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Session 2001- 02
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Standing Committee Debates
Public Trustee (Liability and Fees) Bill

Public Trustee (Liability and Fees) Bill

Standing Committee A

Tuesday 9 July 2002

[Mr. John McWilliam in the Chair]

Public Trustee (Liability and Fees) Bill


10.30 am

The Chairman: Before I call the Minister to move the motion, I should inform hon. Members that, at a meeting of the Chairmen's Panel last week, the decision was taken that we should be firm with Standing Orders. The Room is slightly warm so, to avoid embarrassing anyone, I shall allow gentlemen to remove jackets if they wish.

The Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department (Ms Rosie Winterton): I beg to move,

    That, during proceedings on the Public Trustee (Liability and Fees) Bill [Lords], the Committee do meet on Tuesdays at half-past Ten o'clock and at half-past Four o'clock and on Thursdays at half-past Nine o'clock and at half-past Two o'clock.

It is a pleasure and great honour to serve under your chairmanship, Mr. McWilliam.

The sittings motion is straightforward, but perhaps I should point out that if our proceedings are not finished by 1 o'clock today, we will sit again on Thursday at 9.30 am. [Interruption.]

The Chairman: Order. The hon. Member for Crawley (Laura Moffatt) is not a member of the Committee. She was taken off the list of its members, so she should stay behind the Bar of the Committee.

Ms Winterton: The Committee is clearly already so popular that my hon. Friend the Member for Crawley has gatecrashed and is being escorted out by the Whip.

The Bill is short but important, as I said on Second Reading. Only one amendment has been tabled, and I tabled it. However, I am sure that hon. Members will raise issues on some of the substance of the Bill, and I stand ready to answer them.

Mr. William Cash (Stone): I want to oppose the motion. We already know about the amendment and that there are no other amendments. We had a full discussion on Second Reading, when there were no inherent objections to the Bill. Now, we have an increasing number of knives and programme resolutions. The time of the House is precious, and it seems thoroughly unfortunate merely to spend time on the issues of principle in the Bill, given that they have been thoroughly discussed.

I am sure that other Opposition Members want to get on with the business, as I do, especially as we know the score. Many Bills are extremely controversial and require more time than they are given. As there is agreement across the House on the Bill in the interests of the public, two Committee sittings on it are not needed.

I propose to divide the Committee on that point, and I need say no more.

Mr. Graham Allen (Nottingham, North): I am taken aback at this turn of events. If I understand the hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) correctly, the

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Opposition are requesting less time rather than more. I am sure that he would tell me if I were wrong. My hon. Friend the Member for Houghton and Washington, East (Mr. Kemp) thought long and hard about the sittings motion. He and his colleagues in the Whips Office would be distraught were it not to be approved.

Mr. Fraser Kemp (Houghton and Washington, East) indicated assent.

Mr. Allen: My hon. Friend agrees. No doubt, my hon. Friend the Minister also agrees that it would be a complete waste of time to have a protracted debate on the sittings motion. Indeed, the Government might lose the vote on it.

Mr. Cash: There will be no need for a protracted debate if the hon. Gentleman stops filibustering.

Mr. Allen: I am sorry, but I did not catch the end—

The Chairman: Order. The hon. Member for Stone must withdraw his last word. The hon. Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. Allen) is not filibustering; if he were, I would stop him.

Mr. Cash: I would be delighted to withdraw the word ''filibustering''. Instead, I shall say that the hon. Gentleman was protracting the discussion.

Mr. Allen: I understand your strictures, Mr. McWilliam. I have known the hon. Member for Stone over many years, and I particularly remember his participation in the Maastricht debates. I shall not go into that now, because we are not meant to, but one would have been completely wrong to accuse the hon. Gentleman of filibustering during those debates. He made some extremely positive contributions, which hon. Members on both sides of the House greatly appreciated.

It is strange that the Opposition are saying that the sittings motion gives us too much time. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Leyton and Wanstead (Harry Cohen) agrees that Oppositions traditionally say that we do not have enough time to debate matters.

I am not a lawyer, although several Committee members are distinguished lawyers. My hon. Friend the Minister has impressed everyone with her knowledge, and she is now very much on top of her job, having come new to her brief. As a mere mortal, however, I should clarify why those of us who are not lawyers need certain matters explained.

Mr. John Burnett (Torridge and West Devon): I welcome you, Mr. McWilliam. I have sat before most Chairmen, but this is my first time with you.

I should tell the hon. Member for Nottingham, North that I am a lawyer, although I do not practise at present. I agree, however, that some matters in the Bill need exploration, particularly future funding and the way in which the Government will conduct the catch-up of funding. Significant probing will be required in that department.

Mr. Allen rose—

The Chairman: Order. Before the hon. Gentleman resumes, I should say that he was drifting slightly wide. The question before us is how long we should sit,

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not how many lawyers are present, or how good or bad lawyers are.

Mr. Allen: Indeed. I take those strictures to heart. I was simply noting that most Committee members, including the Minister and, indeed, you, Mr. McWilliam, would quickly cotton on to arcane legalistic concepts. However, ordinary laymen such as me will require a little more explanation. I shall need the hon. Member for Stone to elaborate on his position. I am sure that he will cut straight to the chase, because he is a distinguished parliamentarian, who is experienced in legal matters. Indeed, we all listen to him on matters pertaining to Europe. However, he will put things so succinctly that people such as me, who are, unfortunately, not versed in the law, will soon be lost.

Mr. Gordon Marsden (Blackpool, South): Does my hon. Friend agree that the Opposition spokesman has the rare virtue of having had a distinguished legal training and being able to cut to the chase, rather than spinning things out on a word-per-hour basis?

Mr. Allen: Absolutely. To return to my earlier point, those of us who listened intently to the hon. Member for Stone throughout the Maastricht process found that every word from his lips was as a piece of gold before the parliamentary swine that we were. To use another jewellery analogy, it was wonderful to listen to those gems. I hope that he does not mind me reminding him of the fact that he even embarrassed his own Government during that process.

Mr. Stephen O'Brien (Eddisbury): I am listening with a mixture of fascination and consternation. Since he left the Government, the hon. Gentleman has created a creditable reputation for himself in the House by demonstrating the genuine need to balance the Executive and the power of Parliament in scrutinising legislation. I have read his writings to date, and one of the themes that I have picked up is his belief that where there is consensus and a lack of controversy, Parliament should not waste its time on political ping-pong and game fighting. His credibility is not enhanced by his current speech, and I hope that he will quickly conclude so that we can get on with the real business of scrutinising the Bill.

Mr. Allen: Nothing would give me greater pleasure than to get on to the scrutiny of the Bill. The intention is that time should be allowed for two sittings. That does not mean that we have to use two. Indeed, I hope that rather than compressing the time—

Mr. O'Brien: See how it goes.

Mr. Allen: The hon. Gentleman says from a sedentary position that we should see how it goes. If we pass the motion, we shall not be able to see how it goes, because we shall guillotine our discussion.

The Chairman: Order. Whatever happens to the motion, it does not stop discussion of the Bill, nor does it guillotine it.

Harry Cohen (Leyton and Wanstead): I am listening with interest to the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, North about the length of the sitting and whether we have a second sitting. He mentioned the lawyers on the Committee. Some of

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them speak quickly and to the point, although on other occasions they speak in a sort of lawyer jargon—not a loya jurgah, as in Afghanistan—that is difficult for non-lawyer members of the Committee to follow.

The Chairman: Order. Standing Orders are clear; interventions should be just that. The hon. Gentleman was developing a speech.

Mr. Allen: I was just becoming fascinated by my hon. Friend's remarks. I hope that he will catch your eye later, Mr. McWilliam. Given the assurances that have been received via nods and winks on the Committee, I want to finish with a question to the Minister. One complication for a layman such as me is that I do not know the difference between the Public Trustee and the Official Solicitor. I have been in communication with the Minister about the matter and I hope that she will take an opportunity during the discussion on procedure to enlighten me. Having had your assurances about the Standing Orders being tightly enforced, Mr. McWilliam, I welcome you to the Chair and wish all Committee members a positive and constructive debate.

Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr. McWilliam. We are now in the thirteenth minute of consideration of the sittings motion and the Government have still not secured a majority—they probably will not. However, it is in the interest of the Committee to make progress on the Bill, which, although brief, is important. I suggest that we proceed.

Question put:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 6, Noes 4.

Division No. 1]

Allen, Mr. Graham Cohen, Harry Efford, Clive
Kemp, Mr. Fraser Marsden, Mr. Gordon Winterton, Ms Rosie

Baron, Mr. John Cash, Mr. William
Hoban, Mr. Mark O'Brien, Mr. Stephen

Question accordingly agreed to.


    That, during proceedings on the Public Trustee (Liability and Fees) Bill [Lords], the Committee do meet on Tuesdays at half-past Ten o'clock and at half-past Four o'clock and on Thursdays at half-past Nine o'clock and at half-past Two o'clock.

Clauses 1 and 2 ordered to stand part of the Bill.


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Prepared 9 July 2002