|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
20. David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op): If she will bring forward proposals for reform of the role of the Whips Offices as part of the Governments proposals for constitutional reform; and if she will make a statement. 
The Parliamentary Secretary, Office of the Leader of the House of Commons (Barbara Keeley): As I mentioned in an earlier reply, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has announced the creation of a new Committee to be set up for a defined short period to look at issues of reform, such as making Select Committee processes more democratic, scheduling for more and better time for non-Government business, and engaging the public in topics for debate such as petitions.
David Taylor: The political process may need Whips to give shape and direction to efficient policy implementation, but the parliamentary system allows the Executive to take liberties with democracy, generating an atavistic herd instinct that strangles independent thought and objectivity. Does my hon. Friend agree that an ordered party is best obtained by persuasion rather than patronage, and by consent rather than compulsion? If we are serious about reform, we must abandon the coercion and inducements available to Whips, starting with having more powerful Select Committees chosen by this House.
Barbara Keeley: I will try not to take that too personally; until very recently I was my hon. Friends Whip. I very much hope that he believes that the relationship I had with him when I was a Whip allowed him to be independent-minded and to decide for himself. Compulsion and the other things he mentioned are not facets of the Whips Office; Labour Members are independent-minded and the Whips Office just works to try to get the Government business through.
Mr. Alan Reid (Argyll and Bute) (LD): At the moment, programming seems to be decided by what are euphemistically called the usual channels: the Government and Opposition Whips getting together. Will the Government adopt the practice, used in the Scottish Parliament, of conducting a business committee on which all parties are represented? That would mean that decisions on programming could be taken much more transparently.
Barbara Keeley: I thank the hon. Gentleman for that question. When the new Parliamentary Reform Committee comes together shortlywe expect to table a motion on that next weekit will be able to examine the exact issue of programming non-Government time.
The Leader of the House of Commons (Ms Harriet Harman): Before I inform the House of the business for next week, may I add my personal tribute, as Leader of the House, to Speaker Martin? Yesterday, nearly all the tributes to him mentioned his kindness, and it is very important to recognise that he kept order in the House not by pushing people down, but by supporting and encouraging people. Kindness is very much underrated in modern politics, but it is highly rated by Members of this House. A nudge of encouragement can be of great importance, particularly to a new Member. Members never had to fear the Chair when Speaker Martin was in it; they needed only to look to the Chair for advice and support. I hope that whoever succeeds him tries to match that.
Thursday 25 JuneThe House will be asked to approve various motions, including the establishment of a London Regional Committee and Regional Grand Committees; a motion relating to Members pensions; and motions relating to Select Committees.
Wednesday 1 JulyConsideration of Lords amendments to the Political Parties and Elections Bill, followed by motion to approve the draft Terrorism Act 2006 (Disapplication of Section 25) Order 2009, followed by consideration of Lords amendments to the Saving Gateway Accounts Bill.
Alan Duncan: I thank the Leader of the House for giving us the forthcoming business, and may I echo what she said about Mr. Speaker? As a recent addition to the House of Commons Commission, I must say that I found the way in which he chaired and administered it to be far better than the public reputation he was afforded by the press.
Further to the answer given just a moment ago by the Deputy Leader of the House, I think everyone would welcome some urgent clarification from the Leader of the House on the business of the House motions that she announced for next Thursday. On 10 June, the Prime Minister said in his statement on constitutional reform that a special parliamentary commission will be established, comprising Members from both sides of the House, to advise on necessary reforms of the procedures of the Commons. He seems to want to set up a new committee very much on a whim when there are already structures in the House for considering these issues. It is pretty disgraceful that the Prime Minister should choose to interfere to gain a headline when no consultation whatever has taken place.
Will the right hon. and learned Lady therefore take this opportunity to confirm whether it is now her intention to abolish the Modernisation Committee? Will this new commission or committee replace it? If so, what is the difference between this new commission or committee and the Procedure Committee, which also deals with the necessary reforms of the procedures of this House? Will she confirm that the real difference is not in the functions of the two committees, but in the simple fact that the hon. Member for Cannock Chase (Dr. Wright) would chair the new one, and not my right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire (Mr. Knight)?
We were taken by surprise yesterday when Mr. Speaker reported that a new cross-party committee would now be inquiring into the circumstances surrounding the arrest of my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Damian Green), and even more surprised that that announcement was said to follow from a discussion with only the Government Chief Whip. We were pleased that the Government appear to have backtracked on their attempt to maintain a majority hold over that committee, but given that I have had nothing more than an unacceptable holding response from the right hon. and learned Lady to my letter of 27 April on this matter, will she now tell the House who will be on this committee, when it is likely to report and what is its exact remit? Will it look, for example, at the issue of privilege that we on the Opposition Benches think should be examined in detail and in parallel by the Committee on Standards and Privileges? In a previous answer to one of my questions, the right hon. and learned Lady said that she could not see any objection to that happening.
Will the right hon. and learned Lady take this opportunity to inform the House when the Government will move the writ for the by-election in Norwich, North? I remind her that the previous Member for that constituency was appointed to the Chiltern Hundreds some days ago and that the writ for the by-election in Crewe and Nantwich was moved much faster.
The House will note that we have chosen to have our Opposition day debate on Iraq and the inquiry, and I hope that the Leader of the House appreciates how strongly weand many Labour Membersfeel that the Iraq inquiry should be much more public and far broader in composition.
May we also have a debate on the way in which some parking enforcement companies are extorting money on utterly vicious grounds from members of the public? Several cases have come to my attention in which, because of unclear signs in a car park, people have been
unwittingly entrapped and their cars clamped. I have to report that the Co-op appears to be one of the most unjust practitioners
May we have a debate on levels of numeracy in Government? This subject may be closer to the heart of the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman), who is barracking from his seat. Yesterday, we had the unedifying sight of a Prime Minister denying the truth about his own cuts in public spending that are in the Chancellors most recent Budget. Last week, the Leader of the House wasit is fair to sayticked off by the UK Statistics Authority for using figures on the gender pay gap that it said would be misleading and would
undermine public confidence in official statistics.
This is not the first time that the Government have been criticised for manipulating figures, but judging by the confusion of Ministers over spending, perhaps it is not so much a case of intentional distortion and more an indication of their deficiencies in basic maths.
Finally, may we agree across the Floor of the House that, when it comes to electing a Speaker on Monday, each Member should do so from the best possible principles for Parliament, and their choice should be on that basis and not for any narrow or party reasons?
Ms Harman: The hon. Gentleman raises the question of the special parliamentary committee. It is important to take the opportunity of the need to rebuild confidence in Parliament, not just to sort out the question of our allowances but to see whether we can make further progress in improving our procedures. We can take the opportunity to allow the public direct access by putting issues on the parliamentary agenda through e-petitions; to strengthen the work of Select Committees; and to allow a wider say in decisions on non-Government business.
The important thing to focus on is the job that needs to be done and on establishing a committee of short-term duration simply to get on with that job. We can either focus on process or on outcome. If we can reach an agreement, we can move forward. Many hon. Members on both sides of the House have done a lot of work on these matters over the years and they have not found the opportunity to move forward. I think that this is that opportunity, so, instead of complaining about the process, let us all work together to ensure that we achieve some outcome.
The hon. Gentleman asked why the matter should not be dealt with by the Procedure Committee. The Procedure Committee does very important work and I refer to what my hon. Friend the Deputy Leader of the House said about its important forthcoming report on the answering of written questions. The new committee will have a wider remit than the Procedure Committee, but I am sure that it will draw on the expertise and work of the Committee and of some of its members, including, possibly, its leading member, the Chair.
The hon. Gentleman asked about the Speakers Committee on the arrest of the hon. Member for Ashford (Damian Green) and the search of parliamentary premises. In a resolution of the House some months ago, the House decided that there needed to be a Speakers Committee to consider that matter, but that it would not start its work until after any investigation by the criminal justice system had been completed. Now that that investigation has been completed, the Committee needs to get on with its work. The announcement of who will be on the Committee will be a matter for the new Speaker. I hope that the Committee will be able to get on with its work. Once it is established, the terms of reference of the House resolution said that it could consider a number of basic issues and those relating to them.
The Iraq inquiry was the subject of the Prime Ministers statement to the House on Monday and there will be a debate on the subject next week, which will no doubt focus on the issues that the Prime Minister dealt with and was questioned on, which concerned the composition of the committee and its way of working.
We might well need to have a topical debate on the subject of parking enforcement. It may seem a minor issue, but quite a lot of money changes hands. If someone comes out of a shop with a couple of kids and a buggy and finds their car immobilised, leaving them stranded, it can be very difficult indeed. Perhaps we ought to consider that. The subject involves a number of different Departments, and the fact that responsibility has fallen between the Department for Transport and the Department for Communities and Local Government has been a problem. Perhaps we might consider that.
In a rather patronising and condescending way, I am sorry to say, the hon. Gentleman cast aspersions on my numeracy. I shall address his point about the UK Statistics Authority. He is referring to the gender pay gap. Previously, the gender pay gap has been reported as two figures. The first is the average gap between the pay of full-time men and full-time women at work. The second is the gap between part-time employees and full-time male employees. One thing that I have said to the Office for National Statistics is that part-time women employees are not a separate breed of second-class citizens. If they are lowly paid, they ought to be considered in the context of the statistics as a whole. We should compare the average pay per hour of men with the average pay per hour of women. I reject any suggestion that it is a question of trying to manipulate the figures. It is about the figures properly representing the valuable contribution that women make to the work force and about stopping pay discrimination, so I hope that the hon. Gentleman regrets asking that question.
Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD):
The right hon. and learned Lady referred to the tributes paid to the Speaker yesterday. I think that all the tributes remarked on his generosity of spirit in personal
terms, and I can only go along with that; that generosity of spirit was obvious to everyone who knew him. I welcomed Mr. Speaker pointing out in his statement yesterday the lack of leadership and wrong-headed thinking that led to the House rejecting the sensible proposals for reform of our expenses system last year. It was important that he made that point.
The hon. Member for Rutland and Melton (Alan Duncan) mentioned the Committee, proposed by Mr. Speaker, which is to look at the issue of the police search of Members offices. I have to say that the right hon. and learned Lady has got herself into a bit of a mess on that. If she remembers, we on the Opposition Benches proposed that there should be no Government majority on that Committee, and that it should be chaired by an Opposition Member. That was rejected by her and her party, and in a whipped vote the Labour party pushed through a motion on 8 December that precluded that option. If the Government have backtracked on that, which is extremely helpful, she needs to put a new motion before the House, because she is bound by a resolution of 8 December that does not allow the Committee to have the composition that it is apparently now to have. Will she put such a motion on the Order Paper next week, so that we can vote on it?
In another place last week, during proceedings on the Political Parties and Elections Bill, there was an extremely important vote on an amendment in the name of Lord Campbell-Savours. That amendment will be strongly supported in this House by Liberal Democrat Membersand a great number of Labour Members, too, as was indicated by the fact that the Government could not manage to get a Labour majority in the House of Lords on the matter. May we have confirmation that there will be ample time to debate that amendment in this House, and that there will be no attempt by the Government to reverse the decision made in another place on non-domiciled tax exiles providing funding for political parties?
The Prime Minister yesterday appeared to have a problem understanding how limited his reforms of the banking sector have been, but he was put right in no uncertain terms by the Governor of the Bank of England last night. Given that the Prime Minister does not appear to know what he is doing on banking reform, and that the Chancellor of the Exchequer does not seem to know either, while the Governor of the Bank of England clearly does know, may we have a debate so that we Members of the House can put our ideas on how the banking sector should be regulated in future?
Lastly, when the Lord High Everything took control of the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills, and it was then abolished, one part of the collateral damage was the presumed demise of the Select Committee on Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills. Before it had that title, the Committee did a superb job in this House as the Select Committee on Science and Technology. In fact, it did a particularly superb job when I was a member of it. There are many people, both in the House and outside, who feel that having a Committee that is committed to the interests of science and technology is no bad thing, including the learned societies led by the Royal Society of Chemistry. When the right hon. and learned Lady brings forward her proposals on Select Committees next Thursday, will she ensure that we re-establish a properly constituted Select Committee
on Science and Technology, with a cross-cutting brief, to ensure that those interests are properly represented in this House?
Ms Harman: The hon. Gentleman mentioned the work on expenses. It might help if I remind the House that today there has been progress on transparency, with all expenses claims having gone on the House of Commons website. Shortly, we will bring a Bill before Parliament to create an independent Parliamentary Standards Authority. There is also a reassessment under way of all the past four years claims, which is being carried out by Sir Thomas Legg and independent accountants. Every single claim will be looked at, and any money that was paid outwith the rules will have to be paid back. We will be able to strengthen parliamentary processes as a result of the work of the Committee that is to be chaired by my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock Chase (Dr. Wright). We will get the results of the independent Kelly committee on our allowances, and then the Parliamentary Standards Authority will start work. We have had a major problem, but all the work to solve it is under way.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned the Committee examining matters in relation to search and seizure and the arrest of the hon. Member for Ashford (Damian Green). There will be no need for a further resolution of the House, because the resolution of 8 December provided:
|Next Section||Index||Home Page|