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I remember when we were discussing the principle behind these payments a year and a half ago, the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Sir Nicholas Winterton), who is not in his place, asked where else people did not get increments for their length of service. A case could probably be made for the length of service as a criterionI want to make it quite clear that I am not advocating
that, but we need to consider these issues. The chairmanships of Committees are, at present, largely within the patronage of the political party managements. The hon. Member for East Devon (Mr. Swire) does a fine job on our arts committee, and the role is not highly contestedin fact, nobody is more suitably qualified than he is by virtue of his previous employment and experiencebut he has, nevertheless, been anointed by the movers and shakers in this House. The Deputy Leader of the House screws up his face at that, but I am being polite. There are movers and shakers in this House, and they are largely made up from those on the Front Benches.
The chairmanships of so many Committees are filled by people who hitherto were Ministers. It is a way of letting them down gently. We were told by many hon. Members that there needed to be an alternative career structureI do not like the termso that instead of becoming Ministers Members could aspire to be parliamentarians and Chairs of Select Committees and other Committees. That was going to be the alternative to people always wanting to be Ministers. There is no demonstration that that is happening. Indeed, the present incumbent of the very important post in the Committee on Members Allowances is an ex-Minister. That is unhealthy. I am not prepared to acquiesce by my silence. It is unfair to Members and to the public, and it is time that we drew a line under this and got things right for the next Parliament.
Mr. Swire: Just for the record, I want to point out that I do not think that those from either Front Bench are ever involved in the selection of the Speakers Advisory Committee on Works of Art. Indeed, we all serve at the Speakers will.
Andrew Mackinlay: I fully accept that. Interestingly enough, I expressed an interest in joining this Committee, but once again I was not appointed. Just because I am paranoid, that does not mean that that they are not after me. There is always some discrimination when certain hon. Members seek appointments, based on a dislike of their conduct or style, or of what they say and how they say it. It is really unhealthy for the body politic and the democratic process in this House when Members are rewarded with sinecures and significant payments.
I intend to divide the House on this matter. I urge colleagues to join me in the Lobby to vote against the proposition that the hon. Member chairing the Committee on Members Allowances should be paid. I oppose that, although I can see the compelling logic of motion 15, which proposes that he be on the Liaison Committee.
Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD):
There is no need to take long over this, but some important points need to be made. The exchange between the Deputy Leader of the House and the shadow Leader of the House was extremely helpful in setting out the anticipated relationship between the various tiers of appeal, and I shall be interested, Madam Deputy Speaker, to hear what the right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir George Young), the Chair of the Standards and Privileges Committee, has to say if he succeeds in catching your eye in a moment. However, I hope that what has been set out will satisfy him that the role of his
Committee remains clear and undiminished when it comes to investigating, and adjudicating on, hon. Members when they are in error.
We are only having this debate because of a minor error anyway, as the proposals that we are debating should have been included when we last discussed these matters. They were not and, although I can understand why they were overlooked, it is unfortunate that parliamentary time has to be taken up with consequential amendments to a package that the House has determined already. It is not my intention, therefore, to raise issues with the corrections and amendmentsone might call them erratathat the Deputy Leader of the House has brought forward today, and I await the comments of the right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire on the matter.
I have to say that I agree with the point made by with the hon. Member for Thurrock (Andrew Mackinlay). This is a free-vote matter, and I shall not give advice to my right hon. and hon. Friends, but the hon. Gentleman knows that I have joined him consistently in the Lobby when it has come up. There is an expectation that more and more ways will be found to pay Members of this House on top of their parliamentary salaries. Very soon, we will reach the point where the only people in the House who do not receive a top-up of some kind will be the members of the two Opposition Front Bencheswith the exception of the Leader of the Opposition and the Conservatives Chief Whip and Deputy Chief Whipthe Deputy Leader of the House, and the hon. Member for Thurrock.
We will be the only ones on the basic salary, and we should be proud of that, although I am not sure that the system that I have described necessarily represents value to the House in terms of work rate, or a sensible way to use public funds. However, I am quite sure that the impression given to the public every time that we add another person to the list is that Members of Parliament are yet again feathering their own nests. That is something to be concerned about.
I have nothing against the right hon. Member for Islwyn (Mr. Touhig), who I am sure will do a very good job of chairing the Committee, but I am not sure that the new Committees work is comparable with that of the departmental Select Committees. They meet probably twice a week to take evidence and do all the other work that they have to do, whereas the Committee on Members Allowances will have an important but limited role.
Unlike the hon. Member for Thurrock, I am not persuaded that the Chairman of the Committee on Members Allowances should necessarily be on the Liaison Committee. That Committee is becoming very big and extensive: its job is to co-ordinate the Committees of this House so that they do not fall over one another, but it has one other scrutiny functionto interrogate the Prime Minister of the day. I am not sure that adding to it more and more members who do not have departmental responsibilities is a good idea. We should be wary of simply accepting that anyone in this House who bears the title Chairman must join the Liaison
Committee, because I am not sure that that is helpful for scrutiny or for the comparability of various roles in the House.
Even so, I am not going to argue about that or divide the House on the matter this evening but, if the hon. Member for Thurrock calls a Division on the question of pay, I shall join him in the Lobby because I think that this is a point about which we should put down markers. That is what I did earlier in respect of the regional Select Committees, and I have done so before when other Committee chairmanships have been added to the list. I feel that we are seeing a sort of creeping exceptionalism, in which the exception is proving to be the rule. I do not think that that is a sensible way for us to proceed.
Sir George Young (North-West Hampshire) (Con): To pick up a point made earlier by the hon. Member for Thurrock (Andrew Mackinlay), I think that it would be difficult to say that every Select Committee Chairman shall be paid except this one. I understand where he and the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) are coming from, but the principle has been conceded already. Moreover, I suspect that the new Committee will be quite important and busy, so it would be unfair to say that every Select Committee Chairman shall be paid but not the one who chairs the Committee on Members Allowances. Therefore, if there is a Division, I shall be in the opposite Lobby from the hon. Member for Thurrock. That may not happen often. I welcome the appointment of the right hon. Member for Islwyn (Mr. Touhig) to the Liaison Committee. Many of the matters that we discuss may impinge on the responsibilities of his Committee and it will be useful to have him there.
I want to add a footnote to the very helpful exchange that we heard earlier, and to set out my concern when I saw what was on the Order Paper. Motion 16(2)(d) makes it clear that the Committee on Members Allowances will determine
the application of the rules in such individual cases as may be referred to them by hon. Members, in accordance with procedures prescribed by the Committee.
The question arises how that fits in with the existing procedurewhat one might call the post-Nolan settlement, whereby we established an independent parliamentary commissioner reporting to the Standards and Privileges Committee, which published his findings on any complaint, along with the conclusions. At first sight, that sentence seems to take away from the existing Committee and the commissioner the responsibility for seeing whether the rules on allowances had been broken, and gives it to the new Committeehence the concern that I expressed in the amendment that has not been selected.
It is important that the House of Commons retains those elements that we now have. Indeed, the other place may be looking at such a structure to resolve some of the difficultiesthe Deputy Leader of the House is looking worried already. I give way.
I was not looking worried. I am never worried when the right hon. Gentleman is on his feet. I was merely going to say that some hon. Members may have misunderstood, possibly because there is an
element of ambiguity in motion 16, paragraph (2)(d). The expectation of the Committees that originally proposed the reference to
the application of the rules in such individual cases as may be referred to them by hon. Members
was not that one hon. Member would refer an issue about another hon. Member to the Committee, but that a Member would refer a matter relating to his own allowances. That is very different from the expectation in the case of the right hon. Gentlemans Committee.
Sir George Young: Yes, that takes part of the trick, but it does not resolve the fundamental problem. Even in those circumstances where a Member self-referred himself to the Members Allowances Committee and got the go-ahead, there would still be the possibility of double jeopardy, to which the hon. Gentleman referred. The self-referring Member may well get the green light from the Members Allowances Committee and go ahead. There may well be a complaint from a member of the public to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, who may well feel that there is a prima facie case and go ahead. There is an element of risk of double jeopardy.
The answer is a good working relationship between my Committee, the commissioner and the new Committee, to make sure that we minimise the risk of double jeopardy. I personally welcome the establishment of the Committee, and I hope it will produce guidelines that clarify the rules and reduce the risk of Members making mistakes.
I was reassured by the statement of the Deputy Leader of the House on the record that notwithstanding anything that may be before the House this evening, the duties, powers and responsibilities of the Committee on Standards and Privileges or the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards are not affected. It was enormously helpful to have that on the record, endorsed by my hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Melton (Alan Duncan). That takes the trick.
There was concern on my Committee at the possibility of the Nolan settlement being picked away. Against the background of the assurances that I have been given, I am much happier than I was and I look forward to working with the right hon. Member for Islwyn and his Committee in driving up standards in the House.
That this House expresses the opinion that the Resolution of the House of 30 October 2003, relating to Pay for Chairmen of Select Committees (No. 2), should be further amended by inserting, after (Select Committees related to government departments), the words Standing Order No. 152G (Committee on Members Allowances ).
That the Resolution of the House of 30 October 2003, relating to Pay for Chairmen of Select Committees (No. 2), be further amended by inserting, after (Select Committees related to government departments), the words Standing Order No. 152G (Committee on Members Allowances). (Mr. McAvoy.)
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