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15 Jun 2010 : Column 763

Business of the House

4.52 pm

The Parliamentary Secretary, Office of the Leader of the House of Commons (Mr David Heath): I beg to move,

It is important that we facilitate finally reaching decisions on the large number of matters before us in the motions on the Order Paper today. That is the purpose of the motion-to enable us not to defer matters to another day, not to have matters continuing into the future.

Mr Elfyn Llwyd (Dwyfor Meirionnydd) (PC): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. We are in a position today where we are discussing motions that will effectively exclude Plaid Cymru Members from being a member of the Welsh Affairs Committee and Scottish National party Members from being on the Scottish Affairs Committee. Additionally, there will be no room for those parties' Back-Bench Members to sit on the Back-Bench business committee. What kind of motions are these? What is the point behind them? I urge the Minister to take them away and think them through, as these motions will not stand the test of time, and the people in Wales and Scotland will be furious when they find out.

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans): I thank Mr Llwyd for his point of order, which is not a point of order. Sufficient amendments have been selected to allow him to make his points.

Mr Heath: Of course, the sooner we can dispose of the business of the House motion, the sooner we can move on to the important debates on the membership of Select Committees.

I should like to welcome you to the Chair, Mr Deputy Speaker, as I do not think I have had the opportunity to do so previously. The point I was making is that the motion will enable us to reach decisions on these matters tonight rather than at some time in the future. It seeks to balance the time we need for debate and the time we need to take decisions on some 14 motions on the Order Paper-and, of course, on the amendments to them that Mr Speaker has selected. It would be foolish of us to take up a great deal of time debating the business of the House motion at the expense of the important debates that I know the House is eager to move on to at the first opportunity.

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4.54 pm

Barbara Keeley (Worsley and Eccles South) (Lab): I, too, welcome you to the Chair, Mr. Deputy Speaker. It seems that north-west England is now very well represented in the Chair, which is a very good thing.

I am astonished that the Leader of the House has tabled a programme motion relating to important changes in the business of the House, given that Conservative Members argued against programme motions on many occasions when in opposition. It seems that things change.

Mark Tami (Alyn and Deeside) (Lab): Has my hon. Friend noticed that many of the Members who used to stand up and say how awful such motions were do not appear to be taking part in today's debate?

Barbara Keeley: That is an interesting observation.

It was right that today we were given a considerable amount of time on the Floor of the House to discuss the statement on the Saville inquiry, but it also important for us now to have adequate time in which to debate changes in the business of the House. We have already heard a point of order indicating the seriousness with which one Member takes the issue.

During business questions last week the shadow Leader of the House, my right hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster Central (Ms Winterton), drew attention to the lack of consultation with the Opposition on the details of the changes before the motions were tabled. I am sure that the Deputy Leader of the House is aware that it has been customary for the Opposition to be given advance sight of proposals on House business. That happened throughout all the discussions on reform of the House and the Wright Committee, but it is a courtesy that the coalition Government seem now to have abandoned, and I regret that.

We want to move on. A large number of amendments have been tabled to the motions, and it is only right for us to have time to debate them fully.

4.56 pm

Mr Kevan Jones (North Durham) (Lab): I welcome you to the Chair, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

During the nine years that I have been in the House, I have listened to Conservative Members objecting to programme motions and guillotines as though they were the wicked invention of a terrible Labour Government. The business of the House motion lists the motions on today's Order Paper:

I shall say more about the motion on September sittings later.

The changes that we are to debate will make a fundamental difference to the way in which the House operates not only in terms of the role of Back Benchers, but in terms of the representation of the minor parties
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in the House, and we should be given sufficient time in which to discuss these extensive motions. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Worsley and Eccles South (Barbara Keeley) that it was wrong to tag such important House business on to a major statement about the Saville inquiry-on which, rightly, many Members wished to comment, in an emotive debate that showed the House at its best-and to try to rush it through.

Many of us have recently been on the receiving end of ill-thought-out and ill-informed reform. I am sure that if we had had more time to debate the proposals of the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority in detail, we would not have signed up to some of the craziness as a result of which all Members in all parts of the House are suffering.

Mr Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): I have some sympathy with the hon. Gentleman's arguments-I think that I sometimes advanced them from that side of the House myself-but is he suggesting that he would like the House to sit through the night to make the necessary decisions in the early hours of the morning?

Mr Jones: No. As one who can remember all-night sittings, I have to say that they were conducive neither to the health of individual Members nor to the scrutiny of legislation. Let us be honest, however: the coalition has hit the ground running with reviews, commissions and study groups. The programme for the period between now and the summer recess is not exactly packed with legislation that would take up time. Unless all the various reviews, study groups and commissions are to report instantaneously, we should find more time in which to discuss the important changes that we are discussing, which will have an effect on the way in which the House operates.

Jo Swinson (East Dunbartonshire) (LD): Notwithstanding the genuine issues raised by the hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd (Mr Llwyd) in a point of order, which have to be discussed, would the hon. Member for North Durham (Mr Jones) at least concede that many of the motions on today's Order Paper merely put into effect what the House has already discussed at length in the previous Parliament, on 4 March and 18 March, in respect of the Wright Committee?

Mr Jones: I am sorry that the hon. Lady wants to disfranchise up to a third of this House, who were not here in the previous Parliament. It is important that those Members be allowed to look at the proposed reforms and have their say on them. I know that, along with her colleagues, she has signed up to the Conservative party. I thought that the Liberals were not in favour of an authoritarian approach. We see the two sides of the Liberal party.

It is important that we have debates. I served for seven and a half years on a Select Committee and am a keen supporter of the scrutiny role that Select Committees play. There are issues about, for example, the size of such Committees and the representation of the minor parties. If this is steamrollered through on a Conservative-Liberal Democrat guillotine, many people in both Scotland and Wales will rightly be annoyed.

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The Parliamentary Secretary and the Leader of the House have made a very quick conversion on a short road to Damascus. In the previous Parliament, when we talked about modernisation, the Parliamentary Secretary said:

In the new coalition Government and in the new spirit of co-operation, or conversion, that has taken place in the past few weeks, the Parliamentary Secretary has clearly changed his mind on programme motions. It is bad enough to have programme motions, which he used to argue vociferously against in the previous Parliament, for legislation that is being introduced, but to have them for something that affects individual Members of the House is wrong.

Mark Tami: I think that my hon. Friend will find that, even in this Parliament, in addressing an Adjournment debate, the Parliamentary Secretary still seemed to be opposed to programme motions.

Mr Jones: That is not surprising, because the Parliamentary Secretary is a Liberal Democrat and they say one thing in one place and another in another. We are increasingly seeing-we certainly saw it at Justice questions-the push me-pull me coalition, where some Members think that they can say anything in one sphere and say something else in another.

The Leader of the House, who has been in the House a lot longer than I have, clearly was against programme motions and spoke vigorously about them. I looked up his speech to the last Conservative party conference, which took place on 5 October 2009. It was revealing. He needs to explain to the House why tonight he is a great convert to guillotine motions. He said that

No doubt he will be getting the knitting out later. I can visualise the Parliamentary Secretary knitting. I find it hard to visualise the Leader of the House doing so.

I am sorry to say that there is more. The Leader of the House went on to say in his speech:

I agree with the Leader of the House in that we need to read the small print of the measures we will be deciding on tonight.

Mr Bone: The hon. Gentleman is being very generous in giving way and is making a powerful speech. Will he remind the House of how many times he has voted against programme motions?

Mr Jones: Actually, I agree with programme motions, because any idiot in opposition who argues that Government legislation can somehow be got through
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without programme motions should be taken out to the nearest lunatic asylum. What we are talking about here, however, is House business, which is a different issue.

I find the situation facing us a little bit galling. To be fair to the hon. Gentleman, if we divide on the programme motion he may well join me in the No Lobby, and if so it will not be the first time he has voted against his party because he is an independent soul; and I am sure he will cause havoc to his party on many more occasions in the coming months and years. The important point here is that insufficient time is available to us tonight to examine in detail the complex measures that have been proposed.

It appears that we are being asked to agree to measures that raise questions as to whether we will be able to debate the issues involved again. For instance, motion 10 on the Order Paper, in the name of the Leader of the House, is on September sittings and it states:

Some of us were Members when the House last had September sittings, and they were a complete disaster in that there was never any business to debate. Frankly, it was just a public relations stunt, which might have made some people feel good- [Interruption.] There is no need to worry, as I am not going to debate September sittings; I shall return to the subject under discussion shortly.

There is a question to be asked, however. If we agree to this motion tonight, will the Government then allow another debate on what is being proposed, because the motion seems to give them carte blanche to impose September sittings? If we agree to the motion tonight, we will need to have a debate on September sittings in Government time. If that is not allowed, we will be denying something that is stated in the motion, in that we will not be reaffirming the importance of the

Instead, we will in effect tonight be giving the Government a blank cheque to do exactly what they want in September, and that cannot be right.

Mr Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con): Does the hon. Gentleman recall the business statement of, I think, the week before last, when my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House said he would propose the first two weeks in September this year as September sittings for this House, and that he would bring forward a motion to that effect for the House to vote on? Motion 10 does not seem quite to do what was suggested on that occasion.

Mr Jones: No, I think that first of all we need to have a debate on whether we should have September sittings at all, because some of us think they are a complete waste of time. Last time, they descended into farce, in that we had two weeks of basically Opposition day after Opposition day and endless pointless debates.

Mr Deputy Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman does now seem to be going quite wide of the mark, and to be addressing the substantive debate. I therefore ask him to restrict himself to the particular motion under discussion.

15 Jun 2010 : Column 768

Mr Jones: I will do so, Mr Deputy Speaker, but the important point is whether or not we have a debate and vote in Government time on the Floor of the House, and what the constraints on that will be. Will we be able to propose alternative September dates, because no doubt some new Members and others will have fixed holidays? What will the motion actually mean, therefore?

Mark Tami: Does my hon. Friend agree that we need a true understanding of the costs and of what those sittings cost in the past?

Mr Deputy Speaker: Order. That is way outside what we are talking about now. I ask hon. Members to restrict themselves to discussing the motion before the House.

Mr Jones: I will, Mr Deputy Speaker. Not for the first time, my hon. Friend has tried to lead me down a path that I do not want to go down. I would shudder to incur your ire so early on in your time in the Chair. If we are to have a situation where the reforms that have been proposed actually will give Back Benchers and all the Opposition parties the chance to provide scrutiny and will give the power that the right hon. Member for North West Hampshire (Sir George Young) supported when he was in opposition, we need more than the debate and time that we will have tonight. Therefore, I will oppose this motion. Ample time will be available to us between now and July, unless the plethora of commissions, working groups and others report back and bring back legislation, and it is important that we do not rush through these things tonight and that we can address the serious issues that have clearly been raised by the minor parties in this House tonight.

5.11 pm

Mr James Arbuthnot (North East Hampshire) (Con): I was listening with great agreement to the Deputy Leader of the House's comments about the need for this programme motion in order for us to be able to come to a decision. We do need to come to a decision tonight and we do not need to defer any questions. What troubles me is that the points made by the minority parties are not being addressed today, so it is clear to me that on those issues we will be deferring a decision. It seems absolutely wrong that the minority parties should not have appropriate representation on the Regional Committees. They should also be entitled, as appropriate and in appropriate numbers, to representation on an appropriate number of non-regional Committees. So I hope that we will be able, at some stage, to come to a decision on that too. Irrespective of whether it happens today, we need to give all parties in this House an appropriate degree of fairness.

5.12 pm

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