House of Commons Commission

– in the House of Commons at 5:21 pm on 18th January 2022.

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Motion made, and Question proposed,

That Nickie Aiken be appointed to the House of Commons Commission in pursuance of section 1(2)(d) of the House of Commons (Administration) Act 1978, as amended.—(Gareth Johnson.)

Photo of Thangam Debbonaire Thangam Debbonaire Shadow Leader of the House of Commons 5:40 pm, 18th January 2022

I will not detain the House for long. It is clear that there is an interest in the recognition of Somaliland, something I entirely support as a representative of many constituents of Somali origin. I just wish to ask the Leader of the House a couple of administrative questions.

First, I welcome Nickie Aiken to the House of Commons Commission. It is a great honour to serve with her on the Commission. We make many important decisions about the nature of this House, its operations and its staffing.

I have tried really hard to do the adding up this afternoon. It may be that I have missed something, but it appears to me that there has been a vacancy on the Commission for some time. Will the Leader of the House comment on why now is the appropriate time for that appointment? I am also aware that the hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster has the great honour of being the representative for Westminster. We will shortly be discussing the restoration and renewal of the Palace of Westminster, which is in her constituency. Is the right hon. Gentleman able to advise me and other members of the Commission on whether any issues might arise from that?

I reiterate, overall, my welcome to the hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster to the Commission and I look forward to working with her, but I would be grateful if the right hon. Gentleman were able to answer those questions.

Photo of Pete Wishart Pete Wishart Chair, Scottish Affairs Committee, Shadow SNP Leader of the House of Commons, Chair, Scottish Affairs Committee 5:41 pm, 18th January 2022

I will try to be brief, Madam Deputy Speaker. My speaking notes only go for about 50 minutes or so, but I will try to rattle through them as quickly as possible so we can get to the debate secured by Gavin Williamson.

I would like to reiterate some of the questions put by the shadow Leader of the House, Thangam Debbonaire. I am interested to know why the position has gone unfilled for such a period of time. I would also like to ask why it is going to a Conservative Member. Obviously, I understand the need for balance across the Commission. I am sure that Nickie Aiken will be an assiduous and diligent member of the Commission, and we all look forward very much to working with her, but she is replacing a Liberal Democrat, in the form of Mr Tom Brake, who unfortunately lost his seat at the last general election. Is it the case that the position could be filled from another party across the House?

I like the suggestion that we try to make the House of Commons Commission as accessible as possible to Members. Maybe we could all be included in deciding who should be on the Commission. What about an election for another member of the House of Commons Commission? Let us think creatively about how we construct some of our great parliamentary institutions, such as the Commission. I think Members across the Chamber would be delighted to have an election to see who should take this very important place on the House of Commission, and they would have the confidence of everybody in this House. It would not be based on party political allegiance, but involve everybody in a democratic debate about who we want to represent the House on the Commission to do the very important work that we all know the Commission devotes itself to. That would be a diligent and sincere way of making sure this House is looked after.

Photo of Jacob Rees-Mogg Jacob Rees-Mogg Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons 5:43 pm, 18th January 2022

I am grateful for the support of the shadow Leader of the House, Thangam Debbonaire, and the representative of the SNP, Pete Wishart. We all work very closely together on the Commission. Likewise, I do not want to detain the House unduly, but I am delighted to be proposing to appoint my hon. Friend Nickie Aiken to the House of Commons Commission.

The Commission, as hon. Members will know, is responsible for the administration of the services of the House of Commons, including the maintenance of the Palace of Westminster and the rest of the parliamentary estate. The House of Commons (Administration) Act 1978, as amended, provides for four Members of the House of Commons to be appointed by the House as members of the Commission, in addition to Mr Speaker, the Leader of the House, a Member appointed by the Leader of the Opposition and four external members. This appointment would fill the fourth vacant slot for a Member to be appointed by the House.

The hon. Member for Bristol West asks why the position has been vacant for so long. It has been a matter under discussion in the normal way between various parties to see whether it would be beneficial. The particular qualities of my hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster make this a very suitable appointment to make at the moment, not least because her constituency covers the parliamentary estate. Before her election she served as a councillor for, and indeed was leader of, Westminster City Council. Her executive experience at the council, including managing the refurbishment of City Hall—something we should bear in mind as we come to restoration and renewal— will prove invaluable to the Commission, which will have to address important issues of that kind, involving some discussions with Westminster City Council. Maintaining good relations at the highest level with Westminster City Council is certainly of importance to us.

Pete Wishart asked, “Why not a Liberal Democrat?”, which is always a popular question in this House. I might say, “What is a Liberal Democrat? Are there Liberal Democrats any more?” I notice that this debate is not attended by a Liberal Democrat. The Liberal Democrats used to be the third party in this House. We got used to that, and it took us a bit of time to recognise that the hon. Gentleman’s party is now the third party, so it is accorded the courtesies that used to be accorded to the Liberal Democrats, and that is democracy.

It is important to note that the Government will not have a majority on the Commission, exactly as was recommended by the Governance Committee, which I served on, actually, under the distinguished chairmanship of Jack Straw. We are maintaining the principle that the Government do not have a majority, but if the new member had not been a Government Member, we would have had 4:2 against the Government, which does not seem appropriate in view of the current set-up of the House of Commons.

There is much for the House of Commons Commission to discuss. I am grateful for the support that we have received. I am particularly grateful that the House is, I hope, going to approve the appointment of my hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster, who I think will prove a most distinguished member of the Commission. I therefore commend the motion to the House.

Question put and agreed to.