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Committee on Standards

Volume 698: debated on Monday 28 June 2021

[Relevant document: Report from the House of Commons Commission, Lay Members of the Committee on Standards: Nomination of Candidate, HC 474.]

I beg to move,

That, in accordance with Standing Order No. 149A, Ms Mehmuda Mian be appointed as lay member of the Committee on Standards for a period of six years, with immediate effect.

The motion gives the House the opportunity to approve the appointment of Ms Mehmuda Mian as a lay member of the Committee on Standards for a period of six years. I move the motion on behalf of the House of Commons Commission, which concluded that Ms Mian will bring the necessary skills and experience to the Committee’s work that the recruitment process was intended to deliver. Her appointment will also contribute to maintaining a diversity of experience, gender and background among the seven-strong team of lay members.

Ms Mian is a solicitor, with significant non-executive regulatory and governance experience. She is presently a non-executive director of Berkshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust and a board member of the Independent Press Standards Organisation, both since 2015. She is also a disciplinary committee member of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons and an associate director of the Lokahi Foundation. In addition, she has previously served as a non-executive director of the Disclosure and Barring Service at the Independent Safeguarding Authority, and is a trustee of the BBC. She had earlier roles as a commissioner at the Independent Police Complaints Commission and as a member of the Police Complaints Authority.

The lay members of the Committee on Standards play an essential role in providing an independent voice to the Committee’s decisions. When lay members were first proposed over a decade ago, the rationale given by the Committee on Standards in Public Life was that it would be a step towards enhancing public acceptance of the robustness and independence of the disciplinary process for Members of Parliament. The independent and impartial status of lay members is therefore critical to maintaining confidence in our process.

The first three lay members of the Committee were appointed in 2012, and the Standing Orders were amended in 2015 to increase the number of lay members to seven. The term of office of the first tranche of lay members came to an end on 30 March 2017, and on 15 March 2017 three further lay members were appointed by the House to replace them. Two of the four lay members recruited in 2016 came to the end of their four-year terms on 18 May 2020; the other two had been appointed for six-year terms. On 10 November 2020, the House appointed one further lay member. The other vacancy remained unfilled.

Today’s motion will restore the full complement of lay members. This debate reflects the House’s important role in approving such appointments. Should the House agree to the appointment of Ms Mian today, I would like to take the opportunity to wish her well as she takes up her new role. I commend the motion to the House.

It is vital, given the importance of their work, that lay members of the Committee on Standards are well tested, carefully selected and able to bring extensive experience to the Committee. There has been a thorough and fair recruitment process that attracted a high calibre of applicants. I confirm that, as the Leader of the House said, it was thoroughly scrutinised by the House of Commons Commission, and we support the panel’s decision.

Ms Mian was found to be the best candidate and to be entirely suitable for the important work of the Committee. I was particularly interested in her various scrutiny roles. I hope and believe that she meets with the approval of my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant), the Chair of the Committee, and I am sure that we will welcome her and value her work. The Commission entirely supports this decision.

As a recently appointed member of the Committee on Standards, I welcome this appointment. Elected Members of this Parliament are already expected to meet high standards in public life, as defined by the Nolan principles, and to adhere to the House of Commons code of conduct and related rules of the House. It cannot be right for MPs alone to be the sole adjudicators and decision makers on whether other elected Members—who may be friends, political colleagues or indeed political adversaries —may be in breach of the code of conduct. That would, I believe, be totally unacceptable to the public whom we are all elected to represent and serve.

From my limited experience on the Committee, I can say that the contribution of the current lay members is exceptional: they bring a wealth of knowledge, skills and experience of public life at a senior level across a diverse range of sectors. Lay members also bring a fresh perspective that is not clouded by political affiliations or party loyalties. Their independent and impartial status allows them to focus on the circumstances and the evidence in individual cases. They are therefore crucial to maintaining transparency, confidence and trust in the Committee’s work and decision making.

From what I know of Ms Mian from her curriculum vitae, her previous experience and involvement in public life will enhance and complement that of the existing lay members, and she would make an excellent addition to the lay membership of the Committee. I understand that she has been through a thorough and rigorous selection process and is recommended for appointment by those responsible for carrying out that process.

This appointment will bring the number of lay members up to the full complement of seven, equal to the number of MPs on the Committee, and will enhance the diversity of the Committee. I therefore fully support the appointment.

May I say that the panel was very ably chaired by Rima Makarem? She herself, as a lay member of the House of Commons Commission, is a clear instance of how much lay members can bring to the way we do our business. It was also clerked very ably by Dr Robin James, the Clerk of our Committee.

Mehmuda has extensive experience. It is good that she has worked in so many different organisations as a committee member, non-executive director and so on. I was particularly impressed that she has been dealing with vets—somehow that seemed particularly appropriate for dealing with Members of Parliament. I was a member of the interview panel. What was really striking was that she showed a really strong sense of fairness, an ability to judge nuance and a capacity to work within a committee on sensitive issues. She did not seem to want to be the chair, either, which I rather liked. She also had a robust understanding of regulation. I am very confident that she will be a magnificent member of the Committee.

I have been the Chair of the Committee for the best part of a year, and the only regret I have is that since 18 May last year we have not had our full complement. For several months we were two down on the lay members, and we have been one down for more than a year. We need not rehearse all those arguments now, but I just hope that when we are replacing the new members, as we will have to do in the future, we can perhaps start this process a bit earlier so that there is no gap. We have an awful lot of work to do, and I very much look forward to welcoming Mehmuda at tomorrow morning’s meeting.

Question put and agreed to.