The Speaker's Committee

Part of 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 Michael Spicer Michael Spicer Conservative, West Worcestershire 6:45 pm, 14th February 2000

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.