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House of Commons Commission (External Members)

Volume 644: debated on Tuesday 10 July 2018

Motion made, and Question proposed,

That, in pursuance of section 1(2B) of the House of Commons (Administration) Act 1978, Dr Rima Makarem be appointed to the House of Commons Commission for a period of three years commencing on 1 October 2018; and the appointment of Jane McCall to the House of Commons Commission be extended to 1 February 2021.—(Andrea Leadsom.)

I will speak to this motion, because I was on the interview panel. Dr Rima Makarem was recruited following a fair and transparent competition. I thank the other members of the panel: the right hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake) and the Clerk of the House. I want to thank the staff for their assiduous work in setting up the shortlisting and interview process, which went very smoothly, and also in identifying candidates, using a search that went beyond the usual places to look for more diverse candidates.

Dr Makarem has had a distinguished career in the healthcare and the pharmaceutical industries. She joined the University College London Hospitals board as a non-executive director and holds a portfolio of non-executive positions and is a member of the audit committee at the Medical Research Council.

Dr Makarem has significant experience as an audit chair: she was previously audit chair at NHS London and NHS Haringey, and is currently audit chair of the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence. She brings a wealth of experience from the private sector. She was director of competitive excellence at a pharmaceutical company and prior to that she held roles at consulting firms. In the annex to the motion, the memorandum by the Clerk of the House, it sets out more of the background of her excellent CV.

As a member of the panel, I can say that in both her written work and interview she won the unanimous approval of the board. We the Opposition endorse the appointment of Dr Rima Makarem as a new external member of the House of Commons Commission. She will replace Dame Janet Gaymer, who has been outstanding in the role and whose term expires in September, and we thank her for all her work.

The Commission also agreed that the term limit for its external members should be for a period of three years, with the possibility of an extension for a further two years. Jane McCall was appointed to the Commission as an external member on 2 February 2016 for a period of three years, and the Opposition support the extension of her appointment for a further two years up to a term limit of 1 February 2021. I am sure that they will both serve this House well as a critical friend.

I shall be briefer than usual as I am in the aftermath of a cold.

I rise once again to speak on the way in which we undertake public appointments in this country and, indeed, in this House. It is not an objection to the individuals concerned. However, they do once again seem to come from the great and the good. They may well be good. My hon. Friend the Member for Walsall South (Valerie Vaz) has just assured me, and the House, that the individual candidates were excellent people and excellently well qualified candidates, but that is the argument made all the time by the bastions of privilege.

The people before us may well be excellent, but we do not know whether others who might have applied might have been incorporated had we actually had people from a much wider world. Indeed, what do we do? We employ headhunters. Who do headhunters look at? They go and look at people they already know; they look at people who are already part of the circle. These jobs are reasonably well remunerated: £20,000 for 25 days. Many of my constituents would say, “Very nice work if you can get it.” Indeed, I do not know whether this is the same as some other appointments that we made where people were paid half-a-day’s pay for reading the papers before the meeting, and indeed a half-day’s stipend for attending a dinner the night before to talk over the issues with their colleagues.

As my hon. Friend has said, the qualifications of the individuals are impressive. Rima Makarem is currently audit chair at the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, chair of the National Travel Health Network and Centre, audit chair at University College London Hospitals, trustee of the UCLH Charity, independent council member of St George’s, University of London, and, as my hon. Friend rightly said, has held some other previous roles as well. Quite frankly, with the problems that the health service has, I would have thought she would be busy enough dealing with those roles in the health service, rather than taking on yet another quango role.

Jane McCall has previously undertaken several non-executive roles within the health, housing and procurement sectors, including at the Office of Legal Complaints— the board of the Legal Ombudsman—and deputy chair of University Hospital of South Manchester, which is the Wythenshawe hospital. She is a non-executive director at the Information Commissioner’s Office and chair of Tameside and Glossop Integrated Care NHS Foundation Trust. There is a whole range. This is what we always do with selections, and it has become worse over time. If one looks back, one can see that there were very often local councillors on local health boards—quite often, quite senior local councillors and leaders of our great cities and, I say to Conservative colleagues, leaders in the shires as well. They were people who had experience of running organisations but also knew about the conditions in the locality and the situation on the ground.

We had business people previously. I understand that one of the candidates had previously worked in a multinational. We had not just those who had worked in multinationals; there were those who ran medium-sized businesses in the localities. There were those who had created start-ups, had built up businesses and then wanted to give something back to the community, which is a long-standing tradition in our country. In my neighbouring borough, in Birmingham, Joseph Chamberlain made his fortune in the nuts and bolts industry. His main factory lies in my constituency. Having made that fortune, he became a civic leader and transformed that great city, the second city of our country. Those sorts of people no longer appear on the lists that we are regularly presented with or on the endless lists of appointments. It is all from the revolving quangocracy.

I am told by Members from rural areas that farmers with knowledge of the rural economy no longer get a look in. Trade unionists, whether conveners or local officials who really know local circumstances, were regularly on local and national boards; a number used to be in the House of Lords. When the post-war Labour Government nationalised the electricity industry, they put Lord Walter Citrine in charge. He was former assistant general secretary of the Electrical Trades Union, my own union, and also the former famous and outstanding general secretary of the Trades Union Congress. He was one of those who founded the free trade union movement after the second world war, in opposition to the Communist International. Such people were substantial people and they were the people Governments used to put into these positions––but no longer.

Both of the nominees may well be excellent candidates, with a good record in the health service, but if we are to have people from the health service, why not a doctor or a nurse, a paramedic, a technician or a care assistant—people who are working on the frontline in the health service? Why are we not putting those people into these positions? It is because they are not part of the magic circle or part of the group that people always look up, now on the computer or previously on the rolodex. Employing headhunters exacerbates that situation, as well as needlessly and uselessly contributing to our costs.

That is the problem. There are all those ordinary people in all of those different groupings. Other Members may well think of other groups. If we were to look at transport, there are those who work in that industry and may know a bit about it. It is a similar situation with the regulation of ports, and right the way through the panoply of all these various quangos. But these people do not meet the mandarins at the dinner parties and the cocktail parties. They get on with their jobs and get on with their lives, but they are not part of that magic circle.

As I say, I do not object to this motion with any personal animus towards these two individuals, whom I know not. I object to the continuation in this House, but much more widely across the civil service, of the process of selecting from a very small group, and all the time widening the gap between those who are making the decisions in administering such bodies and ordinary people who are actually affected by those decisions.

I thank Dame Janet Gaymer for the work that she has done on the Commission. I welcome the appointment of Dr Rima Makarem and the extension of the appointment of Jane McCall, who has given some excellent advice to the Commission over the years. I look forward to Dr Makarem, in particular, contributing in the same way that Dame Janet has, to great effect, on the Commission.

I take slight issue with the right hon. Member for Warley (John Spellar). I agree with him in principle that it should not simply be the usual suspects who are appointed to the usual positions. I can say, however—unusually defending the establishment—that the Commission, when it is appointing and employing, is very conscious indeed of the need to look beyond the usual suspects. It makes sure that it looks specifically at gender balance, sexuality, and those from more disadvantaged backgrounds. Indeed—we have had this discussion on a number of occasions—it looks at class, so that those who are being appointed and employed have different accents, educational backgrounds and life experiences.

Clearly, however, when we contract out a job like this, candidates are found and interviewed, and the best person is appointed. I hope that one day it might not be the usual suspects, as the right hon. Gentleman might have it, but for today, I believe that the Commission has appointed the right person.

The hon. Gentleman again falls into the trap of saying that the best person is appointed. If we determine the criteria as to what we are trying to achieve, we determine the outcome. That is what happens when we appoint headhunters and put in certain specifications such as a legal background, an accountancy background or experience in HR management. The outcome is prejudiced against all the groups that I described who are being excluded.

I understand what the right hon. Gentleman is saying. However, the criteria that had to be set were for independent commissioners to sit on the Commission to advise, from different experience, on dealing with the management of what is effectively a small town, with all the HR and technical requirements. Of course there have to be criteria. One would not appoint a bricklayer, a plumber or a sparky without specifying that they could lay bricks or put the electricity blocks in place correctly and safely, and the same applies to the appointment of the non-executive posts on the Commission.

I did not want to have a bunfight over this with the right hon. Gentleman, because I actually agree with him in principle. I simply wanted to thank Dame Janet for her work, welcome the extension of Jane’s appointment, and welcome Rima Makarem’s appointment to the Commission from October.

The House of Commons (Administration) Act 1978 requires that there should be two external members of the Commission. These external members are recommended by the Commission but agreed by a resolution of the House. The House of Commons Commission agreed the terms of this motion on 25 June, and the House now has an opportunity to approve the terms today. Dame Janet Gaymer has given exceptional service to the House of Commons Commission, and we should extend our sincere thanks to her.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank Jane McCall for her service to the House to date and to wish her success if the extension of her term is approved. I would finally like to thank the hon. Member for Walsall South (Valerie Vaz) for her work on the selection panel. I know that Dr Rima Makarem comes highly recommended, and I wish her success if her appointment is approved. I commend this motion to the House.

For the record, I did note one voice calling “No”—not in the wilderness, but quite clearly—but very many voices calling “Aye”, so the Ayes have it.

Question put and agreed to.