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Mr. Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con): I shall speak briefly in support of the two amendments tabled in my name and that of many other right hon. and hon. Members. I am grateful for the support indicated by the Wright Committee in its guide to amendments and votes. I am also grateful to my right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire (Mr. Knight), the Chairman of the Procedure Committee, for agreeing that it is logical that the Committee should be included within the chairmanships that will be subject to a ballot and proper election. The argument against has been based on the fact that the Committee is sui generis and in that respect different from other departmental Select Committees. So it is, but what about the Public Accounts Committee? If we are to elect the chairman of the PAC, why not the Chairman of the Procedure Committee? I hope people will support the amendment.
Amendment (o) is born out of my experience when I was first elected to the House in 1983, when we waited about six months to set up the Select Committees and it was extremely frustrating for all. I looked with care at the Leader of the House's wording for the proposed change to Standing Orders and it seemed to me that there was a lacuna. She has said that if within one week of the Queen's Speech the Committee is set up as a result of an agreement between the leaders of the parties to nominate the Chairs, such and such will happen. But what if it is not done within one week? We will then be wholly beholden to the Executive to decide when they will bring forward proposals.
The amendment would give one more week's grace-until two weeks after the Queen's Speech. If by that time the usual channels have not come forward with an agreed
process, it would be open to any Member of the House to move a motion to decide the issue. It would be the duty of the Speaker to accept the motion and to put it down for debate on the following day. That would ensure that we got the Select Committees set up early in a new Parliament, and we would not find ourselves being frustrated Back Benchers, wondering when the Executive would be kind and generous enough to give us the chance to set up these important Select Committees.
Martin Salter (Reading, West) (Lab): I made my maiden speech in this House on the subject of parliamentary reform and the overbearing power of the Whips. I was told by my Whip a day later that my career was over, and he was, of course, entirely right.
I want to touch briefly upon stuff from the Procedure Committee. Let us be honest, Mr. Speaker: you are the only holder of the speakership who has been elected by secret ballot, so it is not true to suggest that the Speaker of this House is not elected by secret ballot. What there is an open ballot on, however, is the mechanism to deselect the Speaker. That can be done by a single Member calling, "Object", as one of the first items of business when the new Parliament reassembles. If Members wish to deselect the Speaker, they should have the courage to go through that Division Lobby and put their name on the record. That is the kernel of that debate, and I am glad we will not be wasting any more time on it.
Members who support parliamentary reform should be deeply suspicious of any collusion, even in a free vote, between those on the two Front Benches, and we have such collusion today in that the Leader of the House, for whom I have great respect, will be supporting amendment (b) to motion 7, which was tabled by the shadow Leader of the House, for whom I also have great respect. Therefore, the Leader of the House will be supporting an Opposition amendment to her own motion, which will ensure that the amendment tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock Chase (Dr. Wright), who is Chair of the Reform of the House of Commons Committee, will fall. As has been amply explained by the hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Dr. Harris) and my hon. Friend who chairs the Committee-of which I am proud to be a member-we will have a flimsier Back-Bench committee as a result.
I do not believe that my constituents, or those of any other Member, are focused on the fine detail of this debate, but I think they know that this of all Parliaments has to demonstrate a capacity to reform. It has to demonstrate a capacity to get the reform agenda back on track-an agenda that, to be frank, stalled when this House tragically lost the services of Robin Cook. That is important not just for the reputation of this House and our politics, but for our ability to legislate effectively,
because we all know that good laws require good scrutiny, and good scrutiny needs a House of Commons that is amply able to hold the Executive to account and to pass legislation of which we can be proud, rather than, as at the moment, legislation we have to revisit, sometimes annually.
Mr. Andrew Tyrie (Chichester) (Con): First, may I express regret that we have not been given an opportunity to vote on all the recommendations of the Wright Committee today? May I highlight an amendment that is in my name and that of a number of other Members, which would enable the chairmanship of the Intelligence and Security Committee to be voted on by secret ballot while giving the Prime Minister a veto at the nomination stage? That modest reform would have improved the credibility of the ISC's scrutiny and work, and public confidence in it. That is particularly apposite in view of the Committee's apparent failure to be able to scrutinise adequately the Binyam Mohamed case.
I wish to make two other extremely brief points. After some considerable thought I am going to support amendment (b) to motion 7. I realise that that will disappoint some in the House -[Interruption.] I can tell that this is so from a few nodding heads. I still feel that we should proceed cautiously on the creation of the business committee. I am a supporter of it-I have supported it for a long time and have said so-but I take the view that, as a number of others have said this afternoon, it is an experiment. I do not think it an experiment that we should not even try-that appeared to be the view of the former Leader of the House, the right hon. Member for Derby, South (Margaret Beckett). If the experiment works, as I suspect it will, we will then be able to take the reform further.
I shall end my contribution by saying that by far the most important reform looks as if it will go through, and I very much hope it will. I am talking about the proposal for the election of Chairmen of Select Committees by secret ballot. That will be by far the most important single change to the scrutiny of the Executive by this place to have occurred since the St. John-Stevas reforms in 1979. Over time, the proposal has the capacity to transform the effectiveness of this place. I have supported and campaigned for this measure for more than a decade, so I am pleased that the Wright Committee has proposed it. The proposal will enable us, finally, to scrutinise the Executive, with spokesmen for this place able to take on the Executive in the media outside and to act as spokesmen for us here in Parliament.
Natascha Engel (North-East Derbyshire) (Lab): Do I have one minute left in which to speak, Mr. Speaker? I shall try to squeeze into it the many things I want to say about these so-called "reforms". I spoke in last week's debate in order to say that I do not think they are reforms, and that we are missing a massive opportunity to make some serious reforms in this House. The consensus that has emerged, that the proposals before the House are reforms, is a dangerous one. The Front-Bench teams of both sides and the minority parties-
(1) That this House approves recommendation 3 of the First Report of the Select Committee on Reform of the House of Commons, Session 2008-09, HC 1117; and
(2) That accordingly, in each place where they occur in any Standing Order related to Public Business, Order or Resolution of the House, except as provided in paragraphs (3) and (4) below:
(a) for "chairman" there shall be substituted "chair";
(b) for "chairmen" there shall be substituted "chairs"; and
(c) for "Chairmen's Panel" there shall be substituted "Panel of Chairs";
(3) That the following changes to Standing Orders be made:
(a) In Standing Order No. 9 (Sittings of the House)-
(i) in line 25, leave out "chairman" and insert "occupant of the chair",
(ii) in line 32, leave out "chairman" and insert "occupant of the chair", and
(iii) in line 37, leave out "chairman" and insert "occupant of the chair";
(b) In Standing Order No. 11 (Friday sittings), in line 29, leave out "chairman" and insert
"occupant of the chair"; and
(c) In Standing Order No. 35 (Dilatory motion in abuse of the rules of the House), line 10, leave out "chairman" and insert "occupant of the chair";
(4) That this order shall not apply to the titles of Chairman of Ways and Means, Deputy Chairman
or Chairmen or the Lord Chairman of Committees where they occur in any Standing Order, Order or Resolution of the House.
That the following Standing Order be made, with effect from the beginning of the next Parliament-
(1) The chairs of the following select committees shall be elected by the House in accordance with paragraphs (2) to (13) below:
(a) select committees appointed under Standing Order No. 152 (select committees related to government departments);
(b) the Environmental Audit Committee;
(c) the Select Committee on Public Administration; and
(d) the Committee of Public Accounts.
(2) The day following his election at the start of a new Parliament, the Speaker shall communicate to the leaders of each party represented in the House the proportion of chairs of select committees to be elected under this Order falling to each such party which would reflect the composition of the House.
(3) If, within a week of the Queen's speech, a motion in the name of the leaders of all the parties entitled to one or more chairs of select committees subject to election under this Order specifying to which party each such chair is allocated is moved, the questions necessary to dispose of proceedings on the motion shall be put not later than one hour after their commencement, proceedings on the motion shall be exempted business and Standing Order No. 41A (Deferred divisions) shall not apply.
(4) If a motion to which paragraph (3) above applies also makes changes to Standing Order No. 152 (Select committees related to government departments) which are consequential on changes to the machinery of government, then the questions necessary to dispose of proceedings on the motion shall be put not later than one and a half hours after their commencement; proceedings on the motion shall be exempted business; and Standing Order No. 41A (Deferred divisions) shall not apply.
(5) If the House has agreed a motion allocating chairs to parties the election of the chairs shall take place in accordance with the remaining provisions of this order.
(6) The ballots shall take place fourteen days after the approval of the motion allocating chairs to parties.
(7) (a) Nominations of candidates shall be in writing and shall be received by the Clerk of the House by 5.00 pm on the day before the ballot.
(b) Each nomination shall consist of a signed statement made by the candidate declaring his willingness to stand for election, accompanied by the signatures of fifteen Members elected to the House as members of the same party as the candidate or ten per cent. of the Members elected to the House as members of that party, whichever is the lower.
(c) Statements may be accompanied by signatures of up to five Members elected to the House as members of any party other than that to which the candidate belongs, or members of no party.
(d) No Member may sign the statement of more than one candidate for chair of the same select committee.
(e) No Member may be a candidate for the chair of a select committee which has not been allocated to his party under paragraph (3) of this order or otherwise, or for which he is ineligible under Standing Order No. 122A (Term limits for chairmen of select committees).
(f) No Member may be a candidate for more than one chair elected under this order.
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