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Points of Order

12.35 pm

Mr. Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Many Members on both sides of the House have been worried by a challenge to what we think are fundamental rights of parliamentarians. I refer to the predicament of the hon. Member for Arundel and South Downs (Mr. Flight). I have raised this as a point of order as it has seemed impossible to raise the matter in the House. I have spoken to your office and others have tried to raise the issue, as this is a matter that goes to the heart of parliamentarians' independence, representation and what we do in the House, yet it seems that it cannot be raised under the Orders and rules of the House. Surely there is something wrong when a matter that goes to the core of representation and the independence of parliamentarians cannot be raised in this manner?

David Winnick (Walsall, North) (Lab): Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. The Opposition will probably not believe me, but had this happened to one of my Labour colleagues, I would raise the matter at a meeting of the parliamentary Labour party and, if necessary, even though my own party was involved, with you. What concerns my hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman) and me, and surely many people, is that as a result of a speech made outside the House—so it is clearly not a matter of privilege—a Member of Parliament has been denied the opportunity of standing for his party in the general election—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker: Order.

David Winnick: Although I must concede, I suppose, that, as Speaker of the House of Commons, you cannot do anything about it, it seems to me that this is a threat to Members of Parliament. If it can happen to one Member, it can happen to other Members of Parliament. Although Opposition Members were heckling, I accept that it could even happen on this side. It is a fundamental element of parliamentary democracy that a Member of Parliament should be able to speak his mind without such action being taken, which has deprived the hon. Member for Arundel and South Downs (Mr. Flight)—with whose views, obviously, I totally disagree—of the opportunity of being in the House unless he stands as an independent, which, as a loyal Conservative, he does not wish to do. Can you make any comment that would help parliamentary democracy in this respect?

Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall) (LD): Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I wonder whether you have had an opportunity to consider the report of the Joint Committee on Parliamentary Privilege, which examined the whole issue of complaints of privilege. We understand that the precise circumstances in question might not come within the remit of the work done by that Committee, on which I served on the House's behalf, but anything that prevents a Member of Parliament from doing his duty to his constituents—which seems to be the case, setting aside the precise circumstances at the moment—reduces the validity of
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the position that the Member of Parliament holds. I wonder whether you have been able to take legal advice, or whether that might apply to this situation and the points already made?

Mr. Speaker: Let me try to answer those points of order. May I say that I have the highest regard for the hon. Member for Arundel and South Downs (Mr. Flight)? Ever since he came into the House, I have found him most courteous and a very good parliamentarian. May I say to the hon. Members for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman) and for Walsall, North (David Winnick) that I well remember the black days when there was mandatory reselection, and at that time I was a member of the parliamentary Labour party. It was very cruel that Members of Parliament had to leave their constituency and cease to be candidates for no good reason other than vindictiveness. I am not saying that that is the case with the hon. Member for Arundel and South Downs, but that was the case in the 1980s.

What I can say, as Speaker of the House, is that there is no question of privilege, and that this is not a matter that can be raised in the House. It must be raised with the individual parliamentary parties involved—with the 1922 Committee, and with the Conservative or Labour party. It is not a matter for the Chair. I am sorry that I can say no more than that.

Mr. Sheerman: Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I really must ask you for clarification. I know that you have been taking legal advice on this. Why can we not talk about such a fundamental issue in Parliament? It seems to us to bring the House into ridicule when we cannot discuss an attack on the fundamental right of a parliamentarian to speak his mind—in this case, someone with a proven record of being a loyal member of a party, who has done nothing wrong as far as any of us can see, although we may disagree with his views. Yet, because of some obscure, ancient rule, we in this House with 659 Members cannot discuss this matter.

Mr. Speaker: That is not the case. The hon. Gentleman raised the matter on a point of order, and what I told him was that it could not be discussed on a point of order. There are ways of raising the matter, however, and it can be debated in the House. The hon. Gentleman asked me to make a ruling. I am the custodian of the rules of the House, and there is nothing that I can do under the rules of the House; but to say that the matter cannot be discussed in Parliament is inaccurate.

The hon. Gentleman said that I had taken advice on the matter. Obviously I have taken advice, and it is good advice. The best advice that I myself can give now is that we should move on to the next business.


Climate Change

Mr. Michael Meacher, supported by Mr John Gummer and Norman Baker, presented a Bill to combat climate change by setting annual targets for the reduction of carbon dioxide emissions until 2050; to place duties on the Prime Minister regarding the
7 Apr 2005 : Column 1581
reporting on and achievement of those targets; to specify procedures to be followed if the targets are not met; to specify certain functions of and provide certain powers to Members of Parliament with regard to ensuring carbon dioxide emissions are reduced; to set sectoral reduction targets and targets for energy efficiency, the generation of energy from renewable sources, combined heat and power and microgeneration; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Monday 11 April, and to be printed [Bill 112].

Electricity (Microgeneration)

Alan Simpson, supported by Mr. Andrew Stunell, Mr. Peter Ainsworth, Dr. Desmond Turner, Sue Doughty, Joan Walley, Mr. David Drew, Norman Baker, Mr. Simon Thomas, Vera Baird, Mr. Kerry Pollard and Peter Bottomley, presented a Bill to promote microgeneration of electricity and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time tomorrow, and to be printed [Bill 113].

7 Apr 2005 : Column 1582

Orders of the Day

Serious Organised Crime and Police Bill

Lords amendments considered.

Mr. Speaker: I must draw the House's attention to the fact that privilege is involved in Lords amendments Nos. 5, 7, 8 and 57. If the House agrees to those amendments, I shall ensure that the appropriate entry is made in the Journal.

Clause 4

Establishment of Serious Organised Crime Agency

Lords amendment: No. 1.

12.42 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Caroline Flint): I beg to move, That this House agrees with the Lords in the said amendment.

Mr. Speaker: With this we may discuss Lords amendments Nos. 2 to 12, 41, 42 and 48 to 56.

Caroline Flint: It may help our deliberations if I say immediately that I shall be advising the House to accept all the amendments made in the other place. In most cases I shall urge the House to accept the amendments with alacrity, given that they were Government amendments. In one instance, however—the provisions on incitement to religious hatred—I shall, with heavy heart, invite the House to agree with the Lords amendments. We shall come to that in a while; suffice it to say that we agreed to remove the incitement provisions only in the interest of securing the passage of the rest of this important legislation.

All the amendments in this group relate to part 1. Clause 10 would have given the Home Secretary a power to direct the Serious Organised Crime Agency to set itself targets to measure how well its performance fulfilled any strategic priorities determined by the Home Secretary under clause 9. That would have added to SOCA's accountability. Nevertheless, both here and in the other place the Conservative party expressed concern about the perceived political influence of the Home Secretary over SOCA. In the interests of securing consensus on the SOCA measures, we agreed that clause 10 need not stand part of the Bill. After all, the SOCA board would itself want to establish a robust performance management and assessment regime.

12.45 pm

In the same vein, I commend the amendments to clauses 18 and 19. The amendments would also have the effect of reducing any alleged political interference in the affairs of SOCA. They remove the Home Secretary's ability to attach conditions to the payments of grants to SOCA, thereby giving the agency greater flexibility in apportioning its funds to meet the unique challenges of tackling serious organised crime in the 21st century. On the other hand, the amendment to clause 17 will ensure, reasonably, that were the Home Secretary to request Her Majesty's Inspectors of Constabulary to inspect SOCA wholly or partly in Scotland, he must consult Scottish Ministers before doing so.
7 Apr 2005 : Column 1583

Amendments Nos. 8 to 10 and 52 deal with the prosecution of offences investigated by SOCA and ensure that SOCA has access to the best possible legal advice during a criminal investigation and that the most appropriate prosecutor can be assigned to take a case to court. The new clauses inserted by the amendments extend the functions of the Revenue and Customs Prosecution Office, the new prosecution body that is to replace the Customs and Excise Prosecution Office, so that it may also institute and conduct criminal proceedings that arise out of a criminal investigation by SOCA. That will ensure, in line with the Attorney-General's wishes, that the skills and experience that have been built both within the Crown Prosecution Service and CEPO in prosecuting serious organised crime are available to SOCA. The new clauses also provide for the issue of joint directions by the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Director of Revenue and Customs Prosecutions, setting down criteria for determining which prosecutor will take responsibility for any given case initiated by SOCA. Amendments Nos. 10 and 52 make technical, consequential amendments.

Amendments Nos. 12, 48 to 50 and 53 to 56 are straightforward and deal with the area of discrimination legislation as applied to persons seconded to SOCA. The sentiments behind the amendments were brought to our attention by the Police Federation, to which we are grateful. The amendments bring into one place under a single clause the discrimination legislation to provide that SOCA is liable for any act done by it in relation to persons seconded to the agency, as well as anything done by such persons in the performance or purported performance of their functions. They also expressly provide that SOCA is liable for any discriminatory acts committed by any of its secondees, be they constables or other persons.

Amendments Nos. 41 and 42 give effect to the one recommendation in the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee report on part 1, namely, that the order-making power in clause 50 should be subject to the affirmative resolution procedure.

Amendment No. 51, which was necessary in light of the Road Safety Bill's not securing Royal Assent this Session, will allow SOCA to be included in the provisions that exempt emergency vehicles from speed limits where it is necessary in the pursuit of their functions. Section 87 of the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984, which makes that exemption, will not automatically extend to SOCA, as the agency will not be a police body pursuing police purposes. The provision includes safeguards limiting the exemption to SOCA staff who are carrying out the purposes of the agency and to those who are undergoing training to do so and covering only those vehicles driven by someone who has had training to drive at high speeds.

I hope that I have outlined the Government's thinking and given an explanation of the deliberations in the other place.

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