Schedule 1

Child Poverty Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 6:10 pm on 27th October 2009.

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The Child Poverty Commission

Photo of David Gauke David Gauke Shadow Minister (Treasury)

I beg to move amendment 9, in schedule 1, page 16, line 12, at end insert—

‘(1A) The appointment of the chair under sub-paragraph (1)(a) must be approved by a resolution of the House of Commons within three months of the appointment.

(1B) Before appointing a chair under subparagraph (1)(a), the Secretary of State must consult the Treasury, Work and Pensions, and Children, Schools and Families Committees of the House of Commons, or their successors.’.

The amendment was tabled before the recess, when little did I realise that the issue of consultation with Select Committees about appointments would become quite so topical. I am attempting to achieve two things with the amendment. First, I want to strengthen the position of Parliament with regard to the commission by enabling greater parliamentary scrutiny. The Government might look on that favourably, as the Prime Minister, in his first statement as Prime Minister on 4 July 2007, argued for greater parliamentary involvement in appointments. Indeed, he made similar remarks when still Chancellor of the Exchequer, for example on the “Andrew Marr Show” in January 2007.

Photo of Graham Stuart Graham Stuart Conservative, Beverley and Holderness

I welcome this effort to give some parliamentary oversight. My colleagues and I on the Children, Schools and Families Committee were dismayed that the Secretary of State for that Department dismissed the recommendation—or non-recommendation—of the Committee on the day that that advice was made public. In fact, if I am not mistaken, he released it to the press the day before. What confidence can we have that any real parliamentary say would stem from the amendment? Did my hon. Friend think of going further and insisting on one Select Committee having power of veto over the appointment?

Photo of David Gauke David Gauke Shadow Minister (Treasury) 6:15 pm, 27th October 2009

As I said, the amendment was drafted and submitted before the summer recess and recent events. My hon. Friend brings some relevant experience to the matter. The drafting of the amendment could be improved, and perhaps would need to be strengthened. I had assumed that Parliament and the Executive would be able to work co-operatively on such matters. Perhaps I was being na誰ve, or perhaps the recent events have been exceptional and future Secretaries of State would not act in such a way—I do not know; I am speculating. The row over the appointment of the Children’s Commissioner at least highlighted the fact that Parliament wishes to have its voice heard on some of these major public appointments. Perhaps when creating new appointment procedures, we should bear in mind the need to involve Parliament. It is good that Parliament can be independent in these areas.

That brings me to the second argument in favour of the proposals in amendment 9: they would provide greater credibility to the position of chair of the commission. That might not necessarily be the right approach, however. I would like to press the Minister on a wider question about the chair and the child poverty commission that arises from our previous debate. The commission will be an advisory body that has to deal with a complex set  of indicators and potential policy levers. Is it right that it is an outside body? I support the independence of the Bank of England, and the Monetary Policy Committee has, by and large, worked but, as the Minister says, it is one tool that deals with one particular target. Child poverty targets are more complicated, and there is a question as to whether it is right to have a strong advisory body that is independent of the Government. If we are to have such a body, the proposal in the amendment would strengthen it. We could have hearings in front of Select Committees. There would be votes in Parliament and the opportunity to debate the appointment and scrutinise the qualities of the chair to a greater extent. That route would be more likely to result in the chair having a higher profile and being a more substantial figure in public life, which would strengthen the profile and credibility of the child poverty commission.

As I said, I have a slight reservation about the need for a separate body when developing policy, but if we are to have one, why not make it as strong and powerful as possible? Amendment 9 would be helpful in achieving that, as well as strengthening Parliament’s position in that area.

Photo of Graham Stuart Graham Stuart Conservative, Beverley and Holderness

It is a pleasure to speak under your chairmanship, Mr. Key, although given the number of interventions I have made, you might feel that I have already done so on a number of occasions.

I support the sentiments that lie behind the amendment. If we want the body to be independent, it is important that the chair should indeed face proper procedure and parliamentary oversight and approval before taking up the role. However, like my hon. Friend, I doubt whether it is appropriate in such a complex area of policy for democratically elected politicians, who are accountable to their electorate, to sub-contract policy making and the prioritisation of various measures that are required to tackle child poverty to a quasi-independent commission. The Government of the day should be responsible for getting the balance right between, for instance, the use of cash transfers to ensure that the targets are met in the short term, and ensuring that there are incentives to work and priorities for public expenditure in areas such as education, employment and skills.

I remain deeply cynical about the origins of the Bill. I cannot help feeling that it was brought about because the Government were embarrassed by the fact that they would be heading into a general election next year having failed to meet their child poverty target in 2010. So what better way of sucking in those issues when campaigning other than to do every last thing that they could to meet that target and talk about some grand Bill that would eradicate poverty in the long term? Given the discipline of my Front Bench and its focus on doing the right thing, we have always resisted temptation and the Government’s hope of an artificial division. What would better have suited a failing Labour Government than to have got the Conservatives to vote against a child poverty Bill? What an excellent dividing line that would have been from the Government’s political point of view, even if it did not serve the best interests of children who live in poverty?

I do not think that we should have a child poverty commission, because the Government should take full responsibility and account for themselves to the electorate,  but if they intend to set up a commission, we need to ensure that it is accountable to Parliament. It must not be just a halfway house with most of the people who sit on it having been appointed by the Secretary of State, while it is claimed that it has genuine independence.

Photo of Steve Webb Steve Webb Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

I enjoyed that supportive contribution. When I first read the amendment, I assumed that it had been tabled in the light of recent events. It is particularly prescient and I congratulate the hon. Member for South-West Hertfordshire on anticipating what was coming down the track and tabling the amendment, with which my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, West and I have a lot of sympathy.

In a sense, the hon. Member for Beverley and Holderness asked a perfectly reasonable question about the point of a child poverty commission. One of its principal points is to be an expert pain in the backside—I do not mean an expert at being a pain in the backside, but a group of experts who, because of their expertise, can be a pain in the backside by knowing what is going on, advising on the words to be used, and reporting on why things are happening, what is not working and what needs to be done. We might think that officials were supposed to do that, because part of the Bill is about ensuring that successive Governments do something about child poverty. However, while officials might say, “Minister, we are not doing enough about child poverty,” we would never know because such exchanges would be a private conversation. In a sense, the child poverty commission would turn such issues into a public conversation and allow us to listen in on it and perhaps stimulate greater effort. I therefore have slightly more support for the purpose of the child poverty commission than the hon. Gentleman.

Photo of Graham Stuart Graham Stuart Conservative, Beverley and Holderness

The Environmental Audit Committee has the Sustainable Development Commission report to it each year. The commission tells the Committee what progress has been made on central Government delivering on their emissions reduction targets—this was before the Committee on Climate Change came along. It reported in public, and a glossy, expensive brochure was produced year after year, yet even the Department responsible for the policy centrally saw an increase in the carbon footprint of its own central offices. I have no faith in the ability of such a commission to make a real difference, especially one that is poorly funded and with no research skills, like the one proposed.

Photo of Steve Webb Steve Webb Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

The analogy that the hon. Gentleman draws is interesting. I think that Jonathon Porritt has been the chair of the Sustainable Development Commission. Because of that title, when he said things to the media, it was reported as, “The Government’s adviser says”, not just, “A guy from the green group says”. I agree that there has not been enough progress and that the mechanism has not been as effective as it should have been.

Returning to the amendment, if we as parliamentarians can help to ensure that whoever is appointed to the role—who may or may not survive in post longer than the Secretary of State—is an expert and a pain in the backside, in a constructive sort of way, that would be a good thing. If that is the case, I shall lend my support to the amendment.

Photo of Helen Goodman Helen Goodman Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Work and Pensions)

I welcome the fact that Members are so interested in the appointment of the chair of the child poverty commission. The Government’s view is that we should have an open and transparent process. I should like to begin by saying something about the way in which we intend the appointments to be made, and then move on to the issues that have been raised, particularly by the hon. Member for South-West Hertfordshire in amendment 9.

I assure hon. Members that the appointment of the chair, and indeed all appointments to the commission, will be made with the utmost care, in accordance with the principles set out in the code of practice for public appointments, which is published by the Office of the Commissioner for Public Appointments. The code is underpinned by seven principles derived from the work of the Nolan Committee on Standards in Public Life. They include openness and transparency, appointment on merit, independent scrutiny, ministerial responsibility and proportionality.

Photo of David Gauke David Gauke Shadow Minister (Treasury)

Will the Minister give the Committee some idea of the time frame for appointments, assuming that all goes well with this Bill? When does she anticipate that the members of the committee will be appointed?

Photo of Helen Goodman Helen Goodman Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Work and Pensions)

As the hon. Gentleman will be aware, the Secretary of State has an obligation to produce a strategy quite soon after Royal Assent. Obviously, it would be very helpful indeed if the commission was in place before the strategy was produced. One of the disadvantages of going down the path that the hon. Gentleman proposes is that it would be more difficult for us to hit all those target deadlines.

Photo of David Gauke David Gauke Shadow Minister (Treasury)

As the Minister says, the Secretary of State must publish a strategy—I think that that has to be done within 12 months of the Bill being passed. I assume, therefore, that it will be published quite late in 2010. Is she prepared to give us an estimate of the month in which she would expect the appointments to be made? To put it another way, does she anticipate that the appointments will be made before early May next year?

Photo of Helen Goodman Helen Goodman Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Work and Pensions)

I am sorry to disappoint the hon. Gentleman, but we have not got quite as far in the detailed planning as he imagines that we have, so I cannot answer that question.

Let me go back to the process that we are intending to use. We have full confidence that the process will ensure that all appointments to the commission are made fairly and in an open manner, and that candidates are selected on merit against criteria published at the start of the appointment process. Those criteria will be based on the provision in paragraph 1(4) of schedule 1 that requires the Secretary of State to aim for a commission that has knowledge and experience of child poverty policy and research, and work with families.

The entire process will be overseen by an independent person approved by the Office of the Commissioner for Public Appointments to ensure that it fully complies with its principles. That should avoid any suggestion that the chair and other members will be beholden to Ministers, political parties, stakeholders or special interest groups.

Hon. Members will have noted the principle that it is Ministers who should have final responsibility for making the appointments. That is right because it preserves the lines of accountability. The point about accountability is one of the key reasons why I will be urging the hon. Gentleman not to press his amendment. As it is the Secretary of State who will be accountable to the House for the child poverty strategy, it is appropriate that it is the Secretary of State who appoints the members of the body responsible for advising her on its content. If I might say so, I think that the hon. Member for Beverley and Holderness is being slightly inconsistent by arguing that there is no point in having a commission, because it will be a totally powerless body and, at one and the same time, that it is a body over which Parliament should have control. Those two propositions are not entirely consistent.

Photo of Graham Stuart Graham Stuart Conservative, Beverley and Holderness

My only point was to be helpful to those who appear to be in the majority who wish to set up such a commission. If such a commission is to be set up, the Minister is absolutely right to say that it is about accountability, and what better way for an independent advisory body to be accountable than to be accountable to Parliament, rather than to a Secretary of State?

Photo of Helen Goodman Helen Goodman Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Work and Pensions) 6:30 pm, 27th October 2009

The point—I thought that we had established this in the debate on clause 7—is that the Secretary of State is responsible for hitting the targets. The Secretary of State is responsible for the strategy and for taking decisions, and is answerable to Parliament. She is therefore appointing independent advisers to facilitate the production of a strategy to enable her to fulfil her duties as effectively as possible.

Photo of Helen Goodman Helen Goodman Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Work and Pensions)

I am sorry, but I am not going to give way again at this juncture.

There is also the question of proportionality. There are many thousands of public appointments, and it is very rare indeed for the House to have powers of final approval. An example of the type of post where the House has a final say is on the appointment of people to the Electoral Commission. That is because they must be fully independent of Ministers and answerable only to Parliament. That is not the case with the poverty commission.

The amendment would also require the Secretary of State to consult the relevant Committees of the House before appointing the chair. As set out in the Government’s response to the Liaison Committee’s report on pre-appointment hearings, the Government believe that it would be impractical and disproportionate to subject all public appointments to pre-appointment scrutiny by Select Committees. Therefore, as stated in the 2008 White Paper, “Governance of Britain: Constitutional Renewal”, the Government believe that pre-appointment hearings should focus on posts in which Parliament and the public have a particularly strong interest. Examples include posts that play a key role in protecting the public interest or holding the Executive to account, as well as the post of those who are responsible for the appointments process itself.

I point out to hon. Members who raised the issue of the Children’s Commissioner that there is not a precise parallel. The remit of the Children’s Commissioner is to promote the interests of children, whereas the role of the child poverty commission is an advisory one. The Children’s Commissioner has statutory and other powers that the child poverty commission will not have.

Photo of David Gauke David Gauke Shadow Minister (Treasury)

I must admit that I have never really fully understood the role of the Children’s Commissioner. Can the Minister elaborate on the powers of the Children’s Commissioner?

Photo of Helen Goodman Helen Goodman Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Work and Pensions)

The Children’s Commissioner has responsibility to oversee the condition of children in England. The powers of the Children’s Commissioner for England are slightly different to those of the Children’s Commissioners for Scotland, for Wales and for Northern Ireland. In Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, the Children’s Commissioner can take up individual cases. In England, the Children’s Commissioner simply takes a view on overall policy. The role is slightly different in England, but it is emphatically not a purely advisory role—that is the position of the child poverty commission.

Therefore, we do not believe that, even on a pilot basis, it would be appropriate to subject the appointment of the chair of the child poverty commission to a pre-appointment hearing. Of course, I entirely accept that Parliament is extremely interested in the work of the child poverty commission. Of course, the Government have no control, or power, over the Select Committees, who are free at all times to invite whoever they choose to give evidence. One can well imagine, after the appointments have been made, and after the commission has been set up and embarked on its work, that it would be very sensible for the Select Committee on Work and Pensions, the Treasury Committee, or even the Children, Schools and Families Committee, to call members of the child poverty commission to give evidence. They will be free to do that. The amendment tabled by the hon. Member for South-West Hertfordshire is not practical or necessary, nor would it significantly enhance the role of Parliament in the policy area of child poverty.

Photo of Graham Stuart Graham Stuart Conservative, Beverley and Holderness

May I tease out how independent this appointment will be? The rules about appointments are there to ensure that a person does not appoint their best mate, or somebody with whom they have an overly close relationship. They ensure that the person who is appointed is remotely competent in the area. To what extent will the chair of the child poverty commission be independent? It does not appear from the Minister’s explanation that they will be. They will be appointed by the Secretary of State. In the case of the Children’s Commissioner, the appointment was made by a person from the appointments quango that checks up on the rules, one director from the Ministry of Justice and another from the Department for Children, Schools and Families. That appointment was not independent, but was controlled by Ministers. To what extent can the new position be described as independent?

Photo of Helen Goodman Helen Goodman Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Work and Pensions)

I am sorry if the hon. Gentleman is not convinced by what I have said. Early in my remarks, I explained that the appointment will be overseen by an independent person approved by the Office of the  Commissioner for Public Appointments. I hope that that reassures the hon. Gentleman not only that we are establishing a structure for appointing people who are independent, but that the process will be independent.

Photo of David Gauke David Gauke Shadow Minister (Treasury)

This has proved to be a helpful debate, but I am not convinced by the Minister’s arguments. She seems to suggest that being chair of the child poverty commission is not that big a job. She says that there is a case for parliamentary scrutiny if there is strong public interest, or if the role involves holding the Executive to account. I assume, therefore, that there will not be strong public interest in the chair of the child poverty commission, and that it will not be part of his or her responsibilities to hold the Executive to account.

Photo of Helen Goodman Helen Goodman Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Work and Pensions)

I thought it was quite clear that Parliament holds the Secretary of State to account, and that the child poverty commission will advise the Secretary of State. The child poverty commission will not hold the Secretary of State to account.

Photo of David Gauke David Gauke Shadow Minister (Treasury)

I had previously thought that the holder of the role was supposed to be a big pain in the backside, to use the words of the hon. Member for Northavon. I thought that the point of the role was to put pressure on the Government. As our Committee sittings go on, I cannot help thinking that the hon. Gentleman would perform the role splendidly. I mean that in a nice way and hope that he takes it as a compliment. [Interruption.] Well, things can change, can’t they?

It seems to me that the role, as the Government envisage it, is quite small. I am not convinced by the Minister’s distinction between the chair of the child poverty commission and the Children’s Commissioner, whose role is to take a view on policy. That seems to be a largely advisory role. I cannot help noting that I tabled a similar amendment in the Statistics and Registration Service Bill Committee, in relation to the chairman of the Statistics Commission. I raised the matter again in the House on 2 July 2007, when the hon. Member for Wallasey (Angela Eagle), then a Treasury Minister, said that we would not go down that route. Then, the very next day, the Prime Minister announced that the chair of the Statistics Commission would in fact be subject to parliamentary scrutiny. I do not know whether the same thing will happen with the child poverty commission.

There is confusion, and perhaps tension, as to what the child poverty commission’s role is supposed to be. I understand the argument that the role should be limited, but if it is to be purely advisory, I am not sure why it cannot be carried out by the relevant Departments, unless the holder of the post is supposed to be a bit of a pain in the backside. For those reasons, I would like to press the amendment to a Division.

Question put, That the amendment be made.

The Committee divided: Ayes 7, Noes 9.

Division number 4 Nimrod Review — Statement — Schedule 1

Aye: 7 MPs

No: 9 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Nos: A-Z by last name

Question accordingly negatived.

Photo of Steve Webb Steve Webb Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

I beg to move amendment 49, in schedule 1, page 17, line 20, at end insert

“The sums under 9(c) shall include resources to commission independent research as required.”.

I am reflecting on my alternative career, and in that context it is important that the child poverty commission has a research project. I do not have one yet.

The amendment deals with the child poverty commission’s facilities and role. We propose that the sums that the Secretary of State will provide to the commission under schedule 1(9)(c) should include sums for research. Indeed, the impact assessment on the Bill inserts a notional figure, but we have not so far had any assurance from the Ministers that that funding will actually be made available. The reason we are trying to beef up the commission is slightly informed by our previous discussion, because it is currently—it would be pejorative to describe it as an academic scavenger—relying on what is lying around. If there is some useful, relevant research, a commission of 14 good men and women and true will presumably know about it, will have read it, or will even have done it themselves. However, they will be performing an advisory role in a new area, because while some of the definitions used to measure poverty have been in use for a long time, other areas are quite fresh, such as some of the stuff on material deprivation, the index, the weighting and so on; they are fairly new. We certainly did not do it like that when I was a lad.

I do not think that all the research that one may require is lying around. If the child poverty commission is to have some power of initiative to ensure that it can provide the proper advice to the Secretary of State, it ought to be able to commission a limited amount of research and not simply hope that it exists. If the commission identifies a gap in knowledge, it would be appropriate for it to have a limited budget to do something about it.

There is a contrast between the child poverty commission and the Committee on Climate Change, which has a budget this year of £3.4 million. I think that the child poverty commission’s budget is about 5 per cent. of that figure. Within the CCC’s budget, research and consultancy is £750,000. Climate change is an awfully big and important issue, but one would think that child poverty was, too. We simply seek an assurance that research would be part of the commission’s budget. Schedule 1(4)(b) suggests that the members of the commission should have experience in, or a knowledge of, research in connection with child poverty. That is obviously partly about knowing what other people have done and what the members themselves have done, but one also assumes that if people who know about research are appointed to a commission, they will be well placed to make good use of limited public funds to commission relevant research.

The £200,000 figure in the impact assessment is not outrageous for a research budget, and would enable the commission to pay for some tightly focused work that would enable it to do its job properly—to provide high quality advice to the Secretary of State in a new and developing area. I am sure, therefore, that the Minister will welcome our attempt to enhance the commission’s ability to assist Ministers in their work, and will agree to the amendment.

Photo of David Gauke David Gauke Shadow Minister (Treasury) 6:45 pm, 27th October 2009

The proposal comes back, I think, to the similar point about what the child poverty commission is for. If it is a big important organisation that will drive the debate, of course it should have a research budget. However, if it is there solely to provide advice, making use of research undertaken by others, that prompts the question of whether a separate organisation is necessary or whether its remit should be addressed within the Department, making use of outside expertise. We will therefore listen to the Minister’s answer with great interest.

Photo of Graham Stuart Graham Stuart Conservative, Beverley and Holderness

This debate is familiar. I had the pleasure of serving on the Joint Committee on the draft Climate Change Bill and, in that pre-legislative scrutiny, extracting and making the point that the Committee on Climate Change needed a decent research budget was like pulling teeth, but a reasonable budget came out in the end. The fact that research budget provision is not already in the Bill fits entirely with the Minister’s vision of the child poverty commission’s role. As she just said, she does not see the chair of that commission engaging with the public interest to any great extent. [Interruption.] The Minister looks disgusted. She said that there should not be parliamentary overview of the appointment because the post did neither of the two things required—engage in a major way with the pubic interest, or hold the Executive to account. She has told us that the commission cannot hold the Executive to account, so by implication she is saying that it does not fulfil the other criteria of engaging with the public interest.

To give the commission no reasonable research budget further enfeebles it, and if it is unable even to conduct its own research into the critical areas that currently do not receive the attention that such an expert commission would give them, it will certainly continue to fail to engage with the public. If it fails to do that, it will be purposeless, and will not help to create the political momentum that all who support the Bill want to see, to ensure that child poverty stays at the top of the political agenda.

Photo of Helen Goodman Helen Goodman Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Work and Pensions)

I want to make it clear from the outset that I, like Members here today, regard the commission and the advice it will offer as crucial in equipping us to meet the goal of eradicating child poverty by 2020. It therefore follows that the Government will do everything they can to ensure that the commission has the necessary resources, and that they will ensure that the resources allocated are adequate for the commission to fulfil its statutory functions.

When considering whether the commission should undertake research, balance is important. The parallel that has been drawn with the Committee on Climate  Change is not strong because, notwithstanding the fact that there are areas of child poverty where techniques are developing, the truth is that climate change policy is a much less well ploughed field with many greater uncertainties and far more new issues to explore.

We have made it clear that the child poverty commission’s responsibility will be to draw on, analyse and distil the huge amount of existing knowledge and research. When I say that balance is required, I mean that there is no need to establish a new London School of Economics, notwithstanding its excellent Fabian antecedents and the fact that it is 100 years since Beatrice Webb wrote her minority report for the royal commission.

I have heard hon. Members’ strong views, and I am sympathetic to the points that the hon. Member for Northavon made. It would be helpful to draw a distinction between the commission undertaking research and its having the power to enter into contracts to commission work in areas that have not yet been fully explored. Notwithstanding the fact that I do not foresee the child poverty commission undertaking research in the way that the Committee on Climate Change does, I am prepared to examine the proposal in detail and to see how we might make it work. With that assurance, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will withdraw his amendment.

Photo of Steve Webb Steve Webb Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

That sounds like half a loaf, which is much better than no bread at all. The amendment suggests that the commission should not carry out research, but should commission independent research. I will take what I have been offered, and I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of David Gauke David Gauke Shadow Minister (Treasury)

I beg to move amendment 10, in schedule 1, page 17, line 24, at end insert—

‘(2) All such remuneration, allowances and expenses must be published monthly online.’.

The amendment should not detain us for long. It simply states that all payments to commission members—their allowances and expenses—must be published monthly online.

Members will be well aware of the increased public interest in such matters and of the need for greater transparency as far as public funds are concerned, applying to Members of the House and to those in public life as a whole. There is a general move towards much greater transparency. I do not expect the amendment to be terribly controversial and am hopeful that the Minister might accept it. As public money is being spent, the remuneration in all its forms should be available for the public to scrutinise. In the cause of greater transparency, I hope that the amendment would add to the Bill.

Photo of Helen Goodman Helen Goodman Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Work and Pensions)

The hon. Member for South-West Hertfordshire proposes that the Bill should provide for payments made to members of the commission to be published online each month. He is proposing that we follow the precedent set for Members of Parliament. I understand his concern that expenditure on the new advisory body should represent value for money and be  cost-efficient. It is worth underlining the importance that we attach to drawing on independent expert advice in developing the sustainable child poverty strategy.

Once established, the child poverty commission will be a public body. As such, it will comply with all parliamentary rules on managing public money, and must deliver value for money for the taxpayer at all times. In accordance with the Cabinet Office publication, “Public Bodies: A Guide for Departments”, relevant to an advisory body of this nature, we shall set out the total costs of the commission in the annual report to Parliament of the sponsoring Department. That report will be laid in the Libraries of the Houses. It is worth noting that our policy intention is to provide members of the commission or their employers with no more recompense than is absolutely sufficient to ensure that service on the commission does not leave them out of pocket.

We are determined that the body should offer value for money, but I do not believe that there is a parallel between the members of the child poverty commission and Members of Parliament, so I hope that the hon. Gentleman will withdraw the amendment.

Photo of David Gauke David Gauke Shadow Minister (Treasury)

I am disappointed with that response. I would not anticipate members of the commission having anything to hide. I assume that the Government would seek to obtain value for money and, presumably, we are looking at people with considerable expertise. I see no reason why that information should not be made available to the public. That is generally the direction that we are moving in with public expenditure across the board—much greater transparency—so I intend to press the amendment to a vote.

Question put, That the amendment be made.

The Committee divided: Ayes 7, Noes 9.

Division number 5 Nimrod Review — Statement — Schedule 1

Aye: 7 MPs

No: 9 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Nos: A-Z by last name

Question accordingly negatived.

Question proposed, That the schedule be the First schedule to the Bill.

Photo of David Gauke David Gauke Shadow Minister (Treasury)

I would like to return to the issues of appointment of members of the commission and when it will be up and running. The Minister was not able to be clear or was not in a position to say when members will be appointed.

The context is the intention for the child poverty commission, which moves in different directions—at one point the commission is clearly an advisory body, which is meant not to be terribly strong and powerful  but a source of good advice, while at other times it tries to be an important, independent, arm’s length body, including in the appointment of members. Normally one would expect a Secretary of State to have a degree of discretion as to whom her advisers would be, and yet there is little in the schedule to enable the Secretary of State to change those advisers—the members of the commission. I would be grateful if the Minister made it clear how she envisages that working.

Let me be frank: a Minister and his or her advisers ought to share the same outlook about methods and so on, and there ought to be a degree of compatibility between them. I am concerned that people with a particular view of how the child poverty target should be met could be appointed to the child poverty commission before a general election. Their views might then apply to a new elected Government and the body be used to harangue such a Government and become a platform for internal opposition.

The expression on the face of the Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions is such that I am already reassured that that is not the intention—something so ludicrous would not have crossed the minds of Ministers. I would be grateful if she gave us some idea as to when commissioners will be appointed, what ability the Secretary of State will have to choose his or her advisers as he or she thinks fit, and what can be done to prevent any party political mischief, which the cynical among us might believe could result from the commission.

Photo of Helen Goodman Helen Goodman Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Work and Pensions) 7:00 pm, 27th October 2009

I am taken aback by the hon. Gentleman’s suggestion, not least because I thought that we had a consensus about the Bill. I thought that we had an agreement on the importance of reaching the targets, so I thought that we would have a consensus about how we should move forward to achieve them.

Photo of David Gauke David Gauke Shadow Minister (Treasury)

In all our sittings it has been clear that there is a consensus about the targets, but there are differences, at the very least of emphasis, as to how we go about that. The debate this morning revealed that, as will future debates. The job of the commission is not to set the targets, but to advise on how we go about reaching them. There are differences among the parties as to how we do that, which we are honest and open about and do not dispute. That is why I have those concerns.

Photo of Helen Goodman Helen Goodman Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Work and Pensions)

I am afraid that I do not understand where the hon. Gentleman is coming from. It is impossible to predict the outcome of a general election, and it is completely inappropriate for him to make such remarks. I shall point out what is in the Bill and what the powers are.

In making appointments, it is clear that the Secretary of State cannot pre-empt Parliament, so they must be made after Royal Assent—but, obviously, the commission should inform strategy, so it must be within a year of Royal Assent. I hope that the hon. Gentleman has  noted the provisions for how a Secretary of State may remove a member, in particular paragraph 6(d), which states that a member may be removed if

“the Secretary of State is satisfied that the person is otherwise unable or unfit to perform the duties”.

In answer to the hon. Member for South-West Bedfordshire earlier, I made clear that we anticipated appointing commission members with a variety of experiences and different things to contribute. Any skilful chairman running the commission would not stifle disagreement—there would be no point in setting out in the Bill, as we have, the wide range of different experiences that we wanted if we were looking for people with a single perspective.

Photo of Andrew Selous Andrew Selous Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions)

The Minister has raised an important issue. She prayed in aid paragraph 6(d); I looked at it earlier and my reading of it was that the Secretary of State will only be able to get rid of someone if they are

“unable or unfit to perform the duties of the office.”

I had taken that to mean that they had either lost their mind or had done something criminally negligent to make them unfit in that sense. I had not read it at all in the sense that perhaps a new Secretary of State, in a new Parliament, might want to use paragraph 6(d) to remove people from what the Minister has told us will be an advisory body. If the Minister is saying that, I, for one, am partly reassured, although that was not my reading at all of the intention of paragraph 6(d).

Photo of Helen Goodman Helen Goodman Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Work and Pensions)

“Unable or unfit” is not defined; it is a matter for the Secretary of State’s discretion. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will be reassured.

Photo of David Gauke David Gauke Shadow Minister (Treasury)

The Minister may say that that is for the Secretary of State’s discretion, but I am afraid that a Secretary of State might quickly find herself in court if she relied on those words. If it is a question of a different approach to tackling the child poverty targets, I do not think that the Secretary of State has much discretion.

Photo of Helen Goodman Helen Goodman Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Work and Pensions)

We are now in the realms of the hypothetical. Opposition Members should feel reassured: the commission is independent, we have set out what qualities we will look for, and we are looking for people not with one particular perspective, but a range of different perspectives and experiences. We have also made it absolutely clear that the appointment process will be independent. I am sorry if Opposition Members would like me to go further, but I do not think that that is a practical proposition.

Question put and agreed to.

Schedule 1 accordingly agreed to.

Ordered, That further consideration be now adjourned. —(Mr. Mudie.)

Adjourned till Thursday 29 October at Nine o’clock.