GOVERNANCE OF THE HOUSE OF COMMONS – 10 September 2014

Dr Julian Lewis: My old friend – and he is my old friend – the hon. Member for Lichfield (Michael Fabricant) said that he would not dwell on the past, and then proceeded to spend three-quarters of his speech doing precisely that. He could usefully have done at the start of his speech what I am going to do at the start of mine, which is to declare not a financial interest but a personal interest. I suspect that if he had done so, it would have been a slightly different one from mine. My personal interest is that Mr Speaker is an old friend of mine. Not surprisingly, that means that I like him quite a lot most of the time. I believe that, as has been said by others in this debate, he has exceeded all expectations in strengthening the power of Back Benchers to hold Ministers to account in this House.

Michael Fabricant indicated assent.

Dr Lewis: I am delighted to put it on the record that my hon. Friend agrees with that.

As a result of all that, I try to help Mr Speaker extricate himself from time to time from the holes that he occasionally digs for himself as a result of his passion for modernisation. For that reason, I ask the House to discount my bias. It is also for that reason that I welcomed the proposals in the motion and happily agreed to sign it at the request of various hon. Friends who have spoken.

As I said in a point of order a few days ago, had anybody asked me about the matter even six weeks ago, or certainly six months ago before this dispute came up, I would have thought that the definition of the Clerk was all the definitions we have heard in the debate except one: Chief Executive Officer. In our minds, the Clerk is rightly associated with being the top procedural officer. That is what I have always regarded him as. Had anyone asked me before the dispute began to describe the functions of the Clerk, I would not have had the faintest idea that he was in a position to overrule everybody else on management matters. That is an anachronistic position.

Therefore, when the Committee is set up, I suggest it asks itself these four questions. First, should a top CEO be expected to be a top procedural adviser too? Secondly, should a top procedural adviser be expected to be a top CEO too? Thirdly, should two such different roles be combined by default in future as they have been in the past? Fourthly, should the top procedural adviser be allowed, if the roles are separated, to overrule the top CEO on management matters, or vice versa on procedural matters? My answers to those questions are clear: no, no, no, no.

The reason for my answers is not only that I have wanted for years to emulate the late, great Margaret Thatcher on the Floor of the House, but that I profoundly disagree, with the greatest respect, with the right hon. and learned Member for North East Fife (Sir Menzies Campbell). It is not a question of having a single chain of command, because we are not talking about a single management function. We are talking about two separate functions, which means that the people at the top of them should have authority in each.