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Column 766Standing Order No. 124 (Statutory Instruments (Joint Committee)) Line 22, at end insert `and any draft order proposed to be made under section 1 of the Deregulation and Contracting Out Act 1994'. Standing Order No. 130 (Select committees related to government departments)
Line 101, after `Accounts', insert `and to the Deregulation Committee'.
The Deregulation and Contracting Out Act 1994, which received Royal Assent on 3 November, contains a new power enabling Ministers to make orders to amend or repeal primary legislation that imposes a burden, provided that necessary protection is not removed. The Act provides that each deregulation proposal should be open to parliamentary scrutiny for a period of 60 days, and that subsequent draft deregulation orders require the approval of both Houses of Parliament.
I am pleased to see my right hon. Friend the Member for Honiton (Sir P. Emery), the Chairman of the Procedure Committee in his place, because he and his Committee carried out much diligent work on this matter. The Procedure Committee has already conducted an inquiry into the parliamentary procedure that should apply to deregulation orders and has made recommendations on how the House should make use of the opportunity for scrutiny that the Act provides. I am grateful to my right hon. Friend the Member for Honiton and to his colleagues for the speed and thoroughness of their inquiry and for the recommendations that they made. I think my right hon. Friend will agree that the Government have accepted the great majority of those recommendations.The Committee's report and the Government's response were debated in the House on 11 May.
The purpose of the motion is to give effect to the undertakings that the Government have given and to incorporate the new scrutiny procedure in Standing Orders. The new Standing Order A establishes the new scrutiny committee, the Deregulation Committee, with power to report to the House both on the initial deregulation proposals laid before Parliament and on the draft orders introduced for affirmative resolution after the initial scrutiny process. The Committee will also have power to report on any matter arising from its consideration of deregulation proposals or orders.
When considering deregulation proposals, the Committee will be asked to consider, under paragraph (5) of the draft Standing Order, whether the use of delegated rather than primary legislation is appropriate in the circumstances; whether the proposal actually removes or reduces a burden; whether necessary protection is continued; whether adequate consultation has taken place; and whether the proposal takes appropriate account of that consultation. The Committee will also apply the criteria used by the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments and ask, for example, whether the proposal is ultra vires or defectively drafted. In addition, it will consider whether it infringes any EC obligations.
Under the terms of the Act, about which, hon. Members will remember, there was a good deal of discussion, the Committee will have 60 days, excluding recesses, in which to carry out whatever inquiries it considers necessary and to report to the House whether the proposals should be proceeded with in the same terms, in an amended form or not at all. If the Deregulation Committee were to report that a proposal should not be proceeded with, in normal circumstances, as the
Column 767Government have made clear on a number of occasions, we would expect to submit a revised proposal or to withdraw the proposal altogether.
When the proposal is brought back in its final form as a draft order subject to affirmative resolution, the Deregulation Committee will reconsider it, employing the same criteria as before, and consider the extent to which the Minister has taken account of the Committee's report on the first version of the proposal and of any other representations that may have been made. The Committee will then report within 15 sitting days on whether the House should approve the draft order.
The remaining provisions of the draft Standing Order deal with the Committee's powers. The Committee will have 16 members nominated for the duration of a Parliament and a quorum of five. It will have the usual powers of a Select Committee, including the powers to take evidence, to travel within the United Kingdom and to appoint specialist advisers.
In common with other Select Committees, it will not have the power to summon Ministers before it, but I am happy to repeat the assurance that the Government have already given the Procedure Committee: that Ministers with responsibility for a deregulation proposal will be anxious to assist the Deregulation Committee with its work. Frankly, I cannot envisage a time when a Minister would refuse to attend as a witness if his or her attendance were requested.
In addition to the usual powers, the Committee will have powers to appoint a sub-committee to communicate evidence to other Select Committees and to the equivalent Committee in another place and--something to which both Houses attach importance--to hold concurrent meetings with the Lords Committee. That seems a sensible way of avoiding two Committees covering the same ground with the same witnesses. It will also have the benefit of expert legal advice. Following the Procedure Committee's recommendations, the draft Standing Order makes provision for hon. Members who are not members of the Deregulation Committee to take part in its questioning of witnesses. The Committee and its sub-Committee will have power to invite other hon. Members to attend evidence sessions, and those invited hon. Members will be able to put questions to witnesses if they succeed in catching the Chairman's eye.
I am sure that the Committee will be able to devise appropriate ways of ensuring that hon. Members who express an interest in a particular deregulation proposal receive a invitation to attend relevant evidence sessions so that they can take advantage of the opportunities that the new procedure affords. Hon. Members will, of course, be able to give written evidence to the Committee and oral evidence if the Committee invites them to appear before it. The final paragraphs of Standing Order A require the Deregulation Committee to take evidence from the Department concerned before making an adverse report and to report on each draft order not more than 15 sitting days after it was laid before the House.
The new Standing Order B governs proceedings in the House on draft deregulation orders after the Committee's consideration has finished. The procedure to be followed in relation to particular orders will depend on the nature of the Deregulation Committee's report. If the Committee
Column 768has approved a draft order unanimously, the motion to approve it will be decided forthwith in line with the recommendations of the Procedure Committee. Hon. Members will already have had a chance to express their views at an earlier stage, not least through the procedures that I have just outlined, which allow them a role in the Deregulation Committee's evidence-taking. A measure that has received the unanimous approval of a relatively large all-party committee after a thorough process of scrutiny is surely one that need not detain the House.
If the Committee approves a draft order, but its decision was not unanimous, there will be a debate of one and a half hours, which is, of course, what the Standing Orders provide for affirmative instruments generally.
If the Committee has recommended that a draft order should not be approved, the motion to approve it will not be able to be moved unless the House has resolved to disagree with the Committee's report. That would require a three-hour debate on an amendable motion--a significantly new feature of these arrangements. Only in the most exceptional circumstances would the Government contemplate asking the House to set aside the Committee's recommendations in that way and it would certainly be appropriate to have a rather longer than usual debate under those circumstances, as was suggested by the Procedure Committee and as we readily accepted. The hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) has tabled five amendments, to which he will no doubt speak. I would not seek to prevent him from doing so even if I could. His proposed amendments to Standing Order A would fix the size of the Deregulation Committee at 15 rather than 16, as the Procedure Committee proposed.
Mr. Newton: I was referring to the amendment to Standing Order A that would fix the size of the Deregulation Committee at 15 and give it an extra week--20 days instead of 15--in which to report to the House on the final version of the draft order. The hon. Gentleman's proposed amendments to Standing Order B would provide for longer debates in the House on draft deregulation orders.
I believe that the Government's proposals on these points are entirely reasonable. Moreover, as I have now said several times, they precisely follow the recommendations of the Procedure Committee. The motion also makes minor or consequential amendments to three existing Standing Orders.
Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall): I am grateful to the Leader of the House for giving way and I apologise if I may have missed some reference to this point in his original remarks. I ran as fast as I could to come and hear him, but he was on his feet quicker than I had expected.
I am concerned about the credibility and reputation of the Committee, which, to a large extent, will depend on its chairmanship. The Leader of the House will be aware that in many submissions to the Procedure Committee --and among its membership--a strong view was expressed that the precedent established in other Committees of having an Opposition Member as Chairman of the Committee could well be followed in this case. I appreciate that it is not appropriate for the order, but I wonder whether the Leader of the House could give a
Column 769assurance that he and his colleagues believe that, in normal circumstances, it would be appropriate for an Opposition Member to chair the Committee, if for no other reason than that the size of the Government these days might give him a larger pool of talent to call upon.
Mr. Newton: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for acknowledging that the chairmanship is not appropriate for the order before the House. I have to say--disappointingly for him--that his question is not really one for me; it is, as with the chairmanship of other Committees, normally a matter for discussion through the usual channels and it is appropriate in respect of this Committee. A motion to nominate the new Deregulation Committee will be introduced as soon as possible following the customary consultations through the self-same usual channels. The Government have undertaken that no deregulation proposal will be laid before Parliament under the new procedure until four sitting weeks after the Committee has been nominated, which should give the Committee adequate time to sort out how it wants to work before it is asked to undertake any inquiries.
The proposals, which are based on the substantial work of the Procedure Committee and a good deal of early debate in the House and the other place, will provide a sensible and flexible way of ensuring that deregulation proposals are subjected--as they quite properly should be--to full and effective parliamentary scrutiny and I commend them to the House.
Mr. Jeff Rooker (Birmingham, Perry Barr): I am grateful for the way in which the Leader of the House explained the motion. I should like to make a couple of preliminary points before coming to the main issues.
It is remarkable that we are entering an innovative parliamentary procedure with this Committee which is quite different from the history of how the House has operated. It is based on a Standing Order published less than a week ago. We are debating it today, yet we have not had the opportunity to debate the really effective changes that could occur in the Jopling report, which was published two years ago.
I make the contrast between the two if only to say to the Leader of the House that there is a case for that procedure simply on the grounds that, if the Government follow their programme on deregulation, there will be a considerable amount of work for the Select Committee, which may lead to many more orders reaching the Floor of the House.
Under the Jopling proposals, most of those orders could be considered in Committee rather than on the Floor of the House. The idea is to stop clogging up the Floor of the House with matters of substantial detail. The two sets of proposals go hand in hand. It would be more effective to operate the new Select Committee, with its unique powers of scrutiny, once the Jopling proposals were implemented, even on an experimental basis.
Although there is some implied criticism in what I have said, it is no criticism of the discussions that the Leader of the House has had with my hon. Friend the Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor). The sooner that we get on
Column 770with implementing Jopling the better. It will make the Deregulation Select Committee operate much more efficiently.
I have read a little of the background to the Deregulation and Contracting Out Act 1994 and to the proposals that we are discussing. It appears from my reading of the position that membership of the Deregulation Committee will be almost tantamount to membership of the Public Accounts Committee. I was a member of the PAC for two years. It is a full-time job to fulfil the functions and duties in the required detail.
There are some unwritten conventions in the House about who can and who cannot be a member of a Select Committee. There is a strong case for not following those conventions rigidly when the membership of the Deregulation Committee is considered. That is obviously a matter for discussion between the Government, the Opposition and the minor parties. Many hon. Members, particularly Opposition Members, are precluded from serving on any Select Committee because they hold other positions. There is a strong case for changing that convention for the new Committee.
Mr. Spearing: I hope to catch your eye in a few moments, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Does my hon. Friend accept that the distinction that he makes is even greater than he perhaps realises? While the Public Accounts Committee has many similarities with the Deregulation Committee, its powers are entirely retrospective in matters of finance. The role of the Deregulation Committee will be prospective in terms of legislation that will be equally, if not more, important than financial legislation.
Mr. Rooker: I agree with that. I do not want to get into a debate on the distinction between the two Committees. The PAC does not deal with policy. It never has Ministers before it in any event. It calls only the accounting officers of the Department or agency. Having said that, serving on the Public Accounts Committee, which has two separate sittings and reports each week on different subjects, is a full-time job for its members. There is no room for lots of outside interests. So the Deregulation Committee, which will run along similar lines as the PAC, will be extremely important. The membership and the care with which the Committee exercises its duties will have to be watched carefully by the House.
Another point about the process of the Committee is that the Government will decide to make a deregulation order--in the machinery of Government; we will never know about it. They will then consult outside interests before laying a proposal before the House. Again, under the normal process, we will not know about it. "Interests" is a strange word to use. When the Government have decided to make an order, they should tell the world. It should be a matter of public knowledge.
The House has an interest in knowing who the Government consulted as outside interests before they laid the draft order. We should like to see a list of the outside interests that the Government consulted. The work of the Committee will be absolutely crucial in the sense that it will take evidence from people who may have been deprived of the opportunity to be consulted as an outside interest before the order was laid before the House. So we should know whom the Government consulted.
Column 771There is no doubt that in the past 15 years power has shifted from Westminster to Whitehall on a grand scale. The Deregulation and Contracting Out Act and the operation of the Committee will transfers powers to Whitehall even further. There will be a free vote on the motion tonight. Indeed, I suspect that there will not be any votes. We want to make the system work, regardless of whether we disagree or agree with the Deregulation and Contracting Out Act. However, it has to be said that England is the last one-party state in western Europe. The Conservatives have ruled Britain more this century than the Communist party ruled the Soviet Union. The changes brought about in the past 15 years sometimes appeared to be made on the basis that the Conservative party thought that it would continue to rule for ever.
The Deregulation and Contracting Out Act transfers another tranche of powers from the House to the Executive. Sometimes other parties will have use of the powers that the Government have left in Whitehall. We must make sure that those parties operate them democratically, openly and in the interests of our fellow citizens. I remind the Leader of the House and his colleagues that that will come as a shock to Conservative Members who have never been in opposition. Of course, that applies to most of the Cabinet. I exclude the present Leader of the House, who was so helpful as a member of the Opposition in enabling me to carry through certain changes in the Finance Act 1977.
There are many other Acts that other parties in government might wish to change. They may not wish to go through the laborious processes of scrutiny and primary legislation to which we are accustomed in the House. The powers in the Deregulation and Contracting Out Act and the changes to the Standing Orders do not require much modification to be used for other purposes.
I am not interested in cutting corners. I hope that the Leader of the House is not interested in cutting corners. I do not wish to debate the effects of the deregulation legislation. One of the matters that the Deregulation Committee will scrutinise in deciding whether to take evidence and how to judge a deregulation order will be, as paragraph A(5)(A)(c) says:
"whether the proposals . . . continue any necessary protection." Such protection could be on matters of health and safety, protection at work, and employment protection. Those matters go to the bare bones of the rights of our fellow citizens. So we are not interested in any corners being cut by either this or any future Government.
The Government have played with fire on the issue of procedure. I set that as a warning for the future. It is a warning as much to the Leader of the House as to anyone who occupies his position in the future. Nothing illustrates how the Government have played with fire with our procedure more than the Tory domination of the Deregulation Committee. The Conservatives will insist on the usual procedure. They will want an overall Conservative majority on the Committee, as there is on every Select Committee, whoever the Chair may be. I shall come to that in a moment.
As I understand the order, even if, by chance, the governing majority in the Deregulation Committee did not get their way, the Government could bring the order back to the Floor of the House so that their majority could push it through. That shows a supreme lack of confidence. We know what other Select Committees and Standing Committees are like. There are 651 very busy people in
Column 772the House. We may criticise each other on a party, performance or competence basis, but we are all busy people. Occasionally, hon. Members come through the doors to vote at 10 o'clock knowing nothing of the detail of what they will vote on.
We are setting up a high-powered Committee, membership of which will be virtually a full-time occupation. Like other Select Committees, but unlike Standing Committees, it will take evidence. It will use advisers and it will have the assistance of legal counsel. I hope that legal counsel will be fully independent and will have as much to do with the Government as I have. It must be as independent as possible.
The Committee will take considerable time to scrutinise the proposed changes. It will deliberate. If it comes to a considered view after mature inquiry and consideration that it does not agree with the deregulation order in question, the matter will come to the Floor of the House, the Government will put on a three-line Whip, 651 people will troop through the doors and bingo.
If the Government were confident of their proposal to short-cut our usual scrutiny procedures by avoiding primary legislation, they would not seek to dominate the Committee as I suspect they will. The Government should not seek the chairmanship. I have not read all the details, but I understand that the decision on that required the casting vote of the Chairman of the Procedure Committee, from whom I hope that we will hear an abject apology shortly.
I hope that the Leader of the House will say that this is not an example of the Government seeking to dominate. I accept that, unlike the Public Accounts Committee, this Committee will deal with an element of legislation. It is a different legislative, procedural and scrutinising animal, unlike anything previously known in the House. That being so, I ask the Government to have confidence in their own legislation and procedures. They should be confident that this is a matter that they can get right.
Where the Government have a majority, they are entitled to get their legislation. Nevertheless, I hope that they will say that they do not want to take short cuts or be seen to cheat on the Opposition and that Labour can have the Chair of the Committee. If they did that, they would engender confidence in the House in the functions of the Committee.
If the Government seek to overturn a decision of the Deregulation Committee, if, in their wisdom, they decide not to approve deregulation, the interested and informed parts of the public who were concerned with that element of deregulation will hold the House further in contempt. That is crucial.
The Labour party will co-operate with the Committee. It is in everyone's interests that it should do so and it would be irresponsible not to do so. But we will not co-operate quietly. The Opposition will scrutinise the operation of the Deregulation Committee from day one. We will watch and monitor its procedure. We will watch and monitor the interests involved, both those of the Members and those who appear before it. We will ruthlessly expose any corruption of our democratic procedures. The Government are taking a short cut with our procedures and, if we feel that it has the potential to cause problems for our constituents and fellow citizens, we need to expose that.
Column 773I have made it clear that the Labour party will not disrupt the Committee in any way. We shall operate it responsibly, but we do not agree with it. We say in a spirit of good will to the Leader of the House, who has introduced the proposal so speedily--less than a week after publication--that we hope that there will be no dragooning of the membership. That must be a matter for mature discussion between the parties and possibly, as I have already said, a breaching of one of the conventions of the House.
That said, the Committee has a serious job to do. It is the long-stop against the deregulation measures that we think the Government will introduce, which will be so damaging to life in Britain.
Sir Peter Emery (Honiton): I am delighted to follow the remarks of the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker), who has obviously given considerable consideration to this measure. He emphasised, as I wish to do, the great importance of the Committee. Later in my speech I intend to say that this will become one of the most important Committees in the House. Therefore, I reinforce what the hon. Gentleman said on that.
First, I thank the Government for carrying forward the recommendations of the Procedure Committee nearly to the letter. That is a fairly unusual experience for the Procedure Committee. The Government have been willing to accept the Committee's
recommendations almost in their entirety. This Committee, when in action, will, I believe, come to be perhaps the most important and significant modernisation of House of Commons procedure since the introduction of the departmental Select Committees 14 years ago. The Committee is significant because the Standing Order, once approved, will provide a unique means of amending primary legislation, and it is the amending of primary legislation which is important. That is why the Procedure Committee spent much time and gave considerable thought and care to framing its regulations and recommendations. Once we were charged by the House to consider the best way for the House to discuss deregulation orders, the principle behind our recommendations was the realisation that the deregulation order was, or was at least the alternative of, primary legislation. This is the first time that it will be possible to alter primary legislation without a Bill being brought before the House. In an Adjournment debate on the subject, I said that we believed that a deregulation order should not--I repeat not--be considered to be just another statutory instrument. That follows very much what the hon. Gentleman was saying. After all, a statutory instrument is secondary legislation. It is part of a Bill that we have already passed and those powers are allowed.
A deregulation order is an entirely different instrument and must be considered as such by the House, by the Clerks and by lawyers outside. It is, in effect, primary legislation inasmuch as it alters an Act of Parliament. It is therefore a substitute for another part of primary legislation. That is its unique nature, which the hon. Gentleman outlined.
Column 774The hon. Gentleman expressed concern about the use of the legislation for purposes other than deregulation. I would ask him to look carefully at the Standing Order, which makes it clear that the basic consideration of the Committee must be that its proposals should
"remove or reduce a burden or the authorisation or requirement of a burden".
That refers to a reduction in the burden of legislation, not an alteration for the sake of it; an alteration that is necessary because there is a burden on our constituents, on industry, trade unions or whatever. I shall return to that in a moment.
It is worth underlining, because it complies with something that the hon. Gentleman said, that paragraph 16 of the fourth report of the Select Committee, 1993-94, says:
"In our recommendations we have sought to ensure that no Act of Parliament is repealed or amended under this new power without examination at least as thorough as if the change had been made by a Bill passing through the House."
We want to ensure a full examination by the House.
The new Deregulation Committee will become, as I have already said, one of the most senior Committees of the House. I am particularly concerned that the Government have been willing, in paragraph A(2) of the motion, to set out the three approaches that the Committee must make. It says:
"(a) that a draft order in the same terms as the proposals should be laid before the House; or
(b) that the proposals should be amended before a draft order is laid before the House;"--
if that had been a recommendation of the Committee--
"(c) that the order-making power should not be used in respect of the proposals"--
other than those that have been laid by the House.
Paragraph (5) makes it clear that the Committee must consider whether the draft deregulation order appears to make any inappropriate use of delegated legislation. If it does, that is the first thing that the Committee should consider and reject. I hope that answers the point made by the hon. Member for Perry Barr about powers being extended.
The Committee will consider also the continuation of any necessary protection that the legislation may have given. The hon. Member for Perry Barr said that it is essential to ensure that protection is reviewed. That is stated in the Committee's recommendation and endorsed by the Government.
The measure introduces two provisions that were not part of the Procedure Committee's recommendations, but I am sure that it would have been happy to consider them. One is that the Deregulation Committee must consider whether the deregulation order has any retrospective effect. The Government were right to make that addition. The other is that the Committee should consider whether an order appears to be incompatible with any obligation resulting from membership of the European Union. Again, that addition is to be applauded rather than rejected.
I will be interested to hear the arguments of the hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) for reducing the membership of the Deregulation Committee from 16 to 15. We felt that it needs to be that size to ensure that different parties and parts of the country could be represented on the Committee. We went to a lot of trouble before arriving at 16, which emphasises the importance that should be attached to the Deregulation Committee.
Column 775I am glad that the Government have, almost without exception, accepted our recommendations concerning the Committee's powers--that it can adjourn from place to place, report from time to time, have specialist advisers, appoint a sub-committee, sit during recesses, sit in other places in the United Kingdom, and communicate with other Committees and the House of Lords.
If the same deregulation order were being considered by both Houses, it would be nonsense to ask a Minister or other witnesses to appear twice. We should be able to arrange for evidence to be taken together, so that witnesses would have to appear only once.
The sub-committee's powers have also been defined and seem appropriate. There is, of course, the power to send for persons and papers. The Government have not accepted the recommendation that the Deregulation Committee should be able to summon Ministers. The Government argue, with considerable persuasiveness, that a Minister who wants to see his deregulation order approved would be unlikely to refuse the Committee's request to appear before it. Any Minister who rejected such an invitation would be likely to find that the Committee looked carefully and with a critical eye at the order. It would want to know why the devil the Minister would not attend to answer questions.
"to send for persons, papers and records".
I may not have compared that properly with other Select Committee terms of reference, but I assume that it includes the power to send for Ministers. Do other Select Committees have different terms of reference?
Sir Peter Emery: Those powers are the same as for other departmental Select Committees, which do not have the power to summon Ministers. That can be done only by a request from the House, passed by the House. Similarly, a Select Committee cannot enforce the attendance of a Member of Parliament.
The Government could also argue, although they have not done so, that if they gave the Deregulation Committee--even though it may be one of the most important Committees--the power to call Ministers, that could be the thin end of the wedge and other Committees might demand a similar power. I am willing to accept the assurance given by my right hon. Friend the Lord President of the Council that a Minister would want to attend if requested.
The Deregulation Committee will adopt a new and unique procedure that I term the fast track. Where a provision is obviously a burden on business or the public, and is unanimously viewed by everyone on the Committee as something that should be done away with, deregulation can--after consideration by the Government--come before the House immediately and be put forthwith.
If only one member of the Committee objected, that would halt the fast track procedure. The proposal would be considered by the whole Committee, calling witnesses if necessary. If the Committee wanted to recommend approval of the deregulation order, it would come before the House--which would make sure that it was the same as the draft order and that the Government had not, by sleight of hand, altered it. The House could then debate it for one and a half hours.
Column 776If the Deregulation Committee believed that the draft order should not go forward, it could not be put to the House without a three-hour debate. Also unique is that instead of the order coming before the House because it is unamendable, the Procedure Committee has devised a device whereby an amendment to the draft order could be publicised and voted on by the House, because the House must approve or disapprove the Deregulation Committee's recommendation.
Therefore, for the Government to overcome the recommendation for an order not to be proceeded with, the matter must come to the House and the House must vote to disagree with one of its own Committees, which has recommended that the order should not be proceeded with. If the Committee contains a majority of members from the Government's party, it will be difficult for the Government to take that step. But if they do, they must first table an amendable motion whereby the Committee can make it clear why it is not willing to accept the deregulation order. The Procedure Committee thought that that new procedure would safeguard the rights of Members of the House to ensure that their views were properly expressed and not overridden or simply stamped on by a Government.
The Committee's recommendations are fairly definite: fast track; to the Floor of the House; and put forthwith. After debate and agreement by the Committee, the matter will be put to the House with the possibility of an hour and a half's debate. If matters are not agreed by the Committee, they will come to the Floor of the Housefor a three-hour debate--again, that is new--on an adjournable motion. The amendments would alter that procedure so that there would be no fast track. But if members of the Committee are unanimous, a matter can still have an hour and a half's debate. The overall effect of the three amendments tabled by the hon. Member for Newham, South would be that the hour and a half's debate for the second stage would be shunted to two and a half hours, and the three-hour debate would be shunted to four hours.
Mr. Spearing: Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that removing the fast track gives greater protection to the House, Back-Bench Members and the public? Is not the fast track that he commends advantageous to Her Majesty's Government, whichever party is in power?
Sir Peter Emery: It is advantageous to the removal of a burden as quickly as possible. If 16 members from both sides of a Committee are unanimous in the view that it would remove a burden, that should be proceeded with as quickly as possible.
Sir Peter Emery: Well, it saves it having to be debated on the Floor of the House. But yes, it stays an hour and a half. Those differences do not amount to much. Without wishing to be unfair to the hon. Gentleman, the amendments involve a shunting from nothing, an hour and a half and three hours to an hour and a half, two and a half hours and four hours. The amendments are unnecessary and the Committee, which has considered the matter fully, supports the Government's recommendations.
I have been speaking for too long and should come to a conclusion. Basically, I repeat what I said before: this is a unique and new procedure which I hope will be
Column 777established. It may act as an illustration later when we consider how we may streamline procedures in the House generally. It is unique because of the variations, but I have made it crystal clear that, as the hon. Member for Perry Barr said, the Committee will have a great deal of work and will take up a great deal of Members' time, as it rightly should, because it deals with primary legislation. I thank my right hon. Friend the Lord President for his kind words about me and the Committee. We are delighted that we can respond by approving the Government's recommendations, which will probably portend this evening.
Several hon. Members rose --
Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Janet Fookes): Order. Before I call the hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) to speak, I remind the House of Madam Speaker's ruling that it will be in order for the hon. Member to deal with any matter covered by his amendments. If he wishes to press either amendment (a) or (b) to a vote, he should move them formally at the conclusion of the whole debate.
Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South): I am grateful for your reminder, Madam Deputy Speaker, of that ruling. I tabled the amendments to enable them to be discussed. I may decide to move amendments (a) and (b), but I understand that they could be negatived on the voice even if they are moved. In that event, we shall see what happens.
I pay tribute to the Chairman of the Select Committee, the right hon. Member for Honiton (Sir P. Emery), for his clear exposition of why the Committee produced the basis for the new standing orders. As the House will have gathered from our exchanges, I take an opposite view about both the desirability of the Act and the effectiveness of the procedures. As we all know, standing orders are the ball bearings of democracy. They are the inner hub of the democratic wheel. Unfortunately, these standing orders break new constitutional ground--we agree on that. I also agree that, as my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) made clear, they will entail a lot of work by Committee members, comparable with the work done by the Public Accounts Committee.
Sir Peter Emery indicated assent .