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Select Committee Membership

Volume 659: debated on Wednesday 8 May 2019

We now come to motions 3, 4, 5 and 6 on the International Trade Committee, the Home Affairs Committee, the Justice Committee and the Women and Equalities Committee. With the leave of the House, I propose that we debate motions 3, 4, 5, and 6 together.

I beg to move,

That Mr Chris Leslie be discharged from the International Trade Committee and Gareth Thomas be added.

With this we shall consider the following motions:

Motion 4—Home Affairs Committee

That Alex Norris and John Woodcock be discharged from the Home Affairs Committee and Janet Daby and Toby Perkins be added.

Motion 5—Justice Committee—

That Janet Daby be discharged from the Justice Committee and Andy Slaughter be added.

Motion 6—Women and Equalities Committee

That Mr Gavin Shuker be discharged from the Women and Equalities Committee and Stephanie Peacock be added.

As the Chair of the Selection Committee, it is my responsibility to ensure that the Committee operates in accordance with the rules of the House. That is the case with motion 3, which I am moving in the usual way following its agreement by the Selection Committee. I do not have personal interests in moving it. It is a function of the fairness of the transparent and democratic system that allows Select Committees to continue their incredibly important work.

The Labour party has decided to change Select Committee membership, and it is for the House to confirm those changes. Unlike with General Committees, there is no Standing Order that requires Select Committees to be kept in proportion to the House at large. By mutual agreement, the membership of Select Committees is appointed in rough proportion to that of the House. That is why the Committee has discretion in proposing changes to Select Committee membership.

Across all Select Committees, MPs who come from neither of the main parties are slightly over-represented. Change UK—the Independent Group—is over-represented on Select Committees, compared with the number of members of the group in this House. Although that over-representation does not compel the Selection Committee to take action, it is enough to satisfy me that reducing that representation is in accordance with the practice of the House. I therefore move this motion for the approval of the House.

I appreciate that we are discussing House matters, and I appreciate that the hon. Member for North Herefordshire (Bill Wiggin) has the job of managing the membership of many Committees of the House.

The rules are not necessarily entirely set down—a lot is left to the usual channels. For those watching in the Public Gallery or elsewhere, the “usual channels” is the practice where the Whips from the main political parties decide among themselves how to proceed with business. That practice does not necessarily mean that other groupings, particularly new political parties, get a word in edgeways.

I have been a member of the International Trade Committee for several years. I have very much enjoyed attending the Committee, scrutinising trade policy and holding the Government to account. That is the job of Select Committees. My understanding of the 2010 Parliament reforms, when the usual channels were no longer responsible for selecting the Chairs or the membership of Select Committees, was of a general mood that Back Benchers should be given a freer say on the composition of Committees. There is an important difference between a Front-Bench role and a Back-Bench role. Front Benchers have a difficult job to do to ensure Government business is prosecuted. Those on the Opposition Front Bench have their set of policies to pursue, too. Most Members, however, are Back Benchers and it is important to recognise their independence.

The 2010 Select Committee reforms were supposed to mean that members of Committees were to be selected not by the Whips but by their respective party groups in ballots among Back Benchers. Importantly, the chairmanships of Select Committees were also given to Members across the House to ballot and to choose, free from that whipping arrangement. Select Committees have an important part to play. It would be a terrible shame if, by a lack of attention, we slipped back into the habit of the bad old days where the Front Benchers of the established parties end up carving up between them which Back Benchers can or cannot sit on Select Committees and then hold to account those very Front Benchers who are appointing them in the first place.

I accept, having left the Labour party in February, that the Labour party has its post-election allocation. I do not necessarily accept, however, that if independent Members are taken off Committees—we are not just talking about me, but my hon. Friend the Member for Luton South (Mr Shuker) being taken off the Women and Equalities Committee, the hon. Member for Barrow and Furness (John Woodcock) being taken off the Home Affairs Committee, and the recent loss of my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford South (Mike Gapes) from the Foreign Affairs Committee—we have no right of redress. As a new political party, Change UK, we are not part of the usual channels conversations. It is strange that we have not been invited to join them. You might, Madam Deputy Speaker, draw your own conclusions on why that might be the case. There is quite a cosy cartel in the House of Commons between the main political parties. Why would any of those who hold the power ever wish to allow others to come into that and to see what happens within?

I believe the Select Committee system needs to be defended, and that is why I want to make the point today that being taken off the International Trade Committee is not my choice. I have done my duty as a member of that Committee. I have tried my best to hold the Government to account, particularly in relation to Brexit. The creation of the new Department for International Trade has been a very choppy and rocky journey. The Secretary of State for International Trade made a number of pledges on its creation—for example, rolling over all 40 free trade agreements the EU had made with the rest of the world. For the past two years, I have taken it as my responsibility to hold the Secretary of State and his Ministers to account on whether those promises were going to be fulfilled. People might disagree with my particular take on Brexit, but it is important that members of the Committee take an independent view, and press and challenge Ministers on these issues.

Along with the other members of the International Trade Committee, who by and large operate in a non-partisan way, I have tried to look at: the UK’s inward investment policy issues; what is happening with the establishment of the new Trade Remedies Authority; what on earth has been going on with the Trade Bill, which of course has been kicked into the long grass over a very long period; what developments are taking place at the World Trade Organisation; how we are going to scrutinise trade agreements when they come forward and what transparency there will be; and what sort of trading arrangements we have with the Commonwealth and developing countries. All those are incredibly important issues. Our Select Committee spent a lot of time looking at the idea that there will be some fantastic trade deal between the UK and the USA. It was quite clear to me that the myths about that possibility needed to be tested and prodded; as we know, the realities are quite different.

The Committee has explored many issues, and I regret that I will not be able to continue that work, but I will try my best to continue to scrutinise trade policy from the Back Benches and on behalf of my party, Change UK. I thank and pay tribute to my colleagues on the Committee and to its Chair, the hon. Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Angus Brendan MacNeil), who has done such a sterling job of keeping it in operation.

It is a shame that we are letting independent voices on Select Committees slip away, and the public need to know what is going on. Change UK has only 11 hon. Members; we do not have the numbers to win Divisions in this place, and there are hundreds of other hon. Members in the main political parties who would not necessarily want us to continue to have a voice on Select Committees. There is therefore very little point in my pressing the motion to a Division, but I did not want to let it pass without saying my piece.

I rise to speak because one of the motions before the House affects the Select Committee on Home Affairs. Our Committee has discussed the proposal that my hon. Friend the Member for Barrow and Furness (John Woodcock) be removed; I put on record the strong support expressed by all Committee members for his work, particularly on county lines and counter-terrorism. I must express our disappointment in the motion.

I do not want to get into a wider debate about the way in which places for Select Committee members are allocated, which our Committee has not discussed. Nor do I want to raise any questions about the hon. Members who have been put forward to serve on the Committee, both of whom are excellent Members of this House. I simply want to record, on behalf of the Committee, its concern and its recognition of the important work that my hon. Friend the Member for Barrow and Furness has done.

Given what the right hon. Lady says, especially in the light of her prominence and her chairpersonship of the Committee, it seems unfortunate that she cannot speak to the Labour Whips—because that is what it comes down to—and secure the presence of the hon. Member for Barrow and Furness (John Woodcock) on it. If the entire Committee thinks that he should remain on it, why on earth can he not?

I will not discuss on the Floor of the House the private discussions that I have had. I am simply expressing the views of our cross-party Committee on its behalf.

I thank the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee, my right hon. Friend the Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper), for her speech. Under the circumstances, it is really good of her to speak out. I will really miss being on the Committee. She will continue to be a superb Chair, holding the Government to account while playing a significant role in keeping the show on the road regarding the Brexit negotiations.

This is a matter of regret. I am really passionate about pushing the Government to do more to tackle terrorism and—as my right hon. Friend noted—the scourge of county lines, which is deeply affecting my constituents in Barrow and Furness. I will continue to do that in other ways.

We will not force this to a vote, though it is a matter of regret that the Whips have chosen to do it. It was a matter of regret that so many people on the Labour Benches who are still my friends went through the Division Lobby to kick out of their positions people among whose friends they would still count themselves, but that is the situation we are in.

We talked in the last debate on this subject about the decades-long precedent that Members who leave their parties for whatever reason keep their places on Committees. If those of us who have left the Labour party, for certain reasons, had not been so outspoken about the unsuitability of the Leader of the Opposition for the post of Prime Minister, would he have insisted that the precedent be broken and that we be kicked off? I will not stop speaking out in this Chamber and beyond about the fact that the shadow Chancellor praised the strategy of the ballot, the bomb and the bullet and explicitly praised the IRA; about the fact that the Leader of the Opposition invited the political wing of the IRA into Parliament weeks after the Brighton bomb inflicted such damage, including tragedy in this House; or about how he has consistently sided with the enemies of this country against our national security, doing damage as he does so, in his position as Leader of the Opposition and previously as a Back-Bench MP. God help this country if he and his coterie are allowed to get their hands on the levers of power. The damage they would do to our national security does not bear thinking about.

Question put and agreed to.

Home Affairs


That Alex Norris and John Woodcock be discharged from the Home Affairs Committee and Janet Daby and Toby Perkins be added.—(Bill Wiggin, on behalf of the Selection Committee.)