Sir George speaks in debate on Managing the House of Commons
20 Jan 2000
Sir George Young (North-West Hampshire): As a fellow
Commissioner, Madam Speaker, I propose to say little, but I know that our
deliberations will have been illuminated by the debate.

I, too, compliment Michael Braithwaite and his team on the report. It
required an unusual combination of skills: insight into the life of Members
and the culture of Parliament; and an understanding of modern business
management structures. It is a readable document, which has inspired an
interesting "Second Reading" debate in the Commission.

20 Jan 2000 : Column 1083

I make six quick points. First, devising a management system for the
complex business that is the House would be a major challenge in itself, but
a management system that incorporates Members at the right place, with all
the pressures on our time and sensitivities, requires genius. The difficulties
that confronted both Ibbs and Braithwaite was how to insert into a
conventional corporate management structure an essentially unconventional
non-corporate person--namely, a Member of Parliament, whose
predominant interests and commitments lie elsewhere.

Secondly, the report asserts that it is all or nothing. Paragraph 25 states:


"Our recommendations are an integrated package rather than a list of
options."

There is a tendency for many reports to say that nowadays. I do not think
that that holds true. The report contains many stand-alone
recommendations, including cross-posting staff in the House from one
department to another and a foundation period for new staff. Parts 5 and 6
contain a huge number of sensible, stand-alone recommendations, which
should not be held up simply because we cannot agree on the
macro-reforms.

Thirdly, there are some important issues about the Domestic Committees.
On Tuesday, we debated an important report from the Administration
Committee, to which only three of the nine members had put their name.
Select Committees have difficulty with quorums and continuity of
membership. The Domestic Committees face an even greater problem.
Absenteeism on Select Committees has increased from 25 per cent.
in1995-96 to 34 per cent. in 1998-99. The figure for the Select Committee
on Education and Employment is 50 per cent. I am happy to say that the
Select Committee on Modernisation, on which I sit, has an 84 per cent.
attendance rate.

Members of Parliament come to Westminster to represent their
constituents, to support the Government or to hold them to account, to
specialise in particular policy areas that interest them and to build a political
career. There is growing pressure on our time, which is unlikely to be
reversed. Members do not come to Westminster to sit on a Domestic
Committee. As the pressure on Members' time has mounted, they have cut
back on areas that are not priorities.

Mrs. Llin Golding (Newcastle-under-Lyme): I will not detain the House
long, but the thing that concerns me about the report is its lack of clarity on
what is happening to ordinary staff here. Terms and conditions of work
change rapidly, yet I could not find out from the report who to talk to if I
am concerned about someone, say, in the Tea Room who had had their
conditions altered, some of the door men, or a reduction in numbers. There
does not seem to be anything in the report that explains how those matters
are decided.

Sir George Young: It sounds as if the hon. Lady was one of the hon.
Members interrogated by the hon. Member for Ealing, Acton and
Shepherd's Bush (Mr. Soley) and invited to say whom she would go to.
The answer that was given by the hon. Gentleman was the Clerk, who will,
if not answer the question himself, at least route it in the right direction.
However, she has made the point that there is lack of clarity about the
management structure.

20 Jan 2000 : Column 1084

Against the background of the problem of the Domestic Committees, I
found it a bold recommendation that we should retain them.

Fourthly, I think that that raises a broader question about an alternative
career structure in the House--which recognises that becoming a Minister is
not the only way of serving; which recognises that, if Parliament is to do its
job properly, it is important to have on both sides of the House hon.
Members who do not want to become Ministers; and which recognises the
contributions of those hon. Members. Although that takes us beyond this
debate, I believe that if such a structure existed, it would make it easier to
deal with some of the problems identified by Braithwaite.

Fifthly, and penultimately, there is the proposal to make the Finance and
Services Committee, which is composed entirely of hon. Members, the
Commission's executive committee. The criticism of the Domestic
Committees was that they acted in executive mode, not policy mode. The
proposals for the Finance and Services Committee run the risk of
magnifying that problem--of muddling up policy and services.

As for paragraph 4.21, I am not sure that these are the right tasks for
members. One of them is


"to carry out individual tasks delegated to it by the Commission".

That is meant to be done by members of the Finance and Services
Committee, which includes the Leader of the House and the two Deputy
Chief Whips. I wonder whether it is really their job to run the Commission's
executive missions. Indeed, it seems that the problem is that the Finance
and Services Committee, as described in Braithwaite, becomes rather close
to the Board of Management.

Finally, I should like to say a word on the Commission. Paragraph 4.6
reminds us of what Ibbs hoped the Commission would do. The report
tactfully suggests that we have not lived up to expectations, and I agree.
However, I have some difficulty with the paragraph that asserts that the
Commission is of the right size. It consists of the Speaker and five
Members, many of whom are doing many other things--not least, of course,
Madam Speaker.

It is worth considering the option of a larger Commission, not least because
paragraph 15.10 envisages the Commission doing more work. If we had a
larger Commission, it would give breadth and depth to our discussion, and
we are rather light on newer and younger members.

With those initial thoughts, I welcome the report and look forward to taking
forward its implementation with my fellow Commissioners.

 
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