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7 Apr 2010 : Column 976

Yesterday, I announced to the House the business that we will take in the run-up to Dissolution next Monday. This motion will enable the House to conclude the passage of legislation before the general election. It allows the House a truncated process for concluding the consideration of Government Bills that have completed all their stages in one House and have had at least a Second Reading in the Second House. It also provides for the Finance Bill and Appropriation Bill to be taken through all their stages, which is essential to the continuation of the tax system and of public expenditure during the election period. The only Government Bills that will be taken through this truncated process are those that have already received a substantial amount of scrutiny in both Houses, or those essential to the maintenance of the public finances.

The motion provides an opportunity for the House to complete its consideration of two private Members' Bills that were unopposed on Second Reading and have completed their Committee stage.

The motion enables the House's remaining time to be divided between the Bills. By the time the House rises on Monday it will, I hope, have passed 13 Bills, in addition to the 10 Acts that have already received Royal Assent in the current Session. Hon. Members know that the process will work only if the official Opposition agree to the measures presented by the Government, and I thank them for their co-operation.

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Under the terms of the motion, each of the following items of business will be allocated up to one hour in today's sitting: Third Reading of the Bribery Bill [Lords]; Committee of the whole House and remaining stages of the Northern Ireland Assembly Members Bill [Lords]; consideration of the draft Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 (Amendment) Order 2010; and remaining stages of the Debt Relief (Developing Countries) Bill. All stages of the Appropriation Bill will then be taken. Up to three hours will be allocated to the Second Reading and remaining stages of the Finance Bill. The Committee and remaining stages of the Digital Economy Bill [Lords] will then be taken for up to two hours. The House may also be asked to consider any Lords amendments or other Lords messages that may be received for up to one hour each.

Sir Robert Smith (West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine) (LD): I note that one piece of unfinished business has not been included in the motion. Can the Leader of the House explain why no time has been allocated for the House to implement the Standing Orders for which it voted so overwhelmingly in principle, and which would finally redeem at least something of the record of the Government and the House in regard to reform? What held the Leader of the House up? Were the official Opposition against the allocation of that time, or were the Government against it?

Ms Harman: As I have explained, during the remaining two days of business we must deal with 13 Bills and one statutory instrument, consideration of which I hope will be completed. That is a great deal for the House to get through.

David Howarth (Cambridge) (LD) rose-

Ms Harman: I am still replying to the question asked by the hon. Member for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine (Sir Robert Smith).

The Chair of the Reform of the House of Commons Committee and others have tabled an amendment, which has not been selected for debate and which is the subject of the question asked by the hon. Member for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine. The hon. Gentleman has called for the allocation of time in which to debate the Standing Orders relating to the establishment of a Business Committee for the next Parliament.

Mr. Bernard Jenkin (North Essex) (Con): You oppose it.

Ms Harman: I do not oppose it; I support it, as I have made clear.

I do not want to take time away from any of the Bills that need to reach the stage of Royal Assent by providing time for the implementation of Standing Orders that will not apply until the next Parliament in any event. We have done the work on Commons reform in this Parliament. The Commons Reform Committee was set up in this Parliament, it has reported to this Parliament, and its reports been debated in this Parliament. All its key recommendations have been endorsed by the House, including the establishment of a House Business Committee.

Dr. Evan Harris (Oxford, West and Abingdon) (LD) rose-

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Ms Harman: I am still replying to the question, although my answer may seem rather extensive.

Following the substantive decisions on changes in our procedures, the House has agreed to the Standing Orders which will allow the election by secret ballot of Chairs of Select Committees. It has also agreed to the election by secret ballots of members of Select Committees, and to a new provision enabling Back Benchers to table motions which can be not only debated but voted on. All the measures that arose from the Wright Committee's proposals are in place.

We have tabled the changes to Standing Orders that would establish the new Business Committee-which I support-and the House has agreed that that will start when the House returns after the general election. The motions are on the Order Paper, but they cannot be passed without a debate, because they have been objected to. As I said yesterday, I consider it wrong for hon. Members who lost the vote on the substantive motion to obstruct the clear will of the House by objecting to the new Standing Orders. The House has expressed its view in principle, and the Standing Orders implement that decision. I think it wrong for hon. Members to object to that, and I think that they should withdraw the amendments that serve as an objection.

These changes are not due to become operational until the new Parliament. To put it bluntly to hon. Members and to anticipate any intervention, we are not going to propose to the House, because I do not think it is right to do so, that we sacrifice primary legislation, which can reach Royal Assent now, for the sake of a Standing Order that is not due to come into effect until after the general election. That is my position. I support this reform, I expect it to be seen through in the next Parliament-the work has been done in this Parliament-and hon. Members should be reassured that as this change has been agreed by the House, there is no way in which that genie will be put back in the bottle after the general election.

Dr. Harris: Will the Leader of the House give way?

Ms Harman: I will give way, but I am almost certain that I have answered the point and this is just a question of the hon. Gentleman's not agreeing. I do not think that it is right to sacrifice primary legislation for the sake of a Standing Order that will not be implemented until the next Parliament in any event.

Dr. Harris: The terms of the motion, which the Leader of the House actually voted against, provided for this change to be made in time for the beginning of the next Parliament. That means that this should be done in this Parliament; it is the job of this Parliament. She accepted that when she said:

Was she wrong then? Did she misspeak? Was she trying to mislead us? Why did she say that then, given what she is saying now?

Mr. Speaker: Order. Just before the Leader of the House responds, may I say that I am sure that the hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Dr. Harris) would want to insert the word "inadvertently" before the word "mislead"? I am sure that he would not accuse the Leader of the House of seeking to mislead the House.

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Ms Harman: I am not, either inadvertently or in a calculated way, trying to mislead the House, nor did I misspeak. What I have said is that following the will of the House being expressed in the resolution, I would ensure that Standing Orders giving effect to that will would be on the Order Paper, so that the will of the House could come into effect. That is what I have done. Hon. Members who lost the vote have put up an objection in order to stop this going through now. The hon. Gentleman will recognise that we all agreed that, irrespective of whether the Standing Orders are dealt with now or after the House returns, the new House Committee would not be operational until the new Parliament. We should be ensuring that it is operational when the House gets back after the general election. My priority is to get these two private Members' Bills and these 13 Bills through to Royal Assent; I want to get the primary legislation on to the statute book. The Standing Orders to allow the House to manage its own business can be dealt with when the House gets back. I really believe that when the new Members arrive in the next Parliament, they will find that we have paved the way for the House to organise its own business, instead of having the Leader of the House pick on behalf of the House the subjects of topical debates and the non-Government business. That is progress that the House has made. Opinion has moved on and that will be the settled will of the House when the House gets back.

David Howarth rose-

Ms Harman: No, I am not going to give way, because I have just got to discuss tomorrow's business.

Martin Salter (Reading, West) (Lab) rose-

Ms Harman: Okay, I will give way to my hon. Friend.

Martin Salter: Can the Leader of the House explain why we can find time to deal with two private Members' Bills and a statutory instrument-we are likely after a long night tonight to rise around tea time tomorrow-yet we cannot find an hour, and I must say that this will not take an hour, to deal with this Standing Order? It was promised in order to give expression to the will of this House and of a Select Committee that I and many others spent the summer serving on, its having been set up by this Prime Minister.

Ms Harman: My hon. Friend is one of the Members who have done so much to move the view of the House forward and to work out the detailed arrangements so that we can carry out our business better. That is the will of the House; it has been resolved and, as I say, the Standing Orders have been drafted. However, I do not think that he should minimise the importance of giving priority to important Bills, such as the Digital Economy Bill and these two private Members' Bills, and leaving the Standing Order changes, which have all been drafted so are all ready to go when the House returns, until later. Hon. Members are creating the impression that somehow the plug has been pulled on reform, but that is not the case because what has happened is that the Wright Committee has made a great many proposals and the House has agreed them. That is a major step forward. Just one set of Standing Orders remains, which can safely be left until the House gets back.

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Several hon. Members rose -

Ms Harman: No, I am not going to give way, because I have set out my view.

Dr. Tony Wright (Cannock Chase) (Lab) rose-

Ms Harman: I shall give way to my hon. Friend.

Dr. Wright: I understand that this is not a difficulty of my right hon. and learned Friend's making and that she is not responsible for the situation in which we find ourselves. However, we are in a very silly position because the House has resolved that it wants to do this in this Parliament-that is what the House has agreed-and it simply requires a small action on her part to enable it to happen. The objectors are not going to press their objections; one of them has already told me that his objection has been withdrawn. This can be done readily and easily. The House has said that it wants to do it, so I, again, ask her to ensure that we can.

Ms Harman: If the objections are being withdrawn, as my hon. Friend has said, I would very much welcome that. Any amendment would have to be withdrawn, but then these provisions could go through on the nod. There is no doubt about that. Most of the Standing Orders that we drafted, which simply gave expression to the will of the House and put it into practice, went through on the nod. I shall check up again with the Table Office, and if all those who objected have withdrawn their objections-I think it is wrong for them to object to the House's having Standing Orders that put into effect the will of the House-of course this can go through.

I propose that in tomorrow's sitting the House takes the remaining stages of the Sustainable Communities Act 2007 (Amendment) Bill, for up to one hour. The House may then go on to consider any Lords amendments or other Lords messages that may be received relating to six Bills: the Crime and Security Bill; the Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill; the Children, Schools and Families Bill; the Energy Bill; the Financial Services Bill; and the Flood and Water Management Bill. Up to one hour is allocated for consideration of Lords amendments on each Bill. We expect Parliament to be prorogued at the end of tomorrow's sitting. I hope that the House will agree to this motion swiftly so that we can proceed to consider the important legislation before us.

On behalf of the Government, I conclude by thanking all the staff of the House for their work during this Parliament. I also extend my deep thanks to the civil servants across Whitehall and in my private office who support the work of the Office of the Leader of the House. I commend the motion to the House.

12.58 pm

Sir George Young (North-West Hampshire) (Con): May I endorse what the right hon. and learned Lady said in her concluding remarks and thank all those who have worked in the House and done a fantastic job supporting us and helping us to perform our duties to the public? This has not been the most illustrious of
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Parliaments, but I hope that those of us who are returned in six weeks' time can work together to ensure that the next one is better.

This could be a long day, because nine hours are programmed for debate after this debate, which can go on until 7 o'clock. That is in addition to any votes and consideration of any Lords amendments, so I shall keep my comments to a minimum. As I said yesterday, the Conservatives have taken, and will continue to take over the next few days, a constructive approach to the Bills before the House. I must say that there would have been much less to wash up had we spent less time earlier in the Session on the so-called declaratory Bills-the motherhood and apple pie Bills, which were simply press releases put into legislation. They took time away from the important Bills, some of which now confront us. We could thus have made faster progress on them.

It is of course the collective responsibility of the House to ensure that the legislation is properly scrutinised. The Government have no divine right to get their Bills on to the statute book if they have not gone round the course. Conservative Members are pleased that some of the more objectionable sections of these Bills have been removed, and I hope we can work together to ensure that the good bits safely reach the statute book. I will leave it to my various Front-Bench colleagues to pass comment on each Bill as we reach it.

Let me return to the point that took up much of the right hon. and learned Lady's speech, but first may I respond to the hon. Member for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine (Sir Robert Smith)? The Opposition have in no way obstructed the bringing forward of the Standing Orders, which is what he implied. I echo the thoughts of colleagues across the House, who are bitterly disappointed that the Leader of the House has failed to find the time for the debate on the Back-Bench business committee.

Sir Robert Smith: I was not implying that but genuinely seeking to learn from the Leader of the House, as it was a two-party negotiation, where the stumbling block was. The Government are clearly the stumbling point. I welcome the fact that the shadow Leader of the House seems to be committed to that proposal. Is that commitment one that he thinks he could deliver if he were in government?

Sir George Young: I have a peroration that, if the hon. Gentleman can contain himself, will give him the answer to his question.

I was checking up on the commitments the right hon. and learned Lady had given this House. On 11 March, she said that

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