Salter Speaks: Self Harm, Iraq (not voting), super-councillors, Cop Out,

Martin Salter (Reading West, Labour)

Does my hon. Friend not realise that there is a distinct danger of those hon. Members who served on the Reform Committee beginning to self-harm if we have to listen to any more canters through the wonders of the Conservative party democracy taskforce or the history of the Modernisation Committee? Does she not agree that we want to hear whether both Opposition and Government Front Benchers are signed up to the Wright Committee recommendations? We had a non-response from theConservatives; will we get a proper response from her?

Martin Salter (Reading West, Labour)

It is a pleasure to follow Tony Baldry. I can give him some comfort. I have just done a quick count around the Chamber and a clear majority of Members did not vote for the Iraq war. Let us glory in our purity for a few moments. I speak as a member of the Select Committee on Reform of theHouse of Commons. It was a pleasure to serve on that Committee and work with colleagues on it.

I shall respond to some of the issues raised and then make a couple of points. I say to my hon. Friend Mark Fisher that he should beware of giving too much praise either to the Prime Minister or the Leader of the House, because thus far the reaction to and reception of our report has been lukewarm. The Prime Ministeris on the record as saying that he fully supports some of the recommendations, and the Leader of the House has yet to give us time for either a debate or a decision-a substantive vote-on the report. So the pressure needs to be put on not just my Front Benchers but Conservative Front Benchers-I say that to Mr. Field. As someone who has organised many events in this place, I assure him that dark forces are gathering and manoeuvrings are taking place.

Opposition Front Benchers’ enthusiasm for reform is wilting as the day of the general election gets closer, because all Governments like to control everything and feel that they have to be control freaks. It is part of our job to challenge that, whoever forms the next Government. I want to challenge the notion that we can somehow do our job better with fewer MPs. I ask hon. Members to reflect on the arguments they have made. What they are saying is that too often we are super-councillors, we are doing too much casework, we should be doing more scrutiny, and we should therefore have bigger constituencies and do less casework. That does not necessarily add up, because there may be some transitional problems. People might want to think their arguments on that through.

I say to my hon. Friend Natascha Engel, for whom I have huge affection, that I utterly reject her minority report. I thought it was a cop-out and that it merely talked about transferring the decision-making process to another Parliament. That report did not address the clear terms of reference that were set up for our Committee to a very tight time scale, which the Committee addressed. We did not have time to dance on the head of a pin concerning what we mean by reform or anything else.

With due respect, I say to my hon. Friend that she should beware of being sucked into the arguments that were given to us in the evidence from my right hon. Friend Hilary Armstrong, the former Chief Whip. She gave us a staggering thesis that basically went along the lines of, “It’s all in the manifesto and it’s the Government’s job to get that through, so what are you doing here?” I am not entirely sure that we are paid £64,000 a year merely to nod through what is in a manifesto without any element of parliamentary scrutiny. We need to be careful about going down that road.

On the comments of Bob Spink, who is sadly not in this Chamber now, I absolutely support getting rid of MPs’ second jobs and moonlighting-in fact, I proposed a private Member’s Bill on that issue back in 2007. If we contrast the top 50 outside earners in this place with their voting records, it is clear that the public lose out in that regard.

On the recommendations of the reform Committee itself, we considered three issues. We passed over the matter of the election of the Deputy Speaker, but I very much support the principle of that, particularly the election of the Chairman of Ways and Means, who may have a key role to play in a future business Committee. That matter has been passed to the Select Committee on Procedure and, again, its recommendations need to be implemented sooner rather than later.

We also considered the election of Select Committee Chairs. In 2001, a fiasco occurred within the parliamentary Labour party because of the Executive’s attempts to determine who their scrutineers were and to decide thatDonald Anderson and Gwyneth Dunwoody were too good at their jobs and would therefore be excluded from the list of people put forward for the Select Committee. The parliamentary Labour party for once was not a poodle, and it rose up. As a result, we brought our internal democracy into that process, and the elected Back-Bench Members in the PLP had a say in the names put forward. We are relatively content with our internal system and I commend it to other parties.

We grappled with the notion of electing every single place on a Select Committee, which would be very difficult to do. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Derbyshire: in the context of a new Parliament, how are we going to weigh up the credentials of one newly elected MP against another? I am not sure that I would want to say who the eleventh member of a Select Committee should be from a particular party. That is a matter for the parties themselves.

If we agree the balance-the public decide that as a result of the number of MPs from different parties who are sent here-it is for the parties themselves to come forward with a sensible, coherent and transparent system. However, it is for the House to decide who the Chairs of those Select Committees should be. Let us be honest: the Select Committee Chairs are not going to be newly elected Members of the House; they will be people with some experience who have a contribution to make. It is healthy for us to have that internal debate, but there is no doubt that the type of people who will triumph in those elections will be those who have shown independence of spirit and who really are formidable scrutineers. It is those people whom we need to chair our Select Committees.

The case for the House to have control over its own business is overwhelming, particularly regarding non-governmental time. I would like us to go further. The farce of private Members’ Bills is currently an exercise in using up time. We march the non-governmental organisations and lobby groups up to the top of the hill, and an inordinate amount of time, paper and rain forest is wasted in debating matters that will never get through, because a Government Whip can stand up on a Friday morning and shout, “Object.” For goodness’ sake, we have to be better than that. We have to have something better than a system of institutionalised filibustering, which is effectively how a lot of our time and energy is wasted. I would like us to go further in terms of the House controlling its own business.

A small part of the report that I had some influence on concerns how the public can be better engaged in what goes on in this place. Currently, early-day motions are no more than political graffiti. We sign too many of them, there are too many of them and they are on too many subjects. I would like early-day motions to be limited and a system introduced-we allude to this in the report-whereby if an EDM gathers support from across the House in sufficient numbers, a debate can take place on the Floor of the House.

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Published in: on December 19, 2009 at 11:57 pm  Leave a Comment  

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