18 June 2015

The results of the elections for Select Committee chairs in the 2015-2020 Parliament have just been announced. Gavin Freeguard and Hannah White report.

27 select committee chairs were up for election…

Select committee chair allocation by party

As we explained in our previous post, the majority of select committee chairs are now elected following reforms in 2010. The chairs are divided between parties in proportion to their election results.

…of which 12 were uncontested.

Select Committee Elections 2015

Of the twelve select committee chairs elected unopposed, eight were incumbents, one was the chair of the new Women and Equalities Committee (Maria Miller), two were new SNP chairs (Angus MacNeil on Energy and Climate Change and Pete Wishart on Scottish Affairs) and one was the new chair of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee – Neil Parish.

Only one incumbent chair was defeated - Adrian Bailey on Business, Innovation and Skills. Graham Stuart, the former chair of the Education committee, stood for the Culture, Media and Sport chair but lost to Jesse Norman. The other two incumbents facing a challenge – Keith Vaz on Home Affairs and Dr Sarah Wollaston on Health – were both safely returned.

Of the committees scrutinising the work of the main government departments, eleven have new chairs.

Select Committee Chairs - Timeline

In some of the most heated departmental contests, former CLG minister Bob Neill won Justice, Jesse Norman secured Culture, Media and Sport, Crispin Blunt triumphed on Foreign Affairs and Stephen Twigg took the Chair of International Development.

In terms of cross-cutting committees, Meg Hillier won the coveted chair of the Public Accounts Committee, Huw Irranca-Davies took Environmental Audit (after beating off opponents campaigning with some unconventional literature), and Bernard Jenkin kept his seat on Public Administration – which has had its remit extended to include Constitutional Affairs.

In addition to the committees shown in the graphic above:

  • Maria Miller is the first chair of the new Women and Equalities committee
  • Nicola Blackwood will chair the Science and Technology committee
  • Helen Jones is the first chair of the new Petitions committee
  • Ian Mearns takes charge of the Backbench Business Committee, which has to be chaired by a member of an opposition party
  • Charles Walker continues as chair of the Procedure committee
  • Kevin Barron remains chair of the Standards committee.

Of the chairs in place at the end of the last parliament, the majority of those who wanted to are continuing.

Select Committee Chairs Destination

Just under a third of chairs were not eligible to stand again as they were no longer MPs – whether because they retired, were de-selected or lost their seat at the election.

As for the others:

  • Two of the chairs in post at the end of the last parliament are have become ministers but one of those – John Whittingdale the new Culture Secretary – had reached the two parliament term limit so would not have been able to continue had he wanted to. The other is Rory Stewart who, after a brief tenure, swapped the Defence Committee for a junior ministerial post in Defra.
  • One – Graham Allen – saw his former committee (Political and Constitutional Reform) abolished.
  • Two chose not to stand again – Margaret Hodge on PAC, who has been replaced by Meg Hillier, and Natascha Engel on the Backbench Business Committee, now a deputy speaker of the House, who is replaced by Ian Mearns.

Although the percentage of chairs who are female has increased to 22%...

Select Committee chairs - gender

The percentage of elected chairs who are women has increased successively over the last three parliaments but still lags below representation of women in the Commons as a whole. The lag has narrowed since the introduction of elections – perhaps indicating that elections are better for women than the old system of appointments via the whips.

…it remains lower than the percentage of women in Commons as a whole (29%), in the Cabinet, in government and sitting on Cabinet Committees.

Select Committee Chairs Gender Comparison

Select committee chairs lag behind parliament and government in terms of gender balance. While one third of David Cameron’s cabinet is now female, only around a fifth of select committee chairs – six out of 27 – are female.

The next select committee event will be the selection of members to sit on them. As with the allocation of chairs, allocation of committee members roughly follows the share of seats by party in the Commons. In the next few weeks members of each party will vote for their party representatives on each committee.

This blog is based on work by former IfG intern Olivia Harvey.

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