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The standing orders add another architectural wing to the procedural building of this House. I know that that is a mixed metaphor, but everyone understands what I mean. They will entail more effort and work by more hon. Members. But it will not be the normal work of most Select Committees, since Select Committees are generally considered to be good for democracy because they penetrate, expose--at least, they have the potential to do so- -require evidence, test arguments, enlighten, produce reports and recommend. By making the Executive accountable, they add to the sum total of democracy. That is a fair assumption about Select Committees, but only if their functions match other functions of the House, and are in a particular context.
Column 778We can judge the proposed Committee's work, and the quality of its proposed standing orders, only by looking at their function. It is not to penetrate, expose and do all sorts of things to the Executive; rather, it is a reaction to a vast new power which legislation has already given the Executive. The right hon. Member for Honiton freely admits that. There is a fast track not just in terms of the Select Committee's work coming back to the Floor of the House--the subject of our earlier exchange--but in terms of new legislation itself. The proposals in the Act are for legislation allowing statutory instruments to amend pretty well any Act at all. Indeed, although there is no limit on the Act, other than the Government's wish, the proposals would allow a single statutory instrument to amend an unknown number of Acts in an unknown number of ways.
If I am wrong about that, I am sure that the Leader of the House will tell me so--as will the Chairman of the Procedure Committee. But the document that the Government must present to the House under, I believe, section 3 of the Act, need not be one document per proposed amendment; it can be one document per statutory instrument. Presumably, given a schedule, there can be any number of amendments to any number of Acts: no limit is imposed by either the Act or the Standing Orders.
Let us imagine, to use a crude analogy, that a huge new powerful motor car driving from Whitehall to Westminster is to be equipped with brakes. What we are discussing tonight, as we have in previous debates, is the nature of those brakes. I contend that whatever we manage to cobble together tonight in regard to Standing Orders will not be appropriate, because many of us do not think that the motor car should exist in the first place.
It is not just a question of party politics; it is a question of whether any Government should have this power. The ability to amend any number of Acts of Parliament by means of a single statutory instrument, whatever the scrutiny procedure, is a considerable power for any Executive. As my hon. Friend the Member for Perry Barr pointed out, section 3 enables the Minister to construct his motor car--or bulldozer: many metaphors could be used--by consulting such organisations
"as appear to him to be representative",
and such persons
"as he considers appropriate"
"undertake such further consultation with respect to the variations as appears to him to be appropriate."
Only at the conclusion of that will the Minister lay the document, if that is considered appropriate.
As we know from current proceedings in the House--from what will happen on Monday, for instance, and from the discussions that took place over the weekend--if a Minister has already said that he will do this and lays the appropriate paper before the House, he and his supporters are to an extent committed. He and the Government will decide what is to be done, not in the Queen's Speech but in secret consultation, according to statute. Even before we start, we are faced with a pretty formidable machine. My amendments suggest, in a modest way, how the brakes can be made a little more
efficient--although I do not think they would be very efficient even if the amendments were accepted.
Column 779Before I discuss the amendments, however, let me say something about the associated topic of related committees. My hon. Friend the Member for Perry Barr suggested that this new Committee might, in a way, be analogous to the Public Accounts Committee, and I agree that in some administrative senses that will be true. The Committee will be given a good deal of evidence by a number of people. It will, however, be prospective in legislative terms, rather than retrospective in terms of policing and money. A big difference is involved in that.
One similarity will lie in the fact that many people will be involved, absorbing the Committee's time and effort. It may also generate considerable controversy. As has been suggested, there are also similarities with the Select Committee on European Legislation. As the right hon. Member for Honiton knows, I was able to give his Committee some evidence when I chaired the European Committee, as I did for nine years.
In my view, however, while there are several similarities, in regard to administration and in regard to at least some of the clerking skills. This Committee, however, will not fulfil the same constitutional role. While the European Committee suggests that debates should take place and presents an objective report on what is at issue, it does not deal with merit. The purpose of this Committee, however, is almost wholly related to merit. It must judge--first on the evidence that the Minister provides and then on evidence that may come from elsewhere, within tight time limits--the balance between protection and burden.
The right hon. Gentleman has constantly said that the Act is there to reduce burdens, and I do not blame him; that, after all, is the purpose of the Act. But--to misquote Harold Wilson--one person's burden is another's protection. In the history of the House of Commons, most Members of Parliament have a duty here to achieve a balance between the two. We are dealing not just with any old amendments to Acts, but with what I would describe as the heart of one of the functions of the House of Commons and Acts of Parliament: balancing burdens and benefits. The biggest balance of the lot is that between taxation and how the money is spent. The Committee is important, in that it lies at the heart of a great deal of what the House is elected to do in any event.
The right hon. Member for Honiton said a good deal about fast tracks, and his Committee has provided a diagram illustrating what will happen. I do not think that its proposals will all be adopted, but a diagram is certainly needed to explain the position properly. The right hon. Gentleman did explain, as did the Leader of the House, in terms of the different procedures. No fewer than 110 lines explain how the Committee should be established and how it should work. Much of the content replicates what other Select Committee have produced, but much does not. I refer to the double blocking procedure. My amendment (b) deals with the limit of one and a half hours debate on the Floor of the House. At present the House devotes that time to dealing with a single statutory instrument; until just after the war, the debate was open ended. If only five people are present in the relevant quorum when the proposal reaches its final stages in the Committee --perhaps only two Opposition Members--it is possible that, if three or five of them agree we shall end up with a large number of amendments to Acts, which will then come to the House and be taken forthwith. In fact, I believe that there must be a minimum of five
Column 780people, and in some cases they may all be non-Opposition Members. Can any hon. Member deny that that is a possible scenario? The right hon. Member for Honiton nods.
Mr. Spearing: I thank the hon. Member for confirming my suggestion. Why are we passing Standing Orders that will allow an unknown number of Acts to be amended in an unknown number of ways, forthwith, on the Floor of the House?
Sir Peter Emery: Let me try to clear up a point that the hon. Gentleman raised, which created a doubt in my mind. He suggested that a single order might involve a host of matters affecting different pieces of legislation. Section 1 of the Act refers consistently to a single order concerned with a certain burden. It is possible that that burden would be covered by more than one Act, but it is a single burden and not a series of burdens concerning a series of different Acts. Certainly, the Government never suggested, and the Select Committee never considered--on the evidence that it received--that serialisation under a single Act could be implemented under the Deregulation and Contracting Out Act in its ultimate form. I thought it important to straighten that out; it should relieve the hon. Gentleman's worries.
Mr. Spearing: I am grateful for that intervention because it shows that sometimes useful exchanges occur when there are only a few hon. Members in the House. Less light is often shed on matters when there is a maximum number of hon. Members present. This is a classic example of the former situation.
The comments of the right hon. Member for Honiton may be correct by the implicit wording of the Act, but until now that has not been made clear. I am obliged to the right hon. Gentleman for making the point clear. He is saying that a single statutory instrument deals with a particular burden which may involve the amendment of part of an Act or a number of Acts, which may relieve or change the balance of the burden. It means also that we will not have a series of decisions made forthwith or any debates on anything other than a single burden to be removed. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Honiton for proving that because it removes at least some of my objection to the procedure. Nevertheless, the essentials remain.
I am thinking aloud now, but that is what we do here sometimes. The question is what we mean by "burden". It could be a collective burden on a number of matters relating to machinery, safety at work or anything. We have to define what "the burden" is. I can see that a single statutory instrument might encompass a wide range of burdens. The right hon. Member for Honiton referred to the possibility of a division. If there is a division within the Committee, there has to be a debate of an hour and a half. I hope that that is so, because the statutory instruments are important enough to deserve at least that. My amendment (c), which is not being called, asks for a debate of two hours. After the Minister has opened the debate and the Opposition Front Bench Member has spoken, if we are to leave time for winding up, we discover that one and a half hours is not very long. Although my amendment is not being called, it is something that we may wish to consider.
Column 781My amendment (aa) has not been called, but it has been referred to by the right hon. Member for Honiton in relation to the chairmanship of the Committee. I recognise that it might be inadvisable to put, in broad terms in standing orders, whether the chairmanship of particular Committees should be held by Opposition or Government Members. I do not think that that occurs in Standing Orders now. However, there is a convention on these matters, and one which reflects the quality of the House. There is nothing to prevent a Select Committee from underlining that convention with a recommendation. That would be acceptable.
I have many connections with colleagues from other European Parliaments. When I told them that I was the Chairman of the Select Committee on European Legislation not because of my views but simply because I was a member of the Opposition, they said, "Quel magnifique--does that mean that the Chairman is always appointed from the Opposition?" When I said that that was so, they said, "That is marvellous. Your House of Commons is so marvellous. I wish we did that." The Public Accounts Committee, the Statutory Instruments Committee and the Select Committee on European Legislation follow that convention and it is agreed. I am not saying that it should be in Standing Orders.
The singular voting event referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Perry Barr was unfortunate. On reflection, the Chairman of the Committee, despite his hard work on this, might have done something different. The Select Committee report--HC238 from the parliamentary Session 1993-94--says in paragraph 96:
"We recommend that the Deregulation Committee should be chaired by a member from an Opposition party."
There is nothing wrong with that recommendation as such. That was in the Chairman's draft report and I thought that the hon. Member for Honiton was following the convention. When they voted on that recommendation, there were six ayes and six noes. The Chairman then declared himself with the noes. That was against convention because the status quo was the Chairman's report under discussion. That is unfortunate and I hope that the hon. Member for Honiton will reconsider and recommend to the Leader of the House that, by convention, if not by recommendation, the new Select Committee should be added to the list of Committees following the convention. Chairmen have responsibilities and, if the Committee is not added to that list, the enormous powers will be allied with the interests of Her Majesty's Government and not with the interests of the House and proper scrutiny. It would not be in the interests of the Government of the day, whoever that may be, or in the interests of those concerned or the public if that convention were not continued. My amendment asks that the membership of the Committee be changed from 16 to 15. That alters the mathematics. With 15 and a Government Chairman, the Government majority would be marginally reduced. It was tabled in order to bring the matter into the ambit of debate and for no other reason.
Sir Peter Emery: The hon. Gentleman raised my name as Chairman of the Committee and spoke about the way I cast my vote. It is only fair that I should explain, as I explained to the Committee, that the chairmanship of any
Column 782new Committee established by the House has always been negotiated through the usual channels. There has never been a recommendation from a Select Committee about the chairmanship. There is no doubt that the usual channels will have seen what was in the draft report. When the Committee is established, the usual channels will decide. I believe that that was the right way to behave and that is why I voted as I did.
Mr. Spearing: I am grateful for that explanation and I am glad to have been able to give the right hon. Gentleman the opportunity of making it. We all understand that negotiations between the usual channels have to take place, although we accept that it is a bit of a compromise. However, the convention of the House that certain sorts of Committee always have an Opposition Chairman is a slightly different matter. I do not think that we have had a new Select Committee of this sort since the formation of the Select Committee on European Legislation in 1974 when the late John Davies, whom many of us recall, went straight from the Cabinet to be Chairman of that Committee in Opposition. I understand the explanation of the right hon. Member for Honiton, but I suggest that the precedent for new Committees is on my side of the argument rather than his. I shall conclude with a quotation from those days. It is from the Select Committee on Procedure appointed in 1976 which reported in the Session 1977-78. Paragraph 1.5 of that report--HC588--said:
"We agree that the relationship between the executive and the legislature is the crucial feature of the functioning of our institutions of government, and we are conscious of the widespread concern in the country about the present nature of that relationship . . . The essence of the problem . . . is that the balance of advantage between Parliament and Government in the day to day working of the Constitution is now weighted in favour of the Government to a degree which arouses widespread anxiety and is inimical to the proper working of our parliamentary democracy."
That was the view of the Select Committee which made
recommendations for the setting up of the departmental Select Committees. It was followed up by Lord Pym and Lord St John of Fawsley respectively, as shadow Leader and Leader of the House. That view was expressed unanimously by the members of that Committee who were elected on 15 June 1976. The record states that the Committee consisted of:
"Mr. Kenneth Baker, Mr. A. J. Beith, Mr. George Cunningham, Mr. Michael English, Mr. John Garrett, Mr. Norman Lamont, Mr. Richard Luce, Mr. David Marquand, Mr. John Peyton, Mr. J. Enoch Powell, Mr. Giles Radice, Sir David Renton, Miss Jo Richardson, Mr. Nicholas Ridley, Mr. Nigel Spearing and Sir Thomas Williams."
I believe that the Act on the basis of which the Standing Orders will come into being will do what was then feared. It will give greater power to the Executive and less power to the House. Whatever the degree of the changes that we may make and whatever the complications involving the Standing Orders, they will go in the opposite direction to that epoch-making Select Committee report nearly 20 years ago.
Mr. James Hill (Southampton, Test): I understand that we have only a few minutes left in the debate. I rise to congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Honiton (Sir P. Emery), the Chairman of the Select Committee on Procedure, who steered the ship through
Column 783some troubled waters, and my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House,who, when giving evidence, made so many matters clear. I suppose that all hon. Members are sorry that Ministers will not be able to come to the new Select Committee but, after a while, there may be a change of heart because, obviously, Ministers will know most about any deregulation. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House said that many of the deregulations would be "tiddlers". He said that 55 possible deregulations were waiting in the corridor. I am sure that they will be phased through. Some regulations will be so ancient that we shall be able to dismiss them in a few minutes.
I have looked at our list of recommendations. Apart from the recommendation on a Minister of the Crown, I think that the Leader of the House has given way on practically everything else. Perhaps the only possible vacuum involves the fact that we wanted to exchange evidence with other House of Commons Committees. That may be a bit laborious.
We have heard a great deal from the Chairman of the Select Committee on European Legislation. There is no doubt that the Joint Committee containing hon. Members from this place and the other place will provide great expertise. I was pleased that I was assured when hearing evidence that hon. Members with specialist knowledge would be able to attend and speak in the Committee. It is a good idea to allow everyone who has expertise on a Bill to give their view.
I hear much twittering of papers, so I had better not delay the House any longer. I thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker for calling me, and I fully support the new Committee.
Mr. Newton: In recent moments, there appears to have been a slight shift in the atmosphere in the House, which may have affected hon. Members' views on how much time I should take for my speech, but it would be appropriate to comment on a number of points that have been raised.
Among the pleasures of the debate, which, I must admit, have so far been few, is the fact that the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) is performing for the first time in his new role. This is the first time that he and I have faced each other across the Dispatch Box, as distinct from facing each other in other ways. In my early period as Under- Secretary of State for Social Security, a position that I filled from about 1982 to 1984, the hon. Member for Perry Barr was my Opposition opposite number, so to speak. I remember some entertaining exchanges at DHSS Questions, as they were then known, between Conservative Members and Opposition Members. He sat on the Government Benches in 1974 to 1979, when I sat on the Opposition Benches. During that time, I served on every one of the innumerable Committees that considered the Finance Bill and I think that he sat on many of them. too.
Mr. Newton: The hon. Gentleman certainly made his mark on that one. I served on every one of the two-yearly Committees considering the Finance Bill from 1974 to 1979. One Committee sticks in the mind. Perhaps it was
Column 784not widely noticed by people outside. As the hon. Gentleman said, the amendments that were tabled in that Committee became known as the Rooker-Wise amendments, but they should have been called either the Rooker-Wise-Lawson amendments or the Rooker-Wise-Newton- Lawson amendments. At that stage, however, I was not prepared to own up. They were entertaining and interesting times, even if much of our business was done at unusual times of the night.
The people whose business it is to ensure that the House's affairs run smoothly have improved their performance in recent moments. That may ease the pressure on me as I rapidly start to comment on the points that have been raised.
I must enter some reservation about the criticism, as I suppose one must call it, from Front-Bench and Back-Bench Opposition Members over the speed with which the Orders have allegedly been introduced. I accept that the detail of the fairly complex changes to the Standing Orders--such things nearly always end up being fairly complex--has been around for only a week or so. However, the shape and nature of the proposals, including those to which the hon. Member for Perry Barr objects, were made clear in a full Government statement months ago, before the House even completed its consideration of the proposals. The notion, therefore, that the hon. Members for Perry Barr and for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) have had only one week to find out what all this is about is far fetched. I see from the expression of the face of hon. Member for Perry Barr that he thinks that I have a point.
One of the things about the hon. Member for Perry Barr is that he sometimes manages to end a speech at the Dispatch Box in the manner of a militant, but I have always known that under it lie the mind and heart of a moderate.
Mr. Newton: I take that for granted, as I do for all our colleagues in the House, not least the hon. Member for Newham, South, who I suspect may be seeking to stop this badinage and to get me to say something about the Standing Orders.
Mr. Spearing: Of course, I accept that the proposal's general outline has been known for a long time. The limitation of time, however, involves formal exposure of the proposals to hon. Members. Effectively, the proposals have been on the Order Paper for three days. I think that that is accurate. That is the issue.
Mr. Newton: I do not want to make a meal of this, but I resist that conclusion. This happened months ago, so I may have the sequence slightly out of order, but, either before Report or certainly before Third Reading, I made sure that a full paper setting out the Government's proposals was exposed to anyone who cared to look at it. The proposed arrangements were fully explained in the House. This, therefore, is not a bounce.
Column 785The hon. Member for Perry Barr made some reasonable points. I cannot respond to all of them; I shall reflect on some of them and draw them to the attention of those people in the usual channels who will have to consider the membership of the Committee. They can consider some of the points that he raised in talking about the usual conventions.
It is often assumed that there are Select Committees on which Front-Bench spokesmen do not serve, but a significant number of Select Committees include Front-Bench spokesmen, including the domestic Committees dealing with broadcasting and House matters. The Select Committee on Members' Interests has Front-Bench spokesmen from both sides of the House. It is clearly not ruled out in principle. If it seems sensible that they should sit on the Committee, the matter could be considered.
The hon. Member for Perry Barr said that who had been consulted should be made clear. The intention is to say what consultations have taken place, unless the people involved specifically request confidentiality. Such information would, therefore, normally be available to the Committee. There is no attempt to cover up or prevent the Committee from having the information that it should have.
The requirement for the ministerial document to be laid specifically includes the consultation undertaken and any representations received, subject to the usual condition of confidentiality if requested. The hon. Member for Perry Barr said that that would be laborious and time-consuming work, but the Government are conscious of the need not to swamp the new process. Depending on how many proposals the Committee might want to inquire into in more detail, we would have to judge the number that could be considered at any one time. As I said, we intend to set up a special mechanism in Whitehall to ensure that there is a sensible flow of business to the Committee.
Mr. Rooker: The right hon. Gentleman again makes an analogy with the Public Accounts Committee, which deals with between 30 and 45 reports a year. Its programme of work comes from the National Audit Office more or less on a two-year basis. Not everything comes to fruition, but it has had good advance notice so that it can programme the timetable for membership and publication of any reports. I am not suggesting that there should be a requirement for two years' notice, but I believe that the new Committee should have decent up-front knowledge rather than three or four months.
Mr. Newton: The hon. Gentleman and I have been doing business together for 20 years so he should know me well enough to accept that, if someone makes a reasonable point, I try to respond reasonably. His point certainly sounds reasonable and I shall ensure that it is examined.
Mr. Newton: I come rapidly to my response to what I take to be the main thrust of the criticisms and concerns expressed by the hon. Members for Perry Barr and for Newham, South and, in passing, pick up on a particular
Column 786point made by the former. I believe that I can quote almost the exact words used by the hon. Member for Perry Barr, who said that he wanted the legal adviser to the Committee to have as much to do with the Government as he did. In fact, the intention is that the Deregulation Committee will be given legal advice by the Counsel to the Speaker, not by Government lawyers. I think that the House authorities will confirm that the Counsel to the Speaker has precisely as much to do with the Government as the hon. Gentleman has and is entirely independent of the Government.
The notion that we are seeking to take powers away from the House is far- fetched. Under a different range of mechanisms, every proposal--whatever the Committee says--comes to the House, often for further discussion if the House so wishes, but always for a decision. That is an important and basic point. The hon. Member for Newham, South and, indeed, the hon. Member for Perry Barr, seemed to suggest that the Government would drop the vehicle licensing system or the health and safety at work system under the new legislation, but that is a ridiculous notion.
Mr. Newton: Perhaps not, but that was the flavour of what the hon. Gentleman said. The implication was that the Government would charge around, overturning important Acts of Parliament at the drop of a hat and without a vote. That is far-fetched. The White Paper contains 55 examples and I accept that the one that I always choose is the most extreme. One of the proposals is to ensure that the Patent Office can accept documents in forms other than on paper, such as electronic filing. The Government believe that it does not make sense in this day and age to have to pass an Act to allow the Patent Office to accept documents in forms other than on paper. It is an extreme example but a good one; it threatens no one and is simply common sense. It is daft to have to go through the three or four stages of an Act in two Houses of Parliament to allow that to happen. We are devising a procedure to allow it to happen more simply and sensibly. I commend that and the Orders to the House.
Amendment proposed: (a), in Standing Order A, paragraph (14), leave out `fifteen' and insert `twenty'.-- [Mr. Spearing.]
Question, That the amendment be made, put and negatived. Amendment proposed: (b), in Standing Order B, paragraph (1)(a), leave out `forthwith' and insert
`not later than one and a half hours after the commencement of proceedings on the motion'.-- [Mr. Spearing.]
Question, That the amendment be made, put and negatived. Main Question agreed to.
That Standing Orders A and B below shall have effect and Standing Orders No. 14 (Exempted business), No. 124 (Statutory Instruments (Joint Committee)) and No. 130 (Select committees related to government departments) shall be amended as set out below. A. Deregulation Committee
(1) There shall be a select committee, called the Deregulation Committee, to examine every document containing proposals laid before the House under section 3, and every draft order proposed to be made under section 1, of the Deregulation and Contracting Out Act 1994.
Column 787(2) The committee shall report to the House, in relation to every document containing proposals laid before the House under the said section 3, either--
(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; or
(c) that the order-making power should not be used in respect of the proposals.
(3) The committee shall report to the House, in relation to every draft order laid before the House under the said section 1, its recommendation whether the draft order should be approved. (4) The committee may report to the House on any matter arising from consideration of the said proposals or draft orders.
(5)(A) In its consideration of proposals the committee shall consider in each case whether the proposals--
(a) appear to make an inappropriate use of delegated legislation;
(b) remove or reduce a burden or the authorisation or requirement of a burden;
(c) continue any necessary protection;
(d) have been the subject of, and take appropriate account of, adequate consultation;
(e) impose a charge on the public revenues or contain provisions requiring payments to be made to the Exchequer or any government department or to any local or public authority in consideration of any licence or consent or of any services to be rendered, or prescribe the amount of any such charge or payment;
(f) purport to have retrospective effect;
(g) give rise to doubts whether they are intra vires;
(h) require elucidation or appear to be defectively drafted; (i) appear to be incompatible with any obligation resulting from membership of the European Union.
(B) In its consideration of draft orders, the committee shall consider in each case all the matters set out in sub-paragraph (A) above and the extent to which the Minister concerned has had regard to any resolution or report of the Committee or to any other representations made during the period for parliamentary consideration.
(6) The committee shall consist of sixteen members.
(7) The quorum of the committee shall be five.
(8) Unless the House otherwise orders, each Member nominated to the committee shall continue to be a member of it for the remainder of the Parliament.
(9) The committee shall have power--
(a) to send for persons, papers and records, to sit notwithstanding any adjournment of the House, to adjourn from place to place within the United Kingdom, and to report from time to time; (b) to appoint specialist advisers either to supply information which is not readily available or to elucidate matters of complexity within the committee's order of reference;
(c) to appoint a sub-committee, of which the quorum shall be two, which shall have power to send for persons, papers and records, to sit notwithstanding any adjournment of the House, and to adjourn from place to place within the United Kingdom;
(d) to communicate its evidence and any other documents relating to matters of common interest to any committee appointed by this House and to any committee appointed by the Lords to examine deregulation proposals and draft orders.
(10) The committee and the sub-committee shall have leave to meet concurrently with any select committee appointed by the Lords to examine deregulation proposals and draft orders and any sub-committee thereof.
(11) The committee and the sub-committee shall have the assistance of the Counsel to the Speaker and, if their Lordships think fit, the Counsel to the Lord Chairman of Committees.
(12) The committee and the sub-committee shall have power to invite Members of the House who are not members of the committee to attend meetings at which witnesses are being