Previous Section Index Home Page

The Deputy Speaker then put the remaining Questions necessary for the disposal of the business to be concluded at that time.

regional select committee (East of England)


regional select committee (West Midlands)


regional select committee (south East)


regional select committee (north East)


regional select committee (north West)


regional select committee (Yorkshire and the humber)


regional select committee (East midlands)


3 Mar 2009 : Column 807

Select Committees (Chairmen), Liaison Committee and Green Book

8 pm

The Deputy Leader of the House of Commons (Chris Bryant): I beg to move,

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord): With this we shall discuss the following:

Motion 14— Pay for Chairmen of Select Committees (No. 2)—

Motion 15— Liaison Committee (Membership)—

Motion 16— Green Book (Committee on Members’ Allowances)—

Chris Bryant: There are four motions before us in this debate, and I shall deal with them in reverse order.

Motion 16 amends the new Green Book that the House agreed on 22 January in one regard. The Green Book specifies that Department of Resources staff have the authority to administer the rules as set out in the Green Book, but that if any issue is unresolved

It also says that the Finance and Services Committee

3 Mar 2009 : Column 808

In the debate on 22 January, the Chairman of the 1922 Committee, the hon. Member for West Worcestershire (Sir Michael Spicer), who is not in his place at present, asked whether this should not be altered in the light of the fact that on that same day we changed the Advisory Panel on Members’ Allowances into a formal Committee of the House, with a clear remit to look at every aspect of Members’ allowances.

On reflection, I believe that the Chairman of the 1922 Committee was right, for two reasons. First, as hon. Members will know, although the House of Commons Commission, chaired by the Speaker, is the overall supervisory body for the administration of the House, the House’s expenditure is divided between two accounts, or estimates—to use the parliamentary jargon. The first, the Administration estimate, covers the costs of administration of the House. The second, the Members estimate, covers MPs’ pay and allowances. Our Standing Orders state that the Finance and Services Committee oversees the Administration estimate and that the Members Estimate Committee oversees, naturally enough, the Members estimate. As the Finance and Services Committee has no remit under Standing Orders to look at the Members Estimate, which includes allowances, it seems wrong for it to have this new role in adjudicating on issue relating to Members’ allowances.

Secondly, having just created the new Committee on Members’ Allowances, it clearly makes sense to give it the full responsibility for these issues, and that is precisely what motion 16 does. That in no respect alters the duties, powers or responsibilities of the Committee on Standards and Privileges, nor of the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards as set out in out Standing Orders. I hope that the Chairman of the Committee on Standards and Privileges will be content that the relationship between the two Committees will not leave hon. Members open to double jeopardy, or lead to the danger that the House cannot administer its discipline properly.

The other motions before us are also straightforward. Motion 15 would put the Chairman of the Committee on Members’ Allowances on the Liaison Committee—a matter that I have discussed with the Chairman of the Liaison Committee, the Father of the House. Motions 13 and 14 would provide for the Chairman of the Committee to be paid, in common with all other Chairmen of Select Committees, other than the regional Committees, whose Chairmen will not be paid. I hope that the motions can be carried with little further ado.

8.5 pm

Alan Duncan (Rutland and Melton) (Con): I am grateful to the Deputy Leader of the House for explaining the motions so clearly. We are largely content with them, and I do not need to repeat what he said. They are largely consequential on the adoption of the new Green Book. They put the Committee on Members’ Allowances into line with other Select Committees by providing for the payment of the Chairman and putting him or her on the Liaison Committee.

I wish to dwell on only one matter of detail—on which I agreed with the Deputy Leader of the House—to amplify the assurance that he has just given my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir George Young) about the continuing and unchanged status of the Committee on Standards and Privileges.
3 Mar 2009 : Column 809
The danger that loomed for a little while was that the potential reference to the new Committee of disputes between Members and officials of the House about what was a legitimate claim might somehow usurp the existing authority of my right hon. Friend’s Committee.

The concern arises from the recommendation on the revised Green Book in the report by the Members Estimate Committee, which said:

—now the Committee on Members’ Allowances—

The potential implication is that any such adjudication could be taken as final, and any dispute or complaint could not be referred to my right hon. Friend’s Committee. The Deputy Leader of the House has made it clear that that would not be the case, and even though the Committee on Members’ Allowances might have said that a Member’s claim was justified, it could still go to the Committee on Standards and Privileges for its decision.

It is obvious that if a Member, having talked to officials and taken the issue to the Committee on Members’ Allowances, had reached a conclusion on a matter, the Committee on Standards and Privileges would take that into account. Therefore, the effect could well be to weed out smaller disputes and resolve them at that level, thus avoiding complaints and investigations into Members on what may be honest differences about how the rules should apply.

My reason for mentioning this issue in further detail is to ensure that the House can enjoy clarity about the practice that it will now follow, and to ensure that those who observe our proceedings cannot deliberately make mischief by trying to play one Committee off against another. It is essential that the hierarchy of adjudication is understood by people inside and outside the House, and that no mischief can be made as a result. It should be understood that the first port of call will be the Committee on Members’ Allowances, followed by some sort of appeal. That will largely be the case if a Member has submitted an invoice against their claim—in other words, it is a live issue rather than an historic investigation. In such cases, the Fees Office—as we used to call it, but it is now the Department of Resources or something—might say, “Hold on, you’re over-egging it a bit, that doesn’t fall within the rules.” Such altercations can be resolved at that stage. We need to be clear that we are looking at a sensible ladder of adjudication in the event of disagreement.

Chris Bryant: The shadow Leader of the House is making some important and sensible clarifications. The one thing that is still important is that the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards and the Committee should always be able to look at cases where there has not been full disclosure. An hon. Member might have been in a disagreement—the hon. Gentleman uses the word “altercation”, but I shall call it a disagreement without fisticuffs—with the Department of Resources, and that might go on to the Committee on Members’ Allowances and then to the Members Estimate Committee or the Commission. However, the commissioner and the Committee would still want to investigate all the facts in
3 Mar 2009 : Column 810
any disciplinary process. If there had been a failure of disclosure, no cover would be provided by the fact that one had been before one of the previous Committees.

Alan Duncan: The Deputy Leader of the House helpfully describes a possible set of circumstances in which these Committees would have to operate. The very short discussion that we have had has been helpful and I hope that it can lie on the record to guide people in the future so that they do not misunderstand our proceedings. I have nothing further to add and I hope that the House will adopt these motions tonight.

8.10 pm

Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock) (Lab): I think that if you, Madam Deputy Speaker, look at the official record tomorrow, you, or any other observer, will note that neither the Deputy Leader of the House nor the shadow Leader of the House mentioned the contents of motions 13 and 14— [ Interruption. ] They certainly did not do so in substance, although the Deputy Leader of the House says that they did. I shall look at the record tomorrow.

Chris Bryant: I shall say it again for my hon. Friend, if he wants. Motions 13 and 14 would provide for the Chairman of the Committee to be paid, in common with all the other Chairmen of Select Committees other than the regional Select Committees. We need to have two motions because the first involves the House saying that we should do so while the second involves the Queen’s assent.

Andrew Mackinlay: I intend to divide the House on this point, because I believe that it is wrong in principle. I explained to the right hon. Member for Islwyn (Mr. Touhig), who would be the beneficiary of the motions, that it was nothing personal. I hope that he and the House will notice that I have argued consistently against the growth of additional emoluments for other Members in this House. I see this as another increment, and it is extremely unhealthy. In November, the House was with me, by a majority of two, in preventing the payment to Chairpersons of the regional Select Committees. I was very pleased about that, and I think that it was right. We have to bring a halt to this. Although the motion is a one-off and relates to one particular chairmanship, it is simply wrong.

That matter goes to the heart of our democracy and is creating two tiers of Members of Parliament. I understand from an answer that I received to a parliamentary question that, from memory, some 160 Members are paid differently from Back Benchers. We have to put a halt to that. If I win tonight, it will be unfortunate for the right hon. Member for Islwyn, but we need to put on the brakes.

Mr. Hugo Swire (East Devon) (Con): I have no desire for the hon. Gentleman to be dazzled by my halo, but as the Chairman of the Speaker’s Advisory Committee on Works of Art, I can tell him that there are some Committees of which it is a great honour to be Chairman and in which we are not remunerated at all.

Andrew Mackinlay: That intervention demonstrates how ludicrous it is that we are doing this without an overall plan or strategy. I am not saying, “Never.” The
3 Mar 2009 : Column 811
hon. Gentleman is Chairman of a very important Committee. There are people who lead the Council of Europe delegation, which is a very substantial responsibility, who do not get any emoluments—

Alan Duncan: The shadow Cabinet.

Andrew Mackinlay: I was coming to the shadow Cabinet. In an earlier debate, I predicted that there would be a gradualist approach. It becomes compelling, because each time we add to the list there are greater anomalies. I have said before in the Chamber that the shadow Cabinet will seek such remuneration, that the Liberals will then say that that is unfair, and that the Council of Europe delegations, the leadership of the British-Irish parliamentary body, the leadership of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe parliamentary body and so on will follow. It has to stop at some stage.

Mr. Swire: I am rather in agreement with the hon. Gentleman, but does he not agree that it is even more important now, when we are being accused by the tabloid press and so on of having our noses in the trough at a time of an economic recession if not a depression, that we are creating yet another paid sinecure in the Palace of Westminster?

Andrew Mackinlay: Yes. I try to discharge my duties as a Back-Bench MP, as I see them—in a sense, I write my own job description—to the best of my ability. I believe that I work as hard and have as many difficulties, although they are different difficulties, as the Under-Secretary of State for paperclips and statutes, who would be paid under our system. The exception, paradoxically, consists of the Deputy Leader of the House and a few others. I was a trade union official and I believe in the rate for the job, and I am astounded that there are folk who are prepared to be Ministers without pay when others get it, but that is a matter for them. I want to stop the rot, the stealth and the salami-slicing whereby we are gradually raising the proportion of MPs who are paid more than others. I urge Members to reflect on that.

I hope that the hon. Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch, East (Rosemary McKenna) does not take it personally, but I understand that the Chairperson of the Committee of Selection already has the higher emoluments. I am open to correction on that point, but I cannot remember one hell of a row on the Committee of Selection and I am not sure that it sits for a very long time. I use that to buttress my case: there is no coherent logic to the question of payments. That is why we have to stop it now. A prudent and fair system might be for the appropriate Committees to reflect on this matter in time for the next Parliament, so that some sensible and fair decisions can be made.

Next Section Index Home Page