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Speaker’s Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority

Volume 522: debated on Wednesday 26 January 2011

I beg to move,

That the following appointments be made to the Speaker’s Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority in pursuance of Schedule 3 to the Parliamentary Standards Act 2009, as amended—

(1) Hilary Benn in place of Ms Rosie Winterton, until the end of the present Parliament, in accordance with paragraph 1(d) of the Schedule; and

(2) as lay members of the Committee, in accordance with paragraph 1(e) of the Schedule—

(a) Dame Janet Gaymer DBE QC (Hon.), for a period of five years;

(b) Elizabeth McMeikan, for a period of four years; and

(c) Sir Anthony Holland, for a period of three years.

I hope that we can now move into calmer waters, Mr Speaker, though as the motion affects the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, that might be a forlorn hope. It seeks the appointment of members to the Speaker’s Committee for IPSA. I move this motion to facilitate the decision of the House.

The Speaker’s Committee for IPSA is a statutory Committee, set up under the Parliamentary Standards Act 2009, and its role and membership are determined by that statute. It has two key responsibilities: to consider the candidates proposed by the Speaker, following fair and open competition for the posts of Chair and members of IPSA, and to approve IPSA’s annual estimate of resources.

The current membership of the Speaker’s Committee includes Mr Speaker, the Chair of the Standards and Privileges Committee and myself—by virtue of our offices. It currently has five other members who were appointed by the House in June 2010. To this membership, we must now add three lay members. I will deal substantively with the issue of the addition of lay members in a moment, but let me first briefly outline paragraph (1) of the motion. This was added, at the request of the Opposition, to remove the right hon. Member for Doncaster Central (Ms Winterton) and add the shadow Leader of the House in her place. This is a matter for the Labour party, and I am happy to facilitate it.

As a member of SCIPSA, I would like to thank the right hon. Member for Doncaster Central for her work on the Committee, helping us through some challenging meetings at the beginning, and I look forward to welcoming the right hon. Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn), should the House agree this motion. I know that he, too, will add great value to our proceedings.

The Committee on Standards in Public Life recommended the addition of lay members to the Speaker’s Committee in its report of November 2009, and this was enshrined in statute through the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010. As a former Chairman of the Members Estimate Audit Committee, I can speak first hand on how useful I have found it to have external members on Committees that focus on the workings of the House. The House will also remember that it has only recently approved the addition of lay members to the Committee on Standards and Privileges.

The Committee on Standards in Public Life set out its reasoning behind the addition of lay members, specifically reflecting the growing practice in self-regulatory bodies such as the General Medical Council and the General Council of the Bar, which have accepted lay membership as a way not only of mitigating charges of being “parti pris”, but of widening their horizon, increasing their experience base and strengthening their legitimacy with the public. There is no reason why similar principles should not apply to the Speaker’s Committee.

These appointments are made by resolution of the House. The statute requires that the motion is tabled with the agreement of the Speaker; I can confirm that Mr Speaker has signified his consent.

My question is no reflection on the three distinguished people involved. Fortunately, after many years, we have managed to reach a position where hon. Members have to declare all their outside interests—something for which I have fought for many years. Once appointed, will members of the Speaker’s Committee also have to declare their outside interests—or, rather, their total income? Again, I emphasise that this is no reflection on the people involved.

I think the answer is yes and no—yes to the outside interests, but no to the declaration of income.

As recommended by the Committee on Standards in Public Life, these lay members will have full voting rights on the Committee. The competition required by the statute was conducted at the Speaker’s request by a board chaired by the Clerk Assistant, Robert Rogers. Following a tender exercise in July last year, a specialist recruitment agency with experience in the successful management of high-level public appointments, Saxton Bampfylde, was employed to support the process.

Members will wish to know that there was a very high level of interest in these posts. A total of 166 applications were received; a longlist of well-qualified candidates was considered by the board. Seventeen candidates who were selected by the board from the longlist received a preliminary interview by Saxton Bampfylde. Following report of these conversations, eight candidates were selected for interview by the board. After these final interviews, the Speaker met four candidates recommended by the board, from whom he selected the three individuals whose names appear on the Order Paper.

Dame Janet Gaymer has recently retired from service as the Commissioner for Public Appointments in England and Wales, and as a civil service commissioner. She was previously senior partner at the law firm, Simmons & Simmons. Elizabeth McMeikan has also served as a civil service commissioner, and is a member of the State Honours Committee. Before taking on these roles, she was the human resources and change management director on the stores board of Tesco Stores plc. Finally, Sir Anthony Holland, a former chairman of the Law Society has held a number of public appointments, including as chair of the Northern Ireland Parades Commission and chair of the Standards Board for England. He currently holds an appointment in the office of the complaints commissioner of the Financial Services Authority.

The Leader of the House has described the people who are being proposed for lay membership. They are clearly eminent and successful, but I ask the right hon. Gentleman to consider for a moment whether they are representative. I think that many Members of Parliament are becoming increasingly tired of hearing people whose incomes are clearly way above those of Members opine on what is appropriate in relation to Members’ standards of living. I wonder whether any trade unionists were considered for these posts.

The members of SCIPSA’s board do not undertake the function to which the hon. Lady has referred. They do not decide the remuneration of Members of Parliament or, indeed, their allowances. However, the hon. Lady has raised a serious issue about how a diversity of applications was secured. During the tender exercise, applicant companies were asked to prove a commitment to diversity as one of the criteria that would be considered in the assessment of their suitability for appointment. It may also reassure the hon. Lady to know that lay members will make a determined effort to gain an insight into the work of Members of Parliament and the challenges that confront us by observing the way in which Members work in their constituencies and, indeed, in the House.

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his statement, but there is a little bit of concern about the nature of the people who have been recruited. Do any of them, as far as he is aware, have any knowledge or experience of the workings of Parliament?

SCIPSA contains a large number of Members of Parliament, including myself and, if the House approves the motion, the shadow Leader of the House and four or five other colleagues. Input from Members of Parliament already exists on the board, and we would not expect it to come from the lay members.

Although the Act provides for a maximum appointment length of five years, the motion provides for each lay member to be appointed for a different duration, reflecting the placing of the candidates in the final report of the board to the Speaker. Thus Dame Janet Gaymer will be appointed for five years, Elizabeth McMeikan for four years, and Sir Anthony Holland for three years. All three of those excellent candidates could quite reasonably be appointed for the maximum period, but if we did that, the Committee would probably lose the expertise and experience of all three simultaneously.

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for allowing me to intervene again. May I expand on what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland (Helen Goodman) and, to a certain extent, by me in an earlier intervention? Is it not important for us to have some knowledge of the incomes of people who make judgments about the incomes of Members of Parliament, and their remunerations as a whole? It is not a question of trying to interfere in their lives. They have volunteered to be part of the IPSA establishment and to be in the public domain, and I cannot for the life of me see why there should be any secrecy about their own total incomes.

The hon. Gentleman is seeking to introduce a wholly new principle to people’s appointments to bodies that have some involvement with the House of Commons, or indeed some outside bodies. It was not one of the terms and conditions of these people’s appointments that they should declare their outside interests, and I think it would be quite wrong to require them to do that. It would be an unnecessary intrusion on their privacy.

I am grateful to the Leader of the House for giving way again. I understand that to accept the suggestion advanced by my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall North (Mr Winnick) would be to adopt a new principle, but I nevertheless feel that we should know what remuneration the lay members will receive specifically for their work on the Committee.

I can satisfy the hon. Lady in that regard. The Act entitles lay members to remuneration and allowances to be determined by the Speaker and paid by IPSA. The daily rate of pay has been set at £300, which is comparable to the rate paid to those fulfilling similar roles elsewhere in the public sector.

I am happy to assure the House that the competition was fair and open, as the statute requires, and I am sure that Members will agree that the three candidates who have emerged from the process have a wealth of relevant public and private sector experience to support them.

I think it worth reminding the House that the scope of the Speaker’s Committee is limited, and that it is not intended to serve as a forum or liaison for dealing with hon. Members’ issues with the organisation. That is why you, Mr Speaker, announced last week the creation of a separate liaison group, which I know the House will welcome.

I commend the motion to the House.

As the Leader of the House said, this motion has two parts, the first of which deals simply with the appointment of my right hon. Friend the shadow Leader of the House to the Committee to replace the former shadow Leader of the House, who is now the Labour Chief Whip. I am sure that we can rely on him to speak up for Members’ interests in that Committee, as we can on its other members.

The second part of the motion appoints the lay members of the Committee, in line with the House’s decision when it passed the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010. That being the case, Labour Members do not intend to oppose the motion, but I wish to raise a few concerns, which I believe are shared by other hon. Members. The first, while being no reflection on the probity of the members appointed to the Committee, relates to how the public appointments process in general, which is simply reflected in this motion, seems always to appoint people from the same charmed circle to various public appointments. We do not have an appointments process that encourages people from all walks of life to apply. The House will need to consider this matter if this Committee stays in being, because we need a more balanced set of appointments as we do in many other walks of public life.

As the Leader of the House has mentioned remuneration, I should like to put my second concern on the record. The House is getting very concerned at the level of remuneration afforded to those who help scrutinise the work of this House compared with that afforded to Members of Parliament. That is a concern. I do not know how that level of remuneration was arrived at, and perhaps the Leader of the House will tell us when he sums up. It seems to me that the daily rate considered appropriate for Members of this House should also be considered appropriate for lay members of the House’s Committees. I hope that in due course the House will turn its attention to that, because we tend to forget it. Many Members do not necessarily wish to stand up and say that, but this is a concern for Members from all parts of the House.

May I suggest that any reasonable claim for travelling expenses related to the work should be submitted through the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority process, thus giving the members of the Speaker’s Committee a full appreciation of how that process works or malfunctions?

The right hon. Gentleman tempts me to go down a route that is far away from this motion. However, I have said, as have others, that many of the problems with Members’ remuneration and expenses would be solved if other people in the public sector were tied to the same rates as Members of Parliament. I doubt very much that that will happen.

Is it a requirement for appointment that one has to be computer literate so as to be able to fill in forms and so on online? Is that part of the qualification for appointment?

I am not aware that that is the case, but I am not sure that even those of us who are reasonably computer literate can cope with a system that seems designed perversely to put as many obstacles in the way as possible. That being said, it is important that we continue with the process that the House has agreed. Labour Members will support the motion.

It is a delight to follow the hon. Member for Warrington North (Helen Jones). I think, however, that she misunderstood the point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Sir Alan Beith), because if anybody on the Speaker’s Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority or the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority had to apply for their own expenses in the way that Members of Parliament are required, they would have a greater understanding of either the problems that IPSA had in setting up a scheme under time pressure or the mistakes that were made when it was set up.

At the risk of boring you, Mr Speaker, I just want to mention the first fact, which is relevant to SCIPSA. When we do our own expenses, we have to get a barcode on a screen. It takes more than the number of fingers on my hand to get it printed out, but everyone has to have it printed out. What most people do not know is that when that gets posted with the receipts to IPSA, the first thing IPSA does is generate another barcode to stick on the bits of paper that we put a barcode on in the first place. I suspect that SCIPSA should be interested in following a claim from a Member’s PA through the Member to IPSA and in asking the IPSA members whether they tried the scheme before they imposed it on people in the House of Commons.

The second point on which I want to disagree with the hon. Lady is that I do not think that those who appoint the members of IPSA should necessarily be paid the same as us. It is quite clear—I say this just to make friends—that there cannot be a serious pay increase for Members of Parliament during this Parliament, but we ought to have a system to ensure that people who are elected after the next general election get a level of pay whereby being a general practitioner in politics is equivalent to being a general practitioner in medicine. If a Member of Parliament is not worth it, we should change the Member of Parliament, not lower the rate of pay.

I believe it is wrong to say that the lay members of SCIPSA should be people who represent a range of jobs throughout the economy. It is far better that they should have had the experience of being the human resources and personnel director of a major company. It is important that they have had some experience, as a civil service commissioner would have had, of seeing what appointments are like. The fact of making appointments matters most and my personal belief is that if the hon. Lady, I or any of the other right hon. and hon. Members in the Chamber had been in charge of appointing members of IPSA, they would have the same kinds of talent as the present members but would not have made the same decisions. IPSA had a virtually impossible job to do to begin with and it did not do it brilliantly. I hope that SCIPSA will say to IPSA, “What do you think you’ve done wrong and how can we ensure that the wrongs get righted and that further wrongs are not created in the future?” The present system, frankly, would be better put in a wastepaper basket and I hope that the members of SCIPSA help to do that.

Question put and agreed to.

Public Accounts Commission


That Dr Stella Creasy, Mr Edward Leigh, Mrs Anne McGuire and John Pugh be appointed, and that Dr William McCrea be discharged as members of the Public Accounts Commission under section 2(2)(c) of the National Audit Act 1983.—(Mr Heath.)