Because parts of the 1993 Act refer to Northern Ireland, it was essential to clarify the matter. The debate showed that it was unclear in the minds of some hon. Members. If a simple amendment can make the matter clear, no harm is done and we should pass it.
Amendment agreed to.
I beg to move amendment No. 17, in title, at end add
'to extend the provisions of the Act to persons who have retired or resigned from the National Health Service; and for related purposes.'.
The amendment seeks to change the long title of the Bill because the present long title is extremely confusing. On Second Reading, when you were in the Chair, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I tried to make a detailed speech about the problems relating to the NHS commissioners. Two or three times, you told me off for straying beyond the scope of the Bill. You said
The Bill before us is a very narrow piece of proposed legislation, and it is determined by its title and by its contents. The hon. Gentleman--
that is a reference to me--
is looking at matters that could be amended at another time, and I remind him that we can consider only what is before us this morning.
From time to time during the rest of the debate, I strayed a little, and you pulled me up again.
Mr. Deputy Speaker:
Order. As I recall, I showed great restraint that day.
I am sure that you did, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I would not question that. I took to heart your words:
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The hon. Gentleman is looking at matters that could be amended at another time--[Official Report, 3 March 2000; Vol. 345, c. 682.]
I spent a happy evening last week drafting a raft of amendments, but the Bill is tightly drawn and it was difficult to draft amendments to it, especially as the original legislation has been amended. Trying to work through all the cross-references and cross-checks was an extremely difficult job, even though I had a consolidated version of the Bill, pulled off Lexis. I probably have the only copy in the entire House, and ended up lending it to the Table Office so that officials there could check the amendments.
I tabled a great list of amendments to try to improve the Bill, and the following day I received a letter from Mr. Priestley, the Clerk in charge of private Members' Bills, whose patience I have also sorely tested over the past two weeks, and who has been very helpful in advising me about the scope of the Bill.
In a letter to me, Mr. Priestley states:
I am writing because I think I should draw to your attention the fact that, notwithstanding its broadly drawn long title--
which I seek to amend--
the Health Service Commissioners (Amendment) Bill is a Bill with a single, narrow purpose. This means that the scope for amendment of the Bill is very limited indeed."
Mr. Priestley goes on to state that he does not wish to pre-empt the Speaker's exercise of her power to select amendments for debate, and he continues:
I think it only fair to tell you that, having looked carefully at your amendments. . . they all appear to relate to matters outside the scope of the Bill.
I was rather peeved about that, Mr. Deputy Speaker, because I thought that I had been following your advice in drafting those amendments and had spent some time doing so, as I had done when preparing my speech for the Second Reading debate, based on my understanding of the content of the Bill from the long title. That is why I believe that the long title needs amending; it is very misleading.
With Mr. Priestley's assistance, I consulted "Erskine May" about the scope of a Bill. It states:
Amendments to the preamble and the title are also admissible where amendments have been made to the bill which render them necessary.
We have made some amendments to the Bill today which make the amendment of the long title necessary. I propose that it should refer to the retirement or resignation from the NHS of the practitioner, "and for related purposes". We have dealt with a few of those matters today.
"Erskine May" goes on:
An amendment is out of order if it is irrelevant to the subject matter or beyond the scope of the bill.
It also states in paragraph (5) on page 526:
Where the scope of a bill is very restricted, the extent to which it may be amended at all may thus be severely limited.
I asked Mr. Priestley where in "Erskine May" the scope of a Bill is defined. He flipped through many hundreds of pages and the index but, believe it or not, nowhere is the scope of a Bill defined.
Mr. Deputy Speaker:
Order. The background material is very interesting and it describes the way in which the
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hon. Gentleman arrived at the amendment. However, now that the amendment has been selected, he should speak about it, not the reasons for tabling it.
I was told that drafting an amendment to the long title would be a way round the problem. I did that in amendment No. 18, which was not selected. I did not realise that I could speak only to amendment No. 17.
Drafting amendments that were within the scope of the Bill was difficult when the long title was so misleading. To try to ensure that the amendments--
Mr. Deputy Speaker:
Order. As I said earlier, we cannot debate amendments that were not selected. However, Madam Speaker has selected amendment No. 17. That allows the hon. Gentleman not only to move the amendment, but to speak about it. He must confine himself to amendment No. 17.
I referred to amendment No. 18 in parenthesis to explain the reasons for drafting amendment No. 17 in the way in which it appears on the amendment paper.
Mr. Deputy Speaker:
Order. I do not like interrupting hon. Members' speeches; I want the hon. Gentleman to speak about amendment No. 17. He has finished with stories about the Public Bill Office.
That is a pity, because they are entertaining. Never mind, perhaps I can tell you them in the Tea Room some time, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
The long title of the Bill is broad and has been misleading when we tried to debate the Bill on Second Reading, in Committee and today. The amendment would tackle that flaw. I hope that the Bill will receive a Third Reading today, and move to another place. As the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) said, those in another place may wish to table amendments. I should hate them to go through the same palaver as me, and find that they were drafting amendments that were out of order because they were misled about the scope of the Bill by a broad long title.
If we could amend the long title
to extend the provisions of the Act to persons who have retired or resigned from the National Health Service; and for related purposes,
it would help to clarify the Bill's purpose. It would make the long title match the scope of the Bill. Standing Orders state that that should be done for Government Bills, but private Members' Bills are an exception to the rule. They are often tabled with a very long title before the detailed text becomes known. Government Bills are caught by Standing Orders, which require a change when necessary to the long title, but private Members' Bills are not.
In the light of the difficulties that I experienced, I believed that it would be worth while to amend the long title to reflect the contents of the Bill more accurately. That would enable those in another place--and the public, if the measure is enacted--to understand the Bill's purpose and not assume that it is about something different. That is how I got into difficulties.
I am fascinated by the hon. Gentleman's case. By extending the long title, I am not
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sure whether he is aiming to expand or restrict the scope of the Bill. The extension of the long title for which the amendment provides would reduce the scope of the Bill.
The amendment would do neither. I am simply trying to make the long title reflect the scope of the Bill. The long title is broader than the scope of the Bill. You have made it clear, Mr. Deputy Speaker, as have other hon. Members, that the scope of the Bill is narrow. It covers only bringing within the scope of the Health Service Commissioners Act 1993 people who have retired or resigned from the NHS. The right hon. Member for Wealden (Sir G. Johnson Smith) confirmed that on Second Reading. He repeated that this morning. If that is the case, the long title should reflect the Bill's objective.
The amendment would not restrict the Bill; it tries to mirror the Bill's contents and thus make its purpose clearer. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will accept the amendment, which will make matters easier for people who consider the Bill later.
The hon. Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore) has done the House a great service, because such matters often confuse people, including myself. One might have thought that a Bill
To Amend the Health Service Commissioners Act 1993
would give enormous scope to do just that and that, if it were taken literally, there would be ample opportunity to achieve many different things. However, he has found out that that is not the case. The scope of the Bill as defined on Second Reading by its promoter, my right hon. Friend the Member for Wealden (Sir G. Johnson Smith), turns out to be narrow. There is a difference between what the title says and what the Bill means.