Nomination of Members to Committees

On Tuesday 12 September 2017, I spoke in the House of Commons on the Government’s motion on the nomination of Members to Committees. The motion establishes a new Selection Committee, and allows the Committee to give the Government a majority on any Public Bill and Delegated Legislation Committees, when it does not have a majority in the House. This is yet another power grab by the Minority Government. The vote was lost: Ayes: 320 Noes: 301

Below is my speech in full:

I thank the Leader of the House for the explanation, albeit fairly brief, of why the motion is before the House. I want to ask three questions: why, why and why? Why are the Government doing this, why is this necessary, and what does the motion say? Basically, for the benefit of hon. Members, it gives the Government an extra place on the newly named Selection Committee.

When the motion was tabled last Thursday, the Government included only eight names. They hastily added the hon. Member for Skipton and Ripon (Julian Smith) to the list. Members will note from part C of the motion that the Chair will be remunerated. The name has been changed to the Selection Committee and it feels rather like a Select Committee. If that is so, should not the whole House vote on the Chair?

I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman was listening, but the name of the Committee has changed from the Committee of Selection to the Selection Committee.​

The Selection Committee appoints Members to the Standing Committees. The Government want the extra place on Public Bill Committees to give them the majority that they do not have. This is not about the smooth running of business; it is a power grab. It is not about allowing proper scrutiny; it is a power grab. It is not about wanting to abide by the democratic result of the election; it is a power grab. What are the Government relying on? I heard nothing from the Leader of the House on why the Government want to do this.

There is no end to the hon. Gentleman’s talents, because he has asked the question that I was just about to answer. What are the Government relying on? Is it precedent? In 1974, the minority Labour Administration had a Government majority on the Committee of Selection, but it appointed Standing Committees with no overall majority. That is, there were Committees with equal numbers. In October 1974, there was a Government majority and that was reflected in the Committees. In April 1976, when the Government lost their overall majority, a motion was passed that stated that the Committee of Selection would appoint Committees with a Government majority only when the Government had an overall majority. That was the Harrison motion. From that point, the Committee of Selection nominated Standing Committees of equal numbers. That was a Labour Government being honourable.

In 1995, there was a Conservative Government and the Whip was withdrawn from the Maastricht rebels. Some hon. Members might be too young to remember the Major Government, but the former Prime Minister had a name for some of those people and it began with B. Yes, there was more than one of them.

The motion that was agreed by the House in 1995 stated that “unless and until” the party that had a majority at the election loses it through by-elections or defections—not when the Whip is taken away—Standing Order No. 86(2) shall be interpreted “in such a way as to give that party a majority on any standing committee.”

Let us look at the Standing Orders, which could be another reason why the Government are doing this. But, oh no, Standing Order No. 86(2) states clearly: “In nominating such Members the Committee of Selection shall have regard to the qualifications of those Members…and to the composition of the House”.

The words “composition of the House” are found in other Standing Orders, too. I do not know if Members are aware, but Standing Orders are how the House does business. The Deputy Leader of the House knows that ​because he is a lawyer. He will know that the civil procedure rules are there for a specific purpose, and so it is with Standing Orders. They are there so that the House can do its business in a proper and orderly way. The Government, however, have no regard for the rules of the House. Why is the Leader of the House ignoring Standing Orders? What is her interpretation of the words “composition of the House”?

Perhaps the Government are relying on democracy. That is disingenuous, because the Government did not win the election. This is a minority Government. They did not get a mandate. The British people gave us their verdict, and what they wanted was to rein back the Government, and for the Opposition to scrutinise the Government and make them accountable. Public Bill Committees are where the British people expect us to reflect the views of our constituents, business, science, the financial system, the legal system and our fundamental rights—all the things that make up this thriving democratic country, with its devolved Governments that make up the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

Many hon. Members said yesterday, “Don’t worry about the powers reserved to Ministers; we can make amendments in Committee.” They cannot. With this motion, Back Benchers cede the power to the Government to select Members and ensure the Government have the majority on Standing Committees. It will be impossible to amend the Bill. The Government are packing the Committees—the Whips are one step ahead of them all.

In his widely acclaimed speech on Thursday, the Shadow Secretary of State for Exiting the EU said: “That we are leaving is settled. How we leave is not.”—[Official Report, 7 September 2017; Vol. 628, c. 368.]

New evidence comes forward every day from the negotiations—or perhaps the lack of negotiations. Look at what happened to the party that went into coalition with the last Government: reduced in numbers, because they propped up a Government they could not control. Hon. Members will know in their heart what is right and the democratic thing to do.

Perhaps the Government are relying on the constitutional position. This minority Government are governing through a confidence and supply agreement. Who knows what will happen when the £1 billion runs out. May I ask the Leader of the House why the Government should have a majority on Committees when they do not command a majority from the country?

The Government did not even try to make it work. The Opposition’s names are very reasonable. My right hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth (Mr Campbell), my hon. Friends the Members for Alyn and Deeside (Mark Tami) and for Newport East (Jessica Morden) and even the hon. Member for Glasgow North (Patrick Grady) are all very reasonable Members. I know that they would be pleased to sit down with the Government and work out a reasonable solution that would be in keeping with the constitutional position and the democratic will of the country—[Interruption.] This shows everybody that Government Members do not want to listen to the argument. They just want to interrupt—[Interruption.] ​

No party enjoys an overall majority. You will know, Madam Deputy Speaker, that the Opposition have struggled to get an Opposition day debate since January. The shadow Chief Whip and his office are incredibly upset by the suggestion that they were not ready to put forward names for the Committee when they had them ready—we were ready to go in July—and that is why the House should not give these powers away to the Government. I feel sorry for the Leader of the House. She has been sent out in a bright outfit like Ri Chun-hee, the North Korean television presenter, to tell us that everything is well when actually something really bad and dramatic is happening to our democracy.

This is an over-reaching and overbearing Executive. The Government are taking away from Parliament powers to which they are not entitled. The motion is based on neither precedent, nor Standing Orders, nor the constitution nor democracy, so I ask again: why is it necessary? This is a Government by convention, not majority, and I urge hon. Members, for the sake of parliamentary democracy, to vote against the motion and to take back our sovereignty.