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The Speaker's Committee

Orders of the Day — Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Bill – in the House of Commons at 6:45 pm on 14th February 2000.

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Photo of Patrick Cormack Patrick Cormack Conservative, South Staffordshire 6:45 pm, 14th February 2000

I beg to move amendment No. 17, in page 2, leave out lines 6 to 20 and insert— '(2) The Speaker's Committee shall consist of the Speaker of the House of Commons, the Leader of House of Commons, a nominee of the Leader of the Opposition and three other members appointed by the House of Commons, none of whom shall be a Minister of the Crown.'.

The Second Deputy Chairman:

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 18, in schedule 2, page 102, leave out lines 17 to 21.

No. 19, in page 102, leave out lines 34 to 40 and insert— '3.(1) The Speaker of the House of Commons shall be the chairman of the Speaker's Committee.(2) The Committee may appoint a member of the Committee to act as Chairman at any meeting of the Committee in the absence of the Speaker.(3) In the case of a vote being taken in the Committee and the result being a tie, the Chairman of the Committee for the time being shall have the casting vote.'.

Photo of Patrick Cormack Patrick Cormack Conservative, South Staffordshire

The Minister is in extremely conciliatory mood, and I hope that he will respond in the same spirit and with alacrity to these amendments, to which the official Opposition attach enormous importance.

We heard protestations earlier from the Under-Secretary about the absolute need for the commission to be wholly independent. That theme has been reiterated throughout our debates, and it is regarded as of great importance by hon. Members on both sides of the House. However, that principle does not sit well with the Government's proposed membership of the Speaker's Committee.

The Neill report makes no call for such a Committee, but we believe that the Government are right to have included it in the Bill. The explanatory notes to the Bill say that the Speaker's Committee will have general oversight of the exercise of the Commission's functions and, in particular, responsibility for approving its budget and five-year corporate plan. If ever there were a need for a body—[Interruption.] I had hoped that I might have the support of the Liberal Democrats on this amendment. If ever a body needed to be entirely respected for its impartiality, that body would be the Speaker's Committee. Yet the Government propose a Committee including two Government Ministers, the Home Secretary and the Minister for Local Government. The other members will be the Chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee"— almost inevitably a member of the governing party— and six Members of the House of Commons appointed by the Speaker. We may expect those six Members to be selected in a ratio that reflects the majority of the Government of the day. I cast no aspersions on anyone by saying that such a committee would not enjoy respect and support across the House for its total impartiality on electoral matters.

We propose that the Speaker's Committee should replicate the Commission of the House of Commons. It would consist of the Speaker of the House, the Leader of the House, a nominee of the Leader of the Opposition—probably, though not necessarily, the shadow Leader of the House—and three hon. Members appointed by the House of Commons, none of whom would be a Minister of the Crown. We have recent memories of the House exercising its role in deciding who should be a commissioner—a debate in which the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Mr. Miller) took a prominent part. We believe that such a Speaker's Committee would command wide respect for its impartiality.

I cannot for the life of me see why the Government should not accept the amendment. We do not propose any differentiation of functions. We do not suggest that the committee should do anything other than what the Government have suggested. We suggest, however, that the Speaker's Committee should actually include the Speaker.

Many precedents exist for the Speaker's participation in committees and commissions with an electoral remit. In 1908, the Speaker played a prominent part in a royal commission on electoral reform. There was a Speaker's conference on electoral reform in 1917, and further Speaker's conferences in 1930, 1943–44, 1965 to 1968, 1972 to 1974 and 1977–78. The Speaker also chairs the House of Commons Commission, the membership of which would be replicated on the Speaker's Committee if our amendment were accepted. The fact that the Speaker takes the chair gives the Commission special authority. In the same way, the new Committee would achieve special authority if the Speaker chaired it.

The House perhaps takes greater pride in the impartiality of the Speaker than it does in anything else. It matters not in which part of the House we sit that, when a Speaker is elected at the beginning of a new Parliament, that man or woman is invested with the authority of the House and respected for total impartiality. The first thing a new Speaker does is to renounce any previous political allegiance. Madam Speaker used to be a member of the Government party; she is no longer. The fact of her former membership causes not the slightest concern on the Opposition side, any more than it did when we were in Government while she was Speaker. She is universally respected—inside and out of the House—as a person of total impartiality, as was her predecessor, who happened to come from the Conservative Benches. So it has been for nearly 200 years, and so, I hope, it will always be.

The Committee would be invested with extra authority if it were chaired by the Speaker. If any committee deserves chairmanship by a person of total probity and impartiality, it is the Committee that the Bill would establish. I urge the Minister to continue with the admirable mood of conciliation that he has displayed this afternoon, and to accept the amendment.

Photo of Andrew Miller Andrew Miller Labour, Ellesmere Port and Neston

I respect the hon. Gentleman's grasp of the history of this place—as, I am sure, do all hon. Members. He admirably describes the way in which the Chairmen of Committees emulate the role of the Speaker. In considering the powers vested in those Chairmen, does he not think that subsection (4) is stronger than his proposals? It states that members of the Committee mentioned in subsection (2)(d) shall be appointed to membership of the Committee by the Speaker of the House of Commons.

Photo of Patrick Cormack Patrick Cormack Conservative, South Staffordshire

Yes, but on what basis are they to be appointed? The convention is that the usual channels play an important part.

I am not attacking the integrity of any Member of the House. That is the last thing that I would do. For about 16 years, I sat on the Chairmen's Panel. I know that, when a Member of the House chairs a Committee, he or she conducts the proceedings with an impartiality that emulates that shown by the Speaker in the Chair of the House. When we cease to chair a particular Standing Committee, we can take part in the full hurly-burly of debates on the Floor of the House.

The Opposition believe that the Speaker's Committee is so special that it should have a unique status among the Committees of the House. It should emulate the House of Commons Commission by having the Speaker in the Chair and by including only one Minister—the Leader of the House—and only one member nominated by the Leader of the Opposition. The other members should be elected, after debate, by the House.

The amendment is modest, but far-reaching. We believe that it will strengthen the new procedures that will be established by the Bill. We believe that it will strengthen the Commission. We hope that the Government will accept it; we can see no valid reason for their not doing so.

We are not attempting to change the powers, functions or responsibilities of the Committee. We are acknowledging that the Government have gone one step further than Neill by establishing the Committee. Neill referred to monitoring—the Committee is the form that the Government have chosen. The Opposition applaud them for choosing that form, but we want to make it as strong, effective and widely respected as possible. How could we do that better than by selecting a Committee that has the Speaker in the Chair and has the type of membership suggested by the amendment?

I hope that the Minister will respond by accepting the amendment with alacrity, so that we can move on to the next matter.

Photo of Michael Spicer Michael Spicer Conservative, West Worcestershire

My hon. Friend the Member for South Staffordshire (Sir P. Cormack) is correct to argue that the Speaker's Committee must be more impartial than is proposed.

I have tried to work out what the proposed composition of the Committee would mean in relation to party affiliation. Subsection (2)(a) states that the Committee will consist of the Member of the House of Commons who is for the time being the Chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee". That is likely to be a member of the Government party.

The subsection continues: the Secretary of State for the Home Department … a Member of the House of Commons who is a Minister of the Crown". They will certainly be members of the Government party.

Six members of the Committee will be Members of the House of Commons who are not Ministers. If they were chosen in proportion to the composition of the present Parliament, there would presumably be three or four who were members of the Government party.

Between six and seven members of that "impartial" Speaker's Committee would be members of the governing party. In view of some of the earlier comments that were made about impartiality and about the need to be especially impartial in such a Committee, that causes me some concern. It is a matter of particular concern that Madam Speaker would not be a member of the Committee.

7.15 pm.

My reservations about the amendments are that I am not quite clear as to their importance, because I am not sure how important the Committee is under the measure. That is one of the problems with which we shall have to wrestle throughout our deliberations. As my hon. Friend pointed out, the explanatory notes state that the Speakers' s Committee will have general oversight of the exercise of the Commission's functions. However, schedule 1, which contains the only serious attempt to define the role of the Committee in relation to the commission, primarily covers financial matters. It provides that there will be a financial plan and compliance with certain administrative arrangements. The measure includes no statement that, for example, the Committee can determine the broad direction of the commission; that the Committee could direct the commission to be involved with general matters to do with referendums—whether Ministers should be involved or what the electoral thresholds should be.

Those matters are fundamental for the conduct of referendums, but they will not be part of the agenda of the Speaker's Committee. As I understand it—I stand to be corrected by the Minister—the Speaker's Committee will be concerned only with administrative matters. I wholly support my hon. Friend in his argument as to the need for impartiality on the Committee—that is sensible and fair. However, I have reservations because I do not know—until we hear more from the Minister—how fundamental a role the Committee will play.

I want the Committee to play a fundamental part; it should be wholly impartial—especially in relation to Government and to those important matters in respect of referendums. No other body could offer proper guidance to the Commission.

I hope that, in pressing that argument, my hon. Friend will consider whether the Speaker's Committee has been given appropriate powers.

Photo of Andrew Stunell Andrew Stunell Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I am certainly sympathetic to the general direction of the amendments, although I cannot give them my unqualified support.

There is nothing in the Bill to prevent the Speaker from appointing herself to the Committee—the Parliamentary Secretary, Privy Council Office might want to refer to that point. Schedule 2 states that the Chair of the Committee is to be appointed from among the members of the Committee.

However, the Minister is under some obligation to give us the view of Madam Speaker as to the role that she might play in that mechanism. The Committee should take note of that view and reflect it as we deal with this and related amendments.

There are a couple of matters to weigh on the other side. The Speaker has an exceptionally full and heavy programme. The relevant point has been made that, if the Committee is to be extremely proactive, that would be a good reason for the Speaker to appoint one of the Deputy Speakers, or some other person, in her stead. However, the Minister should tell the Committee of any consultations that have been held with Madam Speaker or her Office on that point.

The hon. Member for South Staffordshire (Sir P. Cormack) drew a parallel between the Committee and the House of Commons Commission. I hope that the Minister will not go too far down that track, because the Braithwaite report may make recommendations that would free the Speaker from some of her responsibilities. Parallels with other bodies or organisations might mislead us.

The Minister might want to comment on another point that has been raised. How are the Committee's six appointed members from the House to be chosen? There is an assumption that they would be drawn via some proportional system and the usual channels. It would be open to the House to require that the overall composition of that Committee reflect that of the House, including the three Government appointees among the Government's share. That might go some way to reassure people as to its political balance or objectivity.

The amendments in the group explore some concerns. Although I am not signed up to the amendments in detail, I want to hear from the Minister a positive response to the direction in which they attempt to take the Committee.

Photo of Paddy Tipping Paddy Tipping Parliamentary Secretary, Privy Council Office

I am grateful for the kind comments by the hon. Member for South Staffordshire (Sir P. Cormack). I will of course reflect on what he said tonight, as we have always tried to reflect on what has been said during our Committee proceedings.

The hon. Gentleman made many important points. First, I acknowledge his point that the amendments were not intended to change the role of the proposed Speaker's Committee. Perhaps I may at this point respond to some comments by the hon. Member for West Worcestershire (Sir M. Spicer). I am afraid that the Committee's role is fairly limited. It takes a strategic view. It looks at financial matters. As the Bill stands, the Committee will not be involved in the nitty-gritty and will certainly not be involved in the framing of a phrase or a question put at a referendum. The role is fairly tight. In addition to its strategic view, its financial view, its receiving of reports, the Committee will be a point of reference to which the commission, if it faces difficulties, could have recourse.

Photo of Michael Spicer Michael Spicer Conservative, West Worcestershire

I just want to ask what the word "strategic" means in this context. The words "plan", "strategy" and so on appear in schedule 1. What does "strategic" mean?

Photo of Paddy Tipping Paddy Tipping Parliamentary Secretary, Privy Council Office

I think that it means taking a long-term view of the work of the commission, as has been acknowledged during out debates. The Committee will have several competing tasks and will have to take decisions about priorities. One of the issues in which the hon. Gentleman takes a close interest is the notion of referendums. It will be a task of the commission to consider how they work in practice, what the positives and negatives are and what the successes and failures are. That piece of work will have to be fitted into the commission's work programme.

Photo of Michael Spicer Michael Spicer Conservative, West Worcestershire

Does that mean that the Speaker's Committee will be able to allocate resources between the competing demands that the commission may have?

Photo of Paddy Tipping Paddy Tipping Parliamentary Secretary, Privy Council Office

No. The Speaker's Committee is there as a point of reference for the commission to sound out what direction it wishes to take. Obviously many of the day-to-day activities will be the gift of the commission and its staff, and it has been acknowledged that the idea does not come from the Neill report. I believe that there is a view among parliamentarians—a view that was expressed by the hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member for South Staffordshire—that those of us who are involved in the hurly-burly of the political world have a role to play. It is by the design of the Speaker's Committee that we are able to introduce that notion. However, as I said to the hon. Member for West Worcestershire, the detailed involvement that he has advocated is not set out in our current plans.

The hon. Member for South Staffordshire said, very precisely and properly, that he wanted the Speaker's Committee to be unique, special and above reproach, which is why he has taken as his model, and the basis of the amendments in the group, the House of Commons Commission. Those who have drafted the Bill and have been involved in this matter share the hon. Gentleman's starting point but have taken a different model—that of the National Audit Office and the work of the Public Accounts Committee. The proposals that we are making to the Committee tonight reflect that model rather than that of the House of Commons Commission.

The hon. Gentleman asked me to react with alacrity. I shall react perhaps not with alacrity but quickly to one of his suggestions, by saying that I will discuss with the Speaker her views on this matter. The Government are certain that they do not want a Speaker's Committee with the Speaker in the Chair in name only. If the Speaker were prepared to be involved in the Committee's work, we would want to reflect on the idea. The hon. Gentleman asked for reassurance; that is the reassurance that I give him on that point.

As I said, the precedent that we have taken is that of the Public Accounts Committee. It has worked well in the past and I have confidence in it. The hon. Gentleman and other hon. Gentlemen have asked about the appointment of the six members as set out in the Bill, rather than the three appointments proposed in the amendment. I am very keen to say that the inclusion of six members from the House allows a choice not just from, dare I say it, the big three political parties; there would be the potential to involve others in the Speaker's Committee.

The hon. Gentleman has suggested that the share-out of those six places would depend on the usual precedents—the size of political groups in the House. The Bill does not say that at present. It is entirely a matter for the Speaker to decide how those members are appointed, and I would be very surprised indeed—although it is a matter for the Speaker—if those six places were allocated according to the numbers in the House at any one moment. My hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Mr. Miller) made that point.

Photo of Andrew Stunell Andrew Stunell Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

The Minister is touching on a point that was central to my speech—that the credibility of the Speaker's Committee depends on its provenance and its membership. He is right to say that these matters are not in the Bill. Would he concede that it might be advantageous if they were made more explicit in the Bill?

Photo of Paddy Tipping Paddy Tipping Parliamentary Secretary, Privy Council Office

The Bill certainly says that the members will be appointed by the Speaker. It does not say that there will be proportionality, and the Bill as it reads meets the hon. Gentleman's point, but, as I said, I will ensure that there are further discussions with the Speaker on that issue, and in that context I will follow up the point that the hon. Member for Hazel Grove (Mr. Stunell) has just made.

Photo of Andrew Miller Andrew Miller Labour, Ellesmere Port and Neston

Is my hon. Friend distinguishing, as I was doing, between "appointed … by the Speaker", which means precisely what it says, and appointed by the House of Commons", as amendment No. 17 suggests, which I think means appointed through the usual channels? Is that the distinction that my hon. Friend is trying to draw?

Photo of Paddy Tipping Paddy Tipping Parliamentary Secretary, Privy Council Office

The simple point that I am making is that, as the Bill stands, the six members will be appointed by the Speaker, and the Speaker has very strong views on many matters. I have given the hon. Member for South Staffordshire an assurance that I will arrange a discussion with the Speaker on that point.

The hon. Member for South Staffordshire also asked why the Home Secretary and the Minister for Local Government were involved in the Committee. It is because they and their Departments have expertise in these matters, and each will have something to contribute to the Committee by drawing on the expertise of their Department. Similarly, the Chairman of the House of Commons Home Affairs Committee will have experience of leading such discussions. I agree with the hon. Member for West Worcestershire that the post will normally be occupied by a Member from the governing party, but, as he knows, that will not necessarily be the case. It is something that we shall have to consider.

7.30 pm

The hon. Member for South Staffordshire has used the House of Commons Commission as a precedent and the Government have used the Public Accounts Committee as a precedent. Both are eminent bodies and, at this stage, I am inclined to stick with the model in the Bill—the Public Accounts Committee. The hon. Gentleman asked whether the Speaker could be involved in these matters, and I am anxious to ensure that the Speaker is involved on a day-to-day basis as an active working member and does not merely have a ceremonial role. I give the hon. Gentleman the commitment that I intend to arrange further discussions on that point. In those circumstances, I hope that he will reflect on his amendment.

Photo of Patrick Cormack Patrick Cormack Conservative, South Staffordshire

The Minister has responded with the impeccable courtesy for which he is renowned in the House. I do not want anything that I say to be interpreted as in any sense questioning his good faith or integrity. I shall certainly not do that.

The fact is that there is unease among Conservative Members about the composition of the Committee. The Minister picked up on that unease and, to some degree, reflected it in his words. He said—he was very honest about this—that he was still inclined to stick with what the Government have in the Bill, but we are very disinclined to stick with that.

We are grateful to the Minister for saying that he will have discussions with Madam Speaker and for saying that he will reflect carefully on the points that have been made, but we would like to reinforce these points in the Division Lobby. I invite my right hon. and hon. Friends to vote for the amendment.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 144, Noes 290.

Division No. 72][7.32 pm
AYES
Allan, RichardCran, James
Amess, DavidCurry, Rt Hon David
Ancram, Rt Hon MichaelDavies, Quentin (Grantham)
Arbuthnot, Rt Hon JamesDay, Stephen
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham)Dorrell, Rt Hon Stephen
Bercow, JohnDuncan, Alan
Beresford, Sir PaulDuncan Smith, lain
Blunt, CrispinEvans, Nigel
Body, Sir RichardFaber, David
Bottomley, Peter (Worthing W)Fabricant, Michael
Bottomley, Rt Hon Mrs VirginiaFallon, Michael
Brady, GrahamFearn, Ronnie
Brazier, JulianFlight, Howard
Brooke, Rt Hon PeterForth, Rt Hon Eric
Browning, Mrs AngelaFox, Dr Liam
Bruce, Ian (S Dorset)Fraser, Christopher
Burns, SimonGale, Roger
Cash, WilliamGarnier, Edward
Chapman, Sir Sydney (Chipping Barnet)Gibb, Nick
Gill, Christopher
Clark, Dr Michael (Rayleigh)Gillan, Mrs Cheryl
Clifton-Brown, GeoffreyGorman, Mrs Teresa
Colvin, MichaelGray, James
Cormack, Sir PatrickGreen, Damian
Cotter, BrianGreenway, John
Grieve, DominicPaice, James
Hague, Rt Hon WilliamPaterson, Owen
Hamilton, Rt Hon Sir ArchiePickles, Eric
Hammond, PhilipPortillo, Rt Hon Michael
Hawkins, NickPrior, David
Hayes, JohnRandall, John
Heald, OliverRedwood, Rt Hon John
Heath, David (Somerton & Frame)Rendel, David
Heathcoat-Amory, Rt Hon DavidRobertson, Laurence
Hogg, Rt Hon DouglasRoe, Mrs Marion (Broxboume)
Horam, JohnRuffley, David
Howard, Rt Hon MichaelRussell, Bob (Colchester)
Howarth, Gerald (Aldershot)St Aubyn, Nick
Hunter, AndrewSanders, Adrian
Jack, Rt Hon MichaelSayeed, Jonathan
Jackson, Robert (Wantage)Shephard, Rt Hon Mrs Gillian
Jenkin, BernardShepherd, Richard
Johnson Smith, Rt Hon Sir GeoffreySimpson, Keith (Mid-Norfolk)
Soames, Nicholas
Kennedy, Rt Hon Charles (Ross Skye & Inverness W)Spelman, Mrs Caroline
Spicer, Sir Michael
Key, RobertSpring, Richard
King, Rt Hon Tom (Bridgwater)Streeter, Gary
Lait, Mrs JacquiStunell, Andrew
Swayne, Desmond
Leigh, EdwardSyms, Robert
Letwin, OliverTapsell, Sir Peter
Lewis, Dr Julian (New Forest E)Taylor, Ian (Esher & Walton)
Lidington, DavidTaylor, John M (Solihull)
Lilley Rt Hon PeterTaylor, Matthew (Truro)
Lloyd, Rt Hon Sir Peter (Fareham)Taylor, Sir Teddy
Loughton, TimTredinnick, David
MacGregor, Rt Hon JohnTrend, Michael
McIntosh, Miss AnneTyler, Paul
Maclean, Rt Hon DavidTyrie, Andrew
McLoughlin, PatrickViggers, Peter
Madel, Sir DavidWalter, Robert
Malins, HumfreyWaterson, Nigel
Maples, JohnWhitney, Sir Raymond
Mates, MichaelWhittingdale, John
Maude, Rt Hon FrancisWilkinson, John
Mawhinney, Rt Hon Sir BrianWilletts, David
May, Mrs TheresaWilshire, David
Morgan, Alasdair (Galloway)Winterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)
Moss, MalcolmWinterton, Nicholas (Macclesfield)
Nicholls, PatrickYeo, Tim
Norman, ArchieYoung, Rt Hon Sir George
O'Brien, Stephen (Eddisbury)
Öpik, LembitTellers for the Ayes:
Ottaway, RichardMrs. Eleanor Laing and
Page, RichardMr. Peter Luff.
NOES
Ainger, NickBradshaw, Ben
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE)Brinton, Mrs Helen
Allen, GrahamBurgon, Colin
Anderson, Janet (Rossendale)Butler, Mrs Christine
Armstrong, Rt Hon Ms HilaryCampbell, Alan (Tynemouth)
Ashton, JoeCampbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge)
Atherton, Ms CandyCampbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)
Atkins, CharlotteCanavan, Dennis
Austin, JohnCann, Jamie
Barron, KevinCaplin, Ivor
Bayley, HughCaton, Martin
Beard, NigelCawsey, Ian
Beckett, Rt Hon Mrs MargaretChapman, Ben (Wirral S)
Benn, Hilary (Leeds C)Clapham, Michael
Benn, Rt Hon Tony (Chesterfield)Clark, Rt Hon Dr David (S Shields)
Bennett, Andrew FClark, Dr Lynda (Edinburgh Pentlands)
Benton, Joe
Berry, RogerClark, Paul (Gillingham)
Betts, CliveClarke, Charles (Norwich S)
Blears, Ms HazelClarke, Rt Hon Tom (Coatbridge)
Borrow, DavidClarke, Tony (Northampton S)
Bradley, Keith (Withington)Coaker, Vemon
Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin)Coffey, Ms Ann
Cohen, HarryHopkins, Kelvin
Coleman, lainHoyle, Lindsay
Connarty, MichaelHughes, Ms Bevertey (Stretford)
Cook, Frank (Stockton N)Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)
Cooper, YvetteHumble, Mrs Joan
Corbett, RobinHurst, Alan
Corbyn, JeremyHutton, John
Crausby, DavidIddon, Dr Brian
Cryer, Mrs Ann (Keighley)Illsley, Eric
Cryer, John (Hornchurch)Ingram, Rt Hon Adam
Cummings, JohnJackson, Helen (Hillsborough)
Cunningham, Jim (Cov'try S)Johnson, Alan (Hull W & Hessle)
Curtis-Thomas, Mrs ClaireJohnson, Miss Melanie (Welwyn Hatfield)
Darvill, Keith
Davey, Valerie (Bristol W)Jones, Rt Hon Barry (Alyn)
Davidson, IanJones, Helen (Warrington N)
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)Jones, Ms Jenny (Wolverh'ton SW)
Davies, Geraint (Croydon C)
Dawson, HiltonJones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C)
Dean, Mrs JanetJones, Dr Lynne (Selly Oak)
Denham, JohnJones, Martyn (Clwyd S)
Dismore, AndrewJowell, Rt Hon Ms Tessa
Dobbin, JimKeeble, Ms Sally
Donohoe, Brian HKeen, Alan (Feltham & Heston)
Doran, FrankKeen, Ann (Brentford & Isleworth)
Dowd, JimKennedy, Jane (Wavertree)
Drew, DavidKidney, David
Dunwoody, Mrs GwynethKilfoyle, Peter
Eagle, Angela (Wallasey)King, Andy (Rugby & Kenilworth)
Eagle, Maria (L'pool Garston)Kumar, Dr Ashok
Edwards, HuwLadyman, Dr Stephen
Efford, CliveLaxton, Bob
Ellman, Mrs LouiseLepper, David
Ennis, JeffLeslie, Christopher
Field, Rt Hon FrankLevitt, Tom
Fisher, MarkLewis, Ivan (Bury S)
Fitzpatrick, JimLewis, Terry (Worsley)
Fitzsimons, LornaLinton, Martin
Flint, CarolineLloyd, Tony (Manchester C)
Flynn, PaulLock, David
Follett, BarbaraMcCabe, Steve
Foster, Rt Hon DerekMcDonagh, Siobhain
Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings)Macdonald, Calum
Foster, Michael J (Worcester)McDonnell, John
Galloway, GeorgeMcFall, John
Gapes, MikeMcIsaac, Shona
Gardiner, BarryMcKenna, Mrs Rosemary
George, Bruce (Walsall S)Mackinlay, Andrew
Gerrard, NeilMcNulty, Tony
Gibson, Dr IanMacShane, Denis
Gilroy, Mrs LindaMactaggart, Fiona
Godman, Dr Norman AMcWalter, Tony
Godsiff, RogerMcWilliam, John
Goggins, PaulMahon, Mrs Alice
Golding, Mrs LlinMallaber, Judy
Gordon, Mrs EileenMarsden, Gordon (Blackpool S)
Griffiths, Jane (Reading E)Marsden, Paul (Shrewsbury)
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)Marshall-Andrews, Robert
Grocott, BruceMeacher, Rt Hon Michael
Grogan, JohnMeale, Alan
Hall, Patrick (Bedford)Merron, Gillian
Hamilton, Fabian (Leeds NE)Michie, Bill (Shef'ld Heeley)
Hanson, DavidMiller, Andrew
Heal, Mrs SylviaMoffatt, Laura
Healey, JohnMoonie, Dr Lewis
Henderson, Ivan (Harwich)Moran, Ms Margaret
Hepburn, StephenMorley, Elliot
Heppell, JohnMorris, Rt Hon Ms Estelle (B'ham Yardley)
Hesford, Stephen
Hewitt, Ms PatriciaMountford, Kali
Hill, KeithMudie, George
Hinchliffe, DavidMullin, Chris
Hodge, Ms MargaretMurphy, Denis (Wansbeck)
Hood, JimmyMurphy, Jim (Eastwood)
Hoon, Rt Hon GeoffreyMurphy, Rt Hon Paul (Torfaen)
Hope, PhilNaysmith, Dr Doug
O'Brien, Bill (Normanton)Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)
O'Brien, Mike (N Warks)Snape, Peter
O'Hara, EddieSouthworth, Ms Helen
Olner, BillStarkey, Dr Phyllis
Pearson, IanSteinberg, Gerry
Pendry, TomStewart, Ian (Eccles)
Perham, Ms LindaStinchcombe, Paul
Pickthall, ColinStoate, Dr Howard
Pike, Peter LStringer, Graham
Plaskitt, JamesStuart, Ms Gisela
Pond, ChrisSutcliffe, Gerry
Pope, GregTaylor, Rt Hon Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Pound, Stephen
Powell, Sir RaymondTaylor. Ms Dari (Stockton S)
Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E)Taylor, David (NW Leics)
Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)Thomas, Gareth (Clwyd W)
Prescott, Rt Hon JohnThomas, Gareth R (Harrow W)
Primarolo, DawnThomas, Simon (Ceredigton)
Prosser, GwynTimms, Stephen
Purchase, KenTipping, Paddy
Quinn,LawrieTodd, Mark
Radice,Rt Hon GilesTouhig, Don
Rammell,BillTickett, Jon
Raynsford, NickTruswell, Paul
Reed, Andrew (Loughborough)Turner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE)
Roche, Mrs BarbaraTurner, Dr Desmond (Kemptown)
Rooker, Rt Hon JeffTurner, Dr George (NW Norfolk)
Rooney, TerryTurner, Neil (Wigan)
Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)Twigg, Derek (Halton)
Twigg, Stephen (Enfield)
Roy, FrankWalley, Ms Joan
Ruane, ChnsWard, Ms Claire
Ruddock, JoanWareing, Robert N
Russell, Ms Christine (Chester)Watts, David
Ryan, Ms JoanWhite, Brian
Salter, MartinWhitehead, Dr Alan
Savidge, MalcolmWicks, Malcolm
Sawford, PhilWilliams, Rt Hon Alan (Swansea W)
Sedgemore, Brian
Shaw, JonathanWilliams, Alan W (E Carmarthen)
Sheenman, BarryWilliams, Mrs Betty (Conwy)
Sheldon, Rt Hon RobertWinterton, Ms Rosie (Doncaster C)
Simpson, Alan (Nottingham S)Wise, Audrey
Singh, MarshaWoodward, Shaun
Skinner, DennisWoolas, Phil
Smith, Rt Hon Andrew (Oxford E)Wright, Anthony D (Gt Yarmouth)
Smith, Angela (Basildon)Wright, Dr Tony (Cannock)
Smith, Rt Hon Chris (Islington S)Wyatt, Derek
Smith, Miss Geraldine (Morecambe & Lunesdale)
Tellers for the Noes:
Smith, Jacqui (Redditch)Mr. David Clelland and
Smith, John (Glamorgan)Mr. Mike Hall.

Question accordingly negatived.

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Eric Forth Eric Forth Conservative, Bromley and Chislehurst 7:45 pm, 14th February 2000

This is a tantalising clause because nowhere in part I is there any reference to the functions of the Speaker's Committee. One has to dig a little deeper, in schedule 2, to find a reference to what the Committee does. I know, Sir Alan, that you do not want me to delve into schedule 2 at this stage; we shall come to that debate fairly quickly, so I shall defer my remarks on the Committee's functions until then.

Clause 2 outlines the Committee's membership, and a mere perusal of the clause quickly reveals that it has the potential to be problematic. It includes the Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee, which is in effect, despite mechanisms and subterfuge, a Government appointment. The Government of the day tend to dominate such key appointments, especially if they have a large majority in the House. The Committee also includes the Secretary of State for the Home Department, which is self-evidently a Government appointment, and a Member of the House who is a Minister of the Crown and therefore, by definition, also a member of the Government. Already we can identify three members of the Speaker's Committee who are members of the Government or of the Government party.

That is all very well, and people might be reassured that subsection (2)(d) requires the Committee's membership to include six Members of the House who are not Ministers of the Crown. My worry is that although subsection (4) states: The members of the Committee mentioned in subsection (2)(d) shall be appointed … by the Speaker of the House"—

Photo of Andrew Miller Andrew Miller Labour, Ellesmere Port and Neston

On a point of order, Sir Alan. I thought that we had just had the debate on this very point.

Photo of Alan Haselhurst Alan Haselhurst Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means

This is a stand part debate. I am of course listening very carefully to the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth), and although I shall give him a certain amount of leeway, I certainly do not expect him to repeat the previous debate.

Photo of Eric Forth Eric Forth Conservative, Bromley and Chislehurst

I am coming to the gist of my remarks. I just wanted to set the scene so that my remarks are properly in context. I welcome the hon. Gentleman's impatience for me to get to my gist—I know how much he enjoys my gists, so I shall bring my gist forward.

Although one might be reassured by the fact that the Speaker, no less, would appoint the members of the Committee specified in subsection (2)(d), nowhere in the clause is there a protective mechanism to provide a guarantee that the membership of the Committee will be balanced in terms of the composition of the House or the representation of different Committees. We may want to return to that point in the debate on schedule 2. Even the hon. Gentleman will agree that we have not yet debated that, and I am anxious for us to do so.

I am flagging up a worry. We have not yet debated the functions of the Speaker's Committee because we are a bit back to front and the functions are in schedule 2, not clause 2. As we discuss schedule 2, we will need to have a mind to the composition and origins of the Committee and the extent to which the Government seem to have a hold on it, without any guarantee that non-Government Members will be included.

I defer my more detailed remarks to the debate on schedule 2, but I wanted to tell the Committee that when we come to discuss the functions of the Speaker's Committee we should be aware of a potential shortcoming in the membership.

Photo of Patrick Cormack Patrick Cormack Conservative, South Staffordshire

We have had the debate on the composition of the Committee. The Parliamentary Secretary, Privy Council Office knows exactly what we think, but he made one interesting comment. He said that the model would be the Public Accounts Committee. That Committee always has an Opposition Member in the Chair. Is it the Government's intention that that should be the case with the Speaker's Committee?

Photo of Mr Patrick Nicholls Mr Patrick Nicholls Conservative, Teignbridge

Some of the concerns of my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) have occurred to me, too. It is obvious from a casual reading of the clause that the mere presence of the Speaker apparently confers a certain—how can I put it?—authority and genuineness. Anyone coming to the thing afresh would say, "If it is the Speaker's Committee, there will be fair play, both explicitly and implicitly." When I went through the clause carefully, I kept waiting for a subsection to say, "And there shall be a mechanism to ensure that the Opposition"—not just the principal Opposition, but minor parties, possibly even as minor as the Liberal Democrats—"play a role," but, remarkably, it is not there.

Obviously, every holder of the Speaker's office is there because of the high esteem in which that Members hold that person. That has always been our tradition and, I am sure, always will be, but, at the same time, the clause relies entirely on the hope and expectation that it will all work out in the end. If the intention is that the Speaker's Committee, with the authority of the name of the Speaker, should be an authoritative body that commands respect and trust, there should be some mechanism to ensure that there is representation from the principal party of opposition and possibly the minor ones, too. In so far as clause 2 does not have that assurance, it is defective.

Photo of Paddy Tipping Paddy Tipping Parliamentary Secretary, Privy Council Office

The right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) told us that we would return to the question in different forms and ways. I think that we will. If we are not able to resolve the issue in the debate on clause stand part, or on schedule 2, we will return to it on Report.

I gave the hon. Member for South Staffordshire (Sir P. Cormack) an assurance that there would be further discussions with the Speaker on the point. I said that we wanted to ensure that, if the Speaker were minded to be involved—there is a strong case for that—she would have not a ceremonial role, but an active and important one. Having given those undertakings, a range of other possibilities opens up.

The right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst asked how the six are to be appointed and whether it will be through the usual proportionality. I repeat: as the Bill stands, it is entirely a matter for the Speaker. As always, she will exercise her own judgment on the matter. Having six Members from the House of Commons—six ordinary Members, dare I say—gives the opportunity for broader representation on the Committee than the three main parties.

There has been some discussion about who should take the chair of the Committee. I inadvertently misled the hon. Member for South Staffordshire when I referred to the Public Accounts Committee. I meant the Public Accounts Commission. I apologise. The precedent works well. His precedent for the Speaker's Committee is one precedent; my preference—the Public Accounts Commission—is another and a different way forward.

The right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst pointed out that the Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee is normally from the major party. That need not necessarily be the case. It is a matter for the House and the Committee to decide, but concerns have been raised during this debate and in more detail in our previous debate. I gave an undertaking that there would be further discussions with the Speaker. I will ensure that that happens. I am confident that that will inform our debate later. As the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst said, we will undoubtedly return to the matter in different forms and ways.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 2 ordered to stand part of the Bill.