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 Andrew Stunell Andrew Stunell Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 6:45 pm, 14th February 2000

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.