Standing Committee A
Thursday 27 June 2002
[Mr. George Stevenson in the Chair]
Clauses 85 to 91 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Short title, commencement and extent
Amendment made: No. 259, in page 86, line 25, leave out 'sections 84,' and insert '—
(a) section 84, the entries in Schedule 8 relating to the Housing Act 1985 (c.68), the Housing Act 1988 (c.50), paragraphs 51 and 59 of Schedule 27 to the Greater London Authority Act 1999 (c.29) and paragraph 74 of Schedule 6 to the Criminal Justice and Police Act 2001 (c.16) and section 91(2) (so far as relating to those entries); and
(b) sections'.—[Mr. Denham.]
Amendment proposed: No. 270, in page 87, line 12, leave out subsection (11).—[Mr. Denham.]
Mr. Nick Hawkins (Surrey Heath): Given the importance of the amendment, I am surprised that the Minister should have moved it formally. My hon. Friend the Member for South-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Paice) and I cannot understand why the Government want to delete the words
''Nothing in this Act shall impose any charge on the people or on public funds, or vary the amount or incidence of or otherwise alter any such charge in any manner, or affect the assessment, levying, administration or application of any money raised by any such charge.''
They are a splendid part of the Bill. Do the Government have a sinister plan to impose new charges? Why remove those helpful words under subsection (11)? Surely, such a provision should be contained in all Acts of Parliament. Naturally, we cannot ensure that all legislation does not impose charges on the public or on public funds, but the subsection is useful and something much to be encouraged, especially given that it has been printed in bold. I should be interested to hear the Minister's explanation of why it is being removed.
The Chairman: As always, the hon. Member, being a quick-witted parliamentarian, has outwitted the Chair. I am advised that the amendment is not debatable. It is purely a technicality. The hon. Gentleman has had a chance to make his point, but I cannot allow a debate on the matter.
Mr. Boris Johnson (Henley): On a point of order, Mr. Stevenson. Will you explain to the Committee why you and your advisers have deemed the matter to be a technicality when it seems to be of such material interest to the people of this country, who will be called on, if the provision is excised from the Bill, to pay for the intrusive measures envisaged?
The Chairman: I am advised that all such Bills have that provision, which is designed to protect the interests of Members of the House of Commons so that Members of the other place will not be able to usurp their authority.
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Mr. George Osborne (Tatton): Further to that point of order, Mr. Stevenson. Does that mean that the removal of the provision allows Members of the House of Lords to use that authority?
The Chairman: I am sure that the Clerk will advise me accordingly in a few moments. Hon. Members can either allow me to stand on my feet and talk until he does so—[Laughter.] Order. I am advised that the matter is a technicality. Nothing involved is debatable in the normal conduct of Committee. I shall leave it at that. I hope that hon. Members will accept that ruling.
Mrs. Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham): On a point of order, Mr. Stevenson. Thank you for having recognised me. I understand what you said for the Committee's edification and to educate those of us who have not come across the provision before. However, when a provision such as subsection (11) is deleted, does the fact that that affords immunity to the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Exchequer itself mean that we are avoiding discussing a pertinent and financial measure in the Bill that limits the Committee's power of scrutiny? The substance of the subsection is that the Bill will not impose a charge on the people or public funds. Forgive me if I am wrong, but I thought that the raison d'ętre of the House was for Members to be voted in, extract money through taxation and deploy that money for the benefit of citizens of the United Kingdom. Is it not, therefore, important constitutionally that the deletion of a provision that affords immunity to the public purse should not be subject to detailed scrutiny by the Committee? I should be most grateful for your advice. I apologise to Committee members for having delayed the Committee, but that is an important point, and we would all benefit from your advice and wisdom.
The Chairman: The hon. Lady is right. As I anticipated, the Clerk has found the relative procedural guidance, which I shall quote. My original ruling was not quite correct. Debate is possible, but:
''Where the Lords have inserted the privilege disclaimer as the last subsection of the last clause of a bill—
which is exactly what we are debating—
''the scope of debate on the amendment to remove it is confined to the question of whether the Commons should maintain their claim of financial privilege.''
It does not include the debate that has since been pursued. It is perfectly in order for hon. Members to debate whether the Commons should maintain its claim to financial privilege, but not to debate as hon. Members have sought to debate so far. I hope that that clears matters up.
Mrs. Gillan: I am most grateful that we have taken the time for you and the Clerk to arrive at a judgment, Mr. Stevenson. It gives me great satisfaction, because it assures me that my role as a parliamentarian in this place has not been diminished.
The Chairman: It gives the hon. Lady great satisfaction; it gave me some relief.
Mr. Hawkins: I am grateful for your ruling and explanation, Mr. Stevenson. I am pleased that the Clerk was able to elucidate the matter for all Members of the Committee.
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Although I did not know it, what I said referred to the Commons maintaining its privileges. Everything that I said before you ruled that we were not allowed to debate the subject was germane to that point. I therefore hope that it is proper for me to say, on behalf of Her Majesty's loyal Opposition, that I strongly feel that the House of Commons needs to maintain its financial privileges. I am puzzled, because I thought that subsection (11) was doing just that. I am therefore now even more concerned that the Government are seeking to take it out. I have no doubt that my hon. Friends on the Back Benches, who were trying to join me in debating the matter but were only able to do so on points of order, will want to follow that up.
Mr. Johnson: I concur heartily with what my hon. Friend says. If we were sent to this place for any purpose, it was to vindicate the right of this House to determine taxes and public expenditure. It is absolutely outrageous that some 400 years after—what was his name—Charles I tried to get away with levying ship money without the scrutiny of Parliament, this pair of Ministers should try to excise from the Bill the Committee's right to scrutinise and protect the public purse. That is our fundamental purpose in being sent by the electors to the House and to this Committee Room. I feel sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Tatton (Mr. Osborne) will want to add to what I have said in a very vociferous manner.
The Chairman: I fear that we may be getting into a rather convoluted and perhaps unimportant debate that goes back centuries. As I have mentioned, there is a provision for debate, but it is up to hon. Members to decide whether to discuss the matter, as I am advised that the amendment is a pure technicality, and that there is no problem with it. We could waste—I use the word advisedly—quite a bit of time debating it, but it has no real effect and in no way compromises the House of Commons' privileges. This is a House of Lords Bill, and as such the amendment and the disclaimer in subsection (11) are technicalities.
Mrs. Gillan: This could be one of the few times that I shall speak during the Committee, so I should like to take the opportunity to thank you and your colleagues in the Chair for your first-class chairmanship of the proceedings, Mr. Stevenson.
The amendment may be a technicality, but it concerns money and the public purse, and some of our primary functions in this House relate to those matters. On many occasions, it is quite sufficient for a Minister to move an amendment formally and not speak to it, but I hope that the Minister will delve deep into his file and find a small explanatory note that will help to put some flesh on the bones of the amendment. If he does not, I shall be rather distressed, as I think that any amendment, technical or otherwise, to a Bill as important as this should be explained by the Government. We are not under great time pressure; we have made good progress on the Bill, and there has been much co-operation from all parties. This is an opportunity for the Minister to speak one or two sentences and enlighten the Committee.
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Having said that, it has been a pleasure to serve on the Committee, and I hope that the Bill is a little finer for the scrutiny that you have given it, Mr. Stevenson.
The Chairman: I am always extremely grateful to hon. Members for their kind remarks, guidance, patience and forbearance. Sitting in this Chair is sometimes a difficult job, although it is a privilege for all who do so. I also have a responsibility to ensure that the Committee's business is conducted. I accept the advice that I have been given and therefore rule that the amendment is not about money but is a procedural device to avoid the impression that the other place has authorised expenditure—something that only the House of Commons can do.
Amendment agreed to.
Clause 92, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Minor and Consequential Amendments