Backbench Business Committee
March 12, 2012
Mr. Mark Field (Cities of London and Westminster) (Con): This has been a passionate debate and I agreed with much of what my hon. Friend Mr Bone and Natascha Engel had to say.
Perhaps they gave their case a little less credit by resorting to elements of hyperbole—indeed, there were hints of hysteria coming from Pete Wishart —but I agree fundamentally with what they said. This Executive, like every other Executive and—this is even sadder to see—shadow Executive, have an unhealthy tendency to meddle in matters that are best left to Parliament. That should rightly be resisted and it is through the Backbench Business Committee that we try our best to resist. Unlike any other Member who has spoken, perhaps, I think the motion is more of a curate’s egg.
I believe that the Chairman of the Backbench Business Committee should be an Opposition Member. As has been pointed out, in the initial election, my right hon. Friend Sir Alan Haselhurst, who is a very good friend of mine and a distinguished parliamentarian, was pitted against the hon. Member for North East Derbyshire. I thought it would be very unhealthy for that role, particularly initially, to be in the hands of a former Deputy Speaker of 13 years’ standing who was therefore very much part of the establishment, so I voted with my head rather than my heart. Like every other Member who has spoken I have been extremely pleased with the outcome and I pay great tribute to the wonderful work that the hon. Lady does in chairing the Committee.
Let me pick up on the contribution of the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire. The Leader of the House would do well to recognise that every single party in the House of Commons is a minority party, and I think it is quite wrong that we are prescribing the rights of the minority parties. The suggestion in amendment (a), which I think would have come through with the Procedure Committee, that there should be a special member for all the minority parties, is something we should follow. I also believe there are very good reasons why the Backbench Business Committee should have some anonymous rules, as has been suggested by Ministers, for the election of its members, because it is by its nature an anonymous Committee: it is a Back-Bench Committee looking at Back-Bench business. I say that as a member of the Intelligence and Security Committee, which, alongside the Select Committee on Standards and Privileges, has different election arrangements. Those anomalies are open to a certain amount of criticism but are, none the less, rightly tolerated. If we do not adopt that approach, we run the risk of having approved party candidates rather than those who have the broadest party support. I shall be supporting amendments (a) and (d). There are elements of the motion with which I agree, but I regret the way in which it has led to the rancour we have seen in the past hour or so in this debate.