“My own case is not atypical. Lots of cases which people think are unfair and unreasonable have involved large companies suing individuals and corporations. The only clause in the Bill that would have helped me would have been if the British Chiropractic Association had had to demonstrate financial loss, because that would have been impossible for them. Corporations have huge influence on society and that’s why we need to tip the balance in favour of free speech.”

Simon Hughes: As the right hon. Gentleman knows, I am very sympathetic to the point he is making, and I certainly agree that the case of Dr Singh exemplifies the wrong that we seek to redress. It is simply a matter of the tactics that we use to achieve the result that we want. The Minister has expressed her willingness to consider tabling another amendment, and it seems to me that, in procedural terms, the only way in which we can do that is by ensuring that the Commons disagrees with the Lords so that negotiation can take place in the other place over the next few days.

Sadiq Khan: I am terribly sorry, but the Minister did not say that. She alluded to the civil procedure rules and to the Civil Justice Council, but she did not say that she would go away and table an amendment in lieu of the previously amended clause 2. If she had agreed to table, next week, a new amendment containing subsections (1), (2), (3), but not (4)—for the reasons that she articulated—that would be an argument in the right hon. Gentleman’s favour.

This is the tactic. The right hon. Gentleman can vote with us. Members of his party, plus ours, defeat the Government, and we succeed in ensuring that the amended clause 2 is in the Bill.

Dr Huppert: Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Sadiq Khan: I will in a moment, but I want to make some progress first. We have only an hour in which to debate the amendments because of the way in which the Government programmed the debate.

Sadly, publishers are routinely threatened with libel proceedings by corporations who do not want negative coverage. The Lords amendment would make that more difficult.

6.45 pm

In addition, the Lords new clause aligns the law with the so-called Derbyshire principle. This principle rightly prevents public bodies from bringing defamation actions, and the amendment will mean that private companies delivering public functions are similarly restricted. In the original case of Derbyshire County Council v. Times Newspapers in 1993, Lord Keith of Kinkel’s judgment makes clear the importance of “uninhibited public criticism” of democratically elected and public bodies. The principle is very important, because it means that local authorities—or, indeed, any public authority or organ of central or local government—should be open to uninhibited public criticism and therefore do not have the right to make a claim for defamation for damages.

Sir Edward Garnier rose

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Sadiq Khan: I will give two examples, and then I will give way to the hon. and learned Gentleman, as I know he has an interest in this matter.

Let us look at some of the consequences for the Ministry of Justice, the Minister’s Department. The Government amendment means that anyone, including a whistleblower, who wants to criticise the way a private company runs a prison using taxpayer money could face the threat of an action for damages, whereas he or she would not for criticising a public sector prison. This should be about protecting the reputation of the justice system, rather than big corporations. It would also mean that someone wanting to raise concerns about a danger to public safety caused by a private company managing, for example, medium risk offenders, once the Government’s plans for privatising our probation service have been implemented, would face the threat of defamation.

Do the Government really want this unlevel playing field—which the Liberal Democrats will support in about 20 minutes? I remind the House that these are private companies undertaking public functions at taxpayer expense. At a time when the Government are handing over more and more of our public services to private and voluntary groups in education, health care and crime and justice, less and less of taxpayer spend will be subject to the uninhibited public criticism Lord Keith identified as so fundamental.

Sir Edward Garnier: First, may I make it perfectly clear to the ignorant person who tweeted about me this afternoon that I have, in fact, declared my interest in relation to this matter on the amendment paper?

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that in the Derbyshire county council case, while Lord Keith held that the council should not be able to sue, he confirmed that corporations should be able to sue to protect their trading reputation? The heart of the right hon. Gentleman’s argument is that this is about inequality of arms. He thinks rich, very large and hugely well-resourced companies are bullying less resourced individuals, but the same criticism could be made of immensely rich private individuals who bring claims. Robert Maxwell used his millions—perhaps they were other people’s millions—

Mr Speaker: Order. I am sure the hon. and learned Gentleman will have an opportunity to catch my eye and make his own speech in due course, but we do not have all that long for this debate and we have got the gist of his point.

Sadiq Khan: Thank you for rescuing me from that speech, Mr Speaker.

First, we are not saying corporations cannot sue at all. We are saying, “If you’ve suffered serious financial loss relative to the size of your company, you can sue.” Also, directors can sue, which is especially relevant to a small company suffering harm.

All in all, we believe that the provisions in Lords amendment 2 are measured and sensible, and modernise our existing defamation laws in a proportionate manner. They enjoy wide support, too. They are supported by the Libel Reform Campaign, the House of Commons Culture, Media and Sport Committee and the Joint

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Committee on the draft Bill, chaired, as we have been reminded, by former Conservative Cabinet Minister, Lord Mawhinney.

Paul Farrelly: The right hon. Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark (Simon Hughes) suggested in his intervention that the Government might make some changes in the Lords and gave the Minister the opportunity to intervene. Will my right hon. Friend invite the Minister to intervene, to make clear what might happen in the Lords if this measure is not pressed to a vote now?

Sadiq Khan: My hon. Friend will be pleased to know that I think it is good manners and courtesy to take an intervention when someone on the Front Bench tries to make one, so if the Minister seeks to intervene I shall allow her to do so.

Sir Peter Bottomley rose

Sadiq Khan: I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman in a moment.

I was talking about the huge amount of support for Lords amendment 2. It should also be supported by the Liberal Democrats, whose manifesto stated that they sought defamation reform that would require

“corporations to show damage and prove malice or recklessness”.

That is a far higher threshold than that in Lords amendment 2. If the Liberal Democrats stick to their manifesto and their principles and vote with us this evening, we can defeat this attempt to stifle free speech. I urge them and others to vote with us to support the retention of this crucial clause in the Bill.

I like to keep my promises, so I shall now give way to the hon. Member for Worthing West (Sir Peter Bottomley).

Sir Peter Bottomley: The right hon. Gentleman might get as far as I did by doing that.

Atos does disability checks for the Government and a number of disability claimants had a forum where they made their comments about that. Atos, I understand, sent a legal letter that closed it down because the threat was sufficient. The Government could not have done that and Atos should not, so the public function issue matters. There are plenty of other ways in which large corporations can defend their reputation, but using money and legal threats is not one of them.

Sadiq Khan: The hon. Gentleman might have been in the House in 1993, when Lord Keith made his judgment, but the numbers of private companies undertaking public functions in ’93 were far fewer than they are in 2013. The hon. Gentleman knows that I have huge respect for him, but if his party has its way, with the support of the Liberal Democrats, even more public services will be tendered and will be run by private companies.

Large elements of the Bill show how Parliament should legislate. Political consensus on the overarching need to reform followed by detailed, expert debate on the substance in both Houses, all informed by a dedicated set of campaigners and non-governmental organisations, has helped to turn the original substandard Bill into a better set of proposals. I hope that today the House will agree with us one more time on the importance of

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retaining the key changes made to the Bill in the Lords. Do you know what? Defamation Bills do not come around very often—this is only the third since 1853. We must grasp the opportunity and deliver the modern, updated defamation laws warranted by our tradition of open and free speech.

Sir Edward Garnier: There have been three defamation Bills in my lifetime; I do not know whether that helps the right hon. Member for Tooting (Sadiq Khan)—

Sadiq Khan: It shows how old you are.

Sir Edward Garnier: It does, and perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will allow me to—

Mr Speaker: Order. May I point out that I think the hon. and learned Gentleman was born not in 1853 but, if memory serves me, in 1952?

Sir Edward Garnier: On 26 October, and I share a birthday with President Mitterrand and Hillary Clinton. Let us move on, however.

I have already declared my interest, so I hope I do not have to do so again. I want to say that this is not a question of being right or wrong. I am not saying that I am right, that my hon. Friend the Minister is right or that the right hon. Member for Tooting is wrong, but that this is a matter of judgment and opinion. We are perfectly entitled to have different views about how best to order the law on defamation.

It so happens that the right hon. Gentleman and I take a different view on Lords amendment 2 on non-natural persons. I happen to think that Lord Bingham was right in the Jameel case in 2007 to make it quite clear that he thought it was perfectly proper and right for corporations to be able to bring actions for libel without proof of special damage—without having to show money loss. I will not recite all that he said, as there is not enough time, but it is worth bearing it in mind when some of the more hyperbolic accusations are traded about companies that bring actions for libel to terrorise or use their financial muscle to inhibit the defence of those actions or to inhibit free speech.

Dr Huppert: Does the hon. and learned Gentleman accept that there is a fundamental difference between non-natural persons and natural persons in terms of aspects to do with feelings, for example? Corporations of any size cannot have feelings that can hurt by defamatory action; there is a fundamental difference that the law should reflect.

Sir Edward Garnier: That is not only fundamental; it is highly uncontroversial. Human beings can get damages for hurt to their feelings; companies cannot. One cannot libel a company by accusing it, for example, of adultery, whereas one can so libel an individual. There are plenty of obvious and not very surprising differences between the law relating to individuals and the law relating to companies, but there are examples of things which affect companies’ trading reputations, which should be susceptible to protection.

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We should also bear it in mind that there are different types of company. There are not-for-profit companies which are not in the business of making money and which, if they were libelled, would not lose money. It may well be said in response to me that the amendment deals with that. They would get permission from the court to bring that action, but that just creates another hurdle, as the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Mrs Grant), made clear.

Sir Peter Bottomley: I would be grateful if my hon. and learned Friend could advise briefly on two points. First, at which stage should the courts have said, “We are not going to go further with the claim against Dr Simon Singh or against Dr Peter Wilmshurst”? Secondly, with reference to loss, in 1950 two doctors said that tobacco is very bad for people’s health and asbestos is very bad for people’s lungs. That was not the general view. It was an insight, and the companies involved in selling tobacco and selling asbestos could have sued for loss. That should have been struck out as well. There should be no libel for such cases. How would my hon. and learned Friend stop that kind of thing without the proposed new clause?

Sir Edward Garnier: I shall not unwind the case of Singh or the Wilmshurst case; they have been before the courts and have been dealt with. As it happens, the case of Simon Singh became controversial because it was an argument about whether the words complained of constituted allegations of fact or whether they were capable of constituting comment. That is the point on which it went to the Court of Appeal.

There was an action in South Africa brought by a tobacco company which sued and recovered damages on the allegation that its products promoted cancer. Things change. That is the advantage of having an organic system of law which enables the courts to deal with evidence and reach conclusions about whether a company or anyone else has been attacked inappropriately.

As I was saying to the hon. Member for Cambridge (Dr Huppert), it is not all that hard to think of statements which seriously injure the general commercial reputation of trading and charitable organisations. An arms company—

Dr Huppert: Will the hon. and learned Gentleman give way?

Sir Edward Garnier: If the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, this debate stops at 7.13 pm.

Arms companies can be accused of bribing foreign officials. Oil companies can be accused of damaging the environment. International humanitarian agencies can be accused of wrongfully succumbing to Government pressure. Retailers can be accused of exploiting child labour, and so on. As the right hon. Member for Tooting said, the directors or the leading members of those companies may also have a parallel course of action, but the company itself should not be shut out from pursuing a course of action if that is available to it.

The good name of a company, as that of an individual, is a thing of value. A damaging libel may lower its standing in the eyes of the public and even of its own staff and make people less ready to deal with it and less

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willing or less proud to work for it. If that were not so, corporations would not go to the lengths they do to protect and burnish their corporate images. There is nothing repugnant in the notion that this is a value which the law should protect, and it is not an adequate answer that the corporation can itself seek to answer the defamatory statement through press releases or public statements, as protestations of innocence by the impugned party necessarily carry less weight with the public than the prompt issue of proceedings which culminate in a favourable verdict by a judge or a jury.

Furthermore, why should one have to accept that a publication, if truly damaging to a corporation’s commercial reputation, will result in provable financial loss, since the more prompt and public a company’s issuing of proceedings, and the more diligent its pursuit of a claim, the less the chance that financial loss will actually accrue? It may be argued against me that all these matters will be dealt with in the permission hearing, but when is the permission hearing to take place? Will the corporation have to wait right until the end of the limitation period? Will it have to wait for weeks and weeks while the next set of accounts comes out, so that it can work out whether financial loss has occurred as a consequence of the libel? There might be any number of causes of a company suffering an economic downturn, particularly in a recession.

I return to the point I made about not-for-profit companies and charities.

Dr Huppert: Has the hon. and learned Gentleman seen that the amendment that I hope the Government will bring forward specifically refers to trading-for-profit organisations, as the Joint Committee recommended? It specifically excludes charities.

7 pm

Sir Edward Garnier: I am discussing the amendment to the Bill, not the one somewhere else that the hon. Gentleman was happy to talk about.

I agree with my hon. Friend the Minister in relation to subsection (4) of the new clause proposed in Lords amendment 2. It seems to me that procedurally we can only deal with the amendment as one; we cannot chop and change it. Subsection (4) states:

“Non-natural persons performing a public function do not have an action in defamation in relation to a statement concerning that function.”

It seems to me that the common law, as expressed through Derbyshire, is there. If we legislate, we will create sclerosis. Indeed, I think that there are some disadvantages in legislating to put the Reynolds defence into statute. We will no doubt make lots of work for our learned friends, but we will make the process of amending the law of libel, particularly in relation to public interest statements, all the more difficult as we lock it down into statute.

I urge the House to think carefully before deciding on whether to agree to their lordships’ amendment. I urge Members to give my hon. Friend the Minister and the Government the time and space to get this right with mature consideration and not to be seduced by the siren calls of the pressure groups, no matter how well motivated they might be, into producing what would be a deleterious and damaging end to this affair.

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Paul Farrelly: I wish to speak briefly to Lords amendment 2, which would be a major change to the Bill, and to amendment (a) to Lords amendment 3, which stands in my name and that of the hon. Member for Worthing West (Sir Peter Bottomley). I will curtail my remarks, because I want to give other Members the opportunity to speak.

Lords amendment 2 would be a major change. The issue here is not just about big corporations wanting to bully and intimidate the little people, as McDonalds did years ago, simply because they can. The Culture, Media and Sport Committee’s report highlighted a more recent case of almost flagrant abuse of our libel laws by a large corporation: Tesco’s libel action against The Guardian—some people’s favourite paper, and some people’s hate paper—in 2008. We can generalise from that case.

It has recently been in vogue to condemn aggressive and widespread tax avoidance, and that was what The Guardian story was all about. Itmade a mistake in that story and referred to the wrong tax. It turned out that Tesco was avoiding not only the wrong tax but the tax that it said it was not avoiding. The Guardian, as any newspaper would, apologised, made a clarification and offers of amends and ensured that it used all the procedures of the law, as set down the last time this House looked at reform of libel law, but Tesco was just not interested.

The reason Tesco turned everything down, stalled for time and racked up the costs was not just that it could, but that it, like so many corporations, wanted to chill. It wanted to take the newspaper and its journalists out of the game. It wanted to send a message. The Guardian—it could have been any newspaper—faced a bill of up to £5 million if the case went all the way to the House of Lords, or now to the Supreme Court, because the issue in libel is cost, not damages, so it settled for a nominal sum. The costs were massive.

Lords amendment 2 would have cross-party support not only in the Lords but here, if Members had a free vote. The only people who oppose it are those organisations that like to chill and those firms that make massive amounts of money out of the libel industry. The amendment would not stop companies suing; it just asks that they demonstrate significant damage when they can fight back by other means.

The Lords amendment also asks that the court approve a writ. Currently people can just go to court, a writ is rubber-stamped and then one is obliged to spend one’s time and money fighting it. The refusal of Rachel Ehrenfeld, an American, to go thorough that procedure led to the Americans introducing their laws to stop our libel judgments being enforced in the United States.

Sir Edward Garnier: I ask the hon. Gentleman to have a look at new clause 2(3), which says:

“The court must strike out an application under subsection (2) unless the body corporate can show that the publication of the words or matters complained of has caused, or is likely to cause, substantial financial loss”.

What happens to a charity or non-profit-making company that is not in the business of making a financial gain or a financial loss if it is defamed? The case would have to be struck out under the clause.

Paul Farrelly: The hon. and learned Gentleman has forgotten that the proposal does not apply to non-profit-making organisations.

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This is the only part of the Bill, until we see the civil procedure rules, that provides for early strike-out. That would have helped Peter Wilmshurst, sued by NMT, who could not ultimately pay the bills that he had racked up, leaving aside the worry for his family in putting everything on the line. The amendment would get around the distinction drawn in the Simon Singh case—the artificial discrimination between corporate bodies and non-incorporated bodies that allowed the British Chiropractic Association to sue him in the first instance.

The Lords amendment is sensible and proportionate. It would not prevent individuals in companies, particularly private companies, from suing if they felt defamed by an article that attacked their company. It would also, as the hon. Member for Worthing West said, extend the Derbyshire principle to contracted-out firms where they are providing public functions—Atos, for example. In short, it keeps up with the times.

I put my name to Lords amendment 3, tabled by the hon. Member for Worthing West, partly, again, on the grounds of reducing costs. Beliefs are very subjective and decisions are more objective if the courts interpret them sensibly. I also wanted to tease out from the Government why, having rejected all our concerns in the Bill Committee about having another tick list, as the Reynolds defence had proved so costly, they had so radically changed their mind. The Minister has not elucidated that. However, by virtue of the fact that the matter was uncontested in the Lords, I am happy that a court can consider all circumstances of the case. I hope that in a spirit of cross-party truce, my colleague the hon. Member for Worthing West will speak to his amendment.

Sir Peter Bottomley: I want to make two points that were not those I intended to make originally. My third point is that I disagree with my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Harborough (Sir Edward Garnier) almost completely about this, so I will not put those arguments.

Tesco Lotus in Thailand sued a journalist for £1.9 million—perhaps it was dollars or something, but it was quite a lot—because it wanted an apology, and it eventually got an agreement to have a clarification of the words on an inside page. It later sued a former MP, a business journalist, in the same way.

Corporations such as Tesco, whether in joint venture overseas or in this country, should not be able to choose to sue an individual journalist; it simply should not happen. They have plenty of power, plenty of weight, plenty of thick skin and an umbrella, and they should not be able to do it.

I would have stopped corporations suing for libel at all.

I believe strongly that public functions should fall under the Derbyshire principle, irrespective of whether we want private businesses doing public jobs. Earlier I gave the example of a security guard at a pop festival. I regard security as a public function even if it is privately hired, and such people should not be able to sue for libel. The court should not issue the writ; it should not be allowed.

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Let me make a point on behalf of Colin Channon, the editor of my local newspaper, the Worthing Herald, who says that were he to report that a group of unauthorised campers was in the constituency and he were then sued, he would have to pay £3,000 for initial advice before he got to a panel. We are in danger of our local newspapers being threatened.

As for people conspiring to say that the police would not confirm whether someone had been arrested, the idea that someone could sue for a libel that claimed they had been arrested but which had not been confirmed, even though true, makes the issue even worse. I am unhappy with most of this but I am particularly unhappy that the Government have not yet found a way of having new clause 2, in effect, there for all of us.

Dr Huppert: It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Worthing West (Sir Peter Bottomley), with whom I have had many promising discussions on the issue. I am delighted that the Bill is back in the Commons. There was a period when, due to the actions of the Labour peer Lord Puttnam, there was a risk. I am glad that that risk did not eventualise and that it turned out not to be a problem.

This Bill will make a significant change to the costs of libel and to free speech and it will reduce libel tourism. I am particularly pleased about clause 6, which provides specific protection for peer-reviewed academic and scientific publications. That is something that I value greatly and I am delighted that we will be able to make those protections, because we have heard of too many cases of learned journals being silenced.

The issue remains, however, of corporations and non-natural persons. As I argued earlier, they are different. They do not have feelings. They are categorically separate and there should be different rules for what happens when they wish to bring libel actions. Significantly, we have heard that they can abuse power, as in the cases of Peter Wilmshurst and Simon Singh. I was going to talk more about them, but a number of speeches have covered them.

There is, largely, cross-party agreement, with the notable exception of the hon. and learned Member for Harborough (Sir Edward Garnier).

Sir Edward Garnier: Does the hon. Gentleman accept that “a body corporate” in subsection (1)(a) of the new clause proposed by Lords amendment 2 does not restrict it to money-making corporations?

Dr Huppert: The hon. and learned Gentleman is correct. I understand that that is the intention and that is what was recommended. I eagerly anticipate a Government amendment and hope that it will address that issue. None of us wants to put constraints on charities. This relates to profitable or profit-making organisations, or at least those that are trying to make a profit.

I heard the Minister make a commitment to actively consider such amendments. My understanding is—I am still new to parliamentary procedure—that that is as far as a Minister is able to go at this stage. I would be grateful if it was not her intention to set high expectations for such an amendment being tabled in the Lords. She is

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welcome to clarify the issue now; otherwise, I am very happy with what she said and look forward to the amendment.

We will get cross-party agreement on corporations having to prove that they have suffered serious financial harm. Simon Singh has correctly said that that would have saved him. Such a provision is still missing from the Bill, but I believe that the Government have now said that they will address it. I trust the Government on that and I look forward to the amendment and to the Bill finally changing.

As John Kampfner, the former chief executive of Index on Censorship, said:

“When we launched the Libel Reform Campaign in 2009, only the Liberal Democrats backed change. Now the cause has cross party support.”

I look forward to seeing this Bill become an Act.

7.13 pm

One hour having elapsed since the commencement of proceedings on Lords amendments, the debate was interrupted (Programme Order, this day).

The Speaker put forthwith the Question already proposed from the Chair (Standing Order No. 83F), That this House disagrees with Lords amendment 1.

Question agreed to.

Lords amendment 1 accordingly disagreed to.

The Speaker then put forthwith the Questions necessary for the disposal of the business to be concluded at that time (Standing Order No. 83F).

Motion made, and Question put, That this House disagrees with Lords amendment 2.—(Mrs Grant.)

The House divided:

Ayes 298, Noes 230.

Division No. 209]


7.13 pm


Adams, Nigel

Afriyie, Adam

Aldous, Peter

Alexander, rh Danny

Andrew, Stuart

Bacon, Mr Richard

Baker, Steve

Baldry, Sir Tony

Baldwin, Harriett

Barclay, Stephen

Barker, rh Gregory

Baron, Mr John

Barwell, Gavin

Bebb, Guto

Beith, rh Sir Alan

Bellingham, Mr Henry

Benyon, Richard

Beresford, Sir Paul

Berry, Jake

Bingham, Andrew

Binley, Mr Brian

Birtwistle, Gordon

Blackman, Bob

Boles, Nick

Bradley, Karen

Brady, Mr Graham

Brake, rh Tom

Bray, Angie

Brazier, Mr Julian

Bridgen, Andrew

Brine, Steve

Brokenshire, James

Brooke, Annette

Bruce, Fiona

Buckland, Mr Robert

Burley, Mr Aidan

Burns, Conor

Burns, rh Mr Simon

Burstow, rh Paul

Burt, Lorely

Byles, Dan

Cable, rh Vince

Cairns, Alun

Campbell, Mr Gregory

Campbell, rh Sir Menzies

Carmichael, rh Mr Alistair

Carmichael, Neil

Cash, Mr William

Chishti, Rehman

Chope, Mr Christopher

Clappison, Mr James

Clark, rh Greg

Clarke, rh Mr Kenneth

Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey

Coffey, Dr Thérèse

Collins, Damian

Colvile, Oliver

Cox, Mr Geoffrey

Crockart, Mike

Crouch, Tracey

Davey, rh Mr Edward

Davies, David T. C.


Davies, Glyn

de Bois, Nick

Dinenage, Caroline

Dodds, rh Mr Nigel

Donaldson, rh Mr Jeffrey M.

Dorries, Nadine

Doyle-Price, Jackie

Drax, Richard

Duddridge, James

Duncan Smith, rh Mr Iain

Dunne, Mr Philip

Ellis, Michael

Ellison, Jane

Elphicke, Charlie

Eustice, George

Evans, Graham

Fabricant, Michael

Fallon, rh Michael

Farron, Tim

Featherstone, Lynne

Field, Mark

Foster, rh Mr Don

Fox, rh Dr Liam

Francois, rh Mr Mark

Freer, Mike

Fuller, Richard

Garnier, Sir Edward

Garnier, Mark

Gauke, Mr David

George, Andrew

Gibb, Mr Nick

Gilbert, Stephen

Gillan, rh Mrs Cheryl

Glen, John

Goldsmith, Zac

Goodwill, Mr Robert

Graham, Richard

Grant, Mrs Helen

Gray, Mr James

Grayling, rh Chris

Green, rh Damian

Greening, rh Justine

Griffiths, Andrew

Gummer, Ben

Halfon, Robert

Hammond, rh Mr Philip

Hammond, Stephen

Hancock, Matthew

Harper, Mr Mark

Harrington, Richard

Harris, Rebecca

Hart, Simon

Harvey, Sir Nick

Haselhurst, rh Sir Alan

Hayes, rh Mr John

Heath, Mr David

Heaton-Harris, Chris

Hemming, John

Henderson, Gordon

Herbert, rh Nick

Hinds, Damian

Hoban, Mr Mark

Hollingbery, George

Holloway, Mr Adam

Hopkins, Kris

Howarth, Sir Gerald

Howell, John

Hughes, rh Simon

Hunt, rh Mr Jeremy

Hunter, Mark

Jackson, Mr Stewart

James, Margot

Jenkin, Mr Bernard

Johnson, Joseph

Jones, Andrew

Jones, rh Mr David

Jones, Mr Marcus

Kawczynski, Daniel

Kelly, Chris

Kirby, Simon

Knight, rh Mr Greg

Kwarteng, Kwasi

Laing, Mrs Eleanor

Lamb, Norman

Lancaster, Mark

Lansley, rh Mr Andrew

Latham, Pauline

Leadsom, Andrea

Lee, Dr Phillip

Leslie, Charlotte

Letwin, rh Mr Oliver

Lewis, Brandon

Liddell-Grainger, Mr Ian

Lidington, rh Mr David

Lilley, rh Mr Peter

Lloyd, Stephen

Lopresti, Jack

Lord, Jonathan

Loughton, Tim

Luff, Peter

Lumley, Karen

Macleod, Mary

Main, Mrs Anne

Maynard, Paul

McCartney, Jason

McCartney, Karl

McCrea, Dr William

McIntosh, Miss Anne

McLoughlin, rh Mr Patrick

McPartland, Stephen

Menzies, Mark

Mercer, Patrick

Metcalfe, Stephen

Miller, rh Maria

Mills, Nigel

Milton, Anne

Mitchell, rh Mr Andrew

Mordaunt, Penny

Morgan, Nicky

Morris, Anne Marie

Morris, David

Morris, James

Mosley, Stephen

Mowat, David

Mundell, rh David

Munt, Tessa

Murray, Sheryll

Murrison, Dr Andrew

Neill, Robert

Newmark, Mr Brooks

Newton, Sarah

Nokes, Caroline

Norman, Jesse

Nuttall, Mr David

O'Brien, Mr Stephen

Offord, Dr Matthew

Ollerenshaw, Eric

Opperman, Guy

Ottaway, Richard

Paice, rh Sir James

Parish, Neil

Patel, Priti

Paterson, rh Mr Owen

Pawsey, Mark

Penning, Mike

Penrose, John

Percy, Andrew

Perry, Claire

Phillips, Stephen

Pickles, rh Mr Eric

Pincher, Christopher

Poulter, Dr Daniel

Prisk, Mr Mark

Pritchard, Mark

Pugh, John

Raab, Mr Dominic

Randall, rh Mr John

Reckless, Mark

Redwood, rh Mr John

Rees-Mogg, Jacob

Reevell, Simon

Reid, Mr Alan

Robathan, rh Mr Andrew

Robertson, rh Hugh

Robertson, Mr Laurence

Rogerson, Dan

Rosindell, Andrew

Rudd, Amber

Ruffley, Mr David

Russell, Sir Bob

Rutley, David

Sandys, Laura

Scott, Mr Lee

Selous, Andrew

Shannon, Jim

Shapps, rh Grant

Sharma, Alok

Shelbrooke, Alec

Shepherd, Sir Richard

Simpson, David

Simpson, Mr Keith

Skidmore, Chris

Smith, Miss Chloe

Smith, Henry

Smith, Julian

Smith, Sir Robert

Soubry, Anna

Spelman, rh Mrs Caroline

Spencer, Mr Mark

Stanley, rh Sir John

Stephenson, Andrew

Stevenson, John

Stewart, Iain

Stewart, Rory

Streeter, Mr Gary

Stride, Mel

Stunell, rh Andrew

Sturdy, Julian

Swales, Ian

Swayne, rh Mr Desmond

Swinson, Jo

Syms, Mr Robert

Thornton, Mike

Thurso, John

Timpson, Mr Edward

Tomlinson, Justin

Tredinnick, David

Turner, Mr Andrew

Tyrie, Mr Andrew

Uppal, Paul

Vaizey, Mr Edward

Vara, Mr Shailesh

Vickers, Martin

Villiers, rh Mrs Theresa

Walker, Mr Charles

Walker, Mr Robin

Wallace, Mr Ben

Ward, Mr David

Watkinson, Dame Angela

Weatherley, Mike

Webb, Steve

Wharton, James

Wheeler, Heather

White, Chris

Whittaker, Craig

Whittingdale, Mr John

Wiggin, Bill

Willetts, rh Mr David

Williams, Mr Mark

Williams, Roger

Williams, Stephen

Williamson, Gavin

Wilson, Sammy

Wright, Simon

Young, rh Sir George

Zahawi, Nadhim

Tellers for the Ayes:

Greg Hands


Mr David Evennett


Abbott, Ms Diane

Abrahams, Debbie

Ainsworth, rh Mr Bob

Alexander, rh Mr Douglas

Alexander, Heidi

Ali, Rushanara

Allen, Mr Graham

Anderson, Mr David

Ashworth, Jonathan

Austin, Ian

Bailey, Mr Adrian

Bain, Mr William

Banks, Gordon

Barron, rh Mr Kevin

Bayley, Hugh

Beckett, rh Margaret

Begg, Dame Anne

Benn, rh Hilary

Benton, Mr Joe

Berger, Luciana

Betts, Mr Clive

Blackman-Woods, Roberta

Blenkinsop, Tom

Blomfield, Paul

Blunkett, rh Mr David

Bottomley, Sir Peter

Bradshaw, rh Mr Ben

Brennan, Kevin

Brown, Lyn

Brown, rh Mr Nicholas

Brown, Mr Russell

Bryant, Chris

Buck, Ms Karen

Burden, Richard

Campbell, Mr Alan

Campbell, Mr Ronnie

Caton, Martin

Champion, Sarah

Chapman, Jenny

Clark, Katy

Clarke, rh Mr Tom

Clwyd, rh Ann

Coaker, Vernon

Coffey, Ann

Connarty, Michael

Cooper, Rosie

Corbyn, Jeremy

Crausby, Mr David

Creagh, Mary

Creasy, Stella

Cruddas, Jon

Cryer, John

Cunningham, Alex

Cunningham, Mr Jim

Cunningham, Sir Tony

Curran, Margaret

Dakin, Nic

Danczuk, Simon

Darling, rh Mr Alistair

David, Wayne

Davidson, Mr Ian

Davies, Geraint

De Piero, Gloria

Denham, rh Mr John

Dobbin, Jim

Docherty, Thomas

Donohoe, Mr Brian H.

Doran, Mr Frank

Dowd, Jim

Doyle, Gemma

Dromey, Jack

Durkan, Mark

Eagle, Ms Angela

Eagle, Maria

Efford, Clive

Ellman, Mrs Louise

Engel, Natascha

Esterson, Bill

Evans, Chris

Farrelly, Paul

Farron, Tim

Field, rh Mr Frank

Fitzpatrick, Jim

Flello, Robert

Flint, rh Caroline

Flynn, Paul

Fovargue, Yvonne

Francis, Dr Hywel

Galloway, George

Gapes, Mike

Gardiner, Barry

Gilmore, Sheila

Glass, Pat

Glindon, Mrs Mary

Godsiff, Mr Roger

Goggins, rh Paul

Goodman, Helen

Greatrex, Tom

Green, Kate

Greenwood, Lilian

Griffith, Nia

Gwynne, Andrew

Hain, rh Mr Peter

Hamilton, Mr David

Hanson, rh Mr David

Harman, rh Ms Harriet

Healey, rh John

Hemming, John

Hendrick, Mark

Hermon, Lady

Hodge, rh Margaret

Hodgson, Mrs Sharon

Hoey, Kate

Hollobone, Mr Philip

Hood, Mr Jim

Hopkins, Kelvin

Howarth, rh Mr George

Hunt, Tristram

Irranca-Davies, Huw

Jackson, Glenda

Jamieson, Cathy

Johnson, rh Alan

Johnson, Diana

Jones, Graham

Jones, Helen

Jones, Mr Kevan

Jowell, rh Dame Tessa

Keeley, Barbara

Kendall, Liz

Khan, rh Sadiq

Lammy, rh Mr David

Lavery, Ian

Lazarowicz, Mark

Leech, Mr John

Leslie, Chris

Long, Naomi

Love, Mr Andrew

Lucas, Ian

Mactaggart, Fiona

Mahmood, Shabana

Malhotra, Seema

Mann, John

Marsden, Mr Gordon

McCabe, Steve

McCann, Mr Michael

McCarthy, Kerry

McClymont, Gregg

McDonagh, Siobhain

McDonald, Andy

McDonnell, John

McFadden, rh Mr Pat

McGovern, Alison

McGovern, Jim

McGuire, rh Mrs Anne

McKechin, Ann

McKenzie, Mr Iain

McKinnell, Catherine

Meacher, rh Mr Michael

Mearns, Ian

Mitchell, Austin

Moon, Mrs Madeleine

Morden, Jessica

Morrice, Graeme


Morris, Grahame M.


Mudie, Mr George

Mulholland, Greg

Munn, Meg

Murphy, rh Mr Jim

Murphy, rh Paul

Murray, Ian

Nandy, Lisa

Nash, Pamela

O'Donnell, Fiona

Onwurah, Chi

Osborne, Sandra

Owen, Albert

Pearce, Teresa

Perkins, Toby

Pound, Stephen

Powell, Lucy

Qureshi, Yasmin

Raynsford, rh Mr Nick

Reed, Mr Jamie

Reynolds, Emma

Riordan, Mrs Linda

Ritchie, Ms Margaret

Robertson, John

Robinson, Mr Geoffrey

Rotheram, Steve

Roy, Mr Frank

Roy, Lindsay

Ruane, Chris

Ruddock, rh Dame Joan

Sanders, Mr Adrian

Sarwar, Anas

Sawford, Andy

Seabeck, Alison

Sharma, Mr Virendra

Sheerman, Mr Barry

Sheridan, Jim

Shuker, Gavin

Skinner, Mr Dennis

Slaughter, Mr Andy

Smith, rh Mr Andrew

Smith, Angela

Smith, Nick

Smith, Owen

Spellar, rh Mr John

Stuart, Ms Gisela

Sutcliffe, Mr Gerry

Tami, Mark

Thomas, Mr Gareth

Thornberry, Emily

Trickett, Jon

Twigg, Derek

Umunna, Mr Chuka

Vaz, Valerie

Walley, Joan

Watson, Mr Tom

Watts, Mr Dave

Whitehead, Dr Alan

Williamson, Chris

Wilson, Phil

Winnick, Mr David

Winterton, rh Ms Rosie

Wollaston, Dr Sarah

Woodcock, John

Woodward, rh Mr Shaun

Wright, David

Wright, Mr Iain

Tellers for the Noes:

Susan Elan Jones


Julie Hilling

Question accordingly agreed to.

16 Apr 2013 : Column 284

16 Apr 2013 : Column 285

16 Apr 2013 : Column 286

16 Apr 2013 : Column 287

Lords amendment 2 disagreed to.

Lords amendments 15 and 16 disagreed to.

Lords amendments 3 and 4 to 14 agreed to.

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 83H), That a Committee be appointed to draw up Reasons to be assigned to the Lords for disagreeing to their amendments 1, 2, 15 and 16;

That Mr David Evennett, Robert Flello, Mrs Helen Grant, Dr Julian Huppert and Mr Andy Slaughter be members of the Committee;

That Mrs Helen Grant be the Chair of the Committee;

16 Apr 2013 : Column 288

That three be the quorum of the Committee.

That the Committee do withdraw immediately.—(Mr Syms.)

Question agreed to.

Committee to withdraw immediately; reasons to be reported and communicated to the Lords.

Business of the House

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 15),

That, at this day’s sitting, the motions in the name of Mr Andrew Lansley relating to the Draft Voting Eligibility (Prisoners) Bill (Joint Committee) and the Sittings of the House (Wednesday 17 April), may be proceeded with, though opposed, until any hour and Standing Order No. 41A (Deferred divisions) will not apply.—(Mr Syms)

Question agreed to.

Groceries code adjudicator Bill [Lords] (programme) (No.4)

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 83A(7)),

That the following provisions shall apply to the Groceries Code Adjudicator Bill Lords] for the purpose of supplementing the Order of 19 November 2012 (Groceries Code Adjudicator Bill [Lords] (Programme)):

Consideration of Lords Message

1. Proceedings on the Lords Message shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion one hour after their commencement at today’s sitting.

Subsequent stages

2. Any further Message from the Lords may be considered forthwith without any Question being put.

3. The Proceedings on any further Message from the Lords shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion one hour after their commencement.—(Mr Syms.)

Question agreed to.

16 Apr 2013 : Column 289

Groceries Code Adjudicator Bill [Lords]

Consideration of Lords message

Clause 23


7.30 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills (Jo Swinson): I beg to move, That this House agrees with Lords amendment 14A.

Hon. Members may be surprised to see the return of a Bill to which we bade such a fond farewell not very long ago. It returns to the House for two reasons. First, we had such an enjoyable time during its passage through the Commons that we could not resist one further go. The second and by far the most important reason we tabled this amendment in the other place was a recommendation from the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee in its sixteenth report of the Session.

As hon. Members will recall from our discussions, the adjudicator must consult on her guidance. This will allow her to make a recommendation to the Secretary of State about the maximum level of the fine or the basis for determining that amount. The Secretary of State will then need to lay an order before Parliament setting this maximum level or the method for determining it. The Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee has recommended that such an order be subject to an affirmative resolution rather than the negative procedure provided for in the Bill when it left the Commons.

There are already safeguards around the use of the power. It can be exercised only after a recommendation from the independent adjudicator, based on her consultation, and the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee recognised that this would usefully serve to inform the exercise of the power by the Secretary of State. However, the Committee advised that as the upper limit of the penalty is not on the face of the Bill, the power to fix those limits should be subject to a significant level of parliamentary scrutiny. This is in line with its recommendations in other cases in which the maximum penalty is not stated on the face of the Bill.

We think that the Committee’s comments are reasonable and we are happy to heed the voice of Parliament on this issue. Our amendment provides only that the order will be subject to the affirmative resolution procedure, ensuring that Parliament will be able to scrutinise and positively approve the order. I trust that this increased level of scrutiny will be to the satisfaction of hon. Members, and I urge them to support this minor amendment to what I think we all agree is an excellent Bill.

Ian Murray (Edinburgh South) (Lab): It is strange that an hour has been allocated for this debate when it is obvious that it will take only a few moments. Given that the Agricultural Wages Board has been abolished by the unelected House of Lords and this House was not able to have a debate on that, the timetable today is a bit disappointing.

For my sins, I have often said in Delegated Legislation Committees in the past few weeks that I agree with the Minister, and this is another demonstration of the fact

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that when the Government do the right thing, we will agree with them. In this case, the Minister is certainly doing the right thing.

It is worth returning to the introduction of this Bill. It was a fairly ordinary Bill to start with, but it was strengthened substantially in the other place with the addition that trade associations and third parties could seek redress from the adjudicator. Importantly, on Second Reading in this House, we had a robust debate on whether fines should be included in the Bill. We disagreed on that point, and the Minister vehemently and robustly defended their omission. We are delighted that provisions on fines were added in Committee, which made the Bill all the better.

The amendment we are considering is significant because it shows the power of this House. The Select Committee has had a pre-appointment hearing for the adjudicator, and we congratulate her on her appointment. She will be a very good adjudicator and we look forward to her getting stuck into some of the important work that has to be done on this issue. We have also had a lot of cross-party consensus on the Bill on the Floor of the House and in Committee. It is a testament to the power of the Select Committees and the Committee system—not to mention the other place—that we started with a fairly weak Bill, but it will leave this House today much stronger.

Many people deserve credit for that improvement. As well as the Minister, they include the hon. Member for St Ives (Andrew George) who is in his place, my hon. Friend the Member for Ynys Môn (Albert Owen) who I do not see in his place, and my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Huw Irranca-Davies), who was my wing person in Committee.

We do not disagree with the Lords and will be agreeing with the Minister in this particular case, but I will just make this point. We had arguments in Committee about ensuring that the Select Committee on Business, Innovation and Skills and the Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in particular had time to look at these issues, and the Minister defended robustly the other Committees of this House. Now that provisions on fines are in the Bill, and the Secretary of State will be putting forward an order to determine their amount, it is right that that statutory instrument should be before the House for affirmative resolution. We can then debate it to ensure that it is in the interests not just of the suppliers covered by the groceries code adjudicator, but businesses and supermarkets too.

Sir James Paice (South East Cambridgeshire) (Con): I will make a brief contribution because, like the Minister, I am happy to support the Lords amendment. I just wanted to make the point that, in considering the fines structure and the levels at which they will need to be set, I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister and the Secretary of State will consider the magnitude of the businesses involved. A fine that to most people would seem substantial of perhaps a few thousand pounds, would be totally insignificant—a few minutes’ trading—to a major supermarket.

I do not pretend to have the answers. This is a subject on which I have wrestled in my own mind and discussed with the adjudicator, because it will be extremely difficult. That is one reason I was always a bit dubious about the

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need for fines—the reputational issue will be far more valuable. It is clear to me that if a fine is to be levied, it will have to be at a level that is likely to lead to the behavioural change of the relevant supermarket that all of us who support the Bill desire to see. That means it will be very significant. I am sure that if my hon. Friend the Minister comes forward with figures, there will be accusations that they are completely disproportionate to the issues. The proportion, however, is to do not just with the issue, but with the scale of the business and the behavioural change we want to see—clearly, that is not going to happen unless the business has been in serious breach of the code.

I am grateful for the opportunity to make the point to my hon. Friend, and to hon. Members in all parts of the House, that when the statutory instrument comes back to the House we will have to consider this wider issue. It is not simply a penalty for a small offence, but something we need to ensure is a genuine penalty for breach of the code and a deterrent. It will therefore have to be of a very large magnitude indeed.

Andrew George (St Ives) (LD): It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for South East Cambridgeshire (Sir James Paice). I welcome the Lords amendment and do not oppose it. I am sure that that will be a great relief to my hon. Friend the Minister, whom I congratulate on all the work she has done on the Bill.

The key point addressed by the right hon. Member for South East Cambridgeshire is that the order, when it is brought forward, is couched in a manner that has the impact we all want. Whether fines will be a set figure or a proportion of turnover was debated at some length in Committee. A proportion of turnover for Tesco as opposed to, say, Waitrose, is significant. Certainly, in other areas of competition law this appears to be the case. I urge my hon. Friend the Minister to look at a proportion of turnover as an alternative to setting an absolute amount in the order. I congratulate the Government on accepting the need to provide for fines in the Bill. The fact that significant changes have been made shows the benefit of debate and scrutiny in this place. Without question, the Bill improved over time.

I echo the words of the hon. Member for Edinburgh South (Ian Murray). I sat through the previous debate on the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill and made a point of order about how we had not had an opportunity to debate the abolition of the Agricultural Wages Board. The groceries code adjudicator is being put in place to address some of the pressures on primary producers. It is a great pity, however, that we were not given the acres of time we have now—to debate this relatively minor issue—in order to debate an issue that will have a significant impact on the future of agriculture and agricultural workers in this country. The risk that this might become a race to the bottom or that the Gangmasters Licensing Authority might be the only body able effectively to regulate and protect workers in the agricultural sector is one that the House ought not to take. I hope that the House will reflect on the fact that the undemocratic House has introduced a measure without the democratic Chamber having an opportunity to debate it. We must ensure that such a thing never happens again. There has been no debate or vote in this House on an issue of great significance.

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I shall return to the primary purpose of the amendment. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Minister. This is a welcome change and we look forward to the order being brought forward as quickly as possible, so that when the adjudicator begins her job, in the coming few weeks I hope, we will see this measure introduced effectively and a proactive adjudicator seeking vigorously to enforce the groceries code.

Huw Irranca-Davies (Ogmore) (Lab): Thank you for calling me to speak, Mr Speaker. I am sorry to throw you by standing so late. I had not intended to speak.

I welcome the amendment from the other place and the consideration given to the Bill and the great input from both Houses. It has undoubtedly benefited from it. I echo the comments of the hon. Member for St Ives (Andrew George). I, too, truly wish that we had also availed ourselves of the opportunity to debate the Agricultural Wages Board, on which we have had no vote or debate in the Chamber. In effect, it has today been abolished by an unelected Chamber. While welcoming the amendment and the thorough scrutiny given to the Bill now before us, I think that the House should reflect on earlier business, when we effectively bypassed this House entirely. It is a sad day for our democracy.

Neil Parish (Tiverton and Honiton) (Con): I rise to support other Members who have spoken, especially my right hon. Friend the Member for South East Cambridgeshire (Sir James Paice), who has supported the Bill throughout and did a great job as Minister. I also echo what my hon. Friend the Member for St Ives (Andrew George) said about the Bill, although I do not necessarily welcome his comments about the Agricultural Wages Board—but I will not go into that debate.

I congratulate the Minister on listening throughout this whole process, including in Committee, in order to improve the Bill. I also thank the shadow Minister for his co-operation. The Committee and the House have worked extremely well to bring forward this Bill.

7.45 pm

I again echo the words of my right hon. Friend the Member for South East Cambridgeshire, who said we have to consider a level of fine that is commensurate with the size of the company committing the felony. We have to be clear about that. It will matter, because this is not only about naming and shaming. If the public see that a large fine has been imposed on a large supermarket in this country, they will start to realise what kind of bad practices have been carried out. Many of our producers, farmers and growers have suffered so much abuse over the years, especially when it comes to perishable goods, whereby supermarkets and others have suddenly decided that they have enough strawberries or whatever and will not buy those crops, or they find some other reason not to buy them. Those crops then have to be destroyed, at a loss to the farmer or grower. That is an abuse by supermarkets and others of their power. We therefore very much welcome the Bill and look forward to seeing what level of fine will be imposed on the companies that abuse their powers.

I am hopeful that the fact that the groceries code adjudicator is in place will stop most of the abuses that have been committed. If that is what having the Groceries Code Adjudicator Bill achieves, that is far better than

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fining lots of companies. We want to see bad practice ruled out and good practice put in its place. I am hopeful that that is exactly what the Bill will do. I therefore very much welcome the Lords amendment, but I also welcome the fact that the Bill has made such quick progress through the Lords to come back here to the Commons. I therefore hope we can get it on the statute book as quickly as possible.

Jo Swinson: I do not intend to detain the House for long, but I want to respond to the points raised in this debate.

The right hon. Member for South East Cambridgeshire (Sir James Paice) raised a perfectly fair point about the fines structure and whether it should take into account the size of the business being fined, in order to drive its behaviour. Let me reassure him that the adjudicator will have to undertake a consultation on her guidance on the maximum. As my hon. Friends who served on the Committee have said, we discussed that in depth in Committee, because she will want to spend a little time ensuring that she gets that right. I am sure that hon. Members will be interested in engaging with that consultation and giving their views on it.

My hon. Friend the Member for St Ives (Andrew George) talked about when the adjudicator begins her role. I am pleased to say that, as adjudicator-designate, she is currently working one day a week, enabling her to build some of the stakeholder relations that will be so crucial. Once the Bill is commenced and becomes an Act, she will have her full suite of powers and be working three days a week.

I thank the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish) for his kind comments. Indeed, this is an appropriate point to thank a few Members for the work they have done to get us to this position. They include my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for St Ives, who has campaigned for this measure for over a decade, the hon. Member for Ynys Môn (Albert Owen), who built a lot of momentum on the issue through his private Member’s Bill, and the Opposition spokespeople, the hon. Members for Edinburgh South (Ian Murray) and for Ogmore (Huw Irranca-Davies), who have also campaigned on the issue and who worked hard with the Government to help to improve the Bill. I also thank the Chair of the Select Committee on Business, Innovation and Skills, the hon. Member for West Bromwich West (Mr Bailey), and the Chair of the Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Miss McIntosh), along with the Chairs of the Bill Committee, the hon. Members for North Thanet (Sir Roger Gale) and for Arfon (Hywel Williams), as well as the members of the Committee, the Whips and the Parliamentary Private Secretaries.

Together, we have managed to create an adjudicator with the teeth to ensure that retailers treat their direct suppliers fairly and lawfully. That is a legacy of which we can be proud. I commend the Bill to the House.

Lords amendment 14A agreed to.

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Draft Voting Eligibility (Prisoners) Bill (Joint Committee)

Mr Speaker: I inform the House that I have selected the amendment in the name of Mr Christopher Chope and others.

7.49 pm

The Leader of the House of Commons (Mr Andrew Lansley): I beg to move,

That this House concurs with the Lords Message of 15 January 2013, that it is expedient that a Joint Committee of Lords and Commons be appointed to consider the draft Voting Eligibility (Prisoners) Bill presented to both Houses on 22 November 2012 (Cm 8499), and that the Committee should report by 31 October 2013.

That a Select Committee of six Members be appointed to join with the Committee appointed by the Lords;

That the Committee shall have power—

(i) to send for persons, papers and records;

(ii) to sit notwithstanding any adjournment of the House;

(iii) to report from time to time;

(iv) to appoint specialist advisers; and

(v) to adjourn from place to place within the United Kingdom;

That Mr Crispin Blunt, Steve Brine, Lorely Burt, Mr Nick Gibb, Sir Alan Meale and Derek Twigg be members of the Committee.

The motion arises from the statement made on 22 November last year by my right hon. Friend the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice in response to a judgment in the European Court of Human Rights. That judgment required the Government to bring forward legislative proposals on prisoner voting for Parliament to consider. The Justice Secretary published the draft Voting Eligibility (Prisoners) Bill and proposed that a Joint Committee of both Houses be appointed to conduct pre-legislative scrutiny. In this motion today, the Government are seeking the establishment of a Joint Committee to consider that draft legislation.

The Justice Secretary made it clear in November that although Ministers might have strong personal views on this matter, the Government are under an international law obligation to implement the Court’s judgment. Equally, however, the Justice Secretary was clear that Parliament is sovereign, a fact recognised explicitly by the Human Rights Act 1998, and the current law passed by Parliament will remain in force unless and until it is changed.

The Government believe that it is right that Parliament should be given the opportunity fully to consider the difficult and contentious issue of prisoner voting. That is why we brought forward draft legislative proposals for pre-legislative scrutiny. We consider that to be the most appropriate course of action, given the importance of the issue and the strong views that exist across both Houses. It will be for Parliament to scrutinise the legislation, which contains a number of options reflecting the spectrum of views that we know exist on this question. The Lords started the process of establishing a Joint Committee of both Houses to conduct pre-legislative scrutiny in January. Following discussions through the usual channels, the Government tabled a motion on 1 March to nominate the Commons Members to serve on the Committee.

My hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr Chope) and others subsequently tabled an amendment, which has necessitated the debate we are having today. I

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understand the purpose behind the amendment. Following the implementation of the Wright report, we now elect the Chairs of most Select Committees, and the membership of those Committees is determined by elections within the political parties. It might therefore be argued that it would be in the spirit of the Wright report for the membership of pre-legislative Committees similarly to be elected by the House and by the parties, rather than determined by the Government and through the usual channels.

However, there are strong arguments of principle and of practicality against such a move. As a matter of principle, joint pre-legislative Committees need to be carefully balanced to ensure that they properly reflect all shades of interest and opinion across both Houses of Parliament. To ensure that scrutiny is rigorous, that means including critics of the legislation as well as its supporters. With the best will in the world, a process of election is unlikely to achieve that balance. If a majority of the House has a prior view on a particular piece of legislation, that view is likely to be reflected in the composition of any Committee appointed following elections.

Steve McCabe (Birmingham, Selly Oak) (Lab): I am just wondering whether we could save some time tonight. If that is the right hon. Gentleman’s position, will he tell us which members of the Committee will be in favour of the proposal and which will be opposed to it, under the balanced arrangements that he has arrived at?

Mr Lansley: I am not sure that the hon. Gentleman has quite understood the character of the Bill. It offers options, and to that extent—

Steve McCabe: I was just following up on what the right hon. Gentleman was saying.

Mr Lansley: Yes, and for the benefit of the House and the hon. Gentleman I am attempting to explain that acceptance of the amendment to tonight’s motion might be inferred to be establishing a point of principle. I am explaining that there are objections in principle to that approach to joint pre-legislative Committees.

The point that I was making was that if a majority of the House had a prior view on a particular piece of legislation, that view would be likely to be reflected in the composition of any Committee appointed following elections. In my view, it is not healthy for a legislative Committee to hear only one side of the arguments. If the Commons membership of Joint Committees were determined by election, that would leave the House of Lords to seek to achieve the necessary balance through appointments in that House. I doubt that Members of the other place would welcome that, as it could fetter their choice considerably.

On a practical level, I believe that it would be counter-productive to elect Members to serve on Committees undertaking pre-legislative scrutiny. There is usually an imperative to establish a Joint Committee as quickly as possible after the publication of a draft Bill to enable the Committee to complete its work in time for the Bill proper to be introduced in Parliament later in the Session, or by a specified date. A process of elections conducted by the parties would be bound to delay the establishment of Joint Committees, giving the Committees less time to complete their work or prejudicing the Bill’s timetable.

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In addition, I would point out to Members that the membership of the Joint Committee is not imposed by Government or by the usual channels. Members have an opportunity to table amendments to the motion put down, as demonstrated today, and if they wish to, to suggest alternative names to serve on the Committee. The whole House then has an opportunity to vote on the membership. Such is the character of this evening’s debate that I would say that I am not aware of any objection in practice to the proposed membership of the Joint Committee.

Finally, I should emphasise that to endorse the principle behind the amendment before us would represent a significant change in the way in which we conduct legislative scrutiny. If we are to make such a change, we should do so only after a full investigation of the all the potential consequences, both intended and unintended. That would include proper consultation with the parties affected, including the Liaison and Procedure Committees both in this House and in the other place. Members will recall that the Wright report made a wide range of recommendations designed to improve Parliament’s scrutiny role, but I note that it did not recommend the change suggested in the amendment.

For that reason, I urge my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch not to press his amendment to a Division today, and I hope that the House will resolve to establish this Committee and allow it to get on with its work.

7.56 pm

Ms Angela Eagle (Wallasey) (Lab): I rise to support the motion on the draft Voting Eligibility (Prisoners) Bill and the Joint Committee therein, and to oppose the amendment.

The first thing to say is that the draft Voting Eligibility (Prisoners) Bill is a highly contentious piece of legislation. The Bill will offer the choice of three options for Parliament to consider on prisoner voting: a blanket ban on all prisoners having the vote; entitling prisoners serving four years or less to the vote; or entitling prisoners serving six months or less to the vote. It is crucial that legislation as contentious as this be given extensive pre-legislative scrutiny. We on the Opposition side thus support the establishment of a Joint Committee of both Houses of Parliament to scrutinise for a period of six months the proposals in this Bill.

I believe that the decision to pursue the scrutiny of the draft legislation by the means of a Joint Committee of both Houses is perfectly reasonable given the nature of the Bill under consideration, and given the fact that it contains different options on prisoner voting for Parliament to consider. Since 2010, 10 Joint Committees of both Houses have been set up to scrutinise draft Bills. These Committees have tended to be used to scrutinise the most complex pieces of legislation, including on the detention of terror suspects and the reform of the House of Lords. They have also been deployed where Government policy is still to be formed in detail or where cross-party agreement is felt to be crucial to the success of the proposals. Labour Members welcome the establishment of a Joint Committee to scrutinise this particular draft Bill, which I suspect falls into all of those categories at once and has probably managed to create some entirely new ones of its own.

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I believe that it is also right in this instance that the membership of this Joint Committee should be decided in the usual way via the Committee of Selection. It is important that the Joint Committee be filled by Members of both Houses and of both parties who possess the necessary skills and expertise to scrutinise the Bill fully. While I acknowledge that some in this House believe that everything that emanates from the Whips Office of any party is somehow hopelessly tainted, I have to say that I do not share this analysis. I do not think that the usual channels are inherently tainted; in fact, they often work extremely well.

I make that observation as someone who in my years in this House has both served in the Whips Office and voted against the Whip—not at the same time, I hasten to add. I have also been elected as vice-chair of the parliamentary committee for the Labour party and on the Labour party’s national executive committee against the wishes of this supposedly “all-powerful” Whips Office—so they do not always get their way. It follows that I do not believe that it is necessarily always virtuous if the House bypasses the Whips Office. Deciding to bypass the Whips Office simply because one wishes to bypass the Whips Office is not an argument for changing the way we do things in this instance.

In the circumstances, I am content for the members of the proposed Joint Committee to be selected by the Committee of Selection. I think that it would be odd for us to change the procedure on a one-off basis for the purpose of this particular Joint Committee, and I agree with the Leader of the House that the Wright Committee did not suggest such a reform in its report. I understand that the Procedure Committee and its Chairman, the hon. Member for Broxbourne (Mr Walker), recently announced that they planned to conduct an inquiry into the operation of the Committee of Selection in the coming year. I suspect that the Leader of the House and I may be approached to give evidence to that Committee.

Mr Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con): Is the hon. Lady surprised that my hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne (Mr Walker) supports my amendment?

Ms Eagle: I am somewhat surprised. Although I would never criticise an hon. Member, I should have thought that if the Chairman of the Procedure Committee wished to look into the way in which the Committee of Selection works, he might want to hear the evidence before putting his own views on record. However, he is his own very competent man, and he has his own views on these matters. I hope that he will also have an open mind when the Procedure Committee looks into how we might sensibly change the way in which the Committee of Selection works. I look forward to the work that it will devote to the subject.

Mr Charles Walker (Broxbourne) (Con): I can reassure the hon. Lady that the Procedure Committee is very independent-minded, and that it will not be led by me.

Ms Eagle: I think that it may be one of the anarchist Committees that we have in the House. Given its membership, I know that it will not be led by anyone, notwithstanding the hon. Gentleman’s undoubted prowess.

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Jacob Rees-Mogg (North East Somerset) (Con): Let me reassure the hon. Lady that I am not an anarchist, although I serve on the Committee, and that, actually, we follow my hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne (Mr Walker) very carefully.

Mr Speaker: Order. May I just say that the first part of the hon. Gentleman’s intervention was demonstrably superfluous?

Ms Eagle: I had never quite imagined that the hon. Gentleman would fall into the anarchist persuasion, but I am glad he has reassured the House that that is not the case.

It may be advisable for me to return to the subject of the amendment. I believe that it would be wrong for us to adopt a different method for selecting members of the Joint Committee on an ad hoc basis before we have had an opportunity to see what the Procedure Committee might wish the House to consider, and, once its work has been done, to see more details of that work and of the evidence that it wishes to gather. I think that the amendment is premature, and I ask the House to vote against it.

8.2 pm

Mr Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con): I beg to move amendment (a), leave out the names at the end of the motion and insert

“That the membership of the Committee shall be nominated by the Committee of Selection under Standing Order No. 121 following elections within the parties using whatever democratic and transparent method they choose.”

The amendment stands in my name and those of quite a few of my right hon. and hon. Friends, as well as that of at least one Opposition Member.

I must say that the opening remarks from the two Front Benches, otherwise known as the usual channels, caused me to feel that there was every good reason for us to change our present procedures. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House presented objections relating to both principle and practice. One of his points about practice was that it was important for us to be able to deal with Joint Committees very quickly. The decision to set up this Joint Committee was made in late November, but, some four months later, we still have not set it up. I detected no sense of urgency; perhaps, if I am wrong about that, my right hon. Friend will intervene.

I do not think that it was a convincing argument that if we were to elect the members of the Committee through our party groups, there would be an unacceptable delay. The delay that has taken place so far has been due to the Government, and no one else can be held responsible for it. Indeed, I have heard suggestions that the Government have always been rather keen on kicking this whole subject into the long grass, and that my amendment, which was not inspired by the Government, was just an extension of the long grass and meant that this whole issue and the appointment of the Joint Committee could be delayed further.

I do not buy into the notion that there is an issue to do with practical problems because of the question of speed, nor do I buy into the objections in principle. I am not suggesting we should change the standing orders

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and deal with all Joint Committees on the same basis. I am suggesting that this particular subject is unique—I think we can use that over-used word in this instance—because at present we find ourselves before an international court being told we have to change our law when this elected House of Commons has made it clear that we do not wish to change the law. This is not some run-of-the mill situation, therefore.

It is a unique situation, and it strikes me that it would have been much better for the Executive to have kept their hands well out of it. Whatever they do or do not do is going to be looked at by politicians in the rest of Europe. When the Lord Chancellor introduced the draft Bill, he conceded this was essentially a political issue as much as a legal issue. If the Government were able to say, “We put forward these three alternative proposals in a draft Bill; we then left it to the House of Commons, in its wisdom, to decide who should serve on a Joint Committee; and that Joint Committee took evidence and examined it and reached various conclusions”, the Government would be under no obligation to accept those conclusions. If a Joint Committee, however comprised, was to reach conclusions that were not in accordance with the evidence it received, that would bring the Joint Committee into disrepute.

I do not accept the principle put forward by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House that it will be impossible to have a properly balanced Joint Committee if it is elected. I suggest quite the reverse: if a Committee is elected, its members are accountable to the people who elected them. If those elected Committee members do not participate in the Committee proceedings or if they reach perverse conclusions, they will find it very hard to get re-elected.

When we appoint members to Select Committees or our party groups, we will inevitably be electing mainly the enthusiasts. The Environmental Audit Committee has a lot more enthusiasts for what I would call “greenery” and an acceptance of climate change science than it has members who disagree with that, although I am delighted that my right hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr Lilley) has latterly joined the Committee to try to introduce some balance.

Perhaps the example of that Committee gives the answer to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House. If Members feel a Committee is becoming too homogenous and is not being objective in its assessments of the evidence before it, the remedy lies in the Members of this House choosing an alternative member of the Committee to introduce balance. I do not believe only the usual channels can introduce balance into this Committee; quite the reverse, in fact.

On the issue of whether some Members proposed to serve on the Committee have a prior view, we know that some of them do, as that was expressed in the vote in the House on this subject. Other Members put forward a motion to the Committee that decides on the allocation of time for Back-Bench business; they put their heads above the parapet, and we know whether or not they are serving on that Committee. The same point applies in respect of the matters before us today.

My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House says, not totally tongue-in-cheek, that it is open to us, as the House, to put forward amendments for alternatives. I am not criticising any Members of this Committee. My amendment is not designed to do that; it is designed to

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ensure that the decision on the membership of the Committee is made by the individual Back-Bench groups of the Conservatives, the Liberal Democrats and the official Opposition. Those groups can then elect the people they would like to see on the Joint Committee. It seems to me that that system would work perfectly well and would distance the Government effectively from any of the Committee’s work.

As the chairman of the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, I can say that there is quite a lot of suspicion among the other 46 member countries that the UK Government are trying to ensure that nothing happens very quickly as they realise that the UK Parliament is totally at odds with the judges in the European Court of Human Rights on this issue. If the Lord Chancellor could have said to his counterparts in other countries that he had nothing to do with who was on the Committee, that the usual channels were not involved, that the Government left it to the Members of the House of Commons to choose their own Committee members and that the Government did not have to accept their findings but could merely see what they think, he would have had a better alibi. People looking in from outside might say that the motion is a fix by the usual channels.

I understand that the Select Committee on Justice undertook an informal bidding process, making representations to the effect that it wanted one of its number to serve on the Joint Committee. The Justice Committee is not the lead Select Committee on this matter—that is the Select Committee on Political and Constitutional Reform, of which I happen to be a member. The Justice Committee put forward a number of names that were considered by the usual channels, and one of those names was chosen and is among those in the motion.

That seems to me to be a totally non-transparent way of dealing with such issues and it is not appropriate that we should set a precedent whereby a Select Committee can start to lobby the Government covertly to have one of its members as a member of a Joint Committee when that Select Committee is not the lead Committee. The Political and Constitutional Reform Committee has taken evidence on this subject from the Deputy Prime Minister and others, and if we are to give somebody from a Select Committee a place, we have not necessary chosen the right one.

My point is that the process would be much better dealt with without the Government’s involvement and that is why I hope that Members will feel able to support my amendment—not necessarily by voting for it tonight, but by asking their Whips and colleagues whether the natural development of the Wright Committee reforms would be to introduce a further reform in this regard. That would mean that if we choose to set up a Joint Committee in the future we can do so quickly, knowing what the rules are and demonstrating that we are giving power to the Back Benches on such important issues. That is even more the case with pre-legislative scrutiny.

After the Government’s rough experience of setting up a pre-legislative scrutiny Committee on the reform of the other place, I should have thought that they might say that they would do better to draw their neck in and leave it to Members to choose the members of such Committees. They would then be free to decide

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whether to accept the recommendations, taking into account the extent to which those Members have responded positively or otherwise to the evidence put before them.

I have pleasure in moving the amendment and I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving us the opportunity to speak about this important subject before we go on to other business before the House this evening.

Mr David Nuttall (Bury North) (Con) rose

8.15 pm

Mr Lansley: If I may, I do not mean to detain the House too long, but the shadow Leader of the House and my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr Chope) made some important points and I want to respond to a number of them.

My hon. Friend put some interesting points, but I remind him that when we make changes to our procedures we should proceed on the basis of full consultation and discussion across the House, and on the basis of investigation and recommendation from our Select Committees. As it happens, not only does the Procedure Committee intend to consider questions relating to the Selection Committee, as the shadow Leader of the House made clear, but I remind my hon. Friend and the House that the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee is considering progress on the implementation of the Wright reforms.

I have not heard in the course of the debate an objection as such to the proposed membership of the Joint Committee from this House, and I perceive no delay on the part of Government once the Lords has completed its process of finding members. My hon. Friend’s arguments left out the Lords in this context. As we are talking about a Joint Committee, it is important to recognise that balancing the Committee is important across both Houses, not just in this House.

I continue to depart from my hon. Friend on the issue of elections for specific legislative scrutiny. Notwithstanding the points he makes, I think there is a point of principle about the risk of the election of Members to that scrutiny committee prejudicing the process of dispassionate scrutiny. I heard what he said about the nominations coming through a process of consultation within the usual channels. The shadow Leader of the House and I are not the usual channels. The proposal emerged from within the usual channels. If my hon. Friend looks at the proposed membership, I think he will certainly conclude that the proposed membership of the Joint Committee will clearly be dispassionate and independent in its scrutiny, the members of the Committee having taken differing positions themselves and having obvious expertise to bring to the subject.

Lady Hermon (North Down) (Ind): I am grateful to the Leader of the House for taking an intervention. May I remind him ever so nicely that in Northern Ireland we have 1.8 million people? Will he explain why no representative in the House from Northern Ireland has been selected to sit on the Committee? We do have some prisoners in Northern Ireland. It is a very controversial issue in Northern Ireland. Please do not tell me that justice is devolved. I do not sit in the Northern Ireland Assembly. I sit in this House.

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Mr Lansley: I entirely understand. The hon. Lady will be well aware that the membership of the Committee is not large and it would be difficult to pursue balance across the House. It is in any case the purpose of the pre-legislative scrutiny not to decide on the Bill, but to scrutinise the Bill to ensure that it is in a fit state and to make recommendations so that the House can come on to consider the policy of the Bill and its legislative implementation, which will give Members in all parts of the House an opportunity to comment on it.

I ask my hon. Friend the Member for Bury North (Mr Nuttall) to forgive me if he is still to make his contribution. I anticipated that there would not be an extended debate beyond this point, but having listened to my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch I wanted to respond to the debate up to that point because I thought he made important points that were worth responding to and considering in future.

8.19 pm

Mr David Nuttall (Bury North) (Con): I do not intend to delay the House for long, because I appreciate that there is other business that we need to get on to, but I wish to support the amendment tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr Chope) and signed by me and several other hon. Members.

It seems reasonable to me that the membership of the Joint Committee, in so far as it is drawn from this House, should reflect the views of this House and, therefore, the views of the wider public, which is perhaps more important. As the hon. Member for North Down (Lady Hermon) mentioned in her intervention, none of the Committee members chosen by the Committee of Selection is from Northern Ireland, Scotland or Wales; they are drawn exclusively from England.

Fortunately, thanks to the auspices of the Backbench Business Committee, we know exactly what this House’s view is on the matter, because on 10 February 2011 it held a debate on the subject. After a full and lengthy debate that lasted most of the day, 256 right hon. and hon. Members took part in the Division, with 234 voting in favour of maintaining the status quo and 22 voting in favour of changing it. Therefore, over 91% of the Members who voted supported the status quo, which I think very much represents the view across the country. It is therefore fair and reasonable that the country would expect any Committee of this House to reflect those views.

Lady Hermon: Would the hon. Gentleman be so kind as to put on the record whether the Government abstained or voted in that key vote last February?

Mr Nuttall: As far as I am aware—I do not have the voting record in front of me—no members of the Government took part in the Division. Either deliberately or by accident, the Government abstained; it was predominantly Back-Bench Members who took part. That is noteworthy, because it removed more than 100 Members from the vote, so I submit that the figure of 256 is probably relatively representative of the views of the House as a whole. Even if a larger number of Members had taken part, the result would still have reflected the 91.4% against 8.6%.

I want to make it absolutely clear for the record that I have no objection in principle to any of the Members being put forward by the Committee of Selection. Indeed, I have spoken with them privately and expressed my

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view that that is not why I support the amendment. Rather, what we know is that of the six Members who have been put forward through the Committee of Selection’s convoluted procedure—it is certainly not transparent—only two took part in the Division on 10 February 2011. One voted in favour of the status quo and not giving prisoners the right to vote and the other, who was acting as Teller—I think that is correct—voted in favour of changing the status quo.

We do not know what the views of the other four were, and that is where there is a problem. If the Government wanted balance on the Committee, that may not occur because the other four are all in favour of the argument or—I know not—are all against, in which case the Committee certainly would not be representative of the views of this House. Either way, there is a problem with the proposal before us. If it were indeed the Government’s view that there should be balance, then perhaps the logic of that argument would be for the six members of the Committee to have been drawn exclusively from those who showed an interest on that occasion back on 10 February 2011, and equally from those who voted for the motion and those who voted against it. Clearly, however, that is not what has happened.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr Chope) said, this is a unique situation. There are grounds for changing what has happened in the past. In response to the point that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House made a few moments ago, the fact that not only the Chairman but other members of the Procedure Committee have signed and supported the amendment shows that there is a feeling within that Committee that it is sensible and demonstrates the right way forward. On that basis, I am pleased to support the amendment.

Amendment negatived.

Main Question put and agreed to.

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Sittings of the House (Wednesday 17 April)

8.27 pm

The Leader of the House of Commons (Mr Andrew Lansley): I beg to move,

That, on Wednesday 17 April:

(1) the House shall meet at 2.30 pm and the moment of interruption shall be at 10.00 pm;

(2) notwithstanding the provisions of Standing Order No. 21 (Time for taking questions), no questions shall be taken other than questions which are in the Speaker’s opinion of an urgent character and relate either to matters of public importance or to the arrangement of business;

(3) the sitting in Westminster Hall shall begin at 2.30 pm and continue for up to four and a half hours; and

(4) in calculating the period of four and a half hours in paragraph (3) no account shall be taken of any period during which the sitting in Westminster Hall may be suspended owing to a division being called in the House or in a committee of the whole House.

The motion before the House proposes two principal changes to the business of the House tomorrow. The first part of the motion provides for the House to sit at 2.30 pm, with the moment of interruption at 10 pm. This is instead of the usual starting time of 11.30 am with the moment of interruption at 7 pm.

It is not without precedent for the House to change its sitting times to deal with specific, and tragic, circumstances. Indeed, right hon. and hon. Members may remember that the House was rightly recalled to pay tributes to the Her Majesty the Queen Mother following her death in 2002, but then also delayed returning from recess to accommodate the funeral arrangements.

The change in sitting times will allow Members from across the House who wish to pay their respects at the funeral of Baroness Thatcher to do so. The effect of an objection to this motion would be to deny colleagues, friends and others who wish to pay their respects that opportunity. There can be no justification for this. This is a debate about the sitting hours for tomorrow, and it should not be abused by those seeking now to debate the legacy of Baroness Thatcher. There was an opportunity to do that in the debate last Wednesday, and I remind the House that 77 right hon. and hon. Members contributed to that debate.

I thank Her Majesty’s official Opposition for the way in which they have worked across the House to provide proper respect for the longest serving Prime Minister of the last century. The Leader of the Opposition, the acting shadow Deputy Leader of the House and other Labour Members paid generous tributes in that debate, not necessarily endorsing or agreeing with the policies of Baroness Thatcher but, I thought, very generously paying proper respect. In like spirit, the proposal to change the sitting hours tomorrow, and to defer questions on that day until next week, has been taken after consultation with Her Majesty’s official Opposition, and I am grateful for the approach that they have taken.

The second effect of the motion is to suspend the operation of the oral questions rota for the day. This, too, is being done following consultation with, and the agreement of, the official Opposition. Should the motion be approved by the House, the consequence for Members

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is that the ballots that have already taken place will be rolled over until next week, and the Table Office has helpfully contacted affected Members to explain this to them.

It is quite proper, in the circumstances, for the House to defer questions by one week. The Prime Minister takes his responsibilities to this House very seriously, as evidenced by the extent to which he not only responds to questions but makes statements to the House. I am sure that the vast majority of the House will understand what is being proposed and why. It is simply a matter of decency and respect that, in returning from the funeral service and receptions tomorrow, Members should not immediately enter into the character of business customary at Wednesday’s questions.

As a consequence of the House agreeing to meet at 2.30 pm, paragraphs (3) and (4) of the motion provide for Westminster Hall also to meet at 2.30 pm, which is an obvious and common-sense addition to the first two parts of the motion.

I do not intend to detain the House any further. This is a simple motion, confined to the times of the House’s sittings tomorrow, and I commend it to the House.

8.31 pm

Ms Angela Eagle (Wallasey) (Lab): It is a pleasure to follow the Leader of the House, who knows that, many times over the past year, we have expressed the view that the Prime Minister seeks to dodge Prime Minister’s questions. We do not yet know when Prorogation will take place, but that may be another occasion when we will not sit on a Wednesday. Could the Leader of the House tell us when Prorogation will be? I pointed out recently that, following the Budget and given when we adjourned for the recess, four weeks will have passed between the Budget being delivered and the Prime Minister dealing with its aftermath in this House. I have argued consistently that the way this House’s business is arranged rather excludes Wednesdays and the accountability that Prime Minister’s questions brings to bear.

I do not believe, however, that the reasons for changing tomorrow’s sitting hours mean that we can accuse the Prime Minister of dodging Prime Minister’s questions. A former Prime Minister who led this country for 11 years has, sadly, passed away and I think it is right that the business of this House should pause and the din of the Chamber should quieten, so that hon. and right hon. Members, many of whom were personal friends of hers, are able to attend her funeral and reflect upon it subsequently without having to come back to what is often the bear pit of adversarial politics in this country.

That does not mean that I agree with a single policy that that distinguished Prime Minister brought to this House or the country, and it would be wrong of me to say that I did, but that does not preclude me from having the appropriate amount of respect for her memory, funeral and loved ones. The official Opposition absolutely understand why tomorrow must be different in these very special circumstances. That will not preclude me from checking how many Wednesdays are included in the parliamentary calendar in future, but we absolutely understand why this particular Wednesday cannot be a normal one.

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8.34 pm

Simon Hughes (Bermondsey and Old Southwark) (LD): On behalf of my Liberal Democrat colleagues, I support fully the sentiments expressed by the Leader of the House and the shadow Leader of the House.

Whatever our views about Baroness Thatcher and her policies, it is entirely appropriate that tomorrow the nation does not have Parliament sitting at the same time as an important national funeral. It would also be entirely inappropriate to have a funeral in the morning and for Parliament to come back immediately into a confrontation at the highest level, not least as it would involve the Prime Minister, who follows Baroness Thatcher as leader of the Conservative party.

I would have thought it was in tune with the wishes of every democrat that we will sit tomorrow. Indeed, there is no proposal that we do not sit. Parliament will go on and will do contentious business, as is entirely appropriate, in considering the Finance Bill. I deduce from what the Leader of the House said that there will be Prime Minister’s questions next week and that the people who won the ballot for this week will ask their questions. I hope that that will happen next week as planned.

There will be other times to discuss the other arrangements for tomorrow and the Thatcher legacy, but it is right that we pause in the morning for those who want to pay their respects and continue our business without massive confrontation at 2.30 tomorrow.

8.35 pm

George Galloway (Bradford West) (Respect): I have never heard such tosh.

This House of Commons continued its adversarial, bear-pit, unarmed political combat throughout the darkest days of the second world war. Mr Churchill did not ask for Parliament to be silenced and for confrontations across the House to be forbidden when our soldiers were being laid waste. In the Norway debate, the House of Commons rose perhaps to its finest 20th century moment. Nobody said, “Our armed forces have suffered a disaster. The House of Commons cannot meet. The clash of ideas cannot be heard. We must muffle the drums and silence ourselves.” At Dunkirk, the House clashed without pause. Real war leaders like Mr Churchill understood that the whole point of our being here, the whole point of democracy, the whole point of elections is that we do not suspend normal political activity.

Jacob Rees-Mogg (North East Somerset) (Con): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

George Galloway: Happily; I have a lot to say and I may take some time to say it.

Jacob Rees-Mogg: I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman. He has missed the rather important point that between 1939 and 1945, general elections were suspended, so democracy was suspended during the war and his history is faulty.

George Galloway: Actually, there were many by-elections, some of which produced spectacular results—as spectacular as the one in Bradford West just over a year ago.

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In any case, is anyone suggesting that Aneurin Bevan did not stand from these Benches and lacerate real war leaders about their conduct of the war? The hon. Member for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg) is a scholar and a gentleman. He knows well the words that came from Mr Amery on his side at the darkest hour in the Norway debate, which brought about the defenestration of the Prime Minister and the coming to office of Mr Churchill, about whom more, much more, later. We did not suspend our democracy in our darkest hours; why are we suspending it now?

It was said by one of those in the iron-clad consensus on the Front Benches that this is a national funeral. I am sorry, but it is not a national funeral. There can be a national funeral only when there is a national consensus about the person being buried. That consensus does not exist in relation to Mrs Thatcher. No matter how oft people from the Front Benches fawn upon her, pour honeyed words upon her or even—outside this House, of course—tell lies about her and her record, that will not change. The British establishment, and the Opposition parties in particular, are making a profound misjudgment if they imagine that there are not tens of millions of people in the country, all of whom have votes, who are very angry about a whole range of issues that have arisen. With your permission, Mr Speaker, I hope to adumbrate some of those issues in relation to the motion this evening.

If I were to speak shortly, it would be with that great New York phrase, “Enough already.” We have had enough of this; it has gone on too long and gone too far, and this—the idea that we should suspend a vital part of our democratic process for a party political, and private, funeral—puts the tin hat on it.

Do not get me wrong. I will not be demonstrating at the funeral tomorrow; I believe it is wrong to demonstrate at someone’s funeral, but I will not agree to suspend our democracy so that some of the friends of the deceased do not have to make a choice between attending Prime Minister’s question time or going to the funeral. That choice is up to them to make, and it is of course clear that they could do both, although they would—tender sensibilities though they may have—have to come into the bear pit immediately on their return to the House. But that is what they are here for; that is what they were elected to be here for.

Harold Wilson, who won four general elections and did not receive a scintilla of the treatment that the British establishment has rolled out for the deceased on this occasion, said that a week was a long time in politics. This week has been a very long time. We were told at the beginning of the week that it was disrespectful to speak of someone so recently dead. I was told on the BBC yesterday that I should hold my peace until Thursday. How much national mourning, without consensus and without justification, are we supposed to observe?

You know, Mr Speaker, how much personal respect I have for you, so I hope you will accept that I mean nothing personal by this point. However, the decision to muffle Big Ben, just after the BBC muffled “Ding Dong!”, summed the whole thing up. It has become farcical. There is no national consensus around the deceased, and there was no justification for muffling Big Ben because that puts the deceased on a par with Mr Churchill—a very divisive politician. My grandparents helped overturn his car after the count in Dundee in the 1930s when he was thrown out of Parliament in the city.

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Jim McGovern (Dundee West) (Lab): I wish to correct the hon. Gentleman. Winston Churchill, then a Liberal MP, was ejected from Dundee in 1922. He served from 1908 to 1922.

George Galloway: It is a very important qualification. He was—

Mr Speaker: Order. May I say, as I do not wish the hon. Gentleman to be led away from the path of virtue, that the point may be of interest to scholars but it is at best tangential to the sittings of the House motion?

George Galloway: As would have been what I was going to say about Neddy Scrymgeour, the great temperance MP who was Mr Churchill’s partner in the two-Member constituency at that time. How we could do with some temperance, some prohibition in the House today, at least as far as the hon. Member for Falkirk (Eric Joyce) is concerned.

Mr Speaker: Order. I know the hon. Gentleman is developing his argument, but I ask whether he would be good enough to withdraw the reference to an hon. Member who is not present, and to continue with his main speech.

George Galloway: I happily withdraw the remark. It was unworthy, but I have some history with the hon. Gentleman. I hope you, Mr Speaker, and the House will forgive me for that unworthy detour down Dundee way.

My point is that Mr Churchill was a deeply divisive figure. He was a man who changed sides, ratted and re-ratted; a man who was in Parliament, out of it and back again; and a man whose conduct of public affairs was very controversial and divisive. However, by the time he died, only a tiny percentage of the population were churlish enough to imagine that such a man should not be given the full 21-gun treatment and the full gun carriage treatment.

Virtually everybody in this country knows that, were it not for Mr Churchill, this Parliament would either not exist or it would speak in German. I argue that the very existence of the country was saved by Mr Churchill. That makes him worthy of a national funeral. That is what made him—whatever one’s point of view of his domestic politics—deserving of the muffling of the chimes of Big Ben, and deserving of the lowering of the cranes on the Thames.

No such consensus exists—you must know this, Mr Speaker—about the deceased in this case. Vast tracts of this land—the north, Scotland, the midlands and south Wales, and other industrial areas of this country, which were reduced to distressed areas in Mrs Thatcher’s term of office—have never forgiven her, but they are being asked to pay for this funeral. In fact, they are not being asked; they are being told that they must pay for it.

The deceased was a great proponent of private enterprise and a great enemy of public expenditure and the role of the state, which she wished to shrink. You were once a devotee of those things, Mr Speaker, but age has brought wisdom, as it has in some respects to all of us. Is that not an irony? As Ken Loach, the great film director, put it, surely we should have put the funeral out to tender to the private sector, and invited companies to sponsor it. Surely that is what Mrs Thatcher would have wanted at

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a time when our pensioners are shivering to death in a long winter that has stretched into the spring. At a time when we are virtually nationally bankrupt, is it right that the public should be told—not asked, but told—that they must pay for a party political funeral? I believe not.

The public have not been consulted on any of this. If my postbag has any relation to anyone else’s, it must be obvious that a lot of people are very unhappy. The public had one chance, to which I alluded a moment ago. They could download “Ding-Dong!”, the song from “The Wizard of Oz”, as they did in very large numbers, but the state broadcaster, which has led the fawning, censored the music that the public chose with their money in private economic decisions—Mrs Thatcher was a big fan of those.

Mr Speaker: Order. I was awaiting the conclusion of the hon. Gentleman’s sentence, but I struggle to see how what he has just said relates to the terms of the sittings of the House motion, to which I know it was his intention, and is now his intention, immediately to return.

George Galloway: Indeed, Sir. Of course, the backdrop cannot be separated from the motion. Many watching on the Parliament channel will know what the backdrop is—[Laughter.] Hon. Gentlemen may laugh, but that is because they are not used to being watched on the Parliament channel.

Perhaps that is just as well—[Interruption.] They cannot silence me. Some Members are not for turning, and I am one of them. Better men than they have tried to do so. [An Hon. Member: “You are hardly ever here.”] But when I am here, people listen, unlike some—[Interruption.] Well, I have had a lot of tweets about the speeches that preceded this one, and they are not at all complimentary.

The backdrop to this motion is clear, and it has been one thing after another. As Mr Macmillan said, it is not one damn thing, it is one damn thing after another. It is the state mourning that was effectively declared by the state broadcaster. It is the decision that the Government made—it is speculated that your office, Mr Speaker, was not wild about the idea—to recall Parliament at vast public expense. Members of Parliament were offered up to £3,700 to fly back from their holidays to attend what was, in effect, a state eulogy for a party political figure, and then to fly back at public expense to their holidays. I hope that IPSA will release the details of who claimed and what they claimed. That was a grotesque and totally unnecessary decision. Monday was the day on which Parliament returned, and Monday was the day on which people could have paid tribute and made the points that they wished to make. That was the second problem. The state mourning was the first, and the unnecessary and fantastically expensive recall of Parliament was the second.

The muffling of the chimes of Big Ben was the third, the banning of “Ding-Dong!” was the fourth and now we have this motion. The shadow Leader of the House, politely as is her wont, made the point that there is every belief in this House that this Prime Minister likes to avoid Prime Minister’s questions. If he avoids it tomorrow, he will have avoided it for four consecutive weeks—

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I am at every Prime Minister’s questions—




I again caution hon. Gentlemen—as I must call them—on the Government Benches: people are listening to this debate, and this Thatcherite chorus, cackling like hyenas, would do better to show a touch of sensitivity to the fact that millions of people in this country hate Margaret Thatcher and those who followed her.

If the Prime Minister dodges Prime Minister’s questions tomorrow, he will have dodged them for four consecutive weeks. As Mr Wilson said, a week is a long time in politics. Four weeks is a long time to miss Prime Minister’s questions, the only mass audience—

Alec Shelbrooke (Elmet and Rothwell) (Con): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

George Galloway: I would much prefer to give way to the hon. Gentleman than for him to cackle and wobble his ample girth from a sedentary position.

Jacob Rees-Mogg (North East Somerset) (Con): On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Will you rule whether such turns of phrase are parliamentary?

Mr Speaker: The short answer is that what has just been said was distasteful, but was not disorderly. It does not seem to have evoked any great display of misery on the part of the hon. Member for Elmet and Rothwell (Alec Shelbrooke), but I know that when the hon. Member for Bradford West rises to speak again, he will do so with the degree of calm and measurement of his words for which I know, in future years, he will want to be renowned.

Alec Shelbrooke: There was I under the impression that the hon. Member for Bradford West (George Galloway) was a great orator. In the context of his last comments, I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would wish to congratulate this Prime Minister on ensuring that Parliament is not absent for four months, and on bringing the House back in September for those two sessions of Prime Minister’s questions that, until recently, did not happen.

George Galloway: That is actually the best point the hon. Gentleman has made all evening. It just goes to show that points made from one’s feet are usually better than points made from a sedentary—indeed, relaxed—position. It is a fair point that Parliament does not retire for the summer for as long as it did in our long period together, Mr Speaker, in the House of Commons. But facts are chiels that winna ding, as we say in Scotland. Every Wednesday, the Prime Minister should stand at the Dispatch Box and face the music for everything that has happened in the previous week. For four weeks it will have been the case that the Prime Minister has not done so. At a time when the British economy is in desperate trouble, the Prime Minister has not been able to be questioned about it. At a time when a Budget has come and gone, which has been near universally regarded—

Chris Kelly (Dudley South) (Con): Welcomed.

George Galloway: Welcomed? My goodness. I do not know where it was welcomed—certainly not by the financial commentators; certainly not by the markets; certainly not by the public; certainly not by the opinion

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polls—but the Prime Minister has not been able to be questioned about it. The Prime Minister has not been able to be questioned about anything for four weeks, neither domestic nor international. Our country is involved in very many serious matters overseas—you will be very happy that I do not seek to dilate upon them, Mr Speaker—and the Prime Minister has not been able to be questioned about them.

I just feel, and I think that the attendance here this evening indicates, that there are many who feel, whether they are in the official Opposition or not, that this has all gone too far. An attempt at canonisation of a person around whom there is—I see that Mr Speaker is frowning. I speak as a religious man. I am not against canonisation where it is justified, but there has to be a consensus before one can be canonised, and no such canonisation is possible—[Interruption.]

Mr Speaker: Order. There is an insistent noise from the Back Benches, which I think is rather unseemly. Members cannot both cavil at what is being said and make a raucous noise themselves. I simply say to the hon. Member for Bradford West that I was not frowning at him; I was listening attentively to him.

George Galloway: Thank you, sir.

The point is that beatification and canonisation is something that can happen only when there is a consensus. There is no such consensus about the former Prime Minister, yet people are acting, the state is acting. The state broadcaster and now the parliamentary authorities are asking us to accept things that are too close to royal. Mrs Thatcher famously had a slightly fraught relationship with the palace, and I can understand why. Mrs Thatcher might to many Government Members have been great, but she was not great to up to 60% of the electorate when she was alive, and, according to the polls, more than 50% of the people now being polled are against her—strongly against her and feel that she did bad things here and abroad. It brings into discredit this kind of funeral, this kind of state occasion, if it is awarded when many people in the country feel it is unjustified, and feel that it is being rammed down their throats for partisan and ideological reasons, for which they are being asked to pay.

Through you, Mr Speaker, I caution the establishment of which I suspect you are not fully regarded as a member, though you ought to be, because your office is one of the great offices in the land. I say to the establishment, through you, Mr Speaker, that it has gone too far. There has been too much of this. It is too expensive, too elaborate, too regal, and many people in the country are unhappy about it. And to compound it all by effectively cancelling a vital part of British political life would be to add insult to the injury already suffered.

My last point—[Hon. Members: “Hurray!”] Gentlemen—[Hon. Members: “And ladies!”]—and ladies, although the misbehaviour is coming exclusively from gentlemen, as I think they are called, on the Government Benches, my point is this. This funeral did not have to be organised so that it would clash with Prime Minister’s Question Time. It could have been held today or on Thursday. The state was vitally involved in the organisation of this funeral—we know that, because we are paying for it—and it was the state that organised the clash with Prime Minister’s Question Time, so why should the

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House of Commons be asked to accept the abrogation of its proper role tomorrow, given that the Government are responsible for the clash?

It is too late now to change the time of the funeral, but it is not too late for the House to refuse to abandon its responsibilities at Prime Minister’s questions. If the House divides on this at the end of the evening, as I hope it will, I hope that a decent number of Members of Parliament will reflect the feelings, if not of their own constituents, then of the tens of millions of constituents of many of us on the Opposition Benches—and of some Government Members too—who feel that the adoration of the Maggie has gone far enough.

9.2 pm

Mr Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) (Lab): It is almost like history repeating itself. In the mid ’70s, I came down on the train and my Whip told me that there would be a few tributes to Anthony Eden and that then the House would finish for the day. I thought, “Surely, that’s not fair. We’re actually packing up because Anthony Eden, who was living in the Caribbean, has died. So the tributes will be paid and then the House will finish for the rest of the day.” I had an argument with the Labour Whip, and then I went in for the tributes. I had not been here very long and I am not so sure I thought at the time it would be a good idea for me to say anything, because, as sure as night followed day, a lot of people were going to pay these tributes to Anthony Eden, who some of them had never even seen. So it is not as if this has not happened before.

I had been a miner for 20-odd years, I said that when I worked down the pit and somebody died, four people took him out on a trolley along the rails, and they were allowed to go home and the rest of the pit continued to work, because people like us had managed to secure a tiny agreement with the National Coal Board to get £250 for the miner’s widow. On that basis, the rest of us went to work. What I am trying to convey is that the people who concern me now are the people out there having to suffer austerity, the benefit cuts and the increasing costs of their own funeral. They are just like the people who concerned me back in the days of 1975—the miners I had left behind in order to speak for them in Parliament. I remember all the Tories walking out the moment I made that kind of criticism. I suppose it is an indication of the split Tory party that some of them are staying today, because they have not followed their leader. Indeed, the leader has not ordered them out.

Let’s not kid ourselves. We hear talk about the thing that we sometimes suggest has gone away: class. That’s what it is: it is about class. It’s about the fact that people out there have to live their lives in a different way and that there is one rule for those at the top and another for those at the bottom. It has never changed—I wish it had, but it hasn’t.

I heard about the chain of events—because that is what it was: it seemed to grow like Topsy. First of all there was going to be some sort of ceremonial funeral. The next thing we hear—I have to say it to you, Mr Speaker—is you telling us that the chimes of Big Ben are going to stop. Then we hear that we are going to abandon Prime Minister’s Question Time. What’s it all about? That is why the people out there are angry—a

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lot of them. I am not suggesting for a minute that there is a majority—I never have—but I do believe that this Government are out of touch with the people out there on a big scale, and this in the same week when benefits were cut again. We should of course have Prime Minister’s Question Time.

Sir Bob Russell (Colchester) (LD): I’ve got question No. 13.

Mr Skinner: The hon. Gentleman may have No. 13, but in the absence of that list I have got about 15 questions in my pocket to ask. Of course we should have Prime Minister’s Question Time. The people out there would want us to put the case about how they manage to make ends meet. We are talking about the people who commit suicide because they are up to their necks in debt and they have got so many callers knocking on their door—first it’s Wonga and then it’s God knows how many others. That is what is happening in our society among the working class.

I do not think there is any doubt, whatever we think, that Mrs Thatcher was a divisive character. I am too, but I am not Prime Minister. I know that there is the desire within a lot of us to fight at the edges and take extra-parliamentary action and all the rest of it—and what’s wrong with that?—but let us not give the impression that Margaret Thatcher was different or that she was cool with everybody. She had an agenda the moment she got in—she actually got in on my birthday.

Chris Heaton-Harris (Daventry) (Con): Which one?

Mr Skinner: Way back.

Nadine Dorries (Mid Bedfordshire) (Con): I just want to make the point that Baroness Thatcher is lying just yards from us in her final night in this Palace. Does the hon. Gentleman not think that just on this night, when she is only yards away, in the name of nothing other than good taste, it might be as well that we called this to an end?

Mr Skinner: I am just making a statement about the fact that during the course of Margaret Thatcher’s parliamentary time, especially when she was Prime Minister, she was divisive, first, in the sense that she got rid of all the wets so that she could set about her agenda. There is no question at all about that—I know that has nothing to do with Question Time being abandoned, Mr Speaker.

Mr Speaker: Order. A moment or two ago the hon. Gentleman was very much on the issue of Prime Minister’s questions and I know that he will wish to return to it.

Mr Skinner: I do not need any lectures from Tories about what they did to Mrs Thatcher, because I remember that night and the following day, when she stood at that Dispatch Box. She had not had a night’s sleep and she was making her final speech in Parliament. Why was she making the final speech in Parliament? It was not because the Labour MPs had put a knife in her back. There is no question about that: a succession of Tory MPs had gone to her in the night and said, “I don’t think you should run again for the second ballot.” That is the truth of it. So, whatever I am saying here today does not compare with the fact that a woman who had

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won three elections in a row then suffered the indignity of being kicked out like a dog in the night by her own Members of Parliament. That is the truth of it, and whatever I say today is minimal compared with that.

Yes, I would like to have Question Time tomorrow, of course, and I have a few questions prepared. Perhaps I should ask the Leader of the House my questions; he might answer them when he winds up. One of them is undoubtedly about getting rid of the bedroom tax. I also want to tell the Prime Minister that it would not be a bad idea to do something about agency workers. There is all this talk about immigration, but the real problem in our society is the fact that a majority of the foreign people who come to this country are now being dictated to by agencies, and it is time we got rid of them. They are undercutting the indigenous workers. I worked with Poles in 1948, down the pit. Why were there no rows? Why did nobody get worked up about the displaced persons—the Poles and the Ukrainians? Because they were in the union with us, and they were paid the same wages. And there wasn’t an agency in sight. So that is another question that we could have put tomorrow.

We could also have put a question about doing something, now that the country is skint, like we did in 1945—

Alec Shelbrooke: Who caused the skint?

Mr Skinner: It was caused by that great economic tsunami that swept across the world—[Interruption.] And why did it sweep across the world? Because in 1989, in one of her last acts, Mrs Thatcher talked about the brave casino economy, the big bang in the City and deregulation. That was the moment it began. We never knew when it would turn into a recession, but we knew that somehow or other, that society of instant gratification would cause a recession at some time. That is how it all began.

It was just like that with the share-owning democracy. We could have discussed that tomorrow. Mrs Thatcher, that non-divisive character, sold off all the public utilities. She said, “We’ll sell off all the public utilities—gas, electricity and all the rest—and everybody will have shares. You can buy them off Sid and you’ll be able to be part of that great British share-owning democracy.” What happened to that? What happened to the share-owning democracy? EDF is now owned by French electricity; E.ON is owned by Germans; Scottish Power is owned by Spain’s Iberdrola; and npower is owned by the German company RWE. Anglian Water has gone to Canada, and Thames Water is owned by the Germans—

Mr Speaker: Order. I am trying to help the hon. Gentleman. He is absolutely in order, and it is relevant to the motion if he refers to matters that he would raise if there were a question session. In other words, he can raise the questions, but it is not in order for him also to provide the answers.

Mr Skinner: So who owns Orange and T-mobile? Have a guess. France and Germany! Who owns Cellnet and O2? Spain! Who owns Arriva buses? The German Deutsche Bank!