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7.33 pm

Mr. Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con): It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne (Mr. Walker). He, like other hon. Members and, obviously, my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir George Young) on the Front Bench, will have been taken by surprise by the motion suddenly appearing on the Order Paper today. This meant that the only opportunity to table an amendment that would add my hon. Friend's name in place of somebody else's was behind the Speaker's Chair last night, when today's proceedings became apparent.

That is odd, because the way in which the matter has been dealt with is in stark contrast to, for example, the motions on the Order Paper relating to membership of Select Committees, when a lot of notice about proposed members is normally given and people have the opportunity to object or to table amendments. Indeed, I can remember, as can my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Hampshire, the appointment of members of the Draft Constitutional Renewal Bill Joint Committee. I objected repeatedly to that motion, and then in the end found myself being appointed to the Joint Committee, which was a great privilege.

Like the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick), I think that it is unhealthy, in principle, that these appointments should be made by collusion between the Front Benches. Why can appointments not be made more openly by election? That has been a very successful process in relation to the Committee on Reform of the House of Commons, which I hope will bring forward important recommendations at the beginning of the new Session.

Mr. Speaker: Order. The content of the hon. Gentleman's speech is naturally, and entirely, a matter for him. I am not certain in my own mind whether he is seeking to move a manuscript amendment, but there would not be a bar to his doing so if he wished.

Mr. Chope: I am very grateful to you, Mr. Speaker, for making that clear. I look to my hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne to decide whether he wishes to put forward a manuscript amendment in his own name that could then be put before the House.

Mr. Walker: I am no great expert on parliamentary procedure, but if I am called by the House of Commons to serve, of course I will accept that offer.

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Mr. Chope: I think that the process that my hon. Friend needs to go through is to demonstrate a willingness to serve. I suspect that there are sufficient Members in the Chamber willing him to put his name forward and therefore prepared to sign up to a manuscript amendment for his name to go forward in substitution for one of the other names on the Order Paper. In order for that to happen, my hon. Friend-although I know that it would offend against his innate modesty-would have to take the initiative by demonstrating to his hon. Friends, and perhaps to Labour Members such as the hon. Member for Walsall, North, his willingness to serve and the fact that he would be happy to see a manuscript amendment put forward suggesting that his name be added.

Mr. Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight) (Con): My hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne (Mr. Walker) is mouthing the word, "How?" Can my hon. Friend help him by explaining how he does that?

Mr. Chope: Usually the advice that hon. Members receive from Mr. Speaker is that if they wish for some assistance in drafting or presenting an amendment, they should speak to the Clerk at the Table, who I am sure would, as always, be more than willing to assist. [ Interruption. ] While my hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne goes and carries out that process, I shall address my remarks further to the issues before us.

The suddenness of the motion's appearance on today's Order Paper has meant that we have not had the chance for proper amendments to be tabled or the opportunity to hold elections. I hope that the Deputy Leader of the House will ensure that she responds fully to the points made in this debate, because although it has been allotted one and a half hours, I do not anticipate that we will speak for anything like that amount of time. She will probably say that the reason for the motion's sudden appearance, without any notice, is the extreme urgency of the matter.

Barbara Keeley indicated assent.

Mr. Chope: The Minister is nodding in agreement with that proposition, so I look forward to hearing her expand on it.

How is this Committee, when appointed, going to interact with the Kelly committee's recommendations? As you know, Mr. Speaker, earlier today I raised a point of order about the extraordinary announcements leaked from the Kelly committee. There are conflicting opinions as to where those leaks came from. Apparently one of my hon. Friends has been told on good authority by the BBC that the leak came from Sir Christopher Kelly's committee itself. That might put him in a rather difficult position, given that he is meant to be in charge of maintaining high standards in public life. I cannot see how leaking such information complies with that role, but I shall leave that to one side.

Other conjecture has it that the information was leaked by the right hon. Gentleman who leads the Liberal Democrats.

Mr. Heath: I hope that the hon. Gentleman has one scintilla of evidence for that suggestion, because I can categorically say that it is not true.

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Mr. Chope: I am delighted that the hon. Gentleman has been able to remove that possibility, but I spoke to a senior Member of the House this morning about the matter. I will not disclose his name, because he is not in his place at the moment, although I can say that he is among those whose membership of the Committee we may vote on later. He assured me on good authority that he thought that the details had been leaked by the leader of the Liberal Democrats.

Mr. Tom Clarke (Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill) (Lab): I am listening closely to the hon. Gentleman's arguments. Will he define how one becomes and remains a senior Member of the House?

Mr. Chope: It is rather like the definition of an elephant-when one sees one, one knows one. When we look at the right hon. Gentleman, we know that he is a senior and respected Member of this House, but I assure the House that he is not the person to whom I was referring in my remarks about the alleged leak by the leader of the Liberal Democrats.

That takes us to another possibility that is being speculated on, which is that the document was leaked by the Prime Minister and No. 10 to try to divert attention from the climbdown over the Territorial Army and the embarrassment over the Nimrod report. I shall not embark further into that territory, because it is speculation. However, I emphasise that, as I raised with you in my point of order earlier, Mr. Speaker, the Kelly report has now effectively been published. A large number of Members are facing questions from their employees, the press and their families about the implications of that report for them.

Mr. Brooks Newmark (Braintree) (Con): Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Speaker: Order. Before the hon. Gentleman seeks to intervene, I want to call the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope) to order. I know that he will not want, for any length of time, to dilate on the matter of the Kelly committee or the recommendations flowing therefrom, but that he will want immediately to focus specifically on the subject of the Speaker's Committee.

Mr. Chope: Exactly, Mr. Speaker, and what we are talking about tonight is the membership of that Committee and how qualified it will be to deal with its functions. I therefore wish to address some of my remarks to those functions, and I hope that the Deputy Leader of the House will tell us about the interaction between the Committee members and their role in dealing with recommendations from the Kelly committee.

Mr. Newmark: May I correct my hon. Friend? I do not believe that the Kelly report has actually been published yet. It is not due out for another week or so. There have been rumours and innuendo, but no report has actually been published.

Mr. Chope: It has not been officially published as a document, but the hon. Member for Middlesbrough (Sir Stuart Bell), who serves on the Members Estimate Committee, said on the radio this morning that there had been an authorised disclosure of it. Although it has not been published officially, there seem to be a large number of people who know about its contents. That is causing a lot of problems for Members and their staff.

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Mr. Speaker: Order. May I say again to the hon. Gentleman that, as he knows, this is a debate on motion 3? It is not a leak inquiry, or indeed a debate on a leak inquiry.

Mr. Chope: Absolutely, I agree with you on that, Mr. Speaker-I am certainly not qualified to carry out a leak inquiry. I am trying to ask the Deputy Leader of the House, who has admitted that this is an urgent issue and that that is why the motion is on the Order Paper at such short notice, to assure us that the Committee will be up and running in time to make the necessary appointments to IPSA. That will ensure that IPSA is in a position to take on board the recommendations of the Kelly committee as soon as they are published, so that there is not a period between the publication of those recommendations and the deliberations of the IPSA committee that will discuss them in accordance with the responsibilities placed upon it by the Parliamentary Standards Act 2009.

Mr. Walker: Is it not the case that IPSA will regard the Kelly report as purely advisory?

Mr. Chope: IPSA will certainly do so, if it is advised by the contents of the Parliamentary Standards Act 2009, which makes it quite clear that

for MPs allowances and

I am sure that IPSA's work will be informed by the Kelly Committee report, but I do not think that it will be dictated to by it, in accordance with the 2009 Act. Perhaps the Deputy Leader of the House will be able to give us a bit more information about that when she responds to this short debate.

The question that you, Mr. Speaker, suggested I raise with the Leader of the House tomorrow at business questions was whether it would be possible to get the Kelly report published sooner. It has gone to the printers. It could be published before next Wednesday so that everybody is on a level playing field in terms of information about it.

Mr. Walker: Surely it could go on the parliamentary intranet tomorrow.

Mr. Chope: Of course it could, if there was the will on the part of the Government. I hope that the Deputy Leader of the House will accept that, given the reality of the situation, it would be desirable and fair for the Kelly report to be published this week, rather than delayed until Wednesday of next week. In that way, we would not get more speculation-it keeps coming out gradually, in leaks, and no doubt that will be added to in this weekend's press if the report is not published now.

Mr. Speaker: Order. In addition to the right hon. and learned Lady the Leader of the House and me, the hon. Members for Middlesbrough (Sir Stuart Bell), for Erewash (Liz Blackman) and for North Devon (Nick Harvey), and the right hon. Members for Islwyn (Mr. Touhig) and for North-West Hampshire (Sir George Young), are proposed for membership of this Committee. I am looking forward with eager anticipation to the comments of the hon. Member for Christchurch on the suitability or otherwise of those individuals to be members of the Committee.

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Mr. Chope: Perhaps I could start off with my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Hampshire. He has been a loyal servant of the House for many years. The work he did from the Back Benches as Chairman of the Standards and Privileges Committee was of immense value. It was authoritative and earned him great respect from all his colleagues.

My only concern about his name being on the Order Paper is that he is no longer a Back-Bench Member; he is a shadow Minister. I hope that he will soon be the real thing-a real Secretary of State or the real Leader of the House. Schedule 3 to the 2009 Act, which sets out the terms of the membership of your Committee for IPSA, Mr. Speaker, states, in paragraph 1(d) that there should be

It is possible to argue that, inherently, those people should not really be shadow Ministers of the Crown either. They should be proper Back Benchers, like my hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne.

Mr. David Lidington (Aylesbury) (Con): Surely my hon. Friend heard the comments of the Deputy Leader of the House. She said that our right hon. Friend the Member for Skipton and Ripon (Mr. Curry), who has now succeeded our right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir George Young) as Chairman of the Standard and Privileges Committee, will ex officio be a member of the Speaker's Committee, and therefore the voice of Back Benchers will indeed be strongly represented.

Mr. Chope: That may be incidental. I am sure that my hon. Friend is right that our right hon. Friend the Member for Skipton and Ripon (Mr. Curry) is a worthy champion of Back Benchers' interests, but he is taken account of under paragraph 1(c) of schedule 2 to the 2009 Act, along with you, Mr. Speaker, under paragraph 1(a), and the Leader of the House of Commons under paragraph 1(b).

My point is that in terms of the spirit of paragraph (d), when it refers to five Members of the House of Commons who are not Ministers of the Crown, my hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne is a Back Bencher who is youthful and energetic-and the other expressions that he used-whereas my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Hampshire would be bound to concede that he does not share those qualities, because he is inevitably tainted by being a shadow Minister, rather than a free spirit on the Back Benches, as he was for such a long time.

Peter Bottomley (Worthing, West) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is it in order to use the word "tainted" about someone who takes on a position of responsibility in a party in Parliament?

Mr. Speaker: I shall exercise my discretion and say that nothing disorderly has happened so far, but I am all agog.

Mr. Chope: My right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Hampshire and I go back many years, and I shall not explain to the House the way in which we have interacted in various posts. He knows that the
28 Oct 2009 : Column 407
comments that I make are not directed at his integrity, which is 100 per cent. absolute, but at the fact that inevitably, by becoming a shadow Minister, he has become separate and apart from those of us who are not on the Front Bench.

At the beginning, Mr. Speaker, you said that this is an important debate, and I am glad that we are having it now. It is very timely, for the reasons that I have already set out in relation to the need for clarification of the interaction between what Sir Christopher Kelly recommends and the work of the IPSA, especially the Speaker's Committee that we are appointing this evening.

I do not know whether my hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne has decided to put his name forward.

Mr. Walker: I have decided not to put my name forward, because I would not want to bump any of the excellent people on the Committee off it. In future, I would like to be considered for Committees of the House, because they are often far too establishment, and that is the point that my hon. Friend is making.

Mr. Chope: If this debate has achieved nothing else, it has enabled my hon. Friend to make a strong case for being the first natural choice for membership of Committees such as this. I hope that it will be with a certain amount of remorse that my Front-Bench colleagues will say that they are sorry that they did not think of my hon. Friend for membership of this Committee. If my hon. Friend is not willing to put his name forward, we have a choice between all the people on the Order Paper or none of them.

As the hon. Member for Walsall, North has said-I share his reservations-we face a difficult choice. Either we vote against the lot or we allow matters to proceed. In anticipation of what I hope will be the Minister's response, I confirm that I would not be minded to vote down this list of worthy nominees. However, I would wish to have some hard evidence from the Minister of the urgency of this and how it will lead into the early appointment of the members of the IPSA and an early start to their work, perhaps before the turn of the year, so that they can get to grips with the recommendations that Sir Christopher Kelly has made and about which I hope we will learn more by the end of the week.

7.54 pm

The Parliamentary Secretary, Office of the Leader of the House of Commons (Barbara Keeley): We have had some interesting bids. Let me turn first to the question of Committee membership, given that it seems to have been a preoccupation of much of this short debate. It was raised by the hon. Members for Macclesfield (Sir Nicholas Winterton) and for Castle Point (Bob Spink), my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) and the hon. Member for Broxbourne (Mr. Walker), who made a bid.

Stephen Pound (Ealing, North) (Lab): May I just say that, if nominated, I will not run, and if elected, I will not serve? That should be widely accepted by the House.

Barbara Keeley: I thank my hon. Friend for that point.

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