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Speaker's Statement

Volume 614: debated on Wednesday 14 September 2016

Order. I had hoped to be able to announce today the timetable for the elections to vacant Chairs of Select Committees. It is my understanding—I may, of course, be wrong—that discussions on these matters in the usual channels have concluded, but the Government have still to table the various motions required. I very much hope that they will be tabled very soon. It may be helpful to Members to know that if the House agrees to those motions, it is my fervent hope and expectation that the elections for Chairs may take place on Wednesday 19 October.

Not now. I will come to the hon. Gentleman. [Interruption.] It may be on that matter, but there is something else that I want to say first. It is always good to keep the hon. Gentleman in reserve; it builds up a sense of eager anticipation in the House.

Michael Carpenter, Speaker’s counsel, retires from the House service at the end of September. Michael was seconded to the House of Commons from the Treasury Solicitor’s Department in October 2000 as counsel for European legislation, and he subsequently became an employee of the House. Michael became Speaker’s counsel in October 2008. He has served this House and, if I may say so, colleagues, he has served me, magnificently. I shall always be grateful to him, and the House should be thankful for his sense of duty, for his immense ability and for his stoicism and fortitude under pressure. I am sure that the House would wish to send its best wishes to Michael and to his family following his retirement. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear!”]

I am pleased to announce that, following fair and open competition, Saira Salimi will take on the role of Speaker’s counsel in October. Saira is currently the deputy official solicitor to the Church Commissioners, a role that she has held for the last five years. Before that, Saira was a member of the office of the parliamentary counsel for eight years, and she comes to us with a detailed knowledge of the legislative process. I am sure that the House will want to wish Saira well in her new and important role. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear!”]

I will take points of order now, before we come to the urgent question. I saw the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone) first, and I am slightly anxious that he will burst if he does not have his opportunity ere long.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I am grateful to you for allowing a point of order at this stage. On the issue that you raised—I thank you for bringing it to the attention of the House—obviously the two Whips Offices will be working very hard to ensure that this House has the opportunity to set up Select Committees to scrutinise the Government. But as they are having some sort of trouble, is there any possibility that we can do something in this House to ensure that it happens before we go into recess? It would be really useful if we could have the election on the day that you specified, because that is my birthday.

It seemed to me, I must say to the House, that there was very good reason to make expeditious progress on this matter in any case. I am sure that there was absolutely no hint of underlying sarcasm in the hon. Gentleman’s observation when he expressed the confident expectation that the Whips on both sides would want to make progress in the establishment of the new Committee and in the election of the vacant Chairs of all the Committees, because of course they will want the Government to be subject to proper and thorough scrutiny. There is very good reason to proceed expeditiously anyway, but the fact that 19 October is also the hon. Gentleman’s birthday provides an added incentive.

The hon. Gentleman asks what can be done. The short answer, as I think he knows, is that I am doing what I can, not very subtly, to indicate that the usual channels really ought to progress this matter sooner rather than later. So far as I am concerned, that means by tomorrow. I hope we are clear.

Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. Thank you for allowing me to raise this point at this stage. I add my best wishes to Michael, and to Saira as she takes up her new role.

With the changes to the Select Committees, the old Business, Innovation and Skills Committee will probably change to a new Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee. As you will be aware, Mr Speaker, the BIS Committee is one of the constituent Committees of the Committees on Arms Export Controls. Is it your view that the new Committee will take over the role of the old BIS Committee as one of the constituent Committees, and that it would not be correct, as has been suggested in some quarters, for a new International Trade Committee to take over sole responsibility for scrutinising our arms exports controls?

It has to be said that the hon. Gentleman is an ingenious fellow, and he has regularly demonstrated his ingenuity since his election to the House. I do not blame him for seeking to shoehorn in his current preoccupation when we are discussing the timetable for elections to the vacant Chairs of Committees. However, the proper answer for me to give him is that it is not a matter for the Chair. It will be a matter for the Committee concerned to decide. If the hon. Gentleman were afflicted with a sudden bout of self-doubt or reticence, causing him to be reluctant or unable to express his view on this matter, I would be concerned, but he will not be, and therefore I am not.

Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. I notice that the Leader of the House is in his place. Would it be in order, for the benefit of the House, for him to rise at the Dispatch Box and put the House out of its misery on the Government’s plan for the dates of the election of Select Committee Chairs?

The Leader of the House is not under any such obligation. It has to be said that normally—I speak with some authority on this matter, as I have known him for 30 years, and we have been next-door constituency neighbours for the best part of 20 years—he is the most accommodating of colleagues.

Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. If it will help the House, let me say that, as you rightly said, agreement was reached through the usual channels earlier this week about the reconstitution of Select Committees following the changes to Departments. It was clearly right for us to seek full cross-party endorsement for the changes, and that has now been obtained. I have therefore given instructions for the necessary resolutions and changes to Standing Orders to be drafted immediately, and we shall certainly table them as rapidly as we can get them to the House authorities.

I think that is very encouraging. I do not want to embarrass the right hon. Gentleman, but may I just say that he is in some danger, if he is not careful, of being held aloft by Members from all parts of the House? We will leave the matter there for now. I thank the Leader of the House for what he has said, which is encouraging.