Justice Committee

Committees – in the House of Commons at 9:02 pm on 31st October 2016.

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Votes in this debate

Photo of Bill Wiggin Bill Wiggin Chair, Committee of Selection 9:02 pm, 31st October 2016

I beg to move,

That Chris Elmore and Dr Rupa Huq be discharged from the Justice Committee and Kate Green and Keith Vaz be added.

This motion is the decision of the Committee of Selection. It respects the wish of the Labour party in electing those Members to this Committee.

Photo of Andrew Bridgen Andrew Bridgen Chair, Regulatory Reform Committee, Chair, Regulatory Reform Committee 9:03 pm, 31st October 2016

I rise to object to the appointment of Keith Vaz to the Justice Committee. I informed the right hon. Gentleman’s office this afternoon of my intention to do so.

I am aware that this is not a conduct debate and will therefore try to limit my remarks to why I believe the right hon. Member for Leicester East is at this time unsuitable for a role on the Committee to which he has been nominated, and to matters already on the public record and in the public domain. I am sure that should I cross the line or if my remarks are out of order, you will be as quick as always to advise and correct me, Mr Speaker.

I put on record that I have no objection to the appointment of Kate Green. In my view, it is unfortunate that her appointment has been linked with that of the other Member in question.

Mr Speaker, since I have been in this House, and on almost a weekly basis—from memory, it is usually on a Wednesday around about noon—you have reminded us how important the public perception of the workings of the House and the behaviour of its Members are in fashioning the public’s opinion of Parliament and our whole democratic system. You were quoted only last week, following the hugely successful Nottinghamshire event, as saying:

“There is a lot of evidence that people have a low opinion of politics and politicians”.

I agree, Mr Speaker, and that is unfortunately true. I do not believe that the right hon. Member for Leicester East joining the Justice Committee will do anything to enhance the reputation and perception of Parliament among the public; indeed, it will do the opposite.

Photo of David Hanson David Hanson Labour, Delyn

I am a member of the Justice Committee. I am also a member of the Labour party. As Bill Wiggin said, it is the Labour party’s choice to put my right hon. Friend Keith Vaz on the Committee. What right does Andrew Bridgen have to tell the Labour party who to put on our Committees?

Photo of Andrew Bridgen Andrew Bridgen Chair, Regulatory Reform Committee, Chair, Regulatory Reform Committee

If that is the right hon. Gentleman’s belief, I suggest he speaks in the debate on behalf of the right hon. Member for Leicester East. Representing a Committee of the House reflects on this House. As a Member of the House, I have right to object.

Photo of Nick Brown Nick Brown Opposition Chief Whip (Commons)

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I wonder whether you could clarify to the House what the rights of Members of other parties—parties that do not have nominating rights—are in these matters now that we have changed our rules so that each party selects and nominates its preferred candidates.

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Chair, Speaker's Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission, Speaker of the House of Commons, Speaker of the House of Commons, Chair, Speaker's Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, Chair, Speaker's Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, Chair, Speaker's Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission

It is the House that appoints to the Committee, and it is for the House to decide. It is on that basis that these matters are brought to the House and subject to motions moved by the Committee of Selection. Of course, as the right hon. Gentleman’s long experience will tell him, it is normal and commonplace for these matters to go through without objection, but it is perfectly orderly for someone to object if he or she so wishes.

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Chair, Speaker's Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission, Speaker of the House of Commons, Speaker of the House of Commons, Chair, Speaker's Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, Chair, Speaker's Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, Chair, Speaker's Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission

Order. I will come to the hon. Gentlemen —he will continue his speech in a moment. He himself anticipated the possibility that the Chair might take an interest if he were to cross the line between what was legitimate and orderly to say and what was not. Thus far, the hon. Gentleman has observed that distinction and, on that basis, I am content for him at this stage to continue.

Photo of John Spellar John Spellar Labour, Warley

Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. It is absolutely right that we have procedures, but we also have conventions, which evolve. The convention that has evolved in the House, as far as I am aware, is that each of the parties, within their own ranks, decides their members of the Committees, although the whole House votes, rightly or wrongly, on who the Chairs of the Committees should be. Therefore, gratuitously for a Member to try to disrupt that convention is extremely unfortunate, even if it might be just the right side of the Standing Orders.

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Chair, Speaker's Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission, Speaker of the House of Commons, Speaker of the House of Commons, Chair, Speaker's Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, Chair, Speaker's Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, Chair, Speaker's Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission

I entirely understand what the right hon. Gentleman is saying. I am not insensitive to him or to his point, which he has made with his usual force and eloquence. That said, a convention is one thing and a binding rule is another. I must simply make the point that, at this stage, Andrew Bridgen is in order. He may have offended the sensibilities of the right hon. Gentleman, and indeed departed from what is normal convention in this place, but he is at this stage in order.

Photo of Andrew Bridgen Andrew Bridgen Chair, Regulatory Reform Committee, Chair, Regulatory Reform Committee

Thank you for that clarification, Mr Speaker. I am pleased that so far the speech is so good.

An allegation in the Sunday Mirror, with supporting video footage, implied that the right hon. Member for Leicester East had offered to purchase class A drugs while using the services of escorts.

Photo of John Spellar John Spellar Labour, Warley

It is very interesting that the hon. Gentleman should cite the tabloid press which has, from time to time, taken an unhealthy interest in his activities.

Photo of Karl McCartney Karl McCartney Conservative, Lincoln

That got disproved, and he is not the one who is up for the Justice Committee.

Photo of Andrew Bridgen Andrew Bridgen Chair, Regulatory Reform Committee, Chair, Regulatory Reform Committee

I am here to try to address matters pertaining to the reputation of this House. If Mr Spellar wishes to make light of that, it is for his conscience, not mine. I am here to make my speech and force a vote, in which he will be at liberty to make his opinion known.

In July this year, the Home Affairs Committee published a report calling for the decriminalisation of soliciting by sex workers and of sex workers sharing premises. It also looked at the use of poppers. The Committee, at the time, was chaired by the right hon. Member for Leicester East. Following the much publicised exposé in the Sunday Mirror, he decided—belatedly, in my view—to resign from his position. But here we are, only a relatively few weeks later, and the same Member seeks a position on the prestigious and influential Justice Committee while matters relating to his recent resignation remain unresolved.

I wrote to Scotland Yard on 5 September to establish whether a crime had been committed by the right hon. Gentleman with regards to the allegation of conspiracy to supply a controlled substance. I received a letter, dated 9 September, from Commander Stuart Cundy of the specialist crime investigation unit, stating that an assessment of the information had commenced and that, following that assessment, a decision would be taken on the most appropriate course of action. No course of action has yet been determined by Scotland Yard, so a possible police investigation still hangs over the right hon. Gentleman.

Also on 5 September, I wrote to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards with regard to the right hon. Gentleman. An investigation was instigated and then immediately suspended, as is the procedure, pending the results of the police assessment. Should Scotland Yard decide in due course not to investigate the said Member with regards to potential criminal activity, the parliamentary standards investigation will commence immediately.

It is fair to say that the right hon. Member for Leicester East has quite a history regarding parliamentary standards. He was subject to extensive inquiries by Elizabeth Filkin, the then commissioner, into allegations of misconduct in 2001 and 2002. He was suspended from the House for one month in 2002 for breaches of the MPs’ code of conduct. I do not intend to list all the right hon. Gentleman’s brushes with parliamentary standards as I do not wish to detain colleagues longer than necessary.

Further to my letter to the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis, in which I urged Scotland Yard to liaise with Leicestershire police, it has been stated that four witnesses have confirmed that they were recently interviewed by Leicestershire police and that their inquiries have been going on for at least a year. Those inquiries concern allegations that the right hon. Member for Leicester East abused his position in public office—

Photo of Andrew Bridgen Andrew Bridgen Chair, Regulatory Reform Committee, Chair, Regulatory Reform Committee

Thank you, Mr Speaker. I have raised concerns with you about the conduct of the right hon. Member for Leicester East historically—

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Chair, Speaker's Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission, Speaker of the House of Commons, Speaker of the House of Commons, Chair, Speaker's Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, Chair, Speaker's Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, Chair, Speaker's Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission

Order. The hon. Gentleman will resume his seat. Let me say clearly to the hon. Gentleman, and in terms that brook no contradiction, that he would be unwise to go into those matters. He has written to me and I have written back to him. I explained to him factually—factually—in a manner that cannot be disputed or gainsaid that it is not for the Speaker of this House to seek to persuade someone to step down as the Chair of a Committee because of suspicions that some people might have about him. That is not the role of the Speaker of the House of Commons. If the hon. Gentleman were a more experienced Member, he would probably be aware of that fact. I urge the hon. Gentleman to focus on those matters which it is proper and legitimate for him to raise, and not upon those which it is not.

Photo of Andrew Bridgen Andrew Bridgen Chair, Regulatory Reform Committee, Chair, Regulatory Reform Committee

Thank you. Mr Speaker, you have often said that this place must reflect the society for which we make the laws—I agree with you. I respectfully point out to the House that in any other sphere of activity, a candidate with so much hanging unresolved over him would be very unlikely to be considered for such an important office. If the right hon. Gentleman were in the Chamber today, I would ask him to stand down from his nomination, but he is not, so I ask the House to reject his appointment. Otherwise, we cannot blame the great British public for having a low opinion of its politicians and its politics; we can only blame ourselves.

In conclusion, I will leave the House with this question. If the right hon. Member for Leicester East thought himself only last month not fit to be a member of the Home Affairs Committee, and given that the matters relating his resignation are, as I have explained, unresolved, what makes him think that he is a fit and proper person to be a member of the Justice Committee this month?

Photo of Jake Berry Jake Berry Conservative, Rossendale and Darwen

Before my hon. Friend draws his remarks to a conclusion, some correspondence has been referred to this evening. I wonder if he will say whether it is possible to publish that correspondence to ensure that hon. Members on both sides of the House have an opportunity to consider all of the facts.

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Chair, Speaker's Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission, Speaker of the House of Commons, Speaker of the House of Commons, Chair, Speaker's Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, Chair, Speaker's Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, Chair, Speaker's Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission

Order. That is nothing to do with the debate, as I have just been advised by the Clerk of the House. Don’t frown at me, Mr Berry. I know the facts and you’re about to learn them. That is nothing to do with the debate tonight—point one. Secondly, there is no uncertainty or dubiety whatsoever about the correspondence between the hon. Gentleman and me. Indeed, I do not think there is any uncertainty at all about the advice that was proffered not just by me but by the Clerk of the House. Whether he wishes and is astute enough to take that advice is another matter.

Photo of Andrew Bridgen Andrew Bridgen Chair, Regulatory Reform Committee, Chair, Regulatory Reform Committee

Thank you, Mr Speaker. I thank my hon. Friend’s failed attempt to help in this debate.

It is clear that the right hon. Member for Leicester East felt the need to resign last month from the Home Affairs Committee. I think it would be a huge mistake for this House now to place him on the Justice Committee when he has so many questions to answer. I urge all right hon. and hon. Members to vote against his appointment this evening.

Question put.

The House divided:

Ayes 203, Noes 7.

Division number 73 Committees — Justice Committee

Aye: 201 MPs

No: 5 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Tellers

Nos: A-Z by last name

Tellers

Abstained: 2 MPs

Abstaineds: A-Z by last name

Question accordingly agreed to.