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Member of the panel of chairmen for Social Security Appeal Tribunals, Medical Appeal Tribunals and Disability Appeal Tribunals for Northern Ireland appointed under section 49(1)(c) of the Social Security Administration (Northern Ireland) Act 1992.
12. For the entry 'Adjudicator for the Inland Revenue, Customs and Excise and the Contributions Agency' there is substituted 'Adjudicator appointed by the Commissioners for Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs'.
14. In the entry 'Chairman of the Distinction and Meritorious Service Awards Committee for Northern Ireland', for 'Distinction and Meritorious Service Awards Committee for Northern Ireland' there is substituted 'Northern Ireland Clinical Excellence Awards Committee'.
15. For the entry 'Chairman, or member in receipt of remuneration, of the Big Lottery Fund' there is substituted 'Member of the Big Lottery Fund or of a committee established by the Fund under paragraph 7 of Schedule 4A to the National Lottery Act 1993'.
17. In the entry 'Chairman or any member, not also being an employee, of a Health Board constituted under the National Health Service (Scotland) Act 1978', after 'Health Board' there is inserted 'or a Special Health Board'.
18. In the entry beginning 'Chairman or non-executive member of a National Health Service trust', for the words from 'the National Health Service (Wales)' to the end substitute 'or the National Health Service (Wales) Act 2006'.
(b) which, within the meaning of that Act, is wholly owned by the Director of Passenger Rail Franchising, being a director nominated or appointed by a Minister of the Crown, the Director of Passenger Rail Franchising or any other person acting on behalf of the Crown.',
27. For the entry 'Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Schools in Wales' there is substituted 'Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Education and Training in Wales or Prif Arolygydd Ei Mawrhydi dros Addysg a Hyfforddiant yng Nghymru'.
The motion tabled in my name and that of the Minister for the Cabinet Office and for the Olympics, and Paymaster General, my right hon. Friend the Member for Dulwich and West Norwood (Tessa Jowell) relates to proposed amendments to schedule 1 to the House of Commons Disqualification Act 1975. Certain office holders have been disqualified from becoming Members of Parliament since the early 17th century. However, details of those disqualifications were contained in a number of different Acts. There were also concerns during the 1940s about special wartime appointments of Members of Parliament, and so a Select Committee was created to consider the issue of disqualification. However, it was not until 1955 that a Bill was brought before the House to list in one place all the office holders who were disqualified. The Bill was enacted in 1957. The disqualification Act was re-enacted in 1975 and it is the Act to which I refer today.
The House of Commons Disqualification Act disqualifies members of the civil service, the police and armed forces and Members of foreign legislatures from becoming Members of Parliament. Schedule 1 lists those offices whose holders are also disqualified from membership of the House. The motion seeks the approval of the House to various amendments proposed to the list of offices in schedule 1 that disqualify the holder from membership of this House. If the House resolves that the amendment should be made, the procedure under the Act is for an Order in Council to be made to implement the resolution under powers contained in section 5(1) of the Act. That procedure has been followed on a number of occasions since the House of Commons Disqualification Act 1957 received Royal Assent-the first in 1961 and the last in February 1997.
It is common practice for legislation that establishes new offices or that winds up existing ones to amend schedule 1 accordingly. That is often done during the passage of a Bill-for example, the Parliamentary Standards Act 2009-and is occasionally done in ordinary secondary legislation. There have also been Orders in Council that make amendments to the lists of disqualifying offices using the procedure under section 5 of the Act to bring schedule 1 up to date. Some of the amendments made under section 5 will relate to the consequences of legislation, but others are needed to reflect changes to non-statutory bodies and offices or to clarify the text of schedule 1. Because schedule 1 is continually being amended, the 1975 Act is reprinted from time to time in accordance with the requirements of section 5(2) of the Act to incorporate such amendments. The last reprint was issued in March 1997, and it is expected that a further reprint will be produced if the House agrees to the amendments that are proposed today.
The amendments will do several things. Some will add offices that have been created by administrative action or by statute. Some will amend or correct existing entries, and others will remove offices that no longer exist or that are no longer thought to be appropriate for statutory disqualification. Hon. Members will appreciate the complexity of the motion before us. Indeed, this is the longest motion on which I have ever spoken. That is why copies of the explanatory note that describes the amendment entries in detail has been available in the Vote Office since 4 February.
Ministers and their individual Departments have been responsible for the detail of additional entries and deletions that cover offices within their areas of
responsibility. Judgments have been based on the same general principles and criteria that have been followed in the past, which are set out in the explanatory note. The only difference in criteria since 1997 is a proposal to change the de minimis level, which is the specified level below which paid offices in the gifts of the Crown or of Ministers do not normally attract disqualification. We propose that the level should rise from £8,000 to £10,000. Of course, the de minimis level has no effect on the level of remuneration that is received by office holders. Its purpose is merely to prevent disqualification at lower levels of payment.
Mr. Greg Knight (East Yorkshire) (Con): I quite understand why the Government wish to raise the de minimis threshold, but if they want to raise it again in the future, will the matter have to come before the House, or are there delegated powers for Ministers to increase the amount to keep in line with inflation, for example?
Barbara Keeley: That is a good point. I shall check that, but I believe that the amount is revised only when we follow the procedure that we are going through today, so I think that these things are considered in the round. Depending on what happens to inflation in the years to come, we might want to agree to consider it from time to time. I have just been looking for an entry that was revised in relation to this particular change. One of the revisions deletes the Football Licensing Authority because, in terms of the level of remuneration, only the chairman needs to be disqualified. With the new de minimis level, other office holders are paid less than that level. If the amendments are made, the chairman will continue to be disqualified, but other members of the authority will not, so that is one example.
Schedule 1 to the 1975 Act does not cover disqualification from the House of Commons due to mental health illnesses, but I am aware that that has quite frequently been the subject of debate in the House recently. The Mental Health Act 1983 provides, under section 141, that a Member's seat will become vacant if they are sectioned for longer than six months. The Government agree that there should be no distinction between mental and physical illness in that respect. We also agree with the recent recommendation from the Speaker's Conference that that disqualification should be repealed as soon as is practicable. This issue will therefore be discussed by a Select Committee of the House as soon as possible.
The 1975 Act basically clarifies who can stand for Parliament and who cannot. The proposed amendments are due mainly to the creation of new bodies and the renaming or merging of others, and to the scrapping of some offices and organisations. It is mainly a tidying-up exercise, but it is a considerable one and that is a
reflection on the massive growth in the quango culture that has grown up since 1997. Given that there is a £10,000 de minimis threshold for some posts, it is very revealing to see the huge number of office holders who earn more than that per year-in many cases, a whole lot more.
There are about 230 amendments to schedule 1 to the 1975 Act. Although they do not affect the existing disqualification from the Commons of members of the civil service, armed forces, police and judiciary, they extend that disqualification to some 2,100 new office holders. The 400 or so coroners are now included, and disqualification will also cover office holders in bodies such as the Care Council for Wales, the Accounts Commission for Scotland, and the NHS Pay Review Body.
At the same time, the motion excludes members of about 500 other organisations that have been replaced or wound up. They include the Citizen's Charter Advisory Panel, which was wound up in 1997, the Cable Authority, which was dissolved in 1998, and the United Kingdom Ecolabelling Board, which was wound up in 1999 and had its functions taken over by the Food Standards Agency.
It is fair to say that this legislation is long overdue, as is clear from the dates that I have mentioned. Given that some of the posts have been out of date for a number of years, thought should perhaps have been given to updating the list a little earlier.
Incidentally, the House will be aware of the Conservative pledge to get rid of a large number of quangos if we are successful at the next general election. In that event, I can assure the House that there will be a rapid revision of this particular legislation to take account of the far fewer quangos that will exist after the election.
It is also noteworthy that some of the additions to the list of excluded people are a consequence of the failure of previous legislation to make it clear that certain posts were properly covered by the disqualification provisions. For example, the Commissioner for Older People in Wales has been added to the list because an order under the Commissioner for Older People (Wales) Act 2006 was judged to be "ineffective". In like manner, the chairmen or other non-executive directors of NHS foundation trusts are being added to the list because an order relating to the Health and Social Care (Community Health and Standards) Act 2003 was thought to be "legally ineffective".
Of course it is good that these failings have been identified and are now being put right, but the House will note that they are a reflection on a Government who sought to bring in massive and huge amounts of legislation, rather than concentrating on the quality of that legislation. That being said, we on this side of the House support the motion.
Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD): I also have no problem supporting the motion. It is a sensible bit of housekeeping that we have to do every now and again to bring schedule 1 of the 1975 Act up to date.
It is unfortunate that the schedule is out of date almost before it is printed. I had some informal discussions with the Minister only a few days ago about the position of members of the board of the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority. They are in fact disqualified by statute, but they will not be on this list because we have not yet concluded the relevant legislation. The moment that that particular enactment receives Royal Assent, the schedule in its consolidated form will be out of date and we will have to make a new amendment to it.
In this world of IT, can we not find a better process of maintaining an up-to-date register of all those who are disqualified by enactment, instead of the list periodically coming back to the House and being reprinted on vellum?
Mr. Vara: I believe that the legislation concerning IPSA specifically exempts members of IPSA, so there will not be a need to update the schedule in that respect. Furthermore, as I mentioned in my speech, one of the reasons that some people are added to the list is that the legislation that allows for them to be disqualified is judged to be ineffective because of its wording, rather than for any other reason. It is not always necessary for the schedule to be amended.
Mr. Heath: The schedule represents the consolidation of the list, which includes those who have been exempted in statute. Updating it is a necessary process, but there must be a better way of doing it.
The hon. Gentleman is right to point out the huge number of quangos that exist. I take with a pinch of salt his assertion that any future Conservative Government would massively reduce the number of quangos. We remember previous Conservative Governments, who did not do it, and we remember when the Labour Government came to power in 1997 promising the bonfire of the quangos, but they did not do it, either. The public have good reason for taking with a pinch of salt any assertion that such a programme would be carried through by any future Administration.
We all take the view that there are far too many people who are members of such bodies and carry out strategic and executive functions with no accountability to the local electorate. I would be much happier if there were a democratisation rather than the abolition of many of the organisations listed in the schedule.
I want to raise one small issue with the Minister, although I do not expect her to know the answer. While perusing the 1975 Act, I noted that it is regularly reprinted, so we are not talking about an out-of-date version. Clause 1, as she mentioned, refers to disqualification on the basis of being a member of the regular armed forces. I note that there is still a reference to the Ulster Defence Regiment. That would have been a live consideration in 1975.
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