Select Committees

Business of the House (Select Committees) – in the House of Commons at 3:36 pm on 4th July 2017.

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Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission, Speaker of the House of Commons, Chair, Speaker's Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, Chair, Commons Reference Group on Representation and Inclusion Committee, Chair, Speaker's Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission 3:36 pm, 4th July 2017

We now come to the three motions on Select Committees, which will be debated together. It may be helpful to the House to know before the debate that, if the motion on allocation of Chairs is agreed to, the ballot for the election of Select Committee Chairs, including the Chair of the Backbench Business Committee, will be held on Wednesday 12 July from 10 am to 4 pm in Committee Room 8.

I hope that that will meet with colleagues’ approval, because it seems to me to be important that we get on with the business of electing Chairs of Select Committees and, preferably, as soon as possible thereafter with the election, by the parties, of members of those Committees. It is very much in Parliament’s interest and in the interest, ultimately, of good government, that these mechanisms are established without further delay.

Nominations will open as soon as the motion is agreed and may be submitted in the Table Office and the procedural hub in Portcullis House. Nominations will close at 3pm on Friday 7 July. A briefing note with more details about the elections will be made available to Members and published on the intranet.

Just before I call the Deputy Leader of the House—he is itching to favour the House with his eloquence, as colleagues will note—I must add one other point. Specifically, I must tell the House that I have, perfectly properly, had a request from Mr Jenkin for clarification of the application of Standing Order No. 122A to his position as the Chair of the Public Administration Committee in the 2010 to 2015 Parliament, and of the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee since 2015.

Having taken comprehensive advice from the Clerks and reflected on the matter myself, I have decided that the eight-year term limit does apply to the hon. Gentleman, on the basis that the Committee that he chaired between 2015 and 2017 was, in effect, the same Committee as in 2010 to 2015, albeit with an extended remit. That means that, in common with several other former Chairs, if he is re-elected next week, his term of office will expire, eight years after his election in 2010, on 10 June 2018. He and others are, of course, free to put their names forward in the ballot, and if they are elected, they can seek to have the existing terms of the Standing Order amended, or indeed repealed; that is a matter within the purview of the Select Committee on Procedure.

My responsibility is not to speculate on what the Standing Order might be in the future, but to offer a proper interpretation of what it now means. That is what I was asked to do, and that is what I have done. I hope that that is clear to colleagues.

Photo of Michael Ellis Michael Ellis Assistant Whip (HM Treasury), Deputy Leader of the House of Commons 3:45 pm, 4th July 2017

I beg to move,

Motion 4—Women and Equalities Committee

That Standing Order No. 152 (Select committees related to government departments) be amended by the insertion of the following line at the appropriate point in the table in paragraph (2):

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

With this it will be convenient to discuss:

Motion 5—Standing Orders Etc. (Committee on Exiting the European Union)—

That for the remainder of this Parliament, the following changes be made to Standing Orders:

A: Committee on Exiting the European Union

(1) There shall be a select committee, to be called the Committee on Exiting the European Union, to examine the expenditure, administration and policy of the Department for Exiting the European Union and related matters falling within the responsibilities of associated public bodies.

(2) The committee shall consist of no more than twenty-one Members; and the provisions of Standing Order No. 121(2) shall apply to motions for the nomination and discharge of Members to and from the committee as if it were a committee not established under a temporary Standing Order.

(3) Unless the House otherwise orders, each Member nominated to the committee shall continue to be a member of it for the remainder of the Parliament.

(4) The committee shall have the power to appoint a sub-committee.

(5) The committee and any sub-committee appointed by it shall have the assistance of the Counsel to the Speaker.

(6) The committee and any sub-committee appointed by it shall have power to appoint legal advisers and specialist advisers either to supply information which is not readily available or to elucidate matters of complexity within the committee’s order of reference.

(7) The committee and any sub-committee appointed by it shall have power to send for persons, papers and records, to sit notwithstanding any adjournment of the House, to adjourn from place to place and to report from time to time the evidence taken before them.

(8) The quorum of the committee shall be six and the quorum of any sub-committee appointed by it shall be three.

(9) The committee shall have power to report from time to time, and any sub-committee appointed by it shall have power to report to the committee from time to time.

B: Election of Select Committee Chairs

(10) That Standing Order No. 122B (Election of select committee chairs) be amended in paragraph (1), by inserting, in the appropriate place, "the Committee on Exiting the European Union".

C: European Committees

(11) That Standing Order No. 119 (European Committees) be amended as follows:

(a) in paragraph (4) by inserting after “departments)” the words “, or the Committee on Exiting the European Union”; and

(b) in the Table in paragraph (7), in respect of European Committee B, by inserting, in the appropriate place, “Exiting the European Union”.

D: European Scrutiny Committee

(12) That paragraph (12) of Standing Order No. 143 (European Scrutiny Committee) be amended by inserting, in the appropriate place, “the Committee on Exiting the European Union”.

E: Public Bodies: Draft Orders

(13) That Public bodies: draft orders">Standing Order No. 152K (Public bodies: draft orders) be amended as follows:

(a) after sub-paragraph (b) to paragraph (1) to insert

“(c) in respect of a draft order laid by a Minister in the Department for Exiting the European Union, the Committee on Exiting the European Union”; and

(b) in paragraph (2) by inserting after “departments)” the words “, or the Committee on Exiting the European Union”.

F: Positions for which additional salaries are payable for the purposes of section 4A(2) of the Parliamentary Standards Act 2009

(14) That the Order of the House of 19 March 2013 (Positions for which additional salaries are payable for the purposes of section 4A(2) of the Parliamentary Standards Act 2009) be amended, in paragraph (1)(a), by inserting, in the appropriate place, “the Committee on Exiting the European Union”.

Motion 6—Select Committees: 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:

Photo of Michael Ellis Michael Ellis Assistant Whip (HM Treasury), Deputy Leader of the House of Commons

I rise to speak to the motions on the Order Paper standing in the names of the Leader of the House and the Prime Minister, as well as of the leaders of the three largest Opposition parties. Motion 4 will have the effect of making the Women and Equalities Committee a permanent Select Committee of this honourable House. Motion 5 serves to establish the Exiting the European Union Committee in this Parliament in exactly the same way as in the last Parliament, and motion 6 allocates the Chairs of Select Committees as agreed between the parties and within the proportions set out by you, Mr Speaker, to reflect the party balance in this honourable House.

Photo of Maria Miller Maria Miller Conservative, Basingstoke 3:46 pm, 4th July 2017

I want to make a short speech in support of the motion moved by my hon. Friend the Deputy Leader of the House. I welcome the fact that the Government have decided to make permanent the Women and Equalities Committee. The Committee made a recommendation to that effect before the general election, and my right hon. Friend Mr Lidington had undertaken to put it on a permanent footing, which I really welcome.

The Women and Equalities Committee has proven its worth. The scope of the work undertaken has covered everything from looking at transgender rights for the first time, and having them debated on the Floor of the House of Commons, all the way through to looking at the impact of Brexit on equalities issues. I am also glad that the Committee has retained its name, as set out in the motion, because the issues that it looks at, which are the responsibility of Ministers, are women’s issues and equalities issues.

Before I draw my comments to a close, I want to raise two points, about which other former Select Committee Chairs may equally well have questions. First, I very much want to know from my hon. Friend the Deputy Leader of the House whether the financial support for Select Committees will be sufficient for the scrutiny that will be required of Government policy at such an important time in our Parliament’s history. We need to make sure that Select Committees, including the Women and Equalities Committee, have the financial resources and manpower resources that they require.

Secondly, I want the proceedings of Select Committees to be treated with respect. There is a need for Committees to be able to sit, perhaps in protected time, while the House is sitting, so that they are not unnecessarily curtailed or interrupted, particularly when they are gathering evidence. There is also a need for Select Committees, such as the Women and Equalities Committee, to have a role in taking the work of this Parliament around the world, and they should be able to do so with the help and support of the Government and Opposition Whips.

I will close by reiterating my thanks to the Government, who have done more than any other to support the establishment of a scrutiny Committee for women and equalities, for which I think they should be applauded.

Photo of Pete Wishart Pete Wishart Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Constitution), Shadow SNP Leader of the House of Commons 3:49 pm, 4th July 2017

I am grateful, Mr Speaker. I do not want to detain Ms Harman for long. I have just a couple of remarks about the motions on the Order Paper. I very much support motions 4 and 5 about the Women and Equalities Committee and the Exiting the European Union Committee. They are welcome additions to the list of Select Committees we have in the House.

I also want to support your remarks, Mr Speaker. We should get down to the business of making sure that the election of Chairs and membership of Committees is done as speedily as possible. It is important that we get these scrutiny Committees up and running as soon as possible so that the Government Departments are properly scrutinised on the work they undertake. I note that the ordinary membership set-up of Select Committees will be five Conservative Members, five Labour Members and one Scottish National party Member. That is something we very much support, which reflects the fact that this is a House of minorities. That is reflected in the work of Select Committees.

There will probably be a little bit more of a detailed conversation—I am putting it as elegantly as I can—about the legislative Committees in the House. My understanding is that Committees will have nine Conservative Members, seven Labour Members and two Scottish National party Members as the ordinary membership, which again reflects the fact that no party has a majority in this House. That should be reflected in the House’s Committees. I know that that is perhaps a little bit of a concern for the Government in getting things through, but I hope that any proposal is brought to the Floor of the House so that it is properly debated and not stitched up behind closed doors. It is important that, when we debate the Committees of the House, it is done on the Floor of the House, and that all Members of Parliament have an opportunity to contribute.

I also note your ruling, Mr Speaker, on the tenure of the Chairs of Select Committees. You were absolutely right. There was a conversation in the Liaison Committee, where a concern was raised about the eight-year or two Parliaments rule, which impacts on two or three Select Committee Chairs. My understanding was that that was passed to the Procedure Committee to do a quick, detailed and brief report to try to resolve some of those issues. I hope that that Committee comes forward with that at an early opportunity so that this is resolved once and for all.

I very much support the motions. We should get the Select Committees up and running as quickly as possible to get down to the ordinary, good business of scrutinising this Government and Government Departments.

Photo of Harriet Harman Harriet Harman Labour, Camberwell and Peckham 3:51 pm, 4th July 2017

I thank the Deputy Leader of the House for bringing this motion to the House. I strongly support it. In particular, I welcome putting the Women and Equalities Committee on a permanent footing. I was Leader of the House back in the day, and I should have done it. I find myself slightly baffled but congratulating him on bringing it forward. All credit to the Government for doing that.

The Women and Equalities Committee was first established in 2015. With women from both sides of the House—and indeed three men—on the Committee, it has covered a wide area of work, from Brexit negotiations to women being forced to wear high heels. It has more than showed that it justifies being put on a permanent footing alongside the other Select Committees, not least because of the strong and committed leadership given to it by Mrs Miller in the two short years she has been chairing it.

I am sure nobody will be saying, as some will be saying outside, “It’s all not necessary. We are all equal now.” While I wish that were the case, it is certainly not true. We have made rapid and immense progress, but there is still much further to go. Despite having a woman Prime Minister, most decisions are made by men, whether commercial decisions, or decisions in the private sector or the public sector. We have only to look at the Brexit negotiating team. God help us! There are eight of them—seven men and one woman. I ask myself, “Why on earth couldn’t they have selected that team on merit?”

Select Committees are Members working together across the House, not because we are all the same—we have profound differences in the different parties—but in recognition of the fact that it makes sense to work together when we agree, and no sense not to. Both sides of the House have expressed commitment on childcare. I know a number of Select Committees will be concerned about that, but let us see how it is working out in practice. That is an issue for women because of the remaining, persistent unequal division of labour in the home.

There is, rightly, a shared commitment across the House to tackle domestic violence. The daily toll of black eyes, punctured lungs and broken ribs, and the weekly toll of murdered women, shames our society. We need to be certain that things are not set back; that cuts to the police, courts, councils and the Crown Prosecution Service do not make women less safe.

I think there is a shared commitment across the House on women’s income inequality. In 2005, women’s income on average per year was 55% of men’s. By 2010, it had risen to 70%. I suspect, however, that it has now stalled. I would like a gender impact assessment to be brought forward to the House at the same time as the Red Book and the Chancellor’s Budget statement.

I know we have a shared commitment across the House to tackle rape and sexual offences, but we all know that most sexual offences are not reported. We know the fear that she will be blamed prevents many women going to court, letting alone giving evidence. I hope that across the parties we can change the law to make it clear that past sexual history is not relevant to whether one has consented in a particular case. Past sexual history should never be dragged through the courts. I hope we reverse the Ched Evans ruling.

There are more women in this House than ever before—208—and I am especially proud of the 119 Labour women MPs. I warmly welcome all of them, the newly elected and the re-elected. In the House as a whole, however, we are still outnumbered two to one. We also last less long than our male colleagues, not because we are not as tough, durable or excellent as the men—clearly, we are—but because we are more likely to represent marginal seats. The turnover of women is therefore higher than that for men, so women are outnumbered not only numerically but in seniority.

I think the Women and Equalities Committee will show women in this House working together to highlight persisting inequalities and to insist that we make more progress. I am therefore very pleased to support the motion.

Photo of Andrew Percy Andrew Percy Conservative, Brigg and Goole 3:57 pm, 4th July 2017

I had not intended to speak to the motion, but I heard the speech from Ms Harman and while I agree with some of what she had to say I want to pick her up on one or two points.

Before I do that, I want to start by agreeing with the comments made by other Members, in particular Pete Wishart. I hope we can approach the new arrangement of a balanced Parliament in a sensible and less partisan way, particularly when it comes to the Standing Committees and the work of Select Committees. That will, of course, be the responsibility of the Members who sit on the Committees. I hope that is how we will progress. It is important to get the Committees established, the Chairs in place and the members elected. From my time serving on the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, the Health Committee and the Regulatory Reform Committee, I know how valuable the work can be. I am not making a pitch to be Chairman of any of those Committees, by the way. I just want to make that clear, Mr Deputy Speaker. It is important that they are established and fulfil their scrutiny role.

I also agree with a great deal of what the right hon. and learned Member for Camberwell and Peckham said with regard to the Women and Equalities Committee. I am very proud that the Committee has been established under a Conservative Government. I am very proud not only that it is the Conservative Government who have a female Prime Minister—the second one, of course; women in the Labour party do not do quite so well at getting elected leader—but that we have put the Women and Equalities Committee on a permanent footing.

All I would say is that when we talk about equalities, it is not just about gender. Many of us who come from non-traditional, poorer backgrounds think that the House is not always representative of those of us who come from more challenged backgrounds. Replacing a man with a middle-class or upper middle-class woman does not, perhaps, do a great deal for equality. We should always be cautious—[Interruption.] The right hon. and learned Lady does not like the point I am making, but it is important that when we talk about equality it is not just about gender; it is about people’s backgrounds, including where they come from and even their work history. I suspect that if I had stood up and made the disparaging comments that she made about the Brexit negotiating team—at least, they seemed to come across as slightly disparaging—but I had made them about a team consisting of seven women and one man, she would be on her feet having a pop.

Photo of Harriet Harman Harriet Harman Labour, Camberwell and Peckham

I agree with the hon. Gentleman that there is of course a major issue of class inequality in this country. That is why I would like the Government to implement clause 1 of the Equality Act 2010, which requires all Government Departments and public organisations to take into account the importance of narrowing the gap between the top and the bottom in all their public policy and operational decisions. If the Government care about class and income inequality, they should implement that clause.

Photo of Andrew Percy Andrew Percy Conservative, Brigg and Goole

I could not agree more. That is why, when I was a schoolteacher, before being elected to Parliament, it irked me so much that under the Government of which the right hon. and learned Lady was then a member, the gap between the top 10% best-performing and the 10% worst-performing schools widened, and social mobility decreased. I am simply saying that I do not think it helps the case for equalities to stand up and make what I thought were belittling and insulting comments about a particular negotiating team on the basis of its gender.

I agree more generally with what the right hon. and learned Lady said about the work of the Women and Equalities Committee under the chairmanship of my right hon. Friend Mrs Miller, but I hope that when it is established—as, of course, it has been in the past—its members will also understand that this is a huge subject, and that huge inequalities have existed for many decades both within and without the genders. As I have said, the Committee is doing an important piece of work, but it will be better if those who pursue the agenda of closing the gap do not make inflammatory or divisive comments on the route to that end.

Photo of Frank Field Frank Field Labour, Birkenhead 4:01 pm, 4th July 2017

Because I agree with Mr Speaker’s drive to modernise the House, and to rebalance it and the power that it has against the Executive, I do not wish to detain us any further in approving the motion to establish, or re-establish, the Select Committees that have such an important part to play in that objective.

Photo of Gavin Shuker Gavin Shuker Labour/Co-operative, Luton South 4:02 pm, 4th July 2017

I commend the Government for tabling motion 4. It is right for them to implement the commitment that they made during the last Parliament to put the Women and Equalities Committee on a statutory basis in our Standing Orders, and it is right for them to do so on this occasion.

I was a member of the Women and Equalities Committee in the last Parliament, under the brilliant chairmanship of Mrs Miller, and I think that it was a real constitutional innovation. The Committee was significant not just because it produced reports, but through its presence in our constitutional life as well. That point was made to us many times by visitors from other countries, who, rightly or wrongly, look to this place for leadership on many of these issues.

Let me say one thing about Mr Speaker. He is not present, so I feel able to praise him without his blushing too much. I believe that his modernising drive created the conditions in which a constitutional innovation such as the Women and Equalities Committee could come about, under the auspices of the last Government. His work on diversity and inclusion has been particularly commendable, and meant that, just last week, we could discuss how the Committee might be put on a statutory basis.

Let me say one last word, as one who has served on the Committee for the last couple of years. Many people have asked why a straight white man would volunteer or choose to be a member. The answer is very simple. For as long as women’s equality is an issue for women—a women’s issue—it is an issue that is about our society. When we seek to hold back 50% of people in our communities, we are holding back not 50% but 100% of our population. The work done by the last Women and Equalities Committee, particularly on bringing women further into politics and into our public life, identified significant issues involving cultures of bullying and intimidation. It also identified the support that was needed, even at lower levels such as local government. Four party leaders or representatives appeared before us, and all four were men. That underlines the fact that there is much further to go.

There was area in which, in all honesty, I think we struggled. We thought a great deal about flexible working patterns, and ways in which we could make the workplace more available to people from different backgrounds. We struggled to square the circle of how to do that in areas where it is less easy to do flexible working, such as those with low pay. I suspect that will be a focus for the Committee going forward.

All that said, I commend the motion; it is an excellent innovation and we should be rightly proud in this Parliament that we are bringing it forward.

Photo of Damian Collins Damian Collins Conservative, Folkestone and Hythe 4:05 pm, 4th July 2017

I rise to support the motion, and also to say a few words about timetabling. It is good that the House is moving to elect the Chairs of Select Committees next week, but that does not give the House much time to elect members of those Committees before the summer recess, and there should be concern if that means members are elected in September and many Committees will not sit and start their work formally until October. There would therefore be a gap of five months in the working of Committees. In the normal course of a fixed-term Parliament Committees can prepare their workload and work towards the end of the Session, knowing reports have to be finished by then. Because of the nature of the last general election, however, many Committees, including the one I chaired in the last Parliament, have had to abruptly stop their work. If they are looking to pick up some of it, there will be a considerable gap and a change of membership.

There are also a number of other functions that Committees undertake, in scrutinising not just the decisions of Government Ministers and this House but also outside bodies. I therefore ask whether consideration can be given to the future: can some continuity can be established to allow Committees to finish off work they are doing before new Committees are assembled, rather than for them to be completely disbanded between elections before new Committees can be created? A lot of valuable work that Committees can do is lost in this way, and in the current situation we may have an absence of five months without any Committees sitting.

Photo of Michael Ellis Michael Ellis Assistant Whip (HM Treasury), Deputy Leader of the House of Commons 4:06 pm, 4th July 2017

I agree with my right hon. Friend Mrs Miller that it is important that financial support is sufficient for proper scrutiny, and I can assure her and the House that Her Majesty’s Government will always respect the work of the Committees of this House. It is, I think, incontrovertible that they have got stronger since 2010, and that can only be a good thing.

I thank Ms Harman for her thanks and her comments about the Women and Equalities Committee being made permanent, and reciprocate by commending her on her work over the years.

I beg to move the motion.

Question put and agreed to.