Who wants to be a Select Committee Chair?

14 October 2016

Select Committees are well established as a cornerstone of Parliamentary scrutiny, so the next round of elections for Committee Chairs taking place next week offers MPs the opportunity to influence Government policy and taking a leading role in holding the Government to account.

Two new Select Committees are being created to follow the work of the two new Whitehall departments: the Exiting the EU Committee and the International Trade Committee, and this week the Commons approved the motions to commence the process for electing Chairs to these bodies, henceforth to be affectionately known as the DExEU and DIT Committees.

New Chairs will also be elected to fill the vacant Chair posts on the Culture, Media and Sport, Commons Science and Technology and Home Affairs Committees following two ministerial appointments and a resignation.

Nominations opened on Tuesday 11 October, and MPs vying for the highly desired roles will have until Tuesday 18 October to canvass their parliamentary colleagues for support.

Candidates require 15 signatures from their own party to be nominated, but will seek support from across the party spectrum to be elected Chair.

Elections will take place on Wednesday 19 October, with the results to be announced in the Commons in the afternoon.

The runners and riders

Exiting the European Union Committee: Labour

With Labour pressing the Government to commit to proper Parliamentary scrutiny of the Brexit process, the Chair of the Exiting the European Union Committee will become one of the most important roles in Parliament.

In shadowing the Department for Exiting the European Union (DExEU), the Committee will be at the forefront of examining the unprecedented and inevitably fraught Brexit process.

The newly created Committee page states only Labour MPs will be able to put themselves forward – creating a coveted role for senior Labour MPs unwilling or unable to serve on the Labour frontbench.

With that in mind, Labour MP and Remain campaigner Hilary Benn is widely seen as a frontrunner, as his return to the Labour frontbench looks unlikely to occur under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership and he is rumoured to already have begun canvassing support among his colleagues. A statesmanlike figure with experience as Shadow Foreign Secretary, he was the focus of an early rebellion against Mr Corbyn, and has won plaudits for his powerful orations on matters of conscience in international affairs.

Nevertheless, some MPs will be keen for the new Committee to be fronted by a Brexiteer, and prominent Labour leave campaigner Kate Hoey is expected to run as a contender.

The Vauxhall MP was an anomaly among her party and city peers, doggedly articulating her own brand of Labour euroscepticism on the basis that the bloc was out of touch, and that the political objective of ever-closer union was imposing unjust demands for austerity on stricken populations.

Whoever takes charge of the Brexit Committee will have to immediately address the criticism that its expected 21-strong membership could inhibit its capacity to effectively question and scrutinise. Most Committees are comprised of no more than 11 MPs, so its “supersize” nature will present unique demands.  

It will comprise ten Conservative members, five Labour, two SNP MPs and one seat each for the Liberal Democrats, the Democratic Unionist party, the Social Democratic and Labour Party and Plaid Cymru. UKIP’s Douglas Carswell, however, has been left out.

The Guardian reports that prominent Tory Leave campaigners Iain Duncan Smith and Michael Gove are seeking to become members, whilst increasingly outspoken Conservative Remain campaigner Anna Soubry is also keen.

International Trade: SNP

Established this week, the International Trade Committee will be chaired by an SNP MP. However, the Guardian reports that former SNP Chair of the Energy and Climate Change Committee Angus MacNeil will run uncontested.

As the rules state, if only one candidate comes forward, he or she will be elected unopposed.

Mr MacNeil’s previous Committee fiefdom was abolished following the closure of its corresponding Government department, with the Energy and Climate Change brief transferred into the newly-expanded Department for Business, Energy and International Strategy.

The SNP was notably granted a single Committee chairship after winning more than 50 seats in the 2015 General Election. With renewed drive towards a second Scottish Independence Referendum, the secessionist party has sought to emphasise its desire to ensure an outward-looking Scotland with strong ties to the rest of the world. By Chairing the DIT Committee, it will have the opportunity both to critique the work of International Trade Secretary Liam Fox, one of the architects of Brexit, and to emphasise the importance of Scottish interests in any future trade deals.

Home Affairs: Labour

The resignation of Keith Vaz as Labour Chair of the Home Affairs Committee has triggered what will likely be a tightly fought race among Opposition politicians, with several high profile Corbyn-critics keen to take over.

At the time of publication, the only formal nomination to be posted on the Committee’s page was from Chuka Umunna. A current Committee member, Mr Umunna has reportedly secured “significant” cross-party support, having announced his intention to run in early September.

Once seen as one of the most exciting up-and-coming figures in the Labour Party, Mr Umunna confounded those who expected him to run in the 2015 Labour leadership contest after stepping back from the limelight, citing concerns to protect his private life. He has placed a particular emphasis on youth and community issues in his past policy pronouncements.

With many keen for the Chair to be female, former Shadow Home Secretary and sometime leadership contender Yvette Cooper has been tipped for the post.

However, the New Statesman has speculated she may be unwilling to step down from her role in Labour’s Refugee Taskforce, paving the way for Fiona McTaggart to potentially go for the nomination. Having run against Mr Vaz in previous years, Ms McTaggart also has experience as a Home Office Minister.

It has also been suggested that former Shadow Energy Secretary Caroline Flint could throw her hat into the ring, given her past experience in the Home Office.

Culture, Media and Sport: Conservative

Prompted by Jesse Norman’s appointment as Industry and Energy Minister, the CMS Committee will be holding a competition to recruit a new Conservative Chair.

Establishing herself early in the campaign was former CMS Minister Helen Grant, as she set out her skills and expertise on the nominations page. Ms Grant received support from Health Committee Chair Sarah Wollaston, Women and Equalities Committee Chair Maria Miller, and Welsh Affairs Committee Chair David T. C Davies.

Unsurprisingly, fellow Conservative Damian Collins trailed shortly behind, as his nomination bid published later that day.

Having acted as Interim Chair of the Committee in the absence of Mr Norman, Damian Collins was able to secure support from former Culture and Digital Economy Minister Ed Vaizey, Conservative Education Committee Chair Neil Carmichael, and Public Accounts Committee Chair Meg Hillier.

Commons Science and Technology: Conservative

Following Nicola Blackwood’s promotion to the Department of Health, the Conservative Chair post has seen a number of MPs put their name forward, as published on the Committee’s page. Victoria Borwick, Stephen Metcalfe, Dan Poulter, and Matt Warman are all already vying for the role.

Former London Assembly Member Victoria Borwick has unsurprisingly secured the support of Boris Johnson, alongside several other Government ministers, such as Sam Gyimah, Greg Hands, and Richard Harrington. First elected in May 2015, Ms Borwick was appointed to the Committee shortly after entering Parliament.

Meanwhile, Dr Dan Poulter, a practising medical doctor, has effectively secured the support of several Committee Chairs, including Welsh Affairs Committee Chair David T.C Davies, and Foreign Affairs Committee Chair Crispin Blunt.

He previously served as Health Minister under Jeremy Hunt, but was dismissed from the post in 2015. He has since carved his reputation as a prominent backbench Government critic, focusing on issues such as PrEP and the drive for a seven-day NHS service.

Former tech journalist and current Committee member Matt Warman has also put himself forward. A 2015 entrant, Mr Warman stated from the outset that improving telecommunications infrastructure was one of his key priorities. Election as Chair of the Committee would undoubtedly help him to fulfil this objective. He was a frequent speaker at Conservative Conference fringe events on tech issues in 2015, with his appearances including a turn alongside Mr Norman to discuss rural broadband.

Meanwhile, having served on the Science and Tech Committee for five years, Stephen Metcalfe has carved himself out as one of the most experienced Conservative MPs in the running. First elected in 2010, Mr Metcalfe held a number of PPS posts under the Coalition Government, but returned to the backbenches in July 2016. 

Jasmine Mitchell
Jasmine Mitchell
Political Analyst

Jasmine Mitchell is a Political Analyst at DeHavilland, where she monitors the UK Parliament and devolved institutions. She first joined DeHavilland as a Research Assistant in January 2015. Jasmine holds a BA in Modern History and Politics from the University of Liverpool and a Masters in Conflict, Security and Development from King's College London.