Skip to main content

House of Commons Commission (External Members)

Volume 696: debated on Tuesday 8 June 2021

[Relevant document: Report from the House of Commons Commission, External members of the House of Commons Commission: nomination of candidates, HC 223.]

I beg to move,

That, in pursuance of section 1(2B) of the House of Commons (Administration) Act 1978, as amended, Louise Wilson be appointed to the House of Commons Commission for a period of three years with immediate effect; and Shrinivas Honap be appointed to the House of Commons Commission for a period of three years commencing on 1 October 2021.

Before turning to today’s motion, I am sure that the House will want to join me in thanking Jane McCall, who served as an external member on the Commission for over five years and finished her time in post at the end of April. In addition, Rima Makarem’s three-year term will end on 30 September, and, owing to other commitments, she has given notice that she will not be seeking an extension to her appointment. Having served alongside both of them on the Commission, I am most grateful for their contribution and the valuable external perspective and commitment that they brought to their roles. They always had a particular interest in value for money, which is one of the things that we should take most seriously in the House as guardians of taxpayers’ money. I am grateful for what they have done and wish them well in their future endeavours.

Today’s motion gives the House the opportunity to agree two new external members of the Commission. In February, the Commission endorsed the recruitment process to appoint new external members. The full details of that process are set out in the Commission’s report on the nomination of candidates for its external members, HC 223, which has been tagged to today’s debate.

In March, a sifting panel, consisting of the then shadow Leader of the House, the right hon. Member for Walsall South (Valerie Vaz), the Clerk of the House and the secretary to the Commission, Marianne Cwynarski CBE, shortlisted four candidates for interview by the selection panel. The selection panel comprised Mr Speaker, me, the right hon. Member for Walsall South, Isabel Doverty, who is a former civil service commissioner, the Clerk of the House and the secretary to the Commission. Interviews took place in April.

Following that process, the selection panel recommended to the Commission that Louise Wilson and Shrinivas Honap be nominated as its new external members, with Louise replacing Jane McCall and, in due course, Shrinivas replacing Rima Makarem. Should the House agree to these appointments, it is expected that both will also serve on the Audit and Risk Assurance Committee and that Shrinivas will replace Rima Makarem as chairman of that committee.

As the Commission’s report sets out, Louise Wilson is a business leader with an international career combining commercial expertise with extensive non-executive experience in the public, private and charitable sectors. She established her career at Accenture and gained global marketing and commercial expertise at Procter and Gamble, PepsiCo and The Coca-Cola Company—she is very fizzy, I should think, with all that experience at those drinks companies. She founded an international marketing and sponsorship company and, following London’s successful bid, served as the client services director of the 2012 London Olympic and Paralympic games. She has previously undertaken non-executive roles across a range of business and charitable organisations spanning education, heritage, culture, visitor attractions, faith and diversity. These have included roles at Historic Royal Palaces, the University of Nottingham, the David Ross Education Trust, the International Women’s Forum, the Harvard Vatican Leadership Trust, the Marketing Group of Great Britain, the Queen’s Commonwealth Trust and, currently, the Northern Ireland Office and the National Emergencies Trust.

Shrinivas Honap is a chartered accountant by profession and served with Vodafone, Capita, KPMG and Egg during his executive career. He currently holds a number of non-executive roles, including as chairman at the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency, non-executive director and chair of the Audit Committee at UK Atomic Energy Authority and at the Rural Payments Agency. He has recently been appointed to the Civil Service Pension Board and also serves as a lay member on the Speaker’s Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority and a panel member at the Competition and Markets Authority and on the Pensions Determination Panel.

The Commission believes that both candidates bring a diverse range and depth of experience and that this will hugely benefit the work of the Commission in the coming years. As a member of the Commission who interviewed them, I add my own very strong personal recommendation. We interviewed two exceptionally strong candidates and the House is very fortunate that they put their names forward and are willing to serve. As such, the House of Commons Commission—I am, in bringing this motion, acting for the Commission—recommends that the House appoints both candidates as external members, each for an initial period of three years. I hope that the House will agree to their appointments today and I commend this motion to the House.

I thank the Leader of the House for introducing the motion. On behalf of Her Majesty’s Opposition, may I warmly welcome the two new external Members of the House of Commons Commission? I have had the pleasure of meeting one already—Louise Wilson. She impressed me greatly. I also read carefully the reports that the Leader of the House has made reference to, with details of the recruitment process. From my so far limited experience of the Commission, I would say that this appears to have been done in a fair and thorough manner. I look forward to meeting the second external commissioner in due course.

I know that we are going to move on subsequent motions without debate, so I would like to place on record my thanks to my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham South (Lilian Greenwood) for her service on the Parliamentary Works Estimates Commission as well as to welcome, obviously, my right hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne East (Mr Brown) to that post.

To finish, I would like to strongly recommend, from what I have seen and the evidence that I have heard and read, Louise Wilson and Shrinivas Honap to the House of Commons Commission as external commissioners.

I thank the Leader of the House for moving this motion this evening. May I apologise to you, Madam Deputy Speaker, to Mr Speaker and to the House for not being in my regular place at business questions on a Thursday morning? It is not because I do not want to be here; it is because I also chair the Scottish Affairs Committee, which meets just now on a Thursday morning, and the Conservative members have resolutely refused to move the time of that Committee. I hope to get that resolved as soon as possible.

I know that the Leader of the House always says that there is not a Conservative majority on the Scottish Affairs Committee, which is entirely right, but how we try to work in this House, as you know, Madam Deputy, is through consensus, engagement and working together, so that we can reach an outcome that is positive for everybody. Once again, I appeal to the Leader of the House to make representations to his colleagues, so I can get back here again, because I know that he enjoys a joust with me on a Thursday morning.

I have not had the opportunity to welcome the hon. Member for Bristol West (Thangam Debbonaire) to her post, because I have not been here on a Thursday morning, so I would like to welcome her now. I also never had the opportunity to pay tribute to the right hon. Member for Walsall South (Valerie Vaz)—the three of us served so many years together—and I just wanted to put that on record. I am sure that you will forgive me for that, Madam Deputy Speaker.

I also want to welcome Louise Wilson. This is a fantastic appointment, and I very much look forward to working with her on the Commission. I had the pleasure of meeting Louise just a few weeks ago. She was as effervescent as The Coca-Cola Company with which she worked with such distinction for all those years. Her experience of the London Olympics will serve her well as we negotiate with the Sponsor Body on the ongoing agonising over restoration and renewal. It has been said that Louise is highly experienced with an extensive track record in business and public service.

I have not had the opportunity to meet Shrinivas Honap. I look forward to meeting him. I totally support what the Leader of the House has said about his background and experience. He does seem to be ideally placed to join us in the House of Commons Commission and I look forward to meeting him in time.

I pay tribute to Jane McCall and Rima Makarem. I got to know both of them, as you did, Madam Deputy Speaker, after all these years in service to the Commission. It is worth noting that we all enjoyed working with them. They brought something special to the deliberations of the Commission, and I wish them well for the future. We have to pay tribute to our external members of the House of Commons Commission. They offer a different perspective from the perhaps institutionalised view that we have as Members of Parliament, and it is worth noting what they bring to the workings of the Commission. We look forward to doing all that as we go forward.

We are, quite rightly, not going to get an opportunity to discuss the appointments to the other bodies. I also welcome the right hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne East (Mr Brown). It is not often that someone can be a Chief Whip under three different Governments and still be popular and liked across the House, but he manages to do that with aplomb and I wish him well. I also want to pay tribute to the hon. Member for Nottingham South (Lilian Greenwood). She did a great job in her other roles and I look forward to working with her. And hopefully, Madam Deputy Speaker, I can get to business questions—help me out, Leader of the House so that I can be here.

I am mindful of the concerns of colleagues that they do not want to be delayed for too long. I have no animus against, or indeed any knowledge of, either of the two individuals being appointed, and they may well fit the glowing descriptions that we have heard. I certainly hope so, and no doubt the Leader of the House will be pleased to sit alongside them as well, but I have huge problems with the process. What seems to have happened here, as so often—in fact, almost invariably—with our selection processes, is that we determine and narrow the outcome by the criteria that we use. It is like any algorithm: if we set the criteria for it, it will predict the outcome that we are going to get.

So let us look at the criteria. They include the need for:

“Senior executive leadership experience within a complex organisation”.

Already we are saying, basically, that we want the corporate suits. Male or female, it is the corporate suits we want, not people who have gone out and created and run a business themselves; not people who have actually worked in industry or maybe run a factory and really know about running things; not trade unionists who have had to engage with complex issues; not people who have worked in hospitals—not in senior management but maybe running a ward; and not those who are running a school. Those people do not get considered.

Every time we have a list of nominations, it nearly always consists of those who have been in big corporates and who have then sat on the boards of quangos and charities. It is always the great and the good. We keep appointing them time and time again, then we are surprised that this country ends up being so badly run. Basically, we are drawing from a very narrow cast, and we are constantly enabling them to perpetuate themselves —and not only them as individuals and their narrow range of experience, but their general ethos and that narrow self-perpetuating culture, which I am surprised, frankly, that the Leader of the House so readily accepts.

I have another problem with this. Paragraph 14 of the report from the Commission to the House says:

“In the case of both candidates, the selection panel was satisfied that neither had undertaken any political activity within the last five years”.

I am absolutely fed up with this assumption—again from this self-perpetuating elite that I have described—that party political activity is somehow reprehensible, shabby and shoddy, and that it is only those who will not engage in politics who are fit to be engaged in running public life. That is detrimental both to politics and to public life. I will continue to raise this issue on all such occasions when this same rotten process occurs, because, as we have seen many times, the public see through this arrogant metropolitan intellectual and cultural elite and the way they are running this country. But yet again, all the time, we are playing our part in perpetuating its malign grip. As I have said, I have no animus against the individuals concerned, but I have huge objections to the process.

Before I reply to the right hon. Member for Warley (John Spellar), may I pay tribute to a most distinguished member of the Commission who has stood down? If I may say so, Madam Deputy Speaker, you have been a great person to work with on the Commission—always sensible, moderate and seeking consensus, and not using it for party political purposes. Of course, you are no longer party political in these roles, and what fun it was being on the Commission with you. I record our gratitude for the bacon sandwiches, which were particularly appreciated and were, I think, thanks to your lobbying. I thank the shadow Leader of the House and the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) for their contributions and support. I note the hon. Gentleman’s comments about Thursday mornings, but sometimes in this place a vote is necessary to get what one wants, and it may be that that is what he needs to do. 

On the important points raised by the right hon. Member for Warley, I am not keen on the metropolitan elite any more than he is. I tend to think that they have a set of views that are not particularly my views, or those of my constituents in rural Somerset, so I think his criticisms need to be considered carefully. First, senior executive leadership does not exclude trade unionists or people who have worked in the public sector, and there are senior leadership and executive roles in bodies that are not big business. Indeed, the House has taken people who have not been involved with big business but have been involved in the public sector, and trade unionists would be welcome to apply. They obviously run complex organisations, and the suggestion that they would be excluded is unfair. It is obviously right that the House expects people to have been senior in whatever they have done, whether that is an entrepreneur, a headmaster or headmistress, someone who has run a hospital, a trade union leader, or somebody who has worked for a big company such as Coca-Cola, and that is a broad category to have.

On the question of politics, we have debated this issue before, and I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that being involved in politics is something one should wear as a badge of honour. It is part of being involved in civic society, and that applies to all parties, not just to those in one of the major parties, and not even if someone is just a good Tory, like me. Whatever, party someone belongs to, they are contributing to society. But—there is inevitably a but—on the Commission, the politics is provided by Members of the House, and there is no point trying to change the balance of the Commission from the balance in the House by appointing outsiders who are political. It is simply a question of appropriateness for the role that they are to fulfil within this House. I think that is fair. Members of the House can be party political if they want to on the Commission, although it tends to work well by consensus,  but to appoint external politicians would, I think, border on the eccentric. I have great confidence in the two people we have chosen today, who I think will be a real pleasure to work with.

I would understand if the right hon. Gentleman were arguing, for example, that a political leader of a council might change the balance of the Commission, but if we are trying to get expertise, they would also be used to running large organisations. He rightly said that the Commission tends to work with a degree of consensus; it is not divided. Many other countries managed to encapsulate that. They appoint people to public bodies in the full and public knowledge that they have been politically active. I still do not understand why the right hon. Gentleman thinks that should be a major debarring factor.

As I hope I was making clear, I think it debars from the Commission, where politicians are already appointed. It inevitably does not debar from other public sector appointments, where that may be perfectly reasonable, and where people may be appointed because of their connection to a political party if we are seeking a political balance. As I said, I have particular confidence in the two people we are appointing today. I think they will be first class and make a considerable contribution to the Commission and the work of this House.

I thank the Leader of the House for his kind words. It was a great pleasure to be on the Commission, and very enjoyable working with all those who served on it.

Question put and agreed to.

Parliamentary Works Estimates Commission


That Lilian Greenwood be discharged as a member of the Parliamentary Works Estimates Commission and Mr Nicholas Brown be confirmed as a member under Schedule 3 to the Parliamentary Buildings (Restoration and Renewal) Act 2019.—(Tom Pursglove.)

Speaker’s Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority


That Thangam Debbonaire be appointed to the Speaker’s Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority in place of Valerie Vaz, until the end of the present Parliament, in pursuance of paragraph 1(d) of Schedule 3 to the Parliamentary Standards Act 2009, as amended.—(Tom Pursglove.)

House of Commons Members’ Fund


That Sir Alan Campbell be removed as a Trustee of the House of Commons Members’ Fund and Mr Nicholas Brown and Craig Whittaker be appointed as Trustees in pursuance of section 2 of the House of Commons Members’ Fund Act 2016.—(Tom Pursglove.)