Select Committees (Chairmen), Liaison Committee and Green Book

Part of Business of the House – in the House of Commons at 8:00 pm on 3rd March 2009.

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Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Deputy Leader of the House of Commons 8:00 pm, 3rd March 2009

There are four motions before us in this debate, and I shall deal with them in reverse order.

Motion 16 amends the new Green Book that the House agreed on 22 January in one regard. The Green Book specifies that Department of Resources staff have the authority to administer the rules as set out in the Green Book, but that if any issue is unresolved

"the Member may ask the Finance and Services Committee to rule".

It also says that the Finance and Services Committee

"will agree Practice Notes which will be used by the Department in administering the rules".

In the debate on 22 January, the Chairman of the 1922 Committee, Sir Michael Spicer, who is not in his place at present, asked whether this should not be altered in the light of the fact that on that same day we changed the Advisory Panel on Members' Allowances into a formal Committee of the House, with a clear remit to look at every aspect of Members' allowances.

On reflection, I believe that the Chairman of the 1922 Committee was right, for two reasons. First, as hon. Members will know, although the House of Commons Commission, chaired by the Speaker, is the overall supervisory body for the administration of the House, the House's expenditure is divided between two accounts, or estimates—to use the parliamentary jargon. The first, the Administration estimate, covers the costs of administration of the House. The second, the Members estimate, covers MPs' pay and allowances. Our Standing Orders state that the Finance and Services Committee oversees the Administration estimate and that the Members Estimate Committee oversees, naturally enough, the Members estimate. As the Finance and Services Committee has no remit under Standing Orders to look at the Members Estimate, which includes allowances, it seems wrong for it to have this new role in adjudicating on issue relating to Members' allowances.

Secondly, having just created the new Committee on Members' Allowances, it clearly makes sense to give it the full responsibility for these issues, and that is precisely what motion 16 does. That in no respect alters the duties, powers or responsibilities of the Committee on Standards and Privileges, nor of the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards as set out in out Standing Orders. I hope that the Chairman of the Committee on Standards and Privileges will be content that the relationship between the two Committees will not leave hon. Members open to double jeopardy, or lead to the danger that the House cannot administer its discipline properly.

The other motions before us are also straightforward. Motion 15 would put the Chairman of the Committee on Members' Allowances on the Liaison Committee—a matter that I have discussed with the Chairman of the Liaison Committee, the Father of the House. Motions 13 and 14 would provide for the Chairman of the Committee to be paid, in common with all other Chairmen of Select Committees, other than the regional Committees, whose Chairmen will not be paid. I hope that the motions can be carried with little further ado.

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