Backbench Business Committee

Part of Oral Answers to Questions — Communities and Local Government – in the House of Commons at 4:16 pm on 12th March 2012.

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Photo of David Heath David Heath The Deputy Leader of the House of Commons 4:16 pm, 12th March 2012

As I said when responding to the debate on the original motion to set up the Backbench Business Committee, Wright is not holy writ and should not be treated as such, not least because there are internal contradictions in the Wright report, just as there are sometimes in holy writ. Therefore, the House has to take a view on what is in the best interests of its procedures. That will be for the House to decide. I simply contend that it is a strange situation where the biggest party represented in the House can override the interests and decisions of other parties in deciding who its representatives on the Committee will be. I would have thought that my hon. Friend the Member for Harwich and North Essex had confidence in the ability of his own party’s procedures —I am afraid I have no specialist knowledge of them—to make a proper determination of who should serve on the Committee on its behalf.

I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Harwich and North Essex that different considerations apply to the Chair of the Committee, as he set out, which is why we propose that the Chair should continue to be elected by the whole House, with one proviso: we think that the Government should not provide the Chair, for perfectly obvious reasons. The situation is exactly analogous to that of two other Committees—the Standards and Privileges Committee and the Public Accounts Committee. There is a strong argument in favour of the Committee’s decisions not being seen as the result of some sort of internal collusion between the Government and the legislature, and I think that the clearest way of indicating that they are not is to ensure that the Chair comes from a party that is not represented in Government.