Select Committees (Chairmen), Liaison Committee and Green Book

Part of Business of the House – in the House of Commons at 8:05 pm on 3rd March 2009.

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Photo of Alan Duncan Alan Duncan Shadow Leader of the House of Commons 8:05 pm, 3rd March 2009

I am grateful to the Deputy Leader of the House for explaining the motions so clearly. We are largely content with them, and I do not need to repeat what he said. They are largely consequential on the adoption of the new Green Book. They put the Committee on Members' Allowances into line with other Select Committees by providing for the payment of the Chairman and putting him or her on the Liaison Committee.

I wish to dwell on only one matter of detail—on which I agreed with the Deputy Leader of the House—to amplify the assurance that he has just given my right hon. Friend Sir George Young about the continuing and unchanged status of the Committee on Standards and Privileges. The danger that loomed for a little while was that the potential reference to the new Committee of disputes between Members and officials of the House about what was a legitimate claim might somehow usurp the existing authority of my right hon. Friend's Committee.

The concern arises from the recommendation on the revised Green Book in the report by the Members Estimate Committee, which said:

"We recommend that, for disputes over what is an acceptable claim which cannot be resolved between officials and the Member concerned, the Member should be able to ask the Finance and Services Committee"

—now the Committee on Members' Allowances—

"to rule, and should have the option of appealing to the Members Estimate Committee."

The potential implication is that any such adjudication could be taken as final, and any dispute or complaint could not be referred to my right hon. Friend's Committee. The Deputy Leader of the House has made it clear that that would not be the case, and even though the Committee on Members' Allowances might have said that a Member's claim was justified, it could still go to the Committee on Standards and Privileges for its decision.

It is obvious that if a Member, having talked to officials and taken the issue to the Committee on Members' Allowances, had reached a conclusion on a matter, the Committee on Standards and Privileges would take that into account. Therefore, the effect could well be to weed out smaller disputes and resolve them at that level, thus avoiding complaints and investigations into Members on what may be honest differences about how the rules should apply.

My reason for mentioning this issue in further detail is to ensure that the House can enjoy clarity about the practice that it will now follow, and to ensure that those who observe our proceedings cannot deliberately make mischief by trying to play one Committee off against another. It is essential that the hierarchy of adjudication is understood by people inside and outside the House, and that no mischief can be made as a result. It should be understood that the first port of call will be the Committee on Members' Allowances, followed by some sort of appeal. That will largely be the case if a Member has submitted an invoice against their claim—in other words, it is a live issue rather than an historic investigation. In such cases, the Fees Office—as we used to call it, but it is now the Department of Resources or something—might say, "Hold on, you're over-egging it a bit, that doesn't fall within the rules." Such altercations can be resolved at that stage. We need to be clear that we are looking at a sensible ladder of adjudication in the event of disagreement.

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