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Neither the Scottish Parliament nor the Welsh Assembly have to navigate around the fact that, in
September, we have the conferences for the TUC, the Liberal Democrats, the Labour party and then the Conservative party. Were it not for those conferences, it would be relatively simple for us to come back in September, and stay back. However, they remain a difficulty.
Meanwhile, I hope that the discussions taking place will make progress in determining whether the party conferences, which are very expensive for all the parties, can be held at different times of the year. The Labour party conference used to meet at other dates, so September is not set in stone. However, changing dates would take a long time to achieve, as conference venues are booked for years ahead. Following the recommendation from the previous Modernisation Committee, I have introduced having written questions and written ministerial statements in September. If the House approves it, the relevant motion before us will strengthen that system for the future.
Robert Key (Salisbury) (Con): Does the Leader of the House agree that another feature that has evolved in very recent years is the increasing regularity with which Select Committees meet and produce reports in September? For example, I am a member of the Defence Committee, and we went on four trips in September to take evidence in the UK. That was not done in previous years. September gives Select Committees a clear run to do serious work.
Mr. Straw: I do accept that. Whether or not we sit in September, we need to remind the public of the incontrovertible evidence that this House sits for longer than any other European Parliament, apart from Greece. We sit for longer than most comparable Commonwealth Parliaments, and for longer hours.
Mr. Winnick: The argument is not that we sit for shorter periods than other Parliaments. We probably sit for as long, or longer. The crux of the matter for the House to decide tonightand it seems that those of us who favour September sittings are in the minorityis that we should not be away on what is called a recess for 12 weeks, or a quarter of the year. In my view, and in the view of those who agree with me, that is totally unacceptable.
Mr. Straw: I understand that that is the crux of the matter, and it is why I strongly supported September sittings when they were first proposed. However, they did not work out as intended. Other factors have intervened, including the party conferences. Furthermore, I was determined that the House should decide the matter on a free vote and that it should not be imposed by the Government, so I hope that my hon. Friend will concede that point. It is important to establish that principle. I promise that before the end of this Parliament the Modernisation Committee will review progress and the further experience of not sitting in September and will make any further recommendations that it deems fit.
Two matters gave rise to rather more debate than I thought they would. The first was in respect of coroners proceedings and the sub judice rule. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Maples) and to my hon. Friend the Member for
Northampton, North (Ms Keeble) for their remarks and to the Procedure Committee, chaired by the right hon. Member for East Yorkshire (Mr. Knight). These matters are tricky, because we do not want to pre-empt or prejudice court proceedings, but I accept what the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon said: there is a real difference between civil and criminal proceedings. I also accept the case made by my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North that delays can sometimes be unconscionable and mean that a Member who is desperate properly to represent the concerns of his or her constituent is unable to do so in the very place designed for that purposethe House of Commons.
My hon. Friend asked how the new rules will work. They will be a matter for the Chair, operating under the new Standing Orders and the guidance proposed by the Table Office. However, as I said in the explanatory memorandum,
delay in inquest proceedings should be a factor for the Speaker in deciding whether to exercise his discretion.
Mr. Maples: I think that those who discussed the sub judice question during the debate agreed that we would like to see how the system works from now on and whether it will be necessary to revisit it. Can the Leader of the House devise a way for him to be kept informed when questions or issues in Select Committees or elsewhere are ruled out of order as sub judice? Perhaps in a years time we could look at the question again to decide whether it is necessary to amend the rule.
Mr. Speaker, we are making decisions today about giving you wider discretion to set the length of speeches in popular debates. The hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon said that consideration should be given to setting rules for the length of Ministers opening and closing speeches in debates, with time added for interventions. I shall discuss the suggestion with colleagues, but personally I think that there is much to be said for it, as it would ensure that debates go with a better zip than some do at present. However, as I said to the hon. Gentleman earlier, it is of profound importance to the House that Members on both sides should be able to intervene in everybodys speeches, but above all in a Ministers speech, to put the Minister on the spot
Miss Widdecombe: I am grateful to the Leader of the House for giving way at such an opportune moment. I am about to call a Division on an issue that is, I suspect, doomed to failure, so if the restriction of Back-Bench speeches to as little as three minuteswhich could happenis seen to give rise to problems, will the right hon. Gentleman undertake to carry out a review and return to the House on the matter?
Mr. Straw: Yes is my answer to that intervention. The right hon. Lady makes a point about the importance of interventions on Ministers. I spent many happy hours when in opposition, sitting on the Back Benches waiting to be called to speak in debates, and I always used to think that three minutes was better than no minutes. She may not agree and there may well have been people on the other side who thought that no minutes were, for me, better than three!
That this House welcomes the First Report from the Select Committee on Modernisation of the House of Commons on the Legislative Process (HC 1097); approves in particular the proposals for the committal of bills to committees with powers to take evidence to become the normal practice for programmed government bills which start in this House; agrees that this be achieved by Standing Orders through the programming process, with such committees having freedom to decide how many evidence sessions should be held; agrees that the notice period for amendments to bills to be selected for debate in standing committee should, subject to the discretion of the Chair, be extended from two days to three days; supports the renaming of the various kinds of standing committee along the lines proposed by the Committee; and endorses the proposals for the gradual development of improved documentation and explanatory processes relating to bills.
That the following repeals of Standing Orders, new Standing Orders, and amendments to Standing Orders be made with effect from the start of the next Session of Parliament; and that references to standing committees in other orders and resolutions of this House be construed accordingly:
(i) Standing Orders repealed
Standing Order No. 84 (Constitution of standing committees)
Standing Order No. 91 (Special standing committees)
Standing Order No. 101 (Scottish Standing Committees)
(ii) New Standing Orders
Public bill committees
A. (1) A public bill committee shall be appointed for the consideration of each bill committed to such a committee, subject to paragraphs (4) and (5).
(2) A public bill committee to which a bill is, or certain provisions of a bill are, committed by means of a programme order under Standing Order No. 83A (Programming motions) shall have the power to send for persons, papers and records.
(3) A public bill committee given the power (under paragraph (2) of this order or paragraph (2)(b) of Standing Order No. 63 (Committal of bills not subject to a programme order)) to send for persons, papers and records may hear oral evidence at such meetings as the committee may appoint, and, unless the committee otherwise orders, all such evidence shall be given in public. The oral evidence shall be printed in the official report of the committees debates and the committee shall have power to report written evidence to the House as if it were a select committee.
(4) A Scottish public bill committee shall be appointed for the consideration of
(a) each bill certified by the Speaker as relating exclusively to Scotland and committed to a public bill committee, and
(b) each bill committed to a Scottish public bill committee.
(5) The Committee of Selection may not nominate a public bill committee in respect of a private Members bill while proceedings in another public bill committee on a private Members bill are still active, unless notice of a motion in support of that nomination has been tabled by a Minister of the Crown:
Provided that, if a private Member in charge of a bill for which a public bill committee has been nominated informs the Committee of Selection that he does not intend for the time being to proceed with the committee stage of his bill, the committee may nominate another public bill committee; but in such cases the first public bill committee may not meet until the second public bill committee has concluded its proceedings.
B. The following committees shall be general committees:
(a) second reading committees;
(b) public bill committees;
(c) committees to consider bills on report;
(d) the Scottish Grand Committee;
(e) the Welsh Grand Committee;
(f) the Northern Ireland Grand Committee;
(g) the Regional Affairs Committee;
(h) Delegated Legislation Committees;
(i) the European Standing Committees..
(iii) Amendments to Standing Orders
Standing Order No. 14 (Arrangement of public business):
Leave out line 81 and insert public bill committee.
Standing Order No. 63 (Committal of bills):
Title, at end add not subject to a programme order.
Line 6, after motion insert (a).
Line 7, leave out or to a special standing committee.
Line 10, after Commons, insert ; or
(b) to give a public bill committee to which a bill has been committed under this order the power to send for persons, papers and records.
Standing Order No. 80A (Carry-over of bills):
Line 30, after bill insert and any evidence received by the committee.
Standing Order No. 83A (Programming of bills):
Line 9, at end insert new paragraph:
(2A) A programme motion may not disapply paragraph (2) of Standing Order No. A (Public bill committees)..
Standing Order No. 83C (Programming sub-committees):
Line 63, at end add
Provided that the Chairman may allow a sitting at which oral evidence is heard to continue for up to a quarter of an hour beyond the time provided for in the resolution..
Standing Order No. 86 (Nomination of standing committees):
Line 29, at end add
(iii) for the consideration of any bill a draft of which, or of parts of which, has been considered by a committee of this House, the Committee of Selection shall treat a Members membership of that committee as one of the qualifications to which it shall have regard..
Standing Order No. 88 (Meetings of standing committees):
Line 6, after sitting insert and subject to the proviso in paragraph (5) of Standing Order No. A (Public bill committees).
Standing Order No. 90 (Second reading committees):
Line 26, leave out paragraph (3).
Standing Order No. 92 (Consideration on report of certain bills by a standing committee):
Line 4, leave out standing committee and insert committee to consider bills on report.
Standing Order No. 97 (Scottish Grand Committee (bills in relation to their principle)):
Line 46, leave out Standing Committee (or to a special standing committee) and insert public bill committee.
Leave out line 53 and insert public bill committee.
Standing Order No. 117 (Standing Committee on Regional Affairs):
Leave out title and insert Regional Affairs Committee.
Line 2, leave out Standing Committee on Regional Affairs and insert Regional Affairs Committee.
Standing Order No. 118 (Standing Committees on Delegated Legislation):
Leave out title and insert Delegated Legislation Committees.
Line 2, leave out Standing Committees on Delegated Legislation and insert Delegated Legislation Committees.
Line 5, at end insert ; and those instruments shall be distributed among the committees by the Speaker..
Line 15, leave out Standing Committee on Delegated Legislation and insert Delegated Legislation Committee.
Standing Order No. 161 (Duties of Serjeant at Arms with respect to the public):
Line 14, leave out select and standing.
(iv) Other amendments to Standing Orders relating to nomenclature
Leave out standing and insert public bill in the following Standing Orders, as indicated:
No. 12 (House not to sit on certain Fridays), line 22;
No. 63 (Committal of bills), lines 4, 15 and 30;
No. 73 (Report of bills committed to standing committees), the title and line 4;
No. 76 (Debate on bill reported from standing committee), the title and line 1;
No. 80A (Carry-over of bills), lines 41, 43, 51 and 54;
No. 83A (Programming of bills), lines 19, 25 and 30;
No. 83C (Programming sub-committees), lines 2 and 51;
No. 83D (Programme orders: conclusion of proceedings in standing committee or in committee of the whole House), the title and line 2;
No. 86 (Nomination of standing committees), line 22; and
No. 120 (Business sub-committees), line 2.
Leave out standing and insert general in the following Standing Orders, as indicated:
No. 85 (Chairmen of standing committees), the title and lines 1, 7, 13, 15 and 20;
No. 86 (Nomination of standing committees), the title and line 9;
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