We need your support to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can continue to hold their elected representatives to account.Donate to our crowdfunder
I beg to move,
I am moving this motion on behalf of the Selection Committee. As Chairman of that Committee, it is my responsibility to ensure that it operates in accordance with the rules of the House. That is the case with this motion. I am moving it in the usual way, following its agreement by the Selection Committee last Wednesday. It is up to the House to decide on its merits.
There is no Standing Order requirement that Select Committees, unlike general Committees, be kept exactly in proportion to the House at large. It is through mutual agreement that membership of Select Committees is appointed in rough proportion to the House. That is why the Selection Committee has discretion in proposing changes to Select Committee membership.
Across all Select Committees, neither of the main parties is over-represented. If the Independent Group is treated as a party, it is very over-represented on Select Committees, given the number of members of the group in the House. Although that over-representation does not compel the Selection Committee to take action, reducing that representation is in accordance with the practices of the House.
Order. Just to help the hon. Gentleman, he should not refer to Members by their name. He can say the leader of the party or whatever.
As I said very clearly, that would be true if those hon. Members were taken as a group. It is as a group of others that the representation is seen as.
That is as may be, but I am not a member of the Independent Group; I am the independent MP for Dudley, standing up for the people of Dudley, and representing the whole of the House on the Foreign Affairs Committee, which is what members of Select Committees are elected to do.
As the Chair of the Liaison Committee pointed out in an article just this week,
“Select Committees have been strengthened” since recent reforms
“which allowed their members to be elected by their fellow MPs—and Chairs by the whole House of Commons—rather than appointed by the patronage of party whips. As a result, members are more likely to have relevant experience and genuine interest in the work of their Committees”.
Of no one could that be said more truly than the hon. Member for Ilford South. As far as I am aware, there is no criticism of the way in which he or I have discharged our responsibilities on the Foreign Affairs Committee. He is a distinguished former Chair of the Committee, and before that he was the Labour party’s foreign policy expert. As I have seen in my short time on the Committee, and as Members in all parts of the House would agree, he has a more detailed knowledge of foreign policy issues, and greater contacts around the world, than anybody else in the House of Commons. Booting off the Committee somebody like that, who holds the Government to account, is a ridiculous decision. It flies in the face of how Select Committees are supposed to operate.
As for me, I was one of the people who instigated the Committee’s inquiries on Kurdistan. I was one of the MPs in this House who campaigned for years for the Magnitsky Act.
The hon. Gentleman and I may disagree on many domestic policy issues, but for years we have worked together on many foreign policy issues, some of which he is touching on. He mentioned that the Leader of the Opposition is behind this move. Is that because the hon. Gentleman is now an independent Member of Parliament, or because of his views on antisemitism and some of the other foreign policy issues that he has just raised?
I will come on to that, but I will say this: I have been very clear about why I left the Labour party. I left after 35 years because I had become absolutely ashamed of the way in which the leader of the Labour party had allowed a culture of extremism, antisemitism and intolerance to develop—and for no other reason. Members have a choice to make this afternoon. They can choose to stand with someone who has campaigned against racism all their life, or stand with the leader of the Labour party in his vindictive attempt to boot people off a Committee simply because they stood up to racism. Frankly, I think it is outrageous.
I make one more point on my work on the Foreign Affairs Committee. I was one of the MPs who were a driving force behind the Magnitsky Act—legislation to take tough action against people responsible for gross abuses of human rights and large-scale corruption. I was one of the Committee members who instigated its current inquiry on UK sanctions policy.
As I mentioned, this debate is happening because the Labour party has decided that it wants to kick me off the Committee in retaliation for my decision to leave the Labour party. I want to set out the background to that and explain why I took that decision. I want Members to think about this and consider it when deciding how to vote.
The main reason why I decided to join the Labour party, 35 years ago as a teenager in Dudley, was to fight racism. I really cannot believe that after all this time, I have ended up leaving the Labour party because of racism. It was a difficult decision for me to take, but I have to be honest with people, and the truth is that I have become ashamed of the Labour party under its current leadership. I am appalled by the offence and distress that the leader of the Labour party has caused to Jewish people. It is terrible that a culture of extremism, antisemitism and intolerance is driving out not just Members of Parliament, but other members, too—decent people who have dedicated their whole lives to mainstream politics.
It is a matter of great shame that someone such as Luciana Berger has been bullied out of the Labour party by antisemites. It was wrong of the Labour party to threaten Dame Margaret Hodge and me with disciplinary action when we spoke out on antisemitism. It had to drop that, because we had done nothing wrong. The hard truth is that the Labour party under its current leadership is tougher on the people who complain about racism than on the racists.
The current leader and the people around him have turned what was a mainstream political party into something very different. He has spent his entire career working with, defending and supporting all sorts of extremists, and in some cases antisemites and terrorists. I thought from the very beginning—since before he was elected in 2015—that he would be utterly unfit to lead the Labour party, and he is completely unfit to be our country’s Prime Minister. He has said and done things that are clearly antisemitic, including defending that grotesque racist mural on a wall in east London. We need to ask ourselves what he would be saying if a senior member of the Conservative party had defended a grotesque mural that was racist against any other group of people. He called Jewish people Zionist, and said that they did not understand English irony—as if, somehow, they were different from the rest of us. He also calls Hamas and Hezbollah his friends.
Order. This is a debate about positions on the Foreign Affairs Committee. It cannot become a personal attack on a particular Member who may not have been given notice that that was going to happen in the Chamber. We must work within the rules. [Interruption.] I am trying to recognise and understand the frustration with what is happening, but what we should not be doing is attacking another Member who is not here and who may not have been give notice. That is where we are.
Well, may I seek your guidance, Mr Deputy Speaker? I have to say that I do not think that the leader of the Labour party would need much notice to know what my views are of his behaviour and history. If I may say so as well, the reason why we are having this debate is that he wants to boot me off this Committee, because I have stood up against racism. If you will allow me, Mr Deputy Speaker, I do want to explain why I think the Labour party has got itself into this mess and why, in the end, I decided to leave.
I am sorry, but this is about relevance to the motion before us. The issue that the hon. Gentleman raises could be for another time and another debate, but unfortunately this debate is about the replacement of people on the Committee. I understand the frustrations and the anger, but we have to be where we are. Unfortunately, this is about replacements, and we must stick to the agenda.
I completely understand, Mr Deputy Speaker. I have made some of the points that I wanted to make about the Leader of the Opposition and the position that he has taken the Labour party to under his leadership.
I will draw my remarks to a close. I want to stay on the Committee because I want to speak up for freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law. I want to carry on campaigning against totalitarian dictatorships such as Venezuela, which are supported by the leader of the Labour party and the people around him at the moment. I want to carry on speaking out against the Kremlin and against Vladimir Putin and his brutal regime of corruption and abuse: he murders people on the streets of Russia and kills them here in Britain, too. I think every Member will recall the appalling response that the Leader of the Opposition gave to the attacks in Salisbury. I will continue to campaign on these issues, which is why I want to stay on the Foreign Affairs Committee.
The hon. Gentleman is being very generous, and I am grateful to him for giving way. I will need to decide which way to vote today. Will he also include in that litany of why he should stay on the Committee the potential dismantling of our intelligence agencies, which protect us and our allies, day in, day out—another policy espoused by the Leader of the Opposition?
What I will say, Mr Deputy Speaker, is that, on the Committee, I promise to stand up for the intelligence and security services and the democratic institutions that underpin our democracy in this country. That is one of the reasons why I am keen to carry on representing Members across this House on the Foreign Affairs Committee.
We are elected on to Select Committees not to pursue party political agendas, but to work on a cross-party basis in scrutinising the work of the Executive. I do not think that there have been any criticisms of my work or the work of the hon. Member for Ilford South in that regard. I very much hope that, when the House divides on this motion later today, Members across the House will vote against what I think is the Leader of the Opposition’s vindictive and unpleasant attempt to boot us off the Committee.
It is a pleasure to follow Ian Austin. Probably seared on to all our memories—I would be surprised if hon. and right hon. Members have not seen this—is the moving interview that the hon. Gentleman gave to the television news in which he talked about being able to look his father in the eye. One can understand entirely the passion with which he has spoken, and I am grateful to him for it.
My hon. Friend Bill Wiggin, as Chairman of the Committee of Selection, said very helpfully that it is up to the House to decide on the merits of the motion. He moved the motion as, effectively, the servant of that Committee in a way that has come to typify the approach that he adopts in these matters, and the House should be grateful for that.
I very much echo the closing point made by the hon. Member for Dudley North about the role of Select Committees. We all get ourselves frightfully hot under the collar when people are badgering us in the Tea Room saying, “Will you support us on this?”, “We’re going for that,” and so on. But when the Select Committees get up and running, the epithets of party political allegiance seem to disappear. I have served on only two Select Committees, the Procedure Committee and the Welsh Affairs Committee, but I never really felt that I went into meetings as a Conservative member of the Committee. I went in as a Member with an interest in the subject. Each Committee is almost a mini House of Lords, if you will—a receptacle of expertise where people motivate themselves to sit on the Committee because they have an interest in, or experience of, that particular area. It is of course the job of Select Committees to hold the Executive to account, and sometime the Executive get a bit of a clobbering. It is always worthwhile remembering that it was a Conservative Government who brought in Select Committees as we know them, through the Thatcher/St John-Stevas reforms.
Nobody could doubt the record of Mike Gapes: he was Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee between 2005 and 2010 and a member of the Committee from 1992 to 1997, and of course he also sits on the Committee now. I have only been in this place since 2015.
My right hon. Friend should try looking at it from where I am standing; it seems like 40 years, rather than four.
I hope that the hon. Member for Ilford South will take it in the spirit in which it is intended when I say that I watched the TV news and the proceedings in this place long before coming into the House, and when the hon. Gentleman spoke on foreign affairs, I did not say to myself, “Oh, there goes the Labour Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee.” I said to myself, “Here is somebody who speaks with authority, interest, passion and a breadth of experience that the House is well advised to listen to and take heed of.”
I agree with the assessment of the hon. Member for Dudley North. When I read the Order Paper initially—of course, this is the Labour party’s second stab at this—I thought to myself that this was one of the most mealy-mouthed, vindictive and small-minded motions.
More widely, Mike Gapes has brought to bear his wonderful knowledge and wisdom on foreign affairs at the Inter-Parliamentary Union, the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association and other international bodies such as the Council of Europe. The Committee would be missing out on all that knowledge should he be removed today.
I agree entirely. One is tempted to say that if the hon. Member for Ilford South did not exist, we would have to invent him. I am not quite sure what the formula for the invention would be, but one would have to invent him none the less.
I agree with the hon. Member for Dudley North; at the kernel of this decision is the discomfort that both hon. Gentlemen subject to this motion have created within the Labour party regarding the Leader of the Opposition’s stance on the antisemitism question, and their refusal to be silenced on it. That is true not just of these two hon. Gentlemen, but of many colleagues on the Opposition Benches.
Any student of history could tell us that the vindictive left—I put the Leader of the Opposition very much in that camp—will chase people out, even if the office that they hold is to bring the biscuits to the constituency meeting on a bi-monthly basis. They want to have their nasty little fingers—their spiteful little fingers—on every single lever. I feel very sorry for the shadow Leader of the House, because she is nothing at all to do with that. She is rather the Labour version of my hon. Friend the Member for North Herefordshire, sent to do a job merely by dint of position rather than by instinct or by nature. She is none of the things that I am talking about.
Since in what feels like the dying days of this Parliament we live in a political free-for-all, with Ministers not voting on three-line Whips and colleagues not voting in the Division Lobby for the motions that they move, is it really such a big deal if we allow these two Opposition Members to continue on their Select Committee? After all, all the existing rules of politics have now been broken, so let us just break a few more.
I am not entirely sure that I understand the point that my hon. Friend is making. If he is encouraging me to endorse the proposition that there should be an early dissolution of this Parliament, then he will find me in the No Lobby, I am afraid. If he is saying that the hon. Gentlemen who are the subject of this motion should remain in post, then I agree with him, but if not, then I disagree with him wholeheartedly.
I have to say that there are times when I have cursed the man who wished that we all lived in interesting times. I think that some rather calm, boring times would suit the House very well indeed.
As I say, this is a very vindictive motion, and it speaks to the heart of today’s Labour party. Never mind the quantum of expertise; never mind the demonstrable levels of interest; never mind the heights of respect that an individual is met with across the House and within the media—if they do not pass the intellectual purity test, or rather the anti-intellectual purity test; if they do not pass the ideological test; if they do not know in the original Russian all the words of the eighth verse of “I Love the Member for Islington North” and can sing it backwards in the bath, they fail and they are out. This motion is effectively a Muscovite approach to the gulags. It is trying to send the hon. Members for Dudley North and for Ilford South to some Siberian wasteland of ex-Select Committee members. It is nothing to do with the good that they have done, nothing to do with—
Order. This is not a debate about the leader of the Labour party, as tempting as that may be for Members in all parts of the House. The reality is that it is about the replacement of members of the Foreign Affairs Committee. We need to keep that in mind, and we need to be more temperate given the way that the Chamber seems to be getting quite heated and excited. I am sorry that I have stopped you when you are going on at your finest rate, but I am sure you want to recognise that there are lots of other speakers who may wish to add to the debate.
I am grateful, Mr Deputy Speaker, and of course I take your ruling.
The lesson that we can draw is that if this is how senior and respected Members of Parliament who just happen to sit on Benches opposite to the Government Benches are treated by their former comrades, then God help the rest of us. We will be the first up against the wall. We will not just be off the Select Committees—we will be absolutely cast into outer darkness.
I think that my hon. Friend is missing an important point that has to be addressed. As much respect as I have for the two hon. Members concerned, and I do, the simple fact is that we will be in a position where nominations for the official Opposition on the Foreign Affairs Committee go down from half of the Committee to two members of the Committee. That does not reflect the make-up of this House as Select Committees are supposed to. One does have to bear that in mind.
I take what my right hon. Friend says with great seriousness. He is a former member of the Cabinet and, more importantly, a former Government Chief Whip. I concur with him up to a point. If this motion sought to tilt the balance of a Select Committee’s membership in favour of the Government and against the Opposition, I would be with him entirely, but it does not do that. This motion maintains the balance between, for want of a better phrase, Executive Members and Opposition Members, and that is entirely as it should be. However, if I am correct in my assessment—I am perfectly prepared to accept that I am not—in practical, political terms, the badges and colours of separate parties are left at the door of a Select Committee meeting and picked up again when Members leave. I am not sure that this motion does anything other than pursue an agenda of vindictiveness.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way, because I hope it will allow me to reassure Sir Patrick McLoughlin that my views on foreign policy have not changed at all. The values that inform my work on the Committee have not altered in the slightest since I was selected by the Labour party to be a member of it. The arguments I put forward and the way that I scrutinise Ministers have not changed at all. I am absolutely clear that I stand up for the mainstream, decent values of the Labour party that I have stood up for all my life. That is the work I bring to the Committee, and I hope that that reassures the right hon. Gentleman.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for using me as a conduit to send that message to my right hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire Dales. He amplifies perfectly my definition of what a Select Committee is about.
In conclusion, the Leader of the Opposition may be motivated by instincts of vindictiveness and—
I will help the hon. Gentleman. I think Mr Wiggin is responsible for it appearing on the Order Paper.
Indeed. I asked the wrong question—forgive me.
I happen to be a broad church, one nation, moderate Conservative. I happen to believe—[Interruption.] My former right hon. Friend, Anna Soubry, is doing some sort of peculiar dance of the seven veils to entice me over. I have no idea what she is doing, but I am not coming.
I am not motivated by vindictiveness. I believe that we should respect those who have an interest in issues and who can speak with authority, knowledge and enthusiasm. If this motion is pushed to a vote, I shall vote against it.
On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. I seek your guidance, following the comments you have made so far. We are debating the motion on the Order Paper about the selection of Committee members, but I am interested in the context of how we got there. I seek your guidance on what weight we should put on the context of where we are today, as well as what it is in the motion.
The motion is quite simple: it is about the replacement of people on the Foreign Affairs Committee. It is as narrow as that. This is not a witch hunt of certain individuals. [Interruption.] No, it is not. As tempting as it may be, that is not what the debate is about. There has been a little leeway, and I understand the frustration, but it cannot be about that. It is about the replacement of names. I have a job to do. I have to rule on the debate we are having.
I am sure you do not, because you are a member of the Panel of Chairs. You have great experience and wisdom, and you do not need to test me on this, because you already have that.
I rise to speak against the motion, in the main on behalf of the Independent Group of MPs, but I also associate myself with the remarks of my hon. Friend Ian Austin. I want to expand a little bit on what was said by Bill Wiggin, who has moved the motion on behalf of the Selection Committee, and I am clear in my own mind that he did not initiate this motion at the Selection Committee.
We are told by the Library that, at the start of each Parliament, places are allocated to the political parties on departmental Select Committees on the basis of their strength in the House of Commons. There is no Standing Order that governs this process, or which requires that places on Committees be kept in exact proportion to the House at large. That is why there has not been a change every time a Member has been suspended from their Whip, for example, and the Selection Committee is not compelled to act. However, through mutual agreement, Select Committees are appointed in rough proportion to the House. Unlike with General Committees, such as Public Bill or Delegated Legislation Committees, there is no formula that sets out the exact number required.
That advice makes us look behind what is going on here and see that there does appear to be a personal element to this, because the only names being removed are those of Members who declared their independence just a few weeks ago. We are very clear who is initiating this. Suffice it to say—you may want to give your advice on this, Mr Deputy Speaker—that I am told that, in something like 35 years, some very experienced Opposition Back Benchers have not known being instructed by their Whip to vote for such a motion of the House. However, they have been told to do so today, as I understand it, on this motion, which is the business of the House. I think that tells us where this is coming from.
Assuming the Labour Whips represent the Leader of the Opposition and are the vanguard for delivering his will, that gives ample evidence that there is something very personal going on here. May I at some point seek your guidance, Mr Deputy Speaker, on whipping business of the House in this way? Is that acceptable? It is certainly very unusual, as we know.
I think this is a mean-minded parliamentary manoeuvre by Labour. It is attempting to remove, from one of the most important Select Committees of the House of Commons, a man who has served on it for almost two decades, including as its respected Chair. Select Committees are one of the most important parts of Parliament, and they are integral to the way in which MPs scrutinise the work of the Government. They have always operated in a cross-party way and they are at their best when they are consensual. After members of Select Committees are elected to them by their colleagues, they are not ciphers for political parties; they are representatives of their constituents, performing an important function.
Traditionally, members of Select Committees, and especially their Chairs, are treated with respect by political parties and by this House. This motion is utterly disrespectful. That is true for both Members who are the subject of the motion, but let me talk for a moment about my hon. Friend Mike Gapes, because it is especially true for him. He has been a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee since 1992, when he was appointed under the then Leader of the Opposition, Neil Kinnock. He was reappointed to that Committee by John Smith, by Tony Blair, by Gordon Brown, by Edward Miliband and by the current Leader of Her Majesty’s Opposition, who apparently had faith in him then, Jeremy Corbyn.
In total, my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford South has served for 19 years on the Committee, with five years as Chair from 2005 to 2010. During his tenure as Chair, the Committee published reports on Afghanistan, Pakistan, the implications of cuts to the BBC World Service and to foreign language capability in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, relations with Turkey, the Arab spring, human rights, extraordinary rendition, the future of the EU and relations with the United States. And that is not all: in his time as Chair of the Committee, my hon. Friend took evidence from the Dalai Lama, despite Chinese protests, visited Guantanamo Bay, and exposed corruption and intimidation that led to the UK Government suspending relations with the Turks and Caicos Government, and it was only after the Committee criticised the Syrian Government that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office included Syria as a human rights country of concern. My hon. Friend has also been a convenor and for 10 years a member of the quadripartite Committees on Arms Export Controls.
With my hon. Friend in the Chair, the Foreign Affairs Committee always operated as it should, on a cross-party and consensual basis, not least thanks to his strong belief that the role of Select Committees is to hold Government to account and that Committee members are not there as delegates of their parties. He has served actively and constructively under Conservative Chairs, including Richard Ottaway, Crispin Blunt and the current Chair, Tom Tugendhat.
By virtue of his position, my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford South has been a representative of our Parliament at home, welcoming foreign delegations, and abroad, liaising with diplomats and Governments. To this day, he continues to be active in the Committee, playing a role in amending draft reports and regularly meeting international visitors on behalf of the Committee.
I hope the right hon. Lady will forgive me; I was chairing a sitting of the Committee just now, hence I missed the beginning of the debate. I echo her words, because she is absolutely speaking the truth. More than that, to a new Member who has had the good fortune to chair one of these great Committees very early on, Mike Gapes has been an amazing rock to lean on. His wisdom, his courtesy and his judgment have been of great value to me and, I hope, the whole House and the whole Committee, as he has helped to guide not just me but us all through some complex moments of foreign policy, where there have been very few more important subjects for our House, so I echo completely the right hon. Lady’s words.
I thank the hon. Gentleman, the Chair of the Committee, for those remarks, which I think are well received and well deserved by my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford South. I take them as an endorsement of all that I am saying about the way in which he has served the Committee, the House and the country. I know that the Chair of the Committee and, for that matter, all its members do not want this to happen and have made that clear in their own way.
Membership of Select Committees is fundamentally a matter for the House of Commons. It should not become the subject of mean-spirited manoeuvres by party leaderships who do not brook dissent. Labour’s move is the latest indication of how its leadership is unable to handle criticism, alternative viewpoints or any dissenting voices—a very worrying development in a democratic Parliament. This Parliament works through the Commonwealth, the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association and the Inter-Parliamentary Union to help other Parliaments around the world to learn from our examples and our experience to be good, democratic Parliaments, to strengthen democracy and to strengthen parliamentary democracy in particular. This move by the Leader of the Opposition absolutely cuts across and undermines all those aims, all of that mission and all that work.
As a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee both in this and the previous Parliament, I support the Members who are on it presently and particularly my hon. Friend Mike Gapes, who I have known for over 40 years. He has been an excellent member of the Committee. He has great knowledge and expertise and, as the Chairman said, he has been a rock to many of us in the Committee. Because of his experience and wisdom, he is an essential part of the Committee. Not for the first time, I will vote against the Whip—if there is a three-line Whip asking us to vote for the expulsion of those Members, I will not do it.
I sincerely thank my hon. Friend, as I am sure her hon. Friend the Member for Ilford South will, for those remarks and for her courage in saying that she will not follow this Whip. I hope that other Opposition Members, many of whom I know are not happy about this move, will show their displeasure and vote against the motion. I also hope that will be true of Government Members.
Members from inside and outside Labour who have raised serious concerns about Labour’s direction will not want to see the silencing of an experienced voice from the Foreign Affairs Committee at a time when the leader of the Labour party’s foreign policy has come under intense scrutiny. From Venezuela to Syria and Russia, the positions taken by the leader of the Labour party and Labour Front Benchers have been a concern to MPs on both sides. This attempt to remove a platform from one of Parliament’s most experienced voices on foreign affairs should be opposed. I want to refer back to what my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley North said about his reasons for leaving, which are virtually identical to my own—
Order. This is a debate about replacement. I understand the frustration and anger, but unfortunately, I have to chair the debate on what it is about, which is the replacement of people on the Foreign Affairs Committee. The subject is narrow. We have broadened it a bit and I have been generous in trying to do that, but this cannot become a personal attack on one person by every speaker—unfortunately, we have to stick to what we have.
Order. Being a member of the Speaker’s Panel, you know I have to keep the debate within the scope of the motion, and the scope does not allow us to go into the reasons; it is about the replacement of members. I do not want to be hard, but I have to keep to the agenda.
Can I seek your guidance, Mr Deputy Speaker? There are a few things I want to say about Select Committees that I think are relevant. I understand what you are saying about the narrowness of the debate, but there is the broader context of who is being removed and who has not been removed in the past. There is an underlying reason that is obviously about the people who left the Labour party a couple of weeks ago, and it is difficult to address this matter without being able to address the reasons it comes before us. With your guidance, I will attempt to continue, but I am sure you will tell me if I am wrong.
I think you know what you have to do, given your experience of chairing Committees. The reasons certain people left the Labour party can be debated some other time, but this debate is not about that; it is about replacing existing members. I do not want to put words into his mouth, but I presume that Mr Wiggin will establish why the representation of political parties should reflect the make-up of the House when he winds up. This debate is about the replacement of two, let’s be honest, very popular Members. There is no doubt about that, but it is about their replacement, so it is quite narrow. I have allowed some freedom, but it cannot be a personal attack on one person.
I had not planned to intervene, given that I am in my pink-and-no-tie mode—but hey, we’re a modern Parliament! May I tell my right hon. Friend—I will call her that—that when there was a move some years ago to get me off the Culture, Media and Sport Committee, for reasons I will not bore hon. Members with now, I was told by the then Chairman, the late, great Sir Gerald Kaufman MP, that a Member of Parliament was elected to a Select Committee for a Parliament. It might have changed, but, regardless of shenanigans, I think the principle still stands.
The hon. Gentleman’s intervention echoes where I started: there is no formula setting out the exact required number. It is not entirely without precedent, but it is extremely unusual for this to happen.
I will try to move on. More widely, this attempt highlights some of the difficulties with how the main parties have a stranglehold on how Parliament works—from the way debates are scheduled to the party political carve-up on Select Committees. The dominance of the House of Commons by the Whips and the usual channels does our democracy a disservice. Minority voices are squeezed out and those who dissent from the view of the Front Benches can be summarily dismissed. If we are to reach across outdated tribal lines and agree on workable solutions to the challenges that we face as a nation, we must look again at how we organise Parliament. We must do that if we are to change politics, and we must change politics.
Removing newly independent MPs from Select Committees undermines and runs counter to the spirit of reforms made in recent years to reduce the influence of political parties over Select Committees. Those changes are widely considered to have strengthened the Committee system. For instance, the Wright reforms, implemented after the 2010 election, removed from party Whips the power to appoint Select Committee members, and introduced their election by their parliamentary peers.
Let me quote some of what former and current Members have said about these matters. The background to the first quotation is a rebellion against removing Select Committee Chairs Gwyneth Dunwoody, the former MP for Crewe and Nantwich, and Donald Anderson, then the MP for Swansea East and now, I believe, a Member of the other place. Jeremy Corbyn, now Leader of the Opposition, said that appointments to Select Committees should be taken out of the hands of Whips. He said:
“I thank the Leader of the House for giving way. Before he completes his contribution, will he say what thought he has given to the Liaison Committee report ‘Shifting the Balance’, which is about the future appointment of Select Committees and appointments to vacancies that might occur in this Parliament? Does he accept its recommendation that those should be taken out of the power of the Whips Offices of all parties?”—[Official Report,
Vol. 372, c. 45.]
That was very clear.
“past its sell-by date.”—[Official Report,
Vol. 372, c. 40.]
It is hard to disagree with that.
Robin Cook, the former MP for Livingston and a very respected and eminent Member of the House, and the Labour Government allowed free votes on Select Committee matters, because they were matters for the House. Will Labour do the same now, and if not, why not? I do not think that any free vote will take place today.
During the same debate, my right hon. Friend Frank Field said:
“There is a message to my right hon. Friend. The Government might get away tonight with sacking two hon. Members who should be members of Select Committees, and they might think little of it, but in the last Parliament, and in this Parliament, sadly, they continue to present an image of what they are like which, I am sure, is totally inaccurate. The image suggests that they believe that one can ride roughshod, and grab and take anything. The impression of a belief that we rule, no matter what people say, is being marked down on our card outside. When we are in difficult times, we will find, like the shambles of the Conservative party, that it is too late to reform. The electorate will have marked our card indelibly, and when the moment comes, retribution will be visited upon us.”—[Official Report,
Vol. 372, c. 61.]
Those are words to which the current Leader of the Opposition should perhaps pay a bit of attention.
The right hon. Lady has mentioned Frank Field, who, to the best of my knowledge, resigned the Labour Whip. Is she aware of any moves by his previous party to remove him from the chairmanship of the Work and Pensions Committee? That question plays into the argument that she and I, and others, have been making that this is a very partial and personal attack.
The hon. Gentleman has made that point before, and I could not disagree with him. In my view, this is entirely about Members who declared their independence just a couple of weeks ago, and no others.
My right hon. Friend will remember the reforms introduced by an ex Member of the House for Cannock Chase, Tony Wright. Does she agree that this motion, and a whipped vote on it on the part of the Labour Benches, goes completely against the spirit of the Wright reforms, which we voted upon in the 2005-10 Parliament?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right and I could not agree with her more. This undermines those reforms in total, and also calls into question the ability of Select Committees to work in a consensual, non-tribal, cross-party way to properly scrutinise the business of government.
Does my right hon. Friend, as I will accurately call her, agree that equality before the law is one of the principles of British justice and that this House of all places should demonstrate that principle of equality? And does she not therefore feel it is slightly odd that Frank Field has not been singled out and Luciana Berger has not been singled out, yet Ian Austin, who has spoken very clearly about antisemitism, and Mike Gapes, who has again shown his courage in this matter, should be the two who are singled out?
That is a powerful point, and what I would say in terms of equality is that I said in my speech when I resigned from the Labour party after 38 years that it was in the main due to the fact that the Labour party was institutionally antisemitic.
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Is it in order for the shadow Deputy Leader of the House, Alex Norris, to sit there muttering away, shaking his head every time a contribution is made yet not say a word from the Dispatch Box about why the Opposition have imposed a three-line Whip on their MPs to vote in a particular way in this debate? Stand at the Dispatch Box and explain yourself.
I think we should lower the temperature here a bit—that is not a matter for the Chair. What I would say is that this is about the replacements on the Select Committees and there is quite a lot of muttering going on, and it would be much more polite if we could listen to what Joan Ryan is saying. But I remind this House that this debate is focused on the issue of the Select Committees.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker.
To finish addressing the point made by the Chair of the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs, the hon. Member for Tonbridge and Malling, as to whether all Members are equal before this House, some are clearly more equal than others. When I resigned on the basis of the Labour party becoming institutionally antisemitic and the fact that I could only say that I considered the Leader of the Opposition not fit to be Prime Minister, I made the point that Labour’s founding principle is equality, so I can only agree that that founding principle has been desperately undermined by the current Leader of the Opposition.
The Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee also mentioned my hon. Friend Luciana Berger and it remains seriously concerning that Labour has sought names to replace her on the Health and Social Care Committee; that is on its list of vacancies where it seeks a replacement. Although the party has briefed that there are no plans to replace her, it has begun the process by seeking nominations, and presumably it remains the case that if someone from the parliamentary Labour party puts themselves forward Labour will submit their name to the Selection Committee. It is not right that my hon. Friend faces this situation; she is on maternity leave. What would we say to other employers who took punitive action against an employee on maternity leave? I think we would take a very dim view of that indeed.
I have said a lot about my right hon. Friend the Member for Islington—or rather my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford South. [Interruption.] I think I have said a lot about both, frankly, and I wanted to say a few more words about my hon. Friend—my very, very good friend—the Member for Dudley North, who I very much wish was part of our group because I very much enjoy working with him, but I understand his reasons why he is not.
Leaving aside members of the Independent Group, it is concerning that Labour is moving against the hon. Member for Dudley North, whose resignation from Labour over antisemitism was brave and principled. The fact that Labour is responding by seeking to remove him from the Committee shows how the party’s leadership still does not understand the seriousness of the issue it faces. I really think it needs to listen today to what is being said and to the views of this House.
There cannot be independence as long as there is this system of patronage; the House itself needs to take this issue on. However, nobody in this place should endorse these mean-minded, petty actions by the Leader of the Opposition. Beyond that, if they do, they will appear to be endorsing the most despicable views that have infected this Labour party around racism against Jewish people—antisemitism—and not just the inability but the refusal of the Labour party to deal with that. The House needs to express its view on what I consider to be institutional antisemitism. This motion should be resisted at all costs. It has far, far greater implications and consequences than perhaps everyone is seeing at first glance.
I will speak to the motion, which starts by saying that
I will explain why I think that is wrong.
There is no doubt that, on almost every domestic issue, the hon. Members for Dudley North (Ian Austin) and for Ilford South (Mike Gapes) and I completely disagree. I would be shocked if there were many domestic issues we saw eye to eye on.
I am most grateful for that; it just goes to show that we can all be wrong at some point in the day.
This issue is far more important than whether we agree on domestic issues. I want to speak about how Select Committees operate and the sort of people who should be on them. When we look at why this motion has been brought forward, it is worth noting that, in terms of the mathematics of Parliament, we will still have the same number of Opposition MPs on the Select Committee compared with Government MPs.
In April 2013, the hon. Member for Dudley North and I went to Kiev, shortly after the purple revolution. We saw at first hand how people tore up the streets to use the stones as missiles. We actually saw a lynching in the square. Why did we go on that trip? We were trying to understand the threats people faced to their freedom, how they were trying to overthrow a repressive Government and how the country could move forward—let us be honest, all is not rosy in Ukraine to this day, even apart from the Russian aggression and intervention. However, we went there to understand those things. That shows why the hon. Member for Dudley North has given so much experience to the Foreign Affairs Committee: he has gone around the world with cross-party groups—I will come to the hon. Member for Ilford South in a moment, because I would not want to rule him out of this.
That trip was not a Foreign Affairs Committee trip; it was a Back-Bench trip put together to understand what was going on. It was done to understand what was going on because that is what parliamentarians should do in this country—in this free democracy we live in. We have to understand repression around the world and bring to bear the values we hold dear—freedom, the rule of law, democracy and the right to choose what we want to do—when we discuss various issues.
It sends an appalling message to our fellow countrymen that this motion is effectively about the hon. Member for Dudley North standing up to racism and to antisemitism and calling out an affront to democracy. It breaks my heart that in the 21st century we are discussing issues that should have been put to bed 70 or 80 years ago. I do not know what this country is coming to when politicians elected to this House are on the list of the biggest threats to Jews in the world. How did we get here?
Standing up for those principles and going around the world to witness events in other countries to bring that experience back to a wider audience should be appreciated and valued. We should not immediately get rid of somebody from an influential Select Committee just because they stood by their principles. The hon. Member for Dudley North brings his many years of experience, and his skill is based on his time in government —he is an experienced Member of this House.
I say again that the hon. Gentleman and I disagree on many issues. In fact, we have had our ding-dongs in this Chamber—we can see them in Hansard—especially back when I was newly elected and full of vim and energy and wanted to make my point. However, that is no reason to get rid of someone with such high-held principles, which this country exports around the world. Those of us who travel around the world encouraging democracy know that this country’s principles about freedom of democracy should be celebrated, and we should not kick people off Select Committees when they stand up for them.
Ian Austin has shown exemplary personal courage on many occasions, most often when I argue in the Conservative interest and he argues in the Labour interest. It is really quite something that someone who is as dyed in the wool—if he will forgive that expression—to his party as he is should find themselves choosing between their father and their party.
What a time it is to find that we are so divided in this House that we have people who cannot reconcile their conscience and their family in one party! As Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, on which the hon. Gentleman serves, I pay tribute to him for the exemplary way in which he conducts himself, to his intelligence and subtlety of thought, and to the diligence he brings to reports and inquisitions.
I turn to the hon. Member for Ilford South. This is not just about his membership of the Foreign Affairs Committee, because moves are also afoot to remove him from the delegation to the NATO Parliamentary Assembly. I am a member of that delegation and have been on the same sub-committees as the hon. Gentleman. For those unaware of the work of the NATO PA, I should say that it is divided into committees, and we meet with delegations from the other 28 member nations to discuss pertinent matters.
The hon. Gentleman and I are members of the Political Committee, which discusses the threats facing the world, and it is obvious at any meeting that the hon. Gentleman is almost a go-to man for the other nations. When we socialise outside of those meetings, we are not talking about the football—well, the hon. Gentleman and I may be talking about the football—because we and plenty of other people discuss further the issues of the day.
Other delegates go to the hon. Gentleman because he has 30, 40 and perhaps even—I do not want to be presumptuous—50 years of foreign affairs experience, and he brings that experience to this Parliament and projects the experience of this Parliament to other partner nations. At a time when our standing in the world is being questioned and when people are wondering where we are going next, we should be using those who are respected around the world to give the British perspective on issues of foreign affairs and defence.
I have had the privilege of serving on the Foreign Affairs Committee for nine years with Mike Gapes. Both he and Ian Austin play an enormously important role in the Committee’s work and, frankly, I would not want to lose them—I want them to stay on the Committee. If a Member is selected to be a member of a Select Committee, they should be a member for the duration of the Parliament, just as we are elected to this House for the duration of a Parliament. If we change party, we do not have to give up our seat and, therefore, surely the Members concerned should continue to serve on the Committee for this Parliament.
I echo and reinforce what my hon. Friend says about being selected to serve, and I am grateful for his intervention. The number of Opposition MPs on this Committee has not changed, and the balance between Government MPs and Opposition MPs is still the same.
If this motion is passed, we will have decided that if a Member stands up for their values and the things I am sure we would all value as the principles of being a British parliamentarian, they are out—“It doesn’t fit in with the views we want, so you are out.” How are we then supposed to do soft power around the world? It is up to the Executive and the Prime Minister to go around the world doing the hard power of this nation, but we do the soft power. We make this country relevant, whether we do it through the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, the Council of Europe or the Foreign Affairs Committee, which does valuable work feeding in to Government on the direction of events. We would be saying that, because a Member has stood up for their principles, we are not interested.
I cast no aspersions on the Members who have been put forward in this motion; I am sure they are intelligent and capable Members of this House who would bring something to the Committee. But they would not bring the years of experience and the global respect that the hon. Members for Ilford South and for Dudley North have. How must we look to the public viewing us today?
My hon. Friend is making a powerful point. Is not the issue that, when it comes to a contest between talent and tribe, talent must always win out? Ultimately, this country is best served by having its star players on the pitch, and the world would not understand if we deliberately took our best players off the pitch. Does he agree?
I totally agree although, as a West Ham fan, it is difficult to spot the analogy. It is about talent, but it is also about the cumulative knowledge of so many years’ experience and the contacts around the world that make someone the go-to person on specific issues after the meetings of these organisations. It all feeds in.
The hon. Gentleman is incredibly kind to give way on that point. He was first elected in the same year I was, and we both aspire to the level and depth of experience of the two Members whom the motion seeks to discharge from the Committee. Is not his key point that the incentives in this place to speak out bravely when we believe things to be wrong need to be correctly aligned with our procedures? Both Members have found themselves in a position where they could do nothing but speak out and face the consequences. Today each of us, even those with the political experience of the hon. Gentleman and me, need to ask ourselves: if it is these two Members first, will it be us next?
I am most grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I will preface it, but he reminds me of the poem about the holocaust that finishes:
“Then they came for me—and there was no one left”.
We should bear that in mind. What has led to this situation? I regard the hon. Member for Ilford South as a good friend, and we have travelled the world together. I saw the huge, incredible levels of abuse he received, often from his alleged supporters in his own party. I think he dealt with that stoically.
I know that it was no easy decision for the hon. Gentleman to leave his party. I do not want to embarrass him, but I know it broke his heart because we have had those conversations. He did not want to leave the Labour party. He was forced into that position for standing up for what was right and standing up for the values we should all stand for in this House. That is the problem with the motion.
What message are we sending to the House with this motion? The motion asks us to replace two Members of this House who have enormous experience. The context is a lack of tolerance in this place. The Brexit debate was framed around the fact that people wanted politics done in a different way—we can argue and disagree about what that way is. What we are actually saying today is, “Stand up for your principles and you’re out.” It is an establishment stitch-up.
The reason why I want the two hon. Gentlemen to stay on the Committee—this is what I worry about most of all—is that they are experts in their field. They are admired by the other Committee members and by the people they see around the world. We should not give in to the pressure and, frankly, intolerance they have had to face, and thereby lessen the capability of the Committee they sit on.
I am grateful, Madam Deputy Speaker, for the opportunity to say a few words in a debate that is both important and timely.
There are bigger points of principle at stake in this debate, with all due respect to the hon. Members for Dudley North (Ian Austin) and for Ilford South (Mike Gapes)—both of whom I hold in high regard and whose treatment I utterly deplore. We are really talking about the rules by which this House governs itself. Just as important as the rules are the reasons for which those rules are put in place. The rules do not just emerge out of nowhere. We have the rules that we have for a particular reason.
It is worth recalling that when the Chairman of the Selection Committee and I came into the House in 2001, it was a very different sort of House that ran to very different rules. The Chairs and members of Select Committees were all appointed at the pleasure of the leaders and Whips of their own parties. That system was, frankly, open to abuse and it was often abused. We all saw it. I remember John Denham—a man I held in high regard—going virtually automatically from being a Home Office Minister to being Chair of the Home Affairs Committee. That was not a proper way for the House to order its business. It happened because it was not the House that was ordering its business; it was done by the party managers.
I also remember the occasion that Joan Ryan reminded us of, when the business managers tried to replace Lord Anderson of Swansea and the late Gwyneth Dunwoody as Chairs of the Foreign Affairs and Transport Committees. I remember Gwyneth Dunwoody as one of the most formidable operators ever in this House. You may recall, Madam Deputy Speaker, that when she chaired the Transport Committee, it was said to be the only Committee of this House that had need of its own witness protection programme. One could quite understand why the Ministers and business managers wanted to be rid of her, but it was obviously in the interests of the House and the good functioning of our Select Committees that she not be removed. On that occasion, the House stood up for Gwyneth Dunwoody and Lord Anderson. They were able to retain their positions as Chairs of the Select Committees and continue doing their very important work.
That is why the Wright committee was set up to look at the workings of the House. Its recommendations were radical and highly innovative in changing the business. I declare an interest: at the time of the implementation of the Wright reforms, I was deputy Chief Whip of the coalition Government. Sir Patrick McLoughlin was the Government Chief Whip, and Lord Young of Cookham, as he now is, was the Leader of the House of Commons, and we brought forward those changes.
For us as business managers, the changes were not always easy. I remember that, during that Parliament, a Chair of a Select Committee came to me and said that the presence of a Liberal Democrat MP on the Select Committee was making it difficult for the Committee to hear all the evidence and information it needed, because it was felt that he would compromise in some way some of the information being given to it. I had to say to that Select Committee Chair, “I’m sorry, but there’s not really anything I can do to remove him. I no longer have that power.” We have spoken about soft power and hard power. I should put it on the record that, as a result of sweet reason and good persuasion, we were able to persuade that gentleman to remove himself from the Committee. In that way, the House was able to continue.
For those reasons, I think it was right that we handed over control of Select Committee chairmanship and membership to the House. That is why I feel profoundly uneasy about the motion that has been brought to the House today. The reforms that we implemented as a consequence of the Wright report were long overdue and very hard-fought. For the House to be complicit in somehow rolling them back would be a retrograde step at a time when it is surely more important than ever that the House is prepared to assert its control and primacy over the Executive and the party machinery, which is being challenged.
The right hon. Gentleman and I represent opposite ends of the country, so I ask him this question: has he ever heard in the community he represents that what people really want is more political party control?
With the possible exception of my hon. Friend Jamie Stone, just about everybody represents seats in the other end of the country, as far as I am concerned. No, of course I have not.
That was why the House eventually acted in the way it did. We did not rush to act—my goodness, it was long overdue. Let us not overstate the party influence here. It is important to recognise that we are all elected on a party ticket, but once we are here we have other considerations to take into account.
My right hon. Friend’s position as a former deputy Chief Whip of the Government gives the points he is making even more weight. Does he accept that, of all parts of this House, the Select Committee system is so successful largely because people leave their party allegiances at the door and work together collectively? It is one of the most respected parts of our Parliament, so it is disappointing that the Labour party is trying to politicise it and make some sort of territorial claim on those seats, even though there are excellent individuals serving in those roles.
Indeed. I had cause to reflect on the role of Select Committees recently, when the recently retired Clerk of the House stood down. He was instrumental in building the reputation of those Committees, because he started his career as a Clerk clerking them. The strength and standing of the Select Committee system that we enjoy today is not an accident. It is not something that happened overnight. It has been hard won. Many people had to work and fight very hard to build it. If we undermine it, we not only do a disservice to the hon. Members for Ilford South and for Dudley North, but risk doing a disservice to the House.
I understand why the Labour party moved in this way. I do not challenge the competence of the motion before the House, but it is significant that at the end of the day, this matter remains in the control of the House.
I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that the competence of the motion is not in question, but surely the imposition of a three-line Whip is entirely against the spirit of the reforms that have made this House a better place.
It is not entirely without precedent for parties to whip House business, but it is rare, and it is ill advised. As I say, I certainly do not challenge the competence of the motion, but I do challenge and seriously question the wisdom of those who sought to bring it forward in this way, at this time. I do not refer to the members of the Committee of Selection, and certainly not to its Chair, Bill Wiggin; they are there to perform a function—to facilitate the House’s having this debate. Ultimately, the question of who should be on the Foreign Affairs Committee remains within the control of the House. I hope that the House will thank the Chair of the Committee of Selection and his colleagues, and politely decline to accept their advice.
It is a pleasure to be called in this debate. It is worth saying that I have no personal objection to the hon. Members for St Helens North (Conor McGinn) and for Hornsey and Wood Green (Catherine West) joining a Committee; I remember the rather courageous stand that the hon. Member for St Helens North took a few years back in supporting the Government’s taking military action against Daesh when his party leader was not doing so. The comments I am about to make are no reflection on those two Members, but I do feel rather conflicted.
There has been a lot of talk about whipping and potential arrangements. I do not think it is right to discuss on the Floor of the House Members’ conversations with Whips, but I must say that while it is always lovely to hear from my hon. Friend Jo Churchill, my Whip, it was nice not to hear from her today about this motion and the amendment. She has the joy of texting me to ask if I am here, which usually gets the response, “I’m sitting on the other end of the Bench from you.”
There is a bit of a conflict in my mind today, and I will explain why. Previous motions from the Committee of Selection that we have considered on the membership of Committees, including Select Committees, have usually been brought forward when a Member has said that they no longer wish to be on a Committee, and the relevant party is looking to replace them. That is why when, a couple of years back, there was a motion relating to Keith Vaz being on the Justice Committee, I took the view that it was a Labour vacancy, and the Labour party had nominated someone. While the motion was controversial to those on the Government Benches, I took the view that it was not really for Government Members to pick who represented the Opposition on a Select Committee; I felt that voting against the motion would set a bit of a precedent, so on that occasion, I was prepared to vote in favour of it. It was not that I had any great thoughts about the merits of the individual concerned; I felt that it was a Labour vacancy, as a Labour Member was standing down from the Committee. The Labour party was therefore entitled to nominate someone. I did not feel it was for a Government MP, particularly one who was quite involved in things, to say, “No. Come back with someone else.”
I accept that today the situation is very different. Neither Ian Austin nor Mike Gapes wishes to be removed from the Foreign Affairs Committee, and neither has done something that makes it necessary for the House to remove them. They have both given exceptional service. We saw in the superb speech of the hon. Member for Dudley North exactly why he is on that Committee. It is because of the incisive nature that he brings to debates and his passion for the subjects concerned. In the case of Mike Gapes, I can say that I may not share some of his views, I may not share his thoughts on a second referendum, and every time he speaks, I may not innately think, “Yeah, great point. That is one I would have made myself.” That is not what it is about; it is about making sure that there is independence on these Committees.
Where I feel uncomfortable is whether it should really be the Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster who goes through the Lobby to decide who represents the Opposition on Select Committees. That is why I feel uncomfortable with suggestions that we should vote against this motion. It will set a precedent. I am conscious that there will be a number of Members on the Government Benches who will wish to vote against this motion. In particular, the respected members of the Committee may feel that they have a stronger need to express their views. None the less, as PPS to the de facto Deputy Prime Minister, I feel reticent about going through the Lobby to choose the Opposition representatives on that Committee.
I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way. I appreciate the point that he is making about choosing who should serve on Committees—which party they come from and how they should be selected—but surely the question before us today is a fundamental one about whether those who are elected to serve on a Select Committee are delegates of the whole House or representatives of their party. That is a fundamental question that we should be considering. The truth is that the Select Committee system was established so that the whole House could look into matters at greater depth than is possible for the Chamber as a whole. That is the question that we should be asking ourselves today. Therefore, once the House has made a decision as to who should represent it, should it be up to the Whips Office from one party or another to make a difference?
I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention. In relation to Committee Chairs, he is absolutely right that we select as the whole House. They are appointed by the whole House, and I would be reticent to set a precedent, if Chairs of the Committees were to change their political affiliation—there has been one such change—that they were delegates of one party or another. At the start of the Parliament, we makes the allocations. If there comes a vacancy, that would potentially make a difference.
For me, there is a challenge in this. This matter is being debated on the Floor of the House. Members are appointed by the whole House to be Chairs and members of Committees, but we are talking about the Opposition’s spaces, and I do have a view on that. Although I suspect that, in this Parliament, things will be handled quite maturely—in fact I suspect that, under a number of Labour Governments, things would be handled well—we could be setting quite a precedent if Government Members, particularly Government payroll Members, started choosing the Opposition members on a Committee, regardless of what I might think on this particular occasion. It is different for those who are not on the Government payroll.
I thank my hon. Friend and neighbour for giving way on this point. I will, if I may, try to persuade him. Does he agree that Select Committees are at their best and acting on behalf of the public when their members can leave tribal politics at the door, focus on the evidence and work collaboratively to come up with solutions? That is what the public wants to see from this Parliament, as opposed to the often confrontational picture that they might see. This is the part of Parliament that often shows us at our best. My concern is that what we are seeing tonight will fundamentally undermine and degrade the important reforms that were brought in a decade ago, so I really hope that he will join me in the Lobby this evening.
I thank my hon. Friend—and I mean that—for her intervention. She is right that the Select Committees are at their best when a member of the public attending a sitting would not be able to tell which party label applied to which Member of Parliament. I remember the time that I spent on the Public Accounts Committee, and the questions there were as fearless from Government Members as from Opposition Members. That is the strength of Select Committees. The fact that we work by consensus in most instances gives strength to our reports. If an inquiry was just an attack by an Opposition motivated by party politics, it would not get the support of Government Members. And ditto—if a report were trying to praise the Government too much, funnily enough Opposition Members would probably not sign up to it.
It is right that people do not take their party labels into Select Committees, but the conflict for me is the issue of the Opposition having certain protections in this place. In a situation where a Government had a significant majority, they could in theory start playing a game with these sorts of motion. I think it is safe to say that a game is being played this afternoon, but it is quite clear to me that there is a difference between Members on the Government payroll and other Members. Each Member can take their own view; I just feel a slight difficulty in choosing the Opposition Members on a Select Committee from my position.
Does my hon. Friend feel that it would undermine the system if we were in a position where members of a Select Committee were always having to look over their shoulder, because they might suddenly find that their place had been made unilaterally vacant on their behalf if they were not following the party line? In this case, there will still be the same number of Opposition Members in the Foreign Affairs Committee.
I accept that the balance of Opposition Members will be the same. This is not, for example, about someone having gone from the Government Benches to the Opposition Benches, and then a motion trying to flip back the balance. For me, though, this is about choosing the Opposition Members on a Select Committee. Let us be candid: there will be occasions when the Government might not particularly want certain individuals from the Opposition on a certain Committee. That is where the conflict lies. This is about Government Members —particularly those in the Government—choosing the Opposition Members on a Select Committee.
This is the first time that I have ever had to disagree with anything my hon. Friend has ever said on the Floor of the House. I still hope that he will think again, listen to the rest of the debate and perhaps be persuaded. I must say that if any move is made to remove Dr Wollaston from the chairmanship of the Liaison Committee, I shall certainly vote against that. As someone who disagrees with the stance taken on Europe by all the Independent Group Members, which has led them to find themselves cast into the wilderness, I would certainly say to my hon. Friend that it is not about him choosing who should be the Opposition Members to go on a Committee; it is about him deciding whether a witch hunt should allow Opposition Members to be driven off a Committee.
I thank my right hon. Friend, who shows his skills as a parliamentarian in recognising how this place works. It is not about our own views; it is about how we see the process working. Although I hear his strong point, I still have my view, and I will be abstaining—I will not be voting in favour. I would normally say that a nomination by an Opposition party should be respected by Government Members, but this situation is different in that it is not the case that Members are looking to retire from the Committee and that a vacancy therefore exists that needs to be filled. I do question the motivations and timing behind this move, but I do not feel that it is for me to be choosing Opposition Members. I might change that view if we were talking about Government Members, but it is my view that this decision is for the Opposition.
If my hon. Friend’s objection were well founded, does he not think that our own Whips Office would have issued a three-line Whip and not given us the free choice to vote as we please?
Actually, I commend the Government Whips Office for giving us a free vote to allow people to make their choice according to their conscience. I will abstain. I am not whipped as a payrolled Member to be in the Aye Lobby or the No Lobby. It is right that all Members of the House should make their own choice today. We all differ, and each choice will be valid. With that, I bring my remarks to a close—[Interruption.] I can hear the disappointment of Nic Dakin. The reason I will abstain is purely that I do not agree with the principle of key Government Members making a decision about Opposition Members.
I will not detain the House for long, but I felt the need to stand up and be counted on both the specific and the general contents of this debate.
I oppose the removal of my hon. Friends the Members for Ilford South (Mike Gapes) and for Dudley North (Ian Austin) from the membership of the Foreign Affairs Committee. That is not because I oppose my hon. Friend Conor McGinn or my hon. Friend Catherine West being members of that Committee in future. I am sure that they will, in future, make fine members of the Foreign Affairs Committee should they wish to stand for it. This, for me, is about people being removed because they have held their heads up and said that the membership of the party in which they entered this House no longer represents their values and their views. Because I know both those Members, I know how hard and how difficult that was, and I commend them for their bravery. Over the past almost 22 years of my membership of this House, I have had little interest in the rules of the House, of debate, or of memberships of Select Committees—for me, what matters is what I do in my constituency and how I represent my constituents. I appreciate that people have different views of how they do the job. Surely that is the point, and the strength, of our system.
Kevin Foster may like to look at evidence from the House of Commons Library about how members of Select Committees are dealt with if they leave their party and transfer to another. On
We all know that this measure is a vindictive one. It shames our Whips—I say that as somebody who has been a Government Whip—to be involved in this manoeuvre today. There is no suggestion that either my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford South or my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley North have not done their job well, been regular attenders or argued their point of view. They are not being removed for any disciplinary issue or for not being up to the mark. They are being removed because of their politics—because my party has become intolerant and unwilling to listen to other voices.
As evidence to support what my hon. Friend is saying in the most powerful way, members of the Independent Group who left the Labour party just a couple of weeks ago and who sit in the Council of Europe, the NATO Parliamentary Assembly and the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe have all been threatened with removal by the actions of our Whips. The Whips cannot remove all of them, because they have a term of office, but that more than demonstrates the fact that this is, exactly as she says, about intolerance.
I thank my right hon. Friend, who is my friend in this place in the true meaning of the word. One of the most shocking things is that attempts were going to be made to remove my hon. Friend Luciana Berger from the Health and Social Care Committee while she was on maternity leave. Those were attempts by the Labour party —the Labour party of Barbara Castle, of Mo Mowlam and of the late, great Tessa Jowell. The party that introduced statutory maternity leave was considering removing a Member from a Committee while she was on maternity leave. Is that not an indication of how much we have lost our values and sense of who we are?
Whether it is the Conservative party having to remove people because of Islamophobia or the Labour party having to remove people because of antisemitism, we all have to stand up in our parties to extremism and totalitarianism. I say that with regret, but I hope that Government Members do not believe that I do not mean them too—I do. They need to watch their constituencies and their membership. If we move away from where the quiet, moderate majority lie, they will become disaffected with our politics.
Membership of the Foreign Affairs Committee is a small, arcane matter for this House, but it exemplifies the problems that all parties are experiencing. However uncomfortable it is and whether or not it means that some people on our side of the House will choose not to speak to us after this debate, we have to stand up, because for evil to triumph, it only needs the majority of us to say nothing.
I am moved by the speech of Siobhain McDonagh. Those were extraordinarily courageous words to say in this extraordinary Parliament, where we find ourselves in unfamiliar territory in so many ways, with a new fluidity in politics that we need to reflect. I will detain the House for only a very short moment.
As the leader of the UK delegation to the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, it has been my good fortune to work with Mike Gapes. At the moment, when we go to these forums, parliamentarians from across the world—in our case, from across the NATO alliance—ask, “What is going on in the United Kingdom?” We try to explain, which at times I find almost impossible. If they are confused by our actions in this Parliament and our inability to get through a certain matter, they will be doubly confused when they see that somebody of the hon. Gentleman’s standing and stature in the NATO Parliamentary Assembly is being excluded from a Select Committee on which he has extraordinary experience and of which he is a former Chair. If he were also to be removed from our delegation, that would be extraordinary, and I simply would not be able to explain it to the many parliamentarians who look to this Parliament for inspiration and feel that there is a basic sense of fairness and decency, which we should uphold. I am grateful that the Government’s whipping allows me to do what I was going to do anyway.
The hon. Lady makes a very important point. I do think that the membership of a Select Committee or of a delegation—although, out there in the real world, it is not what they are talking about in the Dog and Duck—is an indication of the kind of politics we do in this place, and to me, it matters.
The machinations of the Labour party are something that, in one sense, we on the Conservative Benches could just not be part of. Personally, however, I am saddened if a great internationalist party does not still have people on its Benches—they have now moved to a different arrangement—who really understand the importance at this time of that internationalist approach and have an understanding of the dynamic of foreign affairs. If we are to define global Britain, it is not just going to be done by the people on the Conservative Benches; it has to be something on which Members of this Parliament engage across a whole range of different forums.
Would my right hon. Friend summarise it in this way? The UK delegation to the NATO Parliamentary Assembly is one of the most respected delegations because of the strength and depth of its knowledge, and if this was to pass, along with changes to the NATO PA delegation, we would diminish ourselves on the world stage.
I will not, because I have made a promise that I am going to shut up.
I just want to say that I have huge respect for Ian Austin as well. He and I have worked on issues relating to Russia and Magnitsky, and I know his knowledge and understanding, and his courageousness as well. For goodness’ sake, let us be a Parliament that raises ourselves above this. Let us just be a little bit mature and reflect on the fact that, even if we were talking about people who had been on the Conservative Benches, we would actually stand up for something more important than what we are talking about today.
There have been times today when I thought I was listening to my own obituary, and it has been quite moving to hear some kind things said about me. But it is not about me, and it is not about my good friend Ian Austin either; it is about the way in which this Parliament works.
I have had the privilege and the honour to be a Member of Parliament for 27 years. For the vast majority of that time—19 years—I have been a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee. I have also served on the Defence Committee, the Joint Committee on National Security Strategy briefly, the Liaison Committee and, for more than 10 years, the Committees on Arms Export Controls, formerly known as the Quad. I know that the only way that this Parliament’s Select Committees work and work effectively is if we produce unanimous reports. We get listened to and noticed only when we work on a cross-party basis and leave our party labels behind us. If we get a 9:2 split in a Committee, it is better that the two are from different parties and that the nine are from different parties, than if it goes the other way. That is how Parliament works, and it works effectively.
Is this not the heart of the matter? Is it not absurd to be talking about changing the balance between Opposition and Government membership on these Committees? These Committees, with very few exceptions, never divide along party lines. When the Defence Committee meets, I never ever have to consider the fact that it might be me—one Conservative—and five Opposition Members who happen to be in that meeting at the time.
I crave your indulgence for a second, Madam Deputy Speaker, to say that I am very sorry I cannot make a full speech in this debate because I was chairing a Defence Committee meeting that overlapped with a large part of it. However, I have known of Mike Gapes since the 1970s, when we were both fighting Trotskyists inside the Labour party. In the 1990s, I remember going with Conservative delegations to eastern Europe, only to find that the hon. Gentleman, as international secretary of the Labour party, had got there before us. The idea that the hon. Gentleman has had to leave the Labour party, when every drop of his blood is infused with the ethos of the Labour party, is absolutely tragic—
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman.
When a Select Committee produces a report that contains lots of recommendations and says some telling and critical things and it wants the Government to produce a serious response, that Committee has effect if it works collectively and comes to a consensual report. If the Government then gives an inadequate response, the Committee goes back. Under the chairmanship of my very good friend Tom Tugendhat, we have been persistent. We have told the Foreign and Commonwealth Office: “This is an inadequate response. We’re not accepting it.” We have made it difficult for them—we are persistent—and we do that on behalf of the House as a whole. We do it not as delegates from the central committee of a political party, but as parliamentarians who have used our knowledge, experience, integrity and persistence to beaver down, get the facts, expose the scandals and the problems, highlight them and then challenge the Executive.
There has been a trend in this Parliament for the Executive to treat Parliament with contempt. We have even passed motions saying that. I will not deviate from the terms of the motion, but we have seen lots of examples of Parliament having to struggle to assert our authority. It would be very strange if today we start to undermine Parliament’s authority in a different way.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend; I should probably say in passing: you are not dead yet. Can there be anyone who has witnessed this debate who could think that voting for this motion would be to represent the will of the House? If the purpose is to represent the will of the House tonight, do we not know what we should do?
I am very grateful. Obviously every Member has to look to their own conscience and presumably their own relationship with their party to decide what they will do, but I must say that I am astonished that there is a Whip on this House business. It is not usual.
I was in the House in 2001, and I recall the attempted removal of the Chairs of the Select Committee on Transport, Gwyneth Dunwoody, and the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs, Donald Anderson, now Lord Anderson. That was not exactly the same as tonight’s proposal, because there was a vote in a parliamentary Labour party meeting, but it was ultimately a decision for the House as a whole. The House at that time rejected the proposal from the Labour party and those names were reinstated. We are in a different situation today, but the essence of my point is that, regardless of what happens to my personal position, this is about how Parliament and the Select Committees work.
Yes, that is factually correct. More importantly, this is not just a question of positioning on the Benches. My views on the awful Maduro regime in Venezuela, the Putin kleptocracy and the barbaric, murderous Assad regime have not changed from when I said those things over recent months. It may be that factors around those have played some role in this—I do not know.
I am very grateful. I say to all the members of the Foreign Affairs Committee that I am very pleased and grateful that the Committee decided unanimously that it did not want to have two of its members removed. The Chairman of our Committee wrote a letter to the Chief Whips of the respective parties pointing that out, so there is no doubt about the position of the other nine Committee members with regard to me and my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley North.
In conclusion, whatever happens today or with the NATO delegation, I will continue to do the right thing and fight on foreign affairs to represent the best interests of our country abroad and to highlight issues of concern, because those internationalist values that I had when I joined the Labour party 50 years ago are still my internationalist values.
I confess that when I read this motion, to begin with I was in two minds. I thought back to my days as a city councillor—I spent 10 years on Hull City Council and was one of two Tories out of 59—and what happened whenever there was a defection. Someone once defected to us—it was a terrible mistake for him and we tried to talk him out of it. When there were two members, we were never split more than 50:50—it got worse when there were three of us. However, when we had a defection on the council, there was always a change in the political make-up of committees and that reflected the change in the political make-up of the chamber. I think back to those days and the way we did things on Hull City Council—we even used to follow our standing orders on Hull City Council. They were not open to interpretation in the way that they seem to be in this place. We used to follow the rules, whether it suited the person who was chairing it or not. However, I digress.
So, I think back to those rules and to the changes here. I have to confess, when Dr Wollaston crossed the Floor, I thought, “There has been a change in the balance on the Health and Social Care Committee between the Government and the Opposition,” but then I thought, “We elected her for the duration of the Parliament”—and I have to say, given the hon. Lady’s record in chairing that Committee, I do not think that the Government will notice much difference.
I thank my hon. Friend for that extraordinary compliment.
It was meant as such. I thought, “I really hope that my party does not move to remove the hon. Lady”, despite a certain knee-jerk reaction on my part when I saw that she had crossed the Floor, precisely because we elected her for the duration of this Parliament and she should serve out her term as Chair of that Committee.
The reason that I will oppose the motion this evening is that it is not based on the balance of this Chamber. What is behind this motion—we in the Chamber must always look for what is behind something—is vindictiveness, as has been stated. There is no doubt that the way in which these two Members departed the Labour party and the policy differences that they have, particularly on foreign policy matters, are behind this move. I am not going to put my name to anything that is based on pure vindictiveness, which is what this is.
A lot of things have been said about the two Members today. I did think that they may have died, because people are not normally that nice about those who are alive. Somebody even accused Ian Austin of a subtlety of thought—I have never thought he has that, which is the reason I like him so much. There is no doubt, however, that in matters of foreign affairs they bring to the Committee a voice and experience that it would be the poorer without. We should consider, too, the views of the Members who serve with them on that Committee, who to a person wish them to remain on the Committee.
For that reason and because of the vindictiveness that lies behind the motion, I will 100% be opposing it this evening, and I hope that other colleagues will do the same and that they will consider carefully whether a three-line Whip should really be imposed in matters concerning the business of the House. I hope that colleagues on the Opposition Benches will reflect carefully on that and will support these two Members. If they do not, I should remind them, as has been said, that it may be these two today, but it could be others in the future.
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.
The House divided:
Ayes 199, Noes 134.