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However, a greater problem is already on the radar. It appears as though a collision is looming between the
Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority and the Committee on Standards in Public Life. Sir Christopher Kelly would appear to have been angered by the origin and the passage of the Bill. The battle lines already seem to be drawn between the Bill and the Kelly committee, which is studying so much of what we do.
Sir Christopher Kelly has said that he views IPSA as a transitional arrangement, against which he may come out strongly in his report in October. Far from being a great, lasting solution to a deep problem that has hit us all in the past few months, it now appears that we should be prepared for a substantial showdown between the new body that we are establishing to set and administer our expenses, and the old body that we set up to advise on them.
Mr. Straw: Does the hon. Gentleman acknowledge the point, which I made to Sir Christopher and his colleagues when I gave evidence to his committee last week, that his committee called for entirely independent setting and administration of allowances-and pay-and for having those arrangements well established before the election? As I explained to Sir Christopher and his colleagues, unless we put the legislation through now, there is no way we could have the arrangements in place and settled before the next election.
Alan Duncan: In the Secretary of State's intervention we see the seeds of the very confrontation that Sir Christopher Kelly has-if not predicted-at least suggested that he would have a view on. We would all like a solution to the way in which we are paid and the way in which our expenses are administered, so that all of us, with our honourable differences, can get on with our job of being politicians. In a few months' time, this Bill may or may not turn out to be a good start to that end. We must wait and see. In the meantime, we accept the amendments that were made in another place, and we want to press on.
Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD): May I first concur with the views of my hon. Friend the Member for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine (Sir Robert Smith)? It is ridiculous that so few Members will have the opportunity to speak about the Bill, which was so markedly changed in another place and affects every Member. It is simply not right.
The Bill initially had clear and admirable intentions. It was supported by the leaders of all the parties represented in the House as an urgent and necessary measure. It was then inflated to an unsustainable extent, and we went from a proposed parliamentary standards Act to an amazing vanishing act as provisions disappeared in the face of strong arguments adduced by the Joint Committee on Human Rights, the Procedure Committee and many others, which looked at the matter and perceived the many difficulties. Essentially, we now have a Bill to set up the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority-IPSA is "facta" as a result of the Bill, but very little else is.
The Bill is emergency legislation. It does a key thing that Parliament has willed shall happen. In doing so, the Bill has stepped on the toes of parliamentary privilege to an unacceptable degree. That aspect has been improved by amendment in another place, but I very much regret the fact that we do not have a proper sunset clause, because it is right that Parliament should re-examine the legislation in the near future, for all the reasons that have been set out previously. That should be done on the Floor of the House, not in a Statutory Instrument Committee. The hon. Member for Rutland and Melton (Alan Duncan) said that his right hon. Friend the Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory) could say something about the deficiencies of the legislation when the sunset clause came up, but unless he is selected to appear on the Statutory Instrument Committee, he will have no such opportunity. That is regrettable. A proper sunset clause should have been included in the Bill.
Let me deal with the three offences that were originally intended under the legislation. I have a difficulty with what is proposed, because- [ Interruption. ] The hon. Member for Rutland and Melton is saying something from a sedentary position that I must allow him to say in public.
Mr. Heath: The hon. Gentleman needs to look at Lords Hansard from yesterday, where he will find the amendment from my noble Friend Lord Tyler that precisely said that a sunset clause should come into effect after two years to deal with the clauses in question. The hon. Gentleman will find that my party supported that, while his did not. If he wishes to argue that case, I hope that he will read Lords Hansard. [ Interruption. ] He had better have a look before making another intervention.
Let me deal with the specific offences dealt with by the Bill. I am in some difficultly, because there are already clear offences on the statute book covered by the Theft Act 1968, the Fraud Act 2006 and the common-law offence of misconduct in public office. I accept that they are all English laws and do not apply in Scotland, but they are the laws that should be applied. The difficulty with creating laws that are specific to Members of Parliament is that it reduces the scope of those offences and provides a lower tariff than would otherwise be the case. The one offence that is left in the Bill as a result of the amendments in another place provides for a much lower tariff than the cognate offences in the Theft Act and Fraud Act. The other difficulty is that the offence in question does not require proof of either dishonesty or material gain, so it is almost an arbitrary offence.
There was a case for having a range of offences-the range of offences that we discussed earlier in connection with paid advocacy, which I accept may be covered by the draft bribery Bill or the offence of false registration. To reduce that range of offences to a single offence that is clearly covered by other offences that carry a higher tariff poses some questions. However, that is something that we can re-examine when the provisions come back.
Let me finish by addressing the issue raised by the hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash). I always listen with enormous care to what he says on such matters, because I know how well he researches his facts and I know the care with which he presents his case. I am pleased that we now have a clear declaratory statement about article 9 of the Bill of Rights 1689. I have looked carefully at his arguments for extending it in words to the European Court of Justice and the European Court of Human Rights, but I am afraid that I simply cannot see doing that anything other than otiose, nor can I find the circumstances in which it will make a difference.
As has been said, the European Court of Human Rights is a matter of international treaty. It is the right of any individual to make an application to the Strasbourg court, and nothing that we write into our statutes will prevent that from happening, unless we decide to withdraw from our treaty obligations. Therefore, the proposal will not affect that right. Indeed, in the case to which attention has already been drawn-A. v. United Kingdom of 2003-it is clear that the Strasbourg Court very much had regard for article 9 of the Bill of Rights, despite the fact that the Court is not bound by it, in the strong majority decision that was made. I cannot envisage any circumstances in which a British court would refer a matter to the European Court of Justice in this regard. If anyone could provide a clear case in which the measure might be appropriate, I would support the hon. Member for Stone's amendment.
Mr. Heath: I cannot see any such circumstances; nor could the Attorney-General, according to her very full statement in the other place, and nor could other noble and learned Members of the other place whose opinions I trust. I therefore conclude that I cannot envisage circumstances in which the extra wording would be operative, and if it cannot be operative, it is not appropriate to insert it into the Bill. I support the Lords amendments in their generality, and I hope that the Bill will now make progress this afternoon.
Sir Stuart Bell (Middlesbrough) (Lab):
I will be brief, Mr. Deputy Speaker. First, I would like to render the House's significant approbation for the work of the Clerk of the House, Dr. Malcolm Jack, and of Mr. Robert Rogers in dealing with the privilege question. They were aided and abetted by the right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir George Young) and others. The Bill, with the amendments before us, will end the cosy relationship between the Fees Office and the Members of Parliament-notwithstanding the sterling work that the staff of the Fees Office have done over the years. It should be placed on record that the Justice Secretary and the Deputy Leader of the House have shown extraordinary patience and forbearance in this matter, and started from scratch, as my right hon. Friend said. As we are celebrating the first landing on the moon 40 years ago, it seems appropriate to say that this might
be one small step for Parliament, but it should be a more important step towards restoring public confidence in the institution of Parliament.
Sir George Young: In the very short time left, I want to have a final go at amending the Bill. I invite the Government not to press Lords amendment 12 to a vote. The amendment is a big mistake. It would remove the right of IPSA to refer a matter to the commissioner. The notes that the Government have circulated on the amendments state:
"This is consequential on the IPSA ceasing to have a role in considering whether to give a direction or make a recommendation in consequence of an investigation by the Commissioner."
It is no such thing; this is an entirely free-standing proposal. The amendment represents a backward step. If we pass it, IPSA will be unable to pass any evidence of wrongdoing to the commissioner for investigation. It cannot be right for the House to proceed with Lords amendment 12.
There are other issues that I would have liked to explore, had more time been available. I want to protest that this is simply no way in which to handle constitutional legislation. When we debated the Bill before it went to the other place, we did not complete our consideration of all the clauses. It then had three days in the other place, but at least there were gaps between those three days, in which Members of the other place could reflect on the proposals and Ministers could make helpful suggestions. The Bill has now come back to us. The Lords did not mean us simply to take it or leave it, yet all these disparate amendments have been lumped together. Anyone who wants to vote against Lords amendment 12, as I do, will have no opportunity to do so, because of the way in which the motion has been framed.
Mark Durkan (Foyle) (SDLP): Does not the right hon. Gentleman's point about Lords amendment 12 also apply to a number of the other amendments? Their net effect will be that we shall end up with an IPSA with less independence and less authority, and which will be concerned with fewer and lower standards.
Sir Patrick Cormack: On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I apologise to my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir George Young) for interrupting him. This is such a parliamentary farce. We have had just one hour in which to discuss all these important issues, and my right hon. Friend has just touched on a very important one. Would you be kind enough, Sir, to discuss with Mr. Speaker the way in which this Bill has gone through the House? He told us all that he was anxious for Parliament to regain its sovereignty, so would you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, be kind enough to ask him to look at the statements that he made just four weeks ago and compare and contrast them with the way in which the Government have treated this House over this supremely important Bill?
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