I beg to move,
The motion today gives the House the opportunity to approve the appointment of Professor Michael Maguire CBE as a lay member of the Committee on Standards for a period of six years. Between 2012 and 2019, Professor Maguire was the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland. His previous role, from 2008 until 2012, was chief inspector of criminal justice for Northern Ireland. He will bring a wealth of experience to the Standards Committee.
The lay members of the Standards Committee play a vital role in providing an independent voice to the Committee’s decisions. When lay members were first proposed over a decade ago, the rationale given by the Committee on Standards in Public Life was that they would be
“a step towards enhancing public acceptance of the robustness and independence of the disciplinary process for Members of Parliament.”
The independent and impartial status of lay members is therefore critical to maintaining confidence in our process. If today’s motion is agreed, it will ensure that one of two lay member vacancies is filled with immediate effect. I ask the House to support Professor Maguire’s appointment.
The House will have realised that only one of the two candidates put forward by the House of Commons Commission is named in the motion today. As I have previously said, this has no bearing on the character of the other candidate. Instead, it reflects the fact that there is disquiet in certain quarters, as well as wider concerns over the recruitment process, and in particular the criteria relating to impartiality that were applied.
That brings me to amendment (a) in the name of the shadow Leader of the House, Valerie Vaz. My intention had been to keep the timing of the motion to appoint Ms Carter under review pending continuing conversations. That motion has been tabled under remaining orders. However, the amendment seeks to bring forward the appointment now. It is a matter of regret that the right hon. Lady has expedited the decision on this matter. We have been striving to achieve a resolution through correspondence and conversations, which I had hoped would lead us to a more desirable outcome. It is regrettable that we now find ourselves debating this matter on the Floor of the House at an early stage.
In the discussions I had yesterday, I was led to believe that the Government Chief Whip had indicated that the Government would be voting against that motion next week. That is the reason the amendment has been tabled tonight—for no other reason than because the Government were letting it be known that they were going to vote against.
It was a leader of the hon. Gentleman’s own party who once said that a week is a long time in politics and an opportunity for considerable discussion to take place.
Let me be clear: across public appointments as a whole, political activity is not and should not be a bar to appointment. Membership of a political party is an important right under freedom of association. However, some public appointments will necessarily be independent, where individuals must ensure they are separate from party politics precisely because of their public functions. This is especially the case for quasi-judicial or disciplinary roles, as in this case. The Standards Committee is an especially sensitive parliamentary Committee, with significant powers to adjudicate on the conduct of Members of Parliament. Its lay members must be able to command absolute trust and confidence across the whole House.
My hon. Friend makes an absolutely right and important point. The perception of impartiality is as important with lay members of the Standards Committee as the reality, and just because somebody says “I am impartial” does not mean that they are necessarily impartial or that others will accept that assurance.
I very much regret it, but I do not think I can support my right hon. Friend on this particular matter, because I do not believe that being a member of a political party makes someone incapable of being impartial. Indeed, all the members of the Standards Committee who are Members of this House are members of political parties and we strive to be impartial, but my right hon. Friend has just indicated that we are not capable of doing that. Will he explain what he thinks was wrong with the appointment process that arrived at these two names? If there was no unauthorised departure from the appointment process—this is a question not of rubber-stamping but of making sure that a proper appointment process has been followed, and that seems to be the case—for us just to say, “We don’t like the look of this particular person so we are not going to approve them” does not seem to me to be a respectable way to conduct the business of this House.
Had my hon. Friend been a little more patient, he would have heard more details and may have come to an understanding as to why the motion has been introduced. I disagree with him: this House, when a motion comes before it, has a right to make the decision. Motions of this House are important and our Standing Orders provide for an hour’s debate; they do that not for entertainment value but to ensure that the House is satisfied with the appointments process. It is important that if the House is not satisfied with the process, it has the right to debate it. Let me continue, because if I do, I think my hon. Friend will see why the opposition to this particular individual has arisen and why the question over impartiality is quite fundamental.
I became immediately concerned on learning from House of Commons Commission papers that this candidate was a member of an unspecified political party. It was not material to me—I said this both in the Commission and to my private office—which political party she belonged to—[Interruption.] I said that in the Commission. The point of principle that mattered was that the politicians on the Standards Committee should be the Members of Parliament, not the lay members.
My hon. Friend is absolutely correct—that is absolutely true. The initial Commission papers did not say which party, and both my hon. Friend Sir Charles Walker and I raised exactly the same concern before we knew that it was a member of the Labour party under question.
The Leader of the House is a member of the House of Commons Commission, which is of course responsible for the oversight of the whole process, including the issuing of the recruitment pack, which specifically indicated what party political activity would and would not be acceptable in a candidate for appointment. Why did he not raise his objection about the nature of the political activity that would be acceptable at the time that the Commission commenced the recruitment?
The Commission looked at a broad paper setting out the way the recruitment would take place; it did not look at the details and the questions that the Committee would ask in terms of political affiliation. The issue—[Interruption.] That is just such a fatuous point. It is not about packing it; it is about having people who do not have a political affiliation of a recent kind.
As I said, objections were raised before we knew what party this lady belonged to, because the politicians on the Standards Committee are the Members of Parliament, not the lay members, who need to be impartial. Lay members should be genuinely independent and that did not seem to be the case, so questions were raised. It was at that point that it emerged that Ms Carter had joined the Labour party this year to vote in the Labour party leadership election. It seemed to me that anyone who had recently joined any political party in order to cast a vote in favour of an individual to lead that party, believing that doing so would ensure a viable Opposition, would find it hard to persuade people that they were genuinely impartial. Under those circumstances, it is perhaps not surprising that the House of Commons Commission did not achieve consensus in approving the appointment.
In the light of this candidate’s noted support for one particular Labour leadership contender over another, I find myself in the perhaps unexpected position of juggling the interests of the rival factions of the Labour party. A lay member of the Standards Committee should be impartial towards politics that I do not like as well as politics that I do like.
As Leader of the House, I have a responsibility to all Members to protect their interest, which extends to all Members who competed in the Labour leadership election, some more successfully than others. Let me ask the House what view it would have taken of somebody who applied to join the Standards Committee who had joined the Conservative party just to vote for my right hon. Friend Boris Johnson in the Conservative leadership contest because they believed in the need to get Brexit done. Under those circumstances, we would not be having this conversation. The same principle applies to somebody who joined the Labour party to support one particular candidate.
I do not make these points in an academic, theoretical or philosophical way. It is likely that, in the near future, the Standards Committee will be asked to consider a case relating to the activity or conduct of an MP. In this instance, there is a real risk of the appearance of bias, because this proposed member has made clear her support for one candidate over another and joined a party specifically to vote for that one candidate over the other. We cannot have a situation where a lay member of the Standards Committee is perceived as being linked to a faction within a political party—as it happens, within the Labour party, but it would be just as unsuitable if someone were to be linked to a faction within the Tory party, although of course the Tory party does not have factions. What happens when that lay member is asked to make a judgment about the activity or conduct of an MP from within that faction?
The Leader of the House just said that this individual is a member of a faction. Is it not the case that that individual might have just wanted to vote for one candidate? Does he have any evidence that she is organised as part of a faction within the Labour party, because that is what he just implied?
The point is self-evident: if somebody joins a party specifically to vote X, they also specifically vote against Y. Y is a Member of this House. The person in question who joined the Labour party clearly has a view that is unfavourable to Y and favourable to X. Y may appear in front of the Standards Committee. At what point could Y possibly have confidence that this lady, who claims not to be anything other than impartial in normal circumstances, should be impartial against them after she voted against them and specifically joined the Labour party to vote in that direction?
I have to say the Leader of the House is tying himself up in knots, because that is not the question that I asked. He said that she is a member of a faction. Does he have any evidence that, apart from casting a vote for a candidate in an internal Labour party election, she has been organising with others to support a certain candidate? If he does not, he should correct the record.
I said quite clearly that she supported a faction. If someone supports one candidate in a leadership election, they are self-evidently supporting a faction. That is just normal use of English, which I am surprised the right hon. Gentleman questions, because he is quite hot on that normally. Any perception of partiality undermines the important role of lay members, who are there to provide a vital balance to the political membership of the Standards Committee. That is why we ask for lay members in the first place.
I can honestly say that I do not think a single member of the Standards Committee, whether they are a lay member or an MP, thinks of themselves as a politician when they are engaged in the work of the Committee. It is a really important part of the way we try to do our business. There is no partisanship—party membership is completely irrelevant. The only reason why anybody knows about this particular person’s party membership is because the Leader of the House asked about it. I have no idea whether all the other lay members on the Committee have been members of a political party, or were recently. The specific point is that the criterion for appointment was explicitly that party membership was not a bar, provided a candidate had not held office or campaigned on behalf of the party. She has done neither. I am afraid that this is turning the Committee into a party political football.
I think that is completely wrong, and I also think that the hon. Gentleman is trying to put the cart before the horse. The House is not bound by the rules set for it by the selection process. It is entitled to challenge and question that process. That is the job of the House. We are not a rubber stamp, here merely to approve it.
I come to Kate Green. She is a lady of considerable integrity, and I do not and would not question—and would not even think of questioning—that, but the process undertaken by the selection panel has inadvertently created the appearance of a political pas de deux, because the person who was selected by a Committee that had only one Labour politician on it was somebody who had joined the Labour party to vote for a candidate for the Labour party leadership. It is the recruitment process that is at fault here, so I make the observation that we must do better than we have done in this sorry affair and that any future recruitment process for lay members should not make the same mistakes. I reiterate that had somebody been a recent member of the Tory party joining to vote in the leadership election, my view in the Chamber would be exactly the same.
I am grateful to the Leader of the House for giving way again. I note what he said about learning lessons for the process in future and I think that is very good advice, but is it not unfair to the candidates who applied for appointment this time to move the goalposts at this point in the process? Does that reflect well on this House, and does it speak to a process that is conducted with complete integrity?
The process is quite clear and it ends with an hour’s debate in this Chamber. The hon. Lady did not tell the candidates that that was the process—that is a matter for her, not for me. That is a right of this House and we must use our rights in this House; that is what we are here for. There has been no change to the process.
The process in
“on behalf of the…Commission”— not on behalf of themselves or the Government, but on behalf of the Commission. I think that this is only just in order because, frankly, the Commission made a decision—it voted on it; it decided—and this should be a single motion coming from the Commission that should be here tonight. All the rest, I am afraid, is party political shenanigans.
The hon. Gentleman is wrong and, as so often, overstates himself. The Commission makes a recommendation to the House and the Commission motion has been brought forward—there is one on Standing Orders and there is one we are debating now. If the motion were not in order, it would not be on the Order Paper, and I assume the hon. Gentleman is not questioning the decision of Mr Speaker.
In conclusion, I would like to take this opportunity to express my thanks to the outgoing members of the Standards Committee, the lay members Ms Charmaine Burton and Sir Peter Rubin, for their contribution to the Committee on Standards and to the standards system in the House more widely. I urge Members to consider the points I have made carefully. The decision of this House is an important one and an essential part of the recruitment process.
I speak as a member of the Standards Committee. I have listened to the debate this evening and, I have to say, I would vote against a member of the Conservative party, were they to be put forward to represent lay members on the Standards Committee. It is deeply regrettable that we are having this debate this evening and that the name of an individual has been released to the public. I am very sorry that the Opposition tabled this motion. It has been discussed at great length in the Standards Committee. I recognise fully that the lay members are an important part of the Standards Committee, but this is a very sensitive position. This involves making judgments on Members of this House. Everybody should have certainty that there is impartiality and integrity.
I am very grateful. The issue of impartiality is a fundamental one and Caesar’s wife should be above suspicion. Unfortunately, that has not been achieved in this case. My hon. Friend is right: it would have been better if this name had not come to this stage, because it is not a great thing for the person who put her name forward. I recognise that. This has been a very unsatisfactory procedure. It has led to somebody who joined the Labour party recently and for the specific purpose of supporting one candidate in the leadership election having her name brought forward. It seems to me to be a self-evident mistake, so should the House agree to the appointment of Professor Maguire today, I wish him well as he takes up his new role, and I commend the motion to the House.
I beg to move amendment (a), in line 1, leave out
“be appointed as lay member” and insert
“and Ms Melanie Carter be appointed as lay members”.
I thank the Leader of the House for finally tabling this motion, but I am extremely worried and concerned about what he has done today. I was in politics in 1987, and the reason that I am taking this personally and have tabled this amendment is that this sort of thing has happened to me. It used to be known as blacklisting. I was prevented from having certain posts because people thought I had a particular political viewpoint. I thought that we had moved away from that and that this country had changed—that it did not really matter what someone’s politics were, but was about the kind of job that they did.
I am deeply concerned that some of the conversations that we have had in the Commission are public. The Leader of the House has said in some accounts that he apparently knows why Melanie Carter joined the Labour party and why she resigned from it; he appears to know exactly what those reasons are. The difficulty that we face is that Melanie Carter is not here to defend herself. She cannot question the Leader of the House or state what he has said in public; she does not have a chance to do that. That is not right in any forum, not least the House of Commons.
As I understand it, Melanie cannot have resigned from the Labour party. I do not know who she voted for in the leadership election. I do not even know that she joined the Labour party to vote for a particular candidate. I have no idea and I do not know where that has come from. I understood that she had resigned because she had applied for a post. I do not know where all this information is coming from. Is it tittle-tattle, gossip or just politicking? It really is unbecoming of the Leader of the House.
The Leader of the House failed to answer the question from Sir Bernard Jenkin; he failed to say how the process was at fault or how it was flawed. Let me take hon. and right hon. Members through the process, because it is important for the House to know that there were 331 applicants. There was a sift and 10 applicants were interviewed. Those 10 applicants were actually whittled down through questions and an interview. That was all done by other impartial people, away from politics.
The applicants then went before an experienced panel that included Jane McCall, who is an external member of the House of Commons Commission. There was also my hon. Friend Kate Green, who chaired the Committee on Standards at the time. She had resigned because she had been given a new post, but we agreed that she would stay on even though my hon. Friend Chris Bryant was the new Chair of the Committee. The other members of the panel were Mark Hutton, the former Clerk of the Journals, and Dr Arun Midha, who is a lay member of the Committee on Standards. The top two applicants were chosen: Melanie Carter and Professor Michael Maguire—in that order. I thank the panel all for their hard work, because sifting through all those experienced applicants is not an easy task. We should be pleased that all those people applied for the post.
I am interested in the impartiality. Was there guidance to the candidates and to the selection committee about whether being a member of political party would disqualify a candidate?
As my hon. Friend the Member for Stretford and Urmston said earlier, it was very clear that it was not in the criteria for disqualification, and it cannot be. It reminds me of when Brian Redhead was on the BBC. I think he was accused of voting in a certain way, and he said to the now Lord Tebbit, “How dare you know how I voted? Nobody knows how anyone votes when they go into that booth with that pencil. It is a private matter—nobody knows.”
Let me go back to the way interviews were done. I want to thank all the panel for finding these two excellent candidates. This came to the Commission for discussion, which I will not go into, but concerns were raised. I will not say who the concerns were raised by. The panel members were asked to go and ask questions of the candidates again, and so they did. They did the due diligence and they came back. That is the process.
If Members are asking about impartiality, let me just set out exactly what Melanie Carter is. Her current role is senior partner and head of the public and regulatory law department at Bates Wells solicitors. She is an independent adjudicator for the Marine Stewardship Council. She is a tribunal judge. She is a founder member of the Public Law Solicitors Association. She has previously worked as a partner at DMH Stallard and a solicitor with Bindmans, as director of standards and deputy registrar with the General Optical Council, and with Mayer, Brown, Rowe & Maw solicitors. She also worked for the Government Legal Service. Her previous public appointments were as an independent member of Brighton and Hove Council standards committee, as the legal chair of the Adjudication Panel for England and as a magistrate on the south-west Bench in London.
Melanie Carter qualified as a barrister and a solicitor. As solicitors, we owe a duty to the court first. We have to uphold the truth and the rule of law. She does all that, and she does it independently. That is why the panel recommended her. Let me tell hon. Members exactly what the report says, through the Commission:
“The two candidates represent a combination of experience and qualities which should reinforce public confidence in the independent element in the House’s disciplinary processes.”
This House is now saying to all those highly qualified people who sat on the panel, “You are talking rubbish. We don’t agree with you. We don’t agree with one part of what you say, but we agree with the other part.” That is absolutely outrageous.
I cast no aspersions at all on the individual. She is clearly a very well qualified individual in her field. However, I take the point about the rules but, given that we have seven politicians who can be politically declared and seven lay members, surely we can accept that it makes sense for all those on the lay side of things to be completely beyond reproach, so that accusations cannot be made. I just wonder why we were unable to find people who were interested in being lay members but were not politically interested. I say that as, I hope, a very independent minded representative in this House.
It is wonderful, isn’t it, when you know how someone is going to deal with a matter just on the basis of what their background is. With the greatest respect to the hon. Member, he does not know what is going to come before a Committee. The Leader of the House suggested that Melanie Carter might vote for an Opposition who were going to be good opposition for the current party, but actually, how does he know who is going to win the next the election? Nobody does, so he cannot say that she would vote for someone so that they would provide better opposition to the party that he represents.
It is actually more than that. The criteria that were sent out to all the candidates said that having been a party member need not be a bar and that, indeed, it may be an asset because they might understand politics better than some others. So we really are moving the goalposts, nine months after those people were invited to apply. I think that that shows us in a terrible light.
I saw no bar when Tim Davie, who is now Chairman of the BBC, stood as a Conservative councillor; no one saw a bar to that. So what happened in someone’s past—and this applies to numerous people. I spent last Thursday going through how contracts were handed out to friends of the current Government—but we digress; I apologise.
I want to mention Professor Michael Maguire, because I do support the motion when it comes to appointing him. He was the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland and, among other things, he was a research officer at the University of Aston and he is currently the honorary professor of Senator George J Mitchell’s Institute for Global Peace, Security and Justice. So he, too, comes highly qualified, and we support his nomination.
To go back to some of the points that my hon. Friends have touched on, the Committee applied a selection criterion to all the candidates and the House should not derogate from that criterion, if that criterion was accepted by the panel and was accepted by the Commission—and it was.
I support the motion, and I intend to press the amendment in my name.
When my name went down on the call list, I thought this would be a debate on one of the usual consensual motions, when we congratulate the candidates on the quality of their CVs and wish them all the best, but it has clearly turned into just a little bit more than that—although that is certainly the case in respect of Professor Maguire. That suggests that the process has been successful in identifying well-qualified, impartial candidates.
It is disappointing, and slightly unedifying, that we have ended up where we are in respect of the amendment, because, as the Leader of the House pointed out, it has the same effect as the motion in his name on “remaining orders”. With the greatest of respect, I ask why the right hon. Gentleman has tabled a motion with the effect of appointing the person whose name is on the amendment if he does not support that. That is an indication that that is Government business they want to get through, on behalf of the House of Commons Commission. It is extremely odd. Moreover, only a few hours ago the Leader of the House was at the Dispatch Box, singing the praises of the public appointments process to the Boundary Commission. He was rejecting their lordships’ amendments to reform our public appointments process because he said it was so impartial and so effective, and it made all the appropriate decisions.
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. Does he agree that what is happening this evening in respect of the proposed appointment of Ms Melanie Carter will discourage future candidates from coming forward—candidates from whose expertise and experience the House could massively benefit—because they will see that the approval of the public appointments system is something that the present Government pay only lip service to?
That is exactly where we seem to be heading, because it seems to me that if the integrity and the suitability of a candidate that has gone through the entire system is now being questioned on the Floor of the House, then in fact the integrity and suitability of the whole system are being questioned, and that is very serious. It is a bit of a problem, not least because the same system has produced a candidate that we are all welcoming, and want to indorse this evening, in the appointment of Professor Maguire.
Both candidates have been vetted and approved to the standards of the Nolan principles. They have been recommended to the House by this House’s Commission, which the House has appointed, and the House has a say on the appointment, obviously, because they will serve as members of the Committee on Standards, but we should have faith in the system and in the Commission. I am informed by our Member on the Commission, my hon.—it should be right hon.—Friend Pete Wishart, of the qualifications and suitability of the candidate named in the amendment; that is there for everyone to see in HC 437. Both candidates are there; their qualifications are listed.
The only objection that the Leader of the House put forward was that the candidate had joined a political party, but, as my hon. Friend Chris Bryant pointed out, that in itself was not a bar to being appointed. If it is for the Leader of the House—who is clearly the Whip tonight to the Conservative majority behind him—to determine why we do not just do away with the selection process and allow the Leader of the House to make the selection.
It goes back to my fundamental point that I do not see how the system can produce one qualified candidate and one non-qualified candidate. It suggests that the Government are questioning the integrity of the system as a whole, and in that case we have to have a much bigger discussion than the one we are having right now. As the former Chair of the Standards Committee, Kate Green, just said, we desperately need talented, qualified individuals, particularly women, to come forward for these kind of roles in public life, and I cannot imagine that the thought of a debate such as this ending up on the Floor of the House of Commons is any kind of encouragement.
The SNP is happy to endorse the recommendation of the House of Commons Commission and this incredibly thorough process, and therefore we will be very happy to support the official Opposition in their amendment tonight.
I confess—I will try not to overdo my argument, if the Leader of the House will bear with me—that I am saddened by this debate. All the members on the Standards Committee try extremely hard to be impartial, to put our party membership completely to one side and to put our prejudices, whatever they may be, to one side when we are dealing with difficult cases, which are very sensitive to the individuals concerned and sometimes to the complainants as well. My experience so far—it has not been very long, but my experience so far—is that every single member, both lay and party political member, keeps their counsel, is not available to be lobbied by others and comes to what they believe to be a wholly impartial and fair decision.
I have some complaints about the way we have got to where we are tonight. The first is that we have kept these candidates waiting for months and months: the process started in February. We knew that the two previous members were leaving in May, and we have been two members down now since May. The Committee is meant to have a majority of lay members. We do not have a majority of lay members at the moment because the Government have refused time and again to bring forward the motion to allow us to put even one member on.
The Government have also kept on changing their mind. At one point they tabled a single motion for both candidates. Then I was told that there were going to be two separate motions for the two different candidates but they would be taken on the same day, and suddenly we were told that we are having the debate today for just one member to be added. Then suddenly yesterday afternoon it was announced that the Government were going to table another motion for debate next week, and then half an hour later the Chief Whip—I think he will confirm that now—indicated to our Chief Whip that the Government would be voting against that motion, even though they had tabled it. I think he can confirm that.
Yes. So the Leader of the House was wrong earlier when he suggested that this was going to be resolved and it was not decided yet how the Government were going to be voting next week. I am sure he inadvertently misled us.
The second point is that we have moved the goalposts. How can we ask people to apply for a job and say that there is no bar to their applying just because they have been a party member, and then suddenly change three quarters of the way through the process once they have already been offered it? The point for the individual candidates—both Michael Maguire and Melanie Carter—is that they have been hanging around for months. I know Melanie Carter’s situation: she has resigned from various different posts because she thought that she was going to be having this post, because that is what the House of Commons Commission had decided.
“on behalf of the…Commission”— not on behalf of the Government or on behalf of himself, but on behalf of the Commission, and I know that the Commission is not happy about this.
This is House business. It should not be whipped, let alone when the Government have more than 200 proxy votes in their back pocket. This is just wrong. It is the wrong way to do our business. This is House business, and we have to find ways of reclaiming some elements where we actually decide things not on the basis of which party we are a member of, but on the basis of what we think is right for Parliament.
Yes, he is a Member of the House. My name is not on it incidentally, as the hon. Gentleman might have noticed, though whether my name is on it is probably not the most important thing. When we discussed this matter in the Committee today, we decided that it was not a matter for the Committee to decide who should be sitting on the Committee, and that is why I did not sign the amendment yesterday. I do support it, though, because it is taking forward precisely what was decided by the House of Commons Commission after a thorough, Nolan principle-based process of appointment.
I think this does harm to the House’s reputation, partly because we have taken so long about it, and also because we have suddenly brought politics into it at the last minute and moved the goalposts. If this were in any other business, I am sure that the person concerned would be thinking of suing, and it may well be that Melanie Carter will think about that, for all I know. She may not be able to sue the proceeding in Parliament, but there may be other elements of the process that she is able to sue. To be honest, I would say to her, “Good luck with that.”
It would of course be this candidate that the Leader of the House decides is not the appropriate one—a very successful woman lawyer who happens to be a single mum. It would be this candidate, wouldn’t it, that is the one that does not come forward? Were there any questions about any of the other candidates as to whether they had been party members previously? No. This is the only one that a question has been asked of.
The hon. Gentleman and I have exchanged texts on this issue, and I always listen to what he has to say, but I rather think we are disappearing down rabbit holes. The objection I have—I have voted against House business before when it has been whipped by the Front Bench, so I hope there is some credence here—is that I expect lay members to be completely lay, particularly when there is an even split of 7:7. It really does not show this place in the best light if there is that little taint that can always be brought up. Surely he can see that point. Taking out all the rest, to me it just comes down to what looks to be fair and completely unbiased.
It would be perfectly legitimate for the House to decide that henceforward all lay members must be people who have never held a party political membership, and that would be one of the things that would be put out in the pack to all people who were thinking of applying, so it would be clear from the beginning. But that is the exact opposite of what the House did in this situation. Applicants were told, “Not only is it okay for you to have been a party political member, but it might indeed be an asset because you would understand the party political process better.”
Order. I would encourage Chris Bryant to conclude his remarks soon because three other people wish to speak, and it would simply be unfair, in a debate in which we are discussing fairness, if not everyone had a chance so to do.
I was merely going to say, on that particular point, that surely every candidate who goes through this knows that this House has to be the ultimate decision maker. Otherwise it is just a rubber stamp and there is no point in having this Chamber and the Division Lobbies.
The thing is that thus far it always has been a rubber stamp. Nobody has ever voted on this, nor, for that matter, has there ever been a moment at which a Leader of the House has refused to bring to the House the motion that went through the House of Commons Commission, so this is in a different category.
I will now briefly conclude, Madam Deputy Speaker. Of course this will not, in the end, affect the long-term way in which the Committee seeks to do its business. I am very grateful to the Government for the report that was fed back to us on the basis of reports that we had done earlier this year. However, I think I preferred the Leader of the House as he was previously when he excoriated Governments for being over-mighty Executives. I find now that he rather likes being the over-mighty Executive, and I am not sure that is good for the job or good for the House.
As the only elected Member of this House to have been part of the interview panel and therefore to have seen the recruitment process from the inside, I want to start by addressing what I think I heard the Leader of the House say in his opening remarks when he appeared to question the conduct of the recruitment process. I feel it is incumbent on me, on behalf of my fellow panellists, three independent lay members, to speak up for the integrity and propriety with which they—and we all, including staff members who sought to advise on the process, and the recruitment agency—conducted the interview, selection and recommendation to the House of Commons Commission. I feel that is owed to my fellow panellists.
As we have said repeatedly this evening, the Leader of the House is seeking to introduce a new qualification to the recruitment process that is at explicit odds with what was in the recruitment pack that the House of Commons Commission, of which he is a member, approved before the process was publicised. Let me be very precise about what the pack said. If I may quote, it said to potential candidates that lay members would have to demonstrate impartiality specifically “during their time on the committee” and, further, that they should not “during their term in office” undertake any party political activity. I think the House will accept that any candidate would reasonably take from those words that they would not be barred from appointment on the basis of prior political activity. As my hon. Friend Chris Bryant pointed out, the information pack was also quite clear in not including membership of a political party in and of itself in the definition of what constitutes party political activity.
I think Madam Deputy Speaker would like me to speak as quickly as possible.
The Leader of the House said in his remarks that the interview questions were not seen by the Commission, and that is correct, but that is not the point I was making. The Commission should have seen the recruitment pack. If the Leader of the House did not see it and did not ask to see it prior to approving the process, I am surprised to hear that, given his thoroughness in approaching these matters. Perhaps he could be absolutely clear to the House whether or not he was aware of the contents of the pack before it was publicised.
The second thing I want to reiterate is that I am very concerned that, in unilaterally moving the goalposts from what the recruitment pack said, we are behaving as a House in a way that is deeply, deeply unfair to the successful candidates. It calls into question the conduct of the panel. It is therefore a real concern for the reputation and perception of this House. I think that matters, particularly because we know there is public and, of course, internal scepticism about the independence of our processes in dealing with Members who breach the code of conduct, particularly but not only in relation to bullying, harassment and sexual harassment. The House has worked very hard over the last couple of years to dispel that perception, but I believe that a vote now against a candidate, who has been recommended following a rigorous recruitment process in which the panel chair and three of the four panel members were not MPs, risks reinforcing it.
Finally, I just want to repeat that a vote tonight against a candidate who has been recommended for appointment as a result of an open recruitment process conducted fully in line with the Nolan principles will serve to discourage future potential candidates from applying for lay roles for which they would be eminently suited. We risk losing the valuable skills, perspectives and expertise that external appointees can bring, and that will be to our detriment.
I presume the Government will win the vote tonight, especially if the Government Whip uses his pocket full of proxy votes, but frankly it is a pretty shabby day. The Leader of the House was at his arrogant and patronising worst in the way that he put the case.
I have to say that I am quite clear: being a party supporter and member in a parliamentary democracy is not a matter for regret or abuse; it actually shows civic mindedness, especially if someone joined the Labour party to bring about the change that has brought such an improvement in our public opinion standing. The slur is that somehow someone who is a party member, but particularly someone who is a Labour party member, is incapable of knowing right from wrong and is also incapable of exercising impartial judgment. I regard that as a completely unjustifiable slur, which discourages people from political activity. We vitally need many good people of all opinions to be involved in political activity.
I would prefer it if we widened our net in public appointments—I have always been quite clear about that —to include those with wider experience, unless they require specific scientific knowledge. Clearly, this appointment does not require that. It is about being able to know right from wrong. That is about understanding the world. Frankly, I would like to see nurses, electricians, care workers, bus drivers, company managers, engineers, doctors, farmers and even fund managers being invited to be lay members on many public bodies, rather than just those who seem to be on the merry-go-round. That says nothing about their individual qualities; it is about broadening the sphere. There is no proposal to do that in this motion. Those are not the current rules. As has been made clear several times—I should not have to reiterate it—these people applied under the current rules. I regret that this is another example of this Government, with a sizeable majority, riding roughshod over and using and abusing that majority. I am sure the Leader of the House knows full well what follows hubris.
I am afraid that the 203 votes that the Deputy Chief Whip casts on behalf of Members have become 202.
The process is flawed in four ways. First, it is a breach of natural justice. This lady applied under terms that were explicit. They did not exclude her being a member of a political party. If my hon. Friend Andy Carter, who is a member of the Committee, thinks that should have been different, he should have changed the rules at the beginning. It is a breach of natural justice.
Secondly, it is a failure of judgment. The term “beyond reproach” has been used, in not being a political party member. I do not think being a political party member is a matter of reproach. It is a matter of pride for all of us and it should not be seen as necessarily undermining our ability to make a judgment. The argument does not work there either.
Thirdly, in terms of impartiality, if it really is the case that membership of a political party automatically corrupts judgment, there should not be a single hon. Member on the Committee because, by definition, they are members of a political party.
Finally, this is a matter of House business. One of the tests is how it would feel if it was the other way round. I would be outraged if I was on the other side of this argument. I say that with some knowledge, because I was on the other side of the argument through all the Blair years, when House business was not treated as House business. I am afraid that I propose to support the amendment.
I disagree with my right hon. Friend Mr Davis. If I were on the other side of this issue and it were a Conservative under question, as I said earlier, I would still think it was an unsuitable appointment.
The shadow Leader of the House, Valerie Vaz, made points about the panel, the discussions within the Commission and the CV of the lady in question. I have always tried to make it clear that I do not wish to question the lady’s bona fides—it is merely the impartiality issue.
There is a fundamental point, which Chris Bryant raised in his speech: the reason we have lay members is that, for better or worse, the political members were not trusted to sit in judgment upon themselves and therefore needed non-political members. I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden that being a member of a party is something that one should be proud of—it is civic activity. I also think it is perfectly reasonable for people to put their political beliefs behind them. The hon. Member for Rhondda was a member of the Conservative party at university; that does not remain the case, for better or worse. It is merely a question of whether the membership is immediate and close to the point at which the appointment is made.
I understand that the Leader of the House is saying that he is not questioning the bona fides of Melanie Carter, but that he is questioning her impartiality. I hope he is not. She is a tribunal judge. She shows her impartiality every day of the week. He is simply saying that, under his new rule, which he has invented, because she has been a party member, she cannot be a lay member of the Committee. Is that right?
I am questioning her impartiality between various factions within the Labour party, because she joined the Labour Party to support one particular faction. John Spellar slightly gave the game away, because I think he thinks that it was his faction that she supports. I do not know that and I am not stating that for certain, but he seemed to imply that in his joy at welcoming the proposed appointment.
Kate Green asked what the Commission knew. The draft person specification that was approved by the Commission in February made no reference to the issue of whether or not it was suitable for a prospective candidate to be a member of a political party. If that information made its way into the more detailed recruitment pack to candidates, that was not with the authority of the Commission.
We come to the failures of the recruitment process. It would have been absolutely reasonable and wise and sensible for the recruitment process to say that somebody who had been immediately involved in politics—not 20 years ago or not five years ago—could not be certain of being impartial and would not give the impression of impartiality to Members of the House. The hon. Member for Rhondda says that, absolutely, prejudices should be put to one side, but as I said, if people had confidence in that being so easy, we would not have lay members in the first place. The reason we introduced lay members is that we thought people could not put their prejudices aside. From a panel on which, as the hon. Lady the Member for Stretford and Urmston told us, she was the only politician—a Labour politician—we get somebody who was a supporter of a particular candidate in a very recent election. That seems to me to leave the impression, the risk, the danger of partiality.
I know that the Leader of the House would not question my integrity; he was kind enough to say so a few moments ago. I am probably the only person in the House who knows who Melanie Carter said she had joined the Labour party to support, and it may help the House to know that it was not the same leadership candidate who I supported.
The point is that we have the presentation of partiality. That is why I was so careful to say that I have the highest respect for the hon. Lady’s integrity. I was careful in my speech not to say that I have the greatest respect for the hon. Lady, because everybody knows those are bogus words; I chose the word integrity because I think it is genuine. However, I think her panel made a mistake, and that is why we are here.
Yes, of course, it is a shame that we are here, but if Opposition Members were to think for a moment, had this person joined the Conservative party to vote for my right hon. Friend Boris Johnson, they would unquestionably think that that smacked of partiality. I am afraid it is the same the other way around and I will therefore oppose the amendment. I obviously support the motion.
Question put, That the amendment be made.
The House divided: Ayes 261, Noes 334.
Question accordingly negatived.
The list of Members currently certified as eligible for a proxy vote, and of the Members nominated as their proxy, is published at the end of today’s debates.
Main Question put and agreed to.
That, in accordance with