Speaker’s Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority

John Spellar Excerpts
Wednesday 12th January 2022

(2 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
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Richard Thomson Portrait Richard Thomson (Gordon) (SNP)
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I echo what has been said and offer my thanks to those involved in the recruitment process and to those who have given their service. I also pass on our best wishes to Ms Middleton, who seems to be an eminently suitable appointee for the role.

John Spellar Portrait John Spellar (Warley) (Lab)
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Will the hon. Member give way?

Richard Thomson Portrait Richard Thomson
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I had just finished, but I will find something else to say.

John Spellar Portrait John Spellar
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I thank the hon. Member for giving way. I have no knowledge of or animus towards the individual concerned, but once again it is the great and the good. She is someone who has just recently retired from HMRC. How cosy that they all slot into these positions. It is never truck drivers who are keeping the country going, or nursing sisters who are keeping the health service going, or those from a whole range of occupations—it is always out of the quangocrats and retired civil servants. I would hope that the Scottish National party and our own Front Benchers would be saying, “We need a broader range of people in public appointments, and not just the same merry-go-round of the great and the good”—however good they may be, and who knows whether they are great.

Richard Thomson Portrait Richard Thomson
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I feel like I have been given an unexpected opportunity to hold court, which I shall not take. Nevertheless, the right hon. Gentleman is correct: we are very much of a bias towards the good, rather than the great, and it is perhaps unfair to load all those concerns on to this particular appointment. I am sure the Leader of the House will have plenty to say in response to that. All public appointments, in our opinion, should be drawn from the truest possible breadth and depth of the talent that is available.

Question put and agreed to.

Business of the House

John Spellar Excerpts
Thursday 2nd December 2021

(1 month, 3 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
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Jacob Rees-Mogg Portrait Mr Rees-Mogg
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I think it is clear that external meetings that relate to Government business are minuted and that is routine civil service practice. But I think the hon. Gentleman has received replies from a large number of Ministers, including from my own office, although I am afraid that my office said that we followed the practice of the Cabinet Office because the Office of the Leader of the House technically comes under the Cabinet Office. But we do take minutes. It is what the civil service does and does very effectively.

John Spellar Portrait John Spellar (Warley) (Lab)
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Next Friday, I am bringing in a Bill to ban the importing of hunting trophies. The public and all parties, including the Leader of the House’s party, agree on this issue. Last month, I raised it at Prime Minister’s questions and he replied that the Government were going to introduce legislation, but there is still no sign of it. So will the Leader of the House either urgently bring a Bill to the House or tell his Whips not to block my Bill next week, so that we can get a law as soon as possible and end this vile trade once and for all?

Jacob Rees-Mogg Portrait Mr Rees-Mogg
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The right hon. Gentleman has asked the Prime Minister and is now asking me. He has asked the organ grinder, and I do not quite know why he has come to the monkey. None the less, the monkey will do his best to say that it is Government policy to ban the importing of hunting trophies and that legislation is likely to come forward in the fullness of time, but there is no specific introduction date.

House of Commons Commission (External Members)

John Spellar Excerpts
Tuesday 8th June 2021

(7 months, 3 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
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John Spellar Portrait John Spellar (Warley) (Lab)
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I am mindful of the concerns of colleagues that they do not want to be delayed for too long. I have no animus against, or indeed any knowledge of, either of the two individuals being appointed, and they may well fit the glowing descriptions that we have heard. I certainly hope so, and no doubt the Leader of the House will be pleased to sit alongside them as well, but I have huge problems with the process. What seems to have happened here, as so often—in fact, almost invariably—with our selection processes, is that we determine and narrow the outcome by the criteria that we use. It is like any algorithm: if we set the criteria for it, it will predict the outcome that we are going to get.

So let us look at the criteria. They include the need for:

“Senior executive leadership experience within a complex organisation”.

Already we are saying, basically, that we want the corporate suits. Male or female, it is the corporate suits we want, not people who have gone out and created and run a business themselves; not people who have actually worked in industry or maybe run a factory and really know about running things; not trade unionists who have had to engage with complex issues; not people who have worked in hospitals—not in senior management but maybe running a ward; and not those who are running a school. Those people do not get considered.

Every time we have a list of nominations, it nearly always consists of those who have been in big corporates and who have then sat on the boards of quangos and charities. It is always the great and the good. We keep appointing them time and time again, then we are surprised that this country ends up being so badly run. Basically, we are drawing from a very narrow cast, and we are constantly enabling them to perpetuate themselves —and not only them as individuals and their narrow range of experience, but their general ethos and that narrow self-perpetuating culture, which I am surprised, frankly, that the Leader of the House so readily accepts.

I have another problem with this. Paragraph 14 of the report from the Commission to the House says:

“In the case of both candidates, the selection panel was satisfied that neither had undertaken any political activity within the last five years”.

I am absolutely fed up with this assumption—again from this self-perpetuating elite that I have described—that party political activity is somehow reprehensible, shabby and shoddy, and that it is only those who will not engage in politics who are fit to be engaged in running public life. That is detrimental both to politics and to public life. I will continue to raise this issue on all such occasions when this same rotten process occurs, because, as we have seen many times, the public see through this arrogant metropolitan intellectual and cultural elite and the way they are running this country. But yet again, all the time, we are playing our part in perpetuating its malign grip. As I have said, I have no animus against the individuals concerned, but I have huge objections to the process.

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John Spellar Portrait John Spellar
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I would understand if the right hon. Gentleman were arguing, for example, that a political leader of a council might change the balance of the Commission, but if we are trying to get expertise, they would also be used to running large organisations. He rightly said that the Commission tends to work with a degree of consensus; it is not divided. Many other countries managed to encapsulate that. They appoint people to public bodies in the full and public knowledge that they have been politically active. I still do not understand why the right hon. Gentleman thinks that should be a major debarring factor.

Jacob Rees-Mogg Portrait Mr Rees-Mogg
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As I hope I was making clear, I think it debars from the Commission, where politicians are already appointed. It inevitably does not debar from other public sector appointments, where that may be perfectly reasonable, and where people may be appointed because of their connection to a political party if we are seeking a political balance. As I said, I have particular confidence in the two people we are appointing today. I think they will be first class and make a considerable contribution to the Commission and the work of this House.

Business of the House

John Spellar Excerpts
Thursday 20th May 2021

(8 months, 1 week ago)

Commons Chamber
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Jacob Rees-Mogg Portrait Mr Rees-Mogg
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My hon. Friend is absolutely right: free trade is one of the great advantages of leaving the European Union, which has always been essentially a protectionist racket and has led to higher prices for many staples of daily life in this country. The Government are a believer in free trade. We have rolled over any number of trade agreements, with the fantastic work done by my right hon Friend the President of the Board of Trade in ensuring that this has happened and in the negotiations with other countries. Free trade is good for both sides, but it is particularly good for the side that reduces tariffs. Why? Because we lower prices to consumers, which means they have more disposable income to use on other things, be it on investment in their country or buying other goods and services. So we grow the overall economy, reducing the tax burden on individuals because tariffs are taxation, and taxation on staples is not necessarily the best way to lead to economic growth, but it also helps producers because producers have to be more competitive, and that means that, globally, they will do better. For economic growth, free trade has always been the way forward, and God bless the late Sir Robert Peel.

John Spellar Portrait John Spellar (Warley) (Lab)
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I hope the Leader of the House cleared that with the Prime Minister, because on 21 April I asked the Prime Minister to demand that public bodies should “buy British first”, and he responded, “of course”. Clearly, the Under-Secretary of State for Wales, the hon. Member for Monmouth (David T. C. Davies), had not got the memo by yesterday, when he did not blame the EU, but started by bleating about World Trade Organisation restrictions. I suppose next it will be little green men from UFOs that Ministers use as their excuse for inaction. Can we have a debate in which Members from all sides can demand that Ministers, civil servants and public bodies buy British goods, food and services first?

Jacob Rees-Mogg Portrait Mr Rees-Mogg
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Since we have left the European Union, we have much greater freedom to buy British first. We do have some international agreements on procurement to ensure that we do things fairly and properly, and that other countries do the same, but it seems to me perfectly reasonable, as there is good and affordable British produce available, that we should decide—where we can, and where it is prudent and affordable—to have a preference for British meat over non-British meat. I do not think that is unreasonable, and I hope the House of Commons will do the same.

Business of the House

John Spellar Excerpts
Thursday 4th February 2021

(11 months, 3 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
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Jacob Rees-Mogg Portrait Mr Rees-Mogg
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My right hon. Friend is right to say that the pandemic has increased the eternal need to ensure that when it comes to all Government expenditure, but especially restoration and renewal, the taxpayer is only asked to pay for vital works, not gold-plating. I will confess to him that some of the figures I have heard bandied around for the total cost, and some I am seeing requested for budgets at the moment, are eye-watering, and it is hard to believe that that is what is required for the vital works.

The Palace of Westminster must remain the home of our democracy. It is a temple to democracy: that is what our Victorian forebears built it to be. It is one we should be immeasurably proud of and must preserve and use, because we need to carry on our work in this fantastic Palace, not somewhere else. But it has to be said that the “how” should follow the “what” in this regard, not the other way round: the “what” comes after we have worked out “how”, which is why hon. and right hon. Members like my right hon. Friend will have such an important role to play in the coming months in helping to determine the scale of the project—the “what” that is required. We are the ones accountable to constituents, so it is quite right that we will be the Members of Parliament—the Members of this current Parliament—who make the final decisions on how to proceed.

John Spellar Portrait John Spellar (Warley) (Lab)
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Last month, post Brexit, I asked the House of Commons Commission to give preference to British suppliers. On 14 January it replied:

“The Public Contract Regulations 2015 are UK law and in general they prohibit contracting authorities from specifying the country of manufacture or origin when purchasing goods. This has not changed now that the Brexit transition period has ended.”

But, as the explanatory memorandum at the time on this legislation made clear, this regulation was made to implement an EU directive, so may we have a debate to demand that our public sector backs British industry and British workers, or, better still, could the Leader of the House prevail on his colleagues to change this legislation ASAP?

Jacob Rees-Mogg Portrait Mr Rees-Mogg
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Once again I welcome the right hon. Gentleman, who is such a staunch Brexiteer and who has seen the errors of the European ways and wishes the United Kingdom Parliament to make its own laws free of orders, requests, directives or regulations from the European Union. He is right, therefore, to campaign on this issue, because that is what this House is for: to make sure that we make our own laws. It does seem to me that the point the right hon. Gentleman makes is entirely reasonable: that the United Kingdom Parliament ought to be able to have its supplies entirely from the United Kingdom if that is what it wishes to do. I am not in favour of protectionism, but this Parliament is a symbol of the nation, and therefore I think he is on a very good wicket in what he says.

Business of the House

John Spellar Excerpts
Thursday 10th December 2020

(1 year, 1 month ago)

Commons Chamber
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Jacob Rees-Mogg Portrait Mr Rees-Mogg
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I think some comfort has been brought forward with the most significant building safety reforms in almost 40 years, providing £1.6 billion of taxpayers’ money to speed up the removal of unsafe cladding, making homes safer, sooner. Almost 80% of buildings with dangerous Grenfell-style cladding have had it removed or are in the process of doing so, rising to 97% in the social housing sector. Over 100 buildings have started remediation on-site in 2020 so far, despite the continuing backdrop of the global pandemic—more than in the whole of 2019—and we are clear that works to remove unsafe aluminium composite material cladding must be completed by the end of 2021. I hope that this will provide some reassurance to leaseholders, but I accept that there are others in difficult circumstances, and my hon. Friend is right to raise this issue.

John Spellar Portrait John Spellar (Warley) (Lab)
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The Leader of the House has just stressed that we are coming out of the EU on 1 January. Of course, that forces us to look at Government purchasing rules after then so that, locally and nationally, Government can properly support British firms, workers and communities. I have been in correspondence on this with the Cabinet Office Minister Lord Agnew, who has been very helpful. He informs me:

“We are developing a package of proposals to reform the UK’s procurement regulations”,

and he goes on to say:

“We still plan to publish our proposals later this year and bring forward legislation when parliamentary time allows”.

This was on 2 December. Can we have a debate so that we can demand that Ministers and especially civil servants get a move on, enable us to behave like every other major European and industrial economy, and back our businesses and our people?

Jacob Rees-Mogg Portrait Mr Rees-Mogg
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There is more joy in heaven over the one sinner who repented than the 99 who never needed to repent in the first place. I am delighted to see the right hon. Gentleman becoming such an ardent Eurosceptic and welcoming the advantages of leaving the European Union, in that we can set our own procurement rules and, if we choose, help local firms and British businesses. That will be a matter for us to decide as a country, and my noble friend, Lord Agnew, has written to the right hon. Gentleman and set out the position pretty clearly.

Independent Expert Panel

John Spellar Excerpts
Wednesday 25th November 2020

(1 year, 2 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Jacob Rees-Mogg Portrait The Leader of the House of Commons (Mr Jacob Rees- Mogg)
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I beg to move,

That:

(1) in accordance with Standing Order No. 150C (Appointment of Independent Expert Panel Members), the following be appointed as members of the Independent Expert Panel—

(a) Mrs Lisa Ball, Mrs Johanna Higgins, Sir Stephen Irwin and Professor Clare McGlynn for a period of 4 years, and

(b) Monica Daley, Miss Dale Simon, Sir Peter Thornton and Dr Matthew Vickers for a period of 6 years; and

(2) notwithstanding the provisions of paragraph (4) Standing Order No. 150A (Independent Expert Panel), Sir Stephen Irwin be the Chair of that Panel.

It is a pleasure to open this debate on the appointment of the independent expert panel, which would provide important support to the work of the independent complaints and grievance scheme. The appointments that we debate today represent a significant next step in our collective efforts to ensure that Parliament has a culture that is respectful to all and where there is no place for bullying, harassment or sexual misconduct.

I want to emphasise that this panel is just one step. Although significant progress has been made on this agenda, none of us is under any illusion that to bring about the lasting change needed to our culture will not take painstaking work, tireless communication and myriad reinforcing actions by many over a considerable period.

The steps already undertaken are significant ones. They include, of course, the creation in 2018 of the ICGS itself and I pay tribute to my predecessor, my right hon. Friend the Member for South Northamptonshire (Andrea Leadsom), and all those who worked with her to generate a consensus and set a way forward for the scheme.

The ICGS is now open to all members of the parliamentary community and, importantly, it has been broadened to include investigation of non-recent allegations and from those who have since left the parliamentary community. As set out in the ICGS’s annual report published last week, over the past year, the pool of investigators has been expanded so that more cases can be processed, including non-recent ones, and there has been the creation of a single helpline service to provide confidential and immediate advice, which includes a speciality independent sexual misconduct advisory service.

Recently, we have also seen the launch of the second of two planned independent reviews of the ICGS to ensure that consideration is given to how what is still a fledgling scheme can be strengthened. May I briefly again take the opportunity to encourage all members of the parliamentary community to participate in that review being undertaken by Alison Stanley. As I mentioned in business questions last week, an online survey seeking views will run until 4 December—it is a very simple survey; even I managed to do it. I ask Members please to take the survey if they can so that the widest range of views are captured and taken into account.

Looking beyond the ICGS, a new Member services team has also been established to provide human resources support to MPs and their staff, and I should add that more than 4,000 people in Parliament have now taken the Valuing Everyone training, which aims to demonstrate how to recognise and understand what harassment and sexual harassment mean in the workplace and how to tackle them.

Turning to the independent expert panel, it is important to note that the appointments that we are discussing today form part of our fulfilment of the key recommendations made by Dame Laura Cox in her 2018 report. Members will remember that Dame Laura made three fundamental recommendations: the first was that Parliament’s existing policies relating to bullying, harassment or sexual harassment should be abandoned; the second was that the ICGS should be accessible to those with complaints involving historical allegations. Both of those recommendations have been met. The final recommendation was that the process for determining complaints of bullying, harassment or sexual harassment brought by House staff against Members of Parliament should be an entirely independent process in which Members of Parliament play no part. This is that independent process.

Under our current arrangements, the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards has the power to determine cases and impose sanctions up to a certain level of severity. More serious cases, including those where suspension or expulsion might be the resulting sanction, have been for the Standards Committee to determine.

In February this year, the House of Commons Commission considered a number of alternative approaches developed and presented by the staff team. The Commission agreed that the strongest option was that an expert panel, comprising an independent chairman and seven panel members, none of whom would be MPs, would determine ICGS cases, decide on sanctions and hear appeals by either party against the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards’ conclusions.

Dame Laura was consulted on the options considered by the Commission and was among those who supported the approach. Members will also remember that, in June, a motion was passed to establish the independent expert panel. The panel will determine complaints of bullying and harassment or sexual misconduct made under the ICGS. It will do so entirely independently of MPs. In cases where the IEP recommends the most extreme sanctions, such as suspension or expulsion of an MP, the House must approve the recommendation via a motion in this Chamber that will be taken without debate.

I have always been clear that the panel must be of the highest calibre collectively. Its members should provide considerable expertise in relevant fields, and they should do so under the leadership of a chairman of the standing equivalent to that of a High Court judge. I am therefore delighted that we have such a strong set of candidates to consider, and that recommended for the role of chairman is Sir Stephen Irwin, who was Lord Justice of Appeal from 2016 until his retirement last month, and was previously a High Court judge for a decade.

John Spellar Portrait John Spellar (Warley) (Lab)
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Can the Leader of the House tell us how much the chairman is going to be paid for this job?

Jacob Rees-Mogg Portrait Mr Rees-Mogg
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Indeed, I can. Members of the independent expert panel, including the chairman, will be paid monthly in arrears a fee of £350 excluding value added tax for each half day spent by the panel member in the provision of their services. The amount claimed by each member will depend on the number of cases, and their individual contribution. It is expected that the annual report of the panel will include information on its costs. I can reassure the right hon. Gentleman—I think this may be his next question—that panel members will not be part of a pension scheme for their services, but I am happy to take further interventions from him.

John Spellar Portrait John Spellar
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When I looked up the link from the report which referred to the advertisement for the job, it said that these jobs were going to be fixed term and full time, not per diem—if it is £350 for every half day, it is £700 a day as a full-time position—and that panel members would be part of the civil service pension scheme. This is slightly confusing. I would be grateful if the right hon. Gentleman could clarify the situation, because there is a difference between the advertisement and what he has just told the House.

Eddie Hughes Portrait Eddie Hughes (Walsall North) (Con)
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Is the right hon. Gentleman going to apply?

Jacob Rees-Mogg Portrait Mr Rees-Mogg
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The right hon. Member for Warley (John Spellar) would not have been eligible to apply because Members of Parliament cannot join—unless he decided to take the Chiltern Hundreds, but that would be a great loss to this House.

The fee is £350 per half day. The number of days or half days of work will be dependent on the number of cases, and the roles are not eligible for a civil service pension. Those are the terms under which people have agreed to serve. I do not know about the advertisement. I am afraid that I did not think of applying and therefore did not read the advertisement with the care that the right hon. Gentleman read it.

John Spellar Portrait John Spellar
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The right hon. Gentleman would not only be disqualified as a Member of Parliament; he referred to people being qualified, and it seems that all those who got the jobs happen to be lawyers, as though they are the only people in the whole country who are qualified to deal with these issues. I will come back to that in my speech.

Jacob Rees-Mogg Portrait Mr Rees-Mogg
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I know that it is popular to be disparaging about lawyers, but it is sometimes unfair. The right hon. Member for Walsall South (Valerie Vaz) is a very distinguished lawyer herself, as is, as it happens, the Leader of the Opposition, so the Opposition have plenty of distinguished lawyers on their Benches. This process has to meet the requirements of natural justice. An understanding of the law and the application of law is a protection both for those who bring complaints and for those who are accused, so I am not surprised that lawyers make up a significant number of the applicants.

John Spellar Portrait John Spellar
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Again, the right hon. Gentleman seems to run slightly contrary to the advertisement for the positions, which says that panel members should have

“judicial, quasi-judicial, or adjudicating capacity, or bring expertise in a relevant policy area, such as employee or industrial relations or HR disciplinary processes.”

That implies that we would have people from industry, and probably also from the trade unions, who have experience of dealing with these matters practically, rather than exclusively lawyers.

Jacob Rees-Mogg Portrait Mr Rees-Mogg
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I can confirm to the right hon. Gentleman that 134 completed applications were received —no doubt, from a variety of people. Of those applications, the ones that were seen to be the most suitable are those before the House, having been approved by the Commission. I think it is a distinguished panel—[Interruption.] The right hon. Gentleman mutters that it is chumocracy; I do not want to give too much away, but the only member of the panel who claimed a friendship of any kind with any Member of Parliament said that he was on nodding terms with the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of Her Majesty’s loyal Opposition, so if they are chums, they are not my chums, particularly, but they are very important and good people.

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Jacob Rees-Mogg Portrait Mr Rees-Mogg
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I say once again that this panel has come from 134 applicants, and the most distinguished and capable have been drawn from it. The panel’s members include Monica Daley, a barrister of 25 years’ standing and former independent legal chair of the police misconduct committee; Professor Clare McGlynn QC, professor of law at the University of Durham—the right hon. Gentleman’s part of the world—with particular expertise in the legal regulation of sexual violence, so there is a good deal of expertise in some of the issues that may come before the panel; Mrs Lisa Ball, who brings two decades of experience in determining cases and complaints in a range of fields, including bullying, sexual harassment, discrimination, misconduct and professional standards; and Mrs Johanna Higgins, Northern Ireland commissioner for the Criminal Cases Review Commission and a barrister of 27 years’ standing.

John Spellar Portrait John Spellar
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I am afraid that the Leader of the House is reinforcing our case. It is not about whether any of these individuals are defective. For example, an industrial tribunal panel will rightly include a lawyer as the chairman, as well as a representative of employers and a representative of trade unions—that is the make-up of all industrial tribunal panels. It is about the narrowness of the experience on this expert panel, which is drawn from a very small part of society—134 people. Does he not see that the breadth of society and people who have real-life experience are not reflected on the panel?

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John Spellar Portrait John Spellar (Warley) (Lab)
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I am sorry to introduce a slightly discordant note in the debate. It started with the Leader of the House saying that he was sure that the Committee will be meeting soon. At £700 a day, I bet they will be meeting soon—and often.

Let me make it clear from the outset that I have no animus or knowledge of any of the individuals who have been recommended, but they are surely all of a type. They did not all go to Cambridge, but quite a number of them did. At the description of them as distinguished, I almost thought that we were supposed to genuflect. It is as though we were creating a new priesthood and that, if people do law at university and then go through one of the Inns of Court and become a member of the Bar Council, they are the only people who have a valid opinion in our society, so we have to designate everything to them. It might have been the Chair of the Committee on Standards who mentioned the quality of the judiciary that we need to deal with these cases. Frankly, if they require that level of judicial intervention, they should be a matter for the criminal courts rather than for disciplinary processes.

Not just in this context, but every time an issue comes up, it is asked, “Can we have it decided by an eminent judge?” I find that rather remarkable coming from the Conservative party. It was not very long ago that it and its supporting newspapers were absolutely berating members of the judiciary for becoming involved in so many issues. It did not have such a high opinion of the judiciary then.

Many of the issues are rightly political; I am not saying these ones are, or that it should be politicians doing this. As I was saying in earlier interventions, however, not all wisdom resides in people from that narrow caste who often go to the best schools and the best universities, who manage to get themselves into the best chambers in the Inns of Court, and who then go into the judiciary.

That is why, as I pointed out, in industrial tribunals—a system that works extremely well—we have a lawyer, normally a solicitor rather than a barrister, as the chairman and then a panel. We have representatives of trade unions and representatives of employers, many of whom have industrial relations experience and some of whom are used to negotiating for very large establishments, such as offices, factories or whatever. Are hon. Members seriously arguing that those people do not see life, that they do not understand how life works, or that they are not able to assess evidence? That is an utterly elitist approach.

Kevan Jones Portrait Mr Kevan Jones
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My right hon. Friend was, like me, a trade union official in a former life and will have dealt with capable personnel managers, as they were in my day—human resources managers, as they are now. Would it not have been helpful to at least have had someone on this panel from an HR background, and possibly someone from a trade union who has actually represented people in the types of cases this panel is going to be dealing with?

John Spellar Portrait John Spellar
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Very much so. Such people are used to engaging with people and having to make decisions. We could have a senior nursing officer in an accident and emergency department or a senior matron in a hospital. Do they not see life? Do they not have to make decisions? Do they not have to weigh up what people are telling them? We could have retired police officers on the panel, as they are used to weighing up evidence. We must get away from this elitist concept that only lawyers are able to be above all this sort of thing.

I wish to mention the very substantial salary, which seems at variance with the advertisement. These retired judges will be on a stonking pension—we know about that because they are always complaining any time the Treasury has the temerity to try to keep their pensions in line with the pensions being imposed on other parts of the public service.

The approach being taken is also at variance with the advertisement, which said clearly that the people should have

“substantial and very senior experience in a judicial, quasi-judicial, or adjudicating capacity, or bring expertise in a relevant policy area, such as an employee or industrial relations or HR disciplinary processes.”

Of course, if we have a panel where two of those involved are part of the Bar Council or the judiciary, and we bring in headhunters, they are all part of the same social circle. I am sure the individuals would probably be very agreeable dinner table companions, but that does not mean they have wisdom or experience that outweighs that of the rest of the population, nor does it mean that we should have a pretty homogeneous group, rather than having a balance.

If we have a panel, we should have people with different realms of experience, because that would work—one for the other. Not just for this appointment, but right across the many appointments we have involvement in, the people all come from a very narrow band. We ought to be looking at the construction worker, the factory worker, the nurse and the care home assistant. I accept that we would be having people who were in a more senior representative or managerial role, as outlined in the job description. We could have somebody who is in charge of a major unit in a major retail environment. These are people with life experience.

Kevan Jones Portrait Mr Jones
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Does my right hon. Friend agree that it would have been helpful to have had someone from the third sector on this panel, for example someone dealing with domestic violence and related issues? Many of those very able individuals could have stepped into this role well and added something to it.

John Spellar Portrait John Spellar
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Indeed. We could have people who have gone into those roles, often later in life, with a range of life experience, as opposed to people who have gone from elite school to elite university, then to chambers and into the courts, where they have done well, doing their public duty as judges. They may observe a bit of life, but that is very different from living it. [Interruption.] The Leader of the House seems a little distracted by his colleague. If he would care to listen to the debate rather than to the Whips, it would be rather courteous and it might even be valuable. The fact is that we ought to look at all appointments and not automatically go to so-called headhunters who just go to the people they know. We need to broaden this out. We need to ask the CBI and the Trades Union Congress. Interestingly enough, back in the day when we were looking at Members’ expenses, we came up with a much better scheme, ultimately, than the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority. The House invited the CBI and the TUC to each nominate two people, who gave up their time to do it. They made an excellent contribution because they understood what they were talking about. We need to get away from elitism.

I will continue to raise these issues, because they make us not even semi-detached but detached from the public we serve. Ultimately, Members of Parliament are here to represent the public. We need to be accountable mainly to them, and stop imposing elite individuals and an elite culture.

Jacob Rees-Mogg Portrait Mr Rees-Mogg
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May I begin by thanking the right hon. Member for Walsall South (Valerie Vaz) for her support and the support of the official Opposition? We have worked closely on this matter not just in the Chamber, but in the Commission. I also thank my hon. Friend the Member for Harwich and North Essex (Sir Bernard Jenkin) for his support and for his very interesting contribution, saying how he had not initially thought it was right to take it away from the Standards Committee, but that, working on the Committee and seeing how difficult it is to judge those with whom we work, he has come to the conclusion that it is the right thing to do. I think that that is a particularly helpful contribution to this afternoon’s debate.

I am also grateful to the hon. Member for Glasgow North (Patrick Grady). He wishes to give me powers that I do not have. I may be Lord President of the Council, but that does not mean I have the right of appointment to the Privy Council. I can tell him, however, that Sir Stephen Irwin is a member of the Privy Council as a Lord Justice of Appeal. They are normally sworn of the Privy Council.

In response, briefly, to the right hon. Member for Warley (John Spellar), I want to answer the question on the advert and pensions. The advert from the recruitment agency did not mention pensions or the job being full time. As I understand it, the cover page of the Commons’ own advert did say that there was a pension, but that the people who applied would not have been misled in any way because they would have had the advert from the recruitment agency.

John Spellar Portrait John Spellar
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I thank the Leader of the House for giving way. I am sure he will forgive me for having looked at the House of Commons’ own documentation to ascertain the position. How does he explain the inconsistency?

Virtual Participation in Debate

John Spellar Excerpts
Tuesday 24th November 2020

(1 year, 2 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Valerie Vaz Portrait Valerie Vaz
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I am extremely disturbed, because I had no notice, as shadow Leader of the House, that the Government were going to pull any business. There was nothing from the Leader of the House, I am afraid, to say that the business was going to be pulled, and I find that a huge discourtesy, because he is a very courteous person and we do get on in terms of getting the business done, although we may differ completely on the politics side of it. My hon. Friend is absolutely right to say that there were important matters to be debated and for hon. Members to know. I had a speech prepared so that hon. Members would know exactly who had been agreed to go through on the independent complaints and grievance procedure, and my hon. Friend says that he was informed that that debate would happen, so this is a huge discourtesy to the House. Will the Leader of the House please say why the business was pulled in such a way?

John Spellar Portrait John Spellar (Warley) (Lab)
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This is also a discourtesy because some Members of the House had considerable objections to the make-up of that particular body. They wanted to ask questions, for example, as to how much these people were going to be paid, along with their civil service salary. We also wanted to ask questions about the social composition of the grouping, but we have been deprived of that opportunity peremptorily—

Eleanor Laing Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Eleanor Laing)
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Order. The right hon. Gentleman is not addressing the matter before us. I am not having filibustering.

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John Spellar Portrait John Spellar
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Does my right hon. Friend, like me, wonder a little at the paradox that we have here today? The Leader of the House has often waxed lyrical about the need for Members of Parliament to be here to debate, yet he pulled a fast one to pull two of the debates that we wanted to have.

Valerie Vaz Portrait Valerie Vaz
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My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. I still do not have an answer to that. I hope that I will get an answer, partly because the normal courtesies of the House were not applied and I was not even informed—I was waiting to come in to speak and the motions were just not moved. That is not the right way to do business.

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Valerie Vaz Portrait Valerie Vaz
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Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. The hon. Gentleman is right to say that that is a bit concerning. At one point I thought that the Conservative Members were all at No. 11 being primed by the Chancellor on tomorrow’s statement. I thought that everyone was at a party, with drinks, canapés and things like that.

Let me just go back to the point about the right hon. Member for Staffordshire Moorlands, the Procedure Committee and its work—I was going to come on to that, but I will do so now. I have here two reports, its first report of Session 2019-21, “Procedure under coronavirus restrictions: proposals for remote participation” and its sixth report, “Procedure under coronavirus restrictions: virtual participation in debate”. The Procedure Committee has been extraordinary in the work it has done. It has done that work quickly, and I, too, pay tribute to Martyn Atkins, the Clerk. I was lucky to be on the Health Committee when he was a Clerk there. We were lucky to have him on that Committee. He was very assiduous, as were all the Clerks there. I have read all the reports, including the latest one. We did not have enough time to debate it on Thursday—we all just got a question each—but it is so important. I do not know whether right hon. and hon. Members have read it in its entirely. I could read it out, but it makes very important recommendations, one of which is:

“We do not consider that there is a justifiable case for eligibility for virtual participation in debate to be determined by reference to clinical vulnerability. Nor do we consider it appropriate to determine eligibility on a basis different from that for virtual participation in scrutiny proceedings. We therefore recommend that the criteria for eligibility for virtual participation in all House proceedings be made uniform at the earliest opportunity.”

This is the earliest opportunity.

John Spellar Portrait John Spellar
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Is it not utterly disrespectful for the Leader of the House and the Cabinet to disregard the House’s Committees, whose members are elected by both parties and whose Chairs are elected by the whole House? Is that not utterly contemptuous of the House and its Members?

Valerie Vaz Portrait Valerie Vaz
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My right hon. Friend is right. It is concerning that Chairs of Select Committees, who are elected by the whole House, cannot participate. This is a cross-party report—a report that Members can amend but have not amended—which says that everybody should be treated equally in virtual participation. It is possible; we did it right at the beginning.

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Eleanor Laing Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker
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There are various stages of a closure motion: the granting of the closure motion, the taking of the closure motion and the substantive question that may or may not then be put. Proxy votes do not count for the calculation of the quorum necessary, which, as the right hon. Lady knows well, is 100.

John Spellar Portrait John Spellar
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On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Could you clarify whether it is 100 Members voting or 100 Members voting in the Aye Lobby?

Eleanor Laing Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker
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I will come back to that point.

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Valerie Vaz Portrait Valerie Vaz
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I agree. We did have the good and we did have the perfect, and for some reason we cannot have that any more—although we might because the amendment may get passed. The hon. Member for Arundel and South Downs (Andrew Griffith), who is not in his place at the minute, said that it is the Opposition, but it is not—this is cross-party. If he looks at the amendment, it is signed by the hon. Member for Basildon and Billericay (Mr Baron) and the Procedure Committee has agreed—all sides, all parties.

John Spellar Portrait John Spellar
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Is my right hon. Friend as surprised as I am that, given the huge success of our excellent technical operators, a Government Minister has not used the expression “world beating”? In this case it is justified, but it is often a slightly overblown expression; it is normally used by the Secretary of State for Health and the Prime Minister.

Valerie Vaz Portrait Valerie Vaz
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It is world beating, but we do not use the term in the same way as they use it, because all their world-beating test and trace and everything else do not appear to be world beating.

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Valerie Vaz Portrait Valerie Vaz
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Yes, with the greatest of respect, I think that the hon. Gentleman has misunderstood. He will know that unless a Member certifies that they are clinically vulnerable, they will not be able to take part in a debate under virtual proceedings. That is where the difficulty lies, because there will be two different sets of hon. Members: those who will have to certify and those who cannot certify. For example, take the hon. Gentleman’s colleague, the hon. Member for Basildon and Billericay, who has co-signed the amendment. It is not he who is clinically vulnerable; it is possibly another person who is, and he wants to protect them. Therefore, he cannot take part in the debate, and he should be able to. Why can he not take part in the debate without having to expose whichever person it is, who he would expose to the disease if he came here physically? That is the point, and that is why I say that this is a cross-party matter. It has nothing to do with politics or with anyone here. The only politics is that the Government seem hellbent on ensuring that people cannot take part in debates.

John Spellar Portrait John Spellar
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Has not my right hon. Friend exposed another flaw in this, which is the argument made by some Conservative Members that, “Well, you’ll have to go and get a sick note”? But if people have to do that, they hand the note in to their employer; it is not put on the front page of the local paper and out on social media, exposing to the rest of the world their—or in this case, even their family members’—condition. Whatever happened to medical privacy in all this?

Business of the House

John Spellar Excerpts
Thursday 19th November 2020

(1 year, 2 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Jacob Rees-Mogg Portrait Mr Rees-Mogg
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My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Paeans of praise should be prepared for our Prime Minister in celebration of his achievement in getting us out of the European Union and delivering on what was promised to the British people and what they voted for, but my hon. Friend asks me to guarantee something based on something that is theoretical, and a guarantee based on something that is theoretical is not really a guarantee, so I cannot give it.

John Spellar Portrait John Spellar (Warley) (Lab)
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Surely, in reality, the most important issue facing the country and this House is the renewal or otherwise of the lockdown, so I am surprised and slightly concerned that it is not clear when that will be debated. Many MPs on all sides want to move on from risk avoidance to evidence-based risk management. Many sporting and leisure venues have invested in helpful and costly improvements, and whether they are football and rugby clubs, racecourses, betting shops, bingo halls, casinos, airports, shops, gyms, pubs, clubs, restaurants or cafés, they all need some degree of change, help and actual opportunity. Can we have an urgent focused debate and a vote on proper alternatives, rather than the usual all-or-nothing, take-it-or-leave-it approach?

Jacob Rees-Mogg Portrait Mr Rees-Mogg
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One of the things the right hon. Gentleman asks for is not possible, because statutory instruments are introduced on the basis of take it or leave it. The law has to be clear, and it has never been possible to amend statutory instruments. On his broader point, I am glad to say we have the most freedom-loving Prime Minister that we could have. In at least 100 years, there has been no other Prime Minister who is more freedom loving, and therefore the desire to get back to ordinary ways of living is very strong, assuming that it can be done in a way that is safe for the nation at large. I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that the Government have made a commitment that any matters of national significance will be brought before this House before they are introduced. I cannot give the timings on that, because the decisions have not been made, but the basic choice of the House is that any new statutory instruments will come before this House for a vote if they are of national significance.

Business of the House

John Spellar Excerpts
Thursday 12th November 2020

(1 year, 2 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Jacob Rees-Mogg Portrait Mr Rees-Mogg
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I know this is a matter of significant concern to my hon. Friend. The Government are aware of the concerns that some second homes that are also available for letting are listed by the Valuation Office Agency as non-domestic properties and therefore liable for business rates rather than council tax. Depending on their rateable value, many of these properties qualify for small business rate relief. The Government have consulted on possible measures to strengthen the criteria that need to be satisfied for holiday properties to be assessed for business rates, and the Government’s full response will be set out in due course.

John Spellar Portrait John Spellar (Warley) (Lab)
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Yesterday in the covid-19 debate, the Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, the hon. Member for Bury St Edmunds (Jo Churchill), revealed:

“When the pandemic started, we produced 1% of our PPE needs in the UK. By December, we will be providing 70%”.—[Official Report, 11 November 2020; Vol. 683, c. 1022.]

She seemed to regard that as cause for self-congratulation. However, although it is a tribute to British industry and British workers, it reveals shocking complacency in allowing the situation to develop, which has meant lost resilience, lost industry and lost jobs—and that is the case across public spending. Can we have a debate so that we can demand that the Government put Britain first and prioritise buying to support British jobs, and send a clear message to any bureaucrat who wants to stand in the way of change: “Get on board or get on your bike”?

Jacob Rees-Mogg Portrait Mr Rees-Mogg
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The right hon. Gentleman must be absolutely delighted, therefore, that we have left the European Union and will end the transition period on 31 December, because once we are out of the European Union we will be able to develop our own procurement policies. We will not be bound by EU red tape. We will be free to adopt either what he suggests or not. It will be liberty restored and a day of legend and song.