Sir George speaks on pay for Select Committee Chairmen
30 Oct 2003
This is the text of the speech Sir George made in the House on October 30th:


It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Sir Nicholas Winterton), who said that he was in the last quarter of his parliamentary career. It is in the nature of one's job as a Member of Parliament that one is never absolutely certain which quartile one is in.
My hon. Friend touched on two frustrations that have been a constant theme of our debate. The first was the lack of an explicit link between the recommendations that we are considering and the Modernisation Committee's recommendations on a nomination committee. The fact that there is not a link was referred to by the hon. Member for Pendle (Mr. Prentice) who, in view of that absence, is not minded to support the proposals. The solution is for the Deputy Leader of the House to say something about the Government's intentions regarding those proposals, the vote on which was narrowly lost. We have heard about the background to the Division, and the fact that a number of Members who, if they had reflected on what they were about to do, might have acted differently. It would be helpful if the Deputy Leader of the House would say in his winding-up speech that he is minded to give the House another opportunity to reflect on the Modernisation Committee's recommendations.
Another frustration that the right hon. Member for Swansea, West (Mr. Williams), my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield and others have touched on concerns the Committees specified in the proposals. My view is that it is unrealistic of the SSRB to decide which Committees should have paid Chairmen and which should not, as that is a matter for the House to resolve. It would be helpful if the Deputy Leader of the House could tell us how he plans to respond to the feeling that has run right through our debate that, for understandable reasons, the SSRB may not have got it quite right. We have been unable to amend the motion, but the feeling in the House is that we would like to revisit this soon. The Deputy Leader of the House has a responsibility to address both those concerns, which have run right through our debate this afternoon. The Government motion approves my Committee's sixth report, and specifically endorses the two principles that we set out in paragraph 16. I shall speak briefly about the report, then make some even briefer remarks about the broader issues.
Sir Nicholas Winterton: It was a very good report.
Sir George Young: I am obliged to my hon. Friend.
My Committee was not asked whether Chairmen should be paid, which Chairmen should be paid, how much Chairmen should be paid or when payment should start, and I was pleased about that. We were asked a specific question about what should happen to Chairmen's outside interests if they were paid. In compiling our report, we were greatly assisted by views and representations of a large number of Select Committee Chairmen and others, whose names appear in the annexe. There was no unanimity, as one might expect, but the centre of gravity of the representations is broadly reflected in our recommendations.
We noted that Members of Parliament who are paid officer holders, but are not members of the Government—incidentally, such officer holders are paid more than is recommended for Committee Chairmen in the SSRB's proposals—were not subject to any restrictions on their outside interests. Having discovered that receipt of a salary from public funds had not hitherto been seen as grounds for imposing restrictions on Members' outside interests, we saw no reason to apply a different principle to payments to Select Committee Chairmen. Although our research was not exhaustive, we found no other country, Assembly or Parliament in the UK where paid Chairmen have to renounce their outside interests. Our first conclusion was that Select Committee Chairmen who are paid as such should not, subject to what I shall say in a moment, have to relinquish their outside interests.
We qualified that recommendation by referring to work that arises directly from Committee work as set out in paragraph 17. Besides the work that Chairmen do in the House in leading their Committees, many of them also undertake a lot of outside work—articles, broadcasts, conference addresses and so on. That is beneficial both for the Committees—it spreads knowledge about their work and enhances their visibility and their reputation—and the House, as it helps to enhance its public profile and the public's knowledge of its scrutiny work. Paying chairmen will not, and should not, result in any need for change in that outside work. However, in the view of my Committee, it changes the question whether Chairmen can properly accept payment for work set out in paragraph 17 that arises from their chairmanship.
We therefore asked the House to endorse two principles. First, there should be no question, nor any appearance, of any double payment from a Chairman's salary and an outside activity arising primarily from that chairmanship. Secondly, Chairmen should not gain private benefit from work done in whole or part with assistance from public resources. The differential between MPs and Chairmen, which the right hon. Member for Bracknell (Mr. Mackay) mentioned, would be widened unacceptably if Chairmen got a salary and were paid for activities arising from their chairmanship. It would also go down badly with the general public.
Mr. Salmond: A few moments ago, the right hon. Gentleman said that his Committee had looked at the situation in other Parliaments and Assemblies in the UK. If my memory serves me correctly, in the Scottish Parliament, Committee Chairmen are not paid, but in the Welsh Assembly they are paid £5,000. The Northern Ireland Assembly is obviously not in existence at present. Was it the National Assembly for Wales that determined the recommendations made by the right hon. Gentleman's Committee?
Sir George Young: We discovered that there are no restrictions on the outside interests of Committee Chairmen, whether paid or not, other than those that apply to everyone else. In one body, there is a payment for Chairmen, but the principle that we were looking at was whether Chairmen should have to renounce certain interests.
The right hon. Member for Swansea, West made a point about transitional arrangements, but we have dealt with that, and recognise that a change in mid-Parliament may cause problems for some Chairmen. We therefore propose that for the remainder of this Parliament Chairmen should have the option to decline the proposed payment, in which case their existing freedom in relation to accepting outside interests would remain unaltered. We stated that if the House endorses what we propose, we will bring forward some guidelines to help Select Committee Chairmen, and the Registrar can give advice. We also said that if Chairmen are to be paid, the interests that they declare prior to being chosen should become public knowledge as quickly as possible. Finally, if the basis for paying Select Committee Chairmen changes, we might want to reconsider the matter. In other words, what may be right at £12,500 might not be right if the figure were higher.
On the broader issue, I spoke and voted for the payment of Chairmen last time we debated the matter. I have no interest to declare, as my Select Committee is not in the frame for payment. I understand the reservations of my right hon. Friend the Member for Skipton and Ripon (Mr. Curry) about the cohesion of Committees being at risk if Chairmen are paid. I understand the issue about rotating sub-committees and the argument about two classes of MPs, which the hon. Member for Thurrock mentioned. We do not have the separation of powers that exists in the US and the position is not comparable, but I take a strategic view of the question.
Over recent years, Parliament has conceded much of its authority to the Executive, and we need to change the terms of trade. There is no one solution that puts that right, but there are various measures relating to how we manage the business of the House, how we programme Bills, how we resource Select Committees, how the House becomes more accessible and more intelligible to the public we represent, and how we hold Ministers to account. Those other measures are for another day, but part of the solution, in my view, is the development of an alternative career structure within the House. We need measures to counter the gravitational pull of ministerial office, and some public statement that the job of scrutiny has proper recognition and status.
I see paying Select Committee Chairmen as an important step in the rebalancing that I propose. That is why I voted for it and will vote for it again today. I have two qualifications, however. First, I think the SSRB has undervalued my colleagues and there is a risk of sending out the wrong signals. It is not at all clear how the SSRB arrived at the figure of £12,500. The Hansard Society report and Norton considered much higher figures. But with the promise of a further review, which should take place in the near future, I am prepared to risk the under-valuation of my hon. Friends and Labour Members. Also, if the House is to vote itself extra payments, it is better to do so under cover of the SSRB report, rather than going for a figure of our own.
My second caveat is one that we have touched on. I see Select Committee chairmanship as an alternative career structure, but it should not be a complementary career structure. If I blink, I may see the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, the hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin) back in the Liaison Committee as Chairman of Home Affairs. As we heard in the debate, the right hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Denham) moved seamlessly from office to being Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee.
Part of the package that we voted on last time was a different method of appointing Select Committees, prising the fingers of the Whips off the process. I voted for payment and for independent nomination as two sides of the same coin. I got one, but I did not get the other. I shall vote for payment today, but I very much hope that there will be some reassurance from the Deputy Leader of the House on the issue of nomination, and that we can revisit the matter in the near future.

 
Back to index. Index Back to index.
Back to index.

Copyright Sir George Young Bt. 2015