Select committee chairs elected for the first time

Margaret Hodge scrapes in as chair of public accounts committee, beating her nearest rival by six vo

The ex-minister Margaret Hodge is among those who have won a coveted spot as chair of a parliamentary select committee, following yesterday's secret ballot for the influential posts. She beat Hugh Bayley, her nearest rival for the high-profile role as chair of the public accounts committee, by six votes in the fifth round of voting.

She replaces the Conservative Edward Leigh, who had held the chair since 2001. The public accounts committee, once termed "the queen of the select committees" by Peter Hennessy, is charged with overseeing government spending to ensure accountability and transparancy in the public finances.

Chairing these committees has long been seen as a way for backbenchers to hold the government to account and get their voice heard, but there is also a substantial salary boost, with the chairs receiving an extra £14,582 on top of their MP's salary in 2010-2011.

It is the first time that the posts have been filled by a ballot of MPs rather than appointment by the party whips. The measure was brought in following the expenses scandal in an effort to reduce the potential for patronage in parliament.

Other key appointments include Keith Vaz, who retains the chair of the home affairs committee, which he has held since 2003, and James Arbuthnot, who also retains his position as chair of the defence committee, a position he has held since 2005.

Stephen Dorrell, health minister in the Major government, was elected chair of the health committee, and Andrew Tyrie takes control of the Treasury committee, which can be expected to play a vocal part in the forthcoming discussion about the role and taxation of the banks.

Twelve committees have a Conservative MP as chairman, while Labour MPs will chair ten and Lib Dem MPs two.

Here's the full list of appointments:

Business, Innovation and Skills - Adrian Bailey (L)

Children, Schools and Families - Graham Stuart (C)

Communities and Local Government - Clive Betts (L)

Culture, Media and Sport - John Whittingdale* (C)

Defence - James Arbuthnot** (C)

Energy and Climate Change - Tim Yeo (C)

Environment, Food and Rural Affairs - Anne McIntosh (C)

Environmental Audit - Joan Walley (L)

Foreign Affairs - Richard Ottaway (L)

Health - Stephen Dorrell (C)

Home Affairs - Keith Vaz** (L)

Justice - Sir Alan Beith* (LD)

International Development - Malcolm Bruce* (LD)

Nothern Ireland - Laurence Robertson* (C)

Political and Constitutional Reform - Graham Allen (L)

Procedure - Greg Knight* (C)

Public Accounts - Margaret Hodge (L)

Public Administration - Bernard Jenkin (C)

Science and Technology - Andrew Miller (L)

Scottish Affairs - Ian Davidson* (L)

Treasury Committee - Andrew Tyrie (C)

Transport - Louise Ellman*** (L)

Welsh Affairs - David Davies* (C)

Work and Pensions Committee - Anne Begg (L)

*indicates chair was elected unopposed

**indicates previous holder of the position elected

Caroline Crampton is assistant editor of the New Statesman. She writes a weekly podcast column.

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The problems with ending encryption to fight terrorism

Forcing tech firms to create a "backdoor" to access messages would be a gift to cyber-hackers.

The UK has endured its worst terrorist atrocity since 7 July 2005 and the threat level has been raised to "critical" for the first time in a decade. Though election campaigning has been suspended, the debate over potential new powers has already begun.

Today's Sun reports that the Conservatives will seek to force technology companies to hand over encrypted messages to the police and security services. The new Technical Capability Notices were proposed by Amber Rudd following the Westminster terrorist attack and a month-long consultation closed last week. A Tory minister told the Sun: "We will do this as soon as we can after the election, as long as we get back in. The level of threat clearly proves there is no more time to waste now. The social media companies have been laughing in our faces for too long."

Put that way, the plan sounds reasonable (orders would be approved by the home secretary and a senior judge). But there are irrefutable problems. Encryption means tech firms such as WhatsApp and Apple can't simply "hand over" suspect messages - they can't access them at all. The technology is designed precisely so that conversations are genuinely private (unless a suspect's device is obtained or hacked into). Were companies to create an encryption "backdoor", as the government proposes, they would also create new opportunities for criminals and cyberhackers (as in the case of the recent NHS attack).

Ian Levy, the technical director of the National Cyber Security, told the New Statesman's Will Dunn earlier this year: "Nobody in this organisation or our parent organisation will ever ask for a 'back door' in a large-scale encryption system, because it's dumb."

But there is a more profound problem: once created, a technology cannot be uninvented. Should large tech firms end encryption, terrorists will merely turn to other, lesser-known platforms. The only means of barring UK citizens from using the service would be a Chinese-style "great firewall", cutting Britain off from the rest of the internet. In 2015, before entering the cabinet, Brexit Secretary David Davis warned of ending encryption: "Such a move would have had devastating consequences for all financial transactions and online commerce, not to mention the security of all personal data. Its consequences for the City do not bear thinking about."

Labour's manifesto pledged to "provide our security agencies with the resources and the powers they need to protect our country and keep us all safe." But added: "We will also ensure that such powers do not weaken our individual rights or civil liberties". The Liberal Democrats have vowed to "oppose Conservative attempts to undermine encryption."

But with a large Conservative majority inevitable, according to polls, ministers will be confident of winning parliamentary support for the plan. Only a rebellion led by Davis-esque liberals is likely to stop them.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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