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Mr. Maclean: Does my hon. Friend agree that it was a rather stupid point of order, given that the hon. Member for North-West Leicestershire (Mr. Taylor) knows that Mr. Greg Dyke is excluded from being on the commission because of the huge amount of money he gave the Labour party, after which he got made head of the BBC?
I hope that the Minister will be as open with the information, as the appointments commission--the recommending body--must have been aware of all the pertinent details about the political leanings of those six people. Although none of them offends against the rules set out in the statute, it is incumbent on the Government to go further and tell the wider public exactly what, if anything, is known about the political leanings of these individuals. In that way, as the Minister said in his opening speech in yesterday's debate, there can be absolute transparency and we can be sure that not only is this an independent commission, but it is seen to be independent.
Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst): The Minister has been at pains to reassure the House of the integrity of the selection process. In doing so, he referred with glowing pride to the fact that the permanent secretary at the Home Office, no less, had chaired the panel that took part in the selection process. However, I think that we should know somewhat more of the process prior to that.
The Minister said that some 200 people had responded to advertisements. I would like to know where the advertisements were placed. I suspect that they were all placed in the BBC house magazine, which would go some way to explaining this bizarre outcome, whereby two people out of a panel of six have come from the BBC. I shall return to that issue because the BBC has dominated the debate, and rightly so.
That gives rise to some real questions about the nature of the process whereby we have ended up with these six names. Where were the advertisements placed? Who did the initial sifting to take the 200 down to the much more limited number that this panel of alleged integrity, chaired by the permanent secretary, considered? What criteria did Ministers lay down to the permanent secretary and his colleagues on the panel as regards the shape and characteristics of the commission and the people being selected?
Purely in the cause of transparency, we should know how far gender, ethnicity and regional requirements were placed on the selection panel. The fact that we have ended up with one lady member of the commission may be a cause for celebration by the Government, but, as my hon. Friends pointed out, I suspect that many of the babes on the Labour Back Benches may be irked at the fact that, as they never tire of telling us, half of the electorate whose interests are to be safeguarded by the commission are people of gender, whereas only one of them is to be a
The same argument could be said to apply to ethnicity, although a person of ethnicity is a member--if we can make that assumption from the gentleman's name. Thus the Government may feel satisfied. However, when it comes to regional representation, a completely new set of questions arises. The far-flung fringes of the kingdom are over-represented on the commission. Where is middle England, in which you, Madam Deputy Speaker, have some interest, and where is London, in which I have a great interest? The commission is packed with peculiar Scots and weird northerners. There is no one from the solid south or the solid midlands. The body is completely unrepresentative.
Mr. Maclean: My right hon. Friend will be aware that there is a huge Greek community in London. Is he not disappointed, therefore, that Mr. Haris Sophoclides has been excluded--a prominent Greek business man and property developer, who gave £100,000 to the Labour party?
Mr. Forth: We could spend much time listing the people who have given huge amounts to the Labour party--although you would rightly not allow it, Madam Deputy Speaker--and who have therefore ruled themselves out of consideration. In fact, it would be interesting to know how many people were ruled out at the early stages of selection on the basis that they had given large sums to the Labour party. I may touch on that subject shortly, although I want to leave the Minister time to reply to the debate and I am conscious of the clock.
Whether the commission is properly representative is questionable. Given its role in overseeing the electoral process, not to say referendums, one would look for more than a normal degree of representativeness; it fails that test.
Another important matter--again, taken from the Home Office press release--is that the commission will apparently comment on the intelligibility of a referendum question. That leads me to suggest that the commission's members should have an acute awareness of the role of referendums in our political process and the vital fact that the nature of the question asked in a referendum can undoubtedly often affect its outcome. Against that background, the fact that two of the commission's members have experience of criminal matters--one from the Criminal Cases Review Commission and another as an academic lawyer--may be reassuring in tracking down people who illegally give money to the Labour party, but it gives me no confidence that they are qualified to judge referendum questions.
Where are those with the qualifications to make such judgments? The press release refers to the director-general of the British Red Cross Society, who is no doubt excellent, and to the chief executive of Sheffield city council--I do not know how many referendums it has run recently--and the convenor of the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations, but I look in vain for a hint of someone with the qualifications to judge the intelligibility of a referendum question.
The press release tells me that one of the BBC chaps--this Mathias gentleman--was recently public affairs manager at BBC Wales. I do not know whether that qualifies him, because the referendum in Wales was a complete flop and a failure. There was a pathetic turnout and a very narrow result. The Assembly was foisted on the people of Wales as a result of a completely failed referendum. That gives me no confidence that such a background will qualify that gentleman to deal with the intelligibility of a referendum question.
All in all, I regret to say that I look in vain at that list of no doubt excellent people for any qualifications relevant to the matter in hand, whether we are talking about balance, impartiality or representativeness. Wherever I look, I fail to find evidence that those no doubt excellent people qualify. The Government should therefore reconsider the matter. We gave them the chance to do so last night. I regret to say that there was so little interest in the House when the matter was put to the test that the Government could not even muster 19 Members; out of 46 Liberal Democrats, two were here--to give them their due--but only 17 out of 417 Labour Members voted.
Mr. Howarth: I understand that the two Liberal Democrats who went into the Lobby with the Government did so because a Government Whip told them that, unless they did so, they could not hold the Adjournment debate.