Wednesday July 7th update:
BIll Cash has in the event been nominated unopposed to chair the European Scrutiny Committee. He said:
“I am utterly delighted at receiving such overwhelming support from so many colleagues. We now have to get down to the business of sifting through the massive logjam of European Directives and other European Commission proposals and setting up the membership of the Committee as soon as reasonably possible because European proposals and legislation have such a pervasive impact on the daily lives of the voters of the United Kingdom.”
"May I press the Deputy Leader of
the House to get his master, the Leader of the House, to come to the
House and give the statement that he promised two weeks ago on progress
on setting up the European Scrutiny Committee, and to scotch the rumour
that is going about that Ministers intend to vote in the 1922
committee’s election of the Conservative chair of that committee? I hope
that the Deputy Leader of the House will say that even the gelded
Liberals would not stand for the Government’s trying to elect a
Back-Bench committee’s chairman."
Since Commons Committee Chairmen are elected either on a cross-party basis by all backbench MPs, or by the members of the Committee concerned, the procedure that Connarty was referring to is obscure. But the rumour to which he was alluding is that the whole Conservative Parliamentary Party – including its Ministers – will, in a unique arrangement, vote soon to nominate one of the Conservative committee members as its Chairman.
One of those members looks to be Bill Cash, who's sat on the Committee for 26 years. It's no secret that he's not exactly the pin-up boy of the Whips' Office. Labour sources confirm that Connarty was suggesting that this peculiar manoeuvre is an attempt to block him, and instead install Oliver Heald, a former Shadow Leader of the Commons.
Connarty didn't get much of an answer from David Heath, the Deputy Leader of the House. As a Liberal Democrat, Heath was able to say that the workings of the '22 are nothing to do with him. It's understood that Labour and other non-Conservative members of the new committee may be unwilling to have a Tory other than Cash foisted on them (as they're apparently likely to see it).
If Ministers vote in such a election, the gambit will obviously say much about Conservative tensions over the EU. There are two other important issues at stake. The first is the right of backbenchers of all parties to decide who chairs Commons committees. The second is the right of the '22 to remain the property of Conservative backbenchers. David Cameron's recent attempt to merge the '22 with the frontbench was both wrong and unsuccessful. It shouldn't be repeated in any form – let alone in relation to so vital an issue.