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Mr. O'Brien: It might assist the hon. Gentleman to know that during the time to which he is referring, Glyn Mathias was the controller of public affairs at ITN and was subsequently its chief political correspondent.

Mr. Howarth: I am grateful for that clarification. As I understand it, he has since worked for the BBC.

I should like to correct something that I said last night. I said that two of the people had spent their entire careers at the BBC. The Minister has helpfully enabled me to correct that. What I said was not accurate, but those people have spent a great deal of time there. I hope that the Minister recognises my question as being valid, particularly as it is likely that we will develop more referendums in this country and that the role of the commission in policing them will be critical.

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My hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Sayeed) made an entertaining, if unfortunately brief, contribution to our proceedings last night, and I am sorry that he is not here now. He said that many of the names in the list sounded rather Scottish. He said that Pamela Joan Gordon sounds Scottish. I do not have my notes from last night, but I believe that she was involved with the local authority in--

Mr. Forth: Sheffield.

Mr. Howarth: Yes, but prior to that I believe that she was in Inverness. The Minister may be able to correct me.

My hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire also said that Sir Neil William David McIntosh--who as my right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean) reminds us is not Cameron Mackintosh, who has given money to the Labour party--also sounds pretty Scottish. I believe that he was on Strathclyde council. We know that Mr. Singh does not sound Scottish. Mr. Younger sounds as if he comes from the north of the United Kingdom. Our noble Friend Lord Younger is Scottish so one can make an assumption, although perhaps incorrectly, that Sam Younger comes from Scotland.

The Government are fixated on targets, gender mix, ethnicity and all that ghastly quota stuff, and it appears from the list of names as if poor old England has not had much of a look-in. Was consideration given to ensuring a good regional mix for the whole of the United Kingdom? For example, is there anybody with any connection to Northern Ireland? I suspect there is not. Given that the legislation provides for up to nine commissioners and we are invited to approve only six, perhaps a seventh might have been appointed to represent the interests of Northern Ireland.

Mr. Forth: Is my hon. Friend aware that more people live in London than in Scotland? Does he consider that a representation from London should be included in his possible list of commissioners? Moreover, would not the inclusion of a representative of the real world of business and commerce--of profit, employment and the payment of taxes--be of advantage to this body, as it would bring to it a proper perspective? Are not those two enormous lacunae in the list?

Mr. Maclean: Alan Sugar, for instance.

Mr. Howarth: Indeed they are, and the possibility of having nine commissioners would allow such people to be accommodated. I should be perfectly content with a London representative--as long as London were not synonymous with Islington in this case. Last night I mentioned that it was an omission that the list did not contain a person with serious business experience from the real world. Alan Sugar might have been appropriate, but his donation to the Labour party rules him out.

Mr. Hawkins: My hon. Friend has raised an interesting point about adding to the list a commissioner able to deal with Northern Ireland. However, he may not be aware that

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an unresolved issue between Labour and Conservative Front-Bench Members was section 7 of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000--

Mr. Miller: On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Are we not debating the six names proposed in the motion, rather than other possible names?

Madam Deputy Speaker: It is true that the motion is, as has already been said, very limited. We are here to discuss the members of the commission

Mr. Hawkins: I accept that stricture, Madam Deputy Speaker, but my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Mr. Howarth) has noted that none of the six proposed commissioners has the ability to deal with Northern Ireland. I was simply asking my hon. Friend to consider the point that section 7 of the 2000 Act, which creates the commissioners, states that no order may be made in relation to party funding in Northern Ireland until the commission--which would include the six commissioners whose names are before us--had been consulted, after which an affirmative order could be passed. That matter remains an issue between Labour and Conservative Front Benchers, and I wondered whether my hon. Friend was aware of that.

Mr. Howarth: I was not aware of that. The House should be grateful to my hon. Friend for drawing that to its attention.

Mr. David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire): I am not.

Mr. Howarth: The hon. Gentleman is not interested in debate. He is interested in going home. I quite understand that, but these are important matters. Those of us who are of a Unionist disposition--and that includes some Labour Members, although Conservatives are more passionate about the matter--consider that it would be a mistake to overlook the Northern Ireland dimension.

The final point on which I seek the Minister's reassurance is that there was no attempt by the Labour party or the Home Office to encourage particular individuals to submit their names for the commission. I have no reason to believe that that happened, and I am aware that the Minister cannot speak for the Labour party apparatus. However, I am sure that the House would appreciate such an assurance from the Minister.

3.9 am

Mr. Christopher Chope (Christchurch): I shall be brief. I want to deal with the different lengths of the commissioners' appointments. That point was touched on last night. The Minister said that the provision was in response to a recommendation from the appointment panel that two commissioners should be appointed for four years, three for five years, and the chairman for six years. I would be grateful if the Minister could expand on the thinking behind that. I can understand the desirability of a rolling reappointment system. When I had the privilege of serving on the Local Government Commission and the Health and Safety Commission, there

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was much advantage in the fact that not all reappointments were made at the same time. Why was an alternative not acceptable? For example, all six could have been appointed for the same period, with a view to some being reappointed for periods thereafter and some being succeeded by fresh appointments. That was the system that operated with the Local Government Commission.

It is risky for a new body with untried people to have five-year appointments. Appointments for four years have been made to Mrs. Gordon and Sir Neil McIntosh, who may turn out to be the most conscientious and effective members of the body. I fear that they are starting off at a disadvantage and will be regarded as inferior members of the commission. Had the appointments all been for four years, there could have been a reappointment process for which all six would be eligible and the House could have made a judgment on the effectiveness of the different commissioners.

I have some empathy for the position of Mrs. Gordon, because she is a member of the Local Government Commission for England. She is also the only woman member of the commission. I do not understand why she has been appointed for only four years; the Government owe the House an explanation.

I want to reinforce the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Mr. Howarth) on the need for information about whether the commissioners have been supporters of individual political parties within the last 10 years. I hope that that can be made public, in the interests of transparency. It might be unfortunate if we were to find out that all six commissioners had been active members of the Conservative party until five years ago. If that came out, it would be difficult for some people to think that those concerned were as objective as people who were members of different political parties, or of none.

We heard in the news this morning that the first of the confirmatory hearings in the United States collapsed before it even started because one of the proposed nominees to President-Elect Bush's cabinet was found to have an illegal immigrant resident in her house. Obviously, that information was not available to the President-Elect--if it had been, he would not have made such a recommendation to his cabinet. The information came out only as a result of the process of inquiry about those people.

As soon as the news about the identity of the members of the Electoral Commission becomes more widely known, it is inevitable that there will be inquiries into their past political leanings. People very rarely change their views, and I can remember when Mr. Greg Dyke, who has already been mentioned in this debate, was the Labour party candidate for the Greater London council elections in Putney in 1977.

Mr. David Taylor: On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Could you advise the House whether Mr. Greg Dyke is one of the names on the Order Paper? I thought that we were considering only the six names on the Order Paper. Is that correct, Madam Deputy Speaker?


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