|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
I shall have to get back to the right hon. Gentleman on that, but the issue arises from the timing. We are approaching the summer recess, and as Leader of the House I know that it is important that we have fully functioning Select Committees and that the House should have an opportunity to choose from among its Members those to be appointed to the Select
Committee. I also know that the Standing Orders of the House are important, which is why the House has an opportunity to decide on the matter today.
Mr. Simon Burns (West Chelmsford) (Con): Will the right hon. and learned Lady please inform the House what specific plans the Home Affairs Committee has to meet between now and 8 October? What specific work does it plan to do? Is she aware that some Members take the view that the matter is being rushedwith the meeting tomorrow to seek to elect the new Chairmanso that for two months during the recess he can receive a salary that would not have been provided had this unusual motion bypassing the Committee of Selection not been tabled today?
Ms Harman: The motion will enable us to replace a member of the Select Committee who has become a member of the Cabinet. Members can try to read into it all sorts of nefarious motives, but it is quite simple. We are short of time, because of when the change of Prime Minister happened. It takes a while to work out the pool for all the Under-Secretary appointments, so we have come straight to the House without going via the Committee of Selection, which would have been a more desirable procedure. It is right to give the Home Affairs Committee an opportunity to meet with its new complement of members if possible, so that it can establish a work programme before 8 October when the House returns.
Simon Hughes: The Leader of the House is not to blame for the past history of this matter, and I am conscious that she is in difficulty. Will she seriously reflect on the idea proposed by the hon. Member for Worthing, West (Peter Bottomley), which is, I think, widely shared? It is necessary to have an extra member now so that the Committee can do its work, and we understand the problem, but to have an unprecedented change in the Standing Orders, in controversial circumstances, which looks like an attempt to bounce the House into a decision, is not a helpful start for the right hon. and learned Lady or for the House. It would be much wiser just to say, Okay, we understand, and come back to the matter in October.
Ms Harman: It is difficult to take the view of the House by listening solely to interventions. Normally, the House expresses its view on a motion and then has the opportunity to vote. Perhaps I could press on with the points I want to make, although without a huge amount of confidence that I will sway Members with my speech.
With the best will in the world, I think that I understand exactly what hon. Members are saying. I understand their concerns. It is not an ideal situation, but it is better for the Home Affairs Committee to have its full complement of members. It does not have the right complement of members at the moment, because one of its members is a member of the Cabinet, and we need to change that and replace the member of the Cabinet with someone who is not a Cabinet Minister, a Minister of State or an Under-Secretary.
Will the right hon. and learned Lady now answer my original question? When will the Home Affairs Committee meet between this Friday and
Monday 8 October? What work does it propose to do during that time? Is she aware that the motion for the meeting tomorrow is solely to elect a Chairman?
Ms Harman: The hon. Gentleman will know that it is not the case that no work is undertaken through the Select Committee system throughout the summer. A work programme is taken forward, and I simply say that the Select Committee system is still important when the House is not sitting.
Ms Harman: The Home Affairs Committees meetings are a matter for the Committee. It is not a matter for me, as the Leader of the House, to dictate when the Committee sits, but it would have time, if the House sees fit, to meet to approve the motion that I have tabled and, if it so decides, to choose a new Chairman and to establish, through that Chairman, a work programme that would take it through until October. I understand hon. Members concern and outrage, but people would also be concerned if we went into the summer recess with a Cabinet Minister still a member of the Home Affairs Committee.
John Bercow: The right hon. and learned Lady interpreted the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Worthing, West (Peter Bottomley) about payment as relating to the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick).
John Bercow: If the right hon. and learned Lady did not, I am grateful. The Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills is not only a very capable man, but a person of the utmost integrity. So, for the avoidance of doubt, will she confirm that even though he has been in the curious twilight zone of serving both as a member of the Cabinet and as a member of a Committee that scrutinises the Executive, he has not taken a salary as Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee over the past month? I feel sure that he will not have done.
Ms Harman: I understood that to be the question to me, and I undertook to answer it in writing. We had a helpful additional bit of information from my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick), but I did not think that I was asked about that. I understood the question as the hon. Gentleman did, and I will ask what the position is.
When the Committee has a new Chairman in place, it can agree a work programme for the period during and after the summer recess. It clearly makes sense for the Committee to choose a Chairman and to go on to consider its programme, with the correct membership and not with a Minister being technically a member of the Committee. Without the change in membership necessitated by my right hon. Friends joining the
Cabinet, the Committee will not have its correct membership as it heads into the summer recess. The motion provides only for my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz) to become a member of the Committee. It is for the Committee then to choose its Chairman.
Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby) (Con): Has the right hon. and learned Lady read the Standards and Privileges Committees fifth report of 2001-02? If she has not, I should like to refer her particularly to paragraph 51 onwardsI will not read it all, Mr. Deputy Speakerwhich is headed, Wrongful interference with the investigation process. The report states:
We conclude that Mr. Vaz recklessly made a damaging allegation against
be suspended from the service of the House.
Ms Harman: I am aware of that report. I am also aware of the important work done by my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East as a member of the Constitutional Affairs Committee. The motion is before the House. I accept that it would have been better if the nomination had come through the Committee of Selection in the usual way, but, even if Members do not agree with my decision to proceed in this way, I ask them at least to accept that it is a result of the timing, and not [ Interruption. ] I am telling the House that we are doing this not because we want to bounce the House into something at the last minute [ Interruption. ] I ask hon. Members to accept what I am saying. They might think that the choice that I have made to put the motion before the House today is wrong, but I ask them to accept my good faith: it was timing that dictated the decision, not some idea that we were going to slip this through on the last but one day of business.
Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con): I am not sure that this is entirely a matter of timing. I suggest to the right hon. and learned Lady that if another nomination had been made, it might well have gone through without any difficulty. A matter has been raised that causes many of us deep concern, and I have to raise it with her. The right hon. Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz) is not just being appointed as a member of the Home Affairs Committee; he is being put forward as a member of the Committee in order to assume the Chair. That is what is really of concern to Members.
Ms Harman: It sounds to me as if the hon. Gentleman is saying that if I proposed a different name to the House, the House would feel less concerned about the process, and that what is really being objected to is the name. Having apologised for the process, I ask the House to consider the name.
The Leader of the House will not be surprised to know that today, as quite often, I find myself in the position of being rather a contrary nuisance, but I do not apologise for that. The process is
unfortunate and it has not been ideally handled, but I have no personal objection whatever to the right hon. Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz), who is a serious and committed parliamentarian. What happened in the past is what happened in the past. The right hon. Gentleman is a serious and assiduous parliamentarianrather more assiduous and serious than a great many othersso he should not be derided or have his integrity impugned in his absence. It is not right and it should not happen.
Ms Harman: I thank the hon. Gentleman for that comment. I will conclude my remarks by saying that I accept that the process has been short-circuited. That is not the way I would have liked to proceed. However, that is entirely a result of the timing. It is in no way connected with the question of the name. There are two separate things: one is the process and the other is the name. In order to remove the member who has been promoted to the Cabinet, and put my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East on the Committee, I hope that the House will support the motion.
Mrs. Theresa May (Maidenhead) (Con): I have to say to the right hon. and learned Lady that her defence of the process that the Government have used this afternoon has been woefully inadequate. That defence has come from a representative of a Government whose leader stood at the Dispatch Box and said that, as Prime Minister, he was ushering in a new era of respect for the House. Far from respecting Parliament, today the Government are showing complete disdain and disrespect for the House and its Members. I wish to confine my remarks to the issue of process, about which I am very concerned. The right hon. and learned Lady is the defender not only of Back Benchers in the House, but of processes in the House.
It has been four clear weeks since the Prime Minister took office. I have not been able to check the dates, and I apologise for that, but my recollection is that most of the ministerial positions were decided on between 10 days and two weeks after he took office. That left two weeks clear in which the right hon. and learned Lady could have followed the proper process for putting forward a new name for the Home Affairs Committee. If the Government had wished to do things in the right wayif they were willing to have an open, proper debate, and had not wanted to try to push through the measure at the last minutethey could have done so.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir George Young) for pointing out that the Committee of Selection was stood down. Either the name was suddenly brought forward at the very last momentthat is, in the past 24 to 36 hoursor the name was known, in which case the Selection Committee need not have been stood down, and the name could have been put before it.
Mr. Graham Brady (Altrincham and Sale, West) (Con):
A large part of the burden of the Leader of the Houses argument is that it is essential that the Home Affairs Committee should have its full complement of members, but have not at least two other Select
Committeesthe Select Committees on International Development and on Environmental Auditalso lost members who have been appointed to the Government? They have not been replaced, as far as I am aware. Does that not make the Leader of the Houses argument somewhat inconsistent?
Mrs. May: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for pointing that out, and he is right: his point further punctures the bubble of the Leader of the Houses argument. In any case, the idea that there had to be such a motion in order for the change to be made, and that we could not abide by the Standing Orders today, is based on the fallacy that the Home Affairs Committee would be completely incapable of continuing to do its job unless it had the right hon. Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz) as a member. As has been pointed out, the Committee has in fact met recently, and of its own free will and volition it chose the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) to be acting Chairman.
Mr. Burns: Does my right hon. Friend accept that part of the Leader of the Houses argument is that it is important that the decision be taken today because the previous Chairman is now a Cabinet member? Her argument is that that is not right, and he should be removed. If that is the case, why have the Government not brought forward two other motions to remove the other two Ministers who are still members of Select Committees? Surely those Committees will not be able to do their work during the summer, and surely those members should be removed, too.
Mrs. May: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making an extremely pertinent point that goes to the very heart of the argument made by the Leader of the House. Either no Select Committee that has a member who is in the Government and needs to be replaced can continue to do its work over the summer recess, or not. The Leader of the House cannot say that the Home Affairs Committee is somehow different from those other Committees. [Interruption.] Oh, from a sedentary position, she says that it is; I am happy to let her intervene on me and explain why alternative members for the other two Committees are not being proposed to the House today.
Mrs. May: Forgive me, but I think that a perusal of Hansard tomorrow will show that the Leader of the House referred not only to the issue of the chairmanship, but to the fact that a Select Committee needed the correct number of members if it was to do its work. In any case, her argument that it mattered that the right hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Denham) was the Chairman of the Committee does not hold water either, because as I was explaining before I was intervened on by my hon. Friends, the Select Committee has met and appointed an acting Chairman. It has shown itself entirely capable of conducting its business without the intervention of a motion adding a person to the Select Committee.
None of us disputes that it is right that the right hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen should come off the Select Committee now that he is a member of the Government, or that a name will be put forward to replace him. What we object to is the fact that the Government have chosen to do that in rather a backhanded way. They are trying to force the measure through. They could properly have put a motion before the House, having gone through the Committee of Selection, or they could have come before the House and said, Given the time scale, the Select Committee will run with an acting Chairman, the hon. Member for Walsall, North, as it has agreed; come the autumn, a motion will be put forward in the normal way. If the Leader of the House really understands her responsibilities to the House and if she genuinely respects the House, she will withdraw the motion immediately.
Simon Hughes (North Southwark and Bermondsey) (LD): What started as a squall is becoming a storm. It is important for the Leader of the House to realise that this could be a serious matter if it goes wrong, and it would reflect badly on the House. It is important that we pause, that the right hon. and learned Lady reflects, and that in the end she accepts the growing, strongly expressed view that the motion should be withdrawn before we vote on it.
No motion shall be made for the nomination of members of select committees appointed under the standing orders of this House (with the exception of the Liaison Committee, the Committee of Selection, the Committee on Standards and Privileges and any Committee established under a temporary standing order), or for their discharge, unless
(a) notice of the motion has been given at least two sitting days previously, and
(b) the motion is made on behalf of the Committee of Selection by the chairman or another member of the committee.
The Leader of the House is seeking our agreement to dispense with two of the rules we normally impose on ourselves. The first is that there are at least two days noticefor very good reason, so that any Member with an interest in the matter can be present, can speak if they want to and can vote if they want to. That is not possible if the motion appears on the day of the vote. There are some colleagues who, for perfectly good family reasons, will not be here today because they may have started their holiday with their children, or whatever.
The second rule is that the motion be brought by somebody who acts independently on behalf of the Committee of Selectionthe Chairman or another member on behalf of the Committee of Selection. That is not happening. The motion does not come from the body that meets every week, or more often if necessary, to choose members for all Committees. It is coming from the Leader of the House. With respect to her, I have not heard a single argument that justifies either of those breaches of the rules.
Let me explain to the right hon. and learned Lady why the arguments that she has made do not wash and do not work. The Prime Minister, having had 10 years to prepare, was well equipped to make early announcements of his Cabinet and his Ministers. Every MinisterCabinet Minister, Minister of State and Under-Secretary of Statewas appointed by the end of the first full week of his term of office. That took us to the end of the first week of July. No other appointments have been made since then, except in the other place, where there were a couple of slightly belated take-ups of appointments of the more controversial nominees.
Those who were appointed to the Cabinet immediately stopped functioning in their Select Committees. All who were appointed gave up that function. The Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills, the right hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Denham), gave up serving on the Home Affairs Committee then. The Home Affairs Committee has not stopped work, however, since the change of Prime Minister or Government. It has continued to sit, to meet, to take evidence and to interrogate people. Indeed, the new Home Secretary appeared before it yesterday.
The Committee has 13 serving members, who are described in the report published on 10 July. They are the hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. Benyon), my hon. Friend the Member for Taunton (Mr. Browne), the hon. Members for Regent's Park and Kensington, North (Ms Buck), for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison), for Keighley (Mrs. Cryer), for Burton (Mrs. Dean), for Newark (Patrick Mercer), for Luton, South (Margaret Moran), and for Dover (Gwyn Prosser), my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester (Bob Russell), and the hon. Members for Reading, West (Martin Salter), for South-West Devon (Mr. Streeter) and for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick). The report then says:
|Next Section||Index||Home Page|