Foreign Affairs Committee

Part of Exiting the European Union (Agriculture) – in the House of Commons at 5:30 pm on 19th March 2019.

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Photo of Dr Caroline Johnson Dr Caroline Johnson Conservative, Sleaford and North Hykeham 5:30 pm, 19th March 2019

I came to this debate with an open mind, not sure how to vote, and, as a relatively new Member, I do not know either Ian Austin or Mike Gapes terribly well on a personal level.

On the argument about over-representation, numbers and fairness, there is a point: the TIG, in particular, but independent Members generally, are over-represented. The SNP, which has 35 Members, has two Select Committee Chairs, whereas the independents, of whom there are 21, also have two. The TIG, in particular, is well represented on Select Committees, holding almost two and a half times as many places as the Lib Dems, who have a similar number of Members. It is a fair point, then, that the Independents have more Select Committee places and that, had this been done at the start, the places held by these two hon. Members would have been contested by Labour Members, not Independent Members.

That said, we have to consider what Select Committees are for. I am lucky to serve on the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee and previously to have served on the Health and Social Care Select Committee. The role of a Select Committee is to scrutinise the work of Government. Does having left the Labour party and sitting as an Independent make someone less able to do that? I would argue that it does not. It is clear that both Members are held in extremely high regard by the Chair, my hon. Friend Tom Tugendhat, and each Committee member. Conservative members of the Committee have said how well they regard these individuals and how well they do their job of scrutinising the Government on matters of foreign affairs and attested to the level of expertise and skill they bring to their role.

Had these two hon. Members crossed the Floor, it would be fair to say that there had been a change in the balance of power in the scrutiny of the Government between Government and Opposition Members, but given that they have remained on the Opposition Benches, I do not think that argument holds any water.

On the motivation behind this move, I have listened to what has been said today, and it seems to me that this essentially is bullying. It is saying to people: “You didn’t agree with us, so you can’t do this job any more, not because you cannot do it, but because we don’t want you to, because we don’t agree with you any more.” That is wrong. I do not want to be part of a vendetta being waged against individuals for taking a stand, particularly a stand against racism, which is something we should all do. I will therefore oppose this motion.

Question put.

The House divided:

Ayes 199, Noes 134.