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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 Paddy Tipping Paddy Tipping Parliamentary Secretary, Privy Council Office 6:45 pm, 14th February 2000

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.