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Independent Expert Panel

Volume 684: debated on Wednesday 25 November 2020

[Relevant document: House of Commons Commission, Members of the Independent Expert Panel: Nomination of Candidates, HC 998.]

I beg to move,

That:

(1) in accordance with Standing Order No. 150C (Appointment of Independent Expert Panel Members), the following be appointed as members of the Independent Expert Panel—

(a) Mrs Lisa Ball, Mrs Johanna Higgins, Sir Stephen Irwin and Professor Clare McGlynn for a period of 4 years, and

(b) Monica Daley, Miss Dale Simon, Sir Peter Thornton and Dr Matthew Vickers for a period of 6 years; and

(2) notwithstanding the provisions of paragraph (4) Standing Order No. 150A (Independent Expert Panel), Sir Stephen Irwin be the Chair of that Panel.

It is a pleasure to open this debate on the appointment of the independent expert panel, which would provide important support to the work of the independent complaints and grievance scheme. The appointments that we debate today represent a significant next step in our collective efforts to ensure that Parliament has a culture that is respectful to all and where there is no place for bullying, harassment or sexual misconduct.

I want to emphasise that this panel is just one step. Although significant progress has been made on this agenda, none of us is under any illusion that to bring about the lasting change needed to our culture will not take painstaking work, tireless communication and myriad reinforcing actions by many over a considerable period.

The steps already undertaken are significant ones. They include, of course, the creation in 2018 of the ICGS itself and I pay tribute to my predecessor, my right hon. Friend the Member for South Northamptonshire (Andrea Leadsom), and all those who worked with her to generate a consensus and set a way forward for the scheme.

The ICGS is now open to all members of the parliamentary community and, importantly, it has been broadened to include investigation of non-recent allegations and from those who have since left the parliamentary community. As set out in the ICGS’s annual report published last week, over the past year, the pool of investigators has been expanded so that more cases can be processed, including non-recent ones, and there has been the creation of a single helpline service to provide confidential and immediate advice, which includes a speciality independent sexual misconduct advisory service.

Recently, we have also seen the launch of the second of two planned independent reviews of the ICGS to ensure that consideration is given to how what is still a fledgling scheme can be strengthened. May I briefly again take the opportunity to encourage all members of the parliamentary community to participate in that review being undertaken by Alison Stanley. As I mentioned in business questions last week, an online survey seeking views will run until 4 December—it is a very simple survey; even I managed to do it. I ask Members please to take the survey if they can so that the widest range of views are captured and taken into account.

Looking beyond the ICGS, a new Member services team has also been established to provide human resources support to MPs and their staff, and I should add that more than 4,000 people in Parliament have now taken the Valuing Everyone training, which aims to demonstrate how to recognise and understand what harassment and sexual harassment mean in the workplace and how to tackle them.

Turning to the independent expert panel, it is important to note that the appointments that we are discussing today form part of our fulfilment of the key recommendations made by Dame Laura Cox in her 2018 report. Members will remember that Dame Laura made three fundamental recommendations: the first was that Parliament’s existing policies relating to bullying, harassment or sexual harassment should be abandoned; the second was that the ICGS should be accessible to those with complaints involving historical allegations. Both of those recommendations have been met. The final recommendation was that the process for determining complaints of bullying, harassment or sexual harassment brought by House staff against Members of Parliament should be an entirely independent process in which Members of Parliament play no part. This is that independent process.

Under our current arrangements, the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards has the power to determine cases and impose sanctions up to a certain level of severity. More serious cases, including those where suspension or expulsion might be the resulting sanction, have been for the Standards Committee to determine.

In February this year, the House of Commons Commission considered a number of alternative approaches developed and presented by the staff team. The Commission agreed that the strongest option was that an expert panel, comprising an independent chairman and seven panel members, none of whom would be MPs, would determine ICGS cases, decide on sanctions and hear appeals by either party against the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards’ conclusions.

Dame Laura was consulted on the options considered by the Commission and was among those who supported the approach. Members will also remember that, in June, a motion was passed to establish the independent expert panel. The panel will determine complaints of bullying and harassment or sexual misconduct made under the ICGS. It will do so entirely independently of MPs. In cases where the IEP recommends the most extreme sanctions, such as suspension or expulsion of an MP, the House must approve the recommendation via a motion in this Chamber that will be taken without debate.

I have always been clear that the panel must be of the highest calibre collectively. Its members should provide considerable expertise in relevant fields, and they should do so under the leadership of a chairman of the standing equivalent to that of a High Court judge. I am therefore delighted that we have such a strong set of candidates to consider, and that recommended for the role of chairman is Sir Stephen Irwin, who was Lord Justice of Appeal from 2016 until his retirement last month, and was previously a High Court judge for a decade.

Indeed, I can. Members of the independent expert panel, including the chairman, will be paid monthly in arrears a fee of £350 excluding value added tax for each half day spent by the panel member in the provision of their services. The amount claimed by each member will depend on the number of cases, and their individual contribution. It is expected that the annual report of the panel will include information on its costs. I can reassure the right hon. Gentleman—I think this may be his next question—that panel members will not be part of a pension scheme for their services, but I am happy to take further interventions from him.

When I looked up the link from the report which referred to the advertisement for the job, it said that these jobs were going to be fixed term and full time, not per diem—if it is £350 for every half day, it is £700 a day as a full-time position—and that panel members would be part of the civil service pension scheme. This is slightly confusing. I would be grateful if the right hon. Gentleman could clarify the situation, because there is a difference between the advertisement and what he has just told the House.

The right hon. Member for Warley (John Spellar) would not have been eligible to apply because Members of Parliament cannot join—unless he decided to take the Chiltern Hundreds, but that would be a great loss to this House.

The fee is £350 per half day. The number of days or half days of work will be dependent on the number of cases, and the roles are not eligible for a civil service pension. Those are the terms under which people have agreed to serve. I do not know about the advertisement. I am afraid that I did not think of applying and therefore did not read the advertisement with the care that the right hon. Gentleman read it.

The right hon. Gentleman would not only be disqualified as a Member of Parliament; he referred to people being qualified, and it seems that all those who got the jobs happen to be lawyers, as though they are the only people in the whole country who are qualified to deal with these issues. I will come back to that in my speech.

I know that it is popular to be disparaging about lawyers, but it is sometimes unfair. The right hon. Member for Walsall South (Valerie Vaz) is a very distinguished lawyer herself, as is, as it happens, the Leader of the Opposition, so the Opposition have plenty of distinguished lawyers on their Benches. This process has to meet the requirements of natural justice. An understanding of the law and the application of law is a protection both for those who bring complaints and for those who are accused, so I am not surprised that lawyers make up a significant number of the applicants.

Again, the right hon. Gentleman seems to run slightly contrary to the advertisement for the positions, which says that panel members should have

“judicial, quasi-judicial, or adjudicating capacity, or bring expertise in a relevant policy area, such as employee or industrial relations or HR disciplinary processes.”

That implies that we would have people from industry, and probably also from the trade unions, who have experience of dealing with these matters practically, rather than exclusively lawyers.

I can confirm to the right hon. Gentleman that 134 completed applications were received —no doubt, from a variety of people. Of those applications, the ones that were seen to be the most suitable are those before the House, having been approved by the Commission. I think it is a distinguished panel—[Interruption.] The right hon. Gentleman mutters that it is chumocracy; I do not want to give too much away, but the only member of the panel who claimed a friendship of any kind with any Member of Parliament said that he was on nodding terms with the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of Her Majesty’s loyal Opposition, so if they are chums, they are not my chums, particularly, but they are very important and good people.

I entirely support the idea that we should bring on to the panel people who have juridical experience in the courts, and I commend my right hon. Friend and the Commission for appointing to the chair of this body an ex-High Court judge. That is exactly the kind of authority, independence and legitimacy that is required to give both those being scrutinised or disciplined in this process and those who are complaining through this process the confidence that it is being done properly.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that point. Before the appointments were made, we had a number of representations from Members of this House saying that they would feel confident in the system if the chairman of the panel had the experience of a High Court judge, and Sir Stephen is a distinguished—

Like the Leader of the House, I have no problem with the chair being a lawyer, and I accept what has just been said, but my right hon. Friend the Member for Warley (John Spellar) raised an interesting point. There is no one on the panel from an HR background in business, the trade union movement or the third sector. There are a number of individuals in the third sector who could have brought great expertise—not legal—to the panel, so I question how the consultants drew up the list in the first place. I would have thought that if they were looking for a broad spectrum of interests, lawyers are important, but so are others.

The right hon. Gentleman is being unduly uncharitable towards lawyers. Lawyers can, in addition to being lawyers, have a wide range of experience in the way that they practised. Other than Members of Parliament, lawyers probably see more of life in its many and varied forms than many people in a lot of other professions. To broaden out from the people who often serve on quangos is not a bad idea for this type of panel.

As I was saying, Sir Stephen has had a distinguished judicial career, which will be of great benefit to his role as chairman of the independent expert panel. The other candidates who have been recommended for appointment are also—I hope this will reassure the right hon. Members for Warley (John Spellar) and for North Durham (Mr Jones)—of an impressive standard. Miss Dale Simon, CBE, is a qualified barrister and a former director for public accountability and inclusion in the Crown Prosecution Service, which is an important role in a public body beyond the immediate application of the law.

Dr Matthew Vickers has been the chief ombudsman and chief executive of Ombudsman Services, and we know from our experience with constituents how valuable the ombudsman services are and what an understanding ombudsmen inevitably have of a variety of lives lived and experienced by our constituents.

Sir Peter Thornton, QC, is a retired senior circuit judge with almost a decade’s experience at the central criminal court, including hearing cases of serious sexual violence. I go back to the point that I made to the right hon. Member for North Durham: lawyers do see life in the raw, and probably the rawest is on the criminal circuit seeing cases of serious sexual violence. That is an experience that few people would have.

The Leader of the House is misreading what I said. If he listened to what I said, he would know that I am not opposed to people with a legal background being on the panel—I think that the chair having a legal background is right—but if we look at the CVs of the other people, what is lacking from the panel are people from, for example, industry, trade unions, the third sector and local government. People from all those sectors could have huge experience and add something to this panel.

I say once again that this panel has come from 134 applicants, and the most distinguished and capable have been drawn from it. The panel’s members include Monica Daley, a barrister of 25 years’ standing and former independent legal chair of the police misconduct committee; Professor Clare McGlynn QC, professor of law at the University of Durham—the right hon. Gentleman’s part of the world—with particular expertise in the legal regulation of sexual violence, so there is a good deal of expertise in some of the issues that may come before the panel; Mrs Lisa Ball, who brings two decades of experience in determining cases and complaints in a range of fields, including bullying, sexual harassment, discrimination, misconduct and professional standards; and Mrs Johanna Higgins, Northern Ireland commissioner for the Criminal Cases Review Commission and a barrister of 27 years’ standing.

I am afraid that the Leader of the House is reinforcing our case. It is not about whether any of these individuals are defective. For example, an industrial tribunal panel will rightly include a lawyer as the chairman, as well as a representative of employers and a representative of trade unions—that is the make-up of all industrial tribunal panels. It is about the narrowness of the experience on this expert panel, which is drawn from a very small part of society—134 people. Does he not see that the breadth of society and people who have real-life experience are not reflected on the panel?

I fundamentally disagree with the right hon. Gentleman. I think that the real-life experience of the people who make up the panel is very varied, considerable and distinguished. As I said, there was considerable competition for these positions, with 134 applicants. The recruitment process was robust and thorough, overseen by a panel chaired by Sarah Davies.

It is a pleasure to give way to my right hon. Friend and predecessor, who started this whole process with such distinction, and it is my privilege to be carrying it on.

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. I looked carefully at the CVs of the proposed members of the panel, and I wholeheartedly endorse them; I have no reservations. However, I think that one of the first things the panel should consider when it meets is the unresolved issue that, if it recommends that a Member of Parliament be expelled from this place, that disenfranchises the Member’s constituency for a period. We have had this debate before, but that seems to be a missing piece of the jigsaw puzzle, and the panel might like to consider it.

That is an important point, and my right hon. Friend has raised it before in the House. The hope is that the panel will meet relatively soon, if the motion goes through this afternoon. If I may, I will send a copy of today’s Hansard to the chairman, if he were to be appointed, so that he may see my right hon Friend’s contribution. Although it is an independent panel, and it would be wrong of me to tell it what should be on its agenda, that will bring to the chairman’s attention the thought that the panel should consider this.

The chairman of the panel was Sarah Davies, the Clerk Assistant. Also on the panel were the Speaker’s Counsel, Saira Salimi; Steven Haines, external member and lay members of the Bar Standards Board; and Dame Laura Cox, whose report started this process. The process was overseen at each stage by two members of the Commission appointed for the purpose: my hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne (Sir Charles Walker) and the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart). The Commission has concluded—and I concur—that the eight selected candidates bring an impressive combination of qualities and experience. I believe that, together, they will bring exactly the authority and impartiality needed to build confidence in the ICGS and to demonstrate that independence, fairness and rigour sit at its heart. I commend this motion to the House.

I thank the Leader of the House for moving the motion, and I agree with the majority of his remarks. I draw Members’ attention to the report, which was published on 19 November 2020 on behalf of the House of Commons Commission. It lays out the exact process that the Leader of the House described.

My right hon. Friends the Members for North Durham (Mr Jones) and for Warley (John Spellar) made important points. Mr Speaker has said that he would look at this issue, because otherwise we are just getting the usual suspects. For instance, given Black Lives Matter, putting adverts in a slightly different place might be a good idea, and then we would get a broad range of people applying. We thank all those who applied for these posts for agreeing to serve. I am not sure that the issue raised by the right hon. Member for South Northamptonshire (Andrea Leadsom) would be a matter for the panel. That is a policy issue, rather than a judicial issue, and the panel is there to look at cases, rather than to decide on policy.

I completely agree that it is not the panel’s jurisdiction or role to do that, but in a way that highlights the point: it is no longer the House’s role and it is not the panel’s role either. The losers are, potentially, our constituents. I entirely agree with the right hon. Lady, but otherwise it will fall to nobody to reconsider this issue.

I thank the right hon. Lady for her comments. She leads me to go on to say that Alison Stanley did a brilliant six-month review, and the concern is that not all her recommendations have been implemented. She is looking at the governance of who is responsible—who is the named person—for this whole process. The important part of the process is that it should be transparent and not secretive. I am aware of a number of cases that come through where perhaps the procedure is not fair on both sides—to the respondent and the claimant—but, again, that is a matter for Alison Stanley to look at in her 18-month review. As the Leader of the House said, it is a very simple survey, which can be found online, and it is open until 4 December.

I am here as a member of the Standards Committee, which has absolutely no jurisdiction over the adjudication of any ICGS case, but it certainly falls within the remit of the Standards Committee to keep a watching policy brief on how the ICGS develops and whether we want to inquire and report and make recommendations on the performance of the ICGS. I am sure we will, and indeed I think we will want to learn the positive lessons from the ICGS for our own code, which we are currently reviewing in our own inquiry.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for making that intervention. I agree with him, and I hope that anybody who has an interest will look at it. That is why the survey is so important. I know that Alison Stanley is open to speaking to people as well, and I am sure that she will take that on board.

I am pleased that a lot of hon. Members and House staff have taken up the Valuing Others training; many people on the estate have taken it up. It is so important that they do that, because people can then see the difference between what is a management issue and what is bullying and harassment. Certainly, I was concerned to start with because, as you know, Madam Deputy Speaker, many of the cases that came through at the start were about serious sexual harassment. I think initially, we decided—the right hon. Member for South Northamptonshire and I, among others on the working panel—that we would have two separate helplines. I know that there is one helpline for both, but I am reassured that the person answering the phone does have expertise and will have expertise on serious sexual harassment cases. We do not want a situation where people have to repeat their stories over and over again before they are dealt with.

As well as Valuing Others training, I know that the House is looking at unconscious bias training, which I hope will be rolled out, and I will just say that Her Majesty’s Opposition’s shadow Cabinet have all been through the unconscious bias training. Other than that, Her Majesty’s Opposition support the motion.

I rise only briefly, as an observer rather than a participant. As I pointed out a minute ago, the Standards Committee has no role in this, though we were consulted about the shape of the final process that should adjudicate the appeal cases in the ICGS scheme and we took an interest in what the character of the panel should be. I am personally very pleased that it reflects the necessary juridical expertise for assessing evidence and balancing the arguments about what rules mean and how this should be properly and independently assessed.

I think it is important for a member of the Standards Committee to convey to the House the disquiet of the Committee that this was taken out of our hands, but also for me to explain why I think that it was right, in the end, to take it out of our hands and why I voted for that. What was evident, not just from the Cox report but from the conversations with many staff in the House service, and conversations amongst MPs, was that the people whose complaints were stifled and ignored for so many years were left with no faith in the ability of MPs to mark their own homework—our ability to adjudicate on ourselves.

I have to tell the House that I find the cases that come before us about the breach of our own code extraordinarily difficult. It is the most testing and miserable task—to find myself having to make decisions about people I know, many of whom I know well and like. Personally, I will be looking at how the panel works, because our system for adjudicating our own code—the House of Commons code of conduct—is rather unsatisfactory, for the reason I have just described, and it may well be that the experience of this far more prestigious, objective and professional panel offers us a better way of adjudicating our own code.

I reiterate that we are conducting our own inquiry into the revision of the code of conduct, which is long overdue and has been interrupted by several general elections in recent years. We are doing a comprehensive trawl of options and considering how our own code intersects with the ICGS, with the ministerial code and with the codes of political parties. Members of Parliament are subject to many codes. The public are very confused, and have either no interest or no confidence in the systems, which overlap and conflict with each other, that we have created for the various roles that people adopt in this Parliament. We have a very big task—to reduce that confusion. There is, indeed, a lot of confusion amongst right hon. and hon. Members who do not understand how these things work.

So there needs to be a much higher level of engagement and understanding and a simplification and clarification, and that is what we are working on now. I hope that we will learn from the work of the panel, and if the panel is a success, we may well learn some very positive lessons.

From the start, the SNP has welcomed and co-operated with the development and implementation of the ICGS process. Like others, I pay tribute to the former Leader of the House, the right hon. Member for South Northamptonshire (Andrea Leadsom). I also pay tribute to my hon. Friend —he really ought to be my right hon. Friend—the Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart). There is an extremely well qualified and distinguished line-up of individuals for approval. [Interruption.] I am sure that was tremendously funny, but I did not catch that sedentary intervention. A very distinguished panel of candidates has been brought before us, from a range of backgrounds, from across the four nations.

I just misled the House. The hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) would not have to swear allegiance to the Crown; he would have the oath administered to him. So it is rather like having an injection; it is just given to you. Whether we like it or not, and whether we agree with it or not, the oath is just given to you. If the hon. Gentleman wants to be a Privy Counsellor, he would have to go through that process.

It is slightly off topic, Madam Deputy Speaker, but the best way to find out would be for the Leader of the House to phone up my hon. Friend the Member for Perth and North Perthshire and make that offer to him; then we will see whether or not he rises to the offer of joining Her Majesty’s Privy Council.

I do not know whether any of the candidates in this line-up are Privy Counsellors as yet, but they have all left distinguished careers, they have experience across the four nations of the United Kingdom, which is welcome, and it is a gender-balanced line-up as well—although, as the shadow Leader of the House says, there is always more that can be done to promote ethnic diversity. But I think we should thank the Clerk Assistant and the panel for selecting such quality final panellists out of all the candidates who came forward.

I just wonder whether the Leader of the House was in touch with the candidates yesterday to explain the slightly unedifying scenes that took place when the motion was suddenly withdrawn without notice. I know that when lay people are being appointed by the House to commissions and so on, they quite often watch with anticipation to see what happens—they may well be watching just now—and they may have been a little bit shocked yesterday. If notice was not given to them, I hope that some kind of apology or explanation has been given for the kind of unedifying scenes that we went through yesterday, which cannot have exactly filled them with confidence about the commitments that they are about to take up. I am glad that they are taking them up, however.

It is absolutely right, as other hon. Members have said, that bullying and harassment of any kind are called out and properly investigated. They are completely unacceptable in any workplace, particularly the one that sets the rules and standards for the rest of the country. I have undertaken the valuing others training and the unconscious bias training and found them incredibly valuable; I know that many colleagues have as well when they have had the opportunity. I would recommend them to everyone.

I have a small point on undertaking the various training programmes, in particular the behaviour code training. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman and the right hon. Member for Walsall South (Valerie Vaz) will recall that it was supposed to be mandatory following the next general election.

Indeed. I do not know what any hon. Member’s reason for not taking part in it would be. We are all very busy, but the unconscious bias training that I took part in was delivered remotely via Zoom. Surely no harm can come from it; only good can come from taking part in some training. I would recommend it to everyone. What we are discussing now, and on the next motion, will help to strengthen the entire process. We look forward to moving forward.

I am sorry to introduce a slightly discordant note in the debate. It started with the Leader of the House saying that he was sure that the Committee will be meeting soon. At £700 a day, I bet they will be meeting soon—and often.

Let me make it clear from the outset that I have no animus or knowledge of any of the individuals who have been recommended, but they are surely all of a type. They did not all go to Cambridge, but quite a number of them did. At the description of them as distinguished, I almost thought that we were supposed to genuflect. It is as though we were creating a new priesthood and that, if people do law at university and then go through one of the Inns of Court and become a member of the Bar Council, they are the only people who have a valid opinion in our society, so we have to designate everything to them. It might have been the Chair of the Committee on Standards who mentioned the quality of the judiciary that we need to deal with these cases. Frankly, if they require that level of judicial intervention, they should be a matter for the criminal courts rather than for disciplinary processes.

Not just in this context, but every time an issue comes up, it is asked, “Can we have it decided by an eminent judge?” I find that rather remarkable coming from the Conservative party. It was not very long ago that it and its supporting newspapers were absolutely berating members of the judiciary for becoming involved in so many issues. It did not have such a high opinion of the judiciary then.

Many of the issues are rightly political; I am not saying these ones are, or that it should be politicians doing this. As I was saying in earlier interventions, however, not all wisdom resides in people from that narrow caste who often go to the best schools and the best universities, who manage to get themselves into the best chambers in the Inns of Court, and who then go into the judiciary.

That is why, as I pointed out, in industrial tribunals—a system that works extremely well—we have a lawyer, normally a solicitor rather than a barrister, as the chairman and then a panel. We have representatives of trade unions and representatives of employers, many of whom have industrial relations experience and some of whom are used to negotiating for very large establishments, such as offices, factories or whatever. Are hon. Members seriously arguing that those people do not see life, that they do not understand how life works, or that they are not able to assess evidence? That is an utterly elitist approach.

My right hon. Friend was, like me, a trade union official in a former life and will have dealt with capable personnel managers, as they were in my day—human resources managers, as they are now. Would it not have been helpful to at least have had someone on this panel from an HR background, and possibly someone from a trade union who has actually represented people in the types of cases this panel is going to be dealing with?

Very much so. Such people are used to engaging with people and having to make decisions. We could have a senior nursing officer in an accident and emergency department or a senior matron in a hospital. Do they not see life? Do they not have to make decisions? Do they not have to weigh up what people are telling them? We could have retired police officers on the panel, as they are used to weighing up evidence. We must get away from this elitist concept that only lawyers are able to be above all this sort of thing.

I wish to mention the very substantial salary, which seems at variance with the advertisement. These retired judges will be on a stonking pension—we know about that because they are always complaining any time the Treasury has the temerity to try to keep their pensions in line with the pensions being imposed on other parts of the public service.

The approach being taken is also at variance with the advertisement, which said clearly that the people should have

“substantial and very senior experience in a judicial, quasi-judicial, or adjudicating capacity, or bring expertise in a relevant policy area, such as an employee or industrial relations or HR disciplinary processes.”

Of course, if we have a panel where two of those involved are part of the Bar Council or the judiciary, and we bring in headhunters, they are all part of the same social circle. I am sure the individuals would probably be very agreeable dinner table companions, but that does not mean they have wisdom or experience that outweighs that of the rest of the population, nor does it mean that we should have a pretty homogeneous group, rather than having a balance.

If we have a panel, we should have people with different realms of experience, because that would work—one for the other. Not just for this appointment, but right across the many appointments we have involvement in, the people all come from a very narrow band. We ought to be looking at the construction worker, the factory worker, the nurse and the care home assistant. I accept that we would be having people who were in a more senior representative or managerial role, as outlined in the job description. We could have somebody who is in charge of a major unit in a major retail environment. These are people with life experience.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that it would have been helpful to have had someone from the third sector on this panel, for example someone dealing with domestic violence and related issues? Many of those very able individuals could have stepped into this role well and added something to it.

Indeed. We could have people who have gone into those roles, often later in life, with a range of life experience, as opposed to people who have gone from elite school to elite university, then to chambers and into the courts, where they have done well, doing their public duty as judges. They may observe a bit of life, but that is very different from living it. [Interruption.] The Leader of the House seems a little distracted by his colleague. If he would care to listen to the debate rather than to the Whips, it would be rather courteous and it might even be valuable. The fact is that we ought to look at all appointments and not automatically go to so-called headhunters who just go to the people they know. We need to broaden this out. We need to ask the CBI and the Trades Union Congress. Interestingly enough, back in the day when we were looking at Members’ expenses, we came up with a much better scheme, ultimately, than the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority. The House invited the CBI and the TUC to each nominate two people, who gave up their time to do it. They made an excellent contribution because they understood what they were talking about. We need to get away from elitism.

I will continue to raise these issues, because they make us not even semi-detached but detached from the public we serve. Ultimately, Members of Parliament are here to represent the public. We need to be accountable mainly to them, and stop imposing elite individuals and an elite culture.

May I begin by thanking the right hon. Member for Walsall South (Valerie Vaz) for her support and the support of the official Opposition? We have worked closely on this matter not just in the Chamber, but in the Commission. I also thank my hon. Friend the Member for Harwich and North Essex (Sir Bernard Jenkin) for his support and for his very interesting contribution, saying how he had not initially thought it was right to take it away from the Standards Committee, but that, working on the Committee and seeing how difficult it is to judge those with whom we work, he has come to the conclusion that it is the right thing to do. I think that that is a particularly helpful contribution to this afternoon’s debate.

I am also grateful to the hon. Member for Glasgow North (Patrick Grady). He wishes to give me powers that I do not have. I may be Lord President of the Council, but that does not mean I have the right of appointment to the Privy Council. I can tell him, however, that Sir Stephen Irwin is a member of the Privy Council as a Lord Justice of Appeal. They are normally sworn of the Privy Council.

In response, briefly, to the right hon. Member for Warley (John Spellar), I want to answer the question on the advert and pensions. The advert from the recruitment agency did not mention pensions or the job being full time. As I understand it, the cover page of the Commons’ own advert did say that there was a pension, but that the people who applied would not have been misled in any way because they would have had the advert from the recruitment agency.

I thank the Leader of the House for giving way. I am sure he will forgive me for having looked at the House of Commons’ own documentation to ascertain the position. How does he explain the inconsistency?

Indeed, it is perfectly reasonable and proper for the right hon. Gentleman to have done precisely that. I was merely explaining to him why the information he was raising was not the information that would have been given to people applying to the panel. It is very important that they did not apply to the panel on a false basis, thinking it was a full-time job with a nice pension when they are actually getting a per diem.

Finally, as to the independence of this brilliant and inspired panel that will do wonderful work, the right hon. Gentleman made it sound as if it was all a great chumocracy and then said that many of them were from Cambridge. Does he really think that, as an Oxford man, I would have put forward the names of people from Cambridge if they were not first class?

Question put and agreed to.