Graham Brady calls for democracy in the House of Commons

5.38 pm

Mr Graham Brady (Altrincham and Sale West) (Con): I beg to move manuscript amendment (b), leave out from “adopts” to end and add

“henceforth a system for nomination of its membership of the UK Delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe following a General Election reflecting that for nomination of membership of departmental select committees, namely that the House of Commons names be communicated to the Speaker following party elections involving a secret ballot (with each party to seek to reflect in its nominations the same gender representation as in its parliamentary membership, in order to comply with the rules of the Assembly), and for such names to be sent as now by the Speaker to the President of the Assembly; requires that the revised system be implemented in time for the delegation thus nominated to be able to attend the January 2016 part session of the Parliamentary Assembly; and in the interim authorises the Speaker to send now the names of the delegation as set out in the Written Statement of 3 November to the President of the Assembly in order to permit UK participation in the Assembly until then.”.

I am pleased to be able to move amendment (b), which stands in my name and that of the hon. Member for Nottingham North (Mr Allen). In 2009, he and I were

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elected by our respective parties to sit on what became known as the Wright Committee, the Committee on Reform of the House of Commons. That Committee recommended, among other things, the creation of the Backbench Business Committee—the body that enabled this debate to be tabled—and the election of the Chairs and members of Select Committees.

As has been alluded to by other hon. Members, the establishment of the Wright Committee and the election of Select Committees came about when Parliament was at perhaps its lowest ebb, held in deep disdain by the public and the media, and mired in the expenses scandal. I would venture to suggest that it is the election of Select Committees, perhaps more than anything else, that has begun the process of rebuilding the reputation of this House. Select Committees, with their elected Chairs and with members elected by the party groups, have grown in stature, and I think that the House itself has benefited as a result.

I will not concentrate in my brief remarks on why we are having this debate, because I do not want to build on the magisterial introduction given by my right hon. Friend the Member for North Shropshire (Mr Paterson), looking at the important work of the Council of Europe and the rules and precedents that surround it. Although I absolutely cleave to the belief that this House should regard itself as sufficiently important, capable and worthwhile to believe that it is obvious that it should choose its representatives, whether on Select Committees or important international bodies such as the Parliamentary Assembly, I tabled this amendment because I am also aware of the dilemma that colleagues might be placed in by the timetable envisaged in the motion. My amendment is an attempt to resolve that difficulty.

My amendment would preserve the principle of election — the principle that this House, rather than the Executive, should choose its representatives on the Parliamentary Assembly and that we should elect them in the same way that we elect Select Committees—but would also accommodate the needs of the timetable for appointment to the Parliamentary Assembly, as set out by my right hon. Friend the Member for North Shropshire.

Were the motion to be agreed unamended, we would be left with a very short window in which to organise elections and ensure that the right choices made by Members of this House are put forward for representation in the Parliamentary Assembly. Amendment (b) would therefore preserve the principle of election while recognising that we can have an interim period, so that those Members currently proposed by the Government to be members of the Parliamentary Assembly would still go forward. They would therefore meet comfortably the deadline of 27 November for the delegation to be in place, yet we would also have an expectation that elections would take place before the beginning of the January 2016 part-session. That would give us a reasonable timeframe within which to organise and hold those elections.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bury North (Mr Nuttall) kindly described my amendment as a fine British compromise, and I hope that my hon. Friend on the Front Bench will see it in that light. I hope that the Government will recognise that this amendment is an attempt to preserve an important principle that is held dear by many Members on both sides of this House, while ensuring that the practicalities of appointment to the Parliamentary Assembly can be accommodated.

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As has been said already, election to Select Committees is a fairly new practice. There were calls for that for many years, but it began only at the beginning of the previous Parliament, in 2010. Few now would advocate returning to a patronage-based system for appointing Select Committees. Were the motion or the amendment to be agreed to, I suspect that the election of the UK delegation would quickly become the norm too.

This House is made up entirely of elected representatives. It would surely be odd if today it rejected the principle that representatives should be elected. Choosing to support the amendment would be the act of a legislature that is becoming more self-confident, more independent and better able to do its job.

5.44 pm