Examination of Witnesses (Questions 80-90)|
14 MARCH 2007
Q80 Mr Burstow: On the basis of the
answers to the questionnaires? Does that give you any conclusions?
Professor Rush: Yes, but the questionnaires
cover the 1992 induction and the 1997 induction, and things have
moved on since then. It may be that Gemma is in a better position
to answer that. Believe it or notbecause you are a recently
elected Memberthings have got better election by election.
It may not always appear that way, but it has.
Ms Rosenblatt: I agree that things
have got better. It was acknowledged by new MPs that things had
got better as well. Certainly people who had worked around Parliament,
not as MPs who were then elected in 2005, were the first to acknowledge
that they had seen people walking round, open-mouthed, beforehand,
and said that actually it was quite good this time. I would not
necessarily take the mentoring out of party hands. I think that
parties can do it well. I just think that it is better that parties
work with Parliament more on the induction process.
Philip Davies: As somebody who came at
the last election, I think that the induction my party's Whips'
Office organised was quite thorough. Possibly that was because
over a quarter of the party was made up of a new intake, so perhaps
that was inevitable. I sometimes wondered whether it was all for
the benefit of the Whips' Office or for the benefit of the Members!
I think that you will always get that particular tension. Given
that is inevitable, that any kind of induction will always have
the Whips' Office trying to stick their oar in and meddle and
interfere in what is going on, in terms of ongoing mentoring and
so on, I was lucky because I tapped into people like Eric Forth
and Sir Nicholas Wintertonwho knew the place inside-out.
Mrs May: That explains it!
Q81 Philip Davies: Much to the dismay
of the Whips I was asking Eric Forth and Sir Nicholas Winterton!
Is not the responsibility therefore with the actual MP themselves
to look around them and find people within their own party, or
even from other parties, who can help them, rather than trying
to create something that is not creatable, because the Whips'
Office will always try to put a stop to independently minded MPs?
Dr Giddings: I am particularly
concerned about the latter point. The Whips' job is to manage,
with all the negative as well as positive implications of that,
and the mentoring system needs to be more dynamic. Yes, of course,
some new Members will manage this for themselvesas always
happens in every organisationbut there will be some who
do not, who are unable to do it, for a variety of reasons. There
needs to be capacity to handle that.
Q82 Mr Wright: May I pick up on the
point made by Theresa which is a particular bugbear of mine, namely
continuing professional development? Parliament and the Government
bang on all the time about our need to up-skill in order to compete
in the global economy. I think that we should look at ourselves.
Members are individuals and will follow different paths, but do
you think that there is a case, as part of continuing professional
development, for some sort of skills audit? In order to scrutinise
the executive in a better way, if I am interested in housing and
I want to become an expert on housing policy, I quite like the
radical idea that you could go to a housing association and spend
time there on secondment. You can't do that at the moment. There
are bits and bobs. There is the Industry and Parliament Trust;
there are all-party groups that show interest. Do you think there
is any merit in pulling this together, to have a truly codified
way of trying to up-skill Members?
Professor Rush: I think that would
be very difficult. I am retired, but I worked in the university
for 40 years. For most of the time we never had any training,
and I had never heard of the word "up-skilling" until
Q83 Chairman: Is that a good thing
or a bad thing?
Professor Rush: A bit of both.
I would not want to be hauled off and told, "You have to
attend this course or that course". None the less, in the
latter part of my career it was quite useful sometimes. The university
put on something or other which was very useful in learning about
this, that or the other. For example, for my sins I became a member
of the University Senate, ex-officio not elected, and so
on. It would have been very useful to have had a bit of an induction
about the way the Senate operated. I had never experienced that.
However, you are talking about an organisation internally. What
organisations do internally is one thing; pulling in lots of people
from the outside is much more difficult to do. I am not saying
that you should not do it, but it needs very careful thought.
I would welcome what you are suggesting, but I think that it needs
a lot of thought as to how best it can be organised and meet the
needs of different Members. It is not just parties; it is many
Members with their different interestswhether it is housing,
foreign affairs, education, or whatever it may be.
Dr Giddings: I think that a commission
on skills audit would be a fascinating exercise. It would expose
what is already implicit in a lot of the material: that there
are significant political differences in what are considered to
be the relevant skills for operation in this place. Clearly there
are differences between the Government backbenchers and backbenchers
in other parties, and so on; but that would be a very useful exercise.
I would find it fascinating. The key thing for training and professional
development is first to identify the skills which need to be developed,
and that they are relevant. I think that is extremely important.
Q84 Ann Coffey: I thought that Iain
was perhaps saying that if you yourself identified some of the
skills that you wanted to developbecause, after all, being
an MP is continual development, and you do not do in the second
year what you did in the first year and, five years on, it is
very differentshould there not be a system of accessing
it? For example, I could go and say, "Actually, I am getting
more interested in this area of work. Can you provide someone
for me to contact, talk to or spend time with that would give
me practical experience and develop that?".
Professor Rush: I took that to
be what he meant and I think that is a good idea; but it needs
to be geared to individual Members or possibly groups of Members.
Q85 Ann Coffey: When I was elected
in 1992 I had one member of staff. I think that Members of Parliament
now are perhaps managing offices of four or five staff. Managing
people is a huge skill in itself. Members of Parliament do not
necessarily have that skill of managing staff. Do you think that
there are ways in which they could be better helped in this area?
For example, do you think the personnel departments here should
take a bigger role in helping MPs when they run into particular
difficulties with staffing, or something?
Professor Rush: I think that the
short answer is yes. I am not sure who should do it, but it is
time management and managing of people, because all MPs have staff,
whether they are in their constituency or here.
Q86 Ann Coffey: I just wondered if
there was something in your survey that you had come across.
Professor Rush: Quite a number
of things in our survey came out that things like that are not
provided and it would be better if they were; but often there
were not suggestions of how best it could be done. However, I
think it is something that should be looked at and something that
should be available to Members, both in terms of need and want.
Ms Rosenblatt: I think that they
can be better helped by the House authorities but I also think
that a lot of help already exists but Members are not aware of
it. It is quite important, certainly from the new MPs that we
spoke to in the interviews, that those who felt comfortable asking
for advice were always doing betterwhether the advice be
from House officials or party Whips. Those who had somebody to
call on all the time were better informed.
Dr Giddings: I think that there
would be benefit in having a resource base to which Members could
go for access to other resources in a particular areaa
sort of very sophisticated, super-parliamentary Google, if you
like, which would enable
Q87 Chairman: Even a very unsophisticated
parliamentary Google would be goodif you have tried the
Dr Giddings: In my very limited
experience, what a lot of people find helpful is how to find their
way to that which is particularly relevant to their needs.
Q88 Sir Nicholas Winterton: Can I
say to Philip Giddings that I suspect there will be many people
who are elected as Members of Parliament who will not have some
of the skills that Dr Giddings believes that they should have;
and, with all the mentoring and everything else, they will not
be able to achieve those skills. Can I go so far as to say that
perhaps you yourself would be rather critical of a number of people
who are elected, indicating from your point of view that they
are not really competent to do the job? Unfortunately, however,
democracy is a bit odd; it is inclined to elect people who do
not necessarily have all the skills which I would suggest that
you and your colleagues would like them to have. Is that not correct?
Dr Giddings: It is not correct,
I agree with you! The primary skill is to represent their constituents.
Q89 Sir Nicholas Winterton: That
is the point.
Dr Giddings: All of them. They
will do it in a number of different ways. The task of the House
and the parties is to provide the capacity to enable Members to
develop those skills which they think they need, at the time that
they need them.
Mrs May: I would merely make an observation,
which may or may not lead to discussion between myself and Sir
Nicholas, that actually the Conservative Party is the one party
which, when it interviews people to go on its candidates' list,
does it on the basis of a professional analysis of their skills
to be a Member of Parliament, having identified six competencies,
with external support.
Sir Nicholas Winterton: You see, I was
never on the official list! But I am still here after 36 years!
Q90 Chairman: Do you have any closing
Ms Rosenblatt: A last point to
pick up on the skills is that, interestingly, probably one of
the biggest backgrounds in the intake this time round was marketing.
A fifth of the intake had a marketing or PR background. I think
that reflects some of the change in constituency and also encourages
some of the constituency changes of focus.
Professor Rush: One thing that
I think also really needs to be sorted out, which was not mentioned
earlier and has not been mentioned at all, is the allocation of
offices. It was the biggest beef that we had in our surveys
Dr Giddings: I have a much more
general point. You have to decide collectively whether this is
a zero-sum gamestrengthening the role of a backbencher.
Is the other side of that weakening the role of party leaders,
of government, of managers, or can you do both? The debate that
was going on earlier illustrated that there is a spectrum of opinion
on that point, and on its desirability.
Chairman: That is a really important
point, particularly for me as Chairman. My point to my colleagues
in Government, with whom I have to negotiate the recommendations
from this Committee in order to get them accepted, is that it
is not a zero-sum game. I am absolutely convinced of that. Ten
years in government tells me that the quality of what you do as
a minister is improved by the intensity of the scrutiny. At any
one moment the scrutiny may be irritating, if you want to do something
quickly, but overall it is actually better for the scrutiny. Thank
you very much indeed both for your written evidence and for your
very spirited oral evidence this morning.