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Sir Patrick Cormack:
I entirely agree. As a fellow Select Committee Chairman, I would never, ever use a casting vote to force a measure through. Indeed, that is against the tradition of the Chair. As you know, Mr. Deputy Speaker, if there is a tie in a vote in the House and you are in the Chair, you must vote to preserve the status quo, not to bring in innovation. The rules oblige you to do that, they oblige Mr. Speaker to do that, and they oblige those of us who chair Committees as members of
the Speakers Panel to do that. I came very close to doing it on one occasion, but there was a majority of one, so I did not have to.
Those are the rules; yet what the Leader of the House has done in this instance is use a casting vote in a partisan manner, then reply to the report, and thenpiling Pelion on Ossadecide that we can have only one and a half hours in which to discuss this topic. It really is a disgrace.
Mr. Curry: Has it occurred to my hon. Friend that if the Prime Minister were aware of the timetables being imposed today, he would be very cross indeed? When he became Prime Minister, did he not spell out the extent to which the House would be given more freedom and he would take more notice of the House? Is it not inconceivable that the Prime Minister knows about this, and should not the Leader of the House telephone him and be told to stop it?
Sir Patrick Cormack: Yes, and I am happy to speak for long enough to allow the Leader of the House to go and make that telephone call. It would be right for her to do so, because, as my right hon. Friend correctly reminds the House, when the Prime Minister assumed office in June last year17 June, if my memory serves me correctly, although it seems much longerhe said that he wanted to return Parliament to the centre of national life, and that he wanted Parliament to have a special role. Well, this does not give Parliament a special role. We have one and a half hours, Mr. Deputy Speaker, in which to discuss issues that affect, in so many minute particulars, every one of your constituents and every one of mine.
This will change the balance of representation. The hybridity of the Committees will change the nature of parliamentary Committees. How can we advance the argumentsI am rightly not allowed to advance them now, despite the fact that I have the time to do so, I would like to do so and I think that I could do sowhen the debate is held, because in the one and a half hours available none of us will have the time to develop and deploy them? I hope that even at this stage and even after several offersthis is offer number five or sixthe Leader of the House or her deputy will get to that Dispatch Box to say, Look, you have made your point. It is sensible that the House should have a little more time, and we are going to give you some. Even another hour would be something.
Mr. Bone: I do not know whether my hon. Friend is being unfair to the Leader of the House and the Deputy Leader of the House. Is it not normal that these matters are discussed by the usual channels and an agreement is reached? I wonder whether one of the super-glued duo could tell us whether that was the case.
Sir Patrick Cormack:
When someone talks of the usual channels, I am always reminded of Tony Benn, who said that they were the most polluted waterways in Europe. I would have hoped that the usual channels would have been flushed out for this purpose and that a proper sitting down to a discussion would have taken place. However, I infer from the remarks made by the shadow Leader of the House that no proper offer was made. She made some extremely pertinent points both
in her speech today and last week. I know that, in making these points, I carry her with me, because she sits on the Modernisation Committee and saw at first hand how this was pushed through on a casting vote. Yet, she was not asked whether an hour and a half would do or whether she would like two and half hours or three hours. When it is a House of Commons matter, not a party political one, then that, above all times, is when consultation should be undertaken.
Sir Nicholas Winterton: May I raise with my hon. Friend an important matter that emanated from an intervention by the hon. Member for Thurrock (Andrew Mackinlay)? He indicated that few Members to whom he had spoken knew the content of the Modernisation Committees report. Is it not appropriate that the House as a whole should be made more acquainted with the dramatic changes proposed in respect of Select Committees and their membership prior to the Houses reaching a decision following a debate? This matter should be brought to the attention of the whole House before we have a debate on the individual motions.
Sir Patrick Cormack: It would be a wonder to behold if every Member had read a report before it is debated. The hon. Member for Thurrock (Andrew Mackinlay) has clearly gone to phone the Prime Minister, but the point he made a few minutes ago obviously came about because he had discovered that his colleagues had not known about this proposal. To be fair, if we had met Conservative colleagues in the Tea Room, we would have probably found a similar degree of ignorance as to whether this could conceivably be done in our nameit is being done in our name.
Mr. Greg Knight: A few moments ago, my hon. Friend referred rather disparagingly to the usual channels. When the previous Conservative Government sought to change the procedures in this placethe subsequent reforms became known as the Jopling reformsI was asked by the then Prime Minister, Sir John Major, to negotiate with the official Opposition. My instructions were, If the Labour party does not like it, drop it. What is offensive about what we are being asked to do today is that the proposals do not come from a unanimous and united Modernisation Committee; they come from a Committee in which they were decided on the Chairmans casting vote.
Sir Patrick Cormack: Absolutely. Of course, I withdraw, without reservation and with humble apology, any aspersion that my right hon. Friend might have thought I cast on his record as deputy Chief Whip. I was not casting any such aspersion; I was merely citing one of Tony Benns more hilarious utterances. I must remind my right hon. Friend that in the brief time when, sadly, he was absent from our company, I was part of the usual channels for a short periodthree years, in factand, thus, I endorse absolutely what he says. I know that his remark about the Jopling proposals was true; John Major tried to operate on the basis of consensus, and to a large degree he succeeded in that regard. I also know that Select Committee reports are all the more powerful when they have cross-party support and when they are unanimous. I take great pride in the fact that my Select Committees reports have been unanimous when we have been reporting on crucial issues
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): Order. The hon. Gentleman has been addressing the House for 45 minutes without there being a need for a touch on the tiller. Perhaps that moment has now arrived, because I detect a certain amount of repetition and a tapping into the seam of history, and I think I ought to direct him back to the substance of the procedural motion before the House.
Sir Patrick Cormack: Of course, from time to time, we are all led astray, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but when one is led astray by the Chairman of the Procedure Committee, perhaps the temptation is forgivable
I have been trying reasonably hard to relate my remarks to this appallingly short space of time that we are being given to debate these crucial issues, and I think that I have generally done so accurately.
Mr. Harper: I listened carefully to Mr. Deputy Speakers admonition, so this relates directly to the time available for this debate. The only Member to raise the issue of the potential costs of the measures was my right hon. Friend the shadow Leader of the House. We are facing great economic challenges, and the memorandum prepared by the Management Board for the House shows that the cost of the proposals will be at least £1.3 million. The House needs to be able, in its time-honoured tradition of debating expenditure, to examine the costs of the proposals in detail, and we are not going to be given the time to do so under this business motion.
Sir Patrick Cormack: This, of course, relates to the business motion. We are being allowed 180 minutes, which works out at £100,000 or so a minutethey are quite expensive minutes, even for this Government.
Bob Spink: Has the hon. Gentleman made any estimate of how much of the 90 minutes being given to the debate on regional Select Committees would be needed to discuss and consider the excellent amendments tabled by the Liberal Democrats? They propose to add London to the list of relevant regions, and to ensure that members of such Committees are drawn from those
who represent constituencies within the relevant region.
That is an eminently sensible suggestion. An amendment has also been tabled by the hon. Member for Thurrock (Andrew Mackinlay), who proposes to exclude councillors from these meetings, and I am sure he will be joined by Members from both sides of the House, including myself, on that.
Sir Patrick Cormack:
The hon. Gentleman is right about all those amendments. It is a red letter day indeed when I can say that all the amendments tabled by the Liberal Democrats have my support, but I think that is the case today on this parliamentary mattermost of their amendments certainly have my support. He rightly says that the Members moving amendments of such
substance and import ought to have a proper opportunity to explain them. Five minutes, or even the extra time that the hon. Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey might take, is not very long. The hon. Member for Thurrock would certainly be limited to five minutes to discuss his amendment, which is of great substance and merits a full discussion on the Floor of this House.
Mr. Heath: I certainly welcome the hon. Gentleman into our big tent. Let me bring him back to the point that he was making until he was perhaps led astray by his colleague. We need the time in the debate to try to establish consensus. Reforms of parliamentary structures have to be built on consensus; otherwise they cannot endure. A reform based on the simple majority of one party in defiance of the views of every other party in the House will not endure. That is a significant point, I think.
Sir Patrick Cormack: It is a very significant point. It is right that we ought to have far longer than an hour and a half to discuss such a crucial issue. It is a departure from parliamentary traditions. We have always tried, when altering our procedures, to do so on the basis of a large degree of consensus, if not total unanimity. To tease out from the Government why they are trying to do things might even conceivablyalthough it is highly unlikelyconvert some to their point of view. However, there is not the time for conversion. Even Paul needed the journey to Damascus
Sir Patrick Cormack: Obviously, I am always obedient to the Chair. I was merely saying that debating these matters requires time, and we are discussing the time that we are being allocated. Before you came to the Chair, Mr. Deputy Speakerso I cannot blame you for not knowing this I made the point that it is a travesty of parliamentary procedure that we have until 7 oclock to discuss the timing and then only an hour and a half to discuss the substance. It is my contention
Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. Now I know that the hon. Gentleman is being repetitious, because he has made that point before. The Chair may be put in the position of having to judge for how long this debate should go on, and one factor in that is how many hon. Members are seeking to catch the eye of the Chair. I drop that hint to the hon. Gentleman.
Sir Patrick Cormack: I have taken many interventions. I shall not repeat a single word that I have said. I was only doing so out of charity given the fact, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that you were not in the Chair when I made that point.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend; he is being extremely generous in giving way. With his great experience of this place, will he help a junior Member by explaining to me why the Government, in the past few days, have tried to sneak this programme motion
through at the end of business? It is only because hon. Members have objected to it that we are having a debate on it today.
Sir Patrick Cormack: That is a very good point. Would that I could see into the mind of Peckham, but I cannot. I do not know why the Leader of the House did it. To try to smuggle something through like that reminds me of a story in one of my favourite childhood books, Mr. Midshipman Easy, where the maid gave birth to a child and tried to hide it on the basis that it was only a little one. Perhaps the Leader of the House was trying to hide the motion on the basis that it was only a little one.
The issues are clear, and an hour and a half should be enough to discuss them.[ Official Report, 6 November 2008; Vol. 482, c. 364.]
Sir Patrick Cormack: The issues are clear. Well, they are not clear. That has been brought out by intervention after intervention, perhaps most pertinently by the hon. Member for Thurrock, who referred to the council co-option point and the hybridity of the Committees, as I have called it. I shall not repeat myself, but I said earlier that the Leader of the House or her deputy must have the opportunity to explain with clarity what all this is about. I want to be able to tell my constituents what it is about. I want to tell my constituents what will happen if I am drafted to a Committee in the north-east and am therefore unable to look after the interests of the west midlands. That is the sort of thing that I want to discuss in the hour and a half that we will have.
Mr. Greg Hands (Hammersmith and Fulham) (Con): May I take my hon. Friend back to a point raised earlier by my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Bone) about the rights and opportunities for new Back Benchers to participate in these debates? I think that that is being severely curtailed.
If people see the Commons as a narrow and self-serving elite...then the Commons has no legitimacy.
Sir Patrick Cormack: I am always grateful to have my attention drawn to The Guardian, because it contains some interesting articles. It is a pity that the Leader of the House does not read more of them and write fewer of them. She might have been able to write an article justifying the limit of one and half hours, but I doubt it.
All the offers that have been made to the Leader of the House and her jovial deputy to table a manuscript amendment to extend the time at our disposal, which have been spurned, could be taken up even at this late stageor one of them could.
Mr. Harper: My hon. Friend responded to an intervention from the hon. Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes), who outlined why the Leader of the House felt that this limited time should be available. The excellent note prepared by the Library ahead of the debate, entitled Regional Accountability at Westminster, sets out on page 9 why the Leader of the House, who chairs the Modernisation Committee, should have been aware of the controversy surrounding the matter. It states that she had to use her casting vote on the Committee on no fewer than three occasions because the Committee was split equally. If that is not a good example of why the House needs more time to explore the issues to give all Members from all parties the opportunity to contribute, I do not know what is.
Sir Patrick Cormack: My hon. Friend does a great service to us, as he has done in several of his interventions. He has referred to the debt that we owe the Library. Whatever one says about the Library of the House of Commons, nobody can ever say that its publications are partisan, biased or flimsy. It does a wonderful service to us all. Anyone reading the notes produced by the Library would, I am sure, come to the immediate conclusion that to seek to dispose of such a highly controversial series of proposals in one and a half hours is appallinglet us remember that we could have as many as seven votes on them.
The problem illustrates a point of timing. The time taken by the physical act of voting will be much longer than the time spent in debate. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd), for whom I have very high regard, is most anxious to speak and thinks that I have spoken for too long. I have sought to demonstrate in my few remarks that the time that the House is being allowed is far too short. I hope that my hon. Friend, who is a noted parliamentarian, will be able to expand fully on some of the issues and to explain how important it is that we should have adequate time to debate not just the mechanics but the substance of the issue.
I shall end, in a moment, where I began. The Leader of the House is treating the House with scant respect. She has forced through highly controversial proposals and she has now provided the House with a wholly inadequate timetable for the discussion of those proposals. She is the Leader of the House and she has the opportunity, even at this late stagenow that she has sensed the mood of the House from the interventions on my speech aloneto seek to extend that time. She can do that in a variety of ways. She is well versed in parliamentary procedures and she knows what they are. She can seek to move an amendment to withdraw one of the motions, or she can seek to extend the time on one or more of the motions. She has a range of possibilities, and exercising any one of them would reflect credit on her. It is a credit that at the moment she does not deserve.
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