Select Committee on Modernisation of the House of Commons First Report

Independent Nominations

7. In July 2001 the Committee of Selection's proposals for the nomination of two departmental select committees (Foreign Affairs and Transport, Local Government and the Regions) were rejected by the House on division,[6] although they were subsequently agreed to when presented to the House afresh in an amended form.[7] The controversy provoked by this episode made it clear that the current method of nomination, which gives a central role to the Committee of Selection, no longer enjoyed the confidence of the House. Accordingly we decided to give priority to devising a new system for nominating Members to serve on select committees.

8. Until 1979 motions to nominate select committees were tabled by the Government following consultation through the usual channels. The 1978 report from the Procedure Committee which proposed the creation of departmental select committees recommended that the Committee of Selection should assume responsibility for nominating Members to serve on the new committees. The intention was that the political parties in the House would be obliged to submit their proposals to the prior scrutiny of back-bench Members before they were put before the House.

9. The Committee of Selection has come to interpret its role as limited to confirming the proposals put to it by the front benches on both sides. This may be understandable in view of the Committee's main function of nominating Members to the standing committees on bills where party discipline is directly engaged, but has produced criticism that the Committee of Selection is no longer an appropriate mechanism to guarantee the independence of the nominations to the committees of scrutiny. Any new method of nomination needs to be independent, authoritative, transparent and able to command the confidence of the House on both sides. We endorse Lord Sheldon's comment in his evidence to us: "the Executive, via the Whips, ought not to select those members of select committees who will be examining the Executive, that is crucial."[8]

10. We received a number of submissions to the effect that the members of select committees should be elected directly by the House.[9] We decided not to pursue this option because election would be unlikely to produce a committee which was balanced according to experience, gender, geographical spread or of the range of opinions within parties. Nor would it be appropriate to have a system of election which enabled Government Members to chose individual Opposition back-benchers to sit on a particular select committee, or vice versa.

11. All Members of Parliament bring to deliberations their independent judgement and their assessment of constituency interests. At the same time nearly all Members of Parliament are returned as party candidates and the role of the political parties has always been of significance in the organisation of parliamentary business. It is natural that the selection of nominations to the places allocated to each party should in the first instance be conducted within that party. We would encourage increased transparency by political parties in the process by which they choose the Members to fill their places on committees, but that is not a matter which the House's own Standing Orders can seek to regulate.

12. In the great majority of cases the party process will produce an outcome which commands consensus support within that party. For many years there was no substantial dissent from the outcome of the nominations to select committees. We do not seek to supplant those internal party processes, nor do we wish to undermine them. In our judgement what is required is not an alternative to the party process, but a fail-safe mechanism to ensure fair play and to provide a court of appeal.

13. In the last Parliament the Liaison Committee recommended that the responsibility for nominations should be given to three senior Members who would be entitled, "the Chairman and Deputy Chairmen of Committees".[10] We were not attracted to this proposal. Three Members are too few to have the necessary knowledge of the qualifications and interest of Members generally; it would be undesirable to place excessive power in the hands of some form of "select committee Establishment"; and in any case the proposal was rejected last year by the House.[11]

14. Nor could the Liaison Committee itself (or a sub-committee of the Liaison Committee) put forward the nominations, because that Committee is not set up until all the other select committees have themselves been set up and chosen their chairman.

15. One person who by definition is available at the start of the Parliament and who enjoys the confidence and respect of the House is the Chairman of Ways and Means. We recommend that at the start of each Parliament the Committee of Nomination should be set up under the Chairman of Ways and Means. The Chairman of Ways and Means should chair proceedings, but in order to preserve the impartiality of his office have no vote.

16. The criteria for the other members of the Committee of Nomination are clear. They should be Members of seniority in the House with a proven ability to perform with impartiality and a broad knowledge of the strengths and special interest of back-benchers. All of these criteria are met by the Members on the Chairmen's Panel, who provide the pool of chairmen for Standing Committee and Westminster Hall debates. We therefore propose that the bulk of the membership of the Committee of Nomination should be drawn from the Chairmen's Panel. In taking this view we are influenced by the independent appointment of the Chairmen's Panel on the authority of the Speaker. We recommend that appointment to the Chairmen's Panel must remain firmly in the hands of the Speaker and not subject to any party interest or lobbying.

17. The Chairman of Ways and Means should inform the House of the names of the members of the Committee of Nomination. Any election of members of the Committee of Nomination must bring some risk that the vote will be on party lines. Therefore, in order to preserve its independence from party influence we recommend that membership of the Committee of Nomination should be prescribed in Standing Orders. We recommend that the Committee of Nomination should consist of the Chairman of Ways and Means and nine other members:

  • seven Members of the Chairmen's Panel chosen with broad regard to the party balance, reflecting gender balance and based on length of service as members of the Panel. Those seven would consist of:

—    the four most senior Members of the Government party on the Panel including the most senior woman Member of that party;

—    the two most senior Members of the official Opposition on the Panel, including the most senior woman Member of that party; and

—    the most senior Member of the second largest opposition party on the Panel.

  • the most senior back-bencher on the Government side of the House; and

  • the most senior back-bencher on the opposition benches.

The quorum of the Committee when nominating committees afresh at the start of a Parliament should be six, and three when filling subsequent vacancies, not including the Chairman of Ways and Means. In the unavoidable absence of the Chairman of Ways and Means the First Deputy Chairman or in his or her absence the Second Deputy Chairman shall act as chairman.

18. The Chairman of Ways and Means would issue a standard form for parties to circulate inviting their Members to indicate the select committees on which they would be interested in serving. These forms would be returned to the political parties who in turn would submit proposals to the Committee of Nomination, based as far as possible on the preferences expressed by individual Members. It is for the parties to develop their proposals for nominations through a process which is acceptable to their Members. Members would be free to make their own individual representations on the party nominations.

19. We start from the presumption that the political parties will wish to submit nominations which fairly reflect the preference, gender and experience of their Members. We therefore would not anticipate that it would be necessary for the Committee of Nomination to vary the party nominations in other than exceptional circumstances where it was clear that a fundamental problem had arisen. In those exceptional circumstances the Committee of Nomination would have access to all the relevant forms returned by Members. In the event that the Committee of Nomination remained concerned we would expect it in the first instance to refer back the nominations to that specific committee for further consideration. If that failed to produce a satisfactory explanation or solution the Committee of Nomination would have the power and authority to make any amendments it thought fit before submitting that list of nominations to the House.

20. It would be essential for the Committee of Nomination to behave with the utmost impartiality. In order to preserve the impartiality of the Committee, any member of it who wished to serve on a particular select committee would take no part in the consideration of nominations to that committee.

21. The final decision in all cases would rest with the House itself, as it does at present.

22. Casual vacancies which arose during the course of the Parliament after the committees had been established would be filled in a similar way: the Committee of Nomination would bring forward a motion to discharge one member and add another in the light of a request from the party concerned, which it would scrutinise in the same way as the original nominations and which it could amend if it saw fit. The Committee would also have regard to any representations made by individual Members.

23. We believe that these proposals provide an independent mechanism which will place nominations to all select committees in the hands of an independent authoritative body. It will ensure that the nominations to the committees that scrutinise Government are in the hands of the Commons.

6   HC Deb, 16 July 2001. Back

7   HC Deb, 19 July 2001. Back

8   Q 1. Back

9   Eg Ev pp 39, 41-42. Back

10   HC 300 of Session 1999-2000, Shifting the Balance : Select Committees and the Executive, First Report from the Liaison Committee, paragraph 15. Back

11   HC Deb, 12 February 2001. Back

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Prepared 12 February 2002