Select Committee on Modernisation of the House of Commons First Report

Appointment of Chairmen

24. We considered the present system by which the post of chairman is allocated between political parties. We see no practical alternative to the convention that the chairmanships are allocated between parties on a formula which reflects the balance of parties in the House. Any other mechanism would increase the risk that a party with a majority might seek to make a clean sweep of such posts. We would want to avoid the situation in the US Congress in which the largest party takes every chair, with the result that in the Senate all chairs have changed hands because one Senator changed parties.

25. However, we do recognise that discussions on a fair distribution of chairmanships are often complex and do not always end in consensus. The Liberal Democrat Party has recorded its view that the current allocation does not reflect fairly the number of its seats in this Parliament. We recommend that the proposed allocation between parties of the posts of chairmen of select committees should be reported to the Committee of Nomination.

26. It is necessary in the interests of wider balance that the parties should agree on which party will take the chair of which committee. However, it is important that each committee should then be free to select which of its members, from the appropriate party, fills the post of chairman. It will be all the more important that this decision is left to the committee if an additional salary is attached to the post. It would be wholly unacceptable if paid chairmanships were to become an extension of political patronage.

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Prepared 12 February 2002