|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
Mr. Fallon: I hope that my right hon. Friend the Member for East Devon will speak. The whole point of a Standing Order is that it has been considered by the Procedure Committee and is adopted not for a Session, but for the long-term conduct of business.
Mr. Bercow: We all understand the point about parliamentary sovereignty, but does my hon. Friend take the view, in so far as he can interpret Government thinking, that Ministers intend that the change should be subject to automatic expiry and the requirement for representation, or rather that it will continue ad infinitum--
Mr. Fallon: That must be right, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Perhaps my hon. Friend has been misled by the already stated intention of the Minister that the motion is not really a change to the Standing Order. It will be replaced by a subsequent change, which may or may not be a Sessional Order, a Standing Order or whatever.
The change weakens the authority of the Public Accounts Committee. It will make it more difficult for the departmental Select Committees to do their work because it completely changes the time scale. It does so at a late stage in the process. After all, we are already between 6 February and 18 March. If the change were to be made, it might not be unreasonable to conclude that it should have been made before we entered the period after 6 February. The House is entitled to a better explanation.
If the Government had wished the change to apply only to the coming year, it would have been possible to have introduced it by means of a Sessional Order. I am being told that that is impossible, but the new Sessional Orders that we have had since 7 November last year have introduced programme motions, Programming Sub- Committees, a different procedure for amendments and deferred Divisions. Against that background, I cannot believe that it is beyond the wit of the House, if it desired the change to be made only for the year, to introduce a
Mr. Davey: I think that I can help the right hon. Gentleman. As I understand it, the Sessional Orders to which he has referred are not designed to change anything that is currently in the Standing Orders. If a change were made by Sessional Order, there would be a conflict with Standing Orders, and the occupant of the Chair would understandably have difficulty in interpreting the will of the House with respect to Standing Orders.
Sir Peter Emery: If the hon. Gentleman, whom I thank for his intervention, believes that it was not a change to Standing Orders to introduce deferred voting on a Wednesday, thus altering the whole structure of voting, I can only say I do not know what would be.
Mr. Fallon: In the appendix to the Standing Orders, it is made clear--I do not know whether it refers to a Sessional Order or whether, since it is in the appendix, it is a Standing Order--that the order referring to deferred Divisions applies only for the next Session of Parliament. Surely that is the route that the Government should have chosen for this change.
The difficulty is that we shall introduce the words on the Order Paper as a permanent part of Standing Orders. There is no doubt about that. The doubt is whether the Government intend that. They have already had to admit that they must introduce an alteration to the motion that they are asking us to carry tonight. That is not the most sensible managerial way in which to deal with Standing Orders. You, Mr. Deputy Speaker, will have to interpret the Standing Orders, and I am sure that you cannot believe that to be the best way in which to proceed.
It should be clear to the House that if the Government insist on carrying the motion, they will have to make an alteration soon to prevent it from applying in the next Session. Perhaps it would be more sensible of them to withdraw the motion and reintroduce it as a Sessional Order. Everyone could then agree to it. The Government would get what they wanted, but in a sensible way as regards Standing Orders and Sessional Orders. That is what I recommend them to do.
Mr. Gerald Howarth (Aldershot): I, like you, I suspect, Mr. Deputy Speaker, voted consistently against televising the proceedings of this place. However, we have just heard a good reason why televising the House has brought some advantage. My right hon. Friend the Member for East Devon (Sir P. Emery) was able to observe our proceedings from his office and then come to
Two issues face us. One concerns the arrangements regarding the motion. The other is the presentation of accounts. As my hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin) made clear, the accounts are extremely difficult to follow.
On the motion, the hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Mr. Davey) was helpful in reminding us of how matters stood before resource accounting was introduced. The votes on account would then have come forward in November, giving the Public Accounts Committee and the House plenty of time to consider them in advance of 6 February, the cut-off date by which the votes on account must be presented to the House for consideration.
The Government have been unable to produce those accounts in time for 6 February. Indeed, they have brought them forth tonight, so they are already, in a sense, out of time in respect of Standing Orders. I am happy to give way to the Minister if I am wrong on that, and I hope that he will say something when he winds up. Already, the accounts are out of date, and the Government must therefore amend the Standing Orders, either by Sessional Order or by changing Standing Orders, so that, as my hon. Friend the Member for Sevenoaks (Mr. Fallon) said, the arrangements for votes on account for the coming financial year can be moved from paragraph (2) to paragraph (3). However, as my hon. Friend points out, that leaves only 12 working days in which the accounts can be considered by the House, and the clock is ticking.
The Standing Orders before us are brand new. They were printed not last year, but as recently as 23 January. The Government seem to have mismanaged the business. They allowed Standing Orders to be printed a month ago, yet they are now inviting the House to amend Standing Orders.
Mr. Howarth: My point was that as we have so recently re-published the Standing Orders, the Government should have realised that they were due to present accounts to the House by a certain deadline--in the case of votes on account, by 6 February--and that to amend Standing Orders so soon after producing new Standing Orders was nonsensical, or at least a mismanagement of the arrangements. I am not sure how far the Government are responsible for the printing of the Standing Orders; I imagine that the Leader of the House has responsibility for that and must communicate with other Ministers.
I shall not labour the point, but it is worth noting that the documents before us are already out of time. Unless the Government do something quickly to change Standing Orders or by way of a Sessional Order, there is no way that the House can consider the documents that the Government have presented to us. My right hon. Friend the Member for East Devon is right to say that the change should have been made by way of a Sessional Order.
Mr. Howarth: I am sorry, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I thought that my right hon. Friend had suggested that that should have been done by means of a Sessional Order. We are being invited to consider a change to Standing Orders, a matter which the House should consider carefully, as Standing Orders are designed to maintain a certain continuity in the House and should not be changed at whim by Governments, willy-nilly.
There should be an element of continuity. The House should be invited to change Standing Orders only when there is a serious reason for doing so. In the Government's view, the introduction of deferred votes was sufficient reason for Standing Orders to be changed. We disagree, but I accept that the Government were entitled to do that. To change the Standing Order in respect of votes on account is wrong.
My second point relates to the accounts themselves and to the clarity thereof. My hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset said that they were not entirely illuminating, and he doubted whether anyone understood exactly what they meant. Without disputing the amounts involved, I invite the Minister to explain the accounts. I do not understand why, for example, when there is in the central Government supply estimates reference to the Postal Services Commission and the Royal Mint, there appears under the heading