Select Committee on Modernisation of the House of Commons Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


APPENDIX 4

Letter from Mr Graham Allen MP to the Chairman of the Committee

ELECTING SELECT COMMITTEES

  I hope you will consider this as a representation to yourself and whatever Parliamentary and PLP bodies you are associated with on this issue.

WHY?

  Members of the legislature should elect their own Select Committees. They should judge their peers without the intervention of the Government (which they are meant to scrutinzie) or "Wise Men" (who—with the best will—can become subject to patronage and back scratching). Let us as MP's make our own judgements—it will doubtless be far from perfect but what mistakes we make will be our own and rest on clear democratic principle.

HOW?

  Select Committees normally have 11 members. The Clerks break this down into seven Labour, three Conservative, and one for the Minority Parties. Ideally the election should take place as a House matter (Tory MP's could vote for Labour MP's etc) but to be realistic such a radical proposal would not carry in the PLP. So lets just do our seven places and work the elective principle through the PLP. How the other parties elect their members is a matter for them though it would be useful to seek informal agreement that a standard method is used for election.

  The PLP would need to endorse the following:

    —  Within four weeks of a General Election the PLP shall elect its nominees for Select Committees and forward them to the Committee of Selection.

    —  Each MP may put their name forward for one committee.

    —  If an election is necessary each MP will have one vote (not seven) per committee to reduce "slate" voting.

    —  A secret ballot is essential to ensure the Executive (through the Whips) do not interfere in this process.

  In the first past the post election the top seven would be declared elected. The names would be sent to the Committee of Selection which would work as now (and without the benefit of "Wise Men"). An average of 50-60 PLP votes would always secure election.

  Yes, there would be canvassing, lobbying etc—so what, it's politics and its our choice and judgement. Members would vote for a particular person for a variety of reasons (like any electorate) often because the person would broadly represent their opinions, but also because they worked hard (attended regularly) had built a track record on that subject, represented a regional or gender balance. We do not need anyone (least of all the Government or self proclaimed "Wise Men") to save us from our own stupidity.

    —  This system would soon settle down but if abuse by the Government takes place one variant would be for PLP members to register an interest in three committees and for them to be allowed to vote in only those three Select Committee elections.

    —  New members could get on the less popular committees (often without election) and earn their spurs.

    —  Casual vacancies should be offered to the first unsuccessful candidate on the list of nominees and so on. If no candidates are listed then nominations should be sought and a new election should take place.

  On the Floor—Standing Order of the House should specify that—

    —  Within six weeks of a General Election the Speaker should convene a Committee of Selection to receive nominees for Select Committees. This would be the clearest signal that these are House Committees and not in the gift of the Executive.

    —  Select Committee Chairs shall be elected by the elected members of the Committee.

    —  Chairmanships of Committees shall be split evenly between Government and opposition members and swap to the other side after each general election.

  The chance to reform our Select Committee occurs once every generation—lets not miss this chance, keep it simple and let the legislature elect our own committees.

Mr Graham Allen MP

23 July 2001


 
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