3 SELECT COMMITTEES: ELECTION
OF MEMBERS AND CHAIRS
There is widespread disquiet, both amongst Members
and outside the House, about a system which is not open, and which
is not clearly independent of the Government and the party managers.
Those being scrutinised should not have a say in the selection
of the scrutineers. We believe that the present system does not,
and should not, have the confidence of the House and the public.
(Liaison Committee, Independence or Control?, 2000)
|(i) In this introductory section we report on our consideration of the appointment of the Chairman and Deputy Chairmen of Ways and Means (the Deputy Speakers): and recommend the general use by the House of the gender-neutral terms "Chair" for the office-holder and "chair" for the office, as we have in this report.
A. Terms of reference etc
36. The first two matters which we are directed by our terms of
reference to consider and to make recommendations on are "(a)
the appointment of members and chairmen of select committees,
(b) the appointment of the Chairman and deputy Chairmen of Ways
and Means..[ ie the Deputy Speakers]". Both matters
have arisen from a sense that the House wishes to democratise
its internal procedures and practices. The election in June 2009
of a new Speaker by a new procedure involving a secret ballot
has shown the way.
37. Our terms of reference refer to "chairmen" of select
committees, and the same term is used in the official titles of
the deputy Speakers. "Chairman" is embedded in the House's
Standing Orders in reference to select committees and general
committees, as well as in various pieces of statute law. We do
not think that is appropriate in the House of the 21st century.
"Chair" is a widely used gender-neutral term for someone
carrying out the chairing function, and " the Chair"
is already used at Westminster as a shorthand for the Speaker
or whoever is chairing proceedings. In this report we will
wherever possible use the term "Chair" to denote the
individual chairing a committee, and "chair" to denote
the office held, save where a particular officer is meant, such
as the Chairman of Ways and Means. We hope that the House will
soon follow this practice.
38. On 2 July 2009 Mr Speaker Bercow told the House of his conviction
that the choice of Deputy Speakers should be determined not as
hitherto by consultation and formal nomination by the House, but
by a process of election. He expressed the hope that a ballot
or ballots would be conducted shortly after the House returned
in October to choose three deputy Speakers, one from the Opposition
side and two from the Government side.
On 16 July 2009, several days before the Motion to establish this
committee was passed by the House, the Procedure Committee announced
in a Press Release that it was launching an inquiry into the procedure
governing the election of the Speaker and the lessons to be learned
and would also make recommendations on the rules governing the
election of the three Deputy Speakers. It stated that it aimed
to publish its report shortly after the House returned from the
39. At our first meeting on 21 July 2009 we decided
that it would be fruitless to pursue a detailed inquiry into the
appointment of the Chairman and Deputy Chairmen of Ways and Means
(the Deputy Speakers) at exactly the same time as such as inquiry
was being conducted by the Procedure Committee. We did not therefore
seek separate evidence on that particular matter.
40. The Procedure Committee has now reported its
It must in our view be right that a transparent means be found
for the House as a whole to elect the House's three principal
office-holders below the Speaker. As we have discovered in our
examination of the appointment of members and Chairs of select
committees it is not easy to find a generally acceptable and fair
procedure. It is now for the House to consider the Procedure Committee's
B Select committees: what happens
(ii) In this section we describe the current system of appointment of appointment of members and Chairs of select committees and how it works in practice. We also report on three closely connected matters: the size and number of committees, the speed of their nomination in a new Parliament and the Intelligence and Security Committee.
41. There are currently 34 "permanent" select committees,
including joint committees.
There are other committees which will lapse at the end of the
Parliament or earlier; statutory committees with a membership
of Members of this House; and committees whose membership is ex
officio or similar. Members of each select committee are appointed
by the House on the basis of a motion moved in the House, usually
in the first months of a new Parliament. Membership lasts for
the remainder of the Parliament, unless and until the House agrees
to the removal of a Member and their replacement by another.
42. Each Committee elects a Chair from among their
number at its first meeting. There are rare exceptions to this
general rule. Chairs may be appointed by the House in the Order
setting up the Committee, as was the case with this Committee
and the recently appointed Committee on privilege and other aspects
of police searches on the Parliamentary Estate. The Chair remains
in office unless removed by a vote of the committee, on the basis
of a motion of which notice has been given. This has not happened
in recent times.
Committee of Selection
43. Under Standing Order [SO] No 121, nomination
of members of nearly all permanent committees must arise on a
motion moved in the House after at least two days notice by the
Chair of the Committee of Selection.
Nomination of temporary select committees, such as the Regional
select committees, is normally done on a motion moved by a Minister,
but in practice following a process of nomination to the Government
by the parties.
Motions and amendments
44. Appointments to committees are made in the House
in stand-alone motions covering one committee at a time. They
can be amended by leaving out names and inserting others, or merely
leaving out names. Amendments to add names to a committee already
limited in size without a balancing removal are not in order.
Members proposing to nominate a Member must endeavour to ascertain
if "each such Member will give his attendance on the committee";
in other words, Members must be volunteers.
45. Vacancies arise regularly throughout a Parliament.
In session 2008/09 there were over 40 cases of members being removed
and replaced, for a variety of reasons, typically the acceptance
of a ministerial or Parliamentary Private Secretary (PPS) role
or an Opposition frontbench role. Many committees have members
who have ceased to attend for a variety of reasons and have not
been replaced. It is not always easy to fill vacancies.
Origins of Committee of Selection
46. The role of the Committee of Selection in the
nomination of members of most select committees is a relatively
recent one. The Committee has its origins in 1839 as a means of
nominating Members to committees dealing with private bills, of
which there were many. When Standing Committees on Bills were
first established in the 1880s the task of proposing names for
members to be added to the core membership of a Standing Committee
in respect of each Bill was given to the Committee of Selection.
These names did not need to be approved by the House. The system
of nomination of Standing Committee membership changed over the
years so that the committee stage was entrusted to a separately
appointed set of Members for each Bill; but the Committee of Selection
retained under SO No 86 the duty of nominating the Members, still
without requiring ratification in the House. In making nominations
to such committees, now called public bill committees, it is obliged
to "have regard to the qualifications of those Members
nominated and to the composition of the House". In practice,
the whips bring nominations to public bill committees for the
Committee's ratification, and the names as endorsed by the Committee
are simply recorded in the Votes and Proceedings.
47. The Committee of Selection is itself nominated
by the House under Private Business Standing Order 109. The names
of the nine Members to serve on the Committee are put to the House
in a motion moved formally at the outset of a day's proceedings
by the Deputy Chief Whip. It normally comprises whips from all
3 major parties, with a senior Government party backbencher in
48. So far as can be discovered, the nomination of
Members to serve on select committees, which were from Tudor times
if not earlier a regular feature of the Commons, was made relatively
casually in a motion moved without notice. In the 18th century
the practice was introduced of a secret ballot for select committee
membership, in which Members were called up one by one to place
their preferred names in large glasses on the Table of the House.
The procedure lasted anything up to three hours, with the result
declared the next day.
49. In the course of the 19th century the House reverted
to moving a motion to nominate membership, and gradually this
became the preserve of Ministers, since it was they who controlled
the agenda. Motions came to be tabled in the name of the deputy
Government Chief Whip, following consultations between the parties,
and put down for decision after the moment of interruption, with
the intention of avoiding the need for debate or vote. That remains
the standard means of nominating temporary committees, such as
the current Regional select committees, and was indeed the means
used to nominate this Committee. There remains a shadow of backbench
initiative in SO No 23, the "ten-minute rule", now used
only to seek leave in a 10-minute speech to bring in a bill, but
which also permits a motion by a backbencher to nominate a select
50. The 1976-78 Procedure Committee recommended in
its Report that "in future the preparation of nominations
for select committee membership should be entrusted to the Committee
of Selection, who have long and valuable experience in the nomination
of standing committees" and that the motions to be tabled
by the Chair of the Committee of Selection should be taken after
at least two days' notice.
The idea was to shift the responsibility for nomination away from
the Leader of the House and the Whips to a forum where backbenchers
could at least query the party's nominations. It is this thankless
task that the Committee has carried out for the past 30 years.
51. The Committee of Selection establishes at the
start of each Parliament a standard division of places between
the parties on committees of different sizes, based upon a calculation
of the seats in the House held by each party. This calculation
holds good for select committees as well as for public bill and
delegated legislation committees. Names of prospective select
committee members are brought up in the Committee of Selection
by the individual party whips to fill the party "quota"
on committees. On occasion a party has given up a place to a Member
of another party, for example to ensure some places for members
of Northern Ireland parties on committees dealing with Northern
Ireland: or to enable an independent Member to take a place on
52. It is up to each party how it decides who is
to be put forward by its whips in the Committee of Selection,
and the process is not transparent.
53. Membership of a select committee is open to any
member of the House. In 1979 the then Chair of the Committee of
Selection told the House that the committee would not nominate
Ministers, PPSs or Opposition front-bench spokesmen. This has
remained the general practice, so far as circumstances permit.
In practice, PPSs have served on committees scrutinising departments
other than that in which they serve; and it has proved difficult
for committee membership to keep up with the frequently changing
membership of the Opposition front-bench. There are no similar
constraints on membership of some temporary select committees
such as Modernisation, which is chaired by a Minister and has
Opposition front-bench membership, or Regional select committees.
The House can of course object to the membership of a committee
when it is first proposed in the House, but not in practice thereafter.
Size and number
54. We are directed to consider matters closely connected
with those matters referred to us. In its Annual Report of March
2009 the Liaison Committee repeated its concern at the size of
select committees, which over the 30 years since foundation of
the departmental select committee system in 1979 has risen from
9 or 11 on a standard committee to 14, despite objections over
many years from the Committee. 
The number of places to be filled on all Committees, including
temporary and statutory committees, has doubled in that time,
from 275 to 576,
but there has been no change in the numbers willing and able to
serve. There has also been a steady rise in the number of committees,
from 24 to 39, not counting the Regional select committees. As
a result, a number of Members serve on two or more committees,
and the prohibition on service by PPSs and Opposition front-benchers
has been breached in order to fill vacancies. Chairs have argued
that committees are now unwieldy and that it is hard to engender
a collective purpose and direction.
In this report we make proposals on increased access for select
committees to the floor of the House for debate and decision on
substantive motions. If committees are slimmed down, we recognise
the need to incentivise attendance and participation among that
smaller group of Members. Rather than an unremunerated honour
to be sought, and a responsibility to be discharged, a select
committee place is in danger of being regarded by some backbenchers
as a burden best avoided.
55. We propose that the new House of Commons reduce
the size of its standard departmental committees to not more than
11; Members in individual cases can be added to specific committees
to accommodate the legitimate demands of the smaller parties.
We also recommend that the practice of appointing parliamentary
private secretaries and front bench Official Opposition spokesmen
should cease. We believe there should be clear consequences for
unreasonable absence from select committees. The House must also
seek to reduce the numbers of committees, ending overlapping or
duplicate remits and rationing the scarce resource of Members
time and commitment.
Speed of nomination
56. Committees can take an unconscionable time to
be set up at the start of a new Parliament. In 1997 and again
in 2005 it took a full three months, compared to one month in
2001. The delays are variously attributed to the need for the
Government to complete its ministerial appointments and then identify
the PPSs, and to delays in the official Opposition naming its
front-bench. The Liaison Committee reports of 1999 and 2000 seeking
reform of the system were responding as much to concerns over
delays in nominating members at the start of a Parliament as to
concerns over the way the nominations were made. We do not underestimate
the problems. But we consider that under any system the principal
select committees should be nominated within no more than six
weeks of the Queen's Speech and that this should be laid down
in Standing Orders and capable of being enforced by the Speaker.
Intelligence and Security
57. The Intelligence and Security Committee is a
statutory committee of Members of both Houses established under
the Intelligence Services Act 1994 to examine the expenditure,
administration and policy of the three main intelligence and security
agencies. Its terms of reference reflect those of the House's
departmental select committees. Under section 10 of the Act, appointments
are made by the Prime Minister, in consultation with the Leader
of the Opposition.
58. The July 2007 Governance of Britain Green Paper
included a number of suggestions for minor changes in how the
committee worked, to make it more like a select committee of the
House, which it is not, and to increase transparency.
In March 2008 the Government published its White Paper proposals
based on, but falling short of, its Green Paper suggestions.
In July 2008 the House endorsed these proposals, and passed a
Standing Order, now SO No 153E, with effect until the end of this
Parliament, permitting the Committee of Selection to "propose
that certain Members be recommended to the Prime Minister"
for appointment to the Intelligence and Security Committee. The
Lords approved similar procedures in November 2008. A Member of
this House was added to the Committee in October 2008 and was
appointed as Chair, without a recommendation from the Committee
of Selection having been put to the House. A month later, however,
a Member was added using the new Standing Order. A change in the
formal system of nomination to the ISC, and in the method of appointment
of the Chair, would require a change in statute.
59. It is unsatisfactory that any reforms we recommend
to the system of election of members and Chairs of the House's
select committees cannot be applied at the same time to the Intelligence
and Security Committee. In the interim, we believe that the system
we recommend below for electing Chairs of departmental and similar
select committees should be applied so far as possible to the
Chair of the Intelligence and Security Committee. We recommend
that the Committee be regarded as one whose chair is held by convention
by a Member from the majority party; that candidates wishing to
stand for election by the House to the chair of the Committee
should be obliged to seek in advance of the ballot the formal
consent of the Prime Minister for their candidature, to be notified
in writing; and that thereafter the procedure should be as for
other departmental and similar select committee chairs.
Public bill committee membership
60. We are charged with considering appointment of
members and chairs to select committees only, and have not considered
the membership of public bill committees in detail. However it
is notable that the arrangements for appointment of Members to
public bill committees are markedly less transparent and democratic
than those for select committees. The chairs of public bill committees
are selected from the Chairmen's Panel, chosen by the Speaker,
and this system is widely accepted. But the members of these committees
are chosen by the Committee of Selection with no reference to
the House itself. We conclude that a review would be desirable
of the means of selection of public bill committee members, so
that it was subject to a similar level of accountability to that
long applied to select committee membership.
61. Once a committee is nominated it meets to elect
a Chair. The Committee can in theory choose any Member, so long
as they do not fall foul of SO 122A introduced in 2002 which establishes
term limits for Chairs. In practice Members are constrained by
the outcome of private inter-party negotiations on the party affiliation
of each committee chair, undertaken to ensure that a fair proportion
of chairs are held by the Opposition parties. The outcome of these
negotiations is notified privately to Members by whips. The Modernisation
Committee has recommended that this distribution be published.
62. There are rare exceptions. The Liaison Committee's
membership comprises one named individual in addition to the ex
officio Chairs of select committees, and that Member is evidently
intended by the House to take the chair. The House has also endorsed
the proposition that the Finance and Services Committee should
be chaired by a member of the House of Commons Commission, of
whom one serves on the Committee. And the presence of the Leader
of the House on the Modernisation Committee has, not without occasional
controversy, been taken as a signpost as to the obvious candidate
for the chair of that Committee.
63. More common has been the nomination to a committee
of a "senior" figure by virtue of past Ministerial or
Opposition front-bench service, with or without previous select
committee experience, although this was less apparent in the appointments
in 2005; and it is common knowledge that the whips on all sides
ensure that members of their own party are left in no doubt about
the "official" view as to the preferred candidate.
64. Most Chairs are elected without recorded opposition.
That is not to say that there is not sometimes internal dissent
within the committee and within members of the same party on a
committee. Alternative candidates are not infrequently privately
canvassed before the first meeting of a committee. In the 1992
Parliament, where a typical departmental select committee had
6 Government and 5 non-Government members, the minority was well-placed
to identify which of the majority party members they preferred
without it needing a recorded vote, since the 5 plus their favoured
candidate enjoyed an automatic majority. On the Employment Committee
the returning Chair was defeated and an alternative candidate
from the same party elected in his stead. In 2001 the International
Development Committee was unable to find a majority for either
of the Opposition party candidates, and eventually a third candidate
was added to the Committee and elected unopposed.
65. Controversy has also arisen from candidates for
the chair being "parachuted" into a committee where
a chair has become vacant, rather than the successor being found
from among the existing membership. For this to happen does still
require a majority in the House to appoint the new member, and
a decision of the Committee to elect that Member to the chair.
66. Chairs evidently play a crucial role in the operation
of their select committee, acknowledged by the payment of an additional
sum, albeit only half as much as the additional salary paid to
the most junior Minister. Perhaps more significantly, the steadily
growing public profile of select committees gives Chairs a wider
role in the media than hitherto, as their opinion is sought on
current areas of controversy. They enjoy some priority in being
called in the Chamber. And as members of the Liaison Committee
they have the task of twice yearly public evidence sessions with
the Prime Minister, and of exercising influence through that Committee
over the agenda of the House and Westminster Hall.
C Is the system satisfactory?
|(iii) In this section we consider the strengths and weaknesses of current practices and set out three general conclusions.
67. There has been persistent criticism over the past decade in
particular of the method of appointment of members of select committees,
arising both from the lengthy delays in nominating members at
the start of a Parliament and from the view that it is in principle
wrong that membership should be in the hands of party whips. There
has been less public comment specifically on the selection of
Chairs, although recent cases of vacant chairs being "given"
to former Ministers or other senior figures as a form of patronage
have caused concern. The row in 2001, at the start of the 2001-05
Parliament, over the omission of Donald Anderson and Gwyneth Dunwoody
from the lists of members proposed by the Committee of Selection
for their respective former committees raised issues on the appointment
of both members and Chairs, since it was apparent that both would
if nominated to their previous committee have been likely to be
re-elected to the chairs they had occupied in the previous Parliament.
As a result the Parliamentary Labour Party agreed a procedure
for Labour nominations of Chairs and select committee members
to be agreed by their backbench Parliamentary Committee.
68. In March 2000 the Liaison Committee proposed
that nominations in a new Parliament would be made by a body of
three senior Members selected for that purpose, who would invite
applications and after a fortnight put suggested names to the
House. Replacements would be the responsibility of the Liaison
Committee. In July
2000 the Government gave an unfavourable response, noting the
desirability of ensuring a balance not just of party on each committee
but also of other categories; the difficulty in filling unpopular
committees: and the need for intra-party negotiation.
In March 2001, with the end of the Parliament looming, the Liaison
Committee returned to the issue.
But nothing was changed.
69. The matter was taken up by the Modernisation
Committee in the new Parliament, chaired by the then Leader of
the House, the late Robin Cook. In February 2002 it proposed in
place of the Committee of Selection a Committee of Nomination,
to be chaired by the Chairman of Ways and Means (the Deputy Speaker)
and comprising a number of senior backbenchers. Parties would
have made propositions to it as to the Committee of Selection,
but the Committee would have been able to hear appeals from excluded
Members. On 14 May
2002 the proposal was narrowly defeated in the House.
Strengths of current system
70. The system as it has grown up over not just the
past 30 years but over several centuries has some strengths which
need to be acknowledged in contemplating change:
- membership is subject to approval
by the House, and if necessary debate, which the events of 2001
demonstrated is not a mere formality: in many parliaments the
parties' propositions require no endorsement;
- not only is party balance within each committee
assured by the system, but also a balance of gender, experience,
region and so on can potentially be managed;
- the distribution of chairs between the parties
ensures that opposition parties have a fair share of chairs, and
that on a few specific committees there is an Opposition Chair:
this is a feature of the Westminster system which is widely admired
- the power of committee members to choose the
Chair, although perhaps insufficiently exercised in practice,
means that Chairs enjoy to some measure the confidence of their
colleagues: and committees also have the power to remove a Chair;
- all committees have a full or almost full complement
of members, including those committees where service is plainly
a duty that needs to be done on behalf of the House.
71. But there are strong feelings that the system
should be reformed, in accordance with the principles we have
72. It should be for the House and not for the
Executive to choose which of its Members should scrutinise the
Executive: the House should also have a strong if not decisive
influence on the identity of the Chair. It is unacceptable
that the power of the whips has on some occasions in the past
been used to keep off select committees those members of their
own party who are seen as unsound or too critical - the "mavericks".
Every Member has the right to be considered for membership of
a select committee. It is also unacceptable that the whips can
in effect offer chairs as a reward or "consolation prize"
to former Ministers, and that favoured candidates are parachuted
into committees when a vacancy occurs. There is a general perception
that the party whips have too great an influence on the choice
of Chair; that Members' chances to serve on a committee at the
start of a Parliament may be subject to an understanding as to
whom they will support for the chair; and that even after appointment
to a committee Members are not robust enough in choosing their
preferred candidate for the chair in the face of party discipline.
73. The system by which parties select names to
put forward to the Committee of Selection, and by which the whips
divide up chairs between the parties, is very far from transparent.
While on occasions the internal selection procedures of the parliamentary
parties have been discussed or revealed, they remain a mystery
to many within Westminster as well as to those outside. The criteria
for selection are unknown. It may sometimes be that selection
has more to do with a record of past or expectation of future
service, and proven loyalty, than evidence of interest or expertise
in a particular departmental or other area. It is also not clear
how particular individuals emerge as Chairs of committees.
74. The credibility of select committees could
be enhanced by a greater and more visible element of democracy
in the election of members and Chairs. Cross-party working
is the basis of the success of select committees. That has been
achieved under the current system of appointment. But the sense
that a committee membership place is merely a form of party patronagealbeit
formally endorsed by the Housemay adversely affect Members'
sense of duty to attend meetings. There is a danger that appointment
to a salaried select committee chair if it remains largely controlled
and influenced by the whips might on occasion be less and "alternative
career path" and more of an extension of the massive patronage
that already exists through the appointment of ministers. Their
election by a small group of Members, acting under party constraints,
is evidently not conducive to producing a truly independent figure
with the required weight inside and outside the House which House-wide
election might confer.
D A reformed system
|In this section we examine the options for change and make proposals for a reformed system.
75. Before contemplating the range of options for change, we set
out three structural assumptions we have made.
- Party balance on each committee: we are satisfied that
the maintenance in a select committee of a party balance broadly
proportionate to the balance in the Chamber is necessary and beneficial
to the operation of select committees.
- Distribution of chairs between parties:
we consider that it is a strong benefit of the present system
that it offers a broadly proportionate number of chairs to non-majority
- Not all select committees need be treated
in the same way: it is not essential that
the same nomination system be applied to every committee and every
chair: it may well be that different systems will suit different
categories of committee, as is the case at present.
76. We identified three overall approaches and based
on those a number of potentially acceptable options:
- Maintaining the current system
but with democratic safeguards: meaning transparent intra-party
elections of select committee members by secret ballot conducted
under the auspices of the House authorities, and a secret ballot
within the committee for election of a Chair from a party openly
identified in advance.
- Creation of a "selectorate" committee
of senior members to whom application for a select committee place
could be made, who would present their proposals to the House,
based on Members' "expertise" and demonstrable interest
in the committee's subject area.
- Election by secret ballot of the House of members
of select committees and/or of Chairs.
77. Having examined the three overall approaches
we ruled out the use of a "selectorate" system whereby
committee members would be selected by a cross-party committee
of senior Members. Whatever its advantages, we do not think it
meets the current mood of the House.
78. We then gave detailed consideration to four feasible
options for election of members and Chairs of select committees.
We list them in an Annex to this chapter, together with some of
the relevant considerations we bore in mind in looking at each
A reformed system: conclusion
79. There is no perfect system and no single right
answer. There are advantages and disadvantages in all arrangements.
But what we propose has clear benefits. In reaching a recommendation
to put to the House we have borne in mind a number of factors,
- the principles enunciated in
chapter 2 of democratising the House's internal processes and
making them more transparent;
- the desirability of removing the influence of
party whips from the process, while ensuring the maintenance of
party balance on committees and a fair division of chairs;
- the timing of appointments at the start of a
new Parliament, when it is likely that there will be a large number
of new Members who will be unknown to most of their colleagues,
in particular those of parties not their own, and who in turn
will know few colleagues;
- the need to avoid undue complexity and unintended
80. We recommend an initial system of election
by the whole House of Chairs of departmental and similar select
committees, and thereafter the election by secret ballot of members
of those committees by each political party, according to their
level of representation in the House, and using transparent and
democratic means. The committees within this system should be
those appointed under SO No 152 [the departmental select committees]
together with the Environmental Audit Committee, the Public Administration
Committee and the Committee of Public Accounts. We have concluded
that of the four options we considered this is the system most
likely to demonstrate the determination of the House more effectively
to hold the executive to account, to give more authority to the
scrutiny function of Parliament and at the same time to preserve
the effective functioning of select committees. We also believe
that it is likely to command widespread support in the House as
a major step forward, but short of more radical proposals. It
should give a major boost to these select committees, help establish
the position of their Chairs, and increase the standing of their
elected members. The review after two years which we recommend
in paragraph 6 above would include examination of whether to extend
this system to other select committees.
Distribution of chairs between parties
81. The House itself might decide how best to distribute
chairs so as to ensure the outcome we are committed to of a spread
between the parties. But the devices for doing this as part of
the electoral process of individual Chairs would not commend themselves
to the House. Ensuring a proportional balance would require re-distributing
a number of chairs to Members who had stood for a chair and not
won, and possibly not even come second, on the basis of complicated
algorithms. It might be technically fair but it would not be seen
as just by Members or others.
82. We have also considered a
formalised system of distribution using a system whereby parties
would choose a particular committee chairmanship in a systematic
order determined in accordance with the distribution of seats
in the House. That
is the system used, for example, in Northern Ireland. It has the
benefits of transparency and simplicity. We recommend that
the House return to examination of this and other options for
distribution of the chairs when the rest of our recommendations
and conclusions are reviewed two years into a new Parliament.
83. For the first running of a new system we recognise
that the House may prefer to rely, as it has for many years, on
the party managers coming to an agreement on distribution of chairs
on the basis of established conventions. But we do recommend a
greater degree of transparency. Immediately after the General
Election, the Speaker would convey to the party leaders the number
of chairs subject to whole-House election to which each party
is to be entitled. The party leaders would then be obliged by
Standing Order to report, within a week of the start of the session,
to which party, but emphatically not to which individual,
each select committee chair had been allocated. This would be
put to the House for its approval.
Nomination of candidates
84. Candidates for each chair would have to be nominated
within two weeks of the date of the House's agreement to the
division of the chairs between the parties. So as to ensure that
candidates enjoy at least a measure of support within their own
party group, there should be a threshold requiring at least 10
per cent of members of that party, or 15 of its members, whichever
was the lower, to indicate support for that and no other candidate.
Candidates would also be free to seek nominations from those in
other parties and have them published, up to a certain number.
Those who had already served two Parliaments or eight years as
Chairs would be unable to stand by virtue of Standing Order No
122A. We envisage that those who put themselves forward for select
committee chairs would be likely to publish some sort of manifesto
and that hustings of some sort might well be organised.
Election of Chairs
85. Election of Chairs would be by written secret
ballot. All Members of the House would be able to vote, but we
consider that Ministers and the principal front-bench Opposition
spokesmen should voluntarily abstain from casting their votes
for the Chairs of the departmental committee related to their
responsibilities. If there were more than two candidates,
voting would be by alternative vote, to eliminate the need for
any subsequent ballots. If there was only one candidate for a
particular chairand that may well happenthen that
candidate would be elected without a ballot.
Chair's term of office
86. A Chair elected by the House would remain in
office for the Parliament. A Chair who wished for whatever reason
to step down from an office now to be conferred by the House would
formally notify the Clerk of the House, and a by-election would
be held, on the same terms and conditions as the original election.
It will also be necessary to provide for the situation, should
it ever arise, of a Committee where the members altogether lose
confidence in the elected Chair. It would be open to a Committee,
subject to a qualified cross-party majority of its members, and
with due notice, to make a special report to the House and thereby
trigger a fresh election.
Election within party groups
87. We propose that in the new Parliament members
of departmental and similar select committees should be elected
by secret ballot within party groups, by transparent and democratic
processes, with the outcome reported to and endorsed by the House.
This has the advantage of ensuring that all members have a fair
chance to serve on such a select committee, subject to sufficient
support from their colleagues and that committees reflect party
proportions in the House whilst maintaining an electoral system
that is relatively easy to operate and understand.
88. Party groups would in effect be acting on
behalf of the House as electoral colleges. They would therefore
expect to act under some constraints as to the methods used to
elect committee members. We do not think it necessary that the
House should interfere so far as to lay down one particular method
of election rather than another. But the method chosen should
be one approved by the Speaker, following independent advice,
as transparent and democratic: "kite-marked" as legitimate
in effect. Officers nominated by the Speaker would be obliged
to assure themselves that the processes followed by each party,
as notified by its Leader, were indeed in accordance with these
norms. And each party would be obliged to publish the method it
89. This will leave the parties a considerable freedom
to organise the elections in accordance with their preferences.
For example, they may wish or not to provide for a degree of gender
or regional or other balance, such as of more or less experienced
members. While it is axiomatic that a Member should serve on only
one departmental or similar select committee, it would be open
to each party to make the arrangements to produce that result,
so long as it was patently fair.
Process of election and term of office
90. At the same time as conveying the number of relevant
chairs to which each party is to be entitled, as set out in para
83 above, the Speaker would convey to each party leader the appropriate
proportions for committees of various sizes. Parties would be
obliged to hold ballots for departmental and similar select committee
memberships after the conclusion of elections of Chairs of those
committees and to complete the process within two weeks of those
elections. The resultant names should then be forwarded to the
House for endorsement as at present. A Member who wished to resign
from a departmental or similar select committee would give formal
notice to the Clerk of the House, and the party would be obliged
to hold a by-election within a set time period, after which the
procedure as in para 87 above would be followed.
Smaller parties etc
91. There are of course a number of detailed issues
requiring resolution. The smallest parties are entitled to representation
on committees in accordance with their numbers: and that should
not be restricted to the committees scrutinising the nations of
the United Kingdom. If merely added to a handful the proportions
may be skewed. Similarly, there must be sufficient flexibility
to allow independent Members some opportunity to serve on a select
committee. We propose that the Speaker be empowered to nominate
one member to a particular committee so that minority parties
or viewpoints can be fairly represented; and also that larger
parties should remain free to "donate" one of the places
to which they are entitled to a smaller party.
92. There may be occasions where parties do not have
enough candidates for places on some committees. That is a problem
at present. Where that is the case, parties should as now be under
an understood obligation to find volunteers without requiring
Work of committees
93. Select committees have rightly won respect for
the work they do and they are being asked to take on an increasing
number of tasks on behalf of the House. As a result committee
members find it increasingly difficult to devote time to select
committee work as well as all their other duties. We consider
that the Liaison Committee should re-examine the current role
of select committees, their resources and their tasks, and in
particular how to deal with the increasing demands of time made
of Members as their role grows.
94. There are a number of ways in which select committees
can be strengthened. We have proposed smaller committees and thus
greater competition for places on them among Members which we
hope will in turn generate a greater sense of ownership and will
lead to higher levels of attendance and participation. The direct
election by the House of Chairs of departmental and similar select
committees will raise their profile and that of their committees,
at Westminster and outside, and help ensure that their work gets
the results it merits. We believe that the changes we recommend,
modest as they may seem, will be a boost to the whole select committee
8 Liaison Committee, Independence or Control? The Government's
reply to the Committee's First Report of Session 1999-2000, HC
748, para 28 Back
HC Deb, 2 July 2009, col 496 Back
Procedure Committee, Fourth Report of Session 2008-09, Election
of the Deputy Speakers: Principles , HC 1080. It had reported
on the subject in 2002, Second Report of 2001-02, HC 770, Appointment
of Deputy Speakers Back
Liaison Committee, First Report of Session 2008-09, The Work of
the Committees in 2007-08, HC 291, Annex 3, p 60 Back
The exceptions are the Liaison, Selection and Standards and Privileges
Committees. The Liaison Committee comprises ex officio the
Chairs of specified committees. For the nomination of the Committee
of Selection, see below. Back
House of Commons in the Eighteenth Century, P D G Thomas
(Clarendon Press, 1971) p 267 Back
Procedure Committee, First Report of 1977-78, HC 588-I, para 6.19 Back
Liaison Committee, First Report of Session 2008-09, The Work
of Committees in 2007-08, HC 291, paras 78-81 Back
Ibid., page 60, Annex 3 Back
See eg debate on establishment of the new Energy and Climate Change
Committee, HC Deb, 28 October 2008, cols 851 ff Back
Governance of Britain, Cm 7170 Back
Governance of Britain - Constitutional Renewal, Cm 7342 Back
Modernisation Committee, First Report of Session 2001-02, Select
Committees, HC 224-I, para 3.22 Back
Liaison Committee, First Report of 1999-2000, Shifting the
Balance, HC 300 Back
Liaison Committee, Independence or Control? The Government's
reply to the Committee's First Report of Session 1999-2000, HC
Liaison Committee, First Report of Session 2000-01, Shifting
the Balance: Unfinished Business, HC 21 Back
Modernisation Committee, First Report of Session 2001-02, Select
Committees, HC 224 Back
This is known as a modified d'Hondt system. See eg Ev5 [ John
Hemming MP] Back