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With the permission of the House, the motions on Select Committees will be taken together.
Before I call the Leader of the House to move the first motion, I should inform the House that I have selected the amendment to the second motion, in the name of Mr Allen. The amendment may be debated along with the first motion, and the hon. Gentleman will be called to move it formally at the end of the debate if he wishes to do so.
I beg to move,
That with effect until the end of the current Parliament,
With this we will consider the following:
The motion on changes to
That the following changes be made to standing orders—
(1) Leave out paragraph (1) of
“(1) There shall be a select committee, to be called the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee, to examine the reports of the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration and the Health Service Commissioner for England, which are laid before this House, and matters in connection therewith; to consider matters relating to the quality and standards of administration provided by civil service departments, and other matters relating to the civil service; and to consider constitutional affairs.
(1A) The committee shall consist of eleven Members.”;
(2) Change the title of
The motion on the allocation of Chairs—
That, pursuant to Standing Order No 122B (Election of Committee Chairs), the chairs of those select committees subject to the Standing Order be allocated as indicated in the following Table
Let me begin by congratulating you, Mr Deputy Speaker, on your election this afternoon. We look forward to serving under your stewardship.
Order. A great many private conversations are taking place. If those conversations need to take place, could they take place outside the Chamber? I need to hear the Leader of the House.
The creation of the Women and Equalities Committee has been asked for by Members from all parts of the House, and I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend Mrs Miller, who has been instrumental in driving that agenda. If this Committee’s formation is agreed to by the House tonight, it will have all the usual powers of a departmental Select Committee, as set out in Standing Orders. I have introduced this motion so that the House can make such a decision; I hope it will choose to do so. The Standing Order makes clear that the Committee will be established until the end of this Parliament; it will then be for the House to decide whether in the next Parliament the Committee becomes a permanent Committee. I imagine that that will be the case.
The next motion changes relevant Standing Orders so that the name of the Select Committee on Public Administration can be changed to the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee and be given the power to consider all aspects of constitutional affairs. This is a simple consequence of the fact that in this Parliament there is no ministerial position of Deputy Prime Minister. The motion before the House takes us back to the position immediately before the election in 2010.
The final motion paves the way for the election of Select Committee Chairs by secret ballot of the whole House, introduced for the first time in the previous Parliament, by allocating each Chair to a specific party in accordance with the proportions that Mr Speaker has notified the party leaders of, in accordance with Standing Order 122(B). If this motion is agreed to, arrangements for a ballot will be made, under the supervision of Mr Speaker, in accordance with the remaining provisions of the Standing Order. I know that many Members from all parts of the House have put their names forward for election as Select Committee Chairs. I wish them all the very best in their campaigns.
Will the Leader of the House explain why the Women and Equalities Committee is not going to be a permanent feature of the Standing Orders and will fall at the end of this Parliament? I hope it is not some sort of sop on this very important subject, because I think the House would take a dim view of that.
The Committee will be here for as long as the House chooses to keep it here. My expectation, as I said, is that it will be an ongoing feature, but, when a Committee is introduced for the first time, it is not unusual for it to be introduced for a Parliament and, then, for the next Parliament to choose whether to renew it. My expectation is that it will choose to do so.
Hon. Members may notice that the Chair of the Backbench Business Committee is not specified in the motion. That is purely because its Chair is not specified under the same Standing Order as the others, although they are elected under the same proceedings. The election of the Chair of the Backbench Business Committee will take place at the same time as the elections of the Chairs covered by the motions before us. I commend the motions to the House.
I rise to support the three motions on the Order Paper concerning Select Committees. I will first address the motion in the names of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, the Prime Minister and Angus Robertson on the allocation of Chairs, before turning to the remaining motions which create a new Women and Equalities Committee and bring constitutional affairs under the remit of the Public Administration Committee.
I know from my experience as a Minister and as a member of the Public Accounts and Treasury Committees that Select Committees are an important part of the work of this House. The previous Parliament was notable for having very active Committees which were an effective check and balance on the Government and other powerful interests. The work of my right hon. Friend Margaret Hodge was a particularly good example of how Select Committees can be used to speak truth to those in power. We therefore welcome today’s motion which paves the way for the swift election of Committee Chairs by secret ballot of the whole House. Many of us will be relieved when the incessant canvassing, which is going on cross-party, all over the place and in every corner of the building by aspiring Select Committee Chairs can finally come to an end, because we will have had the ballot and selected them.
The second motion will establish a Women and Equalities Committee, which is an extremely welcome addition that has been called for by Members from across the House for a number of years. As the 2014 report of the all-party group on women in Parliament notes, given that we have Women and Equalities oral questions and a Minister for Women and Equalities at the Cabinet table, a Select Committee is an important next step. It will also no doubt provide an excellent platform to hold the Government to account for any decisions that could roll back equality, and enable a new generation of parliamentarians to learn that they should never, “Calm down, dear.”
I look forward to the Committee being made a permanent part of the Select Committee system, and I certainly hope that our successor Parliament, in the early stages of its existence post-2020, will be able to make that decision. It is, however, up to those who are elected and appointed to the Committee in this Parliament to make the case for making permanent what I think will be a very important Select Committee.
Finally, I note the motion changing the remit of the Public Administration Committee so that it incorporates constitutional affairs. I pay tribute to all members who served on the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee in the last Parliament, especially my hon. Friend Mr Allen, who chaired it so ably. I note his proposed amendment to the motion and know that he will continue to make a valuable contribution to debates on these issues as we on this side of the House scrutinise the Government’s proposals on constitutional change, which have far-reaching implications for the constitutional settlement—albeit not written down—in the UK. I urge the House to support the motions.
May I warmly congratulate you, Mr Deputy Speaker, on being returned as the Chairman of Ways and Means? Given that you had the enthusiastic support of my hon. Friend Mr MacNeil, it was almost certain that you would be returned to the position and I warmly welcome that.
I also warmly welcome the motions. Motions 1 and 3 deal with the new Public Administration and Constitutional Reform Committee. I feel the pain of Mr Allen at the abandonment of the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee, particularly when there are so many big, meaty constitutional issues to consider in this Parliament. I am sure, however, that he will continue to contribute to the debate, and I know he will have a significant part to play in the ongoing constitutional debates in this House. I wish him well in that.
I warmly welcome the motion that states that, for the first time, the Scottish National party will chair a Select Committee in the House of Commons. It is like the proverbial bus: we wait for decades to secure a Chair of a Select Committee, and then two come along at once. May I congratulate the usual channels on the way in which this is being debated and decided? We are absolutely thrilled to be given the Chair of the Select Committees on Scottish Affairs and on Energy and Climate Change. We will use due diligence and ensure that we approach them consensually and in a way that will be of value to the House. I look forward to being a part of this set-up, and the Scottish National party very much welcomes the opportunity to chair those Committees.
May I briefly turn my attention to a little issue that we are going to have to address—I am grateful that the Chief Whip is in his place—and that is the membership of the Scottish Affairs Committee? It is an issue because I believe that there is an expectation in Scotland that, as usual, the majority of members of the Scottish Affairs Committee should be Members of Parliament from Scotland. That has always happened and I believe that there is an expectation for it to continue. I know that the Government are keen to progress English votes for English laws through the House, so I think that, in return, we have to have Scottish affairs for Scottish Members.
I know that the Chief Whip will have a clear look at that, and I hope he will report back that he agrees that the majority of the members of the Scottish Affairs Committee must be MPs from Scotland. I know it is down to our success, with 56—
The Health Committee on which I had the privilege to serve in the previous Parliament largely dealt with—indeed, in its last year it only dealt with—matters pertaining to England and the English NHS. Will the SNP be taking its seat on the Health Committee on that basis?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that question, and yes we probably will, because there are massive issues to do with that, but I also say to the hon. Gentleman that we will not be looking for places on the Communities and Local Government Committee, which has nothing to do with Scotland.
One thing the Chief Whip and the Leader of the House can do when we are considering the arithmetical distribution of places across Select Committees is acknowledge that there are some Committees that we might not have an interest in. We will have an interest in the Health Committee, however, because there are big financial consequences to do with the Barnett formula. We will continue to take an interest in that, and it is only fair that we look at some of the financial issues in health measures passing through the House of Commons.
This is a problem, and it has to be addressed. We have been a victim of our own success—56 out of 59.
On some of the Health Committees on which I served there were issues that were pertinent to Northern Ireland—10 or a dozen—and there will be things relating to the NHS that affect Scotland and its MPs.
Of course. We are a one nation Parliament, as the Prime Minister tells us, so let us accept that that is the case.
The Government are entitled to their arithmetical majority on the Scottish Affairs Committee, but the question they have to ask themselves in that regard is a legitimacy question, when almost all the Members for Scotland are from one party. I see that both the Chief Whip and Leader of the House are listening carefully to these remarks. There is an expectation in Scotland that this will happen—that there will be a majority of Scottish Members of Parliament on the Scottish Affairs Committee. Every other national Select Committee has such a majority of members, whether it is the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee or the Welsh Affairs Committee, and there has not been a Scottish Affairs Committee that has not had such a majority.
I ask the Leader of the House to address this point in his concluding remarks. Will he give us some comfort that he will at least look at this issue, and make a positive, progressive statement to ensure that we at least come close to, or get, a majority of Scottish Members on the Scottish Affairs Committee?
I support the motions, in particular the establishment of the Women and Equalities Committee. Members on both sides of the House have campaigned for a long time for the establishment of such a Committee. The problem has been that the equalities brief has travelled from the Home Office to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport; it has sometimes been held by the Department for Communities and Local Government; and a bit of it has been with the Department for Work and Pensions. Now, for the first time, we will have a Select Committee that is able to scrutinise effectively women and equalities issues.
I too want to pay tribute to Mrs Miller for the work she has done, and I welcome this motion.
I was not planning to speak, but I want to respond to Pete Wishart on an argument I actually have some sympathy with: the representation of Scottish Members on the Scottish Affairs Committee. The point I was making about the Health Committee was that its business is primarily concerned with the English NHS. However, I completely accept that there are knock-on impacts on the other health systems, and I hope we will see SNP Members on that Committee. The same thing applies to the Scottish Affairs Committee. Matters that affect Scotland, particularly on devolution, also affect my constituents. [Interruption.] I am not going to join the SNP—I think that was the offer just made. The Health Committee deals primarily with the English health service, but I hope Scottish Members will take their seats on it because there are knock-on effects, just as there are in respect of the Scottish Affairs Committee.
I apologise for speaking without notice, Madam Deputy Speaker, but I was unable to respond to the hon. Gentleman on this point earlier, and I just wanted to do so.
I welcome your ascent once again to the Chair, Madam Deputy Speaker. Your popularity is almost unrivalled in the House. I have to say, however, that popularity is not exclusive to the Chair these days. With this system of secret ballots for the election of Select Committee Chairs across the parties, I can report that I have never been more popular in this House with Conservative and Labour Members. I am approached in all precincts of the House and asked for my views on a whole variety of things. Never before have I been in a position of being able to dispense such wisdom. Members whose names I do not know are approaching me. People I did not even know were Members are approaching me.
I just say to Andrew Percy that I hope he is not standing as Chair of a Select Committee.
That is good, because that means he is a man of independent mind, although unfortunately it is a wayward independent mind. The reason why the Health Committee considers matters that affect Scotland is the Barnett formula. Through the Barnett formula, what happens in finance for the health service in England has knock-on effects for Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales. Perhaps I did not catch the hon. Gentleman correctly, but did he say that he served on the previous Health Committee?
I find it very strange, then, that he did not realise that, as Jim Shannon pointed out, issues debated in the Health Committee had implications for Northern Ireland. He must have been taken absent without leave during the proceedings, otherwise he would have known that.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for calling me wayward—although I do not know whether it is a compliment. My point was that matters discussed in the Health Committee affect other parts of the United Kingdom, although our business is primarily English. For the same reason, English Members of Parliament have an absolute right to sit on the Scottish Affairs Committee, because the matters it considers affect my constituents in the same way.
I once heard the Barnett formula described as being like the Schleswig-Holstein question in European politics, in that only three people ever understood it: one is mad, one is dead and I have forgotten it, but I will try to remember enough of it to allow the hon. Gentleman to understand how it works. For example, additional public spending on health in England has a knock-on effect in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The reverse does not apply—it is not a question of allocating for Northern Ireland and then reverse-allocating England.
Move on where? Luckily the right hon. Lady is on the Front Bench, so will not be standing to be a Chair of one of these Select Committees, otherwise she would have done her chances no good whatever. Members on the Treasury Bench should behave better in these debates. She should be setting an example to her new Members, not cavorting about like some demented junior Minister. Behave yourself, woman!
My hon. Friend Pete Wishart asked me to say a few words in support of his argument. I happen to think it is necessary in this sense. He has put the argument very forcefully indeed: at a time when the Government are tinkering with the idea of EVEL—of having English votes for English MPs—and it is suggested that they will manipulate the Standing Orders of this House, perhaps to create English MP-only Committees, it will damage their argument, perhaps irreparably, if they stuff the Scottish Affairs Committee with a majority of English Conservative MPs. I say to the Conservative party that if it wanted to have Conservative MPs on the Scottish Affairs Committee, it should have gone to the trouble of getting more than one elected in Scotland in the recent general election. Alternatively, the Tories could immediately demote the Secretary of State for Scotland, make him a Back Bencher and exile him to the Scottish Affairs Committee.
I am strongly tempted, but those on the hon. Gentleman’s Front Bench want me to move on. I say to the Government Whips: just think of all the problems that will be avoided—of having to exile hapless Members and put them on the Scottish Affairs Committee —if they accept the advice of my hon. Friend the Member for Perth and North Perthshire and do not try to gerrymander the Scottish Affairs Committee with a majority of English Conservative Members of Parliament. [Interruption.]
Order. I know that the right hon. Gentleman is used to being heard and has a voice that is normally heard, but he must not be drowned out.
There is only a remote chance of the Conservative party drowning out the Scottish National party in this Parliament, Madam Deputy Speaker. I know Mark Menzies is keen, so I will extend to him the same courtesy that generations of Conservative Front Benchers have extended to me by not giving way to him on this occasion.
My argument is that the Scottish Affairs Committee should have at least a majority of Scottish MPs, and preferably should be completely made up of Scottish MPs, as it has been for some substantial time. If we reform or reconvene the Scottish Grand Committee, that should also be composed of Scottish MPs. If that is not to happen—the Leader of the House will give us an indication—and if the Conservatives are not prepared the extend the same courtesy to Scotland, I say to them that any argument whatever for their plan to have English-only votes on English-only Committees will be fatally undermined. An indication from the Leader of the House that that will happen will be greatly appreciated. I was going to say that that perhaps would do something to restore the Conservative party in Scotland, but it will not—it will take a lot more than that. At least it will stop the Conservative party from declining any further from the historical low it reached in Scotland three weeks ago.
I am sorry—he is the right hon. Member for Gordon and a former First Minister. As a former First Minister, he should appreciate that, in this Chamber and this House, we debate and take interventions. It is not like the Scottish Parliament, where Members stand up and speak and nobody is allowed to intervene. That is not how we do things in this House.
The point I want to make is a valid one. I served on the Scottish Affairs Committee in the last Parliament—it was a great privilege to do so.
The right hon. Gentleman cannot control his actions from his sedentary position.
I served on the Scottish Affairs Committee. We dealt with matters relating both to Scotland and to Scotland’s place in the United Kingdom. The one person who was not there was the SNP Member. He did not take up his seat on the Committee.
I fully appreciate the hon. Gentleman’s point, but he will appreciate just as well that that is not a point of order for the Chair to deal with at the moment. I am quite certain that there will be many times in debate over the next few months when he will have the opportunity to make the point he seeks to make.
My point is an important one. SNP Members cannot come to the Chamber and demand a majority. In the last Parliament, when they had a seat on the Committee, they did not exercise that right to speak for Scotland. They cannot have their cake and eat it. If they wanted to be on that Committee in the last Parliament, why did they not exercise their right to take up their seat? Why come to the Chamber tonight and try to pull the wool over people’s eyes?
No. In the good traditions of the SNP, I will not take the hon. Gentleman’s intervention.
As a Scot who represents an English seat, I want to do the right thing by the Scottish Affairs Committee. I say to SNP Members: please do not come here and give us the heavy guilt trip, and say, “If you don’t have a majority of Scots on the Committee, you’re letting Scotland down.” In the last Parliament, they had a seat and did not take it up. Perhaps they were letting Scotland down. I will leave that point to rest.
It is very nice to see you, Madam Deputy Speaker, in the Chair. I believe it is the first such occasion since your election. Even though we are to witness the death of the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee, your decision, as a former member of that Committee, to dress entirely in black was unnecessary but very welcome, and the message will have been received by many in the House.
The Political and Constitutional Reform Committee had a magnificent record in serving this House over five years. I do not know whether that is why its tenure has not been renewed. It is for the usual channels and the Leader of the House’s Office to make it clear why the Committee’s tenure has not been renewed. I will list one or two of our reports that may have caused some embarrassment to the then coalition Government. However, all of them were done and approved by an all-party Select Committee, which was elected by this House. The Chair, which was me, was one of the first to be elected by the whole House, because of the Wright Committee reforms. All the members of the Select Committee were, for the first time ever, elected by the individual parties in a secret ballot.
My anxiety, which I am sure the Leader of the House will allay, is that this could be the first of the changes—the rolling back—that will leave the Government completely in control without even a nod in the direction of parliamentary accountability, because I believe that parliamentary accountability will be lessened.
This was not a Committee packed by one party or another. In fact, it had a Conservative majority, but anyone attending the Committee would not have got that impression. The members of the Committee, including you, Madam Deputy Speaker, when you were in a less distinguished role, are among the most awkward bunch of people whom one could ever get together in one Select Committee. Perhaps that is another reason the Select Committee is being abolished tonight by the Government.
I should mention here some of the colleagues on the Committee: the hon. Members for Christchurch (Mr Chope), for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch), and for Foyle (Mark Durkan), my hon. Friend Paul Flynn, the then Member for Chippenham, Duncan Hames, my hon. Friend Fabian Hamilton, the hon. Members for Morecambe and Lunesdale (David Morris), and for Bromley and Chislehurst (Robert Neill), the then Member for Vale of Clwyd, Chris Ruane, and Mr Turner. Many of those distinguished Members from all parts of the House are in the Chamber this evening.
There are also Members who were on the Committee who are very keen to be named, and quite rightly, for the great work that they did, including Andrew Griffiths, who served so well. I know that my hon. Friend Simon Hart was in the House just a moment ago, and has left. Then there was the then Members for Taunton Deane, Jeremy Browne, for Edinburgh East, Sheila Gilmore, my hon. Friend Tristram Hunt, Mrs Laing—of course, Madam Deputy Speaker—my hon. Friend Yasmin Qureshi, and the then Member for Bristol West, Stephen Williams. Like you, Madam Deputy Speaker, they are people who, from this modest training ground of a Select Committee, have gone on to higher things.
Unlike some Select Committees, the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee took its job very, very seriously, and it never missed a quorum. New colleagues coming to the House may understand that as we get towards the end of a five-year Parliament, it is quite easy to want to drift off and go to our constituencies on a Thursday morning, which is when we used to meet. But we never missed a quorum.
Another interesting fact is that my Select Committee never went on a foreign trip. I do not know whether there is any other Select Committee that can say that. Perhaps that is another reason why we were abolished. Perhaps we were stepping out of line. [Interruption] I do not know whether our frequent visits to Scotland should be regarded as a foreign trip. We certainly did not see it that way. We also made frequent visits to the Senedd in Cardiff and to our good friends in Belfast.
As Members will gather from that roll call of Committee members, we were very serious about our work; indeed we could be nothing else. As I read my own obituary as the Chair of the Select Committee—certainly the Select Committee’s obituary if not my own—I can say, I guess, that it leaves me free to operate in other means. I wish to commend Martyn Atkins, Steven Mark, Joanna Dodd and others who were part of the team. Any Select Committee lives or dies by the capability of its Clerks and those who assist it, and those individuals did a most magnificent job.
If anyone cares to read not even the reports but the list of reports that the Select Committee produced, they will see that it was at the sharp end of so many of the debates that will continue in the new Parliament and that it is perhaps rather strange that it is not enabled to continue its life to pursue some of those issues. We have heard some of them tonight. We have issues such as English votes for English laws—not disappeared and still requiring scrutiny—and human rights.
The Government may welcome a little assistance with their human rights legislation, which does not seem to be progressing smoothly. That is exactly the sort of thing on which, with a five-year Parliament, the Chief Whip does not have to ram everything through or hold every Second Reading in the next couple of weeks. That is the old days; things have changed. We now have a five-year fixed term. He could get the board in Mr Roy Stone’s office—he runs the House of Commons—and plan proper scrutiny. One of our reports was on legislative scrutiny. Why on earth can we not have a steady, clear rolling forward of Bills to include pre-legislative scrutiny of every Bill? Is that not one of the roles of the House? Should that not apply to every Bill, wherever practical?
Have other issues—for example, parliamentary boundaries—gone away? I think not, and I suspect that with an impartial, all-party view, with serious scrutiny, not done on the basis of the whim of the Chair or the majority of members but by a difficult, independent-minded bunch of people getting under the skin of some of these issues, the House could do the Government a great service, if only they realised that they should have a partnership with the House, rather than a relationship of domination and subordination, and it is a great pity that they do that.
We looked at devolution throughout our five years as a Select Committee, not to interfere with the Scottish and Welsh Affairs Committees and the Communities and Local Government Committee—they were doing very well—but in an overarching way to look at the constitutional implications and not just how this affects, say, Wales but how it affects the Union, how other nations in the Union could learn, as we learned when we visited the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly and the Northern Ireland Executive, and how things can be done better than they have been done here, often for many hundreds of years without reform.
We certainly need effective scrutiny of things such as English devolution. Can that possibly be given the focus that a dedicated Select Committee on political reform could give it? Had the House completed its consideration of all those democratic reforms, I would be the first to say that the House no longer needed such a Select Committee. That patently is not true; those issues still require scrutiny. I have great respect for the Chairs whom I have served with on the Liaison Committee—the Chairs of the Public Administration and Justice Committees and the Scottish and Welsh Affairs Committees and the Communities and Local Government Committee and others, all of whom were very capable—but they all had very full agendas. Unless they do not have a full agenda, how on earth can they give the sort of scrutiny to things that we gave focus to in the last Parliament?
Sadly, on some occasions, there was not always a relationship of joy. I am surprised that the Chief Whip smiles. He should bow his head in shame for the fact that his Government presented, for example, the gagging Bill, as it became known, one day before the rise of the House and gave it a Second Reading on one day when the House returned. That is not allowing Parliament to scrutinise effectively. Sadly, that is a Government who feel a lack of confidence in their ability to trust Parliament and an all-party committee to give a fair deal, hear witnesses and take evidence. I hope that the Leader of the House changes that tone and style over the next five years and gets the best out of the House of Commons, rather than treating it as a potential enemy to be suppressed, kept down and not talked to.
I said that my Select Committee members were an awkward and difficult bunch. When they were told that the Government were going to put the Bill before the House one day before the recess and have Second Reading one day after the recess, they obviously rolled over and went on their summer holidays—I don’t think so. They insisted that we took evidence in the recess, before the House came back. We did our duty by the House. I do not know whether the House wishes to do its duty by our Select Committee tonight. That is another matter, but we did our duty by the House by reconvening and calling witnesses so that we could do a thorough job for the House. Anyone who witnessed the proceedings of the gagging Bill as it went through the House of Commons can do nothing but say that the Select Committee did its job thoroughly. For possibly three or four days on the Floor of the House, we made sure that the Bill was properly scrutinised.
To give credit where it is due, the Government adopted many of the Select Committee’s proposals. It was not done in a partisan or partial way. There were things that we discovered and could help the Government with to produce a better Bill. My hon. Friend Ms Eagle called it a dog’s breakfast. I think that through its work the Select Committee made that dog’s breakfast slightly more palatable.
There were occasions when the Government were rather slow to respond to the Select Committee’s proposals. As you know, Madam Deputy Speaker, it is traditional for a Select Committee to produce a report and for the Government then to respond. Even after the general election, there are still outstanding matters, where the House has not received through its Select Committee a response from Government.
I will write to the Leader of the House listing the items that still need a reply. I should tell him that, on one occasion, the Government took a year to reply to a Select Committee report. But it was worth waiting for—the response was one page long and it did not address any of the detailed points made by your Select Committee, on your behalf, whichever part of the House you sit in.
Rather like the Women and Equalities Committee, which will I hope be established today, the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee was not in the Standing Orders, as departmental Select Committees are. I ask colleagues who have fought hard to get their Select Committees to remember the difficulties that can be put in their way and what can happen if it is a Select Committee that fulfils its duty to the House and in some cases over-fulfils it, but is not in the Standing Orders. It is much more difficult for a Government who feel they can run roughshod over the House of Commons to repeal the Select Committee if it is in the Standing Orders.
I see you, Madam Deputy Speaker, are shuffling in your place. I do not know whether that is because I am coming to the end of my remarks or whether you are moving in anticipation of the list of reports that the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee produced in the previous Parliament on behalf of the House. I will touch briefly on those and bring my remarks to a close before the hour is up.
For example, we did an extensive report on voter engagement. At the general election before last, 16 million voters did not vote; 7.5 million did not even register. That figure is higher than that for those who voted for both the major parties. We carefully examined a lot of evidence on what we could do about the situation, and more than 16,000 consultations were returned—a record for the Select Committee.
One of the features of the Select Committee on Political and Constitutional Reform was that it involved people outside the bubble. It went not only to the Assemblies and Parliament outside Westminster, but discussed through social media and other means the implications of some of the things we were proposing. That is why we reported on votes at 16 and 17 at future general elections and on why online voting should be taken seriously. That is why before the last election we led, not least by portraying a ballot box on Big Ben, on the effort to encourage people to register to vote. We did many other things as well.
Unfortunately, we were not taken seriously on our proposals on political parties and their funding; that issue still needs proper scrutiny and it requires the House to come to a final settlement. There is still no formal process for the House to be consulted about going to war. A convention has arisen in recent years. I remember trying to get the House to sit to consider the Iraq war, and it took a great deal of effort for that to happen. The then Foreign Secretary stated that the Government would enshrine in law for the future the necessity of consulting Parliament on military action. That has not yet happened, and the Government have yet to respond to the report—even before the demise of the Select Committee, the Government had failed to respond to that report.
Order. While the hon. Gentleman is pausing slightly, I should say that I fully appreciate that he is illustrating his amendment by eloquently explaining to the House the importance of his excellent Select Committee’s work in the last Parliament. However, I am afraid that I have to tell him that, in going through in detail—or indeed at all—all his Committee’s reports, however excellent, he is not strictly in order. I know that he will wish to remain in order and tailor his remarks accordingly.
I did say that we had some awkward people on my Select Committee, Madam Deputy Speaker; I did not realise that you would prove that so eloquently from the Chair. You are absolutely right to bring me to order and I will stick far more closely—for the next half hour or so—to the subject at hand. “I’m just getting my second wind”, as Eric Forth used to say.
I am speaking to the amendment on the Order Paper—[Interruption.] I should say to Anna Soubry that it is at the top of page 10; I am glad that her reading is coming on. It would add “and political reform” to the title of what would now be the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee. That is important because such important issues need to be scrutinised by Parliament and have to go somewhere; no doubt the human rights question will go to the Justice Committee. The so-called territorial Committees will be interested in these issues and the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee will want to take a view. Such issues, including the Boundary Commission, are very important to our democracy.
The last reform I want to mention, in the context of the “political reform” stated on the Order Paper, is in respect of the House itself—the unfinished business of the Wright Committee, which did so much good work. I commend it to the Leader of the House, who is listening intently. One of his predecessors, Sir George Young, put before the House the necessary motions to ensure that the House could elect its Select Committees and could elect their Chairs from across the whole House.
One of the items of unfinished business would end this sort of pantomime, in which we pretend that Parliament has decided, but we know in reality that the Government have decided, pushed along by one or two officials when new Ministers and Whips are in place. They want above all to ensure that we do not have the mechanism to decide our own agenda in this House. The only institution that can do so is a House business Committee. Mr Harper, who is now the Chief Whip, was a member of the Government who promised solemnly—it may even have been in the manifesto —to bring forward a House business Committee. Instead of manipulating the House through the usual channels—
Order. I appreciate that the hon. Gentleman is addressing a matter of importance and one that was considered at length by his excellent Committee, but that does not make it in order for the matter before us now. I am aware that other Members wish briefly to contribute to this debate, and that we have a maximum of 12 minutes left. I hope that the hon. Gentleman, who is a great constitutionalist, will respect the constitutional position of the Chamber and adhere very strictly to the matter in question.
That is the first time I have ever been accused—it is an appalling accusation—of being a great constitutionalist. I am a democrat, as I hope most people in this Parliament are. The only way in which all of us in the House will be able to express our views openly and freely, without being told what to do by the incubus of Government that controls us here, is by having our own House business Committee.
I believe that those of us who served on the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee have a very proud record to look back on. I hope that some of the things we did and some of our reports are a legacy that people can dip into when they feel they have a problem on human rights or on codifying what the Union should look like in a devolved and federal United Kingdom. For example, they could look at our report on the Boundary Commission question, which we came up with very close to the end of our term. There is a lot of good stuff in the reports. It is just a little sad for the ability of this House to scrutinise the Government, who hold all the cards, that this Committee and its successors may not be able to scrutinise them and do the job that parliamentarians of all parties feel is the role of this Parliament.
Thank you for your forbearance, Madam Deputy Speaker. With that, I close the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee.
I rise briefly to pay tribute to Mr Allen who chaired the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee. I have to declare an interest: I hope to resume the chairmanship of the Public Administration Committee, which will now be the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee. His speech lays down a very serious challenge for that Committee in carrying on the kind of work that he did so ably as the Chairman of his Committee.
I take the hon. Gentleman’s points about workload very seriously. I fear that all Select Committees suffer from the characteristic that, whatever Committee it is, it will unavoidably find extremely important matters to fill its time and which are beyond the capacity of the members and the staff to deliver. We will have to be very disciplined in the Committee, if I am fortunate to be elected as its Chair, to pick and choose the subjects of most importance. The future of the United Kingdom is possibly the most important issue facing that Committee. I will very much welcome a representative of the Scottish National party on the Committee to participate in those discussions. We should take the opportunity to ensure that there is calm and rational discussion about these matters. However, I do not want to stray out of order, Madam Deputy Speaker, by talking about what a future Committee might do.
I simply wanted to speak about the end of the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee. The hon. Member for Nottingham North well knows that it was only created as a special measure to shadow the work of the then Deputy Prime Minister in the coalition Government. It was not cemented into the Standing Orders as a permanent feature. Even if it had been, it would have been just as vulnerable to repeal by a motion such as that on the changes to
I am pleased that something my Committee recommended—an equalities Committee—is coming into being. In our final report of the last Parliament, we foresaw the possibility that if the temporary measure of the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee ceased, the Public Administration Committee would take back the constitutional responsibilities. I welcome that being expressed in the title of the Committee in the Government’s motion.
Far be it from me to be over-enthusiastic in case I am seen as trying to carve out a greater role for myself, but I wanted to put on the record just how much respect the hon. Member for Nottingham North has earned across the entire House for his extraordinary seriousness and commitment to the subject matter. I hope very much that he will continue to contribute to this House in whatever capacity he can, perhaps even on the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee, although I know how irksome that thought might be to him.
I will wrap up the debate very briefly.
Mr Allen talked about his political obituary. Nobody believes that for a moment. He will undoubtedly find just as many ways to contribute to the debate in this Parliament as he has found throughout the years that we have both served in this House.
I reassure the hon. Gentleman about the attitude of the Government to Select Committees. He will note from the Order Paper that we will have more Committees in this Parliament that we did in the last. We will continue to listen carefully to Parliament, as is right and proper.
I say to the Scottish nationalists that the Chief Whip and I have listened carefully to their comments. We will, no doubt, have further discussions on these issues. Alex Salmond was in the House when I was first elected. I always remember him bringing a quality to the debate in this House and his return has undoubtedly brought back a quality to the debate in this, the Union Parliament. In doing so, he brings strength to the Union.
Question put and agreed to.
That with effect until the end of the current Parliament,