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A colleague has suggested that we should think, review and reflect once more about this post. Let us imagine for a moment what our purpose in life is. It is to make a difference through the decisions that we make here in the House, but we have contracted them out, privatised them and given them to quangos. The person who wants to do this job is not the person who should get it. As Groucho Marx once said, “I don’t care to be a member of any club that would have me as a member.” More seriously, I shall give the House the example of a friend of mine who was a police officer. He was recruiting marksmen, and he told me that he never once accepted
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a volunteer. He always preferred to recruit them in a different way, because it was dangerous for volunteers to be police marksmen.

As other hon. Members have said, the establishment of the Electoral Commission has not led to more people voting, or to young people getting more excited about politics. Nor has it led to any greater respect for people in this House. Things have got worse, not better. Is there a correlation? Well, no, because the Electoral Commission is pretty unimportant as a body. It has done nothing worth talking about, barring getting into the headlines from time to time to drag hon. Members over the coals for failing to report something on time. Those are peccadillos as far as the general public are concerned.

When I mentioned to the hon. Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes) that anyone could do the job, my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Rob Marris) said that not everyone in his constituency could do it. I have to tell him, however, that a good many could. It is a non-job; it is not terribly important to anybody outside this place, and we are navel-gazing again if we think that it is. As for the idea that we should pay someone £167,000 a year to do the job—what an affront! It is an affront at a time when people are losing their jobs hand over fist, often through no fault of their own. However, we could trace the blame for this to the people who are paid that kind of money, and more, and who have made an awful mess of the companies that they are supposed to be running. We are getting into a similar mess with this job. It is simply not worth it.

Mr. Gordon Prentice: I simply disagree with my friend. This is a crucial part of a proper, functioning democracy. We need an Electoral Commission to police the system. I am sorry to have to say this to him, but he is completely wrong.

Mr. Purchase: My hon. Friend and I have a fundamental philosophical disagreement about this job. I am in favour of a democracy that functions properly and has proper elections in which people are voted in and voted out. It does not need policing, other than by this place. This is where these things should be decided.

I can almost trace the beginning of this nonsense of putting everything out to the private sector and to quangos. It was when two Conservative MPs took money for asking questions and the then Prime Minister did not appear to have the courage to say to his Whips, “Deal with them”. We set up an inquiry and ever since we have had all these quangos and nothing is ever done in a proper way as the Whips would want— [Interruption.]

Simon Hughes: So the hon. Gentleman thinks that we do not need any legislation or any regulation to deal with how much money can be given in donations and what funding is permissible. Is he saying that nobody is needed to police those matters, that the majority party will always get its way and that we can trust democracy to a majority party? He must be living on another planet.

Mr. Purchase: Well, isn’t that a giveaway: “We can trust democracy. Not” he said. Oh no, we cannot trust democracy. Of course we can —[Interruption.] Look, if the great Winston Churchill decided that out of all the
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systems, democracy was the least worst, I am prepared to go along with it. What I am not prepared to do is continually undermine the power and strength of this House by giving it away to unelected people in quangoland who, if they had any respect for this place, really should not be doing these jobs at all. It seems to me that we have to be proper, right and judicial in this House in setting down the rules. If that fails, then we have the police. If it is felt that people have acted unlawfully, refer it to the police; do not go through this nonsense where these people spend 12 months testing out a decent Member of this House only to decide that there is no case to answer. We should do it in the right way to begin with. I shall support the amendment this evening and I sincerely hope that we reflect on all this business of quangoland before we make any further appointments.

6.16 pm

The Deputy Leader of the House of Commons (Chris Bryant): This is the vote before Christmas, so I shall not seek to delay the House too long. The Government support the motion, ably moved by the hon. Member for Gosport (Sir Peter Viggers), speaking on behalf of the Speaker’s Committee. We are grateful to all those who have taken part in this decision.

I would like to pay my personal tribute to Sam Younger. I used to work with him at the BBC; I have known him for several years and know him to be an honourable and upright man who has performed his tasks with a great deal of probity. There were many occasions on which I profoundly disagreed with what he and the commission had said and done, but I none the less think that there are times when having such an element of grit in the political democratic system is important, especially if we are to maintain brightly the pearl of democracy.

From what I have read in the report presented in July, I believe that Jenny Watson is an able person who has the kind of track record that would recommend her for this post. She was chosen unanimously by a panel nominated by Mr. Speaker, chaired by Baroness Fritchie of Gloucester and including a representative of the Office of the Commissioner for Public Appointments. Although there has been some criticism of the process of appointment, I would not want to echo it, although I will come to the issue of remuneration in a few moments.

Jenny Watson is the former chair of the Equal Opportunities Commission and a non-executive board member of the Audit Commission. It is good that she has shown a degree of commitment to public service, which my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Rob Marris) mentioned earlier, and it will enable her to enhance the role of the Electoral Commission. As is required, the leaders of all the political parties in the House were consulted and none raised any objection to the appointment, so I think that it is a good one.

Several hon. Members raised the issue of remuneration for the chair of the Electoral Commission. It would have been wrong for us to propose voting on £150,000 this evening and I pay tribute to Jenny Watson for taking the very significant pay cut that was proposed to her some time after she was offered the job.

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Bob Spink: Surely the Minister is not telling the House that if I had not tabled an amendment to reduce the remuneration from £150,000 to £100,000, the House would not simply have allowed it go through on the nod. If he is telling that to the House, he is being disingenuous.

Chris Bryant: I hope that the hon. Gentleman will one day do the sensible thing and swap sides of the House. He has many miraculous powers, but making the Government change their mind is not normally one of them.

I think it right that a more sensible proposition is before us tonight. For my part, I would have found it very difficult to recommend to my constituents a dramatic increase—which this would have represented—from the pay that Sam Younger currently receives to that which Jenny Watson would have received had it been £150,000 for three days a week. I therefore feel that we should pay tribute to her, not least because if we voted against her appointment or her remuneration tonight it would show a degree of lack of grace on the House’s part—given that a Committee of the House produced the recommendation and made her an offer which she accepted—to choose to turn down the recommendation of a report presented to us 22 weeks later. I think that that would be unfair to the lady concerned.

Mr. Purchase: My question is simple. Will my hon. Friend tell us how much she receives for doing her other job, and for how many days a week she is engaged in it?

Chris Bryant: I think that the hon. Member for Gosport (Sir Peter Viggers) will be able to enlighten my hon. Friend. I shall merely say that I feel that it would be ungracious of us, at this point, to turn down the nomination.

Let me finally express the hope that, in the job that I hope she will be taking on, Jenny Watson will examine one issue that particularly affects hon. Members: the fact that at present we must report donations, gifts, travel and hospitality to both the Electoral Commission and the Register of Members’ Interests. A one-stop shop is long overdue, and I hope that the commission will not be as recalcitrant and difficult in that regard as I have found it to be of late.

6.21 pm

Sir Peter Viggers: With the leave of the House, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

In response to the last comment made by the Deputy Leader of the House, I should point out that it was the House that created the regulations that annoy us all so much, and that it would be for the House to change them if the Electoral Commission were put in a position in which it did not have to require duplicate registration.

There have been some calls for a broader discussion about the Electoral Commission, and I for one would welcome that. The only full discussion we have had on the subject was one that that I instituted by asking for a debate on the Consolidated Fund. I have been asking Ministers for Government time for such a debate, because there are indeed many issues to be discussed.

The main purpose behind the creation of the commission was to promote participation and confidence in the electoral process, and we know what has happened over the past 10 years. It may well be that acceptance of the
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commission’s proposal for individual voter registration would help to put right some of the things that have gone wrong in the past 10 years, so we need a more general debate. I would welcome a more general debate on appointments and salaries for similar reasons. However, we are not here this evening to talk about that. We are talking about the appointment of a chair of the Electoral Commission, and the remuneration that that chair should receive. The Electoral Commission does exist, and until the House abolishes it, there it is. It needs a chair; it needs to be properly led. That is what we are discussing.

As for the appointment process itself, I absolutely reject the criticism that the selection process was not properly conducted or considered. It was rigorous, it was scrupulous, and it was properly conducted in every detail. I am proud to be associated with it.

The remuneration was also carefully considered. Our starting point was the 11th report of the Committee on Standards in Public Life. We did not start by asking, “How much should we give Jenny Watson?” We started by listening to the Committee, reading its 11th report, and noting its call for a refocusing on the part of the Electoral Commission and its demand for leadership and direction from the commission. On that basis we consulted, discussed and asked about the terms and conditions that we would need to offer in order to recruit the very best candidates. We managed to reduce 37 candidates to five and then to four, we interviewed them all, and I am confident that we chose the best. We went into the process with our eyes wide open, knowing exactly what we were seeking to do. It was on that basis that we decided that the right salary was £150,000 a year for a three-day week.

We are, of course, talking about March 2008. The world has changed since March 2008, but when the proposal was made, it was to meet the wish of the Committee on Standards in Public Life. I draw the House’s attention to the fact that the motion proposing a salary of £150,000 a year for a three-day week carried the words “Queen’s recommendation signified”, meaning that it was acceptable to the Treasury.

David Taylor: The hon. Gentleman said that the Committee discussed, and consulted widely on, the level of remuneration. Can he briefly say who was consulted and how wide the consultation process was?

Sir Peter Viggers: I am unsure whether the hon. Gentleman was present earlier in the debate. All the detail is in the first report of the Speaker’s Committee; we pointed out there just how wide that consultation was. I was a participant in all stages of the process and it was, indeed, wide.

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Simon Hughes: The hon. Gentleman has done an excellent job. Can he just tell us why it has taken so long from the time his Committee came to a view and made a proposal for there to be this debate in the House?

Sir Peter Viggers: My reply is that the hon. Gentleman should ask the Government. It is the Leader of the House who tables motions. We considered it to be very important that we reach our conclusion on the appointment in June of this year and it has taken until now; the responsibility for that lies squarely with the Leader of the House.

The hon. Member for Castle Point (Bob Spink) claimed credit for reducing the proposed salary from £150,000 to £100,000. Having been engaged in this process, I have to tell him that although we noted his contribution on the Order Paper, he cannot claim credit for that. It was a matter decided by discussion and consultation.

Mr. Purchase: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Sir Peter Viggers: I am sorry, but I will not do so as I have only one minute left.

I am not a natural friend of quangos, but the fact is that the House created the Electoral Commission, and it is important that it should be properly led and directed. I am confident that the appointment of Jenny Watson is the right one, as is the salary proposed for her. Her preparedness to accept a lower salary than the one for which she applied is a noble indication of her public service. I commend the order to the House.

Bob Spink: On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Although the two motions have been taken together, would it be possible to vote on each of them separately if necessary?

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Yes, of course.

Kate Hoey (Vauxhall) (Lab): Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Many of us who would like to support the appointment of a chair of the Electoral Commission but who do not want to support the salary would very much like to have a separate vote.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. Well, I hope I have cleared that up. Two Questions will be put.

Question put and agreed to.


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Electoral Commission (Remuneration of Chairman)

Queen’s recommendation signified.

Motion made and Question put,

The House divided: Ayes 324, Noes 32.
Division No. 10]
[6.27 pm


Afriyie, Adam
Ainger, Nick
Ainsworth, rh Mr. Bob
Alexander, Danny
Alexander, rh Mr. Douglas
Amess, Mr. David
Ancram, rh Mr. Michael
Anderson, Mr. David
Anderson, Janet
Austin, Mr. Ian
Bailey, Mr. Adrian
Balls, rh Ed
Banks, Gordon
Barker, Gregory
Barrett, John
Barron, rh Mr. Kevin
Battle, rh John
Bayley, Hugh
Beckett, rh Margaret
Begg, Miss Anne
Beith, rh Sir Alan
Bellingham, Mr. Henry
Benn, rh Hilary
Benyon, Mr. Richard
Bercow, John
Berry, Roger
Betts, Mr. Clive
Blackman, Liz
Blackman-Woods, Dr. Roberta
Blunt, Mr. Crispin
Boswell, Mr. Tim
Bottomley, Peter
Bradshaw, Mr. Ben
Brazier, Mr. Julian
Breed, Mr. Colin
Brennan, Kevin
Brown, Lyn
Brown, rh Mr. Nicholas
Brown, Mr. Russell
Browning, Angela
Bruce, rh Malcolm
Bryant, Chris
Buck, Ms Karen
Burnham, rh Andy
Burns, Mr. Simon
Burrowes, Mr. David
Burt, Alistair
Burt, Lorely
Butler, Ms Dawn
Butterfill, Sir John
Byers, rh Mr. Stephen
Byrne, rh Mr. Liam
Caborn, rh Mr. Richard
Campbell, Mr. Alan
Carmichael, Mr. Alistair
Carswell, Mr. Douglas
Challen, Colin
Chapman, Ben
Clark, Paul
Clegg, rh Mr. Nick
Clifton-Brown, Mr. Geoffrey
Coaker, Mr. Vernon
Coffey, Ann
Cohen, Harry
Connarty, Michael
Cooper, rh Yvette
Cousins, Jim
Creagh, Mary

Cunningham, Mr. Jim
Cunningham, Tony
Davey, Mr. Edward
David, Mr. Wayne
Davies, Mr. Quentin
Denham, rh Mr. John
Devine, Mr. Jim
Doran, Mr. Frank
Dorrell, rh Mr. Stephen
Duddridge, James
Eagle, Angela
Eagle, Maria
Ellwood, Mr. Tobias
Engel, Natascha
Fabricant, Michael
Fallon, Mr. Michael
Farron, Tim
Featherstone, Lynne
Fisher, Mark
Fitzpatrick, Jim
Flello, Mr. Robert
Follett, Barbara
Foster, Mr. Don
Foster, Mr. Michael (Worcester)
Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings and Rye)
Francis, Dr. Hywel
Francois, Mr. Mark
Gardiner, Barry
Garnier, Mr. Edward
George, Andrew
George, rh Mr. Bruce
Gerrard, Mr. Neil
Gidley, Sandra
Gilroy, Linda
Goggins, Paul
Goodman, Helen
Goodman, Mr. Paul
Goodwill, Mr. Robert
Gove, Michael
Greening, Justine
Griffith, Nia
Gwynne, Andrew
Hague, rh Mr. William
Hall, Mr. Mike
Hall, Patrick
Hamilton, Mr. Fabian
Hammond, Mr. Philip
Hammond, Stephen
Hancock, Mr. Mike
Hanson, rh Mr. David
Harman, rh Ms Harriet
Harper, Mr. Mark
Harris, Dr. Evan
Harvey, Nick
Hayes, Mr. John
Healey, rh John
Heath, Mr. David
Heathcoat-Amory, rh Mr. David
Hemming, John
Hendrick, Mr. Mark
Hepburn, Mr. Stephen
Herbert, Nick
Hill, rh Keith
Hodgson, Mrs. Sharon
Holloway, Mr. Adam
Holmes, Paul
Hoon, rh Mr. Geoffrey
Hope, Phil
Horwood, Martin
Hosie, Stewart
Howarth, David
Howell, John
Howells, Dr. Kim
Hughes, rh Beverley
Hughes, Simon
Huhne, Chris
Hunter, Mark
Hutton, rh Mr. John
Illsley, Mr. Eric
Jack, rh Mr. Michael
Jenkin, Mr. Bernard
Jenkins, Mr. Brian
Johnson, Ms Diana R.
Jones, Mr. David
Jones, Helen
Jones, Mr. Kevan
Jones, Mr. Martyn
Joyce, Mr. Eric
Kaufman, rh Sir Gerald
Kawczynski, Daniel
Keeley, Barbara
Keen, Alan
Keen, Ann
Keetch, Mr. Paul
Kemp, Mr. Fraser
Kennedy, rh Jane
Khan, Mr. Sadiq
Kidney, Mr. David
Knight, rh Jim
Kramer, Susan
Laing, Mrs. Eleanor
Lait, Mrs. Jacqui
Lamb, Norman
Lammy, rh Mr. David
Lancaster, Mr. Mark
Laws, Mr. David
Lazarowicz, Mark
Leech, Mr. John
Lepper, David
Levitt, Tom
Liddell-Grainger, Mr. Ian
Lidington, Mr. David
Lilley, rh Mr. Peter
Linton, Martin
Love, Mr. Andrew
Lucas, Ian
Mactaggart, Fiona
Main, Anne
Malik, Mr. Shahid
Malins, Mr. Humfrey
Mallaber, Judy
Mann, John
Martlew, Mr. Eric
Mason, John
May, rh Mrs. Theresa
McAvoy, rh Mr. Thomas
McCabe, Steve
McCafferty, Chris
McCarthy, Kerry
McCarthy-Fry, Sarah
McDonnell, John
McFall, rh John
McGovern, Mr. Jim
McGuire, rh Mrs. Anne
McIsaac, Shona
McKechin, Ann
McLoughlin, rh Mr. Patrick
Merron, Gillian
Michael, rh Alun
Miliband, rh Edward
Miller, Mrs. Maria

Moffat, Anne
Moffatt, Laura
Mole, Chris
Moore, Mr. Michael
Morgan, Julie
Mulholland, Greg
Mundell, David
Munn, Meg
Murphy, rh Mr. Paul
Murrison, Dr. Andrew
Naysmith, Dr. Doug
O'Brien, Mr. Mike
O'Hara, Mr. Edward
Öpik, Lembit
Ottaway, Richard
Palmer, Dr. Nick
Paterson, Mr. Owen
Pearson, Ian
Penrose, John
Plaskitt, Mr. James
Pound, Stephen
Prentice, Bridget
Prentice, Mr. Gordon
Price, Adam
Primarolo, rh Dawn
Prosser, Gwyn
Pugh, Dr. John
Purnell, rh James
Rammell, Bill
Randall, Mr. John
Raynsford, rh Mr. Nick
Reed, Mr. Andy
Reid, Mr. Alan
Rennie, Willie
Robathan, Mr. Andrew
Robertson, Angus
Robertson, Hugh
Robertson, Mr. Laurence
Rooney, Mr. Terry
Rosindell, Andrew
Roy, Lindsay
Ruddock, Joan
Russell, Bob
Russell, Christine
Sanders, Mr. Adrian
Seabeck, Alison
Selous, Andrew
Shapps, Grant
Sheerman, Mr. Barry
Sheridan, Jim
Simon, Mr. Siôn
Simpson, Mr. Keith
Slaughter, Mr. Andy
Smith, Angela E. (Basildon)
Smith, Geraldine
Smith, John
Smith, Sir Robert
Snelgrove, Anne
Southworth, Helen
Spellar, rh Mr. John
Spicer, Sir Michael
Stanley, rh Sir John
Starkey, Dr. Phyllis
Steen, Mr. Anthony
Straw, rh Mr. Jack
Stringer, Graham
Stuart, Ms Gisela
Stuart, Mr. Graham
Stunell, Andrew
Sutcliffe, Mr. Gerry
Swayne, Mr. Desmond
Swire, Mr. Hugo
Tami, Mark
Tapsell, Sir Peter
Taylor, Ms Dari
Taylor, Dr. Richard
Thomas, Mr. Gareth
Thurso, John
Timms, rh Mr. Stephen
Timpson, Mr. Edward
Touhig, rh Mr. Don
Tredinnick, David
Trickett, Jon
Turner, Mr. Andrew
Turner, Dr. Desmond
Turner, Mr. Neil
Tyrie, Mr. Andrew
Ussher, Kitty
Vara, Mr. Shailesh
Vaz, rh Keith
Viggers, Sir Peter
Villiers, Mrs. Theresa
Walker, Mr. Charles
Wallace, Mr. Ben
Walley, Joan
Waltho, Lynda
Ward, Claire
Watts, Mr. Dave
Weir, Mr. Mike
Whitehead, Dr. Alan
Wicks, rh Malcolm
Wiggin, Bill
Willetts, Mr. David
Williams, Mrs. Betty
Williams, Stephen
Willott, Jenny
Wills, rh Mr. Michael
Winterton, Ann
Winterton, Sir Nicholas
Winterton, rh Ms Rosie
Woodward, rh Mr. Shaun
Wright, Mr. Anthony
Wright, David
Wright, Mr. Iain
Wyatt, Derek
Tellers for the Ayes:

Mr. Bob Blizzard and
Mr. Frank Roy

Abbott, Ms Diane
Austin, John
Burgon, Colin
Clapham, Mr. Michael
Clark, Ms Katy
Clwyd, rh Ann
Corbyn, Jeremy
Davies, Mr. Dai
Dismore, Mr. Andrew
Dowd, Jim
Drew, Mr. David
Durkan, Mark
Gapes, Mike
Gibson, Dr. Ian
Hoey, Kate
Hollobone, Mr. Philip
Hopkins, Kelvin
Iddon, Dr. Brian

Jones, Lynne
Mackinlay, Andrew
MacNeil, Mr. Angus
MacShane, rh Mr. Denis
Marris, Rob
McDonnell, John
Mudie, Mr. George
Norris, Dan
Pelling, Mr. Andrew
Simpson, Alan
Singh, Mr. Marsha
Skinner, Mr. Dennis
Taylor, David
Wilson, Sammy
Tellers for the Noes:

Bob Spink and
Mr. Ken Purchase
Question accordingly agreed to.
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