New Forest East



Dr Julian Lewis: This is the first time that I have ever had to disagree with anything my hon. Friend [Kevin Foster] has ever said on the Floor of the House. I still hope that he will think again, listen to the rest of the debate and perhaps be persuaded. I must say that if any move is made to remove the hon. Member for Totnes (Dr Sarah Wollaston) from the chairmanship of the Liaison Committee, I shall certainly vote against that. As someone who disagrees with the stance taken on Europe by all the Independent Group Members, which has led them to find themselves cast into the wilderness, I would certainly say to my hon. Friend that it is not about him choosing who should be the Opposition Members to go on a Committee; it is about him deciding whether a witch-hunt should allow Opposition Members to be driven off a Committee.

Kevin Foster: I thank my right hon. Friend, who shows his skills as a parliamentarian in recognising how this place works. It is not about our own views; it is about how we see the process working. Although I hear his strong point, I still have my view, and I will be abstaining – I will not be voting in favour. I would normally say that a nomination by an Opposition party should be respected by Government Members, but this situation is different in that it is not the case that Members are looking to retire from the Committee and that a vacancy therefore exists that needs to be filled. I do question the motivations and timing behind this move, but I do not feel that it is for me to be choosing Opposition Members. I might change that view if we were talking about Government Members, but it is my view that this decision is for the Opposition.

Dr Lewis: If my hon. Friend’s objection were well founded, does he not think that our own Whips Office would have issued a three-line Whip and not given us the free choice to vote as we please?

Mr Foster: Actually, I commend the Government Whips Office for giving us a free vote to allow people to make their choice according to their conscience. I will abstain. I am not whipped as a payrolled Member to be in the Aye Lobby or the No Lobby. It is right that all Members of the House should make their own choice today.

* * *

Mike Gapes: ... I know that the only way that this Parliament’s Select Committees work and work effectively is if we produce unanimous reports. We get listened to and noticed only when we work on a cross-party basis and leave our party labels behind us. If we get a 9:2 split in a Committee, it is better that the two are from different parties and that the nine are from different parties, than if it goes the other way. That is how Parliament works, and it works effectively.

Dr Lewis: Is this not the heart of the matter? Is it not absurd to be talking about changing the balance between Opposition and Government membership on these Committees? These Committees, with very few exceptions, never divide along party lines. When the Defence Committee meets, I never ever have to consider the fact that it might be me – one Conservative – and five Opposition Members who happen to be in that meeting at the time.

I crave your indulgence for a second, Madam Deputy Speaker, to say that I am very sorry I cannot make a full speech in this debate because I was chairing a Defence Committee meeting that overlapped with a large part of it. However, I have known of the hon. Member for Ilford South (Mike Gapes) since the 1970s, when we were both fighting Trotskyists inside the Labour party. In the 1990s, I remember going with Conservative delegations to eastern Europe, only to find that the hon. Gentleman, as international secretary of the Labour party, had got there before us. The idea that the hon. Gentleman has had to leave the Labour party, when every drop of his blood is infused with the ethos of the Labour party, is absolutely tragic.

[NOTE: Regrettably, this Motion was passed by 197 votes to 132, after Labour imposed a 3-line whip to force the expulsion of Ian Austin and Mike Gapes from the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, despite the unanimous wish of all nine other members of that Committee that they should be allowed to remain on it despite having left the Labour Party.]