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Mr. Simon Hughes: On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. As you will have heard during the debate, concerns were expressed that the Committee will sit tomorrow when Second Reading was only today. Can you advise us whether there are procedures whereby we might adjourn the Committee stage beyond tomorrow, so that colleagues inside and outside the Chamber have a chance to read the Second Reading debate?

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael J. Martin): In the House, we take one day at a time. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman could consider that matter tomorrow. The Bill is committed to Committee tomorrow.

24 Jan 2000 : Column 78

City of London (Ward Elections) Bill

As amended, considered.

7.16 pm

Mr. John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. As you are aware, I gave notice of several points of order that I want to raise before we proceed.

On at least two--possibly three--previous occasions, I have raised the application of the Human Rights Act 1998 to the process of the Bill. Under section 19 of that Act, when a Bill is introduced by the Government, with a Minister in charge, there must be a declaration that it complies with the European convention on human rights.

When I raised that issue with Madam Speaker, she advised me that that was not the case for private Bills, but suggested that there might be a way in which the matter could be remedied. The Chairman of Ways and Means, or others, might, informally, by a change in Standing Orders allow that provision also to be applied to private legislation. I would welcome your advice, Mr. Deputy Speaker, as to whether any procedure has been invoked to enable that to occur. I strongly hold the view that the House should be advised independently by its Officers as to whether such measures comply with the ECHR. It is a dereliction of our duty if we do not secure that compliance for all legislation, whether public or private.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael J. Martin): The hon. Gentleman was courteous enough to write to Madam Speaker to inform her that he wanted to raise points of order. On the point that he raised, the Chairman of Ways and Means has ruled on the matter on previous occasions; there is no change. A new clause on the subject has been selected for debate, so the hon. Gentleman will have an opportunity to make his points.

Mr. McDonnell: On a further point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I want to raise the issue of our ability to amend the titles and preambles of Bills. I have tabled several such amendments to the Bill. At present, the title is the City of London (Ward Elections) Bill. As you are aware, the Bill does not allow for elections but for appointments. I want to amend its title to "City of London (Ward Elections and the Appointment of Voters) Bill", because some of the electors are appointed by businesses.

Secondly, the preamble states:


It continues:


    "It is expedient that the other connected matters dealt with in this Act should be enacted."

The matter is not expedient--it is open to debate; that is what these proceedings are all about. However, we do not have the opportunity to amend the preamble or the title. We are passing over a major element of the measure without proper debate and with no allocation of time to amend it. I would welcome your views--and, possibly, your further consideration--Mr. Deputy Speaker, of the right of Members to amend titles and preambles of Bills, if not on this occasion, in the future.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: It is not the practice of the Chair to give reasons for the selection of amendments. Page 922

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of "Erskine May" sets out some of the limitations on amendments at this stage in the passage of a private Bill. The hon. Gentleman can always go to the Officers of the House--the Clerks--for advice when he is drawing up amendments.

Mr. McDonnell: I would not want it to appear that I had not approached the Officers of the House. I did approach them, and they very kindly quoted me the relevant section of the Standing Orders that dealt with this matter, but I did not understand the rationale for not allowing the title or the preamble of a Bill to be amended.

Mr. Harry Cohen (Leyton and Wanstead): Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. The hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. McDonnell) has given notice of four points of order. If I may deal with them, I will take the hon. Gentleman's point of order afterwards. We do not want to commence with a debate on points of order.

Mr. McDonnell: I have five points of order. I apologise for the lack of notification of the fifth.

You have partially dealt with my third point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker, which is about the selection of amendments. I am advised by the Officers of the House--and you have so advised me tonight--that there is no debate about the selection of amendments. There is no publication of the rationale for selection, so there is, in my view, a breakdown of accountability with regard to the processes of the House: the accountability of decision making by Officers of the House and others to the House. I would welcome the opportunity to discuss with the Speaker, yourself and the Chairman of Ways and Means what mechanism there is to ensure that there is a debate in the Chamber on the selection of amendments in each case. This is not to delay matters, but to ensure accountability of the Officers of the House in the procedures of the House.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: The hon. Gentleman will know that the Chair is aided by the Standing Orders of the House. The selection is made by Madam Speaker, and it is not a debatable matter.

Mr. McDonnell: In that case, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I would welcome your advice at a later date about how to go about amending the Standing Orders of the House to allow future debate on these matters. I do so with the utmost courtesy and respect for the procedures of the House.

Fourthly, when the Bill was brought before the House on the carry-over, we were advised by the City of London Corporation and the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions, my hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Mr. Hill), the Minister responsible for the Bill--although I will not use the words "in charge of the Bill" because, as we all know, this is an unwhipped Bill--that a wider package of reforms that was proposed to the House by the City corporation would be implemented. That wider package of reforms influenced

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the debate on the Bill. There has been no report back from the City corporation to the House on the implementation of those reforms, and to my knowledge none of them has yet been implemented. In that case, I believe that we debated the Bill on the basis of information provided to us by the promoters of the Bill that was inaccurate and deceptive, and I believe that at some stage a statement should be required of the promoters on the issue of the implementation of the wider package before we proceed with the Bill.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: I understand that a statement on the wider implementation of the package appears in paragraph 9 of a statement on behalf of the promoters, which is available from the Vote Office. Those matters do not form part of the Bill and are not formally before the House tonight. To the extent that those changes are relevant to the amendments before the House, they may be alluded to in the debate; otherwise, it may be possible for them to be referred to in the debate on Third Reading.

Mr. McDonnell: Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The final point of order, for which I apologise for not having giving notice, is that I and my colleagues, my hon. Friends the Members for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) and for Leyton and Wanstead (Mr. Cohen) and others, placed a motion before the House that the Bill should not be considered until "this day six months". That motion has never been debated, and yet the Bill has been brought forward for debate. I would welcome the opportunity to debate that motion and would ask for a time to be set aside to enable us to debate a motion that has been properly laid before the House.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: That was an amendment that was not selected, and therefore it is not for debate at the moment.

Mr. McDonnell: Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. In my view, that reinforces the argument that there must be a debate on the selection of amendments in this House if the decisions of the Speaker are to be held accountable to the House. I say that with all courtesy.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: But it is not a matter that should be taking up the time of the House at the moment. There are procedures that the hon. Gentleman can pursue.

Mr. Cohen: Further to my hon. Friend's point of order about being unable to amend the title of the Bill, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I have served on Committees that considered public Bills. Amendments have been tabled to their titles and changes made. I hear what you say about its perhaps being in "Erskine May", but it is pretty unusual that Members do not get the opportunity to alter or consider the title of a Bill just because it is a private Bill. I would ask that that aspect of the procedure at least be referred to the Procedure Committee. However, that is not the main point of order that I wish to raise.


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