PROCEDURE – UK DELEGATION TO THE PARLIAMENTARY ASSEMBLY OF THE COUNCIL OF EUROPE – 16 November 2015

Mr Owen Paterson: I beg to move,

That this House adopts with immediate effect the same system for nomination of its membership of the UK Delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe as it has for nomination, following party elections, of membership of departmental select committees, and accordingly directs the Speaker not to send the names of its membership of the UK delegation to the President of the Parliamentary Assembly until the nomination of that membership has taken place according to that system. ...

Dr Julian Lewis: Do I take it from my right hon. Friend’s earlier remarks that, although previously serving members have been told they will not be put back on this committee, no substitute names have yet been put forward? If that is true, it would suggest that it is more about removing certain people than there not being room for them to serve again.

Mr Paterson: My right hon. Friend makes a pertinent point. There is room, because a larger number stood down than were taken off.

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Mr David Davis: I was tempted to raise this as a point of order. My right hon. Friend does not have to go to Europe to get the guidelines on this; he can look at “Erskine May”. On page 265, under the heading “Improper influence”, it says:

“Conduct not amounting to a direct attempt improperly to influence Members in the discharge of their duties but having a tendency to impair their independence in the future performance of their duty may be treated as a contempt.”

In other words, what the Government have done to Members of the House would be treated as contempt of Parliament if it had been done by anybody else in the country.

Mr Paterson: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for his assiduous research. That is a most pertinent point. It is also particularly relevant when one considers the three characters in question, all of whom are established, respected, assiduous Members of this House.

My hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Chris Chope), if I may embarrass him first, has been on PACE for 10 years. He is the leader of the European Conservatives Group – a group with members from 17 countries. He sits on the Presidential Committee, which is made up of the President and the five group leaders. When my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Cheryl Gillan) was Secretary of State for Wales, she guided a referendum so skilfully that none of us even noticed it. She is also Vice-Chairman of the Committee on Political Affairs and Democracy. My hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh), who sits on the Council’s Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights, has done splendid work highlighting the horrific persecution of centuries-old Christian communities in the middle east.

Dr Lewis: May we take it that, given the eminence and integrity of all three right hon. and hon. Members, there has been no question of any of them having been informed by the Government that their previous service on that body was in any way deficient?

Mr Paterson: No, indeed. They seem to be completely incorruptible and their behaviour impeccable, and they have represented this House well on that parliamentary body, whose job is to hold the 47 Governments to account.

[NOTE: The three Conservative MPs had been removed from this delegation as a punishment for having rebelled over the Government's attempt to remove the restrictions on partisan campaigning which would normally be imposed by 'purdah' in the run-up to the EU membership referendum.]