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That the Order of 20 October 2009 (Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill (Programme)) be varied as follows:
1. Paragraphs 2 to 4 of the Order shall be omitted.
2. Proceedings in Committee of the whole House shall be completed in four days.
3. The proceedings shall be taken on each of those days as shown in the first column of the Table and in the order there shown.
4. Each part of those proceedings shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at the time specified in relation to it in the second column of that Table.
|Proceedings||Time for conclusion of proceedings|
Clauses 1 and 2, Schedule 1, Clauses 3 to 19, Schedule 2, Clause 20, new Clauses relating to Part 1, new Schedules relating to Part 1.
The moment of interruption on the first day.
Clauses 33 and 34, new Clauses relating to Part 5, new Schedules relating to Part 5, Clause 35, Schedule 5, Clause 36, new Clauses relating to Part 6, new Schedules relating to Part 6, Clauses 37 to 43, Schedule 6, Clause 44, Schedule 7, Clauses 45 to 49, Schedules 8 and 9, Clause 50, new Clauses relating to Part 7, new Schedules relating to Part 7, Clauses 51 and 52, new Clauses relating to Part 8, new Schedules relating to Part 8.
The moment of interruption on the second day.
|Third and fourth days|
Clauses 21 to 25, new Clauses relating to Part 2, new Schedules relating to Part 2, Clauses 26 and 27, Schedule 3, Clauses 28 to 31, new Clauses relating to Part 3, new Schedules relating to Part 3, Clause 32, Schedule 4, new Clauses relating to Part 4, new Schedules relating to Part 4, Clauses 53 to 56, remaining new Clauses, remaining new Schedules, remaining proceedings on the Bill.
The moment of interruption on the fourth day.
The basic decision on the programming of the Committee stage was determined on 20 October, when the House agreed that there should be four days on the Floor of this House. That programme motion was agreed without Division, which I took as general approbation, following discussions among the usual channels, for having four such days of debate. This programme motion provides more detail, hopefully for the convenience of the House. It proposes that part 1 be debated today. On the second day, it proposes that we deal with part 5, which corrects
an important anomaly in respect of the Human Rights Act 1998 and the Scotland Act 1998 following the Somerville judgment by the Law Lords; with part 6, which deals with courts and tribunals; with part 7, which deals with the National Audit Office; and with part 8, which relates to transparency. Days three and four are then assigned for part 2 on treaties, part 3 on the House of Lords, part 4 on protests, part 9 on final provisions and any new parts of the Bill.
Lest there be any suggestion that the measures in this Bill, which is by any standards medium-sized-it is certainly not a long Bill-have not been subject to proper scrutiny, I have brought with me the 19 reports that preceded this legislation. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Epping Forest (Mrs. Laing) says that she remembers them.
Discussions on the civil service, dealt with in part 1, have been continuing for a very considerable period. Indeed, they go back to a draft Civil Service Bill published in 2004. We then saw proposals in the "Governance of Britain" documents and a statement in July 2007. A draft Bill was then published, which went before the Joint Committee on the draft Constitutional Renewal Bill, as well as before the Public Administration Select Committee. The Government have taken both those Committee reports very seriously, and their comments are reflected in the drafting of the Bill. The same applies to the other parts of the Bill. The issue of Somerville arises from concern expressed-not least by the Scottish Executive-about the anomaly that had been created. I am glad that we are now able to correct it, as it has been the subject of extensive discussion in the House and outside.
The part relating to the ratification of treaties was also the subject of detailed proposals that were considered by the Joint Committee and others. We shall deal with the part concerning the House of Lords on days three and four. I do not suggest that it has been endorsed on an all-party basis, but it has been the subject of two periods of all-party discussion, and of a Green Paper and a White Paper which I published in 2007 and 2008.
Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) (Lab): Since Second Reading, have there been any further discussions with the Opposition about their proposal for the appointment of temporary peers? The Lord Chancellor seemed to favour the idea.
Mr. Straw: There has been no formal discussion of the matter, although informal representations have been made. As I believe I said on Second Reading, I understand the proposal and it is being considered in Government, and we shall have time to return to it.
The part of the Bill that deals with courts and tribunals has been the subject of widespread approbation. Finally, there are the parts relating to national audit and the transparency of Government financial reporting to Parliament. The national audit proposals follow on from a draft Bill from the National Audit Office.
Lembit Öpik (Montgomeryshire) (LD):
I have no doubt that there has been extensive consultation up to this point, but, having engaged in a large amount of
constitutional debate concerning Wales and, indeed, Northern Ireland, I have observed that sometimes it is only when legislation has been implemented that we perceive deficiencies, weaknesses and aspects that we might wish to improve. Has the Lord Chancellor considered allowing further debates once the Bill has been implemented-should it become an Act-to ensure that any unforeseen or unintended consequences are rectified in the future? I think that that is very important when it comes to constitutional changes.
Mr. Straw: The hon. Gentleman has raised an important point. I agree that this Bill in particular should be subject to proper arrangements for post-legislative scrutiny. I will write to him, and will make the letter available.
Because there was a new Administration in 1997 and we regarded Scottish and Welsh devolution as high priorities, there was not the same provision for draft Bills and detailed consideration by Select Committees as there has been for the measures before us. It was necessary for us to proceed at that pace, but in a better world it would have been to everyone's advantage to have had more time.
Mr. Dominic Grieve (Beaconsfield) (Con): I entirely accept the Secretary of State's comment that the House did not divide on the programme motion at the end of Second Reading, but he can see for himself what has already been tabled for consideration over the next two days, and it clearly shows that there will be insufficient time for full consideration. Moreover, this is a constitutional Bill, and not such a long time before the Labour Government were elected in 1997 not only would such a Bill have been considered on the Floor of the House, but that would have been without any guillotine or any end date for its coming out of Committee, and therefore all Members would have had the opportunity to participate and say what they wished about what is, even in its curtailed form, a very important piece of legislation.
How are we to do justice to this legislation when it is already apparent-I am not criticising the Secretary of State for this, but he can now see it for himself-that we have no possibility whatever of getting through the clauses for consideration on the civil service in the course of today's business, particularly as the time is now 20 minutes to 6 and the business will be finished by 10 o'clock? Having looked at what is already down for consideration on day two, I strongly suspect that there will be insufficient time then as well.
We must also face up to the fact that, because the Government have imposed internal guillotines, as is their current practice, we will probably come across the most controversial parts of the legislation at the very end of the process, whereas if the Government had left the consideration of business so that knives did not fall, the House could have adjusted to make sure that it gave the desired amount of consideration to those parts it decided were most important. After all, some interesting ideas are floating around; the right hon. Member for
Leicester, East (Keith Vaz) rightly raised the idea of term peers, but I can foresee already that we will not have sufficient time to give that the proper scrutiny and consideration that it requires.
Keith Vaz: Is not one way of dealing with this the commencement of proper discussions between the Government and the Opposition? We heard from the Lord Chancellor that there have been informal approaches, and the hon. Member for Chichester (Mr. Tyrie) raised the issue on Second Reading. One way of avoiding lengthy debates on the Floor of the House about programme motions is to have proper constructive discussions between- [Interruption.] I agree that such debates are important, but on measures of this kind, where the political parties are prepared to have a discussion, surely such formal discussions should not take place on the Floor of the House and thereby curtail the debate that is necessary on the Floor of the House.
Mr. Grieve: The right hon. Gentleman makes an important point. I, for one, am always happy to have informal discussions with the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State on these matters-and I enjoy them-but it is important that we do not circumvent this House. The reason for holding these debates on the Floor of the House is precisely so that we do not have a Committee upstairs which can be packed with the nominees of the Government-and, for that matter, of the Opposition-and so that every Member of this House can participate in debate on this constitutional measure, including those who may disagree fundamentally with any proposal, even one brought forward jointly by the Secretary of State and myself.
Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham) (Con): Will my hon. and learned Friend also make the point that it is profoundly undemocratic for important constitutional measures to be cobbled together by the two Front-Bench teams and for Members to be denied the opportunity to debate such matters on the Floor of the House?
Mr. Oliver Heald (North-East Hertfordshire) (Con): As the amendment paper shows, amendments have been tabled by Members who do not sit on the Front Benches but who have over the years taken a very honourable part in these debates. I am thinking of the hon. Member for Luton, North (Kelvin Hopkins), for example, who has been involved in such debates on many occasions. Amendments have also been tabled by representatives of minor parties, who would not necessarily normally be part of such Front-Bench discussions. That is why on a constitutional Bill it is important to capture the views of the whole House.
This Government motion offers us an opportunity to revisit something we did at the end of Second Reading, and with which I have never been comfortable. The Government know that, as a matter of principle, we oppose guillotines, particularly in respect of constitutional measures. However, we also have a desire to get through business, and we are realistic, sometimes, about the likely outcome of a vote. That having been said, here is
our opportunity-and, if I may say so, the Secretary of State's opportunity. He has had the chance to see the sort of amendments that have been tabled, and it is pretty clear that a debate is developing over a wide range of issues. None of the amendments appear to be spoiling ones that do not merit consideration, and it is becoming plain that there is insufficient time for consideration. Even today's business will end, I fear, with large chunks having not been properly considered.
The Liberal Democrat proposal-I respect Mr. Speaker's decision that we cannot vote on it-strikes me as one that the Secretary of State could properly keep in mind. Given that I feel we will have insufficient time, the one way in which we can lay down a marker of our unhappiness at this stage is to oppose the Government motion.
I hope that, in the spirit in which I certainly intend this debate to be conducted, the Secretary of State will take the opportunity to reconsider the timetable, which has two key failings. First, I strongly suspect that it is not long enough in its totality. Secondly, the way the knives have been placed guarantees that when we finally get to day four and probably have to consider the Bill's most important clauses, it will be even more apparent than it is today that we do not have the time to do so, especially when the business has not been protected, as it has not this afternoon. We have had two statements-I do not blame the Secretary of State for that, but the fact is that it is the Government's business-which have already taken up a considerable part of the afternoon's business.
For those reasons, I urge the Secretary of State to reconsider the position. None of the amendments tabled is in any way a means to filibuster. This is an important Bill and the fact that the Secretary of State has kept it in some ways-dare I say it-mercifully short does not mean that it does not contain plenty of meat to be scrutinised. It does-in its limited remit, which is far more limited than the Government originally envisaged. For those reasons, I hope that, by listening to this afternoon's debate, the Secretary of State will have an opportunity to reconsider his position. If he does not, we will have to register our unhappiness in the only way we can.
Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD): I must say that I am extremely disappointed in the position that the Lord Chancellor has chosen to take on this occasion; he would not have supported it in previous incarnations. I say this because, whatever its shortcomings, this is an important constitutional Bill. It certainly does not go nearly far enough in many directions for my liking; nevertheless, it does contain matters that we ought, quite properly, to debate in this House. However, perhaps just as important are those things that are not in it, and which right hon. and hon. Members would wish to add to the appropriate legislation for dealing with constitutional reform.
The proposal before us-programme motion No. 2-differs from its predecessor in a very important respect. As the hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve) said, it involves the insertion of knives. Those knives will curtail discussion. They are designed to curtail discussion. They are there to prevent Members of this House from having the opportunity of debating this constitutional Bill.
The reason why, by convention, we consider the Committee stage of constitutional Bills on the Floor of the House is to enable every Member who wishes to contribute to have their say. Perversely, what we have before us today is a programme motion that puts us in a worse position than if we had been in Committee upstairs. It is normal practice not to have knives until such time as it is clear that progress will not be made without them. I have served on countless Committees dealing with Bills of a constitutional or criminal justice nature over the years. Normally, we have managed to discuss, between ourselves, appropriate ways of progressing business to avoid knives, wherever possible, and ensure that every single clause is given proper weight and proper consideration. That will not happen on this occasion, despite the fact that many more Members may wish to be involved. This might be a modest Bill in what it sets out to achieve, but it is hardly that modest in its physical size-it contains 56 clauses and nine schedules-so it is reasonable that we take a little time in considering it.
Mr. Hogg: Irrespective of whether or not the Bill is modest in itself, does the hon. Gentleman agree that it is a vehicle to which this House and its Members can add very substantially, if that is what this House wants?
Mr. Heath: That is precisely the point, and I am glad that the right hon. and learned Gentleman makes it. He describes the substance of many of the amendments and new clauses that have been tabled and that are on the amendment paper. The Government, with their majority, blithely pass though this House proposals for carry-over because they do not think that they can get things through in this Session, but they will not allow carry-over in debate-even carry-over until tomorrow of matters that we will not reach in debate this evening. When we reach the knife tonight, any matters that we have not debated will simply disappear-they will not be debated by this House-and that is not a satisfactory position.
When the Lord Chancellor comes to this place with his pile of reports and papers, he betrays the fact that the Bill before us is not the Bill that many of those reports considered-huge sections have been left out and other sections have been added. Even if it were the same Bill, what difference would that make? Today, we are making law-we have the duty to consider the Bill line by line-so it does not matter what discussion has gone on before. It may be helpful to our discussions in this Chamber, but it does not replace them. If he believes that it does, I should tell him that we have been discussing reforming the Lords for 100 years-we discussed it right back in 1911, but we still have not done it. Does he honestly believe that he could put it before this House without debate and expect to get it through? Of course he does not.
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