With the permission of the House, we will deal with motions 2, 3 and 4 together. I inform the House that Mr Speaker has selected the amendments to motion 2 in the names of Sir Alan Meale, Sir Paul Beresford and Natascha Engel. The amendments will be debated with the main motion and the questions necessary to dispose of the motion will be put at the end of the debate. We have approximately 45 minutes.
I beg to move, motion 2
(1) The following new Standing Order be made, to have effect from the date specified in paragraph (6) of this order—
‘Committee on Standards
(1) There shall be a select committee, called the Committee on Standards—
(a) to oversee the work of the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards; to examine the arrangements proposed by the Commissioner for the compilation, maintenance and accessibility of the Register of Members’ Financial Interests and any other registers of interest established by the House; to review from time to time the form and content of those registers; and to consider any specific complaints made in relation to the registering or declaring of interests referred to it by the Commissioner; and
(b) to consider any matter relating to the conduct of Members, including specific complaints in relation to alleged breaches in any code of conduct to which the House has agreed and which have been drawn to the committee’s attention by the Commissioner; and to recommend any modifications to such code of conduct as may from time to time appear to be necessary.
(2) The committee shall consist of ten Members, and at least two and no more than three lay members.
(3) Unless the House otherwise orders, each Member nominated to the committee shall continue to be a member of it for the remainder of the Parliament.
(4) The committee shall have power to appoint sub-committees consisting of no more than seven Members, and at least two lay members, and to refer to such sub-committees any of the matters referred to the committee.
(5) Lay members may take part in proceedings of the committee and of any sub-committee to which they are appointed and may ask questions of witnesses, but lay members may not move any motion or any amendment to any motion or draft report, and may not vote.
(6) The quorum of the committee shall be five members who are Members of this House, and the quorum of any sub-committee shall be three members who are Members of this House.
(7) The committee and any sub-committee may not proceed to business unless at least one lay member is present.
(8) The committee and any sub-committee shall have power—
(a) to send for persons, papers and records, to sit notwithstanding any adjournment of the House and to adjourn from place to place;
(b) subject to the provisions of paragraph (9) of this order, to report from time to time;
(c) to appoint legal advisers, and to appoint specialist advisers either to supply information which is not readily available or to elucidate matters of complexity within the committee’s order of reference.
(9) Any lay member present at a meeting at which a report has been agreed shall have the right to submit a paper setting out that lay member’s opinion on the report. The Committee shall not consider a motion that the Chair make a report to the House until it has ascertained whether any lay member present wishes to submit such a paper; and any such paper shall be appended to the report in question before it is made to the House.
(10) The committee shall have power to order the attendance of any Member before the committee or any sub-committee and to require that specific documents or records in the possession of a Member relating to its inquiries, or to the inquiries of a sub-committee or of the Commissioner, be laid before the committee or any sub-committee.
(11) The committee, or any sub-committee, shall have power to refer to unreported evidence of the former Committees on Standards and Privileges and to any documents circulated to any such committee.
(12) The committee shall have power to refuse to allow proceedings to which the public are admitted to be broadcast.
(13) The Attorney General, the Advocate General and the Solicitor General, being Members of the House, may attend the committee or any subcommittee, may take part in deliberations, may receive committee or subcommittee papers and may give such other assistance to the committee or sub-committee as may be appropriate, but shall not vote or make any motion or move any amendment or be counted in the quorum.’
(2) The following new Standing Order be made—
‘Lay members of the Committee on Standards: appointment, etc.
(1) Lay members shall be appointed to the Committee on Standards by a resolution of the House on a motion made under the provisions of this order and shall remain as lay members in accordance with the provisions of this order.
(2) No person may be first appointed as a lay member if that person is or has been a Member of this House or a Member of the House of Lords; and any person so appointed shall cease to be a lay member upon becoming a Member of this House or of the House of Lords.
(3) No person may be appointed as a lay member unless that person has been selected on the basis of a fair and open competition.
(4) A person appointed as a lay member may resign as a lay member by giving notice to the House of Commons Commission.
(5) A person appointed as a lay member shall be dismissed from that position only following a resolution of the House, after the House of Commons Commission has reported that it is satisfied that the person should cease to be a lay member; and any such report shall include a statement of the Commission’s reasons for its conclusion.
(6) Subject to the provisions of paragraphs (2), (4) and (5) of this order, a person appointed as a lay member shall continue as a lay member for the remainder of the Parliament in which that person was first appointed.
(7) A person first appointed as a lay member who has been a lay member for the remainder of one Parliament may be re-appointed by a resolution of the House in the subsequent Parliament, and the provisions of paragraph (3) of this order shall not apply to any such re-appointment. The period of re-appointment shall be specified in the resolution of the House for reappointment and shall not exceed two years from the dissolution of the Parliament in which the person was first appointed as a lay member, and a resolution under this paragraph shall cease to have effect on the dissolution of the Parliament in which the resolution of the House for reappointment was made.
(8) No person may be re-appointed as a lay member other than in accordance with the provisions of paragraph (7) of this order.
(9) No motion may be made under the provisions of this order unless—
(a) notice of the motion has been given at least two sitting days previously, and
(b) the motion is made on behalf of the House of Commons Commission by a Member of the Commission.
(10) The Speaker shall put the questions necessary to dispose of proceedings on motions made under the provisions of this order not later than one hour after the commencement of those proceedings.
(11) Business to which this order applies may be proceeded with at any hour, though opposed.’
(3) The following new Standing Order be made, to have effect from the date specified in paragraph (6) of this order—
‘Committee of Privileges
(1) There shall be a select committee, called the Committee of Privileges, to consider specific matters relating to privileges referred to it by the House.
(2) The committee shall consist of ten Members, of whom five shall be a quorum.
(3) Unless the House otherwise orders, each Member nominated to the committee shall continue to be a member of it for the remainder of the Parliament.
(4) The committee shall have power to appoint sub-committees consisting of no more than seven Members, of whom three shall be a quorum, and to refer to such sub-committees any of the matters referred to the committee.
(5) The committee and any sub-committee shall have power—
(a) to send for persons, papers and records, to sit notwithstanding any adjournment of the House, to adjourn from place to place and to report from time to time;
(b) to appoint legal advisers, and to appoint specialist advisers either to supply information which is not readily available or to elucidate matters of complexity within the committee’s order of reference.
(6) The committee shall have power to order the attendance of any Member before the committee and to require that specific documents or records in the possession of a Member relating to its inquiries be laid before the committee or any sub-committee.
(7) The committee shall have power to refer to unreported evidence of the former Committees on Standards and Privileges and to any documents circulated to any such committee.
(8) The committee shall have power to refuse to allow proceedings to which the public are admitted to be broadcast.
(9) The Attorney General, the Advocate General and the Solicitor General, being Members of the House, may attend the committee, may take part in deliberations, may receive committee papers and may give such other assistance to the committee as may be appropriate, but shall not vote or make any motion or move any amendment or be counted in the quorum.’
(4) From the date specified in paragraph (6) of this order—
(a) Standing Order No. 121 (Nomination of select committees) shall be amended, in line 12, by leaving out ‘the Committee on Standards and Privileges’ and inserting ‘the Committee of Privileges, the Committee on Standards’;
(b) Standing Order No. 149 (Committee on Standards and Privileges) shall be repealed;
(c) in Standing Order No. 150 (Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards), in each place where the words ‘Committee on Standards and Privileges’ occur, there shall be substituted the words ‘Committee on Standards’.
(5) From the date specified in paragraph (6) of this order, the Order of the House of 19 July 2010 (Liaison Committee (Membership)) shall be amended by leaving out ‘Standards and Privileges’ and inserting, at the appropriate place in alphabetical order, ‘Privileges’ and ‘Standards’.
(6) The date specified for the purposes of paragraphs (1) and (3) to (5) of this order is the first sitting day of the first month after the month in which the House agrees a resolution under Standing Order (Lay members of the Committee on Standards: appointment, etc.) appointing two or three lay members of the Committee on Standards.
On 2 December 2010, the House agreed, without Division, to a motion agreeing with the principle set out in the twelfth report of the Committee on Standards in Public Life that lay members should sit on the Select Committee on Standards and Privileges. The House invited the Select Committee on Procedure to bring forward proposals to implement that.
The Procedure Committee published its proposals in its sixth report of the current Session, which was published on 7 November last year. The Government, and I am sure the whole House, are very grateful to that Committee for its work. The motion draws extensively on the work of the Procedure Committee, and follows consultation with that Committee, the Standards and Privileges Committee and others. I am pleased to say that the Procedure Committee has written to confirm that it broadly accepts the approach that we propose to take, and the support of the Standards and Privileges Committee is apparent from the welcome decision of the right hon. Member for Rother Valley (Mr Barron) to add his name to the motion.
Before turning to the provisions of the motions, I will remind the House briefly of the background to the proposals. I need hardly remind Members that the expenses scandal rocked public faith in the House to its foundations. One part of that crisis lay in the House’s approach to disciplining Members, which, as the Committee on Standards in Public Life observed, did not command full public confidence. As Chair of the Standards and Privileges Committee at the time when the Committee on Standards in Public Life inquired into these matters, I said that the then Standards and Privileges Committee:
“would be very happy to consider having outside members sitting on the Standards and Privileges Committee…particularly to assist us in coming to judgments where people may feel at the moment we are possibly too lenient.”
The Committee on Standards in Public Life recommended in November 2009 that
“there should be at least two lay Members who have never been Parliamentarians on the Standards and Privileges Committee”,
“should be chosen through the official public appointments process and formally approved by the House”.
The House endorsed that recommendation after its debate on 2 December 2010. I will not attempt to summarise all that was said on that day, but the most powerful case was made by the right hon. Member for Rother Valley. He said:
“Lay members provide the public with reassurance that the Committees are not cosy gentlemen’s clubs, where deals are stitched up and scandals are hushed up. They can also bring valuable outside experience and expertise with them.”—[Official Report, 2 December 2010; Vol. 519, c. 999.]
He referred to the lay members of the Speaker’s Committee for the Independent Parliament Standards Authority. As a member of that committee, I can assure the House that the contribution of lay members is invaluable.
I have already referred to the specific recommendation of the Committee on Standards in Public Life that lay members should never have been parliamentarians. That is reflected in the motion, which also mirrors the statutory definition of lay members used for the Speaker’s Committee on IPSA.
Amendment (b), tabled by the hon. Member for Mansfield (Sir Alan Meale), runs contrary to the letter and, more importantly, the spirit of the Kelly recommendations. I invite him to consider whether it would really enhance the credibility of the House’s disciplinary procedures to appoint as a lay member a former hon. Member who left the House in 2005. I fear that that might be portrayed not as a fresh start but as a return to the bad old days, and of course public perception is part of the issue that we are seeking to address. I urge him not to move his amendment and invite the House to reject it if it comes to a vote.
Of course, there is a difference between agreement in principle that a change should take place and agreement on how it will operate in practice. A number of significant issues have been raised about lay membership of a Select Committee, and I will explain briefly how those issues have been tackled in the motions.
The first issue, identified by the Procedure Committee, was that although there had been no suggestion that lay members were appropriate for the consideration of privilege matters, there was no straightforward way to exclude them from such business within the structure of a single Committee. The solution proposed by that Committee, which the main motion today incorporates, was to create two separate Committees, one on standards and one on privileges. That is actually a reversion to the position that existed until 1995.
As the Procedure Committee recommended, provision has been made in motions 3 and 4 for the Chair of the Committee on Standards to inherit the pay now received by the Chair of the Committee on Standards and Privileges. The Government have also made it clear in their response that the Chair of the Committee on Standards, like that of the current Committee, should be drawn from the Opposition Benches. In accordance with the current arrangements, that does not need to be set out in Standing Orders.
Our intention today is not to change the composition of the Committees. The two Committees may have a common membership, and they may choose to elect the same Chair. Even if that is not the case, the Committee of Privileges is likely to meet less often and will be able to consider only matters referred to it. In those circumstances, and following the precedent of the Committee on Members’ Expenses, pay for the Chair of the Committee of Privileges is unlikely to be appropriate.
I wholeheartedly support what the Leader of the House is doing in separating the two Committees, which is long overdue. Will the process remain that a matter of privilege is raised through the Speaker and then in a three-minute speech, before going to the Privileges Committee? Will that Committee also be able to consider any draft legislation on privilege that the Leader of the House publishes? I believe he told me earlier this year that he would publish draft legislation before Easter.
If the hon. Gentleman looks at the explanatory memorandum, he will see that the terms of reference of the new Committee of Privileges will be the same as those of the relevant part of the Committee on Standards and Privileges. There will be no change to the process by which a matter is referred to the Committee, or to its remit. The position will remain that it can consider only things that the House refers to it and that are within its terms of reference.
I am grateful. The other bit of the process that has always worked well thus far is that whenever the Committee on Standards and Privileges has produced a report, Government time has been provided to debate it. Will that be true of both Committees in future?
Again, the hon. Gentleman anticipates something that I may say a little later, but if he looks at paragraph 176 of the Wright Committee’s report, he will see what is deemed Back-Bench business and what is deemed business that the Government should schedule. It states:
“Backbenchers should schedule backbench business. Ministers should give up their role in the scheduling of any business except that which is exclusively Ministerial business, comprising Ministerial-sponsored legislation and associated motions, substantive non-legislative motions required in support of their policies and Ministerial statements”.
It may help the hon. Gentleman if I say that the Government will ensure that there is adequate time to debate on the Floor of the House any matter referred to the House by the Committee on Standards or the Committee of Privileges. I suspect that there will be a dialogue with the Backbench Business Committee to ensure that time is available at the appropriate moment.
Amendment (c), tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Mole Valley (Sir Paul Beresford), would set down in Standing Orders a requirement that the membership of the two new Committees should always be the same. The Procedure Committee examined the case for a requirement of identical membership in paragraph 63 of its report, and concluded that the case had not been made. I recognise that there is a case for an element of shared membership, and possibly even for identical membership, but the Government, like the Procedure Committee, do not support the notion that there should be an inflexible provision to that effect in Standing Orders. With that assurance, I hope he will not move his amendment. In splitting the Standards and Privileges Committee, the Government do not intend to revisit the decisions taken at the beginning of this Session on appropriate Committee membership.
The second issue that has been raised about lay members is their status. The Committee on Standards and Privileges has stated that
“if the proposed external members of the Standards and Privileges Committee are to carry credibility, they need to have full voting rights.”
The Procedure Committee considered the matter carefully and in great detail, and it invited the House to study with care the arguments for and against full voting rights. As the Government made clear in our response, we have carefully considered the arguments about whether lay members should have full voting rights. We have concluded that it would not be appropriate to grant such rights in the first instance, in view of the authoritative evidence given to the Procedure Committee that it would create a risk that lay members’ participation would not have the protection of parliamentary privilege.
Lay members will be able to participate fully in evidence taking and informal consideration of draft reports. In addition, there will be two specific protections for their position. The first is the requirement that any written opinion of a lay member present at the relevant meeting on a report agreed by the Committee must be published as part of its report. The second is that the Committee cannot conduct any business unless at least one lay member is present.
A decision to proceed on that basis will provide a guarantee of the effective participation of lay members in the decision-making processes of the Committee, and can be taken without prejudice to subsequent consideration of full voting rights. The Government will consider the case for legislation that would place beyond doubt the position of a Committee on Standards including lay members with full voting rights, as part of our work on preparing the forthcoming draft parliamentary privilege Bill and the accompanying Green Paper.
The third and final issue that has been raised about lay members was voiced in the debate in December 2010 and echoed in the Procedure Committee’s report. It relates to the selection of lay members and control over how they subsequently carry out their work. The motion proposes to entrust that matter to the House of Commons Commission, which would also take responsibility for a motion for dismissal in the unlikely eventuality that it should prove necessary. I believe that the Commission, chaired by the Speaker, is the best way to ensure that there is a fair and open process that leads to the House being asked to appoint only excellent candidates.
I know that some concern has been expressed about the term of office of lay members. The Procedure Committee recommended single five-year terms. However, it also acknowledged uncertainty about appointments straddling two Parliaments. The motion therefore provides for appointments for the remainder of one Parliament and reappointments for a period of up to two years in a new Parliament. Although I understand the advantages of a single term, the Government remain to be convinced that it is appropriate for lay members to be appointed for a period that, by definition, lasts longer than the appointment of hon. Members. There will be a very strong presumption indeed that lay members will be reappointed for a further term at the start of the subsequent Parliament. If they were not, the Committee on Standards would find it difficult to operate. I offer my commitment that the Government will assist in such a process.
I accept that there is a general demand for lay members, but I am sceptical as to how independent-minded they will be—I have in mind the less-than-independent IPSA as a guideline. I will not detain the Leader of the House on that.
There is a more detailed issue: cost. If lay members are involved in the Committee on Standards, especially lay members with a legal background, surely any Member of the House before it will demand expensive legal representation. Will the cost of that representation be met by the Committee, or will an individual Member be expected to meet it through his own resources?
There are no changes to the resources available to hon. Members who appear before the Standards Committee. We are suggesting a per diem remuneration for independent members—£300, I believe, which is parallel to what independent members of SCIPSA are paid. In putting lay members on the Standards Committee, we are not making any other changes to how the Committee operates. As I said earlier in answer to the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant), the memorandum says that all the basic rules for the two separate Committees remain unchanged apart from the addition of lay members.
There might be no desire to change the Committee’s procedure, but I suspect that there will be a different approach outside, particularly among the media. There will be much more scrutiny of a Committee that has lay members, particularly if they are high-profile legal figures. What protection will there be for MPs who find themselves subject to an investigation under the new regime, so that they have what they consider to be essential legal advice, which might come extremely expensively?
My answer now is the same one I gave to my hon. Friend a moment ago: there is no change in the resources available to hon. Members. Currently, some decide to take legal advice and pay for it out of their own pocket; others simply represent themselves. We are not proposing changes to the way in which Members interface with the Committee, but seeking to ensure that the Committee’s decisions have greater credibility in the outside world by adding lay members to it. That is the only change that we propose to make.
Following on from the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mark Field), who said that high-powered legal figures might be appointed, I would be very concerned if judges were appointed to the panel as lay members, because that would be against the separation of powers. Will the Leader of the House give an indication as to whether judges would be appropriate?
We are trying to get lay members. Whether a judge is a “lay member” is an interesting question. Speaking off the cuff, I do not think we propose to exclude any particular profession. Whether a high-powered judge would want to put his name forward to the House of Commons Commission for this interesting post I am not sure, but it will be a matter for the Commission to consider the candidates that come forward. Some might have a legal background. I am not quite sure that it would be appropriate to appoint a serving judge as a lay member, but somebody with a legal background might not be wholly disqualified.
May I move on to safer territory, namely amendment (a), which was tabled by the Chair of the Backbench Business Committee? The amendment would exclude business arising on a report from the Committee on Standards from the definition of Back-Bench business. It would thus prevent the Backbench Business Committee ever scheduling business arising from the work of one Select Committee and return exclusive control over that business to the Government, which is contrary to the spirit of the Wright recommendations—I read paragraph 176 a few moments ago.
The hon. Member for North East Derbyshire (Natascha Engel) envisages that the establishment of a Committee on Standards to accommodate lay members should be an occasion to reopen the settlement reached in 2010 on the scope and calculation of Back-Bench business. Although there may be a dialogue on that matter in due course, I do not think this is the right forum in which to consider it. It could certainly be considered in the review currently being conducted by the Procedure Committee. I would invite the hon. Lady not to move her amendment. If she does, I urge the House to oppose it if it is pressed to a Division.
I put my name down to speak in the debate, but my point is such a small one that I can make it in an intervention. The issue is not whether reports from the Committee on Standards are defined as Back-Bench business, but time. Thirty-five days a Session are allocated to Back-Benchers, but that is limited, and time for debates on such reports will be scooped out of Back-Bench time in an unpredictable way. If the Leader of the House confirms that any time taken by debates on those reports is in addition to the 35 days, I will be more than happy not to move the amendment.
The overall settlement of 35 days included an allowance for standards and privileges matters. As I have said, what the Government are left with does not include such business. The amendment is an ingenious shop-steward bid—if I may say to the hon. Lady—for extra time. If a matter comes before the House from the Standards Committee, or indeed from the Privileges Committee, there will be a debate in the House on that matter at the right time, whoever provides the allocation. That is the assurance that the House wants, and we can have a dialogue offline, as it were, on how that is accounted for in the annual tally between the Backbench Business Committee and the Government.
But actually, that is not quite how the process works now, is it? First, privilege issues, as opposed to standards issues, must go through the Speaker, who then forcibly makes time available, normally on the next day, and therefore always in Government time. The Leader of the House obviously thinks that he has made some improvements on Wright today, but perhaps another improvement he could make is to guarantee that time to debate privilege matters will come out of Government time.
There is a distinction between a debate when a matter is referred to the Privileges Committee, which is normally relatively short, and a debate on a report from the Privileges Committee or the Standards Committee when they have concluded their consideration, but I accept what the hon. Gentleman says: if the Speaker decrees that a matter should be debated, it is debated. In response to the hon. Member for North East Derbyshire, I said that it is important that the House debates such reports once we have them. The business managers and the Backbench Business Committee can have a dialogue on whether the time comes out of the Committee’s quota, which, I should say in passing, we have generously exceeded in the current Session—we have gone way over 35 days to somewhere near 50 days.
The Leader of the House will be aware that we have had only a single “defence of the realm” debate this Session. The time for that debate was eaten into because the Backbench Business Committee had to find time for a European debate ahead of it. Does he not see that there is a real danger that such important debates will be curtailed if he does not guarantee the time?
This risks becoming a general debate on the role of the Backbench Business Committee and whether the time allocated to it is generous enough. I have sought to address the proposition put by the hon. Member for North East Derbyshire. My case is that the putting of lay members on the Standards Committee is not an opportunity to revisit the balance of time between the Government and the Backbench Business Committee. My assertion is that that is best done in the context of the review of the Committee currently being undertaken by the Procedure Committee. When we have that review, we will be in a better position to take that dialogue forward. In the meantime, I give an assurance that any report that comes from the Standards Committee will be debated promptly.
To conclude, I believe the motion provides an effective and appropriate means of giving effect to the principle agreed by the House on 2 December 2010. It represents one more step to ensure that public confidence in the conduct of hon. Members is maintained and strengthened, and I commend it to the House.
The Opposition support the principle that lay members should sit on a newly constituted Committee on Standards. We also understand and support the pragmatic solution of splitting the current Committee in two to avoid the complications and uncertainty that could arise if non-MPs were to sit on the Privileges Committee.
When the issue was first considered at the end of last year, we did not seek to divide the House on the approach suggested. Although it is not directly analogous because all MPs are elected—and therefore ultimately accountable to their constituents—the principle of appointing lay members to a standards Committee is widely adopted in other areas of public life. For example, both the Bar Council and the General Medical Council have lay members.
On the other hand, the Press Complaints Commission also has lay members, and given the mess that it now finds itself in, perhaps we should take this opportunity to remind ourselves that lay membership of any committee is not in itself a complete answer to the challenges of upholding the standards of conduct and behaviour expected of any particular group of people, be they lawyers, doctors, MPs or—dare I say it—journalists. Undoubtedly, however, the presence of lay members should reassure the public that the Standards Committee is not some kind of cosy stitch-up but is there to deliver a rigorous and robust process that is fair to all and therefore credible. That is obviously in the public interest.
I congratulate the Procedure Committee on its work on this issue since the House’s resolution last year and on bringing this change about. I note, however, that the Government have ignored the Committee’s recommendation to give the House a further opportunity to vote on the principle of lay membership. Although the Opposition are in favour of the principle, it is noticeable that in evidence to the Procedure Committee a number of Members raised concerns about the appointment of lay members. Those Members included, from the Government Benches, the right hon. and learned Member for Kensington (Sir Malcolm Rifkind) and the hon. Member for Harwich and North Essex (Mr Jenkin).
In its report, the Procedure Committee states that
“it is right to register our concern at the level of unease felt by many Members about the House’s decision of 2 December. It may well be that, having considered the examination of the practical and privilege implications as set out in our report, the House may wish to reconsider its view of the principle of adding lay members to the Committee on Standards and Privileges.”
Will the Leader of the House explain why the Government have chosen not to tackle this unease head-on and do as the Procedure Committee suggested? Perhaps it is because of the decision to split the current Committee, but I would like to hear the Government’s explanation for their decision not to have a further vote on the principle itself.
We support the appointment of lay members to the Standards Committee. The Procedure Committee has found that the appointment of lay members is not completely without precedent—it cites a 1933 committee on the future government of India. I must say, however, that that is a rather particular example and not one likely to be replicated any time soon. It must not be assumed that simply appointing lay members to the Standards Committee will do the trick. It is clearly not a panacea.
Moreover, how lay members should take part in Committee proceedings needs to be clearly defined. This the Procedure Committee has done. It has recommended that Members of the House make up the majority of the new Standards Committee—after all, it will be a Committee of the House—and the proposals outlined in the proposed new Standing Orders, which adopt the recommendations of the Procedure Committee, suggest appointing at least two but no more than three lay members. That strikes a sensible balance.
We also agree with the proposed powers of lay members as outlined in the motion. The Standards Committee will be a Committee of the House, and the Members of Parliament who serve on it will be able to do so first and foremost because they successfully stood for election. Therefore, they are ultimately accountable to their constituents for their actions, as are all of us, and following the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011, they submit themselves to that judgment every five years. Lay members of the Committee will not be elected but will be appointed, and they will not have to justify their actions at the ballot box.
The Procedure Committee therefore had to consider how that difference could best be accommodated in the day-to-day workings of the Committee. It considered two options: whether members of the Committee should have full voting rights or whether they should be appointed with more limited rights. In its impressive survey of the history of Committees of the House and the operation of committees in Parliaments around the Commonwealth, the Procedure Committee came across few examples of lay members voting. In its survey of the Commonwealth, only the New South Wales Legislative Assembly had given lay members of a Committee voting rights. But that practice, confined to one Committee in New South Wales, has now ceased.
To give lay members voting rights would also raise difficult questions of privilege, as the Leader of the House pointed out. He also pointed out that the Procedure Committee outlined the issues, as set out in the evidence of the parliamentary Clerk to the Procedure Committee. For those reasons, like the Government, we support the second option, which would mean that lay members could fully participate in the Committee by questioning witnesses but could not vote.
The proposed new Standing Orders require the Committee to publish any paper from a lay member setting out that lay member’s opinion on the report. We recognise that a balance has to be struck if lay members of the Committee are not to have voting rights. Nevertheless, we recognise the concerns raised by some Members, including the hon. Member for Harwich and North Essex, about the publication of dissenting reports. I note that the right for a lay member to publish a dissenting report was described in the Government’s weekend spin on our proceedings today as a “golden share”, which is a nicer name for a veto. Perhaps the Leader of the House could let us know in more detail how he sees that power working.
Amendment (b) suggests that ex-Members should be eligible for selection as lay members after only five years out of the House. That seems like a way of ensuring that lay members are not quite lay members and runs the risk of undermining the credibility that the reforms will bring about. Amendment (c) suggests that the membership of the soon-to-be-separated Standards and Privileges Committee should be the same. That runs the risk of undermining the separation, and we believe that the membership of these important Committees could easily be different and certainly should not be made the same by changing the Standing Orders.
I do not want to spend too much time intruding on the debate between the Chair of the Backbench Business Committee and the Leader of the House, but her amendment raises an extremely important issue about the number of days allocated to her Committee. That is one of those issues that will rumble on. Suffice it to say that I have considerable sympathy with what she says.
We support the other proposals in the proposed new Standing Orders. They are a welcome advance designed to improve public confidence, but they are not a panacea. The PCC, for example, had lay members, and that did not make the body effective or ensure that the organisation retained public confidence. Public confidence in Parliament, as the Leader of the House said, was significantly damaged by the expenses scandal. The appointment of lay members will not in itself restore that confidence, but it is one of many steps taken since then to repair the damage done.
I have been a Member of the House for 20 years, and I believe that, overwhelmingly, Members are committed to public service, strive to serve their constituents and seek at all times to uphold the Nolan principles.
The hon. Lady mentioned the Nolan principles. I am a member of that committee, in its latest guise, and I wonder whether she agrees that over the years the Committee on Standards in Public Life has done some useful work in scoping out the code of conduct and the work of the commissioner as a fully independent investigator, for example, and of course in proposing lay membership.
I am more than happy to agree with the interjection that the hon. Gentleman made just as I was about to finish my remarks. The Nolan committee clearly has a lot to be proud of for how it has developed the code of conduct—we will have a debate on that later. It has done a great deal to codify and put in good order the standards that should be expected of every single Member of the House.
As I was just about to say, the Opposition support the proposed new Standing Orders and will not seek to divide the House.
Order. I inform the House that there are 18 minutes left before the debate expires. I think I saw four Members standing. I do not want to set a time limit, so I hope that each Member will make a brief contribution, enabling all four to participate.
I shall be antipodeanly succinct; I shall be minutes.
I merely want to thank my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House. There has been discussion in the Standards and Privileges Committee, and between the Committee and him, following which some positive changes have been made. In particular, we mentioned whether the lay members may, or have to, produce a report. The reason behind my amendment (c)—this was picked up and covered by the Leader of the House—is that there is a logic and a bureaucratic advantage to having the same Members on each Committee. However, as was said by the Leader of the House—and, to my amusement, by the Opposition spokesman, the hon. Member for Wallasey (Ms Eagle)—there is also the opportunity, if required and if appropriate, for that to be altered. For that reason, I shall not press my amendment.
I commend the work of the Chair of the Standards and Privileges Committee and its members for the excellent work that they do on our behalf. We know that their work is arduous and at times difficult. Let me state at the outset that it is my intention not to challenge but to improve the proposed Standing Orders.
If accepted, my amendment (b) would in no way undermine the Committee’s excellent work. As many in the Chamber will realise, I and another Member, who sits on the Government Benches, act as co-opted representatives of the retired Members association, a body that was established to represent the interests of retired Members, of whom there are hundreds, many very elderly indeed. When these Standing Orders are approved, they will undoubtedly affect ex-Members of Parliament, or at the very least are likely to affect them. For instance, the proposed Standing Orders would quite rightly deal with the register and any reviews of it. That could be of interest to ex-Members, not least ex-Ministers, given the role they play after leaving office. The Standing Orders will also allow papers and records to be sent for that are more than likely to involve ex-Members and their time in this place.
Importantly, my amendment does not ask for someone from the ranks of ex-Members to be appointed as a lay member; indeed, I fully accept the principle of free and open competition involved in any such appointment. However, I feel strongly that ex-Members should not be excluded from the process, although I accept the need for a certain period of time to elapse. That is why I propose that any ex-Member would have had to have left Parliament a minimum of five years previously—it would probably be longer than that—before being even considered as a lay member. They could not be a Member in this place or the House of Lords, and if they became a Member at any time during their lay membership, that would mean their ceasing to be a lay member.
I was interested to hear what the Leader of House said about those who left this place in 2005. Like the hon. Member for Mole Valley (Sir Paul Beresford), I think we need to cut this debate short, but I have to say that ex-Members of Parliament, like current Members, are not pariahs. They are not the unclean or the unwashed; they are people who have given many, many years of loyal public service in this place. Most of the people who retired at the last two elections—indeed, the vast majority—were guilty of no impropriety and left with no challenge whatever to their characters. This is an important matter: these changes to standards will affect ex-Members, and it is really quite wrong to introduce Standing Orders just so that we can be clear about the public and press perception of those Standings Orders in future. Those ex-Members have the right to be represented.
I accept what the Leader of the House said about this probably not being the right time to pursue such an amendment. For that reason, I will not press my amendment to a vote. However, I say this to the Leader of the House: in future years this issue will have to be dealt with, because we cannot have a situation where hundreds of ex-Members—indeed, there might be thousands by that time—are affected by Standing Orders that they are not able to challenge or play any part in whatever.
I welcome this motion standing in the name of the Leader of the House; indeed, as Chair of the Standards and Privileges Committee, I appended my name to it. As he said, the Committee has long called for lay members, and I personally have no doubt that having them will be of worth.
The House has accepted that principle. Indeed, in the debate back in December, I said that for a number of years I had been a lay member of the General Medical Council and that I felt that I had brought some experience to the table—albeit not experience of clinical decision making, but experience that doctors and others could consider in sitting in judgment on their fellow professionals and in assessing whether their decisions were the right ones.
In an ideal world, the Committee would have liked lay members to have had full voting rights and single, non-renewable terms to guard their independence, very much as the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards has. He has five years and that is it; there is no reappointment. As a consequence, there is no way that he might be looking for any preferment for a second term, from this House or anybody within it. However, we are not in an ideal world. There are significant constitutional barriers and uncertainties about giving lay members full voting rights, and the Leader of the House has made the Government’s position on fixed terms clear. However, this motion still represents a significant step towards ensuring that the House’s disciplinary processes are fair and seen to be fair, and that we benefit from outside experience and expertise. I welcome the change to Standing Orders wholeheartedly.
As for the other matters that have been discussed—how the Committee will be split up, the timing, the membership of both Committees, and everything else—these are matters for the House. However, what we are doing is the right thing for the House to do and embodies the right principle for us to be establishing, so that people outside this place can have confidence that when we sit in judgment over our peers, people are not looking after the interests of fellow professionals—if that is indeed what we are—but passing right and proper judgment on someone who may have breached the rules.
I rise briefly to say that I shall not press my amendment (a), simply because I do not want to detain the House further on Back-Bench business when we are discussing important matters of standards and privileges. However, I will pursue the matter through the Procedure Committee —the Chairman is in the Chamber and will have heard my intervention in this debate—as long as the Leader of the House does not think that the matter rests here, because it does not.
Order. We are not on the code of conduct yet; we are on the motions relating to the pay for Chairs of Select Committees and amendments to Standing Orders about standards and privileges. The code of conduct is the next business, and I will definitely call the hon. Lady at the right time—unless she wants to speak in this debate.
Briefly, the hon. Member for Wallasey (Ms Eagle), the shadow Leader of the House, asked why we had not put back to the House the original proposition about lay members. We dealt with that in our response to the Procedure Committee’s report. Basically, what we said was that on 2 December, the House of Commons agreed without Division to a motion that endorsed the principle that lay members should sit on the Standards and Privileges Committee. The Government do not believe it necessary for the House to be asked to restate its acceptance of a principle that it has already agreed without Division. Indeed, there has been broad acceptance of that principle in the debate this evening.
I am obviously grateful that those who have tabled amendments have said that they do not propose to press them to a Division—a tribute to the eloquence that I must have used at the beginning of this debate.
The final question that I was asked was about the so-called golden share. I am convinced that the Chair of the Standards and Privileges Committee will continue to do what has been done in the past: namely to secure unanimous reports on the matters that come before him—or, indeed, her. While I chaired the Committee, I do not think we ever had a vote. I therefore very much hope that it will not be necessary for anybody to table a minority report. However, the fact that the lay members have that option will reassure people outside that the Committee has a broader base than it has had so far, and will avoid the accusation that this is some sort of gentlemen’s club that deals leniently with its members. On that basis, I hope that we can agree the motion.
Question put and agreed to.
Pay for chairs of Select Committees
(1) this House expresses the opinion that, from the date specified in paragraph (2) of this resolution, the Resolution of the House of 30 October 2003 (Pay for Chairmen of Select Committees (No. 2)), as amended by the Resolution of the House of 13 July 2005 (Pay for Chairmen of Select Committees (No. 2)), should be further amended in paragraph (1) by leaving out ‘Committee on Standards and Privileges’ and inserting Committee on Standards’.
(2) The date specified for the purposes of paragraph (1) is the first sitting day of the first month after the month in which the House agrees a resolution under Standing Order (Lay members of the Committee on Standards: appointment, etc.) appointing two or three lay members of the Committee on Standards.— (Sir George Young.)
PAY FOR CHAIRS OF SELECT COMMITTEES (No. 2)
Queen’s Recommendation signified.
(1) From the date specified in paragraph (2) of this resolution, the Resolution of the House of 30 October 2003 (Pay for Chairmen of Select Committees (No. 2)), as amended by the Resolution of the House of 13 July 2005 (Pay for Chairmen of Select Committees (No. 2)), be further amended in paragraph (1) by leaving out ‘Committee on Standards and Privileges’ and inserting ‘Committee on Standards’.
(2) The date specified for the purposes of paragraph (1) is the first sitting day of the first month after the month in which the House agrees a resolution under Standing Order (Lay members of the Committee on Standards: appointment, etc.) appointing two or three lay members of the Committee on Standards.— (Sir George Young.)