The addition of a representative from the smaller parties in the House to the Backbench Business Committee is one of the recommendations contained in a new report from the House of Commons Procedure Committee, published today.
The report, 2010 elections for positions in the House, considers the experience of the series of whole-House elections which, for the first time, followed the General Election last year.
The committee concludes that the move to elect candidates to key posts in the House has been right in principle as a sign of greater transparency, democracy and self-assertiveness on the part of backbenchers, and has also worked well in practice. It proposes a few improvements which should be put to the House for decision.
Amongst the recommendations made by the committee are:
- that an amendment be made to the standing orders to extend the size of the Backbench Business Committee from eight to nine members, including the Chair, and that the additional place be allotted to a Member from a minority party to be elected by the whole House. This change should be made as soon as possible in order that the impact of the additional minority Member might be included in the process of reviewing the operation of the Backbench Business Committee at the start of next session
- that the system for elected Chairs of select committees should be changed from the alternative vote to first-past-the-post
- the principle of election should be extended to posts on other select committees such as Administration, Selection and European Scrutiny and also perhaps to those held by backbench Members on statutory committees such as the House of Commons Commission
- that the names of those nominating the Speaker should be published, and the minimum number of sponsors required should be raised to 15 (from 12)
- that candidates for Deputy Speaker should be allowed to make brief statements to the House in advance of the elections for that post
- that the House should be given an opportunity to decide whether a contested question on whether to reappoint a returning Speaker should be decided by an open division or a secret ballot
The committee examined the question of creating a Speaker's seat in a General Election, to replace the current situation whereby a sitting Speaker stands as a non-aligned candidate in a normal parliamentary constituency, and decided against supporting the concept.
Finally, referring to the report of the Wright Committee in the last Parliament, whose recommendations led to the holding of elections for the Chairs and members of certain select committees, the committee suggests that it would be in keeping with the spirit of the Wright reforms if each political party published details of the process by which it elects members to select committees.
Comments from the Chair
Committee Chair Rt Hon Greg Knight MP said
"In the past the negotiations over chairs and places on committees has been hidden. Now they take place more openly and the system is set out more clearly in the rules of the House. The process worked extremely well and we congratulate all those involved in organising or assisting the elections. We propose a number of minor improvements to the process, most significantly to address the concerns of the minority parties and to close loopholes in the standing orders, but we are confident that the system does not need major surgery and that it will continue to be effective in future parliaments."
Image: Parliamentary copyright