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That this House welcomes the First Report of the Select Committee on Modernisation of the House of Commons on Revitalising the Chamber: the role of the back bench Member (House of Commons Paper No. 337) and approves the proposals for changes in the procedures and practices of the House set out in the Governments response to the report (Cm. 7231), including the proposals for topical questions.
That in the next session of Parliament the following amendments to the Standing Orders, and new Orders, shall have effect:
(A) Topical debates
The following new Standing Order:
(1) A Minister of the Crown may indicate that proceedings on a motion, That the House has considered a specified matter, being a matter of regional, national or international importance, are to be conducted as a topical debate.
(2) A topical debate shall last for not more than one and a half hours, at which time the motion, unless previously disposed of, shall lapse.
(3) A topical debate shall be opened by a Minister of the Crown who, when called by the Speaker, may speak for up to ten minutes.
(4) A Member speaking on behalf of the Leader of the Opposition, when called by the Speaker, may speak for up to ten minutes either immediately following the Minister at the start of the debate or immediately before the Minister at its conclusion.
(5) A Member nominated by the leader of the second largest opposition party, when called by the Speaker, may speak for up to six minutes either at the start of the debate or before the Member speaking on behalf of the Leader of the Opposition or the Minister, as the case may be, at its conclusion.
(6) Members speaking under paragraphs (3), (4) or (5), when speaking at the start of the debate, shall be permitted to speak for an extra minute for each intervention they accept up to the same number as the number of minutes allocated to them to speak.
(7) The Speaker may direct any Member speaking under paragraphs (3), (4) or (5) to resume his seat when he has spoken for the period provided for in those paragraphs and paragraph (6).
(8) Time limits on speeches by other Members may be announced by the Speaker under Standing Order No. 47 (Time limits on speeches).
(B) General debates
(i) The following amendment to Standing Order No. 9 (Sittings of the House):
Line 31, at end insert , or that the House has considered a specified matter,
(ii) The following new Standing Order:
Amendments to motions to consider specified matters
Where, in the opinion of the Speaker, a motion, That this House has considered a specified matter, is expressed in neutral terms, no amendment to it may be tabled.
(C) Emergency debates
The following amendments to Standing Order No. 24 (Adjournment on a specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration):
Line 4, leave out to move the adjournment of the House for purpose of discussing and insert that the House should debate
Line 7, leave out discussed and insert debated
Line 15, leave out from made to the end of the paragraph and insert
(a) the debate shall be held on a motion that the House has considered the specified matter; and
(b) the Speaker shall announce either
(i) the length of the debate and the time at which it is to be held; or
(ii) that he will make such a statement at a later named hour during that sitting.
(2A) Proceedings in respect of a debate under this order may last not more than three hours and, at the conclusion of the time allocated to them, pursuant to paragraph (2)(b) of this order, the motion, unless otherwise disposed of, shall lapse.
Line 23, leave out to propose to move the adjournment of the House under the provisions of and insert make an application under
Line 43, leave out paragraph (6).
Line 49, at beginning insert, If the Speaker announces that the debate will take place on the same day as the application is made,
Line 49, leave out from postponed to the end of line 52, and insert as the result of that announcement, may continue, following the conclusion of proceedings on that debate, for the same time beyond the moment of interruption as that taken by the debate, and
Line 54, leave out from business) to the end of the paragraph.
(D) Time limits on speeches
(i) Repeal of Standing Order No. 47 (Short speeches)
(ii) The following new Standing Order:
Time limits on speeches
47.(1) The Speaker may announce that he intends to call Members to speak in a debate, or at certain times during that debate, for no longer than any period he may specify, and he may at any time make subsequent announcements varying the terms of an announcement under this paragraph.
(2) Whenever the Speaker has made an announcement under paragraph (1), he may, subject to paragraph (4), direct any Member (other than a Minister of the Crown, a Member speaking on behalf of the Leader of the Opposition, or not more than one Member nominated by the leader of the second largest opposition party) who has spoken for that period to resume his seat forthwith.
(3) The Speaker may announce, at or before the commencement of any debate (other than a topical debate) in respect of which he has made or intends to make an announcement under paragraph (1) of this order, that speeches by a Minister of the Crown, Members speaking on behalf of the Leader of the Opposition, and not more than one Member nominated by the leader of the second largest opposition party shall be limited to twenty minutes and he may direct any such Member who has spoken for that period to resume his seat forthwith.
(4) In relation to any speech, the Speaker shall add to any period specified
(a) under paragraph (1) of this order
(i) one minute if one intervention is accepted, plus the time taken by that intervention;
(ii) two minutes if two or more interventions are accepted, plus the time taken by the first two such interventions;
(b) under paragraph (3) of this order, one minute for each intervention accepted up to a maximum of fifteen minutes. [Mr. Watts.]
That this House welcomes the First Report of the Procedure Committee on Public Petitions and Early Day Motions (House of Commons paper No. 513); and approves the proposals for changes in the procedures and practices of the House set out in the Governments response to the report in Cm. 7193. [Mr. Watts.]
That the following amendments to Standing Orders be made, with effect from the beginning of the next Session of Parliament:
(1) In Standing Order No. 154 (Time and manner of presenting petitions):
(i) line 5, leave out from be to the end of line 6 and insert presented
(ii) line 10, leave out from the word conclusion to the end of line 19
(iii) line 20, leave out (a) and (1)(b).
(2) In Standing Order No. 156 (Printing of petitions and of ministerial replies)
(i) line 4, leave out the words ordered to lie upon the Table and to be printed and insert the words published in the Official Report
(ii) line 7, leave out from the word be to the end of line 9 and insert published in the Official Report.. [Mr. Watts.]
That the Order of the House of 7th July 2005 relating to European Standing Committees (Temporary Nomination) shall continue to have effect in the next Session of Parliament .[Mr. Watts.]
for a period not longer than three months.. [Michael Connarty.]
That Mr. Paul Burstow be discharged from the Select Committee on Modernisation of the House of Commons and Simon Hughes be added. [Mr. Watts.]
Mr. Greg Knight (East Yorkshire) (Con): I understand that the motion is debatable, as we have reached it before 6 pm. Is the hon. Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes) willing to address the House, to tell us why he wishes to be a member of the Modernisation Committee?
Simon Hughes (North Southwark and Bermondsey) (LD): I had not intended to speak, but I shall say a few words. The short answer to the right hon. Gentlemans question is because I believe, as many other hon. Members said in the previous debate, that the House needs far more modernisation, and that we need a much stronger House of Commons. The House of Commons should be able to determine its own agenda, and we should be able to hold the Executive to account. All Back Benchers should be able to play a more effective role. That is my commitment. On the basis of that very short manifesto, I hope that I can be elected to the Select Committee on Modernisation of the House of Commons, even if I am not standing for other posts.
That, at the sitting on Monday 29th October, proceedings on the Motion for the adjournment of the House in the name of the Prime Minister relating to Burma may continue, though opposed, for three hours or until Ten oclock, whichever is the later, and shall then lapse if not previously disposed of. [Mr. Watts.]
Miss Ann Widdecombe (Maidstone and The Weald) (Con): I am very grateful to have the opportunity to raise the case of my constituent Mr. Ricks and the operation of the OFAC list. It may be that, during the course of my remarks, the Minister will wonder why I have not decided that this is a Treasury issue, but in fact I believe that the only action that can now be taken to assist my constituent has to be through the Foreign Office and the American embassy. At the end of my remarks, I shall also ask the Minister to widen this matter beyond Mr. Ricks and to consider the position in general of British nationals on the OFAC list.
In May 2007, Mr. Ricks, a constituent of mine, decided to do what millions of people do every yearsell his house and downsize. There was nothing particularly unusual in such a decision, and he sold his house, realising the sum of £800,000. He was not yet ready to buy the house into which he wished to downsize, so he very sensibly did what millions of people do when they have money that they are not going to use immediately, and decided to put this very considerable sum on deposit in order that it should earn him money until such time as he came to use it to buy a house. There is nothing at all unusual in that; as I say, millions of British citizens will be doing the same thing in any given year.
Mr. Ricks looked around for the best deals. His own bank was the National Westminster, where the £800,000 was held at that time. He decided that Abbey had the best deal, so he wanted to transfer his money from the National Westminster to Abbey. Again, most people would say, So what? Such a transfer is also something that millions of people do every year. They switch money between one financial institution and another in order to get a better deal.
In May 2007I repeat that this took place in MayMr. Ricks authorised the National Westminster to transfer to Abbey £800,000. That was done through a method called a CHAPSclearing house automated payment systemtransfer, which he was assured was the most secure method. The money never arrived at Abbey. Seemingly, it had disappeared into the ether. I ask how people would feel if all their moneyour houses are where most of us have our moneywhich is their security in retirement and their only means of equipping themselves with another house, disappeared into the ether.
Much worse was to follow. Mr. Ricks assumed, as I, and I think the Minister too, would have done if it had happened to us, that there had been a mistake and the money had been lost in transfer, that it was okay and that either NatWest or Abbey would find it, and it would come back. That is a perfectly reasonable attitude for him to take, but in fact he could not find out what had happened to his money. The transfer was completed on 15 May, but nobody could explain where the money had gone. Abbey could not, and I have to say that I consider that it treated Mr. Ricks rather poorly, because it more or less shrugged and said that it
could not explain it; the money had never arrived, and it could not say what had happened.
However, it transpiredunder some pressurethat the money could not be transferred directly from the National Westminster into Abbey, as my constituent had quite reasonably assumed and as I would have assumed; Abbey did not have the necessary clearing arrangements to deal with the CHAPS transfer, so Citibank dealt with it. Again, one might think that there is nothing very odd about that; it was just that a third financial institution had become involved. Naturally, representations were made to Citibankwhere was the money?
Eventually, Abbey told my constituent the not-wholly-correct information that the money was being held by Citibankthat much was trueand that it was being checked for evidence of money laundering because it was such a large sum. At that stage, I intervened with the chairman of Abbey and discovered that the money was being held by Citibank because Mr. Ricks was on the OFAC list. OFAC has no legal force in this country, only in the United States, but because Citibank is US-owned, it froze a transfer of money within Britain from one British bank to another and it took many weeks for my constituent even to find out why it had done that. To be fair to Citibank, when it told the NatWest in May that it could not process the money, it said why, but that information was not passed to my constituent.
So at that point, the money is arbitrarily frozen by Citibank. My constituent employs a solicitor and goes to the ombudsman. After 10 weeks, the ombudsman says that he cannot help; a barrister contests that, and it goes back to the ombudsman, who again insists that he cannot help. Meanwhile, what is happening to my constituent? He has no money; it has been arbitrarily taken from him. He is homelesswell, he is in a bedsit.
Why did Citibank take his assets? It was because 20 years agonot last year or the year beforemy constituent had had business dealings in Iraq. I have supplied the Minister confidentially with the details of that involvement, which certainly had nothing to do with helping Iraq, but a lot to do with helping the British Government at the time. Be that as it may, he has not had involvement in Iraq for a long time.
By July, we got the first instruction, which was that an application to be removed from the OFAC list should be completed by my constituent. He did that right away, as one would imagine. Here we are in October, and my constituent has still not been taken off the OFAC list and still does not have his moneylet alone the interest that should have accrued while he held it at Abbey. On 18 September, I received what I regard as a not terribly helpful, if not dismissive, letter from a Treasury Minister telling me that this was a matter for the US embassy. I had already managed to work that out; I had written to that embassy on 3 August. No reply was ever received. I have to say that on the not very many occasionsalthough there have been somewhen I have had to deal with the US embassy, its reaction has been characterised by, to say the very least, a failure of alacrity; I hope that the Minister was listening to that.
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