Mr Ian Davidson (Glasgow South West) (Lab/Co-op): May I ask the Minister about pensions and benefits? Will he confirm that, under the Smith commission’s

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proposals, although the pensions system is being reserved, which will provide a floor level for pensioner income in Scotland, things like the winter fuel payment are being devolved, which will effectively allow the Scottish Parliament to double pensioner incomes in Scotland, if it is willing to pay for it? Similarly, will he confirm that the Scottish Parliament will be able to increase every welfare benefit in Scotland through the use of discretion, should it wish to do so, because some benefits are being devolved entirely and those that are not being devolved will have a floor level set by the United Kingdom, meaning that it will be entirely up to the Scottish Government whether they wish to make the money available to double, treble or quadruple any of those benefit levels?

David Mundell: I agree with the hon. Gentleman. If he refers to pages 50 and 49 of the Command Paper, he will find a good summary of the benefits for which full responsibility will be devolved to the Scottish Parliament, and of the measures related to universal credit. Although universal credit will remain reserved, as was agreed by all five parties to the Smith commission, the housing element will be subject to Scottish Government engagement.

The hon. Gentleman is right that with their new powers, the Scottish Government will now have a responsibility and will need to explain whatever decisions they take to the people of Scotland.

John Thurso (Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross) (LD): May I, too, commend the Government for publishing the clauses and making this statement? The Smith commission recommendations, if properly enacted, are a blueprint for home rule delivered, and the clauses will ensure that. However, the devil is always in the detail, and it will require good will to work through the process in the coming months and ensure that the recommendations are properly enacted. What will the Government do to ensure that there is good will from all parties in the process, so that we do not have a jam further down the line, which the Scottish people would never forgive?

David Mundell: I assure my right hon. Friend that I am personally committed to that good will, and the recent meetings that I have held with Alex Neil to discuss welfare matters, for example, have been extremely constructive. The Prime Minister is meeting the First Minister today, which I am sure will also be a constructive dialogue, and the Secretary of State is in almost constant dialogue with the Deputy First Minister, who has responsibility for constitutional matters. Scottish Government and UK Government officials also work extremely well together. I give my right hon. Friend the undertaking that we are committed to delivering not just the letter of the Smith commission proposals but the spirit of them.

Gregg McClymont (Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East) (Lab): The extensive income tax powers that are to be devolved to the Scottish Parliament will give Scotland the opportunity to make different decisions on taxation. The Scottish Labour party is committed to restoring the 50p rate of income tax for those earning more than £150,000 a year. Will the Minister join the Scottish Labour party in supporting that policy, putting some clear blue water between the Conservative party and the SNP, which refuses to support the restoration of the 50p rate?

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David Mundell: I thought the hon. Gentleman was asking me to join the Scottish Labour party, which I understand I can do for just £1 at the moment. Although I do not seek to endorse any particular policy of the Scottish Labour party, I welcome a debate on these issues in Scotland. We need a debate on the use of the powers and the difference they can make in Scotland, not simply a debate on the powers themselves.

Mr Alan Reid (Argyll and Bute) (LD): I congratulate the Government on delivering this significant package of powers ahead of schedule, which will bring about a powerful Scottish Parliament. Will the Minister confirm that the Government have completely rejected the submission that the SNP made to the Smith commission to replace the Barnett formula with disappearing oil revenues? It was revealed at a Scottish Affairs Committee hearing that if the black hole were made up purely out of income tax, it would mean a staggering 14p in the pound increase in Scottish income tax rates.

David Mundell: The Scottish Affairs Committee is to be commended for its work on the impact that the falling oil price would have on the figures given in the Scottish Government’s White Paper. My hon. Friend is quite right to highlight that black hole.

The position on the Barnett formula is quite clear: the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition and the leader of the Liberal Democrats have made it absolutely clear that the Barnett formula will continue.

Mr John Denham (Southampton, Itchen) (Lab): As a result of this statement it is much clearer what the governance of Scotland will be; it is much less clear what the governance of England will be, and which decisions will be retained at UK level. The paper produced by the Leader of the House before Christmas was inadequate and inconclusive. Is it time for a clear statement that considers all aspects of the governance of England, where power should lie, and how decisions should be taken?

David Mundell: It is to be welcomed that the referendum in Scotland and the Smith commission have brought about debate in England about governance within England, and that discussion is clearly ongoing. I do not accept the right hon. Gentleman’s comments about the Command Paper produced by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, as that is a significant part of the debate.

Dame Anne Begg (Aberdeen South) (Lab): If 50% of the money spent by the Scottish Parliament will be funded by the Scottish Parliament, is it about time that an independent body, like the Office for Budget Responsibility, is set up in Scotland to ensure that spending is scrutinised properly? Is the Minister aware of whether the Scottish Government plan to publish a timetable of when the powers that they currently hold, or will receive, will be further devolved to local level?

David Mundell: The hon. Lady makes a good point, and I am sure that our counterparts will want to raise that issue in the Scottish Parliament to ensure that the Scottish Government set out a timetable for devolution. Of course a strong body—an equivalent to the Office

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for Budget Responsibility—is required, and I am sure that that will be discussed as we go forward with the fiscal framework.

Mr Tom Clarke (Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill) (Lab): Does the Minister accept that nothing in this decent and honourable document diminishes the standing of local government, given that local authorities deliver more, day by day, to ordinary people than the Scottish Parliament or even this House?

David Mundell: I absolutely agree, and I was appalled by the comments of Joan McAlpine MSP in relation to denigrating local government in Scotland. Local government in Scotland currently does an excellent job under very difficult circumstances. We need devolution within Scotland, not the ever-centralising nature of the current Government.

Mr Mike Weir (Angus) (SNP): The Minister claims a substantial transfer of powers, but is it the case that many new powers, for example those regarding benefits or fuel poverty, remain subject to a veto by UK Ministers?

David Mundell: That is the hon. Gentleman’s almost inevitable interpretation. The position on consultation and working together is that the Department for Work and Pensions will continue to administer benefits and therefore clearly needs to work with the Scottish Government on that. The Scottish Government will have the capacity to take forward arrangements as they choose. [Interruption.] Perhaps we are already getting a flavour of what we will see continuing in Scottish politics—when the SNP does not deliver the promises on welfare that it makes to the people of Scotland, it will be somebody else’s fault.

Pamela Nash (Airdrie and Shotts) (Lab): I remain concerned about some of the responses that the Minister has given to my hon. Friends, regarding MPs who represent Scottish constituencies voting with their colleagues across the UK on the Budget, including income tax. He said that there was a commitment to honour the wording and spirit of the Smith commission. The Smith agreement is explicit that that power will be retained, and many believe that that is necessary in order for Scottish people to be represented equally in this place with people across the UK. Will the Minister confirm whether the Conservative party will stick to the commitment in the Smith agreement and support Scottish MPs voting on the Budget, including income tax?

David Mundell: The hon. Lady obviously did not hear my response to the former Chancellor, the right hon. Member for Edinburgh South West (Mr Darling). As my right hon. Friend the Chancellor indicated earlier this week, the Budget will be framed in a different way after powers have been transferred to Scotland. It is wholly appropriate to hold a discussion and debate on matters that apply solely to England, or to England and Wales, about who makes decisions in that regard.

Cathy Jamieson (Kilmarnock and Loudoun) (Lab/Co-op): I would like to press the Minister slightly further on the response he gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Airdrie and Shotts (Pamela Nash). At some stage the Budget has to be taken as a whole entity, because it

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has implications right across the UK. It was clearly the intent of the Smith Commission that all Scottish MPs would have a vote on that Budget. Will the Minister give a simple yes or no answer: will that now happen?

David Mundell: I made that very clear in my previous answers. What I welcome from both hon. Ladies is a willingness to engage in the debate on which MPs should vote on which matters. It is disappointing that the Opposition more widely have not been prepared to engage with the Command Paper and the debate instigated by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House. Let us have that debate on the governance of England and let us all make our contributions to it.

Mr William Bain (Glasgow North East) (Lab): Can the Minister confirm that, with the proposals before the House today, if the Scottish Parliament chooses to introduce discretionary payments, which would effectively top up even reserve benefits such as unemployment benefit or employment and support allowance, that will be a decision purely for the Scottish Parliament and that this Parliament does not have a veto? Does he agree that these powers would make the Scottish Parliament one of the most extensive welfare Parliaments anywhere in the world?

David Mundell: Yes.

Sandra Osborne (Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock) (Lab): I thought my ears were deceiving me when I heard the Minister say that there would be powers for gender quotas in public bodies in Scotland. That is excellent news, and something from which the rest of the UK would benefit. A popular measure is the devolution of air passenger duty, which is very important for Prestwick airport and has the potential to help it tremendously with the problems it has been having. Will the Government consider bringing that forward before the general election and giving those powers to Scotland now?

David Mundell: I certainly respect the hon. Lady’s championing of both gender issues and Prestwick airport. It is not practical, within the time scale of Parliament ahead of the general election, to introduce the necessary procedures to transfer air passenger duty. We are pressing ahead on a very, very tight time scale with the 16 and 17-year-old vote. I hope that as soon as we have a new Parliament, post general election, we will expedite all the measures in the clauses and have them in legislation as soon as possible.

Katy Clark (North Ayrshire and Arran) (Lab): Will the Minister confirm whether the clauses relating to rail mean that the Scottish Government will no longer be required to put rail services out to tender? Will he agree to meet me, and any other interested MP who wishes to see the railways in Scotland brought back into public ownership, to discuss whether that will be possible under the forthcoming legislation?

David Mundell: It will certainly be possible for the franchise in Scotland to be let to a public sector organisation.

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That was the basis of the agreement on the Smith commission to which the hon. Lady’s Labour colleagues signed up.

Fiona O'Donnell (East Lothian) (Lab): May I say to the House that we will not hear MPs from the Scottish Labour party bleating about the fact that the Smith agreement went beyond our original submission, because we know how to put country before party.

The proposals give powers to the Scottish Parliament to build a fairer Scotland, an issue that was at the heart of the referendum debate. I want to ask the Minister about a particular aspect of that agenda—access to work support grants. I wrote to the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions about that at the beginning of December. There is no certainty in Scotland on how the assessment takes places—there are inconsistencies. Is the Minister proposing that support grants should be part of the settlement?

David Mundell: I will certainly speak to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to look at the position of the correspondence he entered into with the hon. Lady.

Mark Lazarowicz (Edinburgh North and Leith) (Lab/Co-op): The Government are currently rolling out the personal independence payment benefit throughout the UK, but PIP benefits will, of course, be devolved to the Scottish Parliament under these proposals. Given that we all know that the PIP system is already causing chaos and misery to many of our constituents, do the Government propose that the PIP benefits should continue to be rolled out in Scotland when, in a year or so, the matter will be devolved to the Scottish Parliament, which might want to do something different?

David Mundell: I have two points in response. First, that issue will be discussed at the first meeting of the joint ministerial group. Secondly, whatever happens to the current PIP regime, as we move forward on benefits, we need to have a clear idea of what the Scottish Government are proposing. The transition will be affected by what we are transitioning to, so on the devolution of benefits, it is very important for the Scottish Government to come forward with their proposals. None of us wants to see a UK system being switched off without a Scottish system in place.

Sheila Gilmore (Edinburgh East) (Lab): Following on from that, one important thing that could be done over the next few months would be to get the involvement of many organisations—voluntary organisations, charities and so forth in the disability and carers sector, for example—in framing some of these ideas. Can the Minister tell me how these organisations are going to be involved right from the start, because I believe that they will have important insights into this work? They need to be convinced that this will give them—I believe it will—an ability to shape a much fairer welfare system.

David Mundell: The hon. Lady makes an excellent point. I have already discussed that with the Scottish Government, and it will form part of the agenda for the first meeting of the joint ministerial welfare group.

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Business of the House

12.2 pm

The First Secretary of State and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr William Hague): I should like to make a statement about next week’s business, which will be:

Monday 26 January—Remaining stages of the Infrastructure Bill [Lords].

Tuesday 27 January—Second Reading of the Corporation Tax (Northern Ireland) Bill, followed by debate on a motion relating to accommodation for young people in care. The subject for this debate was determined by the Backbench Business Committee.

Wednesday 28 January—Opposition day (15th allotted day). There will be a debate on an Opposition motion. Subject to be announced.

Thursday 29 January—Debate on a motion relating to the Iraq inquiry, followed by general debate on financial support available for restoration of opencast coal sites. The subjects for both debates were determined by the Backbench Business Committee.

Friday 30 January—The House will not be sitting.

The provisional business for the week commencing 2 February will include:

Monday 2 February—Second Reading of the Armed Forces (Service Complaints and Financial Assistance) Bill [Lords], followed by consideration of Lords amendments to the Social Action, Responsibility and Heroism Bill, followed by motion to approve the draft Scotland Act 1998 (Modification of Schedules 4 and 5 and Transfer of Functions to the Scottish Ministers etc.) Order 2015.

Ms Angela Eagle (Wallasey) (Lab): I thank the Leader of the House for his announcement of next week’s business. I thank him, too, for his announcement earlier that he has asked the Clerk to draft the necessary motion to allow the Bill proposed by my hon. Friend the Member for Eltham (Clive Efford),which repeals this Government’s catastrophic top-down reorganisation of the NHS, to proceed finally to Committee. Since this Parliament is rapidly running out of time, can he clarify when that is now likely to happen?

The Bill proposed by my hon. Friend the Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick) to ban wild animals in circuses is scheduled, yet again, to have its Second Reading debate at this time tomorrow, after Conservative Members have made every effort to talk it out. A ban has widespread support across the country, it was backed by the House in 2011 and no less a person than the Prime Minister promised to introduce it in this Parliament. Will the Leader of the House now allow the Prime Minister’s promise to be delivered by granting the Bill Government time?

On Monday we shall debate the remaining stages of the Infrastructure Bill. Last week I raised the last-minute tabling of 60 pages of badly drafted Government amendments relating to the electronic communications code and asked for more time to debate them, which the Leader of the House refused. Last night the farce continued as the Government dramatically withdrew all the amendments. Can the Leader of the House tell us

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what on earth is going on with this farrago of a Bill? Is this his definition of competence, or is it, once again, total chaos?

We welcomed yesterday’s top-line figures on jobs, but for millions of families up and down the country, there is a grim reality lurking beneath the headlines. More and more people are unable to obtain the hours they need at work in order to pay the bills. Real wages have fallen by record amounts, and 5 million people are being paid less than the living wage. That shortfall in wages is being made up by hundreds of millions of pounds of extra spending on tax credits. Will the Leader of the House accept that a low-wage economy is not just bad for hard-working people but bad for public finances, and will he arrange for an urgent debate, in Government time, on the low-wage economy that the Government parties have sustained?

As Mr Speaker noted yesterday, we shall be celebrating a number of important anniversaries this year, including, this week, the 750th anniversary of the de Montfort Parliament. Let me take this opportunity to thank the members of the Speakers’ Advisory Committee for the 2015 Anniversaries for all their hard work on Parliament in the Making. I particularly thank the House of Commons Chair of the Committee, the hon. Member for Mid Worcestershire (Sir Peter Luff), and—obviously—Mr Speaker himself.

Mr Speaker was right yesterday when he said that we must remember our history, but, when we look back at the de Montfort Parliament, it seems there are some lessons that the Conservatives have failed to learn even after 750 years. If you destabilise your leader with defections, and if you keep arguing with Europe, you will be in for a bloody end before the year is out. Simon de Montfort was a rebel leader who held the King hostage and governed in his place—no wonder he is an inspiration to the many Conservative MPs who have similar ambitions.

The Prime Minister has been brushing up on his history this week, in order to avoid a repeat of his failure, on prime-time US television. to know what “Magna Carta” actually means, but I am afraid that he bestowed an even worse embarrassment on the nation by insisting that the President calls him “bro”. Yesterday he failed a test on the radio to establish whether he was as cool as President Obama. I think we could all have told him what the outcome of that would be—it was fairly obvious before he began—but he did say that he enjoyed a Nando’s. That is hardly surprising; we all know that the Prime Minister is very partial to chicken.

Meanwhile, the Deputy Prime Minister proposed his own constitutional change this week. He has decided that he would like to scrap Prime Minister’s Questions. Apparently, they are just “not a good use of his time”, and he would rather be

“out of the Westminster bubble”.

The Deputy Prime Minister keeps fleeing Westminster, so I thought that I had better look at what he has been up to in his own constituency, and in doing so I came across a leaflet. Alongside the obligatory dodgy Liberal Democrat bar chart, this leaflet contains—strangely—two photographs of the leader of the Labour Party, and absolutely none of the local MP, who happens to be the Deputy Prime Minister. In fact, I cannot see any mention of him at all. Moreover—this is the oddest part yet—it claims that the leader of Labour Party

“wants you to vote Conservative”.

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It should be pretty obvious by now that the person who has been voting Conservative for five years is actually the Deputy Prime Minister.

Mr Hague: As usual, I thank the hon. Member for Wallasey (Ms Eagle) for her questions. She asked about several Bills. As I made clear earlier, during Question Time, we will table a motion to allow the appointment of members of a Committee to consider the private Member’s Bill introduced by the hon. Member for Eltham (Clive Efford). Of course, a Committee of Selection will need to meet in order to make those appointments, but the Committee will then be able to do its work.

On the Wild Animals in Circuses Bill, I certainly support that Bill and the Government do too, but it would be wrong for the Government to pick Bills out of the private Members’ Bill process and give them Government time. It would be an entirely different process if Governments did that, so the Bill will have to take its normal chances.

Last week the hon. Lady complained that amendments had been submitted on the communications code amendments, but now she is not happy that they are not going to be proceeded with. I think there is no pleasing her on this subject. Opposition Members asked me to provide additional time for the Infrastructure Bill so these amendments could be discussed, but it is a good job I did not provide the additional time because the Government do not now propose to add the amendments to the Bill. The Minister responsible in Committee, the Minister of State, Department for Transport, my right hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr Hayes), mentioned earlier that the Department had listened to some of the objections, so the Government need to consult further.

The hon. Lady mentioned the commemoration of anniversaries, which Mr Speaker informed us about yesterday. I was proud that one of the anniversaries he referred to was the 20th anniversary of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995, which I took through Parliament and which I regard as my main achievement in 26 years in Parliament—some may say it is my only achievement, but that is not how I see it. I am proud that that Act was mentioned and I join in thanking my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Worcestershire (Sir Peter Luff) and Mr Speaker for the work they have done on the commemorations this year.

The hon. Lady talked about the lesson of 750 years of history being not to destabilise the leader. It might be awkward for Labour Members to embark on that subject, although in their case it is not so much destabilising the leader as that the leader has not stabilised himself in the first place or at any point in his time in office as Leader of the Opposition. The issue is not that the Prime Minister insists that President Obama calls him “bro”; it is that that the word the US Administration use most for the Leader of the Opposition is “who?” The hon. Lady might like to reflect on that instead.

The hon. Lady asked about an interview the Prime Minister gave in the United States, but I have noticed that the Opposition have had a disastrous week in terms of giving interviews. When interviewed by Andrew Neil on Sunday, Labour’s deputy leader was unable to answer questions on where £30 billion of savings were to be found by the Labour party, and the shadow Business Secretary walked out of the Sky News studio when

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asked questions by the interviewer on subjects he had not been briefed on. I can only say that if we all walked out of interviews when we were asked about things we did not know about in advance, there would not be much politics on television. The hon. Gentleman really needs to get a bit less sensitive. Most of us did not know we were allowed to walk out and have spent several decades valiantly trying to answer the questions, but the shadow Business Secretary has an entirely different approach.

We cannot be lectured on competence by a party that has had those experiences this week and that has now dropped 21 policies since new year’s day. It is now the 22nd day of the month, so that is one policy per day. The Labour party has still been unable to explain about “weaponising” the national health service, and the former Labour mayor of Doncaster has said of the Leader of the Opposition, whom he knows well:

“He is ignorant of the real values of ordinary working-class voters and holds his nose at their lifestyle.”

Also, the Labour party has still had “Freeze that bill” on its website for most of this week, so Labour headquarters is apparently unaware that the nation has moved on—that energy prices are falling, and that a “Freeze that bill” policy is precisely what people do not want when their energy prices are being reduced. Once again, we will not be taking lessons on competence from the Opposition.

The hon. Lady quoted President Obama, so I will finish by quoting him too. Last week he said:

“I would note that Great Britain and the United States are two economies that are standing out at a time when a lot of other countries are having problems, so we must be doing something right.”

Mr Jack Straw (Blackburn) (Lab): The Iraq debate is scheduled for next Thursday. I welcome that debate as both Foreign Secretary at the time of the Iraq war and as a witness before the Chilcot inquiry. May I say that I share the deep frustrations felt in all parts of the House and across the country about the delays in the production of this report? I think we all acknowledge above all the anxieties and distress that the delays in publishing it are causing the families of those who lost their lives fighting for the United Kingdom in that theatre. Leaving aside for a moment the arguments about whether we could have appointed an inquiry earlier, which I do not think we could have done, will the right hon. Gentleman accept that, given that it was appointed in June 2009 and that the inquiry promised first that it would report by the end of 2010 and then by the end of 2011, there was a reasonable expectation from everyone that it would certainly have reported by the end of 2013? Will he confirm that witnesses, including former Prime Minister Tony Blair and me, had absolutely nothing whatever to do with declassification of sensitive material, and that, because the Maxwellisation process has only recently begun, witnesses have had nothing whatever to do with the delays that have taken place?

Mr Hague: The right hon. Gentleman and I would differ on whether the inquiry could have been established earlier, but, leaving that aside, as he says, the House will of course be able to debate this in detail a week today thanks to the choice of the Backbench Business Committee, and I think many of these points are best explored then. It is of course an independent inquiry, as the whole House acknowledges, so Ministers do not have much

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knowledge of the detailed reasons for the delays in its proceedings. I think I can say we all had a reasonable expectation that it would have reported by now, and while I cannot, given its independence, confirm some of the things the right hon. Gentleman has just said, I certainly have not seen any indication that the behaviour of witnesses like himself has been delaying the inquiry.

Sir George Young (North West Hampshire) (Con): Further to the welcome announcement in the Adjournment debate last night by my the Under-Secretary of State for Health, my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea (Jane Ellison), can my right hon. Friend say when the Government will lay the regulations so that we can make progress with the standardised packaging of tobacco products?

Mr Hague: My hon. Friend the Minister who is responsible for public health did make that announcement yesterday. I cannot say exactly when these regulations will be debated, but they will be laid in good time to be debated in both Houses before the general election. My hon. Friend is also talking to the devolved Administrations about consent for the measure to be UK-wide. Because of various EU processes, these regulations cannot be laid until after 2 March, so they will have to be dealt with in the final month of the Parliament.

Mr Jim Cunningham (Coventry South) (Lab): Will the Leader of the House have a word with the Communities Secretary about making a decision on the Gateway project in Coventry? We were promised a decision this month, but we have not had it. Will the Leader of the House stop the Communities Secretary travelling to China and other places, so that he stands up and takes a decision for a change?

Mr Hague: I shall certainly inform my right hon. Friend that the hon. Gentleman has raised this question, and he may be able to have a word with him himself because a week on Monday, on 2 February, there will be DCLG questions, when the hon. Gentleman may be able to catch the eye of the occupant of the Chair and raise this point.

Sir Oliver Heald (North East Hertfordshire) (Con): Will my right hon. Friend see whether there is an opportunity to debate radiotherapy so that I can make a plea on behalf of my constituents for a radiotherapy unit in the Lister hospital in Stevenage, rather than their having to travel miles to Northwood in Middlesex for their treatment? The Lister is getting lots of investment, but this extra item would be very good news indeed.

Mr Hague: My hon. and learned Friend has very successfully raised the matter on the Floor of the House by asking that question, and as always speaks up strongly for his constituents. There are regular opportunities to raise health matters on the Floor of the House, and I have no doubt he will continue to do so assiduously.

Ian Paisley (North Antrim) (DUP): Yesterday, the Leader of the Opposition made a speech at the Titanic Centre in Belfast. The Titanic is known for being a sinking ship. Given the flooding occurring in the Members’ Lobby, can the Leader of the House do anything to ensure that repairs are carried out soon?

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Mr Hague: Having been in the Chamber for a couple of hours now, I have not witnessed this flooding. Since the Leader of the Opposition is evidently an expert on sinking ships—in all sorts of ways—we could ask him to have a look at it. However, given that the former mayor of Doncaster has pointed out that the Leader of the Opposition is sometimes unable to close doors and burned through the carpet in his house, we will not ask him. We will make sure that the House authorities are dealing with the matter, and after business questions I will make inquiries about it.

Mrs Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham) (Con): This week’s welcome fall in the unemployment figures reminds all Government Members how successful the Chancellor’s long-term economic plan really is. That is no better evidenced than in Buckinghamshire, where more than 30,000 registered businesses contribute £14 billion to the economy, and new business start-ups are 30% above the national figure. Can the Leader of the House find time before Parliament dissolves before the general election to debate the unsung heroes—those organisations that often provide the link between public policy and businesses? One example is Buckinghamshire Business First, which has been particularly successful in creating a dynamic business environment and was recently officially invited by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills to be the first non-city growth hub in the UK, because of the trends developing in our successful businesses in Buckinghamshire.

Mr Hague: I join my right hon. Friend in congratulating Buckinghamshire Business First—and congratulate her on the rare event of her question being focused on something other than HS2. I thought I would mention that, since she did not do so herself, very unusually. Buckinghamshire is, like other parts of the country, sharing in the success of the Government’s long-term economic plan. We have this week seen unemployment in this country fall below 6% for the first time in six years, and three quarters of the new jobs created since the election are full time. Wages are rising faster than inflation, which is part of the answer to the points about pay raised by the shadow Leader of the House, so I absolutely agree with what my right hon. Friend has said.

Paul Flynn (Newport West) (Lab): As we have waited all these years to discover the truth about why this House sent 179 brave British soldiers to their deaths in pursuit of non-existent weapons of mass destruction, is it not a matter of urgency, to avoid future blunders, that we look now at why we took the decision to go into Helmand province in 2006, in the hope that not a shot would be fired? Four hundred and fifty-three deaths occurred. Should we not start that inquiry as soon as possible?

Mr Hague: That is really a question—about policy on a future inquiry—to direct to other members of the Government. The hon. Gentleman will know that we have instituted regular quarterly statements in Parliament on Afghanistan, which I often delivered in my time as Foreign Secretary, and which the Defence and International Development Secretaries have delivered. We have thus ensured that in this Parliament there has been greatly increased scrutiny of our policies on Afghanistan. Any decisions about inquiries on top of that have to be taken in the future.

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Mr Alan Reid (Argyll and Bute) (LD): Dairy farmers in Argyll and Bute produce a very high-quality product, but the falling price of milk is causing them and the entire British dairy industry serious problems. May we please have an urgent statement on what the Government can do to help this iconic British industry to survive? Extending the scope of the groceries code adjudicator to include dairy farmers is one action that could help.

Mr Hague: My hon. Friend raises what is a very important issue in many parts of the country. I agree with what the Prime Minister said yesterday: legislation should be introduced to enable the groceries code adjudicator to impose a financial penalty. The Government are also considering the GCA’s remit, which is subject to a statutory review in March next year. We do understand the concerns of British dairy farmers about the current pressures on milk prices. The only good news is that, of course, exports have risen and we are giving dairy farmers the opportunity to unite in producer organisations, which in the longer term could give them greater clout in the marketplace.

Yvonne Fovargue (Makerfield) (Lab): The Public Accounts Committee has stated today that more than 100,000 young people aged between 16 and 18 have simply disappeared from all relevant public systems and records. Can we have an urgent debate in Government time on how these young people can be tracked and helped, and how we can ensure that we do not continue to have an ever-growing invisible generation?

Mr Hague: This too is an important issue, and the hon. Lady might wish to make the case for a debate on it to the Backbench Business Committee. At the end of 2013, the last year for which we have figures, 89.6% of 16 and 17-year-olds were in education or work-based learning, including apprenticeships—an increase on the previous year and the highest rate since consistent records began in 1994. The Government plan to invest £7.2 billion this year to fund education and training places for 16 to 19-year-olds. So a huge amount is happening, but that does not mean the problem has been completely solved, and the hon. Lady may well wish to make the case for a debate.

Andrew Bridgen (North West Leicestershire) (Con): I draw the attention of the House to early-day motion 705, which stands in my name.

[That this House notes that the former Prime Minister Tony Blair remains, in part, a public servant, but considers that his conduct since leaving Downing Street is in breach of the code of ethics established in 1994 to regulate public life which he himself, whilst in Parliament, enforced so vigorously against others; calls for an urgent debate into the former Prime Minister's commercial and business activities, leading to legislation that mirrors controls over the executive that exists in countries such as the US; further notes that such legislation would control, restrict and regulate a former incumbent of No. 10 Downing Street in the interest of national security and protecting the reputation of the UK among the UK's friends and allies, by limiting his or her ability to work for foreign nations once out of office; and finally believes that it is an essential function of Parliament to do its utmost to safeguard and protect the integrity and reputation of the UK, including the conduct of the holder of the highest executive office in the land.]

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It calls for a debate on whether former Prime Ministers should be covered by the Nolan principles on standards in public life. As my right hon. Friend will be well aware, former Presidents of the United States are covered by a very strict code of conduct after they leave office, and introducing similar rules here would protect the reputation of the office of Prime Minister and of our country around the world.

Mr Hague: My hon. Friend has successfully drawn attention to his early-day motion. There are of course rules that apply in this country to former Prime Ministers and Ministers for two years after leaving office regarding the need to seek approval for business appointments. After that, we rely very much on the good judgment of those former Prime Ministers and Ministers. That is the current situation, and we should look to them all to exercise that good judgment.

Barry Gardiner (Brent North) (Lab): At the beginning of this Parliament, the Government signed up to 20 biodiversity targets. Most of those had to be completed by 2020, but three were due to be completed by 2015. One of the targets concerns coral reefs, and the right hon. Gentleman will know of the importance of the Pitcairn Islands in that regard from his days at the Foreign Office. May we have a statement on the Government’s policy on putting in place a marine protected area around the Pitcairn Islands to protect and restore those coral reefs?

Mr Hague: The hon. Gentleman raises a very important issue and I am certainly familiar from my work at the Foreign Office with the relevance to it of Pitcairn. Marine protected areas have been introduced in other seas around our overseas territories, including around the Chagos Islands; indeed, from memory, I introduced such an area around the South Sandwich Islands. So we have made a lot of progress on this issue, and it will be up to my hon. Friends at the Foreign Office to answer any questions on it or to make a statement, working with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. I will refer to them the hon. Gentleman’s question and request for an information update.

Pauline Latham (Mid Derbyshire) (Con): Four school crossings in Belper and Duffield, in my constituency, and 61 in the rest of Derbyshire, are to be axed. May we have a debate on how councils allocate their funding from central Government?

Mr Hague: This is a very important issue, because local residents look to councils to use their funding wisely and responsibly, according to local needs. There certainly will be opportunities to raise this issue further in the House. As I mentioned earlier, DCLG questions will take place a week on Monday, when my hon. Friend will no doubt wish to pursue this important matter for her constituents.

Steve McCabe (Birmingham, Selly Oak) (Lab): I understand that the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government is about to order Birmingham to undertake “all out” local government elections in 2017, without any consultation with the elected councillors or Members of Parliament or indeed with any of the people of Birmingham themselves. May we have a debate on this matter? If not, will the Secretary of State

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provide a statement on it next week? If he will do neither of those things, may we at least have a meeting between the Birmingham MPs and the Secretary of State to discuss the implications of what might prove to be a rather rash decision?

Mr Hague: I believe that this matter is still being discussed. As with other matters relating to DCLG that have been raised today, I will ensure that the Secretary of State is aware of the hon. Gentleman’s question. I reiterate that DCLG questions will be on 2 February—a week on Monday, which is not far away—when there will be an opportunity to raise the matter directly with Ministers.

Jacob Rees-Mogg (North East Somerset) (Con): In this year of anniversaries, may I draw to the Leader of the House’s attention the fact that today is the first anniversary of the European Scrutiny Committee’s request for a debate on European papers relating to the free movement of people? In the past couple of weeks, the Home Secretary, the Foreign Secretary and the Minister for Europe have all appeared before the Committee and told us that, although they have a particular love of parliamentary scrutiny, they cannot explain why the motion has not been brought forward. I wonder whether my right hon. Friend, as First Secretary of State and therefore senior in the hierarchy, might be able to bring this delay to an end, or are Her Majesty’s Government in fact celebrating this anniversary by a party enjoining upon itself the joys of evading parliamentary scrutiny?

Mr Hague: This was an anniversary that Mr Speaker unaccountably omitted to mention yesterday. My hon. Friend has an acute sense of the seniority within the Government, which I appreciate. As he well knows, the European Scrutiny Committee has submitted a number of requests for debates on the Floor of the House and in Committee, and we are working to ensure that some of those requests are dealt with. I have also agreed to come to the Committee to discuss these matters.

Kerry McCarthy (Bristol East) (Lab): Earlier this week, I tabled a question to the Prime Minister to ask about the work of his special representative on preventing sexual violence in conflict, particularly in relation to the changing situation in Sri Lanka. I have just had a letter from No. 10 telling me that my question has been transferred to the Foreign Office. I am not sure whether that means that the special representative, who is a truly admirable man, now reports to the Foreign Secretary. Will the Leader of the House advise me on what mechanisms are available to Members wishing to have a discussion with the special representative on his important work?

Mr Hague: Generally, such questions will be referred to the Foreign Office, because the officials who work on this are in the PSVI—preventing sexual violence in conflict initiative—unit, which is part of the Foreign Office, and one of the Foreign Office Ministers has responsibility for this matter. It is also possible, however, to table questions directly to me, as Leader of the House, including at oral questions to the Leader of the House. This has happened in the past, although as we

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had just such a question session a couple of hours ago, the opportunity will not arise again for another few weeks. There are certainly opportunities, however, and I am happy to answer such questions in the course of business questions as well.

Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): May we have a debate on the answering of parliamentary questions? I have here a handy 15-page internal guide from the Ministry of Justice entitled “Parliamentary questions guidance”. It gives a list of all the people that an answer must go through before it can be signed off. They include special advisers, the head of news, the deputy head of news, press officers and, as if that were not enough, “your designated press officer”. Surely a parliamentary question should simply be responded to with a factual answer. Why does it need to go through so many spin doctors? I have no idea how many of the other Departments run this kind of operation. May we have a debate on this, or a statement from the Ministry of Justice on why it goes through this rigmarole? It is no wonder that it gets so far behind in answering our questions. If the Leader of the House will not grant us such a debate, will he intervene to stop parliamentary answers being subjected to this kind of spin?

Mr Hague: The fact that the answers go through so many wise people before they get to my hon. Friend probably explains why they are so good. The important thing is that they should go quickly, in a timely way, through whomever they need to go through. By the end of my time as Foreign Secretary, the Foreign Office had a 100% record of answering questions on time. That simply requires all the officials who need to examine these things to do so speedily, and I encourage other Departments to do the same.

Huw Irranca-Davies (Ogmore) (Lab): We are now in the second major dairy crisis in three years, and the viability of small and medium-sized dairy farms is threatened. The call is going out loud and clear here and outside this place for the solution to include a review and reform of the powers and remit of the groceries code adjudicator. On 25 April 2013, Royal Assent was given to the Groceries Code Adjudicator Bill, under the terms of which a statutory instrument was to be laid to give the adjudicator the teeth to impose financial penalties. We are still waiting for that SI. Where is it? Will it be laid before Parliament dissolves?

Mr Hague: The hon. Gentleman raises an important issue about which, as we have noted, there are strong feelings across the House and among all parties. I have mentioned—as did the Prime Minister at Prime Minister’s questions—that we agree that the legislation to introduce financial penalties should be brought forward, so I will keep the House up to date on that. Urgent work is going on in that regard. I also mentioned earlier that the Government were considering the remit of the groceries code adjudicator, so I hope that there will be further developments before the Dissolution of Parliament.

Stuart Andrew (Pudsey) (Con): My right hon. Friend will be fully aware of the campaign surrounding the children’s heart unit in Leeds. I welcome the new review and I am confident that the unit can meet the new standards, but the fact that disproportionate funding

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has been allocated to other regions in the past might need to be addressed in order to create a level playing field. Also, there is no mention of patient access in the standards, yet they formed an important part of the independent reconfiguration panel’s report. May we have a debate on these questions to ensure that they are properly addressed and that we get this absolutely right this time?

Mr Hague: I am well aware of the campaign. No decisions have yet been made about how the services will be provided, but I believe that NHS England’s consultation on new standards and service specifications ended on 8 December. I understand that NHS England is now reviewing all the responses that it received and considering what changes might be needed. It expects to begin commissioning services against the new specifications during 2015-16, with a view to their coming into effect in April 2016. We debate health matters regularly on the Floor of the House, and I am sure that my hon. Friend, who speaks up well for his constituents on these issues, will be able to pursue this matter further in those debates.

Andy Sawford (Corby) (Lab/Co-op): May we have a debate on the issuing of national insurance numbers? This is an important matter for young people; it is a sign of their coming of age and it is important for those who might want to start a part-time job, for example. Those 16-year-olds in my constituency whose parents have opted out of child benefit do not automatically receive a national insurance number, and have to jump over various bureaucratic hurdles with Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs in order to get one. Traditionally, the process was based on the child benefit list and provided national insurance numbers automatically.

Mr Hague: This sounds like an important issue that needs to be pursued. The most immediate opportunity to do that will be at questions to the Chancellor and Treasury Ministers next Tuesday, 27 January, in the House. The hon. Gentleman could also make a case for an Adjournment debate or a Back-Bench Business debate on the matter.

Jeremy Lefroy (Stafford) (Con): May we have a debate on the discrepancy between the time limits on tax refunds and refunds of overpaid benefits? The constituent who had to take early retirement from teaching, through no desire of her own, found that she had been overpaid incapacity benefit for a number of years, on all of which she paid income tax. She returned the overpaid benefits in full, but was only refunded the tax she paid for the statutory four years, and thereby lost several thousand pounds, which she could ill afford, to the Exchequer.

Mr Hague: It is right in principle that, where overpayments of benefits have occurred, it is the policy to recover them to prevent loss to the public purse. I am not able to comment immediately on that individual case, which does seem to be complicated by the issue that my hon. Friend raises. But I will ask my ministerial colleagues to write to him in response to the concerns that he has raised.

Mr John Leech (Manchester, Withington) (LD): Given that Responsible Gambling Trust research into fixed- odds betting terminals showed that four out of five

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gamblers staking the average £13 spin exhibited problem gambling characteristics, can we have a debate on the Floor of the House to discuss whether the Government’s proposals will have any impact whatever?

Mr Hague: Again, that is an important matter. There will be other Members concerned about that as well. I cannot offer a debate in Government time between now and the Dissolution of Parliament, but, as I have said to one or two other Members, my hon. Friend may wish to pursue the matter through an Adjournment debate or a Back-Bench business debate as well as having raised it here today.

Martin Vickers (Cleethorpes) (Con): Yesterday, the mayor of north-east Lincolnshire, who is also the council’s armed forces champion, and I met the veterans Minister to discuss the military covenant. The mayor and council take their responsibilities under the covenant particularly seriously. One unique thing they do is to allocate housing to veterans. Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on the military covenant and on how local authorities up and down the country deal with it?

Mr Hague: It would be good to have such a debate. I am not sure whether there will be time for it in the remainder of this Parliament, but it would allow us to reiterate that the covenant is a very important priority for this Government, and I know that it is strongly supported by my hon. Friend. We have committed £105 million over the past four years to support its aims. He is right that councils have an important role to play in supporting the covenant. The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence, my hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe (Anna Soubry) has now written personally to every chief executive and every leader of every council to encourage all councils to rise to the standards of the best on this issue, and we strongly encourage them to do so.

Mark Pawsey (Rugby) (Con): May we have a debate on how communities can take advantage of major sporting events? The Leader of the House will be aware that the rugby world cup is being held this year. Does he agree that, with the support that Rugby borough council is providing, there is a great opportunity for my constituency to benefit as rugby enthusiasts from around the world will be attracted to the birthplace of the games and will spend their money in our shops, restaurants and hotels?

Mr Hague: It is a great birthplace. I am sure that the whole country will be delighted that the rugby world cup will return to us in September and October. My hon. Friend’s constituency, with its unique link to the tournament as the birthplace of the sport, will have an excellent opportunity to benefit, especially as it has been given host status. I know that my hon. Friend will continue to champion the town of Rugby where visitors to the world cup will be able to discover more about the place and where it all began way back in 1823 when William Webb Ellis picked up the ball and ran. The rugby world cup will have a huge positive impact on this country.

Mark Pritchard (The Wrekin) (Con): May we have a debate on equine welfare? Is the Leader of the House aware that the Royal Society for the Prevention of

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Cruelty to Animals is talking about a horse welfare crisis in England, with more than 900 horses being abandoned in 2014 and 3,000 being illegally grazed? Will the Government consider what the Welsh Assembly Government have done, which is to introduce better traceability and enforcement through the Control of Horses (Wales) Act 2014, or similar legislation?

Mr Hague: My hon. Friend raises an important question. Earlier, we discussed private Members’ Bills in this Session, so he will be aware that one very positive private Member’s Bill that is making progress and has recently completed its stages in this House before going on to the other place is the Control of Horses Bill. Other issues concerning equine policies can be raised next Thursday at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs questions at which my hon. Friend will also be able to pursue his question.

Bob Blackman (Harrow East) (Con): Harrow’s Labour-run council is currently consulting on closing four community libraries, including the Bob Lawrence library, which is a popular community hub. That library is attracting a great deal of attention and a strong campaign from local residents, which I have been assisting. More than 5,000 residents have already signed a petition opposing the closure. May we have a debate in Government time on the importance of libraries as community hubs and the importance of local authorities honouring their statutory duties to provide such facilities?

Mr Hague: My hon. Friend speaks up well for his constituents on this and all other issues. He is right that there is a statutory duty. Legally, local authorities have to provide a comprehensive and efficient library service. It is for them to decide how to do that. The decision by Harrow council on this is anticipated at the council cabinet meeting in February. I know that my hon. Friend will continue to speak strongly for the views of his constituents. I cannot offer a debate on local authorities on this subject, but he has made his point very well today.

Mr Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): I bring further good news from Kettering. The Leader of the House might be aware that, in May 2012, there were 2,042 unemployed claimants in Kettering. Yesterday, it was announced that that number has fallen to exactly 1,000. Given that many of my constituents were very alarmed by claims from Her Majesty’s Opposition that unemployment would climb by more than 1 million because of the policies of this Government, can we have a debate in Government time on unemployment in which the halving of unemployment in Kettering could be highlighted?

Mr Hague: My hon. Friend brings a steady stream of good news from Kettering as the weeks go by, and he is absolutely right to do so, because it represents the tremendous economic progress that is being made in this country. The previous Labour Government left nearly half a million more people without a job. The Leader of the Opposition predicted that our economic plan would lead to the disappearance of 1 million jobs. There are now more than 1.75 million more people in

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work than there were in May 2010, and I am pleased that Kettering is sharing to the full in the benefit of that.

Mr David Nuttall (Bury North) (Con): May I add my voice to that of my hon. Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr Hollobone) on the call for a debate on the continued fall in unemployment? Not only can we highlight the successes in Kettering, but it will give Government Members the opportunity to nail the myth that the new jobs being created are all part-time, low-paid and zero-hours contracts when the reality is that three out of four jobs are full-time and three out of four are in either the managerial or professional sectors.

Mr Hague: My hon. Friend makes an excellent point, and it is indeed the case that three quarters of new jobs created since the last general election are full-time. It is also the case that, as we saw in the figures released this week, wages are rising faster than inflation. These myths are steadily being punctured. My hon. Friends the Members for Bury North (Mr Nuttall) and for Kettering (Mr Hollobone) have asked about having a debate. We will of course be able to debate such things extensively when my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer presents his Budget on 18 March. That may be a very important time to debate these things.

Robert Jenrick (Newark) (Con): I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his campaign against sexual violence in conflict. I am sure that, like me, he will have been disturbed by the reports emerging from Iraq and Syria of sexual violence, sexual slavery and rape by ISIL and other groups operating in the region. Will he consider a debate in Government time, before the end of this Parliament, and give us his assurance that he and others will continue to campaign on this issue?

Mr Hague: I am grateful to my hon. Friend and would love to have a debate on these issues, although I cannot promise one at the moment. I strongly support what he says about ISIL’s appalling use of rape as a weapon of war and the summit we held last year was a major success, bringing together more than 120 countries and producing new plans to address sexual violence in Somalia, the Democratic Republic of Congo and throughout the African Union. We launched the first international protocol and that summit came in under budget at £5.2 million. That was money well spent and countries were brought here for a good reason, given the opportunity we have to try to prevent these appalling crimes.

Andrew Stephenson (Pendle) (Con): It is now almost five years since the brutal murder of three of my constituents, Mohammed Yousaf, Pervez Yousaf and Tania Yousaf, who were killed in Pakistan on 20 May 2010. I led a debate in this Chamber on the murders in October 2010 and have kept up pressure ever since, even getting the Prime Minister involved in the case in 2012, yet the family still do not have justice. May we have a debate on this horrific case and what further pressure we can bring to bear on the Pakistani authorities?

Mr Hague: These murders were a terrible tragedy and the thoughts of the House will be with the family whose grief over the past five years can only have been exacerbated

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by the fact that they have not had justice. I understand that a trial is going on following the arrest of two suspects who are now on bail while three other suspects have been declared as absconding. I will ensure through my hon. Friends at the Foreign Office that consular officials follow up with the family and that high commission staff in Islamabad again press the Pakistani authorities to ensure that progress is made as quickly as possible, making clear the strong interest of the British Government in this case.

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Point of Order

12.51 pm

Mrs Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham) (Con): On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I would be grateful for your advice about the business tomorrow. It is Friday business and until recently many colleagues were under the impression that the Second Reading of the HS2 Funding Referendum Bill, promoted by my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr Chope), was first on the list. I am surprised to see that the Report stage of the Local Government (Review of Decisions) Bill has now leapt ahead of it, and am concerned that we might not have the opportunity to debate the important Bill on the HS2 funding referendum. Can you advise me why the other business has now taken precedence?

Mr Speaker: The right hon. Lady raises a point of order of great concern to her and potentially to her constituents, but I am afraid, from her point of view, that the answer is straightforward. After the seventh Friday, Report stages take precedence over Second Readings of new Bills. The right hon. Lady might be disappointed by that, but what has happened is perfectly orderly. There has been—I know that she will be reassured by this—no machination. We shall leave it there.

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House of Commons Governance

12.53 pm

Mr Jack Straw (Blackburn) (Lab): I beg to move,

That this House welcomes the report of the House of Commons Governance Committee; notes the priority it has given to agreeing a package of proposals which can both significantly improve the governance of the House and be capable of attracting support from Members on all sides of the House, in a timely manner and well before the House is dissolved; agrees to the recommendations in Chapters 6 and 7, with the proviso that, without changing the party balance of the Commission as proposed in the report, the recommendations relating to the composition of the Commission be implemented so as to allow the Chairs of both the new Finance Committee and the Administration Committee to be elected to these positions rather than appointed to them by the Commission; and encourages the appropriate bodies in both Houses of Parliament to address the Committee’s remaining conclusions and recommendations.

The motion has been tabled in the name of the Leader of the House, the shadow Leader of the House, all members of the Select Committee on Governance and myself. I want to begin with some thanks, first to the House for appointing me Chair of the Committee, which turned out to be a happy and consuming task. Secondly, I express my deep thanks to all members of the Committee: the hon. and learned Member for North East Hertfordshire (Sir Oliver Heald), the hon. Members for Somerton and Frome (Mr Heath), for Hereford and South Herefordshire (Jesse Norman), for North Antrim (Ian Paisley) and for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg) and my hon. Friends the Members for St Helens North (Mr Watts) and for Walsall South (Valerie Vaz). Despite all the other calls on their time and the fact that we had to meet intensively on two or three days each week, attendance at the Committee was almost always complete. The House will wish to note that all members of the Committee are present in the Chamber today with the single exception of my hon. Friend the Member for St Helens North, who cannot be here for unavoidable family reasons and who has asked me to offer his apologies to the House.

My third set of thanks is to the staff of the Committee, who worked incredibly hard and provided sage and timely advice. For reasons that the House will readily appreciate, the staff of the Committee were drawn more widely than just from what was known as the Clerk’s Department. They came from other parts of the House Service, but worked brilliantly together. I put on record my thanks to Mark Hutton, Joanna Dodd, Paul Dillon-Robinson, Ed Potton, Charlotte Simmonds, Louise Glen, Dr Michael Everett, Liz Parratt and Nicholas Kroll, the former secretary of the BBC Trust, who acted as our special adviser.

My fourth set of thanks is to the Leader of the House and the shadow Leader of the House for the constructive and timely response to our report—I say this in advance of their speeches, so I reserve the right to withdraw that comment if they are not quite as we would hope. They have been extremely co-operative, and I thank them for that, as evidenced by the fact that their names are on the motion.

Fifthly, I thank all those who gave evidence to the Committee. In seven weeks of evidence taking, we heard from 59 witnesses in 13 sessions, including from 21 Members of the House and 16 staff. In addition to receiving 91 written submissions, many from staff, we

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held an afternoon of consultation with 60 members of staff of all grades and from all Departments of the House. We were always conscious of the keen interest that staff were understandably taking in our work and the anxiety that some of our deliberations gave in some cases. We are very grateful indeed to them.

The House is well aware of the provenance of the Committee, which arose from the pause in the appointment of a new Clerk and chief executive that you, Mr Speaker, announced in your statement on 1 September, the Backbench Business debate held on 10 September that was initiated by the hon. Members for Hereford and South Herefordshire and for Harwich and North Essex (Mr Jenkin), and the resolution of the House passed that day to establish the Committee. The appointment process for a new Clerk and chief executive has now been formally terminated by the Commission. I intend to say no more about it as the Committee’s purpose was not to conduct a post-mortem but to look forward.

Although there had in recent decades been three reviews of aspects of the governance of this House, known as the Ibbs, Braithwaite and Tebbit studies, ours was the first root-and-branch examination of the subject by Members themselves in more than 40 years, since the Bottomley Committee met in the mid-1970s.

A huge amount has changed in the intervening period. The establishment of departmental Select Committees in the 1979-80 Session, the exponential increase in Members’ constituency caseload, the decline in deference towards those running the country and the ever-rising public expectation and scrutiny of Members that comes with it, the astonishing growth in the number of visitors to the Palace of Westminster and the ubiquity of the internet—unknown and unimagined when I first came into this place not many years ago—have led to a multiplication of demands on Members that have in turn resulted in a major expansion of the Estate across Bridge street and a dramatic growth in the number of staff in the employment of the House and of individual Members.

What has not changed in the past 40 years is that the House of Commons is unique. As it is at the heart of our democracy, governed by 650 individual Members, each with strong opinions and none of them wilting violets, who are answerable to their constituents, simplistic analogies with corporations, whether they are in the public or private sector, rapidly break down. We are also conscious of the following paradox about this place: precisely because it works by the dialectic method, by intense argument, it is essential that there is broad consensus about how that argument should take place and about the ground rules, including on how this place should govern itself.

We began by exploring the principles of good governance that should apply to the House. We quickly concluded that the governance arrangements in the House of Commons Administration Act 1978, which followed the Bottomley review, were no longer fit for purpose. That view was heavily reinforced by the evidence we received.

We were appointed to deal with an immediate problem, which I shall come on to, but in the course of our deliberations we had to look to the longer term. The next Parliament will face some critical decisions on the restoration and renewal of the fabric of the Palace of Westminster. We were reminded of the imperative of

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restoring and renewing the fabric of the Palace of Westminster by the exchange just a few minutes ago in business questions over the fact that the roof to the Members’ Lobby is leaking yet again.

Hazel Blears (Salford and Eccles) (Lab): I add my thanks to my right hon. Friend and all the members of the Committee who have worked so hard on this report and its recommendations. My right hon. Friend may not be aware that in a particular initiative, led by Mr Speaker, it has now been agreed that we will include requirements to have social value and social impact in the procurement for both the House of Commons and the House of Lords, including the restoration. It is a huge step for this Parliament, and I would like the Committee to confirm that that element of our modernisation will be at the heart of the process.

Mr Straw: I am extremely grateful to my right hon. Friend. When she rose as I was speaking about leaks, I thought perhaps she had something to say about her work as a member of the Intelligence and Security Committee, but I was on the wrong track. Of course she is right about that, and I greatly welcome the initiative that you, Mr Speaker, have taken.

We have endeavoured to ensure that all our recommendations will assist in decision taking for the restoration and renewal programme that will take place in the next Parliament. Those decisions will have to be made on a bicameral basis: it is a single building for two Chambers. It is the essence of any properly functioning bicameral system that each Chamber should govern its own work, and it was no part of our remit or intent to usurp the autonomy of the other place. However, we took plenty of evidence from both ends of the Palace, including from the Lord Speaker, about how, co-operatively, there could be better joint working between the two Houses. Those proposals are highlighted in recommendations 1 and 2 of our report.

I turn now to the Commons itself and the current corporate arrangements for running this place, which are essentially with the House of Commons Commission, chaired by you, Mr Speaker, and, underneath that, the Management Board. The respective roles of the Commission and the Management Board were unclear not only to staff and Members—to many Members their roles were not only unclear but their existence was unknown—but even to some of those who sat on those bodies. The Committee’s recommendations for reform of the Commission and the replacement of the Management Board with an Executive Committee flow directly from the assessment that those two bodies are not working, either individually or together, as effectively as they should. Our aim has been to bring together Members and officials into a single coherent structure.

One key change proposed to the Commission is in respect of Back-Bench Members of the Commission. We recommend that the current three—one from each of the largest parties—should be replaced by four Members, by the addition of a fourth from the minority parties. At present, the Back-Bench Members, distinguished though they are, are effectively nominated by the Whips Offices. In future—[Interruption.] Mr Speaker, will you note the fact that the Opposition Whip has broken rule one of all Whips, which is to remain silent. [Interruption.] No, it was not a cough. I was about to say that the

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current Back-Bench Members are effectively nominated by the dark forces of the Whips, but I decided to be nice to them by leaving that out. I will now ensure that it goes back on the record. In future, to avoid these dark forces of the Whips Office, we recommended that each of the four should be elected by the whole House. We also added that they should be remunerated on the same basis as Chairs of Committees.

We looked carefully at the work of the Finance and Services Committee and of the Administration Committee. Each has been very ably chaired by the right hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (John Thurso), who is in his place, and by the right hon. Member for Saffron Walden (Sir Alan Haselhurst). The former happens to have been also a member of the Commission, while the latter has not. We thought that that was unsatisfactory, and that the Chairs of both those Committees should, ex officio, be members of the Commission.

Mark Tami (Alyn and Deeside) (Lab): As a member of the Administration Committee and also a Whip—I declare my role as a dark force—I think that that is a very important point. Without that direct link, the Administration Committee is undermined. It is important that the Chair of that Committee is on the Commission.

Mr Straw: I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I should also say that my general remarks about Whips exclude him, as a pairing Whip, because I have to ingratiate myself with him on a regular basis.

Mr Speaker: It is important that our proceedings are always intelligible to those beyond the Chamber who are listening. Therefore, I know that the right hon. Gentleman will want it to be made clear that the significance of the pairing Whip in this context is that the pairing Whip gives him permission to go away when he wishes to do so.

Mr Straw: But not very often.

The House will note that the recommendation of our report was that the Chairs of both those Committees should be chosen by the Commission itself from the four Back-Bench Members who, in turn, would be elected by the House. However, the motion before the House today proposes a variation to that recommendation, stating that

“without changing the party balance of the Commission as proposed in the report, the recommendations relating to the composition of the Commission be implemented so as to allow the Chairs of both the new Finance Committee and the Administration Committee to be elected to these positions rather than appointed to them by the Commission.”

That change in our recommendation was made after taking account of the views of both the Leader and the shadow Leader of the House. My Committee met informally after it had reported to consider this proposal, and we accepted it, as is clear from the fact that we have signed the motion effectively amending our report.

While the motion does not explicitly say so, it is implicit that these Chairs should be elected by the whole House, whatever prior agreements may have been made about from which party group they should come. I also hope that the Whips on both sides will ensure that these elections are held promptly in the new Parliament.

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They should not be put at the back of the queue, after departmental Select Committee Chairs, otherwise much time—perhaps three months—will be lost in getting the new governance proposals bedded down.

Mr Peter Hain (Neath) (Lab): May I add my congratulations to my right hon. Friend personally and to all of the Committee, especially as this was a unanimous report? There were differences among Committee members, as I saw when giving evidence. On the question of speed, is that not true of all the recommendations? No doubt he will come on to that in respect of the director general.

Mr Straw: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for his intervention and for his evidence. We did come to the issue from different perspectives, but the fact that this is a unanimous report does not reflect any sense of it coming from a search of the lowest common denominators—rather, the highest common factors. I will come on to the issue of implementation in a moment.

A second reform that we propose to the Commission concerns non-executive members. At the moment, there are external, non-executive members, who have great outside professional experience, who sit on the Management Board, but not on the Commission. We thought that this was a rather eccentric arrangement not consistent with the principles of governance outside, and that it ought to be the other way round. We therefore proposed that two non-executives should sit on the Commission and, in addition, so too would the two senior officials of the House, a matter I shall come on to in a moment.

As I have indicated, the evidence we received showed clearly that the relationship between the Commission and the Management Board was opaque. So alongside the strengthened Commission, the Management Board will be replaced by a streamlined executive committee.

The potentially trickiest issue for us to deal with was the senior leadership of the House service. As the House is well aware, not least from the debate that we had on 10 September and from the evidence that we received, there is a wide range of opinion on this issue. Some favoured the status quo, some wanted a chief executive above the Clerk, some wanted a chief operating officer under the Clerk, and some thought the two functions should be separated entirely, with a Clerk and a chief executive of equal status. We thought hard about this. There are, as we all recognised, advantages and disadvantages to each proposal. In the end the Committee responded to what it heard from staff and from many others by endorsing the objective of a single unified House service.

This was significant because the House service is often portrayed as being divided into parliamentary and non-parliamentary elements. Asserting that the service should be unified is important both for rejecting the perception that some parts of the service are second class, and for emphasising that the primary purpose of the whole service—all parts of it—is to support the House’s parliamentary functions. But we also accepted that there had to be a strengthening of the leadership of those functions and of the hundreds of staff beyond the direct work of the Clerks.

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It is not accidental, in our view, that although in the whole time that I have sat in the House there have rarely been any complaints or concerns about the standards of service provided to this House and its Committees in respect of our core functions, there have been myriad complaints about the way our employers—the public—have been treated when they try to get into this place, and from Members about the IT system, room bookings and many aspects of the maintenance of this place.

I have already spoken about leaks in the Members’ Lobby. I hope Mr Speaker will allow me an excursion into the bowels of what was the cell block of the old Canon Row police station, which has housed the House of Commons gym for some decades. My hon. Friend the Member for Wallasey (Ms Eagle), the shadow Leader of the House, and I are often to be seen there ensuring that we remain trim and fit. The refurbishment of the Commons’ gym may seem a second-order issue to those who do not use the facility, but for those of us who do, and for the dedicated staff of the gym, the saga of its refurbishment has not been a pretty one—nor, as the weekend’s press indicates, has it enhanced the reputation of Parliament.

Classic and avoidable errors were made in the refurbishment programme, which was due to be finished in early September and has only just been finished. I understand that the costs quadrupled. I know for certain that the specifications were changed and changed again after agreement had been reached with the gym management. It was disruptive in the extreme to us who use it and also to the staff. I thought that I had been able to put cold showers behind me when I left school 50 years ago but, like many other Members, I have had to endure cold showers, or no showers, as late as last week.

On Monday, having spent my two hours in the gym, I came out in anticipation of having a shower, only to discover that in the two hours that I had been working away in the gym, the showers had packed up. Happily, I did not meet any constituents, but other rather surprised Members will have seen me wearing my jacket over my gym kit and carrying the rest of my clothes, on my way to find a shower elsewhere. It is amusing—we are all tolerant of the situation—but it tells a story about why a better grip is needed of such issues.

Mark Tami: I do not understand how we have reached such a state, but the fact that the building is listed makes it difficult to do certain things, such as putting up a sign. I was amazed to learn that there is a signage committee in the House, which will decide on the type of sign and the size and colour of the signs that are permitted. It takes ages to get even the simplest thing done.

Mr Straw: I accept that there are such problems. This is a grade I listed building. I do not dispute the dedication of staff, but stronger leadership and greater clarity are needed.

We propose that the position of Clerk and chief executive should be split. There should in future be a Clerk, and working alongside her or him, there should be a new post of director general of the House of Commons. We had lots of debate about nomenclature. Others may lift the veil on the wide range of titles we considered. We decided on this title, rather than CEO or COO and many others, because, as we say in paragraph 157,

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we wanted a title that emphasised the authority of the new post, and would allow it to evolve unburdened by preconceptions.

As a consequence of calling this senior person director general of the House of Commons, the people currently titled directors general will need to be re-titled directors. There is a separate issue about whether the new post should become an additional accounting officer, an arrangement that exists in some Government Departments. I hope the Commission will consider that.

Dr Julian Lewis (New Forest East) (Con): Given that there is going to be a split and that there will be an authoritative figure in charge of the management of the House of Commons, can the right hon. Gentleman tell us what would happen if there were a decision about management taken by the new director general with which the Clerk disagreed? What would happen then?

Mr Straw: Let me go through the arrangements. Once I have done that, it will become easier to answer the hon. Gentleman’s point.

To secure a unified House service, we concluded, as paragraph 166 sets out, that the Clerk should continue to be head of the House service and thus formally the line manager of the director general. However, the new director general will have a considerable degree of autonomy. Since delivery will be their responsibility, it is the director general, not the Clerk, who will chair the new executive committee. She or he will sit on the Commission with the Clerk, and will have direct access to Mr Speaker and other Commission members.

So the answer to the hon. Gentleman is that if there were a dispute between the Clerk and the chief executive, the matter would go to Mr Speaker and be resolved by the Commission. Crucially, unlike the current arrangements where the Management Board is free-floating and separate from the Commission, the executive committee will formally be a committee of the Commission. I hope that that answers his question.

The executive committee will consist of the director general, the Clerk, and Director of Finance, with up to three other members drawn from the senior officials appointed by the Commission. I believe that the Committee’s recommendations have attracted support from all sides, but as I said earlier we did not simply split the difference between them: they are a coherent package in which the changes to the role of the Clerk and the introduction of the director general are integral to the reforms to the Commission and member committees, and are underpinned—this is crucial from our point of view—by recommendations for broader cultural change in the House service.

Hazel Blears: My right hon. Friend is generous in giving way again. He raised the issue of culture. That is fundamental and it is why many of us supported the idea of a chief executive. I understand that the proposals now have unanimous support. On culture, there are two things in particular that have changed in this House over recent years, led by Mr Speaker. One is to make this House a living wage organisation and the second is the emphasis on diversity and inclusion. That initiative, led by Anne Foster and the diversity and inclusion team, has meant that we have made tremendous strides forward. I seek the reassurance of my right hon. Friend,

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the Leader of the House and the shadow Leader of the House that when we recruit the new director general, we ensure that issues relating to the diversity and culture of this organisation are paramount in that recruitment process.

Mr Straw: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. We make recommendations about and acknowledge the work that has been done. In recruiting to any senior post, including the Clerk and the director general, we must take full account of the need to improve diversity in all ways in this place.

Mr Hain: As a former Leader of the House who dealt with such matters at first hand, I too, like my right hon. Friend the Member for Salford and Eccles (Hazel Blears), favoured a separate chief executive, but I understand perfectly, and support, the rationale behind the Committee’s recommendations. The fact that the report is unanimous is important.

May I probe my right hon. Friend on two points? First, traditionalists in the House could take this as an excuse for business as usual. That would be very disappointing in view of the work that the Committee has done and the evidence given to it. Secondly, it is really important that the new director general’s post is advertised soon. Whether an appointment can be made before or after the general election is not for me to say, but it is really important that the person is in post as soon as possible at the start of the new Parliament in order to take us into a new era.

Mr Straw: With luck, this report will not be particularly uncomfortable to anybody, but it will involve major change—above all, for traditionalists, if there are such, in this House.

Mr Bernard Jenkin (Harwich and North Essex) (Con): As a traditionalist, perhaps, neither do I want to see business as usual.

The right hon. Gentleman’s findings are a great opportunity for a big change in the culture—by which we mean the attitudes and behaviour—of people throughout the organisation so that, in cases such as that of the gym, there is somebody who is clearly accountable for such decisions and wants to take responsibility for making them. The lack of trust that the current structure has generated needs to change, and I think he has come up with the right solution. Some structures can be set up in such a way as to generate mistrust, but he has chosen a structure—not entirely one of my choosing, I accept—that will create the opportunity to generate real trust and accountability throughout the organisation.

Mr Straw: I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman, not least because, as I acknowledged in my opening remarks, he co-sponsored the resolution that led to the establishment of the Committee. Those who have had to put up with it can smile about what has been going on in the bowels of the old Canon Row police station, but I very much hope that the Commission might examine, as a case study, what went wrong there. In my judgment—this is not to criticise the good faith of the officials involved—we have a decision-making structure at an official level where somebody gets something

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agreed, then they have another thought, and there is no proper structure above that for saying, “Should we be doing this? Why didn’t you think of that in advance?” It is ironic that the people making these decisions in Parliament are less accountable—certainly to Members and, I think, to senior officials—than they would be in an ordinary corporate organisation. That has to change because, apart from anything else, it is wasting a lot of money.

Mr Jenkin: The other tension that exists in the current organisation is that, with the best will in the world, the Management Board is trying to think strategically in the long term and there has not always been synergy between its strategic long-term thoughts and the Commission’s strategic long-term thoughts. Merging the two organisations will generate that synergy.

Mr Straw: I hope that is the case. Putting the non-executive members on to the Commission, with all their outside experience, should ensure that the input into a longer-term strategy is where it should be, which is ultimately with the Commission.

I want to conclude—

Mr Hain: I am really sorry—I do apologise—but my right hon. Friend did not respond on the timing of the advertisement, and I would like him to do that.

Mr Straw: I agree with my right hon. Friend on the timing. I was going to make some remarks about that as I concluded.

On the face of it, splitting the current Clerk/chief executive post will mean two salaries in place of one. The House has made commendable progress in reducing the costs of this place by 17% in the past few years. We were very clear that this particular reform would have to be self-financing after the first year, as we say in recommendation 207. How exactly that is to be achieved will be for the new Commission, but achieved it must be.

We make plenty of other recommendations, including on widening the involvement of the Deputy Speakers in non-Chamber issues, clear and published delegations, and improvements in staff development and diversity.

Finally, I turn to implementation. The changes we propose will require amendments to the 1978 Act. Those are minor and uncontroversial. I therefore hope that those on both Front Benches will agree that if the House adopts the motion this afternoon, amending legislation will be introduced rapidly in this Session, with the aim of putting it on the Statute Book before Dissolution at the end of March. There will also need to be changes to Standing Orders. I hope that these too can be secured before the end of March, and I should be grateful for confirmation of that from the Leader of the House. Once those are in place, it is for the Commission to go ahead with this, and I hope that it does so very rapidly indeed.

I conclude by repeating my thanks to my colleagues on the Committee. We all came at our task with different perspectives, but in a fascinating and concentrated period of two months we focused hard, and we have made a set of interlocking recommendations that we believe will

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greatly strengthen and improve the running of this House, and, above all, the service that we provide to those who put us here. I commend the report to the House.

1.26 pm

The First Secretary of State and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr William Hague): I am very pleased to participate in this debate on behalf of the Government and as a member of the House of Commons Commission. As hon. Members know, and as the Government have always said, this is a matter primarily—entirely, really—for the House as a whole. I regard the principal role of the Government as being to facilitate consideration by the House and then to support the rapid implementation of what the House agrees.

I must first congratulate the right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr Straw)—I have said this before at various points over the past few weeks but wish to reiterate it; I really mean it—not just on the very clear and convincing way in which he moved the motion but on the dedication shown by him and all the members of his Committee over the past few months. Back in September, the House set the Chair it nominated and the Committee it subsequently established quite a formidable task, both in terms of the knottiness of the problem they were asked to confront and the time scale for resolution that was set. The right hon. Gentleman and his Committee were not only up to this task but exceeded it by some margin in delivering their report ahead of schedule and, most importantly given the circumstances, with a unanimity that appeared at the beginning to be very difficult to achieve. I hope that this effusion of praise allays any fear he had that he would have to withdraw the thanks that he expressed earlier.

The Committee was no doubt helped to reach a consensus not only by the skills of its Chair but by the diligent and inclusive way in which it set about hearing views from across the House—from Members in all corners of the House and from staff in all departments and at all grades. I think we have all learned a great deal about the House in which we work as a result of this exercise. This work and this evidence have enabled the Committee to devise a thoughtful and sensible set of proposals that I sincerely hope and believe the whole House can now unite around.

The motion before us rightly welcomes the Committee’s report and agrees with almost every dot and comma, as the right hon. Gentleman explained. It also seeks agreement to encourage all those responsible for implementation to get on with that important task. I wish to explain the reason for the one small point of difference between the motion and the Committee’s original draft motion, since it was partly my suggestion that the change be made.

The Committee envisaged that the Chairs of the Administration and the Finance Committees would be drawn from the four Back-Bench members of the Commission once they were in place. On reflection, that could lead to a situation in which three of the Back-Bench members had the expertise and desire to chair the Finance Committee but no one was keen to chair the Administration Committee, or vice versa.

Mark Tami: Never!

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Mr Hague: Of course, but nevertheless the situation could theoretically arise. It could even be the case that none of the Members elected to serve on the Commission wished to chair either of the Committees. It would then be the first task of the other members of the new Commission to allocate the responsibilities, which would be an invidious task in such circumstances. It is therefore my preference—and that of many others, including the shadow Leader of the House, the hon. Member for Wallasey (Ms Eagle)—that these two important internal Committees should be chaired by Members who have relevant experience and who are actively seeking to undertake those particular roles. I believe that will better ensure that the House has the right people in those roles and that the decision does not rest solely with the members of the Commission.

Although we fully support the outcome the Committee seeks to achieve—four Back-Bench Members, two Chairs of the internal House Committees and two others with clearly defined portfolio responsibilities—the motion proposes a slightly different way of reaching it. I hope the House will agree that it is a small but beneficial adjustment and one that will ensure that the Commission retains a party balance in the way envisaged by the Committee.

Mr David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD): I do not think that the Leader of the House’s suggestion fundamentally changes the Committee’s view of the Commission’s structure. However, as has been said, it is extremely important that there is no delay in putting in place the two House Committee Chairs. That cannot wait until the long process of negotiation relating to the election of Select Committee Chairs. Will the Leader of the House assure us that he will bequeath to his successor a view that those two Chairs should, if possible, be in place immediately after the election of the Speaker and the Deputy Speakers, so that the Commission is in place at the earliest possible opportunity in the new Parliament?

Mr Hague: My hon. Friend raises a very important point. It will be very important for the Commission to be able to begin its work very early—earlier than has sometimes been the case—in the new Parliament. As the final weeks of this Parliament go by, I will be increasingly happy to bequeath many views to my successor, particularly on things that are difficult to achieve, but I hope this will not be too difficult to achieve. The election of those Chairs should not be left to be the tail end of the whole process of the election of Committee Chairs. They are vital to the working of this House. Given that we will need to keep up the momentum of implementing the Governance Committee’s recommendations, a new Commission will need to be up and running pretty quickly in the new Parliament. My hon. Friend makes a good point and I will certainly bequeath that view, as he put it.

From the Government’s point of view, the report fully addresses the issues that were set out by my right hon. Friend the Deputy Leader of the House in the 10 September debate on the Committee’s establishment and on which I enlarged when I gave evidence to it. Notably, the proposals will provide the House with a Clerk whose independence and authority are unquestioned, and they should also provide a first-rate administrator with the visibility and authority to manage the services delivered to Members, staff and the public.

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The right hon. Member for Blackburn has given examples of areas where improvement is needed. I am sure that the gym is a valid example, but I do think that, if, as he said, he spent two hours in the gym, a cold shower might have been recommended anyway and, indeed, appreciated by all of us.

Mr Straw: Had a cold shower been available, I would have taken it; the problem was that there was no shower.

Mr Speaker: I think we now have adequate information on that important matter.

Mr Hague: We have had absolutely adequate information, Mr Speaker, and I now realise even more how serious these problems have been.

Equally important are the improvements to the governance structures recommended by the Committee. A striking feature of the evidence it took was a sense that the work of the Commission and the Management Board was somewhat disconnected, leading to problems with implementation of decisions and a lack of clarity over strategic direction. I warmly welcome the structural changes to the board and Commission, including overlapping membership, which should produce a more co-ordinated approach and a greater sense that the interests of all those who work in this place are fully represented and served as they should be. I am also pleased to see that the Committee had a keen eye on costs and tailored its recommendations in such a way that they may be cost-neutral within one year of implementation.

Once the House has agreed this motion today, as I hope it will, implementation should follow very quickly. All those involved now have to match the speed and dexterity with which the Committee has acted. It is clearly important that the Clerk of the House is appointed before the Dissolution of Parliament. The Government will play their full part to encourage that. We have provided time quickly for this motion today. I hope that will allow the Commission to meet next week and begin the process of recruiting the Clerk of the House, as well as that of taking forward the other recommendations.

Mr Hain: I very much agree with the Leader of the House on the need for the urgent appointment of the Clerk. Could he say something about the need for the speedy appointment of the new director general?

Mr Hague: That is important, too, although the right hon. Gentleman will know from reading the report that the recommendation of the Committee is that the Clerk should sit on the selection panel for the selection of the director general, so there is a sequence. That does not prevent us from starting the process of recruiting the director general, but it does mean that one has to come before the other.

Mr Hain: I understand that, but there is no reason why the post could not be advertised so that it is out there, the process is started and then a new Clerk can be on the selection panel to get it going.

Mr Hague: That is a very fair point. When the Commission meets next week, subject to the motion being approved by the House today, it will be able to

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consider such things and, indeed, to bear in mind the urgency stressed by the right hon. Gentleman and other Members.

We have already invited the two existing external members of the Management Board to attend Commission meetings as a first step. Indeed, they attended the Commission’s meeting on Monday, so that recommendation has already been provisionally implemented, as announced by the Commission in a written statement to the House yesterday. My right hon. Friend the Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (John Thurso), who speaks for the Commission, may wish to elaborate on that. It was the first in a series of periodic updates on process that the Commission has undertaken to make, which in itself was in direct response to one of the Committee’s recommendations.

I have already indicated to the House on an earlier occasion that the Government are working hard to find a way to make the minor legislative changes that are needed to alter the membership of the Commission in the way recommended by the Committee, and to do so quickly. I will make further announcements about that as soon as I can. We will also provide the necessary time requested by the right hon. Member for Blackburn for the House to consider before the Dissolution of Parliament the minor changes to Standing Orders that implementation will require.

Mr Jenkin: Given the delays that tend to affect legislation, is there any impediment to the Management Board and the existing Commission working together as one body on a pro tem basis until legislation formalises the arrangement, even though any formal Commission decisions would have to be taken by the Commission as currently constituted?

Mr Hague: No, I do not believe there is any legislative impediment to that. Indeed, I have already mentioned how the two non-executive members of the Management Board have started attending the meetings of the Commission. That work is already going on, but legislation will be essential in order to alter the membership of the Commission. Given that we all envisage that the Commission in the new Parliament will be appointed and elected in a different way from before, there is a very good case for that legislation to be dealt with speedily. I will return to the House on that matter in the not-too-distant future.

Finally, we can acknowledge that the House faced a significant problem and disagreement on these matters, and that the Committee, chaired so ably by the right hon. Member for Blackburn, has not only found the right solution but set out a governance structure for the House that I believe will provide Members and the public alike with the levels of confidence, capability and accountability that are so vital to the long-term health of the House of Commons.

1.39 pm

Ms Angela Eagle (Wallasey) (Lab): I rise to support the motion in the names of the Leader of the House and my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr Straw) and my own name, to adopt the recommendations of the House of Commons Governance Committee report.

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If we agree to it, we will begin to deliver a governance structure for this place that will finally be fit for purpose in our rapidly changing world.

Since the publication of the report on 16 December, I have advocated acting on its recommendations quickly. I therefore particularly welcome the speed with which the Leader of the House has acted to ensure that the report was debated today. Should the House endorse the Committee’s recommendations—I hope and believe that it will—it will be incumbent on the House of Commons Commission to act with similar speed. I therefore welcome your decision, Mr Speaker, to schedule a meeting of the Commission on Monday to decide on the next steps in the light of today’s debate. There is every sign that all parts of the House understand the need for speed of implementation. Since the beginning of this debate, everyone has focused on how we can best do that.

All of us are anxious for the House to endorse the report so that we can move quickly to the appointment of a new Clerk of the House, as well as to the commencement of the process to appoint the first director general. That process should at least start before the Dissolution at the end of March. We need to move speedily to appoint people to both posts, although one will unavoidably take slightly longer than the other.

Mr Hain: At the risk of sounding boringly repetitive, may I ask whether my hon. Friend sees any reason why the post of director general could not be advertised at the very least before the Dissolution?

Ms Eagle: I see absolutely no reason why not. I know that the Commission will, if the House passes the motion, have that issue on its agenda on Monday. I for one—I am not the only one—am anxious to get on with both appointments as speedily as possible.

Dr Julian Lewis: Does the hon. Lady agree that any advertisement should make it absolutely clear that the director general will have very considerable autonomy in the execution of their duties?

Mr Hain: And authority.

Dr Lewis: Indeed. That very considerable autonomy was emphasised by the right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr Straw) in his report and his speech.

Ms Eagle: I strongly agree with the hon. Gentleman. I hope that anyone who wishes to apply for the post will read the Committee’s report, as well as all the fascinating evidence people gave in such a short time, so that they are well aware of the nature of the job and the authority that we intend should go with it.

Mr Jenkin: I agree with everything that has been said, but what is so vital in the arrangement is that there should be complete trust and understanding between the Clerk of the House and the director general. The sequencing of the appointments, which my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House mentioned, is therefore very important. The Clerk must feel that he or she has had a say over the director general’s job description and how the job is advertised, otherwise the arrangement will not work. We will be setting it up to fail if anybody feels that premature decisions have been foisted on them. That must be borne in mind.

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Ms Eagle: The direction of the discussion so far, like that of the report by my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn, is that the holders of the two jobs have to work in harmony, but that each must have their own autonomy and authority, so one cannot have a veto over the other. It is for the Commission to decide how and in what way it advertises the posts and with how much alacrity it does so, but I hope that it will act with alacrity. It is important for both posts to be advertised, and that at least one of them, the Clerk’s appointment, should proceed as quickly as possible. I agree with the Leader of the House that it ought to be done and dusted, barring unforeseen circumstances, before the Dissolution, but in my view—this is a matter for the House to decide today and for the Commission to debate and decide on Monday—I for one think that we should by then also be pretty well on with the arrangements to appoint the director general. I expect that appointment to be made quite quickly in the new Parliament.

I congratulate, and express my admiration for, the Committee on the work that it did in such a short time. I am not the first speaker today, and I am certain that I will not be the last, to emphasise that point. The Committee was ably led by my right hon. Friend—when not in the gym—in tenacious pursuit of a solution that would bind wounds and take the House forward. He worked his Committee extremely hard. Members from both sides of the House took a close interest in its work, and many gave both written and oral evidence. Thanks should go to all members of the Committee, who set aside much time to ensure that they could fulfil the remit set by the House and report ahead of the tough deadline that we gave them. There is much that we are grateful to them for. We must also thank Members of the House of Lords, senior managers, Clerks and other employees of the House at all levels for their willingness to engage with the Committee’s work.

The Committee’s recommendations distilled the wealth of experience with which it was provided to create a vision for a House of Commons that is better equipped to face the future, especially in dealing with the challenges of restoration and renewal, with which the next Parliament will have to grapple. I note that all members of the Committee have signed the motion, which creates a welcome opportunity for the House to move forwards in harmony, which many people would not have believed possible last summer. I hope and believe that we will grasp that opportunity with open arms.

Turning to the substance of the report, the Committee’s proposals fall into three broad categories: the role of the Clerk; shared services; and a reformed Commission. I want to deal with each of them in turn.

On the Committee’s proposals on the Clerk and chief executive of the House, you noted in your statement in September, Mr Speaker, that there have been persuasive arguments for splitting the two roles for some time. Given the increasing complexity of the House’s administration and the imminent changes facing this place, not least the significant programme of restoration and renewal, there is an obvious need for more proactive management structures and accountability.

The Committee heard evidence that the current post of Clerk is “overloaded”, and that

“neither part of it is…given the attention it deserves.”

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It therefore suggests splitting the two roles to ensure that the House administration is

“better led and more capable of delivering responsive and effective services to Members, staff and the public.”

It proposes that the Clerk of the House will no longer be the chief executive; the new post of director general is central to the report’s recommendations. I must say that I strongly agree with the report’s conclusions on that crucial point.

The proposal to replace the current Management Board with an executive committee, chaired by the new director general, will ensure more experienced and professional management of this place, and is much to be welcomed. I emphasise that such a statement is not intended in any way as a criticism of any current or former post holder; it is a statement of reality as the House faces the task of dealing with increasingly complex management challenges, whether the restoration and renewal programme, or the modernisation of House services while delivering significant savings.

Mark Tami: As my hon. Friend says, there is an absolutely huge task before us and the next Parliament to deal with the physical structure, but that must be done in a culture where we look to save money. We need a very professional person in place. I have nothing against the Clerk—the Clerks do an excellent job—but it is a different role.

Ms Eagle: I have long believed the same thing. I welcome the fact that after the intense look at the evidence that the Governance Committee subjected itself to before Christmas, it came to a very similar conclusion. It is an obvious conclusion. If we can get the changes right, we will all look back at this as a turning point in the professionalism and effectiveness of the House service.

Susan Elan Jones (Clwyd South) (Lab): Those of us who are relatively new MPs remember keenly and fondly coming to the House as visitors. What strikes me is that the number of facilities on offer, whether in retail or tours around the building, seems to have increased greatly. The development of the two posts seems to be very much in keeping with the changes that have been made, very much for the better, to encourage more people to come in and appreciate the facilities. After all, it is the people’s Parliament.

Ms Eagle: I could not agree more strongly. They still had the ticker-tape in place when I came here. There has been rapid change in the short space of time since then. We must continue to future-proof our institution—not only our building, but our Parliament—to ensure that the transparency of what we do and our accessibility to our constituents and those to whom we are accountable continue to be among the best, rather than being achieved almost accidentally.

The report recommends positive changes to the House of Commons Commission, including the addition of an explicit statutory responsibility to set the strategic framework for the provision of services to the House and the election of Back-Bench Members to the Commission to serve as the chairs of the reformed Finance and Services Committee and Administration Committee, although that will happen in a slightly different way from that proposed in the original recommendation. As I noted in

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my evidence to the Governance Committee, it is only as a result of sitting on the House of Commons Commission for the past three and a bit years that I have developed a real understanding of its role in running this place. The election of Members and clarity of responsibility will go a long way towards boosting the profile and scrutiny of the Commission, and that can only be positive.

The Governance Committee made important recommendations on sharing services with the other place. I am on record as saying that I favour a much greater integration of administration across Parliament that respects the independent nature of both Lords and Commons administration. I believe that there is much potential for efficiency savings and more effective joint working across the Houses. Both Houses already work together on a range of services, including procurement, security and ICT. The report found “wide support” for extending the practice. I agree with the Committee.

My colleague in the Lords, Baroness Royall of Blaisdon, observed that there was

“much more scope for working together”,

while the Lord Speaker has indicated the upper Chamber’s willingness to explore further collaboration, which I welcome. The same view is held by many who have worked at a senior level in this House. Sir Roger Sands, who served as Clerk between 2003 and 2006, observed that given that we

“share the same building; there are so many things that cannot sensibly be managed separately”.

In his view, a

“joint services department along the Australian lines is a logical end point”.

In its report, the Governance Committee supports the development of a single services department that would support the primary parliamentary purposes of each of the two Houses, and it encourages the House to work towards that in the medium term. It makes the important point that the delivery authority that will facilitate the restoration and renewal project might form a useful model for the sharing of services. It is certainly my view that once this House has made its decisions on restoration and renewal, whether it decants or finds another way to deliver that project, it will not be run in the same way when it comes back. That project will transform the way in which this House, and perhaps the other place, is run, which will be good.

Of course, the autonomy and independence of both Houses is an integral part of a bicameral Parliament, and there are services that could not be shared due to the different characters and working arrangements of the two Houses. However, in the current economic climate, when public bodies and members of the public are all making savings, there is an understandable expectation that all possibilities for savings, efficiency and effectiveness will be explored. Given that many witnesses highlighted the cost savings that could arise from the further sharing of services, I am pleased that the House of Commons Commission will consider it. I hope that we can be part of speeding up the progress in that important area.

This is perhaps the most crucial report on House business that we have debated for a long time. It is a timely report and, like the Leader of the House, I hope

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that we will ensure that its implementation proceeds as quickly as possible after the House makes its decision today. If this package of proposals and recommendations is delivered, I believe that it will make our governance fit for purpose. I will vote for the recommendations in the motion, and I hope that we can move forward as a House unanimously.

1.56 pm

Sir Oliver Heald (North East Hertfordshire) (Con): The hon. Member for Wallasey (Ms Eagle) talked of the pace of change over the years. She and I used to sit on the Select Committee on Employment in the early 1990s, when Committees were not supported to the extent they are now. As has been observed by others, there has been massive change over that period. This report has presented an opportunity to look at our arrangements, many years since Members last looked at them, and to see how we can better fit them to the current day.

I pay tribute to the work of our Chairman, the right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr Straw). The Committee sat a great deal. We sat three times a week and took evidence from many witnesses. I am grateful to him. It was a privilege to serve under him. We saw some excellent chairmanship skills, which is not surprising after his many years here and all the important posts he has held over the years.

It was a particularly good idea for the Committee to meet 60 staff members in break-out groups to hear their views on the governance of the House. That might be a good model for the House of Commons Commission to follow occasionally. The staff were genuinely excited and pleased to be asked their views.

I am proud of the work of the Committee. I pay tribute to my colleagues and the staff who helped us. It was a major undertaking and the report was delivered early. I am glad that the Commission has pledged to implement the proposals if the House supports them today.

The right hon. Member for Neath (Mr Hain), with whom I served on the Modernisation Committee when I was shadow Leader of the House, asked whether this is a major change. One only has to look at the organograms in annexes E and F to see that it is. The wonderful current arrangements are shown in annex F, which is like a piece of modern art, it is so complex. What is being proposed is a much simpler, more straightforward and more modern system.

I do not want to dwell on the reasons the Governance Committee was set up. It was clear from the evidence that we heard that it was time for Members to look at this issue. I believe that the Committee did a thorough and good job.

One focus for the Committee was to consider the role of Clerk of the House and chief executive. We heard important evidence from Members and a large number of other witnesses. Lord Browne, who at the time was the Government’s lead non-executive, was a particularly telling witness. He explained that, in designing who should be at the top of the pyramid of officers in a company, it was important to look at who had detailed knowledge of the core business. Although we are not a company—we are a very unusual body indeed—I felt that he had a point. He felt that the same principle should apply here, and I rather agreed.

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We also heard from Lord Judge, the previous Lord Chief Justice, that if he was talking about privilege he would expect to talk to the person who was in charge and was expert in the matter. Many others, including the former leader of the Liberal Democrats, the right hon. and learned Member for North East Fife (Sir Menzies Campbell), also gave good evidence on that point.

One thing that became clear during our deliberations was that there are models in the public service of the senior official having somebody with commercial and operational skills working with him. That can be valuable in ensuring that what is decided actually gets done. We heard from John Manzoni, chief executive of the civil service, and Michael Whitehouse, chief operating officer for the Comptroller and Auditor General at the National Audit Office. Lord Browne told us that if there are to be two roles, it is vital to have clarity and proper job specifications, and we have set out in the report the specifications for the two roles we decided on. He said:

“Governance must start with clarity, which is difficult to achieve, and with a clear understanding of accountability, which includes decision rights. Who gets to decide what and to whom do you report when you have done it?”

The chief executive of the civil service, who reports to the Cabinet Secretary, and the chief operating officer of the NAO, who reports to the Comptroller and Auditor General, had found that it was possible to have a senior official working closely with the person in charge in a role that was described in different ways—chief executive or chief operating officer. They found that it depended crucially on having the right people in position, having clarity and the two people having an ability to co-operate. We have set out a process whereby the Clerk would be appointed first and then the director general, which is important to ensure that we have people who can work closely together.

Mr Jenkin: From hearing this debate, I am increasingly persuaded that part of the accountability that we need is the autonomy and clear visibility of the director general. Even now, the director general of facilities wears a badge telling us his name and title, and he feels more accountable because people stop him and talk to him as he walks around the Palace. That shows how important the visibility and demonstrable autonomy of the director general will be under the new arrangement, which is something we have all learned from this process.

Sir Oliver Heald: I very much agree. We use the words “overall responsibility” several times in the job specification for the director general, to show that autonomy.

I support the conclusion that the Clerk should remain the senior official of the House of Commons, with the authority that that involves, but that a director general should bring the skills we have just discussed to that important role. It is also right that the director general should have the freedom to initiate in certain areas, that he should be on the House of Commons Commission and that his role should be clearly defined.

During the course of our evidence taking, it became clear that the arrangements for the Commission and the Management Board were not working as well as they should, partly because of the structure, which I have already mentioned and which is obvious from the annexes to which I have referred, but also partly because of culture. We proposed a model that would expand the

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Commission and involve every important player in this place, and we clarified an enhanced role for Back-Bench Members of the Commission. As the motion states, it is important that there is party balance on the Commission, and it is also important that there are non-executive directors to strengthen it and ensure that there is proper business experience at the top level.

The effect of the changes will be that the Management Board will be abolished and replaced with an executive committee. That is more common in public companies and other parts of the public sector. It will be a streamlined body, working on a House service basis, committed to delivering the Commission’s decisions. Some suggest that the Clerk should chair that body, but we decided that, overall, it should be the place where the director general ensures that the Commission’s decisions are put into effect. The Clerk should of course be a member, but the lead role of implementation should be with the director general.

The report is more extensive than we first expected, and I believe that it provides a good way forward for the future. I hope that the Government will commit the time necessary to put the new system in place so that it takes effect immediately after the general election, and I was grateful to the Leader of the House for his points on that, which seemed encouraging.

As somebody who has practised as an employment lawyer and advised the recruitment industry in the past, I was a bit surprised by the recruitment procedure followed last summer. The procedure from 2011, which was supervised by Susan Craig of the human resources department here, was a good step forward on what had happened previously. Although it was intended that a similar procedure would be followed this time, it was not. The House must have state-of-the-art recruitment procedures in place, so I welcome the report’s provisions setting out a model for future recruitment in line with current practice. That is an improvement on the 2011 procedure and fits in with the recommendations that Sir Kevin Tebbit made as long ago as 2007.

Over recent years, there has been a process of improving the way in which the House of Commons is managed, but having heard the evidence to the Governance Committee I have no doubt that there is a lot more to do. I believe that the report provides a basis for structural changes that are needed.

An important part of our recommendations relates to the culture of the House and the need for further efforts to achieve a more coherent House service that puts even more emphasis on staff development and training. Sir Kevin Tebbit told us that was important to break down the barriers between departments and functions. I am sure that is right, and our report suggests ways to foster that. I am proud of the report and its conclusions, and I hope that the House will agree that they have merit.

2.7 pm

Ian Paisley (North Antrim) (DUP): Thank you, Mr Speaker, for calling me so early in the debate.

It is the 750th anniversary of de Montfort’s Parliament, so it is incredibly fitting that we are debating changes and improvements to the governance of the House. I am not saying that they are 750 years late, but there are certainly issues to be addressed.

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The House of Commons Governance Committee was an excellent one on which to serve, and it offered a new insight into the House, especially for new Members but I am sure also for experienced Members. We quickly got down to the nitty-gritty of the services that the House offers, and the right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr Straw) has already recounted some of them. We heard about the queues that members of the public face, sometimes in the rain, when they attend the House—I think there are now about 5,000 visitors to Parliament a day, and looking after our visitors, who are the public and the electorate, is incredibly important.

We heard about the non-functioning gym. The cold showers, or lack thereof, have given rise to the notion that labour really does stink—I am sure the right hon. Gentleman will appreciate that. We heard about blocked toilets in the Norman Shaw building, the leaking roofs outside the Chamber, the double-booking of rooms and—from the sublime to the ridiculous—the quality of champagne in the Pugin Room. I am not saying that we had a wine tasting session, but we can disprove the noble Lords’ theory about what is the best-quality champagne. We had an escorted journey from the sublime to the ridiculous as part of our efforts on the Committee, and it was worth while pursuing many of those issues.

The Committee was aided by its gifted Chairman and—more importantly, I think—by the gifted and widely drawn staff whom we were able to pull together. All our members appreciated their skills, because each member of staff had a real sense of purpose in addressing the lack of clarity in the governance of the House and the other issues that have arisen.

The Committee was not about settling old scores. It was about looking forward and setting a road map for the governance of this great institution. The report, in both its anticipation and publication, has caused interest beyond what the Committee expected—I understand that it is now on its second or third print run and it looks as if we may have published a bestseller. In the other place it was the subject of questions earlier this week, and the Leader of that House was faced by noble Lords who wished to assert their position on structures, governance, reform and renewal. It is good that we have perhaps awakened an interest in some of those important issues.

As the hon. and learned Member for North East Hertfordshire (Sir Oliver Heald) said, the most important evidence that we received concerned the need for clarity and purpose, and that theme returned time and again—the importance of clarity and purpose is the raison d’être that runs through the report, and we have tried to focus on that. There is a sense that lines have been blurred, and in some areas there is a notion of “let’s just muddle through and it will be all right”. It is now time to adjust and repair that notion.

Any new Member who comes to the House, as I did in 2010, expects the place to function. However, within days of sitting on the Committee, I found that that was a mistaken view. Soon into our deliberations it became clear that tensions exist and must be addressed, and I believe the report offers solutions in those areas. We set out clear lines of responsibility and accountability, and clear assertions about where the buck should stop.

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Setting those matters out now and getting unanimous support, as expressed by the Leader and shadow Leader of the House, is important.

It is clear that the staff of this House are extremely proud of working in this Parliament, and why should they not be? A renewed collegiate sense among staff, staff groups and Members needs to be kindled. We all have responsibility in that regard and it is a two-way process. All parties, not just the Government and main Opposition parties, must play their part. The next election promises to flood the House with more Members from smaller parties. That voice must also be heard in future, and the report addresses that issue in its recommendations.

There is clearly need for the House of Lords to move with us and not to pretend that all is well there or, worse, to impede the progress that we have outlined. At the commencement of the new Parliament, there will be an opportunity to start afresh and ensure that bad habits are done away with and a fresh page is opened. Change will happen only if we implement the report’s recommendations with determination and zeal. Let us get the right people in the right places, and ensure that we put this Parliament first.