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House of Commons Commission

Volume 515: debated on Tuesday 14 September 2010

I beg to move,

That Nick Harvey be discharged and Sir Paul Beresford and John Thurso be appointed as members of the House of Commons Commission under the House of Commons (Administration) Act 1978.

This is a routine motion to change the membership of the House of Commons Commission, which is a statutory body established by the House of Commons (Administration) Act 1978. It is, in effect, the governing body of the House of Commons. Its responsibilities are set out in its annual report, which I encourage all right hon. and hon. Members to read, as it is an invaluable source of information about the strategic management of the House.

As you know, Mr Speaker, the membership of the Commission includes two ex officio members—you and me—and one member nominated by the Leader of the Opposition who is, by convention, the shadow Leader of the House, whom I welcome to the debate this evening. The Commission also consists of three Back Benchers appointed by the House. They are currently the hon. Member for Middlesbrough (Sir Stuart Bell) and my hon. Friend the Member for North Devon (Nick Harvey). David Maclean, who served on the Commission from 2005 until the election, ceased to be a member automatically when he retired from the House at the election.

Taking up a ministerial position does not automatically lead a member of the Commission to vacate their office, so the motion discharges my hon. Friend the Member for North Devon, who is now Minister of State for the Armed Forces. I am sure that the whole House will join me in thanking the outgoing members of the Commission for their work on its behalf.

Both David Maclean and my hon. Friend served through the challenging recent events surrounding our expenses, but they also played their part in many more positive developments. The implementation of the Tebbit review, which involved a fundamental restructuring of the House of Commons service, has been one of the Commission’s biggest achievements in recent years. But the Commission has also made significant achievements in other areas, such as promoting greater awareness of the House’s environmental impact, establishing the House’s equality scheme, developing a 25-year estate strategy, introducing new broadcasting arrangements and, this month, opening the new nursery.

If the motion is agreed, the outgoing members will be succeeded by my hon. Friend the Member for Mole Valley (Sir Paul Beresford) and my hon. Friend the Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (John Thurso), who chairs the Finance and Services Committee. Both have served their parties in government or opposition and both have wide-ranging experience of serving on Select Committees of the House, both as a member and as Chair.

I am sure that the House will have the greatest confidence in the wisdom and experience that both Members will bring to the deliberations of the House of Commons Commission and the Members Estimate Committee, given that membership of one flows from the other. I look forward to working with both of them and I commend the motion to the House.

I, too, pay tribute to the work of the hon. Member for North Devon (Nick Harvey) and the former right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border on the House of Commons Commission. Both served for five years on the Commission under two Speakers. The hon. Member for North Devon was not only a highly respected member of the Commission but was its spokesperson on the Floor of the House, a role that he fulfilled with great aplomb. We congratulate him on his appointment as Minister for the Armed Forces.

The former right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border was also an assiduous member of the Commission, bringing to bear his experience as a former Chief Whip. He retired from the House at the election but leaves behind his fine House of Commons reputation. He will be missed on the Commission.

I should like to thank the longest-serving member of the Commission, my hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough (Sir Stuart Bell), for his ongoing commitment and dedication. The Leader of the House clearly set out the achievements of the House of Commons Commission in recent years and I welcome the appointment of the hon. Members for Mole Valley (Sir Paul Beresford) and for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (John Thurso), who are to serve on the Commission. I am sure that the whole House will join me in wishing them well in the important role of ensuring the smooth running of the House.

I join the right hon. Member for Doncaster Central (Ms Winterton) in paying tribute to—I have no idea whether he is right honourable, but if he is not he certainly should be—the Member for Middlesbrough (Sir Stuart Bell), and in thanking David Maclean for the service he has given. I say to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, and to you, Mr Speaker: thank you for the role you fulfil.

I do not know whether the Commission has much to do with the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, but IPSA deserves to have as much support as possible in getting right its role. I shall not talk now about its responsibilities, but I would say that IPSA was set up because the House and the Commission—

Order. The subject of IPSA has precisely nothing—repeat, nothing—to do with the terms of the motion. I therefore know that the hon. Gentleman will not seek to dilate on the matter but will confine himself to the specifics of the motion.

I thought, Mr Speaker, that I had left IPSA behind in the wake of my introductory remarks, and I intend not to refer to it again.

The point I was going to make is that the holder of your office, Mr Speaker, and the holders of other offices, failed to support Elizabeth Filkin when she was Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards.

Order. I am afraid that, although the hon. Gentleman has tried, the second go was no better than the first. The matter has absolutely nothing to do with the terms of the motion, on which I hope the hon. Gentleman will focus the remainder of his remarks.

If the House of Commons Commission has no role in relation to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, I am misguided.

Order. Let me help the hon. Gentleman. I made no such observation or suggestion whatsoever. The issue is not the sphere of competence of the Commission but the substance of the motion that Members are supposed to be debating.

In welcoming the proposed appointment of my hon. Friend the Member for Mole Valley (Sir Paul Beresford) and the hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (John Thurso), I express the wish that my confidence is not misplaced, as it sadly might have been in the past. If we expect the Commission to be able to defy, on occasion, the wishes of this House and support the work of those who work with the Commission and alongside it, we will be able to praise them not just in advance of their appointment but after their service as well.

I make this point without anticipating contradiction: had we done better in the past, those who take on the responsibility of being part of the Commission would have had, and will have, an easier job than they have had. In the days when I was defending the holder of a different office, most of the House asked why I was doing it. The reason was that the Speaker, the Leader of the House and others have responsibility for considering issues on their merits, and I expect that those appointed to the Commission will do the same.

The fact that there may have been failures in the past was not a big surprise, because some in high authority did not give the backing they should have done. I hope that if any member of the Commission finds that they are in a similar position in future, they will say, openly, “It may be a minority interest, but those who serve in this House have got to be prepared to be unpopular, to defy convention at times, and to remind those who serve this House that virtually every page in “Erskine May” is there because something has happened for the first time.” If anyone rolls out the historic negative, saying, “You can’t do this in a new way because nobody’s done it that way before”, they should read the pages of “Erskine May”—not just the present edition but those from the past as well.

I wish honourable service to those who have joined the Commission, and I praise those who have been part of it. Let us never again find that when MPs are investigated, members of the Commission, whether in that position or in their other positions, fail to back those who ask for a higher standard of behaviour within this House. I say that, I think, without contradiction this time.

Now that the motion has been agreed and Mr Nick Harvey has been discharged, and in the light of the very welcome remarks of the Leader of the House and the shadow Leader of the House, I should like to record my heartfelt thanks to Nick Harvey for his five years’ service on the Commission and the Members Estimate Committee, and especially for acting as Commission spokesman throughout that time, as well as for his work on the 2008 review of allowances. In addition, I should like warmly to thank the former Member for Penrith and the Border, David Maclean. He was appointed to the Commission on 1 November 2005, replacing Sir Patrick Cormack, and he served until the end of the last Parliament. We appreciate the work of Mr Harvey and of David Maclean.