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The hon. Member for Worthing, West (Peter Bottomley) has taken his life in his hands by mixing up St. Johns, Cambridge, with St. Johns, Oxford. As the hon. Member for Sevenoaks (Mr. Fallon) pointed out, St. Johns, Oxford, has a large cellar. As an ex-member of that college, I heard about the cellar but I never gained access to it while I was there. I hope that Sir Michael has not discovered the keys and that he can concentrate on
what is widely recognised as an important job, which he is eminently qualified to do.
We are entering a new era. The Office for National Statistics is preparing for independence, and that has been widely welcomed in all parts of the House. The Statistics and Registration Service Bill might well be one of the most important Bills for many years. I am sure that the system for pre-release and other issues will evolve; the Bill has been created and subsequently changed in ways that will assist that to happen. I can certainly give the House an undertaking that I, as Exchequer Secretary, will work closely with Sir Michael and the shadow board when it comes into existence in the run-up to April next year when the ONS will celebrate its independence.
Until that happensor until the responsibility for the ONS transfers to the Cabinet Office, if that happens earlierit is entirely appropriate for the Treasury Committee to undertake the pre-appointment hearings. It is currently the best qualified Committee to do so because it has taken a close interest in statistics over the past 10 years, althoughas the hon. Member for Falmouth and Camborne (Julia Goldsworthy) hintedother Committees of this House might in future be in a better position to perform such tasks. I congratulate it on the robust job it has done. It has produced recommendations of support in quick time, as a result of the innovative nature of the procedure used and the closeness of the recess. Given the constraints that we have had to deal with, a good job has been done all round.
John McFall: Mention has been made of the Treasury permanent secretary being on the appointments panel. I received a letter from the Chancellor that suggested that, as well as the permanent secretary, Mervyn King, Governor of the Bank of England, Deirdre Hutton, chair of the Food Standards Agency, and Olivia Grant, independent assessor of the Office of the Commissioner for Public Appointments, were on the panel. Although such appointments do not fall within the remit of the public appointments commission, the Committee was pleased with the appointments process.
May I also say through the Minister to my hon. Friend the Member for Newport, West (Paul Flynn) that we are aware of the issue of the transfer of statisticians to Newport? We wish the process to remain smooth, so that when my hon. Friend goes out at night to buy his Indian carry-out, he will bump into statistician after statistician in the queue.
Angela Eagle: A rare time is obviously going to be had by all in Newport. I look forward to my visit there to see how things are going. The Government will respond in much more detail to the Treasury Select Committees report on the current situation at the ONS and the pressures it is under. For the record, I want to reassure the House that its senior management have a strong record on managing relocation, and they are meeting all their output commitments, which is a tremendous result in times of change.
That this House endorses the nomination of Sir Michael Scholar KCB for appointment as Chair of the Statistics Board.
Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. In connection with the motion that the Leader of the House is about to move, may I ask why it is on the Order Paper in the form that it is? If the nomination of the right hon. Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz) had been placed on the Order Paper on Monday, there would have been no need to suspend Standing Order No. 121. I have to confess that, as someone who has chaired the Procedure Committee for some eight years, I find this an abuse of the House of Commons. This motion has appeared only today and should in my view have appeared 48 hours earlier. The press might well have been interested in this matter for a variety of reasons, which might well be raised during the course of the debate on this motion. To suspend Standing Orders for the nomination of a Member to, and the discharge of a Member from, a Select Committee is an abuse of this House and has not allowed it sufficient time to consider the relevance of the motion, and the suitability of the individual in fulfilling what I consider to be a very important role in this House of Commons.
Mrs. Theresa May (Maidenhead) (Con): Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. May I echo the comments of my hon. Friend, but also say that the point is that the Committee of Selection has been unable to meet to consider this name and to put it before the House? I understand that that is most unusual. It is not, presumably, as if the Government did not know that they wanted to put this motion before the House in sufficient time for the Committee to be called to meet to consider the name.
Simon Hughes (North Southwark and Bermondsey) (LD): Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I was going to leave this point to the substantive debate, but we on the Liberal Democrat Benches
Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. I will take the hon. Gentlemans point of order in a second, but I should say that there is little point in having two debates on this matter, which seems to be what we are about to do.
Simon Hughes: I was going to associate myself and my colleagues with the concerns expressed about the process, and to ask for your ruling or indication, Mr. Deputy Speaker, as to whethergiven that the process is neither necessary, nor has been carried out properlyit is appropriate for us to proceed to the substantive debate.
Mr. Deputy Speaker: The motion would not be on the Order Paper if it was not in order. I am sure that the Leader of the House will explain the reasons for its being there when she addresses the House. Having heard the Leader of the House, the House must then decide what to do.
That, notwithstanding the provisions of Standing Order No. 121 (Nomination of select committees), Mr John Denham be discharged from the Home Affairs Committee and Keith Vaz be added.
I am moving this motion because without it there will be a gap between now and October in the ability of the Home Affairs Select Committee to carry out its important work. It is important that the House maintain a fully effective system of scrutiny of Government by the departmental Select Committees.
Mr. Richard Shepherd (Aldridge-Brownhills) (Con): The right hon. and learned Lady said that it is essential that the Home Affairs Committee carry out its work. What is preventing it from doing so? It does not require one extra member to continue its important and vital work. She must give us some reason to justify the point that she makes.
As I was saying, it is important that the House maintain a fully effective system of scrutiny of Government by the departmental Select Committees, and we would not want any unnecessary break in that activity. The position at the moment in relation to the Home Affairs Committee is this. Following the appointment of my right hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Denham) as Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills, the Committee effectively has no chair. I say effectively because until my right hon. Friend is removed from the Committee, technically he remains a member, but it would be inappropriate for him to participate in the Committees proceedingsas I am sure hon. Members would agree. This motion would remove him from the Committee and fill the resulting vacancy.
John Bercow (Buckingham) (Con): I entirely understand the thrust of the argument that the Leader of the House is developing, but if memory serves me correctly, the Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills was appointed on 28 June. There have been no fewer than 27 days since that appointment, during the course of which it would presumably have been possible to establish the willingness or otherwise of the right hon. Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz) to serve as the replacement Chair. Why now?
Ms Harman: Perhaps I can respond by setting out the chronology. On 27 June the Prime Minister became Prime Minister, and thereafter he had to select and appoint his Cabinet. After that, he had to move on and appoint junior Ministers. After that, he had to identify and appoint Under-Secretaries. Hon. Members will understand that one could not work out who was in the pool of Members available to serve on a Select Committee before all those appointments were made. It sometimes seems that it takes a long time for a Cabinet to be selected
Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham) (Con): At the very least, would the right hon. and learned Lady agree that we knew the pool last week? The name could have been put down without requiring the dispensation of the order. Why was the motion not tabled in good time so that the order did not have to be disapplied?
Ms Harman: I agree with the thrust of interventions from hon. Members that it would have been much better if we had had sufficient time for the Selection Committee to be convened and the nomination put to the House with the usual notice. That would have been the best way to do it, but we faced a choice. Either we had to go through this rather truncated procedureI acknowledge that that is what it isor we would have had no Select Committee operating between now and October.
Mrs. May: I am grateful to the Leader of the House for being generous in giving way. She is making several presumptions about decisions that are rightly decisions for the Committee rather than for the House. Would it not be in order for the Committee on Home Affairs to meet and choose to elect another from among its membership to be Chairman or acting Chairman, until the vacancy created by the promotion of the Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills is filled? The Committee could have continued to operate without this motion.
Ms Harman: Yes, it is possible that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills, who had previously been the Chairman and remains a member of the Committee, could simply have not participated in an election of one of the existing members as an acting Chairman until October. However, my view is that it is better to offer the House another name and give the Committee an opportunity to elect a new Chairman, and set about its programme of work without having to return in October to go through the process of selection again.
I agree that there are downsides to all the different ways of doing things, but we are in this position because it inevitably takes some time to choose a Cabinet, junior Ministers and Parliamentary Under-Secretaries. That cannot be done before it is known who makes up the pool, and that is why it has taken until now to make this decision.
Simon Hughes (North Southwark and Bermondsey) (LD): My recollection is that all the Ministers were appointed quickly, but I have been told that the Home Affairs Committee met yesterday and appointed the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) as its temporary Chairman. The Committee is therefore fully competent to continue, albeit with one member who does not participate or vote. Can it not do all its business in that way until we come back after the summer?
Ms Harman: If we had put forward that proposition, other hon. Members might have asked why the Committee had an acting Chair who was unable to get on with the long-term work programme. Since we are simply proposing that one member of the Committee be replaced by another, and given that we have decided who we want that replacement to be, hon. Members would have wondered why we did not just go ahead and make the change. That is what we have done.
Sir George Young (North-West Hampshire) (Con): The Leader of the House may know that the Committee of Selection was provisionally scheduled to meet on Monday, but we were told that there was no Government business to conduct, so the meeting was cancelled. What happened between Monday evening and this morning, when this motion appeared on the Order Paper?
Ms Harman: I should like to thank the right hon. Gentleman, who is Chair of the Committee of Selection, and the other hon. Members who were prepared to make themselves available at very short notice. However, the process of choosing the name to put forward to the House obviously had to be gone through, and it was still under way this week. I agree that the procedure is truncated, but I emphasise that we are talking about a Member of this House who has been put in the Cabinet, which means that the Select Committee needs another member. We have come forward with a name, which we are putting to the House.
Mr. Shepherd: Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. To the casual viewer, the motion looks like the Government choosing who shall be Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee. The detail of the motion supports that idea. The Committee could be operating now under an acting Chairmanwho would make a very fine Chairman of the Committeeand we could be getting on with business. This looks like Executive control over the choices of the Chamber, and bypassing the very function of the Committee of Selection. It is outrageous!
Ms Harman: I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman thinks that the motion is outrageous and an abuse, but we are simply trying to assist the House by ensuring that the Home Affairs Committee has its full complement of members. It will be for the Committee itself to decide who to elect as its Chair, and determine its work programme.
Peter Bottomley (Worthing, West) (Con): The Leader of the House has heard the views expressed in this Chamber, and is now able to reconsider her arguments. May I invite her to consider withdrawing the motion and not putting it forward for decision today? In addition, has the acting Chairman been getting the additional salary due to the post over the past month? Would not it be better to let the acting Chairman take that money over the summer so that the Committee can get on with its work? We could then come back to the matter in October.
Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North) (Lab): I do not want to intervene in the present controversy, save to make it clear that I have not been paid, and that I would not accept any additional salary for being the acting Chair for the past few weeks. There would be no justification for such payment.
Mr. Hogg: Will the right hon. and learned Lady please reply to the question put by my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir George Young)? Why was the Committee of Selection meeting fixed for Monday cancelled, when it could have considered this very question?
Ms Harman: As I said, I was not in a position to put forward the name to the Committee of Selection, and I accept that it would have been better had it been able to go to the Committee. We need to understand the rules of the House and I understand that we have had to go round the Standing Orders, but we should step back, look at the picture as a whole and recognise what we are trying to achieve. A member of the Select Committee has taken up ministerial office and is in the Cabinet, so although still on the Committee, he cannot participate in it. The Committee, therefore, has one member
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