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20 Oct 2009 : Column 875

Mr. Wills: Of course I accept the hon. Gentleman's word on that. It is a great tribute to him that the right hon. Member for Horsham adopted his terminology exactly; he obviously has a great future in his party.

Mr. Grieve: The Minister mentioned the power to give directions to prosecutors. He wants to have precision in these deliberations, and he must know that the Prime Minister's proposals were effectively watered down and discarded as a result of the intervention of the Attorney-General. To suggest that the end product amounts to what the Prime Minister originally proposed is complete and total nonsense.

Mr. Wills: With all due respect to the hon. and learned Gentleman, he needs to look at what the Prime Minister actually said, and what has actually been done.

Pete Wishart: We have heard about the national anthem and the national motto, but whatever happened to Britishness day? That issue has never been addressed. The concept was universally popular in Scotland, and I think that the proposed date was that of the signing of Magna Carta, which took place some 300 years before there was even a Britain. What has happened to Britishness day?

Mr. Wills: Personally, I have always been very much in favour of having such a day, and I would very much like to see it happen. I am pleased that the hon. Gentleman is obviously regretting its absence, although I am not altogether sure why he is doing so. Anyway, I would be happy to carry on that conversation with him. Right, does anyone else want to intervene? Not yet? Okay, very good. On we go.

The hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield mentioned my letter to him about the deliberative events-[Hon. Members: "Read it out!"] I am going to read it out. I think that he referred to it as "hysterical". This is how it starts:

that is true; it is always good to talk to you, Dominic-

I then expressed regret that you were not taking part in this, and went on:

I very much hope that the hon. and learned Gentleman will do so-

I now extend that invitation to you or to any of your colleagues who want to take part-

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord): Order. The Minister is continually using unparliamentary language.

Mr. Wills: I stand corrected, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I do apologise. I slipped from quoting from the letter into a direct address. I do hope that the hon. and learned Gentleman will reconsider his position on this matter. Other parties are taking part and he would be able to play a valuable role in the process.

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My hon. Friend the Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore), who is no longer here, raised a question about the public order provisions in the Bill, which I would like to address. He asked why certain conditions were not set out in the Bill, and I want to reassure him-I hope that he reads this in Hansard tomorrow-that schedule 4 is very explicit about the powers that the police will have to impose conditions on demonstrations. The only additional power that the police will have around Parliament, above and beyond those that they will have in the rest of England and Wales, is the power to impose conditions on a demonstration to secure access around Parliament. Clearly, there are concerns about this on both sides of the House, and I would like to say that the Government have an open mind on these questions and will continue to engage with the House authorities and any interested Members on them.

We heard a characteristically serious and radical contribution from my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock Chase (Dr. Wright). I would like to take this opportunity to say that he has made a huge contribution to this Government's programme of constitutional reform over the years. We have heard a lot of praise for it-not altogether universally for this Bill, but I believe that every Member who has contributed to the debate has recognised that this Government have engaged over the past 12 years on a very serious programme of constitutional reform-and, as I said, my hon. Friend has played a huge part in the reform.

My hon. Friend rightly pointed out that we do not have only organic change in this country, we also have decisive radical action. He is right about that, and I do not think that anyone would claim that this Bill represents a decisive moment in our programme of constitutional change, but that does not mean that it is not valuable or that everything in it does not play an important part in the continuing programme of constitutional reform. My hon. Friend rightly drew attention to the importance of measures on freedom of information, devolution and the independence of national statistics-and of course I agree with him.

The hon. Member for Cambridge made a serious speech. He talked about special advisers, so let me respond briefly on that subject. We should say that special advisers are already clearly governed by transparent terms and conditions of employment. As my right hon. Friend the Lord Chancellor said, it is important to note that any transgressions of those terms are punished, but that that does not invalidate their existence. This Government were the first to introduce and publish a model contract and code of conduct for special advisers that clearly sets out what they can and cannot do and their relationship with the permanent civil service.

We are going to table an amendment-this might be of particular interest to Scottish and Welsh Members-to make similar arrangements to those in place for our civil service in respect of special advisers for Scotland and Wales. Under the proposed amendment, the Minister for the civil service may publish separate codes of conduct for special advisers in the Scottish Executive and in the Welsh Assembly Government. Where separate codes are drawn up for special advisers in the devolved Administrations, the Minister for the civil service must consult the First Ministers for Wales and Scotland, who must in turn lay the relevant code before the National Assembly for Wales and the Scottish Parliament. I hope
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that that addresses some of the concerns that I know have been raised in both Scotland and Wales about that matter.

Mark Durkan (Foyle) (SDLP): Northern Ireland is not referred to in the relevant part of the Bill. Was there any consultation with the office of First and Deputy First Minister; will the limits on the number of special advisers remain; and did the office of First and Deputy First Minister say that it did not want the system of annual reports on the numbers and costs of special advisers to be introduced for Northern Ireland as it is to be introduced for the other devolved Administrations?

Mr. Wills: As the hon. Gentleman is aware, in Northern Ireland it is a separate civil service and different arrangements apply, but this is obviously an issue that we can return to in Committee.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz) also raised a typically serious point about engagement with the public. I would say that the public do not regard this as a road show, as it has been so derisively referred to by the Opposition. The public are pleased to be consulted on these matters, they think it is important for them to be consulted, and they think it is important for them to have a say in these matters. We are going to give them a say-and it is a great shame that the Opposition parties do not seem to share this view. [Interruption.] I hear a sedentary intervention coming from those on the Conservative Front Bench, saying "Name them." What I urge Conservative Members to do is to go on the Ministry of Justice website, where a recording of these events is available. They can then hear for themselves what members of the public think about these issues. If I were them, I would be a little more careful about questioning the public's judgment on these matters.

I note my right hon. Friend's support for the proposal on short-term peers, and the hon. Member for Chichester (Mr. Tyrie) also made an important contribution on the issue. We have noted his and other views; we will reflect on them and come back to report in due course.

My hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, North (Julie Morgan) made an important point about House of Lords reform and the importance of devolution. I am very grateful to her for her contribution.

My hon. Friend the Member for Luton, North (Kelvin Hopkins) started to make some very important points about the civil service. I am sorry that he was cut short by ill health, and I wish him a speedy recovery. The right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Sir Alan Beith) also made some important points-about decentralising power-with which we agree. However, I take issue with him slightly over his assumption that decentralising power and diffusing it-which, in my view, is a wholly benign process-should involve only local authorities. Of course they are an important part of the process, but we also need to devolve power much more directly to people.

The hon. Member for Harwich (Mr. Carswell) made a characteristic contribution about the importance of direct democracy. The hon. Gentleman makes many very good points. He has clearly understood the mood of the British people, as I think all Members have, but I
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would caution him about being quite so cavalier as he sometimes is about jettisoning representative democracy. I was glad to note that on this occasion he put Parliament at the centre of any reform process.

In the context of direct democracy, it might behove all of us to reflect on the experience of California. As the hon. Gentleman will know very well, 100 or so years ago California was beset by a similar constitutional crisis when the people of that state began to lose trust in their political processes. In the end a raft of measures of direct democracy were introduced, including propositions and referendums. Very recently-just last week, I believe-the chief justice of California called the system dysfunctional. I do not think that a healthy, judicious introduction of measures of direct democracy-recall, for example-would in any way fundamentally compromise our system of representative democracy, but it is important that we do not jettison it.

A number of Members referred to the measures allowing peers to stand down and perhaps to stand again for election to the House of Commons. The Bill is designed to ensure that there is a framework allowing the House to deal effectively with discipline issues. We have seen the need for that in recent months, and I hope that everyone will be able to take advantage of it. It is right and proper, however, that in all other aspects of public life politicians are able to resign from office should that be the honourable thing to do, and we consider that the House of Lords should also form part of that process.

This has been a very useful debate. I think that the Bill is generally welcomed by Members in all parts of the House. The hon. Member for Ludlow (Mr. Dunne) returned to a subject that I know is dear to his heart, the registration of voters living overseas. As I intervened on his speech a number of times, I will not deal with all his comments again, but I want to make two points. At the end of his speech, he referred to the requirement to register annually. I think that that is a fair point, and I will look at it again constructively. He also referred to the need for an identity to be confirmed by passport.

The hon. Gentleman was intervened on by one of his colleagues, the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Bone), on the subject of service personnel, which I take very seriously indeed. I recently met representatives of service families to discuss how we could increase registration among service members. I have written to many Members inviting them to make suggestions, and I shall be very open to any ideas about how we can improve registration among service personnel, particularly at this time. I have offered a meeting, and I have not received many responses from Members so far, but I ask those who are actually listening to what I am saying-including those whose constituencies contain service personnel-to contact me with their suggestions.

We have had a very useful debate. I think that there has been a general welcome for the Bill, although many Members disagree with some of the detail and many believe that it should have gone further. This is not the end of the process, but the Bill is an important part of a continuing programme of radical reform, and I hope that the House will support it.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

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Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill (Programme)

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 83A (7)),

Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill (Money)

Queen's recommendation signified.

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 52),

20 Oct 2009 : Column 880

Question agreed to.

Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill (Ways and Means)

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 52),

Question agreed to.

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