may have to accept that if the House is to take scrutiny seriously, we need to provide an alternative career structure for Members, one in which they can come into the House and see chairing a Select Committee or Standing Committees and taking part in the business of the House as something that they want to do as a career rather than necessarily wanting to achieve a position in government.
It may be that, in the past, people were willing to do that without remuneration, but it seems from remarks that I have heard from experienced and distinguished Members that that is less true nowadays. I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir George Young) that it may, sadly, be necessary to pay people to be Committee Chairman to enable sufficient Members of sufficient calibre to take on those tasks and allow scrutiny to take place.
I will draw my remarks to a close because I would like to allow a couple of minutes in this time-limited debate for my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) and for the Minister to wind up. I have enjoyed listening to hon. Members, and it is a shame that more new Members were not present to listen to some distinguished speeches.
I draw the House's attention to motion 33 on Modernisation of the House of Commons. The House has talked about scrutiny; the whole process is about scrutiny. At the heart of scrutiny is this Chamber. When Members vote for this motion, I ask them to reflect on the fact that among those appointed to the Committee is one Mr. Geoffrey Hoon. Mr. Geoffrey Hoon is a
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Minister; he is the Leader of the House. That illustrates best the way in which this Chamber and this Parliament are controlled. The Modernisation Committee is no more an independent Committee than a fly in the air. That is the truth of the matter.
The restrictions and the motions, to the disadvantage of the Procedure Committee, which has been sidelined by so many of them, originated in the Modernisation Committee. This House should look very carefully at what the Modernisation Committee does. The reason why we have been reduced to systematic guillotining of Bills originated in the Modernisation Committee. The Committee that we shall vote for in a moment has been the instrument by which the Government have seized total control over the timetabling of business, and this House can stand for or represent very little if we cannot unpick that which is brought before us in the form of motions, orders and Bills.
I draw to the attention of the House the fact that a Minister of the Crown who is responsible for the business of this House constructs and has constructed the very motions on the Order Paper that many Members present have resented, argued against and tried to bring to the sense of a wider House. This House is nothing unless it stems from ourselves. As I have always said, we are temporary Members of this House, but we are passing on very much a diminished inheritance. Yet, there is value in Select Committees and the value afforded by expressing those views on the Floor of the House is all too often lost because of the work of the Modernisation Committee.
The Deputy Leader of the House of Commons (Nigel Griffiths): It is a particular pleasure to respond to the debate, because it has been both well-informed and broadly good-natured. I know that some mock modernisation in this place, but I was one of the Members who, for the first three months on being elected, did not have a desk or a phone but had a place to hang my sword. Many Members went through that experience, so there have certainly been improvements.
I welcome the broad support that has been offered to us by the hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling), the shadow Leader of the House, and I will cover his points first and then embrace some of the other points made and answer some of the questions that have been put to me.
The proposal to remunerate Chairmen of Standing Committees has been advocated by the Senior Salaries Review Body. Its report advocated a two-tier panel, with higher payments, but did not find fault with the proposed tiered structure of payments if that was the wish of the House. It agreed with the principle of linking pay to workload, which is why we have done so. Apprenticeships were mentioned disparagingly, and it was said that they did not apply to ministerial positions. In fact, they dowe have junior Ministers and Parliamentary Under-Secretaries, Ministers of State and Cabinet Ministers. Those three levels of responsibility are reflected in three different levels of pay.
The House will wish to examine the code of conduct for Chairmen of Standing Committees, and I hope that the Standards and Privileges Committee has a chance to
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look at it. In response to the hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell, 1 November has been set as an implementation date, as my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House said. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman missed that.
A number of hon. Members raised the proposal that a member of the Chairmen's Panel should serve on the Liaison Committee. That Committee, however, is relatively political. By contrast, the Chairmen of Standing Committees are entirely neutral, as are the Speaker and the Deputy Speakers. I am therefore not sure that their involvement in the Liaison Committee is appropriate.
The right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth), who has considerable experience of the House and its procedures, suggested that there is no incompatibility between membership of the Chairmen's Panel and the work of the Liaison Committee, but I do not share that view. The hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell spoke about the two-term rule, and a number of colleagues asked for clarification. There is consensus that Select Committee Chairmen should serve for no more than two terms. We must, however, look at recent circumstances to understand why the eight-year rule was introduced. A Select Committee Chairman who was appointed in 1970 would serve until the end of the Parliament in 1974. If they were reappointed by the will of the House for the Parliament of February to October 1974, without the eight-year rule, they would then complete their two terms of office. With the rule, however, they would go on to serve for a further four years in the next Parliament until 1978, before handing over to their successor. A number of hon. Members said Select Committee Chairmen should complete their term of office only when a Parliament ended. Previous Speakers have chosen to hand over to their successor before a Parliament ends so that the new Speaker can gain experience in the Chair. Select Committee membersI accept that they are the individuals who are most likely to become Select Committee Chairmenmay have distinguished service, but they do not necessarily have experience of chairmanship.
I shall give another example to demonstrate how far the elastic band of time can stretch. If a Committee Chairman was selected in 1981, two years after the Conservative Government had been elected, they could, if it were the will of the House, serve the full term from 1993 to 1997 and then from 1997 to 2001, making a total of 11 years' service. We therefore hope that the House will agree with the important principle behind our proposals.
The Minister's example illustrates why some Members are confused. It would be straightforward to set a limit of two terms or eight years, whichever was the greater, but it makes no sense and is very confusing if someone who is selected to chair a Select Committee part way through a Parliament can get those extra few years, in addition to another two terms. If we are to have a rule, it should be two terms or eight years, whichever is the greater, or the proposal from the hon. Member for Thurrock (Andrew Mackinlay), whereby the term of appointment runs through to the end of the Parliament. It should not depend on the randomness of the date on which the Chairman was selected.
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