By Tim Montgomerie
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One of the most significant features of this parliament has been the rise of a much more independent parliamentary party... The small number of frontbench jobs relative to the size of the 2010 intake... The difference between the Coalition Agreement and the manifesto promises that MPs were elected upon... The empowerment of backbenchers by Speaker Bercow... The IPSA factor... No10's party mismanagement... at least ten factors have created what I've called the supercharged backbencher. My guess is that now the genie of backbench power is out of the bottle it won't easily be put back. Those Tory MPs who were part of the "81" or the "91" won't suddenly become ultra-loyal even if the ideal party leader or agenda is suddenly discovered. Rebelliousness is now in the Tory bloodstream with huge implications for how whipping should be carried out.
Back to my main point, however, and the topic of the supercharged backbencher. In an article behind The Sunday Times' paywall Graham Brady, Chairman of the 1922 Committee, thinks Lords reform shouldn't even be discussed until we have restored public confidence in the Commons - the primary chamber of parliament. "The Commons," he writes, "should schedule its own business; select committees need more powers and resources to get to the bottom of the misdeeds of banks or government departments; backbench MPs should have a meaningful opportunity to introduce legislation that has wide support. Government should have the self-confidence to allow more “free” unwhipped votes."
One idea that Mr Brady has mentioned in public gatherings on previous occasions - that would empower backbenchers relative to the executive - would be to pay MPs a little more if they serve on select committees - provided that they attend those committees at least, say, 90% of the time. This, he thinks, would properly recognise the workload associated with select committee membership and discourage MPs from resigning from these important vehicles for scrutiny in return for a PPS-ship (pejoratively known as ministerial bag-carrying).
Chairman of Select Committees already receive a premium but not as big a premium as ministers. One source said to me that it was unfair that Andrew Tyrie, the influential Chairman of the Select Committee, should, for example, get a £15,000 pay premium but Treasury Minister Chloe Smith should get paid £35,000 extra for being a Minister of State.
An expenses-weary, austerity-struck public might not like the idea of any MPs getting any more pay in any circumstances but a premium for select committee work may be one of the best possible ways of encouraging MPs to see scrutiny of government rather than membership of government as a worthy parliamentary career path.
By Jonathan Isaby
Following the recent appointment of a number of Conservative MPs as Parliamentary Private Secretaries to ministers, vacancies arose on the select committees on which they had been serving (since PPSs do not serve on select committees).
As a result, new elections were held among Conservative backbenchers to fill those vacancies and the following MPs have been successfully elected to serve on the committees:
I reliably hear that a second raft of PPSs is set to be appointed imminently from among the ranks of the new intake. More news as soon as I have it.
By Paul Goodman
Peter Hoskins has posted a brief account on the Spectator's Coffee House site about this morning's Treasury Select Committee appearance by George Osborne. The Chancellor promised to allow the committee to approve his proposed new appointments to the Office of Budget Responsibility - thereby giving them the power to veto his suggestions if they wish.
I left the Commons largely because I believed it was changing for the worse. So it's right to acknowledge that in some ways the place is getting better. The cross-party election of Select Committee Chairman has been a democratic revolution. MPs from previous Parliaments especially told me that they've found canvassing support from political opponents a liberating experience - as they line up with them as legislators to hold the Executive to account.
One of the innovations in this new Parliament is the creation of a BackBench Business Committee which is gaining the power from the Establishment to determine the backbencher-initiated business in the Commons chamber and Westminster Hall.
Last week Labour MP Natascha Engel beat Tory MP and former Deputy Speaker Sir Alan Haselhurst by 202 votes to 173 to chair the new committee.
Yesterday the names of the remaining members emerged and it is notable that the eurosceptic Tory Right is more than amply represented in the form of Peter Bone, Philip Davies and Philip Hollobone. They are joined by Jane Ellison from the 2010 intake.
Birmingham Yardley MP John Hemming will be the Lib Dem on the committee, whilst David Anderson and Alison Seabeck will be the other Labour MPs on the committee.
Over the last two Wednesdays, Conservative MPs have voted to choose which of their number will serve on the various Select Committees (Chairmen have already been elected by the whole House).
The successful members are as below. The committees will be dominated by members of the new intake, who are marked with an asterisk*:
Business, Innovation and Skills
Children, Schools and Families
CRAIG WHITTAKER* (originally omitted in error)
Communiuties and Local Government
Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport
Energy and Climate Change
Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
SIR JOHN STANLEY
Political and Constitutional Reform
ROBERT HALFON* (originally listed in Children, Schools and Families in error)
Science and Technology
Work and Pensions
NB Vacancies remain to be filled on the Environmental Audit, Northern Ireland, Procedure, Public Administration, Science and Technology, Scottish Affairs and Welsh Affairs committees.
I wondered earlier this week here whether Labour MPs would use the Select Committee elections to make life difficult for David Cameron.
They didn't. Instead, they lined up behind the Conservative establishment candidates. Andrew Tyrie took the Treasury Select Committee; Richard Ottaway, Foreign Affairs (a big, big consolation prize, after his defeat in the 1922 Committee Chairmanship election); James Arbuthnot, Defence; Stephen Dorrell, Health; Tim Yeo, Climate Change. Anne McIntosh, who won the Environment Committee, leans towards the left of the Party.
I didn't, of course, see anyone cast a ballot paper. But unless Conservative MPs turned out en masse to vote against the Party's right - an unlikely course of action, given the '22 Executive results - Liberal and Labour support for less spiky candidates provides the only comprehensible explanation of the results.
It would be unfair to view the victors as patsies. Tyrie, in particular, has a track record of independent-mindedness. But ask yourself whether Cameron Towers would prefer the winners to, say, Patrick Mercer at Defence or Peter Bone at Health (let alone Nadine) or Philip Hollobone at Climate Change, and there's only one answer.
Bernard Jenkin and Chris Chope are both seen as men of the right. But Chope's used the Chamber to launch independent-minded assaults on establishment causes, and it's noticeable that he lost out in the tussle for the Public Administration Committee Chairmanship.
John Whittingdale at Culture and Greg Knight at Procedure, both No Turning Back Group stalwarts, are in unopposed. Graham Stuart won what should have been, even if it wasn't, a close-fought battle for the Education Committee.
As most readers know, the Select Committee Chairmanships have been carved out among the parties, and tomorrow's elections for the posts will be cross-party. So Conservative MPs, for example, can vote for Labour candidates, and vice-versa. Jonathan has a list of those standing here.
A question follows: on what basis will Labour MPs vote for the Conservative candidates? Answer: it depends. Some will support the best candidate. Others will vote for the Conservative candidate seen to be the more left-wing of the two.
Such is the attachment on the Labour benches to climate change orthodoxy, for example, that large number of the Party's MPs are likely to line up behind Tim Yeo, the establishment candidate for the Energy and Climate Change committee.
In other cases, however, Labour MPs will surely ask: who's the candidate more likely to cause David Cameron trouble? Or, if they've a more elevated turn of mind: who's the candidate more likely to stand up for the legislature against the executive?
In some cases, it's hard to tell. For example, both candidates for the Treasury Select Committee Chairmanship, Michael Fallon and Andrew Tyrie, are independent-minded. But in others, it's easier to see who'd be more likely to give Downing Street a fit of the heebie-jeebies.
Step forward, then, Peter Bone - standing for the Chairmanship of the Health Select Committee - John Baron, contesting Foreign Affairs (Baron pursued Ministers energetically about Iraq during the last Parliament) and, in the Defence Select Committee poll, no fewer than three of the candidates: Julian Lewis, Patrick Mercer and, above all, Douglas Carswell (one half of the Carswell-Hannan "Cannon" dynamic duo).
If Carswell in particular wins (an unlikely event, but you never know), expect senior officials in the Ministry of Defence to start screaming and screaming, and be unable to stop...
So if any of the above are elected, take a long, hard look at the Labour benches for those responsible.
Official disclaimer: nothing in this article is to be read as an endorsement of any candidate, in any election, at any time, anywhere...
The Independent on Sunday reports this morning here that the right of the Parliamentary Party is organising a slate for the Select Committee elections this Wednesday.
I wrote that this was likely last week here - and that both left and right will certainly organise tickets, in due course, for the election of 1922 Committee backbench committees.
The right's triumph in the '22 Chairmanship election was unmissable. Its thumping win in the rest of the committee elections has been less well noted. For example, five of the six non-officers elected who were MPs at the last election were from the right.
Perhaps the most stark right-left clash will take place for the Chairmanship of the Treasury Select Committee. That there are only two candidates dramatises the conflict. From the right, we have Michael Fallon. From the left, Andrew Tyrie (pictured). Jonathan's written recently about the battle here.
Fallon, a Deputy Chairman of the Committee during the last Parliament, has been reported to have strong backing from his former colleagues.
Tyrie, however, is fighting back. Sources close to his camp claim that a high-profile supporter from the last Committee will be unveiled early this week. We shall see.
Certainly, claims that John McFall, the former Labour Chairman of the committee, has endorsed Fallon are wrong. I've checked them out, and McFall's steering clear of the contest.
But they're a reminder that, for the Select Committee Chairman elections, the left-right struggle isn't everything. Tory candidates will need to win Labour votes (and vice-versa). So cross-party appeal will matter.
Furthermore, what's either group to do if two candidates put up from its ranks - as they're doing in the case of the Public Administration Committee, where Chris Chope and Bernard Jenkin are going head-to-head?
All of this is vivid illustration of how what used to be a Whips' carve-up has been transformed into a riot of democracy.
Wednesday June 9th will see the first ever elections for chairmen of the various Commons Select Committees. Paul Goodman has already posted here about the importance of who chairs Select Committees.
A Conservative will chair twelve of these committees, although all 650 MPs will be eligible to take part in the secret ballot conducted under the Alternative Vote system (ie ranking your first, second etc preferences with votes transferring from the least popular candidates until one has more than 50% of the vote).
Below are those twelve committees and the latest information we have as to the contenders (updated on Tuesday 8th June with the candidates for the Labour and Lib Dem chairmanships). Those in bold have officially submitted their nomination; the others named below are being mooted as likely contenders based on ConHome sources and media reports.
The lists will be updated as more information emerges, so if you have any further information about likely candidates, please email me.
Bear in mind that nominations do not close until Tuesday June 8th, so potential contenders may drop out and others may yet enter the races.
Check back here over the coming days for updated information on the contenders for each race.
Conservative chairmanshipsCulture, Olympics, Media and Sport
Business, Innovation and Skills
Liberal Democrat chairmanships
During the last Parliament, Select Committee Chairmen and members were appointed, not elected. And there were no Conservative backbench committees to be elected or appointed to.
All this is now changing, as Jonathan reported this morning here.
First, the Commons voted during the last Parliament to elect Select Committee Chairmen and members. Nominations for Chairmen - who require support from MPs from other parties - close next Tuesday, and elections take place next Wednesday. Unlike Chairmen, MPs standing for the other committee places will be nominated and voted upon by members of their own parties only. Neither a date nor a method has yet been set for these polls.
Second, a source tells me that the '22 is likely to re-establish backbench committees of Conservative MPs to represent its views to Government. (Richard Ottaway referred to this possibility in his piece on the Chairmanship for Conservative Home here.) A date hasn't yet been set for these elections - but they may well take place when the Select Committee elections have finished.
Let's probe what these changes will mean by looking, in turn, at each set of committees - one Parliamentary, one Party.
Does it matter who the Chairman and members of a Select Committee are? Yes.
A bad Chairman and weak members will take the line of least resistance - and be led in their work by the Committee Clerks. The Clerks will essentially decide the enquiries, write the questions to witnesses, draft the reports - and go with the flow. I won't embarrass any such former Chairmen or members by naming them, but this has happened, from time to time.
Last week it emerged that Conservative MPs will chair twelve of Parliament's select committees, with those influential chairmanships being decided by ballots of all MPs from across the Commons next week.
This morning's Times reports on the battle to chair one of the most important committees, the Treasury Select Committee. We are apparently set to see Michael Fallon (pictured), the deputy chairman and senior Conservative on the committee in the last Parliament, likely to be challenged by Andrew Tyrie, who has also served on the committee and is a stalwart of several Ken Clarke leadership campaigns.
Nominees need the public backing of 15 MPs from their own party and at least 5 from other parties in order to run.
The Times suggest that Michael Fallon already has the backing of all other members of the committee from the last Parliament (bar Mr Tyrie), suggesting that he has broad support from across the House; but supporters of Mr Tyrie, a Tory moderate, claim he too would be well positioned to gain support from across the Commons.
Nominations do not need to be submitted until next Tuesday, so there will be doubtless much informal campaigning and collecting of signatures for all these posts when MPs return form their mini-Whitsun recess tomorrow.
Watch this space for more news.
I've just picked up this list from ePolitix.
A Conservative MP will chair the following committees:
A Lib Dem MP will chair:
A Labour MP will chair:
In the past the whips were able to allocate the chairmanships of these committees but they'll now be elected posts. Conservative backbench MPs, for example, will choose the chairmen of each of the select committees which have been allocated to the Conservative Party. Apologies, the true position was set out by Sir George Young earlier: "Although all hon. Members will be entitled to vote in the ballot for each Chair, only members of the party specified in the motion will be eligible to stand as candidates for that post."
The Children, Schools and Families Select Committee has published a report today on the National Curriculum. Three Conservative members of the Committee - Graham Stuart, Edward Timpson and Douglas Carswell - have published a minority report.
They argue that that the National Curriculum has failed, and that "a major rethink is needed". They say that "the curriculum has reduced the ability of teachers to do their jobs as respected professionals or to innovate. Inflexibility and constraint have been the hallmarks of the national curriculum under every administration." The report recommends:
"a) A national curriculum that sets out broad goals to be reached by the age of 16. The curriculum would set out a framework of the core subjects and would include no further instruction as to what aspects of those subjects should be taught or how subjects should be taught.
b) All schools, as well as independent schools and academies, would be free to opt out of the national curriculum where their governing bodies voted to do so and were supported by a majority of parents who would vote in a ballot. This would act as a safety valve against further interference with and overloading of the national curriculum.
c) The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority is ineffective and should be scrapped or much reduced in size. In its place, each university would be invited to send a representative to a “National Curriculum Board.”"
Mr Stuart has added this comment:
"The National Curriculum as it currently stands has had its day. Ministers and unelected quangos have used it to meddle and interfere over what is taught in classrooms, instead of trusting the instincts and professionalism of teachers. If we are to have a curriculum at all it should be a significantly scaled down version that sets out a number of broad aspirations and goals and doesn't try to micro-manage every day of a child's life. It's also vital that schools have the option to opt out of the curriculum altogether, if parents and school governors so wish. This will be an essential valve to stop future governments, of whichever colour, imposing more central direction on schools. Overall we need to get out of the current mindset that Ministers know best. This has stifled innovation in schools and damaged the quality of learning that is provided to the nation's children."
I agree with the trio that something has to give. Under normal circumstances I think all kids should learn English, maths, British history and some science, but the current system is far too prescriptive.
There needs to be proper controls on and scrutiny of teachers, but in the final analysis schools will only work if teachers are given their heads and allowed to flourish. That's the way to let pupils flourish too.
Select committees are not usually all the rage, but there is widespread media coverage of the Treasury Select Committee's grilling yesterday of RBS and HBOS bankers.
All four men (the former HBOS chief executive and chairman, Andy Hornby and Lord Stevenson, and the former RBS chief executive and chairman, Sir Fred Goodwin and Sir Tom McKillop) apologised for the events that have led to the crisis in their banks. Andy Hornby said that it was an error to pay huge bonuses for short-term successes. Sir Tom admitted that the purchase of Dutch bank ABN Amro for £10 billion was a mistake. The witnesses were also keen to impress upon the committee - and the wider public - that they have personally lost a great deal of money.
The question, however, is what is to be done about it all, and how a future crisis might be averted.
In the Times today there is a leading article calling for an overhaul of the select committee system. It says that committees are "better at theatre than scrutiny" and "thinly staffed and poorly resourced". The piece calls for committee chairmen to be paid at least as well as junior ministers, so that committees are an alternative career path and not just for mavericks, has-beens and the hopeless. (In fact select committees are a good place for junior MPs to start - David Cameron thrived on the Home Affairs one).
Peter Luff, who chairs the Business and Enterprise select committee, suggested a way forward in an article for ConservativeHome published in January. He wants fewer committees with greater powers, and the creation of one new one - a social justice committee chaired by Iain Duncan Smith.
Under Mr Luff's proposals, which are well worth reading in full, most select committees would be reduced in size to nine members. He argues that most "cross-cutting" committees get in the way of those that scrutinse specific government departments, and that they should have "the power to refer more issues about expenditure, appointments and policy to the floor of the House not just for debate but also for votes."
Select committees were an early and excellent innovation of the first Thatcher government. It is indeed time that they had greater bite.
Sir George Young is chairman of the Select Committee on Standards and Privileges. Yesterday he addressed the House of Commons.
His committee has published a report suggesting the end of "dual reporting" - whereby MPs have to report donations to both the Register of Members' Interests and Electoral Commission. The committee says that MPs should just record the donations on the Register and the Electoral Commission should then extract the information.
Shadow Chancellor George Osborne and Health Secretary Alan Johnson are both thought to have been caught out by the current requirement to report to both bodies.
Herewith some highlights from Sir George's statement, which was supported by the Government:
"The reporting regime, which is one of the most demanding in the world, needs to be overhauled from time to time to ensure that it is both effective and proportionate. The Committee on Standards in Public Life recommended that such an overhaul should be carried out once in each Parliament, and today’s package of proposals represents the overhaul in the present Parliament.
In addition to making changes that relate to the end of dual reporting, the revised guide clarifies existing rules, implements earlier decisions of the House—for example, on the employment of family members—and responds to developments outside this place, such as the development of new forms of investment vehicles. The final section of the revised guide sets out in greater detail than before the procedure for considering and investigating complaints that a Member has breached the rules. Many of the changes, however, and most of the red print in the revised guide are there to end dual reporting.
Members may well ask, “Well, what is the catch?” I do not believe there is a catch, but there is certainly some give as well as some take. Members will need to provide more information to the registrar than they did previously. However, this will be offset by the removal of any need to report the same information to the commission, and a single form will be provided for this purpose.
Although hon. Members will no longer have to provide information on permissible donations and loans directly to the Electoral Commission, the commission will remain under a statutory obligation to publish all the relevant information as soon as is reasonably practicable. That means that the commission will publish information on its register within one month of receipt. In order to avoid a four-month gap opening up in the commission’s register, it will be necessary to return to the previous practice of requiring Members to register their interests within one month of their election or re-election to the House, rather than within three months, as at present. Separate deadlines for information required under statute and for information required under resolutions of the House would create confusion and lead to error, and the Committee therefore considers it preferable to have a single deadline."
Shadow Leader of the House of Commons Alan Duncan also commented. He found the matter more complicated than he had anticipated: